the comic's manuscript, without pictures
The following day, Adrien woke up well-rested and in a good mood. His first waking thoughts were about the wonderful time he had - painted in dreamlike light within his half-consciousness; he pulled the sheets closer to his face as he tried to grasp on each moment he could remember, so to better anchor them and treasure them. He could still hear the crackling of the leaves under his feet as he followed Val on the path through the forest - he could still see the sunlight of that glade where they had rested. A smile extended on his cheeks. He tried to recall the scent of the apples he picked from that tree - he saw again his own feet hanging off the branch and Val on the ground underneath, giggling as he magicked the fruits away from his hands.
Adrien turned towards the edge of the bed. He could hear raindrops hitting the window - past the branches of the trees, he could see slivers of the pale grey sky behind. He turned with his back on the sheets. Facing the stone ceiling, he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath: it was time to leave the bed - he would have rather waited a little longer in that warmth, but he needed to get moving. Val was probably already waiting for him downstairs.
Adrien's eyes widened, blinded for an instant in a rising feeling of unease. He flinched as an unpleasant thought grasped at the mouth of his stomach: all these beautiful things -- all these beautiful things that Val had been doing for him and him alone, all this care, all this attention --
and what was he doing in return? He ate his food and used his things and took his time - without giving anything back; without deserving. He had done nothing to be worthy of all of this - nothing to be worthy of having someone like Val taking care of him. Adrien took in a trembling breath. He realized that, ever since he'd arrived to the tower, Val had been doing nothing but tutoring him; only rarely had he seen him sit down at the table and write in his journals and tend to his own matters. Adrien had no doubt that Val had been neglecting his own affairs and projects to be able to mentor him. He thought again about the chat he had with the old lady down in the village; she had said that Valerion seldom had guests. Adrien surmised that he was perfectly happy living here in the middle of nowhere; and, judging from all the beautiful things he owned, he imagined him wealthy enough to be able to move to a less remote place, had that been his wish. Why would someone like him choose to live so far away from the world, if not to enjoy some peace and quiet and work on his books and research? And he - he had come from so far away just to break that; to encroach on his boundaries; to be an intruder living in his house and eating at his table. Even as he was thinking this, he was in his guest room - not a guest room: an entire tower - and he was lying in a comfortable bed with sheets made of the softest cotton; and Val was waiting for him.
Choked by these thoughts, Adrien dressed himself, then went downstairs; he took in a deep breath and tried to put on the calmest face he could muster as he opened the door to the main room.
Val was sitting with his armchair turned towards the crackling fireplace, reading a book. "Good morning", he said with a smile. "Have you slept well?".
Adrien swallowed. "Yes, thank you", he eventually said. "And you?".
"I had a good night. Thank you".
As Adrien went to take his usual seat, Val put the book down, turned his armchair to face him, and stretched his arms above his head. "What would you like for breakfast today?", he asked.
Adrien could not allow himself to answer that question - not in the way Val would have wanted him to. "I'm -- not sure --", he ended up saying; and he could not prevent his words from faltering.He watched as an expression of concern made its way onto Val's face; and, after all, he had known from the start that he could have not swallowed down his turmoil - that it was only a matter of time before Val would notice. That was how caring and attentive he was; and this realization only made Adrien angrier at himself.
"Is everything alright?".
Adrien turned his head, a frown appearing on his forehead. He tried not to look at Val, but he could feel his worried gaze on him - and he began to feel strangled with coming tears. "No, not really", he managed to squeak.
"Would you like to talk about it?", he heard Val say.
Adrien couldn't find an answer. Any time he had shared his worries with Val, the words he'd received had unfailingly given him relief - yet another gift that Val had been offering to him so selflessly, so caringly, and that Adrien felt he did not deserve.
"It's alright... it's alright if you need a moment", Val slowly said. "Can I get you a chamomile?".
