Previous: Darkness And Salt Dough
The graveyard, where her brother's body was buried, was cold and silent. At three o'clock in the morning a thick fog had rolled over Tierra Laruja, blanketing the whole town. Above her, a raven darted, making a screeching sound. She ignored it. Noella Mezcado was crouching at her brother's grave, carefully setting three porous rocks, coated in perfumed wax, on the gravestone. Her dark gray cotton dress touched the moist grass and covered her smooth white feet. Her hair fell on her shoulders. "It's time." She whispered.
Even though she had been attacked by the Salt Dough Man (who pretended to be Sebastian) more than a week earlier, Noella had not been discouraged; she knew she had to find a way to know what actually happened to Sebastian . Now, she probably found it. From the basket beside her, she pulled out seven violet candles, some vials of oils, a couple of dry bones, a few dead insects, Sebastian's red handkerchief, and a fat rodent--alive although somewhat paralized. Using her magic and her left index finger, she lit the candles while focusing on her intention. The motionless air tolerated the candles'light and the darkness receded.
The rocks on the gravestone formed a triangle. On the free space at the center, Noella set the ingredients and the fat rodent on top. She raised her right hand, palm up, and made a fireball manifest. Her blue eyes, reflecting the bright light, seemed to blaze. The light that the fireball radiated caused her face to appear paler against the darkness around her. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Noella released the fireball making it to burn everything on her brother's gravestone, including the candles, and setting the porous rocks on fire. Then she uttered:
"While I burn this healthy vole,
I call upon Sebastian's soul,
For twenty-four hours to stay with me,
Bound to this world from three to three."
Suddenly, the quiet air stirred into a violent wind, and from beneath the earth something made gurgling sounds, like water going down the drain. Dust rose from the cracks on the grave, accompanied by the stench of putrid matter. Then the dust whirled in the air, condensing and then solidifying into a long legged man. He stood tall, with his attractive yet severe features barely visible in the dim glow of the flame. His dark blue eyes were expressive, though they also revealed that he was somehow in pain. Slowly his face became more defined. His fair hair showed clearly, and so did his deeply set eyes, as well as his sunken cheeks. On his right temple was a faint white scar that ran over his brow to his forehead.
Sebastian looked at Noella, and she threw a robe at him. He caught the robe with his long arms and he quickly pulled it on. He appeared to be disoriented, as if he had a big question mark on his face. But when he realized what had just happened, he scowled at her.
"What have you done!" Sebastian growled. There was so much anger in him.
Something evil lurked in the shadows, just a few feet away, and it watched patiently like a stalking panther.
Back in the Mezcado House, Noella prepared tea and cakes while Sebastian went back and forth in search of materials to reverse his sister's spell. "Sebastian, where are you? I baked orange poppy seed cakes to match your bergamot tea!" Noella called.
Sebastian emerged from the short hall that led to the foyer. "Where is it?" it was the first time he had talked to Noella since they left the memorial park. Noella was glad to see her brother again, in the flesh, but his silence had made her uncomfortable. So now, hearing Sebastian again made her smile.
"Where is what?" she hoped they could finally enter a conversation. Then Sebastian would answer all Noella's questions. Surely, Sebastian would provide her the light she needed in her confusing situation.
"The box! The black recipe box. The box where you got the recipe card from? To disturb me!" Sebastian was furious.
"Why don't you have tea first? It's your favorite. Bergamot!" she had lost her enthusiasm but she tried to bring it back.
"Was. I'm dead, remember?"
She sighed. "I left it in the guestroom upstairs." Without wasting time, Sebastian rushed to the stairway. Noella rolled her eyes and sighed again. Through the living room window, she could see the light from the horizon. The sun will rise soon. I should make breakfast. Noella thought to herself.
At the breakfast table, Noella was sitting comfortably, spreading mantequilla over vanilla pancakes, when she saw Sebastian standing at the corner. He was wearing a plain white shirt, with soft khaki trousers.
"Your hot chocolate's ready. Come, sit." Noella invited him casually, trying not to look at him by pouring maple syrup over the cakes very slowly. "I have to be careful with the syrup; the cakes won't be as good if they're too sweet."
