a Slayers fanfic
Chapter 7: A Matter of Taste
Morning, or rather, late morning, found the group at the outskirts of Telgen City. Mayaki made a conscious effort to keep Amelia between herself and Zelgaddis. Amelia, naturally, didn't seem to mind. Zelgaddis, on the other hand, was going nuts trying to find a way to talk to Mayaki privately.
The group stopped on the ridge overlooking the city. Mayaki peered down at the spread of Telgen, awed. "It's... so big. There must be so many people down there..." *So many people who knew and spurned my mother for something that was not her doing,* her unspoken thoughts added.
Lina charged past her like a woman on the brink of starvation with Gourry close on her heels. "Food!" she crowed.
Mayaki looked to Amelia, who shrugged and said, "We may as well catch up with them before they eat everything!" She started in at a jog after the other two. Mayaki laughed musically and trotted after her.
"Mayaki-!" Zel started to say, reaching for her shoulder a little too late. With the exception of the horse, he was alone on the ridge. With a sigh, he slowly trudged down the hill after his companions.
Lina and Gourry led the chase to the first restaurant they could find, immediately ordering double portions of everything for themselves. Amelia and Mayaki skidded in practically on top of each other. Not to be outdone, Amelia ordered about half of what was on the menu. Mayaki slowly browsed through it for herself, and eventually settled for ordering two items that she wasn't quite sure about.
By the time Zelgaddis arrived and had the horse tied securely outside, the waitress had already brought most of Lina and Gourry's food (which was disappearing almost as quickly as it was served) and set Amelia's and Mayaki's in front of them. Amelia barreled into hers with gusto unfitting a princess. Mayaki stared at hers for a while before prodding it with a careful fork, as if it might attack.
Zel pulled up another chair to sit beside her. "Something wrong?" he asked.
"No, no... I'm fine.. er..." she stuttered.
The two of them blinked at each other. "With the food, I meant," Zel said, filling the silence between them.
"Oh!" THAT she had more than a word to say about. "It rather...lacks something. It doesn't look quite right. Or smell right. The juices aren't blending the way they should and these potatoes are underdone. The meat is practically coated in paprika... you'd think they're trying to hide what low-quality meat it is by drowning out the taste. It looks like they deep-fried the meatballs Gourry is eating and the coating on Lina's chicken there is breadcrumbs and celery flakes. Honestly, I do like celery flakes, don't get me wrong, but to coat a chicken in them is blasphemy!"
The entire table had frozen during Mayaki's tirade. In fact, the entire restaurant had stopped in various stages of eating. Lina looked critically down at the roast chicken. "It is rather bland, now that you mention it..."
Gourry, meanwhile, poured several of the deep-fried meatballs down his craw directly off the plate.
Mayaki blushed and sat down, realizing that her rant had brought her to her feet. "I'm sorry.. I didn't mean to get so worked up over it..." Cautiously she poked at the pot roast she had ordered. She couldn't bring herself to taste it, and eventually tried one of the accompanying boiled carrots. She gagged as soon as it hit her palate. "How can you guys EAT this? It's absolutely horrid!"
A shadow fell over her. "I hear that someone over here doesn't like my cooking," it said menacingly. Mayaki kept herself calm, though judging from Lina and Gourry's panicked looks and where their eyes were focused, Mayaki thought that she probably didn't want to know how big the man really was or how sharp of a cleaver he was holding. She could hear him slapping the back of it against the palm of his hand. She stood up and whirled on him gracefully.
"You are the owner of this establishment?"
"Yeah, I am. You got a complaint with the food?"
Mayaki noticed every eye in the place on her. "Sir, don't take this the wrong way, but perhaps I am used to my own cooking rather than your.. erm.. unique...breed of the culinary arts. Perhaps it is just the custom of the area to serve bland and undercooked dishes. Who am I to say?"
"Bland and undercooked, huh? Your friends don't seem to mind it much."
"Sir, we've been on the road for quite a while. My friends here are used to this roadside cuisine, but I hold to a higher standard and this is not it. Quite frankly, the hog-slops are more flavorful where I come from."