That was the last Adrien could take before the tears began to wet his eyes. He lowered his head to conceal them, but the sob that shook his back betrayed him anyway. "It's --", he managed to gasp, his voice breaking, "it's that...". He steadied himself as he collected his thoughts; and before he understood them fully, they erupted out of him - "Val", he cried, "am I a bother to you?".
"What?", Val gasped, wide-eyed. "No! No, of course not. Why? Did something happen?".
Adrien inhaled sharply, trying to stop his nose from running. "It's that -- you -- you're so nice to me -- and I have done -- nothing -- nothing to pay you back".
"What do you mean?", Val said.
"You're here -- you're here giving me lessons and offering me breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and I don't even have to clean the floor!".
"But the floor is enchanted to stay clean", Val replied.
Adrien growled in frustration. "That's exactly what I'm talking about! I'm -- I'm useless... I'm doing nothing to help you... I'm giving nothing to you". He looked down at his knees to avoid Val's concerned gaze, but he could not escape the feeling of having failed him once more with this very outburst. He took in a few deep breaths and tried to calm himself down; but he couldn't - he couldn't even do that, he told himself - and his distress only became heavier on him. At last, he heard Val's voice again:
"Adrien... please, do not feel that way", he said. "It is not true that you are giving nothing to me... You are giving me your presence. I am very glad to have a guest... I am very glad to have you as a guest. You don't have to clean the floors. Even if there was a need to do so, it would not matter to me. I think... I think that what matters is that I have been glad to have you here. I have been glad to talk to you. You don't need to feel useless, Adrien".
Adrien raised his head, stunned. As he stared at Val without the right words to reply, his eyes turned misty with tears once more. He looked down; a few tears fell onto the backs of his hands as they clutched his thighs. "I... Thank you", he eventually said, his voice a thread. "Thank you". He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths before speaking again. "...I mean, I get it. There's no reason for me to clean around. I know that, but... it still makes me feel like I'm not doing my part", he said.
"I can understand that", Val said, folding his arms. "When you were home you had to take care of many chores, and now that you don't have to do that, you feel that something is missing".
"Yes", Adrien said, nodding. "Yes, that's it. But -- also" - he swallowed, trying to gather his thoughts - "just, I -- I'm not thanking you enough for all that you've been doing for me".
"I think you have been", Val replied, smiling. "You're doing it right now".
Adrien shook his head. "Yes, I know, but... it's that I'd want to do something... something more tangible". He twisted his fingers into knots as he spoke. "Please, if -- if there's anything I can do, let me know".
Val was deep in thought for a while; then his eyes lit up. "Yesterday you told me that you have the recipe for chestnut cake. Would you like to come down to the kitchen with me, and help me clean it, and then we can try the recipe?".
"Yes -- yes, I can do that", Adrien said - and something seemed to subside within him; enough to allow him to smile back at Val. "Thank you".
"No, thank you", Val said, chuckling. "I can't wait to try the cake".
Adrien's smile became broader. "Really?".
"Of course", Val nodded. "Let's have breakfast, and then we go to the kitchen".
In the north tower, hidden behind a door, there was another spiral staircase that led underneath the main hall, where the kitchen was located. Adrien followed Val down these steps and to another wooden door, then went inside.
Unlike the rest of the tower, the kitchen was not lit up by torches burning on the walls, but rather by ceiling lamps, which Val had to turn on via a lightswitch. The kitchen that appeared under the lights was immense; Adrien had never seen anything like it - not even the one time when he was a little boy and he sneaked into the school's kitchen to pilfer chocolate cake. There was a massive pantry by one wall, fully stocked with all sorts of foods; another wall had the stove and the oven; the rest of the space was taken up by counters and cabinets - all of beautiful make, like everything that Val owned. There was so much room available that several people could have worked there without ever obstructing each other's paths; or, rather, that would have been the case, had the kitchen not been in a state of absolute chaos. There was not a surface that wasn't covered with pots, pans, spoons, and all sorts of utensils - even the floor featured piles of junk here and there; where the countertops were visible at all, Adrien could see they were covered in a layer of grime. The kitchenware itself looked to be clean, and the burners looked mostly clean too, but the rest of the stove was lurid; the back wall was splashed here and there with encrusted sauce, and so was the floor - to the point where, in some spots, the decorations on the tiles had been completely hidden by filth.