Sebastian remained standing where he was. He virtually ignored her request, although once or twice he looked at the hot cup of chocolate. "I tried reversing the spell you cast."
"Obviously, you failed."
"According to the recipe card, that one can only be cast once, and it can't be reversed. It's not permanent though, you'll revert to your dead old self again at 3 A.M. tomorrow." she was pouring orange juice into her empty glass.
"No, I mean, why did you have to return? You promised to stay away from the house!"
"I thought my promise was only effective for as long as you were alive. Besides, I have so many questions on my mind. Questions whose answers I can only find in this house."
"Well now you know why I want you away from the house, and the box. The box is dangerous, Noella!"
"What are you talking about? The box is our family heirloom. The box is useful. How can it be a danger?"
Sebastian moved towards the table. "Enchanted Culinary Craft is not for us to use." he whispered. He rested his hands on the back of the chair. Noella blinked. Sebastian was getting frustrated.
Noella squinted. "Guess what? I'm not really in the mood right now to listen to either your ranting or your lecture." she shook her head and sighed once more. "You're just tired, Sebastian. Wandering in the Land of the Dead must have exhausted you. Why don't we have breakfast first? Anyway we have at least twenty more hours to catch up before you return to ashes. Plenty of time, don't you think?" she put a pancake on Sebastian's plate. "It has a hint of vanilla, you'll love it."
All Sebastian could do, to express his defeat, was snort. He pulled the chair and took his seat, he was ready for breakfast. But when he took a slice of pancake into his mouth, he flinched in disapproval. "The pancakes are cold."
"They cooled down while you were blathering."
Sebastian's face twisted even more.
"Let me take care of that." Noella passed her hand over the pancake, reheating it with her magic. Sebastian was clearly surprised when he saw this. Noella only smiled.
It was not long before Sebastian also smiled. It was the first time Noella saw her brother smile, in more than ten years. It brought her so much joy.
Upstairs, in the guestroom, a dark figure attempted to open the shiny black recipe box. When it couldn't, it tried to carry the box away. But the box was too heavy for it. "After all these years, you still won't let me have you..." the creature whispered. "I'll find a way. Then I'll come back." The figure returned to the shadows.
While Noella was washing the dishes, Sebastian went outside to feed the pigeons. Neither of them were aware that threat was close at hand. It crawled beneath the walls. It watched them in silence.
Later that morning, wondering what to prepare for lunch, Noella went upstairs to retrieve the recipe box. She saw the box beside the bed, picked it up and returned to the kitchen.
She was fingering recipe cards when one of the cards flashed and caught her attention. "Arroz Con Piña Y Pescados. Interesting. I hope Sebastian loves this."
Arroz con Piña y Pescados
Heat vegetable oil and sauté garlic until aromatic. Add carrots and stir. Add oyster sauce. Stir in eggs and cook for a minute. Add salmon and mix. Add the rest of the ingredients and chant:
"Become a pleasing dish, a tasty delight."
Serving suggestion: serve hot in pinapple shell.
At noon, Noella and Sebastian had lunch at the brick patio at the back of the house. He won't say it, but Sebastian manifestly took delight in the meal. Noella was pleased. It meant a lot to her to gain her brother's approval, even when they had been separated for a long time.
A hot gust of wind blew their way. She lifted her glass, the deep orange of her freshly squeezed tangerine juice contrasted against her pastel green cotton sleeveless shirt. The drink offered relief in the arrid Tierra Laruja "Is it magickal?" Sebastian inquired.
"The fruit juice, did you use Enchanted Culinary to make it? I know the rice meal is magickal, I can sense it. But what about the juice?
"I never thought we could use the recipe box's magic to make cold beverages."
"Well, we better now. Because we're under attack!" Sebastian warned. And to alert her, he pointed over Noella's shoulder. When she looked behind her, she saw six dark red hairy ape-like creatures, crouched like frogs and poised to attack. One of them leaped forward, landing three feet away from Noella. Then it threw a butcher's knife at her. Noella dodged and the knife hit the soil.
