Some days were odd days. Some days you ran, and some days you found yourself in another world with nothing but an iPhone and the clothes on your back. Some days you made ice cream.
But it was a rare day that Ryoka found herself making ice cream in a noble woman’s house, surrounded by maids, in a kitchen that could have rivaled any cooking show’s setup for expense and expensive things.
She felt out of place in the spotless room, handling the equivalent of stainless steel cooking utensils. Ryoka was still barefoot, and she was painfully conscious of how her feet were dirtying the flawless floor tiling. Not that Lady Magnolia seemed to mind.
The beaming lady of the mansion hovered around Ryoka, excitedly showing her the contents of the amply-stocked kitchen. She opened pantry doors and revealed shelf after shelf of exotic ingredients that Ryoka half-recognized. Sugar, okay, that made sense. But red sugar? Harvested from the desert? And that was normal compared to delicacies like Wyvern meat.
“Nasty stuff. I tried it once but couldn’t bear the taste of it. It’s very healthy, or so I’m told but…”
Lady Magnolia indicated the purplish haunch sitting on a plate on a shelf. Ryoka stared at the glistening meat and silently wondered what it did taste like.
The oddness of the kitchen wasn’t that it was so grand, or had so many equivalents to modern cooking equipment. No, it was that most of the food storage in the kitchen consisted of shelves of food left out in the open. And even in the pantry, items like milk, butter, and even fresh vegetables had been neatly stockpiled away without any kind of refrigeration.
There was no helping it. Ryoka had to ask. She cut off Lady Magnolia as the other woman began talking about a strange jello that looked like it was moving.
“Doesn’t all this rot?”
Magnolia glanced at the shelves of uncovered food while the maids following her gave Ryoka silent glares.
“This? I shouldn’t think so. I paid for the best preservation spells and I have an [Enchanter] come by every year or so to make sure the runes are holding. My chefs are quite pleased with all the space, which I do need for all the delightful treats I order.”
Ryoka stared at the tiny etched runes on the side of each cupboard. Preservation runes? Well, that was handy. She wondered just how expensive they were.
“Not too expensive, at least for the quality of work done. Mages charge very affordable prices. I gather most inns and some of the larger shops use such runes quite often.”
Lady Magnolia smiled as Ryoka’s head shot up and the younger woman looked at her.
“Not mind reading my dear. Just an educated guess and a few skills. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that it is a frivolous class, but [Ladies] have a few useful tricks in social situations.”
“Oh, you are quite taciturn, aren’t you? I’ve met dragons more forthcoming, but very well. Let us make this ice cream! How shall we begin?”
Magnolia waited excitedly as Ryoka looked around the room and tried to remember all of the ingredients. It had been a long time since Ryoka made ice cream. She’d almost forgotten how, but as a child—
“We need some salt too. A pinch of it. And vanilla.”
“Of course. Ressa?”
The head maid nodded and directed her maids to the appropriate shelves. She paused as one maid brought her a bundle of wrapped vanilla bean stalks.
“They are quite expensive, milady.”
Lady Magnolia pshed and waved at Ressa impatiently.
“Oh, nonsense, Ressa, don’t be a spoilsport. I’m minded to give Ryoka anything she wants if she can make this ice cream.”
“One stalk is fine.”
Ryoka accepted the dry, stick-like piece of vanilla from the glowering maid and broke it open. She sniffed at the strong smell and began extracting the beans from within.
“Now we need to heat the milk, salt, and sugar together in a pot. Got a big one?”
Lady Magnolia clapped her hands together as Ressa glowered and found a large, polished pot and set it over one of the kitchen stoves.
“Oh, I see! You’re making a custard! How delightful!”
Silently, Ryoka mixed the ingredients together and created a creamy, off-white custard in the pot. She poked at it with her spoon and decided it was thick enough for ice cream. What next? Oh, right.
This time Ryoka’s language nearly earned her a slap on the back of the head. Ressa’s hand twitched, and a small vein began to throb on her forehead.
“I might not be able to make this after all. I forgot something.”
Lady Magnolia looked dismayed. She peered into the pot.
“It looks perfectly fine to me, but—is there an ingredient missing?”
