Chapter 1:

An Inedible Cookie

Ars Magica Culinaria: The Art of Magical Cooking

"The gingerbread man's alive?!" Anmarie exclaimed upon seeing her scrumptious baking project wandering around her kitchen. All those hours of letting the cookie cool overnight for this? A spiced cookie frolicking on her countertops? "I didn't think that book meant literally magical cooking," she said to the homunculus. She let out a deep sigh. The homunculus cocked its gingerbread head to the side as if to ask what she'd thought was going to happen. Anmarie put her elbows on the counter and her head into her hands and sighed again. What was she going to do with this thing? She turned her head to look at the oven clock (the only clock she bothered keeping set) and realized that she needed to get to work. She glumly patted the homunculus on the head, left the kitchen, and got ready to go.

It was a slightly chillier day, the wind blowing the remnants of the early morning rain off of the trees and onto Anmarie's head. Days like these made her glad she only lived a block away from Olive Tulip, the brunch diner she worked at. She turned into the side alley where the dumpsters and employee entrance were. A couple of the cooks were already outside on their usual smoke break. They exchanged greetings and Anmarie entered the diner, trying, as usual, to blow the secondhand smoke out of her nose. Salvatore, the head chef and owner, was frying up some potatoes. "Ah, Anmarie! What do you want?" he asked. He made breakfasts for the staff every day they were open, which helped balance out the stress of dealing with problem customers. "I'll take some scrambled eggs and hash browns," Anmarie said. "You got it!" Salvatore exclaimed. "Oh, and could you get the coffee going?" he added. "Sure thing," Anmarie replied, heading over to the coffee maker. It was a simple drip brewer. They did have an espresso machine in the back, mostly for Salvatore's personal use, but also for the occasional customer who was in on the secret. Of course, Salvatore never let anyone else near it, so Anmarie was in charge of the drip coffee. Just as she got it started, Salvatore slid her her breakfast. "Thanks," Anmarie said. She sat on the other side of the bar and ate her deliciously crisp hash browns and buttery scrambled eggs with just a pinch of basil as the clock ticked ever closer to opening time.

It was around 1:00 when the old man in a cloak and wide-brimmed hat walked in. It was getting pretty late for their business, so Anmarie made sure to take his order quickly. "What can I get for you?" she asked. "Are you the lass who created a homunculus last night?" the old man asked. Anmarie recoiled, blinking. "Uh, how, why?" she squeaked. "Don't worry about me," the old man continued, "I wasn't spying on you or anything. I just happen to be sensitive to magic is all. I was half asleep when I felt your magical energy transferring into some gingerbread last night, so I got curious. I've been wandering around all day trying to find you." "Okay," Anmarie said, "but why did you want to find me?" she asked. "And can I get you something to eat, since you've been wandering around all day?" she quickly added. The old man took off his hat and sat down at the bar. "I'll have some French toast," he said. "Sure thing," Anmarie said, taking the order back to the cooks. While the old man waited, he looked around, eyeing up the salt shakers, pepper grinders, and ketchup bottles. He followed the contours of the ketchup bottle to his right as they ran up to the lid. Perched on top of the lid, in the background behind the cook stations, was the espresso machine. The old man nodded in approval. Just then, Anmarie came back with his French toast. "Here's your toast," she said. "Excellent," he said, taking the napkin and silverware Anmarie handed him. He began to dig in, savoring the delicate cardamom and clove notes Salvatore's recipe demanded. "Magical," he declared, winking at Anmarie. Anmarie furrowed her brow. "Ah, not in the mood for that," he said. "That's understandable." "Do you mind telling me who, exactly, you are?" Anmarie asked. "Oh!" the old man exclaimed. "I suppose that would be thing to do, wouldn't it?" Anmarie nodded vigorously. "The name's Dante Flambé," he said boisterously. "I used to run a magical cooking school, but it's been a while since anyone new used the magical techniques." Anmarie felt her stomach tighten. Could it be? Was this really happening?

"Yes," Dante said, squinting at her nametag, "Anmarie, I am here to ask you to be my student."