The sky was a deep grey above the stone shop, light from the moon reflecting off the morning dew that covered everything. On the horizon, light was growing and grey slowly turned to pink. A figure lumbered down the quiet street with four heavy feet stirring up dust behind it.
The Chomby came to the front of the shop and with a deft flick of his tail tapped the secret stone that unlocked the door. It was an interesting system. Some part architecture, some part magic but he couldn’t claim to understand it. His brother had actually enchanted and installed the materials as a grand opening gift.
The soft lights that shone from some of the stones in the ceiling were enchanted by his brother as well, they changed colour based on the overall vibe of the room, which was perfect for the cafe. Plodding through the cafe, behind the bar and into the kitchen, the Chomby donned his pink apron with his name embroidered on the front in a cheery, bold font. Sorceror.
Sure, it wasn’t the correct spelling but he’d still always felt a pressure behind that name. Like there was an expectation for him to perform some fantastic feats. Like he should clearly, obviously pursue a grand adventure. However, the wilds of Neopia simply weren’t the adventure he was seeking. Instead, he felt there was adventure in meeting new people, in a growing community, in a business. He felt that providing service to his fellow Neopians was a virtuous cause and he’d found that purpose for himself here in the cafe. And now, it was time to work his magic.
The blue and red juppies were sizzling in the skillet, a sweet buttery scent rose first from them and then mere moments later a sharp kick of spice. Scent was an enormous part of cooking and drink crafting, Sorceror had a knack for it too, he could tell the juppies needed a few more minutes on the heat even though he was at the counter opposite the stove mixing the icing quickly with his tail wrapped around the whisk.
The icing was a bright orange. It had taken him days to pick out the colour and even now his heart raced a little when he thought about it. Would anyone say anything if it were the wrong colour? Would they sell? He hadn’t seen an orange Grundo in his life, or even a Grundo at all but Grundo Independence Day was coming up and he intended to celebrate them in the shop all the same. He had done special biscuits for every species of Neopet for the week leading up to their official holiday.
Dripping from the whisk the icing looked almost like it was glowing. He brought the whisk to his mouth before tossing it into the sink behind him, it was a light but sweet flavour. Benyeroberry, something he’d tasted on one of his family's trips to Lutari Island. The tropical flavour suited the blazing summer they’d been having this year.
He stepped over to remove the juppies from the heat and then opened the oven a crack and peered in. Three enormous loaves of bread were baking inside, the one on the right had cracked from the heat and exposed the seeds and nuts inside. He didn’t mind that the bread had cracked, it would bring just as much joy and sustenance no matter how it looked.
He hoped business picked up today. The family wasn’t hurting for money but the market had been less busy than usual. It seemed also that the morale around him had been lower, so many Neopians were struggling in Year 22 and Sorceror couldn’t help but find himself wishing he could help in some way. Then he chuckled at himself. A chef, barista, shopkeeper and now a hero. Is that right? How could he even-
The sun blazed through the large window in the cafe and shone into the kitchen. He squinted against the blinding light. Sure, he’d be a hero too. Just as soon as he got the shop open on time. Just once.
He propped the shop door open and pushed the cart of bread samples out the doors a few feet. Looking around the day as shaping up to be gorgeous, the sky still held some pink but largely had given way to a brilliant blue and large swaths of fluffy white clouds. Maybe something with air faeries and whipped cream clouds, he wondered, but what flavour do you give air? He turned and walked back inside pondering.
Behind the coffee bar, the steam wand whirred at a high pitch. A sound somewhere between a blizzard and a tearing of paper. His tail wrapped lithely around the stone pitcher, indifferent to the heat, the milk bubbling and steaming inside. The steam shut off automatically at the desired temperature he held in his thoughts and he pulled the small pitcher away from the wand. He gazed down at the hot foam inside and tapped the pitcher once lightly against the counter, bursting the few bubbles that had been inside.
A clay cup shaped like a cauldron sat to the right of the register, a tea bag and a splash of tepid water remaining. The light in the shop was a deep blue but the sun setting on the horizon turned it a sickly green, however, Sorceror didn’t seem to notice. His long neck was craned so his face was very close to the book he was reading. There hadn’t been any customers today and he’d busied himself around the shop as long as he could before sitting down to nearly devour the novel. It was a tale of faeries, grand debates and betrayals and he loved every word of it. The main character was just about to find out their mentor’s tragic backstory when he heard a cough and jumped violently knocking the almost empty cup of tea to the floor shattering it.
“I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to startle you.”
He looked up and saw a young Gellert standing just inside the cafe door. Her voice was soft and melodic and she wore a spotted jacket to match her fur.
“No, don’t apologize. Someone coughs in a public place and I jump out of my skin. I’m sorry.”
“Well, it is the Year 22.” They both gave a sad, nervous chuckle.
Sorceror stepped out from behind the register with a dustpan in his tail and quickly scooped up the mug’s remains on the floor. He looked up at her and she sheepishly averted her eyes.
“You know, I’m about to close but if you’d like I have a ton of food that’s going to waste. People just aren’t out and about like they used to be.”