Ryoka shook her head. She gestured at the pot.
“We need to freeze this. Or rather, we need to freeze it slowly while stirring.”
That was a big problem. For all this world had things like preservation spells, Ryoka was sure they hadn’t invented freezers or air-conditioning. But to her surprise Lady Magnolia laughed and put her hand over her ample bosom in relief.
“Oh, is that all?”
Magnolia waved an airy hand. She turned to another one of her maids.
“Yvony, would you be a dear and send a message to the Mage’s Guild? Tell them I need an [Elementalist] mage capable of using basic ice magic.”
Bemused, Ryoka watched as Yvony, a fair-haired maid with fairer complexion bowed and quickly trotted out of the room.
“Is she going to run there?”
Lady Magnolia chuckled politely and the other maids smiled.
“We are not all as fleet-footed as you Runners. No, she’s just here to bring me—ah, thank you Yvony.”
The maid had returned with a small, blue book covered in gold latticework on the cover. Lady Magnolia opened it and showed Ryoka the blank pages as Yvony unscrewed an ink pot and dipped a quill in it.
“If you will observe, this is a magical book. One of two, in fact. Whenever one writes on one page, the other book immediately copies over the same writing. It’s quite the ingenious way of talking without needing to cast a [Telepathy] or [Far Chat] spell each time.”
She handed the book to Yvony as the maid wrote a few brisk, short lines on the paper. The book glowed once, and then the light faded from the pages. Magnolia clapped her hands together and turned to Ryoka.
“And now we wait. A mage should be along in a matter of minutes. The Mage’s Guild is quite prompt at responding, and happily they are located only a few streets away. Shall we retire for a cup of tea?”
Given her choice, Ryoka would have refused, but the thing about a request made by a lady is that it is not really a request. In short order she found herself sitting and sipping from a hot cup of tea and trying not to make a face.
Her heritage as a Japanese-American said that she should at least appreciate good tea, as Ryoka had Japanese grandparents who insisted she try the stuff. But her American roots and personality insisted coffee was the only way to live. Sadly, she hadn’t encountered that beverage yet so she pretended to drink her tea while Magnolia chattered away.
“I must say, I have been absolutely dying to know what it is that makes you run, Miss Ryoka. If I may confess—I’m not asking you solely out of pure interest as well. I have a teensy bet going on with some other ladies in my gossip circle about it.”
Ryoka paused. She was used to attention for running barefoot, but this was the first time she’d ever been bet on.
“Why, haven’t you realized what a splash you’ve made? The tale of a new Runner with exotic features appearing in the middle of a crowded street suddenly is quite the story, and that’s not even with you becoming the fastest Runner in the area. People are wondering why you run barefoot. Is it part of a special class? Or is it a secret?”
Magnolia waited, but the young woman sitting across from her said nothing more. She cleared her throat politely.
“Then—would you mind telling me? I would simply love to know.”
Lady Magnolia leaned forwards over her tea eagerly. Even the maids were quietly listening as they bustled around the drawing room performing menial and unneeded tasks.
“I just like running barefoot. I hate shoes.”
Her audience blinked at her. Ryoka shrugged. There wasn’t much more to say. She eyed the maids as they shifted and exchanged glances behind their mistress’s back. Idly, Ryoka wondered how much gossiping they did when they were done with work.
Silence followed Ryoka’s answer, which was then broken by laughter. Lady Magnolia chuckled, and then laughed quietly. It wasn’t boisterous or uncontrolled; like everything else about her, it was polite and refined. But it was genuine.
“You, my dear Ryoka Griffin, are the most delightful young lady I have ever met!”
She lifted her cup and a waiting maid filled it with the dark brown tea that Ryoka was trying not to ingest.
“A simple answer, but not from a simple person. I suppose our little gossip circle will have to annul the bet. How interesting. Well then, now that my curiosity has been assuaged, shall we play a game while we wait for our mage to arrive?”
Ryoka paused. She glanced at Magnolia’s face and frowned.
“…What sort of game?”
