Cal Experiments with Cooking
Cal peered out the tower window, scanning the narrow streets below. Cart wheels clacked against the cobblestones. People pushed and shoved their way through while the drivers shouted, but Master Xorgos was nowhere in sight. As a Dark Lord and Dread Wizard of Renowned Evil, he wouldn’t take kindly to his apprentice trying to make some extra cash on the side by using his evil spells.
Cal wiped his sweaty palms down his black robe and swallowed hard. He needed some money if he was going to take Loestra to the Dreaded Ball this weekend like he’d promised. She’d dump him for sure if he didn’t.
Pulling the window shut to keep out the flies, Cal turned back to the workroom. Master Xorgos had impressed upon him the task of scrubbing the floor while he was gone, in preparation for new evil experiments. He would be gone for the weekend, collecting esoteric new ingredients. Ingredients, Cal was sure, that would require cataloging, pouring carefully into glass jars, and organizing meticulously onto the shelves of the workroom closet. All dull tasks, left to him as a dark apprentice.
Cal had plans of his own, however. He’d made a deal with Prince Bueford of Buckland to brew him up some sort of disaster he could unleash at the courtly presentation of the Princess of Seaward. Bueford didn’t want to marry her, and considering the princess’s legendary temper tantrums, Cal didn’t blame him. But a little disaster was hardly evil enough that the dark lord would bother. Wiping out innocent villages with an army of instant minions, setting monsters on capital cities, and instituting periods of Global Darkness; those were more his style.
“Cal, Cal, you need to think bigger, eviler,” Master Xorgos always told him. “A Dark Lord and Dread Wizard of Renown Evil doesn’t deal in petty pranks. Only potions of mass destruction.”
“Which is why we live in a backwater little port like this, right?” Cal muttered to himself. He scooped up his pet rat, Kink, from the windowsill, and set him on his shoulder to keep him out of trouble. “Well, I don’t care about what’s eviler, I care about making a little money.”
Kink twitched his bent tail, for which he was named, and checked Cal’s front pocket for treats.
Ignoring the rat, Cal searched the old, musty books lining the shelves of Master Xorgos’s workroom. Surely one of them had a decent enough recipe for disaster. Heck, now that he’d been an apprentice for nearly two years, Master Xorgos had him restock all the ingredients into their carefully arranged glass vials; he knew where everything was. He eased out a likely-looking book and set it gently on the worktable. How hard could this be?
It wasn’t as if it mattered to Cal if he became a dark lord himself; he was only here because Ma and Pa had too many mouths to feed and wanted the apprentice money Master Xorgos sent them. Cal never saw a penny of it. If that wasn’t evil, he didn’t know what was! But Loestra went to Dark Lord Academy and had filthy rich parents in an alternate dimension that had year-round tropical weather. If he married her, his fortune was made.
“Death. Defeat. De—struc—tion.” Cal sounded out the recipes one by one. He’d only learned to read after he’d been apprenticed. The fifth son of a tanner didn’t get much education. “Disaster.” He squinted at the ingredient list. The book read:
The amount of disaster created is directly proportional to the amount of mischief and stupidity, and is inversely proportional to the amount of common sense added. For large disasters, also add copious amounts of instability, while for smaller ones use half a measure of miscommunication mixed with half a measure of greed. Procrastination and a dash of irony may sweeten the disaster, but be careful—too much and your disaster might be postponed indefinitely. Malicious intent can also be used to great effect, but if overdone tends to result in a too-purposeful display of carnage for a true disaster.
Further down, the recipe had all sorts of possible things to mix in to change the exact manner of the disaster as well. Unsure of what to pick, Cal ran a finger down a long list of suggested items and sighed.
Kink jumped down from Cal’s shoulder, his feet crinkling the page. “Hey, stay out of trouble, old pal, I’m busy.” Cal dumped him on the floor, not that it deterred the rat, who only started climbing up his pant leg.