Her eyes went wide. “Oh, no! I couldn't. I didn’t know you were closing, I don’t want to keep you.”
“No, truly I hate to see food wasted when so many are hungry. I donate what I can but… Let me feed you dinner.”
“Okay, thank you. I’m Ruby.”
“Sorceror.” His tail gestured to his name embroidered on the apron. “I do have to warn you of one thing though. A condition for this free meal.”
She cocked her head to the side.
“I get to tell you all about this amazing book I’m reading.” He said with a laugh and headed into the kitchen.
They sat on cushions in front of the large window in the cafe, watching as night fell and the stars began to shine under the clouds and even the flashing lights of the space station were visible tonight.
The juppies had been cold for hours so Sorceror had pureed them and reheated them on the fire for a few minutes. Then he had cut the hearty loaves of bread into thick slices and shaped the slices into crude scoop-like shapes. The two of them used the bread scoops to ladle the purple mixture and sat munching in comfortable silence. Sorceror glanced over at the Gellert girl and in the dim light of the cafe and the pale moonlight through the window, she seemed even younger than she had when he first saw her that afternoon. He thought he should look away but just then she turned to him, her white fur stained purple around the mouth and her large eyes filled with tears.
“Oh, dear!” Sorceror cried out “Are you alright? Have I done something?”
She let out a laugh then and the tears rolled down her cheeks with the movement.
“No, not at all. You’ve… the exact opposite, actually. It’s been so long since someone has shown me kindness like this.”
A soft chime sounded in the kitchen behind them and Sorceror glanced away from Ruby’s solemn face for just a moment to push the long lever down on the coffee press on the table Ruby looked up from her feet to watch the grounds be slowly collected by the filter inside and pushed to the bottom of the carafe like the sand on the seafloor.
“And just like that.” She said as she stared at the thick black coffee grounds. Sorceror picked up the carafe with his tail and poured the coffee into their mugs, nearly spilling as he could barely take his eyes off her face for a moment. What could she be going on about? And what has such a kind, young Gellert in so much turmoil?
“What do you mean?” He kept his voice low and soothing. “Just like what?”
“The coffee. Why do you make it like that? In the press? There are multiple ways to prepare it, right?”
“Oh, yes.” He was unsure of where this was going but coffee had become a true passion of his so he indulged her. “It’s hard to say what method is best or the most common, we cater to most here in the cafe, but I personally enjoy the press. I believe that allowing the coffee to take its time results in the most flavorful cup and the happiest drinker.”
“I suspected as much. Give me a moment to gather my thoughts, I want to say this the right way.”
She raised her cup but backed away when she felt the heat and returned it to the saucer. Sorceror held his up but simply took in a deep breath of the woodsy aroma wafting off the steaming cup.
“Another minute or so and then you can try it. If you slurp it helps with the heat, don’t worry it isn’t impolite.” He grinned at her and she smiled back with a light in her eyes.
“Okay, I’ve got it. So each individual coffee ground is a problem within the coffee, right? And there are multiple brewing methods for how to deal with them. Some try to catch all the grounds at once with a paper-thin solution but then you have the press. The press takes its time, like you said. It collects grounds, or problems, slowly and the result is a richer, more flavorful coffee.”
He sat for a moment staring at her, she seemed excited in her newfound resolve. She was practically bouncing and she hadn’t even tasted her coffee yet. It was obvious she was waiting for him to say something but he was so shocked by the profound idea that the young Gellert before him was reaching toward that he simply sat there stunned. He opened his mouth but she had already begun again.
“See, I’ve been trying to catch all my problems at once and it’s like I just make it worse or if I get it right I am so exhausted that I can’t enjoy it. I need to take my time and let my flavour develop.” She took a big, loud slurp of her coffee then and looked up at him. He burst into laughter at the proud smile on her face.
“You’re right of course and what a flavour it is going to be. You are a very insightful young person. Not many of your elders could claim to see the truth in the world like that, including me, so thank you.”
“I had given up when I walked in here today, ready to spend my last Neopoints on a biscuit or something. You changed my mind with your warmth and kindness. And the food helped too.”
They laughed heartily at that and then continued to chat and occasionally take a large slurp of coffee which got them both giggling again and again.
“Are you sure you don’t need a place to stay?”
They stood outside the shop and he nonchalantly flicked his tail behind him, a soft sound let him know it was locked. Ruby smiled up at him, her fur standing up a bit in the chilly night air.
“I’m sure, you’ve done so much for me anyway. You know I’ve got to start collecting my grounds too.” She gave him a quick wink. “Thank you for everything, I hope we see each other again soon.”
“As do I. Be safe, sweet Ruby. And take it slow.”
She turned and began walking west down the moonlit path of the marketplace. Sorceror stood watching her for a moment and saw her stop and look behind her. For a moment, he was certain she’d felt the Orange Grundo biscuits he’d stealthily slipped in her jacket pocket. Instead, she called out without turning to him. “Do you have a younger sibling?”
He raised his voice. “I’m the youngest!”
The smile she wore was apparent even in her voice. “You would have been a great big brother!”