"My apologies", Val said in a low voice. "It really is a mess".
"It's -- it's okay", Adrien gasped, afraid that his face may have betrayed his thoughts. "We're here to clean it, right?".
"Right", Val smiled. He walked forward and towards a counter where a pile of pans was stacked. "But before we start, there is something I would like you to see... I would like to introduce you to the kitchen".
"Introduce?", Adrien repeated, tilting his head. "I -- I don't think it's necessary, I think I know how to use the stoves and --".
"-- No, that's not what I meant", Val smiled. "Let me show you". He cleared his voice, then raised his head and enunciated: "Kitchen, wake up".
At his command, the piles of pots and pans around the room began to sway, clattering around as they moved. Adrien's first impulse was to step back, startled - then he lunged to stop the closest stack from crashing to the floor; before he could reach it, the pan on top of the pile floated away from him, followed by all the others underneath. One by one, all the various pieces of cookingware around the room began to move on their own - wooden spoons and ladles started to fly around in circles, pots danced from side to side with their lids clanging around. They all turned towards Val: "Hello!", all the cookingware replied in a loud chorus.
Adrien's eyes darted to each of the animated objects, mouth agape; but Val only giggled in response. He turned again to the kitchenware. "Hello, everyone", he said. "How are you?".
A discordance of "Good!", "Yes, good!", and "Very good!" rose from each pot and pan and cooking implement. One pan moved closer: "And how are you, Val?", it said with a small, squeaky voice.
"I'm alright. Thank you", Val replied, bowing his head slightly. He gestured to Adrien: "Everyone, there is someone I would like you to meet... This is Adrien. He's my apprentice".
The kitchenware replied with another cacophony of "Oh!", "Hello!", and "Hello, Adrien!" - and this time, Adrien couldn't help but chuckle too.
"What is an apprentice?", a wooden spoon said as it tilted on one side in puzzlement.
Val giggled softly. "An apprentice is... someone who is learning from a master. In his case, he's learning magic from me".
"Oh! I understand!", was the cheerful reply. The spoon floated closer to Adrien and circled around his head, seemingly to inspect him. "You are Adrien, Val's apprentice?", it inquired.
Adrien stared at it, then at Val, raising one brow; but Val nodded in an encouraging way - "You can talk with them", he whispered; and so Adrien turned to the spoon again - "Yes -- yes, I am", he replied, a bit of uncertainty in his voice.
The spoon moved in a way that suggested a sort of a pleased nod. "So, can you do all the magic that Val does?".
Adrien laughed a bit at that question. "If I did, I wouldn't be an apprentice anymore!".
"No? And what would you be?".
"A master", Val said softly, but with a small, half-suppressed smirk on his face.
The wooden spoon was silent and still for a while; then it jumped upwards. "Oh! I understand!", it exclaimed - and Adrien chuckled at that; he saw that Val, too, was laughing a bit.
"Good", Val said, still giggling. "Anyway, we are here to clean around. After that, Adrien will teach you a new recipe".
"A new recipe?!". The wooden spoon flailed around in every which way; it was soon joined by the rest of the cookingware in a clamor of metal against wood against countertop. "Yay, a new recipe!", they all cheered.
"Yes", Val chuckled. "But that will be after everything is cleaned. So, for now, you can go back to sleep".
"Ok!", was the reply given in unison; and with that, all the cookingware around the room flew back to where it had previously been - returning to look like perfectly normal objects that could be found in any perfectly normal kitchen.
Adrien turned to Val, his eyes still wide after seeing all of that. "What -- what are they?!", he gasped.
Val giggled. "My latest work in magically imbued intelligence. They are responsible for cooking our meals".
"Wow", Adrien said. "I have never seen anything like this before... I -- I mean, I have read your paper about the enchanted teapot that could have a natural-sounding conversation, and I thought that was amazing... but this!...".
