Toaru Ramen no Hanashi
"Mhmm, I see... so basically, you're playing a storyteller role here instead of writing... Haha, wow..." the editor said then a long paused occurred. Gourmet still sweating buckets, gulped the tension as he awaits the killing blow from his brutal co-worker. He is already expecting the worst so he is doing his best to prepare for it, despite knowing it will still sting a part of him.
"How about you die once, huh?!" shouted the editor, with a popping vein on her temple.
As expected, Gourmet's hunch is spot on.
"To think I've been lowering my head to other people just so you can play hooky..." she sighed heavily while shaking her head. "How about you die twice now, huh?! I'll make sure to put a "Hesitation is defeat" in your gravestone."
The encounter continues. The other regulars still can't cope with the revelation that Gourmet is a popular author who managed to stay in the industry for already three decades. His ranges varies, he once wrote a beloved historical series, same with a fan-favorite romantic flick, he even tread the comedy route and has written volumes of suspense-horror. In short, he's supertalented.
Eroi, despite her knowing Gourmet for a long time, couldn't grasp the logic. For all she knows, the old bearded man wearing the same cowboy hat for the last 5 years is a goofy character who won't stop talking and doesn't ran out of topics, making him an annoying but at the same time, interesting comrade inside the noodlehouse haven.
On the other hand, Bocchan, who was already madly infatuated with Gourmet, radiates a pinkish aura, with flying hearts coming out of his head and his eyes, star-colored.
Again, the weird atmosphere inside the ramen house persists and shows no sign of changing. It was until...
A lone cough singlehandedly stopped the ruckus.
"Here's your order. Enjoy your stay, Mom." said the boy, who was smiling behind the counter as he laid the bowl carefully in front of his flabbergasted mother.
The miso ramen, per as the editor's preference, had been stuffed with lots of green toppings. Scallions, bean sprouts, it even has cabbage cut into thin slices. The nori wrappings are beautifully arranged into the side, making the bowl sparkle in her eyes.
"W-W-What's happening? Why are you there, my son?" asked the boy's mother.
The boy flashed a smile. He said nothing while wearing the designated ramen shop apron and a bandana on his head.
"Ma'am, he's the one who arranged your order. I hope it's up to your liking." said the ramen shop lady who brought additional toppings in a small plate. It was tofu, sliced perfectly and a flavored egg, cut in half. "Please accept this. It's on the house."
The editor took a gander into the steaming hot bowl of ramen in front of her. After a few short moments, she trembled at an alarming rate.
"I... I must make this our family's heirloom!" she stated, her hands shivering like the weather is below freezing point.
"Mom, stop. Just take a snapshot and eat it while it's hot." the boy calmly responded, voided of any retort tone. Soon, he went inside the kitchen and for a while, stayed there helping the ramen owner couple.
"Your son's pretty good, I tell you. He just stumbled here at random, but he's already a part of the circle." Gourmet said, fiddling the point of his nose.
The editor watched his son, doing his best inside the kitchen. "Well, of course. He's my lovely son."
"Umm, boy's mommy." said a voice from her left.
As the editor shifted her gaze to the direction of the voice, what locked her sight first was a beautiful pair of oblong fruits, seemingly soft that compelled her to reached for it.
'Kyaaa!" a somehow erotic voiced drained everyone's attention. The editor, ever curious, fondles the figure that intrigued her inquisitiveness. The boy immediately addressed the situation, by taking off the hands of his mother on Eroi's majestic pair of weapons.
"My son... that gal... I want her to be my daughter-in-law." she brazenly told to his embarrassed son with a red face.
'Oh! Then as that gal's guardian. I approve!" Gourmet interjected, feeling the momentum on his side.
Gourmet and the editor shook hands with a look like they've sealed a significant deal on their accounts making the boy and Eroi retort in unison.
"Ufufu, look at them, Sensei. They're so perfectly synced, it's gonna be easy to plan their wedding and have a date till next month."
"I see. Then, I'll go scout for a venue and yeah, please take care of the guest list."
Before the two adults could go any further, a knuckle fell down on their heads.
"Dear guests, settle down. Eat your ramen before it gets cold." said the ramen lady boss with an authoritative glimmer in her eyes that opted the editor-author duo to comply without any second thought.
