Things had started off well.
The dessert he’d planned to make was called a ‘spit cake’, which sounded disgusting, but wasn’t actuallymade of spit. People only got the disgusting kind of spit cake if they really made their baker mad.
No, the kind of spit cake he’d be making was one of the more challenging recipes he’d learned about since coming to Generasi; very labour intensive, but supposedly very tasty.
Theresa was the kind of person that liked roasted meat cooked on a spit. Sometimes, she’d just pull up a chair and watch Mr. Lu rotate a big hunk of venison over an open fire, especially if the meat was from one of her kills.
So when Alex had found out he could make a cake in the same way, he’d gotten super excited.
He recalled the recipe:
When making a spit cake, the first thing the adventurous needs is a mould, this will be what your batter adheres to when you are turning the cake over the spit!
He’d already made the mould a couple of days earlier. It was made of wood shaped like a hollow cone with one narrow end and one wide end to insert the spit through. He’d wrapped it in parchment paper, and when it was time to cook the cake, he would heat the mould by fitting it onto a spit that was set up in front of an open fire.
The next thing he’d needed to do was to make the batter, which called for a lot of eggs, butter, sugar or honey, flour, rum and an anise-flavoured liqueur. The batter was so delicious that he’d kept sampling it way more than he should have while he was making it. He could do so because Generasi didn’t have McHarris’ badly ‘disguised rotten eggs’ problem.
Alex had left the batter to settle in the top of their pantry—which was ringed in a spell-array to keep things cool—until he was ready to actually cook it this morning.
After the mould was hot, he’d then have to scoop up the batter in a ladle and slowly drizzle it over the hot mould while turning the spit; most of the batter was supposed to stick to the mould and bake onto it layer by layer.
He’d remembered the recipe:
The batter will be runny at first and drip while it cooks, solidifying until the final layer of the cake has a coral-like appearance. Make sure you place a tray beneath your spit to catch the drips, waste not want not! This tasty cake will be dry and crisp, especially if iced with caramelized sugar. Serve it with sweet wine for a complete experience!
Alex’s belly had rumbled just thinking about it, and he’d hoped that Theresa would enjoy it. There were just two problems with the recipe, though. One was that it called for at least two people: one to keep the spit turning evenly, and one to pour the batter. Luckily, many Wizard’s Hands made light work.
The other problem was the amount of time the cake was supposed to take to make.
Five hours, if he included the time to heat up the mould, and the clean up.
So, he’d gotten up at the crack of dawn—washed, ate a quick breakfast—and quietly left the apartment, carrying the big bowl of batter on a forcedisk. Hardly anyone else was stirring in the insula, and he didn’t have to worry about waking anybody at home.
Theresa had already left for an informal morning meditation with her Life Enforcement teacher, Professor Kabbot-Xin. Selina was staying with the family of one of her school friends for a weekend sleepover. Even Brutus was out: Khalik was taking care of him for the day and he’d also told Alex he could use his apartment to get ready for his date. In return, Alex had promised to take care of Najyah when the prince wanted to spend time in the dryad wood with Sinope, or if she came to spend time with him at his apartment, which the mischievous Najyah would probably enjoy sabotaging.
So, that had given Alex the time he needed in the insula kitchen, which he’d booked beforehand.
Or at least, he could have sworn he’d booked it.
Which is why it had been so strange to see light already streaming from it when he arrived.
“Uh, hello?” he’d called uncertainly.
“Oh, were you the one that booked the kitchen?” A light voice had called from inside. "Sorry, I didn’t see anyone down here so I thought maybe you weren’t coming!”
A woman with a short, blonde haircut had poked her head out of the messy kitchen. “Sorry, I really needed the kitchen: it’s my darling little Brock’s sixth birthday, and he really wants a chocolate cake!”
“Oh,” Alex had paused, looking over the absolute mess she’d made in the kitchen. “Uh, I need the-”
“Oh, isn’t he just the cutest?”