"Thank you", Val said. "Their enchantment is based on that, yes. I have been building on top of that project... However, this is very much a work in progress", he added, his voice almost a whisper now. "Please do not be too harsh in judging them".
"I'd never!", Adrien exclaimed. "This is already incredible as it is! What did you do to them, anyway?".
"Like with the teapot", Val said as he walked towards the stoves, "they are enchanted with a logic system, a type of vision, speech capabilities, and the ability to learn and retain information. They should learn from about anything you tell them, which over time improves their ability to understand and perform tasks. The added challenge in this case was to give them a wide range of motions and the ability to measure their strength. There is still some work to be done in that direction... Right now, they tend to move more than I'd intended", he chuckled.
"You're making it sound like it's no big deal", Adrien chuckled. "This is so amazing".
"Thank you", Val smiled. He turned to the stove, furrowing his brow. "Anyway, as you can see, one of the things that I need to work on is the system's ability to maintain itself. The pots and the plates are all cleaned after cooking, and that part works well... the rest of the cleaning enchantment, not so much. It would be easier if the counters and the other surfaces were simply enchanted to be dirt-proof. So, today we'll tidy around and clean the kitchen to the best of our abilities, and afterwards, if I am not too tired, I'll see if I can dirt-proof it".
"Alright", Adrien said, tying his hair up. "Where should I start from?".
"Let's begin by casting defense magic on our clothes".
For the first time since his arrival at the tower, Adrien felt like he was being useful - like he was giving something back to his host. He well knew that scrubbing kitchen counters was a very small thing compared to all that Val had been doing for him - but if this had to be it, if this was the only thing he could do, then he would do it; if this was going to be the only way to express his gratitude, then he would do it. Val had taken it upon himself to clean the oven, since he could pilot the sponge inside with the help of magic; now he was kneeling by the open door of the oven and humming to himself as he moved his fingers in a way that, Adrien thought, looked a lot as if he was scratching the head of an invisible cat.
"Feeling better?", Val said, turning to Adrien.
Adrien took in a deep breath before speaking; but he was smiling as he did so. "Yes -- thank you so much. I guess now I know that not doing chores makes me feel really bad. I guess -- I guess I can hear my mom yelling at me from home", he chuckled.
"She must have quite an impressive voice", Val said, raising his eyebrows in a roguish expression. "But I understand what you mean. If you ever get restless again, let me know, and we can come here and work on the kitchen. There will always be something to work on. Even simply speaking with the pots and the pans should be helpful; they need to learn everything they can. And please, teach them any recipe you know".
"Really!", Adrien exclaimed. "I can do that?".
"Of course. I would love to expand my selection", Val smiled. "Besides, I need to test the kitchen thoroughly, so it has the ability to prepare anything that could ever be requested".
"Then I will", Adrien said, and he resumed cleaning the counter. "I mean, I don't know how many recipes you have, but -- I gotta know something of use", he chuckled.
"Well, at least the chestnut cake", Val said.
"But probably much more than just that. You cooked at home, right? What would you consider your specialties?".
"My specialties!", Adrien laughed. "Well! I can make a lot of cakes. For example, I can make a pretty good Sachertorte".
"Oh, that's lovely", Val said, "And I don't have that recipe yet".
"Then I will do that! I -- ".
"-- I don't have any apricot jam right now", Val laughed.
"Oh, right!", Adrien said.
Val chuckled to himself for a long while. "The apricot jam... Look", he then said to Adrien, pointing at a rack on a wall which was covered in all sorts of colorful jars, "just -- look over there. I have every type of jam you could ask for, except for apricot, and I thought that it wouldn't be a problem and -- oh, please, don't make me talk about this", he laughed.
"I'm sorry", Adrien chuckled. He left the sponge on the counter, washed and dried his hands; then he walked to the rack that Val had pointed to. When a while ago Val had been saying that he could have any jam except for apricot, Adrien thought he was just being silly; now that he was seeing the selection in question with his own eyes, he realized that he had not been joking at all. Atop the wooden rack sat at least two dozen jars of different sizes and shapes; with the one notable exception, the shelf did truly stock every jam he could think of asking for - plus a few that he wouldn't have even thought of. Adrien picked up one small jar and turned it in his hands.