A sigh escaped the boy's mouth as he apologized to Eroi for the actions of his mother. Eroi awkwardly smiled after fixing the position of her chest inside her tight tank top. Bocchan as usual, didn't like the budding ambience between the two youngsters, thus he forcefully intervened.
For a while, there was no follow-up in the weird ambience. The regulars are prudently discussing on their seats, Eroi and Bocchan continues their friendly bicker, the boy has assumed the impromptu part-time and the editor-author duo silently eats their ramen.
"This shop's pretty interesting. Lots of weird characters though." whispered the editor.
Gourmet scoffed. "As if you're not one. I still can't believe my luck, you actually managed to find me."
The editor sighed. "I was actually resigned to hire a stalker just to beep me up your location."
Goumet choked a bit and reached for his glass of water. "You, what? Why are you spouting scary stuff like it's normal. You're beyond scary!"
"Then, write like your life depends on it. We're already on deep waters and I'm not joking."
"Fine, fine. I'll get to it. But aren't you going too far with your threats? The stalker part is unnecessary!"
"Oh, perhaps you're right. I'll just hack your phone so it'll send me your location via GPS."
"Can you really do that? I may really have to call the police after I finish this ramen."
The banter persisted until Gourmet totally resigned to his fate. The editor noticed her assignment's repentance and she was willing not to prolong the unproductive teasing.
"At least until the first week of September. As long as you can finish your manuscript, I'll leave you to your own devices. Of course, there'll be no stalkers and GPS hacking." the editor flashed a wink with noodles in her mouth.
"You better keep on your promise, you devil woman!" countered Gourmet.
After finishing their bowl at the same time, Gourmet decided to wrap things up so he can go back to his real work. Another trademark fingersnap rallied the regulars' attention as they fixed their posture. The boy's mother noticed the immediate change on the atmosphere. Her son soon came out of the kitchen and leaned on the counter, the ramen shop lady sat on the cash register, Eroi and Bocchan stopped their verbal skirmish and with all of them in their listening stances, Gourmet enthusiastically exhaled.
The day of the presumed meeting that was suppose to discuss strategies to help lessen the burden of the newly impose tax bill came, but as aforementioned, no one attended. Helen in her surprise, gritted her teeth in frustration since for the past few days, she kept scouting the vicinity in hopes of learning the situation better. She conversed with the commonfolks, she attended her duties, she traded dialogues with the local merchants and with all of that done, she felt there was something they could do, but again, literally no one came to the meeting.
The baron somehow expected it. He sighed silently before leaving his seat in the hall specified for the meeting. Helen wanted to prevent his brother from leaving, but she herself had a churning feeling in her gut that prompted her not to voice her disapproval. The viscountess, also in attendance, clapped her hands twice to stop the depressing atmosphere from overwhelming her daughter.
"Never fret, my daughter. While it's unfortunate that we weren't able to convince them to attend, we're still not out of moves. We better just do what we must do." Helen's mother said, as she also left the hall.
Helen in a daze, sat flatly in a nearby chair. She rested her nape to look at the ceiling, wonderfully painted in good coloring and the design added by the modest chandelier gave her some sort of consolation. Soon, a touch on her cheeks break her stupor.
"Got you." said the maid, with her impish grin.
Helen pouted a bit of her cheeks, but soon smiled. "You never miss a beat, don't you?"
The maid puffed her modest chest. "And you milady, stop your grimacing. You're so beautiful without the wrinkles!"
Helen stood up properly and decided to go to the market to seek conversations with the local merchants once again. On the way, she met with some of their plantation workers who were also out doing some household chores. While they shared an amicable short talk, the stressed look on their faces, with the toll of the upcoming wave of increased taxes, was evident which added another heartache for Helen. She insisted and gave each one of them a silver coin to slightly help their living, but she was also not under the delusion that it will help their people in the long run. Sooner or later, the effects of the new bill will not be stopped by such a mere gesture.
Treading into the always congested marketplace, Helen and her friend maid, once again talked to the local merchants. During that day, there was an ongoing uproar among them that took centerplace dragging everyone's attention to it. As expected, most of the merchants voiced their ire and insisted they wage a protest against the promoters of the tax bill. Naturally, they would seek out the local lord, but as they knew that the current baron holds almost no authority, they were forced to do the unthinkable and organize a march to the stalwart of the nobles, the capital.