“Oh please Ryoka my dear. Don’t be so suspicious. I don’t intend to pry—well, I do, but I won’t force you to say anything you truly don’t wish. I simply propose a game of guessing. I play it all the time with friends for dirty secrets and intrigue. You may ask one question of me, and I in turn shall ask a question which I hope you will answer truthfully. Does that sound fair?”
Ryoka shrugged. Magnolia smiled wider.
“Well then, since I have asked you about your bare feet, why don’t you start with a question.”
Reluctantly, Ryoka pondered. She looked down at her tea, up at the ceiling, around at the maids, and then at Magnolia. At last, she shrugged.
“I can’t think of a question.”
Magnolia’s face fell.
“Not even one? Aren’t you curious about something? I have a veritable wealth of gossip and actual knowledge at my disposal.”
Again, Ryoka shrugged. It wasn’t that she couldn’t think of a million questions to ask, but she really didn’t want to ask Magnolia said questions. And she enjoyed the older woman’s discomfort.
“…Not really. Why don’t you ask a question?”
Although she was clearly disappointed, Lady Magnolia rallied in an instant.
“Well then, I would dearly love to know where you come from Miss Ryoka Griffin. Let me see. Are you, by any chance, a native of the northern continent?”
Ryoka raised an eyebrow.
Magnolia’s face went blank.
“Which one? Well I suppose—the main one. Unless you mean one of the islands is a continent? No—I am referring to the human continent, Terandia. Are you from there by any chance?”
“Well, well. In that case, are you from the east? The Isles of Minos house a small human population. Or perhaps you are an islander? In the archipelagos there are many exotic peoples with features not unlike yours.”
Ryoka shook her head. She was learning a lot.
“Never been there.”
Magnolia pursed her lips.
“My instincts are completely off. Fine then. I wouldn’t guess it, but—the frozen archipelago? Or perhaps the untamed wilds of this continent?”
“No, and no.”
“Well, are you from the southern lands? I can’t imagine how, but perhaps you grew up among the Gnoll tribes or among the Drake settlements?”
Ryoka smiled. Magnolia eyed her with a slight frown.
“I merely ask as clarification—you did not grow up among the Antinium, perhaps? They have several Colonies to the south and one unique Colony in the city of Liscor.”
Again, Ryoka shook her head. Magnolia tapped her spoon against her tea cup in vexation.
“Very well. But if you aren’t from one of the main continents…aha! You grew up in Wistram, the isle of mages! Or—or in the mountains among Dwarves? Far-fetched, but perhaps…you lived on the sea as a child?”
Ryoka grinned. Around her the maids looked suspicious, as if they suspected her of lying to their mistress. But Magnolia gazed at Ryoka with a frown. She opened her mouth, but at that moment a firm but polite knock echoed from the front door.
Reluctantly, Magnolia turned her gaze away from Ryoka. She put down her tea cup and swept to her feet.
“Hm. Well, let us not keep our mage waiting.”
Ryoka was already up, and she followed Lady Magnolia to the front door. Because she was standing behind her, she didn’t see the deep frown Magnolia wore on her face before she turned it into a smile as she welcomed the ice mage into her home.
Ice cream. It tasted sweet, was hopefully cold, and apparently, was about as addictive as hardcore drugs to those who’d never had it before.
She hadn’t been too sure about her recipe, but at Lady Magnolia’s insistence, Ryoka had filled a huge pot with custard. After the mage had arrived and the ice cream had been successfully churned into the frozen treat with a few hiccups, Lady Magnolia, her maids, and even the mage had joined Ryoka in eating the ice cream.
As a result, the big pot was now empty and Ryoka’s stomach was not happy with her. The mage had left just half an hour ago, clutching at his stomach and head. He still had a blissful smile on his face, though.
To Ryoka’s surprise, the mage had been quite interested in making ice cream. Perhaps that was just his personality, but it was also probably due to Magnolia’s infectious enthusiasm. She’d had a maid taking notes of Ryoka’s every action as she’d figured out how to mix the ice cream properly.
Well, that was fine in the end because it meant that Ryoka didn’t have to explain how to make the ice cream twice. And now that the ice cream was eaten, Ryoka could finally leave. She was at the final stage of that process—trying to shake off Lady Magnolia at the door.
“I still can’t believe you won’t take at least some token for teaching me this delightful recipe.”