Master Xorgos had told Cal he was allowed one familiar, but that he wasn’t going to buy it for him. Cal had found a rats’ nest in his bedroom about a month after he was apprenticed, and tamed one of the babies. The blue-black furred rat had a propensity for trouble that left Cal wondering if he’d really done himself a favor or if he’d be better off on his own. The rat was constantly stealing small objects or sneaking food out of the kitchen. But the life of an apprentice was so lonely he found himself talking to the familiar anyway.
“What was that first ingredient again? Mischief? Think I saw some powdered mischief just the other day.” Cal sighed and headed to the storeroom, scanning the glass vials lining the shelves.
Cal grabbed the stepladder, climbing up to look at the many containers. He stared at them blankly, trying to remember some of the things he’d recently packed into them that might also do for the special ingredients at the end of the recipe. Spiders? All girls hated spiders, right? The recipe had said mischief and stupidity, hadn’t it? Well, he’d just refilled the jar of powdered mischief yesterday. That, at least, was readily available, but he hadn’t seen any stupidity.
“We can’t be out; Master Xorgos is always claiming the world is just oozing with it.” Cal swept up Kink and put him back on his shoulder so not as to step on him. The rat squeaked in his ear. “This is mischief, right?” He squinted at the jar in his hand. Nope, it said ‘marriage’. “Not that there’s much difference,” Cal muttered, shoving it back on the shelf.
Back and forth, Cal carried jars and bottles, arranging everything called for in a row by the book. After the jar of instability somehow slipped through his fingers, forcing Cal to throw himself flat on the ground to catch it before it hit the stone, he decided to take his time with things.
Even then, everything seemed to keep going wrong. The powdered incompetence seemed clumped at the bottom of the bottle and wouldn’t come loose at first, then fell in all at once when he pounded on the bottom. And when Cal tried to measure out the mischief, it kept spilling around the edges of the measuring cup.
“Ugh.” He held the cup half under the edge of the table and tried to brush the spilled powder into it, but somehow, despite being slow, careful, and aligning the cup to be sure it didn’t miss, most of it ended up on the floor. “Let’s hope stupidity isn’t so messy,” he grumbled.
Kink wandered through the powder, leaving tracks.
“Lick it up, why don’t you,” Cal said. “Only you’re enough mischief already.” He grabbed the rat, tossed him out of the way, and swept the fallen mischief under the nearest bookshelf with the broom.
It took him half the afternoon before he finally had all the right ingredients measured out in the small-sized black cauldron, the flame under it adjusted to “low.” But once he started to simmer it, it threatened to boil over, making him grumble and turn the fire off while he went to go find a few last-minute ingredients. He still hadn’t specialized the disaster… a thunderstorm? There was rainwater somewhere around here… Or maybe a tornado? Perhaps he should think bigger. He grabbed the tin of cosmic blackness powder and shook some in, probably not global darkness in this quantity, just local darkness… only the mixture chose this moment to boil up, a couple of big bubbles popping almost right in his face, startling him. His hand slipped and half the tin ended up in it.
“Oh well, can’t take it out now,” Cal muttered, and slammed the lid back on the container. He grabbed the spoon and gave the cauldron a big stir, the disaster now looking green and gooey. He added some rainwater, deciding a flood or storm might not be bad after all, and would make it easier to stir.
Cal leaned over the magic book to take another look at the recipe. “Alright. Simmer for ten minutes, stirring constantly.” He turned back to it, just as another big bubble popped. “Isn’t it disgusting? It looks like neon snot.” Cal couldn’t help grinning, since it was at least far more interesting than that pot of plague he’d had to stir for what felt like four hours straight. That had been gray and so thick he’d gotten blisters on his fingers, and his arms ached for days afterwards from the force needed to stir it.
Kink squeaked and leaned over for a better look. The disaster bubbled again, popping furiously. Both Cal and Kink startled and the rat slipped from his shoulder straight into the cauldron.