Helen quickly tried to extinguished the agitation that slowly eats the common sense among the merchants. She reckoned that this type of protest stunt will only fell in deaf ears since most of the nobles are only looking for their own benefits. Amidst her attempt to pacify the commotion, a hit to her head came out of nowhere. Helen crouched on the ground, holding the position of her temples, as she bleeds profusely due to a wound cause by a stone. The maid was initially shocked, but managed to grasp her composure to attend her friend. As she examined the vicinity, it wasn't just Helen who suffered an injury causing a tumultuous riot in the marketplace.
The ruckus has turned violent. Helen's maid dragged her friend to a corner as they hid behind a wooden barrel. The wound on Helen's temple, albeit shallow, was a fairly long one. The gush of blood still flows unstoppable making the maid tense to make a quick decision. Helen, despite some discomfort, held her friend's hands.
"I'm alright. Don't make that face." she clearly said, with her one eye closed.
The developing violence persisted. Indiscriminate attacks were done regardless of gender and ages. Helen abruptly stood up from behind the barrel and forced her way to the heart of the chaos. Her maid friend, who was initially against the stunt, accompanied her to help those who are helpless to defend themselves. Women, children, elderly and even some youngsters, Helen and her friend put them back on their feet and instructed them to make way towards their home or seek shelter in the nearby church.
Slowly but surely, they managed to rescue quite a number of inadvertent victims, but still there's no signs of the commotion dying even with the local authorities participating to placate the situation.
After a while, the maid forcefully dragged Helen back to the manor. At first, Helen actually requested her friend to return alone in the manor to inform the viscountess and the baron of the commotion. Naturally, the maid did not like an ounce of the idea, thus she imposed her brute will over Helen.
As soon as they entered the baron household, Helen remedied herself in no time and conveyed her desire to return to the marketplace. The viscountess chuckled at the sight of the maid animatedly voicing her disapproval before anyone else can. The baron could only shake his head and afterwards, assured his sister that he will organize a group of law enforcers to mollify the situation. Helen, with no one to support her intent to return, conceded and was told to get some rest in her room.
"Why look like a pufferfish, Milady? Do you have something to say against one's better judgment?" the annoyed maid asked.
The pouting Helen clicked her tongue. "And here I thought you'll be the one to support me."
"Are you kidding me?! What kind of friend would allow you to return to that uproar and get yourself hurt?"
Helen surrendered to the sound argument of her friend. She leaned herself to a nearby pillar near a window and glanced towards the marketplace direction. "This is just a prelude. The people are going to get desperate sooner or later."
The maid put water in a glass and initially offered it to Helen before abruptly drinking it herself which put a gasping mien printed on Helen's face.
"Why are you being mean to me?!" Helen inquired with vigor.
The maid ignored Helen's ire and jumped into her friend's bed. She hugged Helen's pillow and faced the owner of the room. "Stupid, stupid!"
Something snapped inside Helen and the next thing she knew, she angrily roared and jumped towards her friend. As they fought in the meager space of the bed, before long they fell, headfirst, on the ground. At one point, they locked gazes before bursting into laughters.
Helen's wound opened and blood can be seen seeping from the applied bandage. The maid felt apologetic for her actions, but was shrugged off by Helen with a crisp smack to her shoulder.
"Oh, don't be such a baby. This wound is nothing!" Helen smiled a wide one.
The maid helped Helen get back to her feet. She then poured water on a glass and offered it to Helen, who was actually expecting another stunt and was ambivalent to reach for it. For a while, there was a needless staring between the two before the lady of the house gets the glass in her hands.
After a short while, there was a knock on Helen's door. The maid immediately donned the proper attitude and opened it with her greeting the viscountess who came to check on his daughter. She also informed Helen that the commotion in the marketplace has been successfully subdued and the unfortunate victims will be attended by a doctor sponsored by her own family which brought a satisfying smile on Helen's face.
Before the viscountess could leave her room, Helen hugged her mother and expressed her gratitude to which the viscountess responded with a gentle flick to her daughter's forehead.
