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I woke up early today, fully intending to reach the cooks before they started my breakfast. Unfortunately, I achieved my goal a little too well. I wasn’t entirely sure what the time was, without a clock or a window, but when one considered my habit of sleeping till near noon… Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find that the majority of the kitchen staff hadn’t bothered to come in yet.

In fact, there was only a singular figure in the kitchen. She was perhaps a little on the small side, standing at about five foot three. She had long orange hair that ran all the way down to her mid-back and golden horns that rose from the sides of her head before sweeping backward. She wore a simple gray halter top, backless to allow for the leathery red wings that were folded against her body, and a black skirt, with a white apron over top. A thick red tail protruded from the bottom of her skirt, long enough to trail along the floor behind her as she walked. Red scales were scattered here and there across her dusky skin, concentrated especially about her elbows and knees. At first glance she seemed to have a small dusting of freckles curving around the bridge of her nose, but on closer inspection it was actually another spattering of tiny scales.

She was a dragon girl, a species I associated with pride and wealth. And she was currently sweeping the kitchen floor.

“Excuse me,” I called out, rapping my knuckles against the doorframe. “Do you work here?”

The dragon girl let out a little squeak at the sound of my voice and nearly dropped her broom. I watched as she frantically grabbed at the wooden pole, pulling it against her chest before turning her attention to me.

If my voice had been a surprise, it seemed my appearance was a shock. She let out another squeak, this time gripping the broom so tight that her knuckles turned white. She stared at me for several seconds, red eyes wide with fright.

“Is everything alright?” I asked, giving her the most gentle smile I could muster. I didn’t really feel like smiling at all, after seeing the reaction my appearance elicited, but considering her behavior thus far, I was legitimately worried that a frown might cause her to faint.

“Qu-Queen Devilla,” she stammered out. She started to curtsy, then stopped when she realized she still had the broom in her hands, which made the gesture awkward. “I… ah…”

“It’s fine,” I assured her. Although I was a little hurt by her reaction to me, I tried to inject a little amusement into my voice. “We can forget the formalities, this once.”

“Th-Thank you, Queen Devilla…” She bowed stiffly, still clutching the broom for dear life. “T-To what do I owe the p-pleasure of your visit today?”

It was a struggle not to make a retort, considering how little pleasure my visit seemed to be bringing her. Instead, I forced myself to keep smiling. “I’m afraid we need to borrow the kitchen. There’s something special I intend to cook.”

“I can wake the head chef,” the dragon girl offered. Her words were growing noticeably smoother as we talked, the stutter fading away bit by bit. Despite that, I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes were directed slightly to my right, fixating on a part of the doorframe. She couldn’t even look directly at me.

“That won’t be necessary,” I informed her, shaking my head. “The recipe I intend to cook is not known to her.”

“Miss Nola is very knowledgeable,” the girl insisted. “I’m sure if you described what you wanted, she’d be able to make it.”

My smile faded, lips pressing into a thin line. I made the effort not to frown, but I still saw the girl’s shoulders stiffen.

“…Perhaps we should start over,” I suggested, placing my right hand on my chest. “My name is Devilla Satanne. And you are?” I smiled brightly while trying desperately to hide my burgeoning annoyance. I was clearly a terrifying presence for this girl, and I didn’t wish to make it worse.

“Lenora Dors,” the dragon girl responded, bowing again. Her grip on the broom, which had been slowly relaxing over the course of our talk, tightened again as she introduced herself. I was honestly surprised that she hadn’t snapped the handle in half by this point.

“Dors?” Abigail called out from behind me. Before I could even vacate the doorframe, she was squeezing past me and into the room. “As in the Dors family? The ones who have stores on nearly half the floors?”

Lenora flinched at the onslaught of questions, and she took a step backward in order to press herself against the wall, quietly nodding her head when Abigail was finished.

“Th-That’s right,” Lenora confirmed, her stutter back in force now that she had Abigail to contend with as well. “B-But that’s my p-parents. I-I’m just an apprentice chef…”

“And I’m sure you’re a wonderful apprentice chef, at that,” I interrupted, taking casino siteleri the opportunity to walk further into the kitchen. Lenora looked as if she wanted to distance herself, but with her back already pressed against the wall, there was really nowhere for her to go. Again, her eyes refused to meet mine. This time I couldn’t exactly blame her, though, as her gaze was locked on Bailey, who had followed me into the room.

