Two Are Better Than One Chapter 9
By Samara Secor
Thalia Ausa sighed and looked again at what was on her plate, hoping she'd been mistaken. Normally, she liked broccoli, but this had been cooked until it turned an unappetizing shade of yellowish-green. Accompanying the erstwhile green veggie was a serving of mashed potatoes that looked as if it would have served better to cement bricks together than feed hungry students. Filling up the rest of the plate were chunks of some kind of blackened meat that probably tasted much like the charcoal that it resembled. "I thought that we weren't going to let the first year apprentices do any of the cooking anymore. Is this stuff even edible?" she asked, directing her question to the others sharing her table.
"I... think so," the girl sitting across from Thalia said doubtfully, prodding one of the meat chunks with her fork.
"Hey, Thalia, your mother's the guildmaster. Maybe you can get her to do something about it," another girl said hopefully.
"My mother's already overburdened with other duties as it is. I shouldn't bother her with such trivial matters. We'll just have to make the best of it," Thalia replied.
"Oh, the aroma of good cooking..." Arvad said, making gagging noises. "I hope the food that they serve here isn't like this all the time, or you and I are going to die of food poisoning, Laticia."
"I'm pretty sure that it isn't, Arvad. Everyone looks too healthy for that to be the case," Laticia said.
"That's true, but do you see anyone eating that stuff? They're just staring at it like they're afraid it'll bite back," Alicia commented.
"Perhaps we should take matters into our own hands," Neil said.
"What do you mean, Neil?" Laticia asked.
"I'm saying that we should go in the kitchen and fix our own meals," Neil explained. "It can't be that difficult."
"You wouldn't be so confident if you'd ever been in there before," a deep voice behind them said.
As one, the four turned to see a boy of about seventeen or eighteen years of age wearing an apprentice's robe and standing in the mess hall entrance a few feet behind them. He appeared to be just as muscular as Neil was, and that was no mean feat considering his occupation. He grinned and said, "Of course, if you're really intent on trying, I'll make sure that you don't burn the place down or anything. Some of the equipment tends to be rather... temperamental."
"Well, I don't know about you three, but I'm going to go in there and make something decent. I didn't come all the way out here to eat this slop. I could have done better with just a campfire and a roasting spit. In fact, I have done better," Neil said and began walking towards the kitchen.
"Mmm... well, I can't really cook, but I guess I'd better help. Otherwise, I might have to eat that crud instead," Arvad said, gesturing with one hand towards the serving line.
"Both of us can," Alicia said, indicating herself and Laticia. "If we tried, we could probably outdo the meals at the Fall Festival."
"By the way, Alicia, how much fun did you and Neil have at the Festival without me, hmm?" Laticia asked, eyes wide with pretend innocence.
Alicia flushed with embarrassment. "I don't have to answer that, so I won't... nosy," she turned and bolted towards the kitchen.
Keefe chuckled as he watched Neil try to light the stove. No matter what he did, not a single spark would catch, and the stove's innards remained as quiet as a tomb. 'I guess the fire spirits don't like him too much... either that or he has the magical ability of a chunk of iron. You can't light a magic stove without some talent. Should I clue them in to that?' Keefe wondered.
"Hey, Neil. Let me give it a try," Arvad offered. "About how hot are you guys going to need it?"
"At least hot enough to boil water... maybe a little more," Neil said and frowned. "Just how am I supposed to measure how hot a flame is, anyway?"
"By the color, of course," Arvad rolled his eyes. "I guess that means that you just need your average orange-red type deal. I'll have it ready in a jiffy."
On his first try, Arvad coaxed a small flame into existence and fiddled with the controls until he was satisfied with its appearance. Then, he stepped back and said, "Go to it, Neil. I'll let the real experts handle the rest."
Arvad eased himself up onto the countertop beside Keefe, and leaned against the wall to watch. "That was pretty good for first try.... Arvad, did you say your name was?" Keefe asked, thinking to himself, 'Actually, that was more than good. It was just shy of a miracle.'
"Yeah, that's my name," Arvad confirmed. "I don't believe you ever said what yours was."
"Right. Sorry for being so rude," Keefe apologized. "I'm Keefe. I share a room with Wein Ver Dain over in the east dorm."