"What's this? Peach and lavender jam? Wow, I've never even seen this before. Where did you get it?".
"I think I acquired that one in a specialty shop in... which city was it? Thersed, I believe", Val said.
"Wow, that's amazing", Adrien said as he put the jar back in its place. "That's quite a collection".
"Thank you", Val said with a little bow of his head. "Since the ingredients won't rot, I try to keep the pantry as stocked as possible".
"What do you mean, they won't rot?".
"Ah -- the pantry shelves have a time-slowing enchantment. Any food that is set on them will take a very long time to spoil", Val said.
"Oh!", Adrien exclaimed. "That's brilliant". He thought about this for a few seconds; then his brow furrowed. "Though, wait -- is there a reason why you put time-slowing, and not time-stopping?".
A cheeky smile appeared on Val's face. "Yes: the fact that there is no time-stopping enchantment".
"No?", Adrien said, cocking his head. "I thought I had read about that".
"Anyone who says to have developed a time-stopping enchantment is either mistaken, or a fraud", Val said as he put his head inside the oven to check how clean it was. "You can't stop time".
"Because that would require infinite energy", Val said, shrugging a little. "And, unless all we know about physics is wrong, that simply cannot be". He moved away from the oven and closed the door shut; then he stood up and began cleaning the stove above it. "Besides, even if you could theoretically stop time, how could you ever test that your enchantment did work?".
Adrien paused to think about his words for a little while. "...Right, that makes sense", he finally said. "After all, even if you were immortal, you'd never see the end of eternity, so how could you tell...".
"...Right", Val chuckled. "But, anyway... With the time-slowing enchantment, anything in the pantry would take so long to rot that we will surely eat it before that happens. It might not be time-stopping, but it is the next best option, don't you think so?".
"Yeah, it is", Adrien smiled.
After they finished cleaning, Val prepared himself to cast the dirt-proofing enchantment on the whole kitchen. Adrien stepped back by the wall while Val stood in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes closed, breathing deeply as he focused; then his dance began - he spun once, surrounding himself with a perfect circle of blue light; he stepped on three points of the circumference, drawing a triangle with the tips of his feet - then a second, downwards-facing triangle; he moved one arm from left to right, and a small line crossing the bottom of that triangle appeared under his feet - in the interlocked shapes that had arisen, Adrien recognized the symbols for Fire and Earth. Val's dance ended, and he stood in the middle of the shimmering spell; then, he spread his arms. The glow flared out, engulfing the entire kitchen in blue light; Adrien felt some of the energy wash over himself, too - like an electric wind that swept towards the corners of the room and then upwards.
Val drew a deep breath and turned to Adrien. "All done".
"That was beautiful", Adrien said, grinning. "I've never seen you cast a spell of that magnitude before... Is it tiring?".
"...A bit, yes", Val chuckled. "But now we won't need to spend so long cleaning the kitchen ever again".
"That's good", Adrien smiled.
Val closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths out of his nose; then he looked at Adrien again. "Now that this is done - are you ready to teach the kitchen how to make your cake?".
"Oh!", Adrien exclaimed. "Yeah, let's".
Val cleared his voice. "Kitchen, wake up", he called - and all the kitchenware that had been set on hooks around the room or inside cabinets began to fly around him, spinning around in excitement. "Here we are!", they replied in a chorus.
Val giggled, then he raised his voice a little: "Hello again! Today, Adrien is going to teach you the recipe for chestnut cake".
"Yaaaay!", the cooking utensils cheered as one.
"-- Yes, so", Val chuckled, "please listen to his words and do as he says".
"Okay!", all the kitchenware replied.
"There you go", Val said to Adrien with a smile. "You may begin".