“She won’t bite,” I promised. At least, I didn’t think she would. To be on the safe side, I opened my mental link with Bailey again and made that an actual order.

“B-But she’s a monster!” Lenora protested, pointing an accusatory finger at Bailey.

“Her name is Bailey. She’s a demon, I assure you, and under my control, besides.” I didn’t like talking about Bailey like that, but her understanding of the world truly was that of a wild beast. Since I didn’t know what she might do without me present, I couldn’t blame Lenora for needing reassurance.

Bailey didn’t seem to care, at least. She simply sat down beside me, tongue lolling out. Wild or not, she was definitely adorable.

“She’s a d-demon?” Lenora asked. I could hear the doubt in her voice but chose to ignore it. I knew how dubious my claim sounded, true as it was.

“She’s a demon. Just like you’re an apprentice chef. And as an apprentice chef, you know where all the ingredients are, yes? Including the oil?”

“Y-Yes!” Lenora confirmed, nodding rapidly, before suddenly freezing in place. “W-Wait. You’re really going to cook something?”

“I said so, did I not?”

The shock in her eyes felt mildly insulting, though I understood her reservations. A week ago, I hadn’t even known how to cook, but I’d worked hard and now could make porridge, bacon, sausage, and even eggs. Today I was determined to add fries to that list.

“The ingredients?” I prompted again when Lenora showed no sign of moving.

“R-Right!” Lenora glanced frantically from side to side for a moment, as if looking for something, and then focused her gaze back on me. “Um. What did you need again?”

“Oil.” I tried to be gentle with my response, but perhaps I was a touch too terse in my annoyance. Lenora let out a small squeak before nodding her head fervently.

“R-Right! The oil is over here,” she said, putting the broom down, then moving over to a cupboard. I caught a glimpse of numerous glass bottles inside it, mostly filled with dried herbs and spices. One, which looked to be half again as large as the others, was filled to the brim with yellow liquid. It was this bottle that Lenora brought me.

“Is this all the oil you have at present?” I asked her, a little disappointed. It was larger than the other bottles, but it was still only a liter of liquid at most.

“Y-yes, your majesty,” Lenora confirmed. “I can requisition more if you’d like? But it takes a while…”

“Then there is more?” I asked, my excitement building. She nodded, and a smile splayed across my lips. If she could get more, then I didn’t need to worry about using what the kitchen already had. I could use all the oil I wanted!

“I require a pot, and a metal strainer that can fit within it,” I informed her. “As well as a knife, a cutting board, and an empty jar.”

“R-Right away, Queen Devilla!”

To say Lenora moved quickly would be a vast understatement. She practically ran, going from one cupboard to another as she grabbed everything she needed. She put the jar and knife into the strainer, and the strainer into the pot, and then carried them all over using the cutting board as a tray.

I took the load and headed to the counter, taking everything off the cutting board. While there wasn’t exactly a sink, there was a basin built into the counter, complete with a drain and a lump of soap. I pulled some water from the air and used it to wash my hands, before reaching into the seemingly empty bag at my side and pulling out several potatoes.

My recipe for fries was fairly simple. First I pulled some more water from the air, forming a ball of it above the basin. Then I thrust one potato after another into the conjured water, agitating the liquid in order to forcefully scrub all dirt from the spuds. Once that was done, I placed my potatoes on the cutting board and cut them into planks. I’m proud to say I managed my strength fairly well throughout, despite my excitement. The wooden cutting board was only barely nicked during the process, and the knife’s iron handle wasn’t mangled at all.

“What are those?”

The voice caught me off guard, and I jumped a few feet backward in surprise, almost bumping into Abigail.

“S-sorry,” Lenora murmured, ducking into a curtsy. The moment that was done, she pointed a finger at the cut planks. “What are they, though?”