"Okay, Keefe... To tell you the truth, I've done it before. At least, I think I have anyway. I don't remember hardly anything at all about my early years, so I can't say for sure," Arvad shrugged. "All that matters is that I got it to work, not whether I did it before or not."
"True," Keefe agreed. "But you should know that the reason that there's charcoal briquettes out there on those plates instead of some decent meatballs is because a lot of people have a hard time getting the flame 'just right'. Are you going to try to get into the advanced classes or are you just going to settle for entry level and breeze through it so you can get high marks this semester?"
"Huh? I'm not going to be an apprentice. I'm your new... what did Orielle call it? It think it was 'Minister of Finance' or some gibberish like that. Anyway, I've got a head for numbers, so I'll be taking some of the paperwork off her hands for her," Arvad eyed Keefe suspiciously. "What does 'getting the flame just right' have to do with taking advanced or entry level classes? Is there something that you forgot to tell us about this... equipment?"
"Most of the appliances in here are spirit driven. Those type of things all depend on magical control or the user's affinity with a certain element in order to get them to function properly. That's what I meant when I said earlier that the equipment was temperamental," Keefe explained.
"Oh. I guess that means that I have some talent, then. Not that it really matters. Since I'm going to be shuffling papers for Orielle, I won't be able to take any classes and still have some free time. I didn't come here to learn magic, anyway. I came here because it's the minstrel's opportunity of a lifetime to come up to the Magic City and play. Of course, I forgot to ask Orielle about the playing part, so I guess I won't be doing that either," Arvad said.
"A minstrel, huh? So, what do you play, and where's your instrument?" Keefe asked.
"I play the sitar, and it's back in my room in the west wing of the main hall," Arvad answered.
"The main hall?" Keefe looked surprised. "And the west wing, no less. It's the dream of quite a few of the male apprentices, myself included, to even get a chance to set foot in there. And Mr. Minister of Finance, Arvad, gets to live there. Lucky you."
"Lucky? How so?" Arvad wondered.
"Here, let me show you," Keefe motioned for Arvad to follow and they peeked out the kitchen door. "You see that girl with the long black hair in the green robe at the table about halfway down towards the center of the room?"
"Yeah. What about her?"
"Are you blind? That's Thalia Ausa. She's quite possibly the lovliest creature ever to grace the land of Lunar, and all you can say is, 'What about her?' Oh, brother..." Keefe shook his head. "We need to get your priorities straight, Arvad."
"My priorities are just fine, thank you very much," Arvad sniffed in mock offense. "I just like to take the time to find more about a girl than her physical appearance before I decide whether I like her or not."
"Hey, Arvad, can I borrow one of your knives? There doesn't seem to be one that's still clean and sharp enough to cut anything harder than butter around here," Laticia poked her head around the corner and asked, "What are you guys doing?"
"Plotting a way to get this good food out of here without being mobbed in the process," Arvad replied. "Actually, Keefe, here, was just pointing out to me some people in the crowd that he knows. Now, you said you needed a knife, right? Let me see. Which one would be the best to do the job?"
Arvad pulled up his right sleeve to reveal one of his numerous collection strapped in a sheath to his forearm. He unbuckled it and gave it to her, saying, "Be sure to get this thing back to me as soon as you're done. I wouldn't want one of my fav knives to be used to cut up culinary delights on a regular basis."
Laticia examined the knife's hilt, which was a falcon with glittering red eyes. "I don't think anyone would mistake this for kitchen cutlery, Arvad, but don't worry. I'll get it back to you," she promised.
"One of your knives? Just how many have you got? And are there any other surprises you're waiting to pull on me? Like saying you've got the Sword of Althena stashed under your bed or something?" Keefe asked, staring at Arvad incredulously.
"If there are any more surprises, I don't know about them, and as for the knives..." Arvad shrugged. "I lost count somewhere around the two hundred mark."
"Two hundred?!?" Keefe exclaimed.
"Edrea... I'm hungry," Conch said.
"Well, you're not the only one," Edrea muttered. "I wish that I'd had the time to change out of my traveling clothes before you decided to tease Sachiko's Bronze Dog... I suppose I'll just have to head towards the dining hall in this."
"Ah, what's wrong with that?" Conch asked. "It looks just fine to me."
"You've got as little fashion sense as Arvad does... Come on, the dining hall's this way."
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