"Silly girl. No need to thank me for such a small thing. If anything, go appreciate your brother's quick response to the situation."
Helen squatted on the soft mattress in her bed. She crossed her arms and puzzled over something. The maid left her friend's room without disturbing her pondering friend and went on to attend her work.
Hours later, the baron returned to the manor. After successfully stopping the riot that could've caused much more damage, he first reported to her mother before going back to his office to sign and review the pending paperworks in his desk. As he fell into a deep concentration, he didn't notice Helen knocking and sneaking to his back which brought him to jump out of his seat like a rocket after getting jolted by something entering his peripheral vision.
Helen straight away helped his brother who was shocked to the point of falling off his chair and offered apologies afterwards. The tired baron playfully messed up his beautiful sister's hair before going back to his work. Helen took the opportunity to leave the baron office so her brother could focus, forgetting her initial intention to thank her brother for his swift fix on the chaotic occurence earlier.
It was still early in the afternoon. Helen found herself with a lot of time and decided to do something worthwhile. She immediately searched for her maid friend, who was quickly found, doing her routine work in the kitchen, the same place where they firstly made a profound connection with each other.
"What makes you come here, Milady? You wanna sneak in a snack, huh?" the maid sarcastically questioned Helen, who snuck her fingers to the sides of her friend.
The guffawing maid was in tears, prompting Helen to drop her punishment. "I've come here to help."
As she said those words, the kitchen staffs were petrified rock solid due to the shock of hearing their employer volunteering to do such a menial task. The chef speedily suggested Helen that they could handle the job on their own, but Helen couldn't be budged. She stubbornly insisted that she is willing to help. Seeing the confused look on the kitchen staffs' faces, the maid opted to mend the situation and convinced her coworkers to allow Helen join the kitchen circle.
Very soon, Helen was thrown with an apron to wear and a bandana for her long hair. She was also strictly instructed by her maid friend not to touch sharp objects, in this case, a knife and just assist in the simplest manner. For the first time in her life, she was able to wash a vegetable, particularly a potato in which it still has a bit of mud on its skin. Such a simple thing, yet it brought a swelling sense of satisfaction within her.
The transition of the kitchen work was done smoothly, thanks to the maid's follow-up. Though Helen tried to break her friend's initial directive of not touching a knife, in the end, she was still denied the opportunity to slice and dice a piece of onion, much to everyone's relief.
That night, the dinner brought a lot of smiles in the table.
The following day, Helen woke up due to a minor commotion inside their household. As she approached the murmuring circle of servants gathered in the main hall, her baron brother and her younger brother disclosed to her their mother's unavailability. Confused at first, she inquired the meaning of it, over and over again.
Helen's mother was nowhere to be found. Even the carriage drivers and the guards of the manor couldn't answer the question of the viscountess' disappearance. Upon checking their mother's chambers, they found no message regarding her leave of absence. No sign of her packing up. Her wardrobe remains the same and untouched. The only noteworthy aspect of her room that piqued the viscountess' offsprings was her favorite handheld fan, lying on the tidy bed.
Eventually, the children of the viscountess found themselves in the parlour discussing the mystery of the sudden event. After a while, the baron remembered that he has some business to attend to, leaving Helen and the youngest son of the household to continue assessing the situation. But before the baron could entirely leave their estate, an unfamiliar carriage entered their gates. As they await on the doorstep to see whose wagon brazenly rode itself towards their grand lawn, they were astonished by the sight of their engaged sister coming out of it, along with a well-dressed and handsome fellow in his late teens. Without any wasted time, the newcomers offered their salutations and was welcomed inside the manor.
Like their impromptu visit, the younger sister and her partner engaged the dialogue in a swift fashion. They insisted they be granted an audience to the viscountess to discuss the transfer of the main family insignia as they prepare for a grand wedding in Saint Petersburg. The suppose celebration will have a grand reception with invited guests of high-esteem and rank and the official symbol of the family will serve as a formal declaration that the bloodline is heading into another generation.
Naturally, the sudden and malapert manner of the newcomers irked Helen. Up to the moment when she was about to erupt on her seat from listening to the shameless proposition of the other party, her baron brother stepped up.