Ryoka shrugged as Lady Magnolia fussed around her. The almost-lethal amounts of sugar the older woman had imbibed didn’t seem to be slowing her down like the other maids and Ryoka. Even Ressa, the faithful head maid looked slightly ill after coming down from the sugar high and realizing how much she’d eaten, but Magnolia was as energetic and bright as ever.
With a sigh, Lady Magnolia gave up on the issue, much to Ryoka’s relief. She’d refused all suggestions of payment. It felt wrong, especially for ice cream. At last, Magnolia had given up the argument and Ryoka was finally about to leave.
“Won’t you at least take some of your delightful ice cream with you? We happen to have several baskets enchanted with preservation spells. I would be most happy to make a gift of one to you.”
Ryoka hesitated as the maid named Ressa coughed and muttered about the expense. That was tempting. Not the ice cream—but a magical basket sounded extremely useful. But again…
“…No. I’m fine, thanks.”
Lady Magnolia sighed, but she made no further arguments, much to Ryoka and her head maid’s relief. Ryoka finished stretching out the leg that had fallen asleep and then moved to open the door. Ressa intercepted her and held the door open politely. Her hands were gloved. Apparently, that made a big difference to what she could touch and Ryoka couldn’t.
Time to run. But Ryoka turned at the door and nodded to Lady Magnolia.
“On the contrary, it is I who should thank you Miss Ryoka. But if I might have one last question before you go?”
Ryoka reluctantly paused at the door as Ressa closed it in her face. She turned slightly and glanced at Magnolia.
“Do you, in fact, come from any place in this world?”
Silence. Ryoka’s face didn’t change, but Magnolia smiled.
“I hope you will accept more requests from me in the future. I would so love to chat.”
Ryoka was gone before Magnolia finished speaking.
Lady Magnolia watched Ryoka jog and then transition into a slow run as she reached the end of the street.
“My, but she is quick.”
Behind her Magnolia sensed but did not see her maid Ressa nod her head in silent agreement. One of the perks of being a [Lady] was the ability to detect far more than her posture or physical limitations indicated. It also allowed Lady Magnolia to exhibit a certain degree of poise at all times, no matter how much her stomach might be hurting.
But these were lesser concerns, and so Magnolia banished them from her mind. Her eyes followed Ryoka as the Runner vanished around the corner and tapped her lips. Then she turned to her maid.
“Ressa, please contact the Mage’s Guild and let them know I request a spell cast upon my person tonight.”
Ressa bobbed a curtsy.
“Very good, milady. Which spell do you require?”
“Hm. The long distance speaking spell. I forget exactly what the name of the spell is. They are familiar with the one.”
Ressa paused. She bowed her head.
“Begging your lady’s pardon…”
“Go on, Ressa.”
“That particular spell is—quite expensive, milady. Would a lesser spell of communication not suffice?”
“No, I’m afraid not. The spell is expensive, but it is also worth the cost of secrecy and privacy. I appreciate your concern dear Ressa, but nevertheless. Make the request.”
I have to slow down after I get a few streets away from Magnolia’s house. I put my hand on my stomach and try not to throw up.
Ice cream is not good for my body, especially if I have to run. I feel like I’ve got a rock in my stomach. And yet, it might have been worth it. If only it hadn’t been vanilla*, life might have been perfect.
*If I have to eat ice cream, it’s got to be mint chocolate chip. Vanilla is just vanilla. But I love mint. And peppermint. And spearmint. I…really wish I had some gum.
As I slowly walk and then transitioned back into a slow jog I think about Magnolia, or as I now know her, the scariest person I’ve met in this world. Apparently, someone with her class can practically read minds, or at least tell how I’m feeling. That is not a comforting thought.
Jeez. She nearly figured out where I came from in a few minutes. What a terrifyingly scary lady.
It might be wrong to think, but when I first met her I thought she was just another plump social butterfly without a thought in the world. But…that’s what she wants people to assume about her. The real Magnolia is sharp and intelligent. Remember that next time you visit her.
…Which won’t be for a while. I know there’s going to be hell to pay if Persua has her way, and besides, now I have a good reason not to visit Magnolia in the future.