"Hog slops!" the large man exclaimed, an eye twitching angrily. Mayaki crossed her arms at him, unmoving. "I will have you know, I've been cooking here for thirty years and never once has anyone dared to insult my food like that!"
Mayaki snorted. "I'm not surprised if you insist on carrying that around with you when they come to complain." She pointed a finger daintily at the cleaver.
"Hey! Just who do you think you are?"
"Who do I think I am? No, who do you think that I am? My name is Mayaki. Mayaki Avi-Sora. Daughter of Talia Avi-Sora. My mother was probably some of your worst competition back in the day, hm?"
"You're...Talia's daughter?" the cook gaped.
"In person," she said with pride.
Mutters came form the gathering crowd. "Talia's child has come to town! Is Talia back? The outcast's child! She's come to avenge her mother!"
"Talia's child, hmm?" the large man restated, pondering something. "Often as not, I hear that a child inherits certain talents from their parents. That true in your case?"
Zelgaddis looked away from the table, holding one hand up to his face in a somewhat embarrassed gesture. "You might say that..." he said quietly.
Lina broke in. "Darn right, she did, if what she tells us about her mother's cooking is true!"
Amelia backed Lina up. "That's right!"
"You bet!" added Gourry.
The man looked skeptical. Mayaki stood her ground defiantly. "Maybe I just want some proof, ye get me? I mean, anyone can waltz into town claiming to be the daughter of a famous cook, but unless they have something to show for it, I'm not really obligated to believe them at all, am I?" He quirked a smile down at her. "How is Talia these days anyway?"
Mayaki looked at her shoes. "My mother died quite a number of years ago..."
"I'm sorry to hear that," the cook replied. "Tell you what. I have a challenge for you to see if you really are her child, based on your talent, if you're interested. Call it a friendly wager. You're so sure you can out-cook me? Let's put a 3000 gold piece wager on it."
Lina slammed the group's money pouch down on the table. "You're on!"
Gourry panicked. "Lina, that's all the money we have!"
"Relax, Mister Gourry! Miss Mayaki can do it! Can't you, Miss Mayaki?" Amelia chirped enthusiastically.
Mayaki paled a bit, sweating. "You guys have an awful lot of faith in me, don't you?" She cleared her throat and looked the large cook in the eye. "Fine. We'll both hold on to our own money. I will need a place to work, of course."
"My kitchen is at your disposal."
"Thank you. I'll use my own cookware if you don't mind, though. It's been properly seasoned."
The cook grumbled a bit to himself. "..properly seasoned! Right then! We'll both present our best right back here in an hour."
Mayaki fell flat on her face. "An hour?!?"
The man crossed his arms and scowled down at her. "If you can't do it, I'll take your money right now."
A low growl issued from the girl on the floor. "All right then. It'll just prove that my mediocre work can beat your best standing still."
"Don't be so sure of yourself, Miss Sora," the cook snorted. "I'll even let you pick which one of my customers will judge for us."
"Fine by me." She stood and shook the man's hand. "One hour." He nodded at her. "Start the timer!" Mayaki bolted through the door, asking quick directions to the local market and running toward it at full tilt. The cook chuckled lowly to himself and wandered back into his kitchen.
Mayaki's friends stared after her. "Well, we've got an hour to kill," Lina said brightly. "Let's go find an ice cream parlor!"
"Yeah!" Amelia and Gourry chorused, following her. Amelia turned to look back. "Mister Zelgaddis? Aren't you coming?"
Zel turned and looked up at her. "I think I'll stay. Mayaki needs some moral support for when she gets back."
Amelia blinked. "Oh." Her eyes began tearing up, so she quickly turned around and began striding toward the door to catch up with Lina and Gourry. She really felt like she needed that ice cream now.
Zel blinked at her. "Amelia," he called.
She turned around and scampered back. "Yes, Mister Zelgaddis?"
Zel smiled warmly. "If you could bring me back a dou-"
"...A double scoop of vanilla with chocolate sprinkles and a cherry with a stem on top if they have them. In a waffle cone. You betcha!" Zelgaddis blinked in shock. "It's your favorite," she explained happily. "You always order that."