“No!” Cal grabbed the struggling rat out before he was boiled alive. Both Kink and his right hand were now covered in thick green goo. “Ugh! You waste of an animal.” Cal scowled, his previous fear turned to anger as the rat squirmed to get free of his grip. “Now look what you’ve done!” He jumped over to where he’d left a rag when he’d been wiping the counter and tried to catch the green stuff before it dripped all over the place, leaving only a few drops splashing to the floor as he dashed over to the sink. He flipped on the faucet and dunked the rat under the stream of water to rinse the disaster out of Kink’s fur.
The rat struggled and squeaked, his nails scratching Cal.
“Hold still, you abomination!” Cal pinned him down and turned on the cold water as high as he could with his left hand, before grabbing a fresh towel to wipe down the now-soaked rat.
A sizzling noise distracted him. “Aaaargh!” The disaster was boiling over. Cal dashed over and yanked it off the stove, giving it a quick stir. Green goo now stained the front of the stove. “This is going to take forever to clean up. It had better be worth it.”
No time to grab dried spiders now; the disaster would have to do. Cal scraped it into a flask, glancing at the clock. Bueford would be here any minute. “Ugh.” Kink had scampered off somewhere, but Cal didn’t bother to try to find him. He’d show up when he wanted to be fed, if not sooner. He lugged the cauldron over to the sink to fill it with water, and while it was soaking, scrubbed the stove with the towel and took all the containers of ingredients back to the shelves. Cal was not naturally neat and tidy, but it wouldn’t do for Master Xorgos to realize his apprentice was pilfering supplies.
Using a wire brush, Cal attacked the side of the cauldron, but the disaster potion stuck to the sides like glue. Squirting gobs of soap on it, he gritted his teeth and tried again. If he’d ruined the cauldron, Master Xorgos would do something evil to him for sure. Lock him in the dungeons without dinner, make him scrub all the floors twice, perhaps mend the precarious tiles on the tower roof.
“Grrrrr.” Grabbing a knife, Cal scraped off the disaster, still half-listening for the doorbell. Finally the cauldron came reasonably clean; only now the disaster seemed to have plugged the sink. Cal wrinkled his brow, staring at it. Sighing, he went to find the plunger in the bathroom on the next level down. That worked on toilets, so it ought to work on sinks, right?
Wrong. After ten minutes of plunging, the sink was still half full of semi-green water. Cal threw the plunger across the room, sending Kink scattering away with a screech. Had the rat just been licking up the spilled mischief from under the shelf? Well, he didn’t have time to investigate. The sink came first. Didn’t Master Xorgos have some sort of potion for clogged sinks? Cal yanked open the cupboard under the sink, sorting through the cleaning supplies. What was this? He picked up a bottle and read:
Blast-o Drain Cleaner: You’ve got clogs, we’ll blast ‘em! Blasts out the biggest, most magical clogs, while still leaving your pipes intact.
Cal dumped the entire bottle into the sink. Steam bubbled up. There was a loud bang that sent him backwards, and then the sink drained, the liquid vanishing. Cal leaned back over for a clearer look and got a puff of smoke in the face.
“Uh oh, did I put in too much?” Cal flipped the bottle over and read the instructions. Pour one half cup into clogged drain. “Erm…” Something rumbled above his head, then below, then a keening screech. “Think I overdid it, Kink. Kink?” The rat had taken cover.
An explosion rocked the tower, blasting Cal off his feet. He yelped, banging his knee hard on the stone workroom floor. “Dad-blast it! Master Xorgos is going to kill me!” He got to his feet, shaking, and rushed to the stairs. Water was running somewhere…yikes! Master Xorgos’s master bathroom! Water was running down the stairs, and the usually locked door to Xorgos’s private bedroom was blasted open.
Of course, the doorbell chose that moment to ring. “Gah!” Cal dashed back into the workroom to grab the vial of disaster and pounded down the stairs. “I’m coming! I’m coming!”