"My God! What are those?" Noella asked Sebastian under her breath, both of them were now behind the table. "Astral butchers. They come from another world to hunt and slaughter kitchen witches and kitchen warlocks. Somehow, by doing so, they gain more magic. They'll also try to steal the box." Another knife flew above them.
"Wait, let me handle them." Noella said. So rising from her cover, she threw fireballs at their attackers. But they evaded her counterattack by jumping in different directions--scattering, and then regrouping. "They're quick and agile, you can't get rid of them that way." Sebastian said. He was sitting on the ground, his back against one of the table's legs. He was holding a glass of tangerine juice in his hand.
"What are we going to do now?" while Noella worried, Sebastian whispered something over the glass. Then he threw the glass hard to the bricks of the patio. When the glass broke, the liquid drink changed into a red orange smoke and it rose in the air. As they watched, the smoke spread and choked the astral butchers to death. Noella and Sebastian were left unharmed.
"Now that was easy," Noella was standing up. "Santa Barbara!" Noella exclaimed when she saw the corpses of the astral butchers. It's like we have dead gorillas in our open yard! We have to clean this up."
"We'll worry about that later. There should be more of them. Where's the recipe box?"
"I left it in the kitchen--" Sebastian was already on his way to the kitchen even though Noella had not yet finished talking.
When she reached the kitchen, she found Sebastian surrounded by four more astral butchers. One of them was approaching him, while another was quickly searching the recipe cards in the shiny black box. The remaining two were standing between the astral butcher moving towards Sebastian, and the one at the box.
Sebastian stretched his arms forward and immediately, a wave of energy rippled from his hands to the air, and toppled three of the astral butchers. The one left standing stole a couple of recipe cards using one hand and threw a butcher's knife at Sebastian with another. When Sebastian diverted the zooming knife with an energy ripple, the standing astral butcher seemed to flicker, and with the recipe cards, it disappeared.
Then, Noella and Sebastian, noticed that one of the stunned astral butchers was recovering. "Hurry, Noella. Before they also escape." Noella hurled high temperature fireballs at the three remaining assailants, and they were completely vaporized. "What just happened?" Noella asked Sebastian as she walked over to the counter, where the recipe box sat.
"You should never leave the recipe box open. While it is true that only a kitchen witch or a kitchen warlock can open the recipe box, nothing stops other beings from trying to steal magical recipes when the box is open. Just like what happened now!" Sebastian snarled in reply.
"Alright I get it. But you don't have to snap at me." Noella was following Sebastian as he moved to the solarium. The box was in his hands. "From now on, I'll always remember to keep the box closed."
"That's not enough." his eyes were censuring her. "If you can't keep its lid shut, at least protect it. Listen. Any kitchen witch can open this box, but only its rightful owners can request recipes from it, or add recipes to it. It's important for you to know that. Also, while no other magical being can lift the box up, any mortal man or kitchen witch can. You must protect the box, it's your duty as a kitchen witch. You became its protector when you opened its lid and used a recipe from it."
"Everytime you open the box," Sebastian continued, "it releases a burst of power. Not only does this attract the attention of other creatures who use magic, it also advertises the box's exact location. The box is powerful, it contains recipes with spells and rituals that can build or destroy lives. Many more will try to steal recipes from the box. Some will even want to steal the box itself. And they won't hesitate to kill you, Noella, if that's what it takes to take the magical recipe box away. Do you understand why I didn't want you to return to this house? I didn't want you to touch the box! And I still don't."
For a moment, there was silence. Sebastian sat on the grass green velvety couch, and laid the box on the tea table. Noella took her seat at the smaller sofa chair. After a while, Noella gathered all her strength to break the silence. "How did you really die, Sebastian?"
"Do you really want to know?"
Somewhere, in the realm of shadows, the dark hooded figure congratulated the astral butcher for being able to steal two recipes from the Mezacado's recipe box, and returning unscathed. It won't be long... the dark hooded figure thought.
Next: Zest of Retrocognition