“Potatoes. canlı casino They’re a foreign vegetable I learned about through the Rite of Insight.” The explanation was apparently enough for Lenora, who went wide-eyed at the thought. From the look on Abigail’s face, I thought she might be rolling her eyes at me, but I magnanimously chose to ignore it.

“Would you like to watch my process?” I asked with another gentle smile. “I imagine I’ll be asking for this dish quite a bit, so having someone who can cook it would be beneficial to me.”

“Really? I can?” Lenora’s eyes were alight with excitement, and her lips were pulled into a grin of such pure joy you’d think that I had offered her the world itself upon a golden platter.

“You’d be doing me a favor,” I assured her, walking closer to both her and the cutting board. Her red eyes were filled with fear, but she stayed right where she was as I reached into my bag. This time I pulled out a handful of white crystals, which I sprinkled upon the potatoes.

“Is that salt!?” Lenora demanded. Her thick tail thumped against the floor in excitement, and she actually went so far as to reach out and touch a stray crystal, before snatching her hand back.

I couldn’t hold back an amused laugh.

“You don’t have to laugh…” Lenora complained. She looked a step away from tears. “I… I was just curious…”

“Apologies,” I said, lifting my hand in a conciliatory gesture. “I was simply caught off guard by your excitement. Yes, it is indeed salt. Would you like some?”

“Wh-what? I can really have some?” Lenora’s tears evaporated as quickly as they’d come. Her eyes were sparkling with excitement, and it took all my willpower not to let out another laugh. It seemed Lenora’s moods were quick to shift. Even though she still seemed tense, it didn’t seem like she was going to run away from me so long as food was involved. Was this what you’d call “Passion?”

“You can indeed have some,” I promised her, reaching into the pot and pulling out the jar I’d asked for earlier. Narrow enough at its base for me to fit it in my palm, the glass cylinder was about a foot tall, and was topped with a glass lid. I seemed to recall that glasswork in the middle ages was rife with imperfections, but I could see none in the jar. Perhaps magic had aided in the crafting of it? Regardless, it made a fine receptacle for salt, and I turned my bag upside down over it, allowing the white crystals to pour into the jar.

“This is for the kitchen,” I explained, offering the newly full bottle to Lenora. “If you’d be so kind as to fetch me something smaller, I’d be happy to grant you your own supply.”

Lenora did not move for several seconds, instead staring slack-jawed at the jar. It took a gentle cough from me to get her started again, and even then her movements were quite stiff as she took hold of the salt and robotically carried it back to the pantry.

“Are you trying to give the girl a heart attack?” Abigail hissed, sidling up next to me while Lenora was distracted.

“I do not see the problem,” I protested, frowning. “It was always my intent to reintroduce salt to the tower.”

“There are better ways of doing that than handing someone a literal fortune! She’s nervous enough already, if you hadn’t noticed!”

“As if I could avoid noticing it,” I muttered, taking the strainer out of the pot. “She will have to adapt. Salt might be seen as valuable for now, but I intend to make it commonplace before much longer.”

Abigail looked as if she had more complaints to make, but she shut her mouth when Lenora returned. The dragon girl was carrying another glass bottle. Between the bulbous base and the cork stopper, it looked more suited for potions than spices.

“Is this really okay?” Lenora asked. Her voice was faint, and her eyes refused to focus directly on me, as if she were in a daze.

“It’s fine if I say it is,” I asserted, taking the bottle from her and uncorking it. Since this container had a more narrow opening, I used magic to funnel the salt into the vessel. Once it was full, I corked it once more and proffered it to her.

“But I’m not even a full-fledged chef… Why would you waste something so precious on someone like me?” Despite the protest, Lenora still took the bottle and cradled it against her chest. She even smiled at it, like a mother looking down at their precious baby.

“I intend to make salt a common commodity,” I explained. “I brought quite a lot of it. You’re simply the first to be served.”

“S-Still… Isn’t it strange to waste something like this to an apprentice chef?” Lenora insisted. She stared at the salt for several long moments and then held it out to me with trembling hands. “Y-You should give this to the head chef, instead…”

“Is that how you really feel?” I demanded, raising kaçak casino an eyebrow. “Perhaps this is hypocritical, coming from someone who was born to her title, but if you aren’t a full-fledged chef now, then you simply have to become one.”