As the other party holds a rising reputation as of late, the baron carefully chose his words. He did not digress, but he also kept a safe answer. As expected, he did not consent a casual transfer of the symbolic insignia his family holds. As for his reasons, one being the viscountess away for some personal business, he also told that such transfer of authority is only viable if the other party had reach a certain connection, akin to the likes of being officially wedded into a member of the insignia holders. As far as the connection matter is concern, despite being relatives with a far correlation, such aspect is definitely unachieved at the current point.
Helen sighed a breath of relief to the sound argument her brother unleashed, but contrary to their expectations, the other party continued their relentless approach to the matter. After a short while, they soon laid a huge amount of large pouches of gold coins in the table in the middle of the parlour. The sheer monetary amount is unlike Helen has ever seen in her life.
"Look, brother. We're willing to give you more should you relent. We need the insignia for our wedding. It's for both of our family's sake." said the youngest sister.
Seemingly befuddled, the baron stood up from his seat and went to a nearby window to buy some time to think. He crossed his arms and blankly stared at the scenery available from his standpoint. Helen caught up with her composure and argued that such discourteous approach is very unlike what a noble should practice. Naturally, the youngest sister mocked her sister's counter and boasted that her soon-to-be wedded family deserves the insignia more than her blighted birth-family.
After hearing such statement, Helen couldn't help but slap her younger sister. A loud crispy sound resounded in the parlour.
"I dare you to repeat what you said, you impolite imbecile!" Helen said while glaring at her scared younger sister.
However, the silence that was about to root in the situation was easily broken by a clap by the younger sister's partner.
"Now, now, dear sister. Please forgive your younger sister with her words." he calmly said with a refreshing beam on his face. "We understand the ambivalence on your part, but surely you can understand where we're coming from, right?"
Helen and the baron gazed at each other and took their respective seats afterwards.
"I don't like to be the one to say this, but your family's reputation has severely took a drastic fall that even the remotest part of Saint Petersburg knows it's only a matter of time before..." he stopped, then appears to ponder a bit. "Excuse me for my poor words. But to preserve the prestige your family built over the years, it's in your best interest to let us, the branch family, to gain the insignia so we can prolong both of our family's shared history."
Helen gripped her elbows with force, but even she knew that what the young nobleman said is almost irrefutable. Curt as it may be, the point of her family's fall from grace is definitely valid and their weakening grip to their territory slowly becomes the center of gossip among the people in the vicinity. After a while, the baron scratched his head and repeated his stance. He cannot consent the transfer.
Helen was unable to contribute on the dialogue due to the realization and the hefty truth included in the other part's argument.
"Besides, surely you can't just dismiss the reality of the situation. Weren't you just bullied in the last noble summit you attended? I really felt a bit sorry for you, brother." said the younger sister, holding the part of her cheek which Helen slapped earlier. "You were once regarded as a bright scholar, but you cannot play the role of our late father. Be honest with yourself and just go back to the academics. You're more suited to that."
Helen looked at the exhausted expression on her brother's face. In reality, despite his best efforts to fill the baron role, he is just not cut to play a political figure, to lead a territory, to represent their family.
The silence slowly circulated. No one said a word for a good five minutes. Helen helplessly gazed at her brother, who has plopped his head on his seat. The youngest sibling resigned to his seat after getting bluntly rejected by his twin sister when he asked for a mundane conversation. It was until the clock chimed the hourly rhyme that the dialogue continued.
"Sir Baron... I implore you, give it a serious thought. Either you stubbornly persist in filling a shoe not meant for you and have anything your family worked for generations gone before you know it or hand it to somebody who can do the job adequately and go back happily to the career you've always sought for." the nobleman said, as he stood up supporting his mate.
Before long, the visitors had left the mansion leaving everyone speechless. It did not take long before the baron went to his previous appointment leaving Helen and her younger brother stuck in the parlour brooding in their own respective seats.
"She's changed a lot..." whispered the youngest brother that woke Helen from a stupor.
"Yeah, I can't believe she was here just months ago." replied the older sister, who dragged his younger sibling to her bosom. "Don't be sad. It's okay. She's still your twin and I know deep inside, she knows that you're still a part of her. That we're still a part of her."
The youngest brother just nodded with a blank expression.