"Alright", Adrien said, preparing himself. He looked at the different animated pots and pans - unsure of how to do so, since they had no eyes. Then he turned to Val again: "Um -- what should I do?".
"Simply speak to them naturally. If needed, they may ask you for clarification, or I will tell you what to do". Val seated himself on a chair, and magicked up a little journal and a pen; he twirled the pen in his hands and flipped to an empty page in his book. "And I will be taking notes on this experiment", he added with a smile. "Just don't teach them any bad puns".
"Alright", Adrien chuckled. "So, let's see...". He scoured his mind for the recipe and rehearsed it in his head a little. While he reorganized the pantry with Val, he had already seen that all the ingredients were available, except for...
"Well, first and foremost, we need to grind the chestnuts into flour", he said.
"We know how to do that!", a bowl squeaked. "Would you like us to do that at super speed?".
"Yes, please", Val replied.
The next thing that Adrien saw was a blur swirling around him; he blinked, and all the kitchenware had moved to different places. There was now a bowl filled with chestnut flour.
"We are all done!", the bowl proclaimed.
Adrien looked at the bowl with wide eyes, then at Val. "What... How did that --?".
Val set the pen onto his mouth and giggled. "They were time-sped around you. For you, it was only a second; for them, it was more like twenty minutes. This is how the kitchen is able to cook things instantly whenever we request a meal".
"Really...", Adrien whispered. "Wow".
"Yes, we can go very fast!", the bowl proudly declared.
Adrien chuckled. "Yeah, you can! That was impressive!".
"Yay!", the bowl squeaked, and Adrien laughed too.
"What should we do next?", a wooden fork asked.
"Next...". Adrien went through the recipe one more time in his head. "...In a bowl, put 125 grams of sugar and five eggs. Then you need to mix them together... until you end up with a fluffy cream. ...A fluffy cream...", he repeated to himself. "...I hope you know what I mean", he then added.
"We will do our best!", the spoon replied. A bowl landed on the counter and the ingredients flew inside to be blended by the wooden spoon. Adrien supervised the mixing until the spoon stopped moving. "Is this right?", it asked; and Adrien was amazed to see that the mix had indeed come to the right consistency.
"Yes, that's right", Adrien chuckled, astounded. "That's really good!".
The spoon spun onto itself, giving one last whirl to the mix; "Yay!", it gleefully exclaimed - and both Val and Adrien giggled at that.
The completed cake flew out of the oven and onto a decorated plate; its warm, honey-like fragrance told Adrien that the recipe had been a success. Val offered one plate to Adrien, who cut out the cusp of his slice with the side of his fork. He brought it to his mouth, and smiled: it was sweet, soft, moist, and just as good as the cake he would have baked at home.
"You look pleased", Val said with a smile. "Did it come out well?".
"It's perfect", Adrien said - to which the kitchenware replied with a cheer. "You should try it too".
Val sampled the cake; there was a moment of silence - and then he smiled. "Very good", he said. "Even better than I expected. Thank you so much for making this".
"Thank you for letting me do it!", Adrien laughed. "And thank you to everyone for your great work", he then added, addressing the kitchenware.
"It's no problem!", the wooden spoon replied.
"We're happy it came out well!", the spatula replied.
"We did our best!", the whisk replied.
"It is our function", the fork replied.
Val raised one eyebrow. "...I'm not sure that is something that you should be saying", he commented.
"No?", the fork replied - and Adrien chuckled at that.
"Anyway", Val continued, "now that the recipe has been tested successfully, we can request this cake whenever we please, with no notice, as long as the ingredients are in the pantry".
Adrien ate his last forkful of cake. "That's good," he said, "because I already want more!".
Val giggled. "Me too", he said. "Let's have seconds upstairs at the table". Val magicked the cake away and turned to address all the pots and pans: "Thank you all again for the delicious cake. Goodnight!".
There was a chorus of "Goodnight!", "Goodnight Val!", and "Goodnight Adrien, Val's apprentice!" as they all clattered back into place. When Val and Adrien left the kitchen, it was once again all still and quiet - but much cleaner than it had been before.