“Right. No Magnolia deliveries for a while.”
But with that said, I will be doing research on her. I’ll just bet Garia knows something about her—how Magnolia got her wealth, if she was married, etc. Know your enemy, right? Well, Magnolia isn’t my enemy, and I’d like to keep her that way.
…Garia. Her name triggers a thought in my mind as I run down another street. It’s getting empty this late in the day, but I see another Street Runner disappear the instant I turn down the street. Garia. Oh. Oh yeah.
Tomorrow I have to do that delivery with Garia. That will be a pain. Not just because we’ve got to carry fifty pounds on our backs, but because she’s going to talk to me the entire time. Which is fine. It’s a normal, human thing to do. It’s just a pain in the ass.
Well, I promised so that’s that. Forget about it, but don’t actually forget about it. At least I won’t have to stick around the Runner’s Guild too long waiting for another job.
I wonder whether there will be any consequences for making ice cream. What a ridiculous thought but…let’s explore that. Hm.
It probably wasn’t a good idea to share the recipe, but it got Magnolia off my back about where I came from. But what does it mean to spread that kind of information?
Well…if I had to guess, it would mean that the poor person who invented ice cream isn’t going to be as rich as she or he hopes. But it also might mean a revolution of sorts within the city. Ice cream is exceptionally possible, and thanks to magic, easy to make even in this day and age.
Does that mean I might soon see it on the streets? But no—unless you have a mage on standby, ice cream isn’t easy to keep. I guess the nobility will enjoy it for the most part until someone revolutionizes the ice box or fridge. That’s the way it goes, right? Trickle-down, just like how the ice cream cone melts.
I get that far in my reasoning when I notice the other runners. They appear from behind me and from other streets in a huge crowd. Ten—no, twenty Street Runners appear out of nowhere and surround me. It’s so sudden that I don’t think of running away before they’re all around me.
What the hell is going on? Suddenly, I’m running in a crowd and they’re jostling and forcing me to run at their speed. I recognize a few of them from the guild, but why are they here? Well, whatever they’re doing it’s aimed at me. I try to push out of the crowd, but they’re packed too tightly.
They ignore me. Well, of course they do. I try to shove my way left, but when I do they bunch up and ram into me. Hard.
Okay, no more nice girl, not that there ever was one to begin with. I stop suddenly, and trip up two of the runners behind me. It turns out to be a mistake, because they trip and fall and their shoes kick into my feet and ankles as they go down.
Gyaaaaaaah! That really hurt! But now I’m free. I really want to check my feet and see if their stupid shoes ripped any skin, but something’s up. I turn and run left even as the pack of Street Runners turns to follow me.
They shove me left, onto a smaller street. At this point I’m really starting to get annoyed. I could get nastier, but if it comes down to a fight against this many people they’d kick the crap out of me. No, screw it. I can lose these idiots the instant I get out of the city gates. I’ll go to Remendia and if more of them show up there I’ll talk to the City Watch. Or the Runner’s Guild.
All I have to do is break free of the group. And that’s easy and hard at the same time. The easy part is grabbing one runner by the shoulder and shoving her hard so she smacks into a wall. The hard part’s going to be when they start trying to hit me.
But they don’t. All at once the pack of Street Runners in front of me breaks up. Another three steps and I’ll be in the clear. Why the hell would they—
I see it too late. A foot’s there to trip me up, and though I try to jump over it, it catches me and down I go.
Ow. All the air goes out of me. Okay, damn. But they’re gone. That means—
Rumbling. I feel it in the ground and look up too late. A heavy cart pulled by a large mule thunders at me down the small street.
Oh. Of course.
I roll, and see a familiar sallow face grinning at me as the other Runners disappear into alleys. Get up. Get up!
The cart barrels down towards me as I scramble to my feet. I dodge left, but then something slams into me. It feels like I just hit a patch of solid air. Magic. Down I go, winded.
I look up and see the massive wheels crunching down the road towards me. So quick. And I’m lying right in its way.
Oh. Yeah. I’d almost forgotten what I hate about the world. Sometimes I forget, but I’m always reminded in time. What I hate about the world is—
For once I’m too slow.