"Right. Oh, and Amelia?" he added as she started to walk away.
"Yes?" she said, looking over her shoulder.
He grinned. "Thanks."
"You're welcome!" she chirped back. "Be back in a little bit!"
Zel watched her leave and then turned back to the table thoughtfully. "Didn't know she knew that was my favorite..."
* * * * *
An hour later as Mayaki and the owner of the restaurant faced off, she looked a bit frazzled. Normally she had more time to prepare food, or at least had the things she needed on hand before she started cooking. Half of her hour had been spent in the marketplace, gathering the ingredients she needed. She'd gotten back with no time to spare and hurriedly threw a small quickbread into the oven. That left her with roughly twenty minutes to throw everything together as best as she could. Still, her high standards assured her with a sense of confidence and she brushed a stray lock of burgundy hair out of her face with a flourish of one hand.
The cook faced her, positive that the time limitations would cripple Mayaki's abilities, if she even had the skills that she said she did. Not even Talia Avi-Sora could cook a dish that fast.
Both of the contenders set their covered platters down on the table. A large crowd had gathered in the time it took for word to spread around the city. The rumor that Talia's child had come to Telgen was exciting news to everyone! Zelgaddis, Amelia, Lina and Gourry were in the front row, waiting anxiously for the contest to begin.
"Let's go, Mayaki! We're counting on you!" Lina cheered heartily to her.
Zel scolded her. "Lina, enough. Don't you think Mayaki's under enough pressure from you already?"
Lina paused for a second. "Well.. gee...um..."
"Did you even for a second consider what'll happen if she loses?"
"Er..." Lina looked sheepish.
"Where are we going to get money for food if Mayaki can't do it, huh?" Lina didn't reply a word. Zel sighed in frustration and shook his head.
Amelia kept quiet, staring at Mayaki determinedly. If she won, she'd double the money they already had. If she lost.. well, maybe Zelgaddis would have a reason to stop liking her so much. Either way, things would turn out good... but still, she thought, Mayaki should be able to win... Amelia clenched her fist and watched like a hawk.
"Let's see it!" someone in the crowd shouted, followed by a roar of approval from the mob.
Mayaki and the cook exchanged a cold, even look. Neither one of them was going to back down, that was apparent. Mayaki nodded to the man stolidly, and he took the cover from his platter. After the cloud of steam disbursed, the crowd oohed and ahhed at the roast chicken. The bird was tightly trussed, practically coated with pepper and herbs. It was surrounded by the obligatory carrots and potatoes, which were coated with butter and some type of oily glaze to make them look shiny. Mayaki interpreted this as "greasy." Mouths around the room began to water as the aroma of the various herbs entered their nostrils.
Mayaki was disgusted. "You can't cook a chicken in an hour!" she protested.
"Ah, but let me show you something." The cook pointed out the back window. "See that dome out there? It's all mirrors. When you put meat in the center, it cooks meat faster than an ordinary oven because it reflects heat directly at it.
Mayaki blinked, rather alarmed by this invention. "Madness..."
The cook laughed at her. "It may be mad, my dear, but this wonder of modern science works!"
The half-Mazoku humphed. "Quality over quickness," she countered, and turned back to her silver serving platter, preparing to take the lid off.
"Look! It's Miss Mayaki's turn now!" Amelia pointed. The crowd murmured. Mayaki grasped the handle of the silver dome over her own creation and lifted it away to reveal...
"A SANDWICH??" Lina grabbed her head in shock and dismay. "Three thousand gold pieces at stake and she makes a SANDWICH??!" Gourry and Zel quickly pinned Lina to the floor. "Mayaki!! What're you thinking, you idiot?!" The sorceress's eyes bugged out as she made several hand gestures resembling strangling someone.
"Relax, Miss Lina," Mayaki said calmly. "I know what I'm doing." She smiled coolly at the cook, who chuckled to himself.