“B-become one?” Lenora echoed. “Do you really think I can?”

“And how could I possibly know that?” I asked, dismissively. “The only one who can ever know your limitations is you. But when it comes to salt, the head chef should be an amateur, too.”

For a moment there was silence. Lenora stared at the bottle of salt in her hands. Then, right as I was starting to think the decision was too much for her, she tightened her fingers about the container and slipped it into the pocket of her apron.

“You’re not at all like the rumors say you are,” she told me, meeting my eyes for the first time. There was a small, shy smile on her lips. It was nice to see something other than fear directed my way.

Still, my own expression was somewhat strained. “The rumors of my cruelty are all too true,” I confessed, sprinkling a little more salt on the potatoes, and hand tossing them to spread out the seasoning.

“For a long time, I was nothing but a spoiled brat.” I uncorked the bottle of oil and began to pour the liquid into the pot. It took the majority of the bottle to satisfy me, since I wanted to eventually submerge the potatoes and strainer both.

“I’m sure that’s not true!” Lenora protested, wide-eyed. “You’re nice. Or… You’ve been nice to me, at least…”

I glanced at Abigail, looking for backup, but she only gave me a smug look, as if to say “I told you so.” It seemed I would receive no support from her.

“I’m nice now, perhaps. But I have a lot to make up for, all the same. Denying the rumors would be like denying the pain I’ve caused, and I won’t do that.”

“Because denying all the good you’re doing is so much better….”

My cheeks flushed red at Abigail’s words, but I didn’t respond to them. To begin with, they were spoken so softly that I wasn’t entirely sure they were meant to be heard. Lenora certainly hadn’t heard anything; she seemed too focused on the pot of potatoes to really process words whispered behind her. Answering a question she hadn’t heard in front of her would simply lead to awkward confusion. At least, that’s what I told myself.

But, truthfully, I just wasn’t sure how to respond.

“The next part is heating the oil,” I said, pressing onwards instead. “You’ll probably have to experiment a bit with the size of the fire, and how long to cook them, but I’m going to cheat a little and use magic to heat it directly.” I knew that too low a temperature would result in greasy fries, while making it too hot would burn them. What I didn’t know was what temperature was actually required. I’d have to experiment.

I focused on a point in the center of the oil, building up heat rapidly until the surface began to boil. I then took a few of the fries, put them in the strainer, and placed that strainer in the pot. As makeshift fry baskets went, it was a definitively terrible replacement, but with magic at my disposal, I figured I could make it work. I’d need to get some proper fry baskets made at some point though. Hopefully, we were as good at working metal as we were with glass.

After a few minutes, I used magic to pull the strainer from the pan. The fries in it came out soggy, so I put them aside and raised the heat a little more, making the bubbles pop and sizzle even faster. The next test batch looked right, but when I bit into it it was far too hard, so I shifted the temperature back down a touch and waited for the bubbling to slow. In this way, I eventually narrowed down the temperature until I had a perfectly crisp, golden fry.

“Almost done,” I promised the girls with a smile, “though I think it could use a little pepper… and perhaps some malt vinegar if we have any?”

“Right away!” Lenora jumped, running back to the cabinet.

I added the rest of the potatoes to the strainer and used magic to lower it back into the oil while she was getting everything. I wasn’t exactly sure how long the fries were supposed to remain in the oil, so every minute or so I’d magically lift one out. In the end, it took a little under five minutes.

“The fries are finished!” I declared. “Fetch me four plates.”

“Four?” Lenora asked, looking around the room. Her eyes flicked between me, Abigail, and Bailey, then darted around some more as if searching for a hidden person. “There’s only three of you, though.”

“But there are four of us,” I countered, putting emphasis on the final word. “Or did you think you were helping me for free?”

“H-huh? M-me!?”

I’d thought most of the nervousness had leached out of Lenora over the course of my cooking, but now her stutter was back, and a look of pure panic had returned to her face.

“I-I can’t!” she protested, “Th-This is food meant for the queen! For a commoner like me to even think about eating it would be… I mean. I couldn’t!”

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