To his horror, she’d pulled out a large locket and flipped it open, revealing a charcoal image of the young Brock tucked inside. She had then tried to shove it in his face with the same energy as one of the clawed monsters trying to gut him.
“Look, I’m sure your son’s excited,” Alex had said, fearlessly calling on his training to dodge the small drawing. “But I booked the kitchen and I really need it. I’m making this-”
“Ooooh, I’ll be in and out quickly. It’s just a simple chocolate cake, I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”
“…what recipe is it?”
“Which cookbook are you usin-”
There, on the counter was a cookbook named Zhou’s Favourites: Labours of Love and Time.
Horror had filled him. He’d learned about that cookbook after coming to Generasi: a horrifying, forbidden tome crafted by a baker who was half-genius and half-madman. Some of the school’s bakers he’d chatted with had talked about it in hushed tones, as if speaking too loudly would summon its author. The cookbook was filled with all kinds of heavenly sounding recipes, but the problem was that the ‘time’ part in that title was not to be underestimated. The baker seemed to look at time as some neverending, abstract concept.
If he remembered correctly, the recipe for Zhou’s chocolate cake took one hundred and fifty hours to make if it was done right. Alex took in her supplies at a glance. Judging from what was there, she was about to start making the mousse. That meant she was hours away from finishing it.
“Um, I hate to do this,” he’d said. “But I think it’ll take awhile for you to finish, and I booked this time slot in advance. I really need to get started. Look, I need the counter but then I’m going to be using the spit and fireplace, so when I get to that step if you really want you-“
Her frown had deepened with every word. “I don’t think I really like your tone, young man.”
“My little Brock really needs his cake, are you really going to take a child’s cake away from him?”
“I’m not going to, like I said if you really need the kitchen-”
“Wait, I’ve got it.” Her eyes had lit up. “If you ‘really need the kitchen’-” Condescension lay in her voice when she repeated his words. "Then you can help me with my cake, I’ll be done faster, then you can have it aaaaall to yourself. We both win!”
Alex had blinked, stunned into utter shock. “Wait, are you telling me you want me to help you make your cake before I make mine? In the kitchen that I booked?”
“Well, you’re off for the summer, aren’t you? Do you really have that much to do? When you’re older, you have more responsibilities, you know. You should help me. My husband and I are very busy with our studies-”
“Where is he?”
“Asleep, not that it’s any of your business,” she’d continued. “But I have responsibilities, so you should help me make a young boy happy-”
“Lady,” he’d interrupted her. “You’re not supposed to be here. I’m not helping you make a one hundred and fifty hour cake, and let me tell you, I have responsibilities. Now, we can work something ou-”
“Are you talking back to me?” Her voice raised three octaves. “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners! I was here first, and my child really needs a cake and-”
“Shut the hell up.”
“You’re done,” he said, briefly considering calling Claygon over to give her a couple of blows. “Don’t ever say a word about my mother again.” His voice had gone flat, all courtesy was gone.
“And no, I don’t think I will excuse you. Talking about people’s mothers? You’re a grown woman, what’s wrong with you? You know what? The hell with this.”
“Where are you going?” she’d snapped.
“To wake up the superintendent, so she can toss you out of the kitchen I booked.”
“You do that! I’m good friends with her and she’ll take my side!”
The superintendent had in no way taken the indignant woman’s side.
It had taken a long time—and a lot of yelling and threats—but she had finally managed to toss the arrogant woman out of the kitchen and promised to send a report about her behaviour to the Housing Department.
At last, Alex had the kitchen, but the ordeal had taken more than two hours of arguing, plus he’d had to clean up the mess the angry mother had left behind. Still, since he was familiar with her chocolate cake recipe, he knew she would still have been there if he hadn’t said anything.