The crowd collectively stared at the sandwich on the platter before them. Surrounded by fresh, green lettuce leaves and accented by a pickle and a green olive on a toothpick, it was a handsome sandwich indeed. It was true that the cook's chicken looked, well, edible enough that you could take the remains home to the family dog if it wasn't that good (deboned, of course..), but Mayaki's entry looked as if it should be framed and put on exhibit in an art museum. The lightly toasted bread put out such a lovely smell that there was no doubt it was just out of the oven, the lettuce shone with a healthy radiance, the tomato added just enough color to draw and hold the eye, the pinkish-white filling was just that... filling but not overflowing the edges of the bread, and looked thick enough not to drop off when the masterpiece was picked up and bitten into. The cool scents of sage, dill, and basil greeted nostrils around the room, soothing noses burned by the heavily peppered chicken.
"Well," the cook grunted, "shall we see if your food can do more than win a beauty contest?" Mayaki gave him an even, determined smile. He motioned for her to pick someone out of the crowded audience to be the judge. Mayaki looked around at the many hopeful faces, and finally picked an aging woman from the crowd. The selected judge eagerly stepped forward and allowed Mayaki to seat her at the table. The cook smiled to himself. The woman was one of his regular customers. She sampled the chicken first, carefully trying a bit of both the white and dark meat, tried an overly-glazed carrot, took a bite out of a slice of potato. Dabbing her lips daintily with a napkin, she requested a glass of water to rinse everything down with.
Mayaki thought to herself, *Of course! Everything he cooked is dry because it cooked too fast and too hot for him to baste!*
The woman, after sipping at the water for a minute, nodded at the cook. "Fine as always, Jamesie."
Mayaki's heart sank a little as the woman shifted her gaze over at Mayaki. "So, you're really Talia's daughter?"
"Yes, ma'am," Mayaki answered with a slight bow.
The woman snorted. "Always did think it was a pity that sorcerer brought her to ruin."
Mayaki wondered if that was some sort of veiled insult. She chose to ignore the comment, though her temper boiled up slightly.
The old woman picked up the sandwich and looked it over from a few different angles before taking a bite out of it. Everyone in the crowd held their breath as they leaned forward in anticipation. The woman chewed thoughtfully and took another bite. And another. She announced, "Mmm! Young lady, this is the finest sammich I've ever had! What is that in the middle?"
Mayaki smiled with intense relief. "Tuna fish," she said cheerily.
Gourry, Zel, Lina and Amelia piled forward to congratulate Mayaki on her culinary victory. Gourry even picked her up on his shoulders and carried her around the room to the clapping and cheering of the crowd.
The cook protested angrily. "She... she cheated! Anyone can make a sandwich! And who ever heard of a sandwich made of fish?"
Lina confronted him with her hands on her hips. "Oh really, and not informing Mayaki about your little solar oven in the back wasn't cheating?"
Mayaki had Gourry set her down so she could add to her defense. "Plus you already had most if not all of your supplies on hand. I had to pick mine out in the market under a time limit! Have you ever tried to find a merchant that sells fresh tuna at an inland market? In under an hour?!"
Zel nodded and put his hands on her shoulders. "That's right. Miss Sora had the handicap of buying supplies, which took away from her time in an unfamiliar kitchen. I dare say you spent all of your time cooking yours. I really think you had better pay up."
The crowd backed them up so enthusiastically that the cook had to pay Mayaki and make sure everything was counted out correctly before anyone would leave.
Mayaki was asked question after question as she and her friends left the restaurant. She smiled and laughed amiably with the townspeople. "No, I'm afraid I'm not staying. No, I'm not opening my mother's restaurant back up... not just yet, anyhow. Thank you. Yes, my mother taught me everything I know about cooking..."
Gourry whispered to Lina, "I didn't know we were traveling with a celebrity!"
"Neither did I," she admitted, following the throng of people out into the street. As they went on their way, the crowd eventually dispersed. But there was one fan who had not yet expressed his congratulations to Mayaki.
Disclaimer in short: Slayers and related characters aren't mine. Mayaki and various other incidental characters are.
Thanks for reading! Please leave me some feedback; I live and thrive on criticism! (not to mention, I'm a perfectionist. ;)