A vicious right hook sent Apprentice Osberft reeling backwards, a blurry double image of Master Leofric looming over him.
‘You stupid Grox! You utter fething moron!’ he roared.
This abuse was a rare privilege. Leoric was Culina Dominus of Lord Enok’s holdings, serving the culinary desires of Oghenekaro Keep’s nobility. His reign of terror in the kitchen was legendary; the staff joked in hushed tones that the Astartes had rejected Leofric for anger management issues.
‘Get on your feet!’ Leoric ordered, eyes contemplating murder. Osberft shakily stood and fixed his apron. Leoric suddenly shoved the young man’s face mere centimetres short of the charred mass atop the blazing stove.
Sweat beaded down Osberft’s face, while Leoric bellowed the obvious. ‘The dessert course is ruined!’
With impeccable timing, dinner bells jingled, and a formally-dressed trio of servitors trundled into the kitchen, equipped with trays and dispensers. Leoric released Osberft, and rallied the rest of the staff with militarum precision and artful profanity.
The ghoulish, multi-armed cyborgs rapidly loaded themselves with the amuse-bouche course. Osberft cleaned his station just as autonomously, dreading his fate.
Leoric composed himself. ‘Make something suitable for our honoured guests, and cook as if your life depended upon it,’ he explained, the threat clear. ‘Feth up again, and you’ll be joining these chaps.’
With that, he led the servitors into the banquet hall.
A moment of terror became defiance. Osberft had talent – having earned a place in Master Leoric’s kitchen – and he would prove it.
He fumbled in his pockets for the last stim, inhaling a double dose. Body already in motion, he wiped a trickle of blood from his nose, while ducking around, aside, and even under the preparations of the other courses in the busy kitchen.
A man possessed, Osberft burst into the pantry. Prayers frantically rattled from his lips as he feverishly browsed all manner of exotic produce. Precious moments ticked away.
In those frigid depths of the cooler, just when all hope was lost, the fog parted, and the Golden Throne granted him culinary inspiration.
Over the centuries, the Keep’s Great Hall had hosted all manner of celebrations. Intricate chandeliers softly lit the age-darkened stone, decorated with decaying banners and heraldry.
The banquet table was modest for this level of society. It seated the chieftains of the Kiastridu and Unixath commerce clans, and a mere few dozen of their key lackeys, but this provided room in the chamber for the many bodyguards, advisors, and functionaries that were required at arm’s reach.
While the gun barrels had barely cooled, and the ink had scarcely dried on the Administratum parchments marking the end of the internecine war for control of the system’s shipping lanes, tradition dictated that the end of hostilities be celebrated with an extravagant feast.
The Kiastridu had come out on top, and caroused shamelessly. The dour Unixath merely partook of the exotic spread of food and drink, stomachs filled with deeply bitter shame.
Servitors and menials came to clear the remnants of the main course. Leoric mingled with guests at the behest of Lord Enok, all the while stealing concerned glances at the kitchen portal.
The cyborgs emerged once more, loaded with plates of glistening jewels. A haggard Osberft silently took his place by Leoric’s side. The Master granted his Apprentice subtle approval.
Even these brutish guests were impressed by the ambrosial, gilded tarts. Tasters waved wands over each plate, their chirping machine spirits confirming an absence of poisons.
Leoric spoke up. ‘We close our evening with something special, crafted by Chef-Apprentice Osberft.’
‘Saint Feyussa meringue, gilded with ur-gold,’ Osberft explained, though many hadn’t bothered waiting for a description.
The Unixath chieftain chewed thoughtfully, then scowled and spat out the remnants. Plates rattled, and conversation suddenly ceased when he slammed gnarled fists onto the table.
All eyes were on the chieftain, but his bionics stared down Osberft.
‘Opiscus root? How dare you!’ he bellowed, finger levelled like a bolter. ‘This insult will not stand!’
Now Osberft became the centre of attention, even for the blank stares of servitors and servo skulls. Leoric covered his eyes with one hand, head shaking in disbelief.
The Kiastridu chieftain erupted in laughter, devouring his tart, and snatching more from across the table. The Unixath became increasingly agitated.
‘You. Complete. ORK’S. ARSE,’ he growled, pausing repeatedly for emphasis. Osberft was at a loss for words, while the Kiastridu gleefully taunted their rivals. ‘Fancy a guess on what the Unixath just lost the rights to transport?’
Answering Ospicus root correctly only earned Osberft a slap on the back of the head. But the real violence was just beginning, as the Unixath chieftain scuttled over the table at his cackling rival, and a massive scrum broke out.
Lord Enok’s bodyguards quickly pulled him to safety, and Leoric likewise took the cue to exit. The servitors became entangled in the confused melee, buying precious moments. Gripping Osberft with one hand and taking Enok’s uneaten dessert with the other, Leoric evacuated into the kitchen.
The thud of weaponised chairs in the Great Hall was punctuated by the first cracks of lasgun fire. Leoric ordered the kitchen staff to flee, and his Apprentice armed himself with a wicked cleaver.
‘My office, now,’ Leoric ordered Osberft, with slight urgency.
The heavy metal door secured behind them. Immediately, Unixath pounded on the door, demanding Osberft’s head. Much to the Apprentice’s disbelief, Leoric only concerned himself with the evaluation of the tart.
The Master took a bite, and his expression did not change.
‘That is the best dessert to ever come out of this kitchen. Congratulations.’
Leoric produced a bottle of fine amasec from stasis, and handed it to Osberft. As the Apprentice poured two glasses, the Master laid lasguns on his desk next to the cleaver.
They clinked glasses, and Leoric thoroughly enjoyed another bite of tart, while the pounding and scraping on the door grew more intense.
Leoric put a hand on Osberft’s shoulder.
‘Unfortunately, it also seems to have inspired the Second System Shipping War.’
About the Author
Thomas moved to LA to become a screenwriter, but ended up in Seattle teaching drones to deliver coffee. His cat has over five times the Instagram followers that he does.