Once he’d gotten set up, he’d scrambled to try and catch up to get the cake done in time. He’d quickly gotten everything underway, and had been pouring the batter over the mould while his Wizard’s Hands had turned the spit. Delicious smells filled the kitchen, but he was getting nervous. Time was passing, and he couldn’t afford to lose the time he needed to get ready.
In his distractedness, he’d ordered his Wizard’s Hands to turn the spit too fast; the cake layer hadn’t set as firmly on the spit as he’d thought.
Batter had flown off, splattering everywhere.
His mind finally returned to the present, after chronicling the disasters that had brought him to the present moment. Now, here he was standing covered in batter, with most of the cake on surfaces other than the mould, and with only a small amount of batter left to use.
Cursing in all kinds of languages, he quickly scrambled to grab rags and clean up the mess. Considering his options, he decided to use what little batter there was left to finish the cake since he didn’t have time to start anything else. With less batter to cook, he managed to finish the cake only a little behind schedule, but—in the end—it turned out…small and kind of pathetic.
He sighed. It’d have to do.
Casting Lesser Heat to keep it warm, he boxed it up, set it in the basket beneath his forceball and jogged back to the washing area to de-cake himself.
The sun had long risen and he needed to get ready.
“Do I look good?” Alex asked, turning and examining himself in front of the mirror again. His fancy clothes from the patrizia’s ball had been destroyed so he’d…bought an identical forest-green doublet and wine-coloured hose from the same tailor he’d gotten the first set from.
He wasn’t exactly setting out to set the fashion world on fire, so he’d picked what he knew would work.
“For the thousandth time, yes!” Khalik roared at him. “If you don’t get out of my apartment, I swear I will pick you up and throw you from the balcony! Now go to your girlfriend!”
“Yes, my prince.”
Alex had finally calmed down when he’d reached the outside of the insula. Claygon was standing guard out there, gazing off into the distance with his shark-toothed face.
“Sorry, buddy, you’ll have to wait here,” Alex apologized. “This is one time where I think bringing you with me would be kind of…well, not too romantic. And we’re just going to be on campus.”
If Claygon was offended, he gave no sign.
“Hey, were you waiting long?”
Alex turned and gasped.
Theresa had cleaned up well again.
The huntress rushed toward him, her black dress billowing around her. A white collar of fur covered her shoulders and beneath it, a light cape fell to the middle of her back. The skirt had long splits up the sides, revealing stark white leggings and long boots extending above the knee.
“No…I uh…just got here…” he said.
“That’s a...'new' outfit. Well, it's not, but you look really good,” she said, idly reaching up and fixing an errant strand of his hair.
“Yeah, you took the words right out of my mouth.”
She chuckled. “Complimenting yourself, Alex?”
He shook off his mind-fog. “No, I’m not even joking. You look absolutely fantastic.”
She blushed. “…you too. …shall we?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
He offered her his hand, and she slipped hers into his.
The young couple strolled along the path from the insula in the late afternoon sun. Below his forceball, the small spit cake was hidden away…along with two more surprises.
‘It’s okay, we’re okay. Things started off badly this morning and the cake’s a little small, but we’re on our first date now. Things are going to get better.’
Then he noticed them: dark clouds on the horizon.
‘No way,’ he thought. ‘It was clear earlier. Clear. No way it’s going to rain. No way I’m that unlucky.’
Then he remembered The Mark of the Fool stamped mockingly on his shoulder.
‘Okay, maybe I’m that unlucky, but Theresa can’t be, can she?’
Then he also remembered the night that he’d wanted to tell her how he felt about her and how a horde of monsters had tried to kill everyone. For an instant, he glanced back at the insula shrinking in the distance. Maybe he’d call Claygon after-
No. They were on campus. Safest place in the city. Well, except for the potion explosions. And the demon summoning.
He shook his head. No, no. They’d be fine.
He used his meditation techniques to calm his mind but—as if mocking him like the jester’s face on his shoulder—the sky continued to darken.