When I first saw it, I thought it a mirage, sitting there on the table in a fog of steam. Considering the time I had already gone without cocoa, per the advice of Sky, imagining that mug would not surprise me in the least. I could not remember the last time I had been without a frothy mug of delicious, velvety and complex chocolate, sometimes with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg mixed in, sometimes with a heavenly dollop of schlagg on top that melts and mixes into the cocoa, swirling it’s creamy color into the darkness.
I reached one finger out, half hoping that it was a mirage, for if it was not there were only two explanations, neither of which I liked.
Setting the mug down on the bar, I looked up at Mr Underby expectantly. I was surprised that I had not managed to spill a drop on my angry march over to the Gut.
“What is this?” I asked poignantly.
“Cocoa, my dear?” I gritted my teeth. It certainly wasn’t the answer I wanted. “You haven’t been stopping by.” He seemed genuinely sad and I almost wanted to let him off the hook. Perhaps this man, whom everyone seemed to distrust, actually had a caring side to him. No, no, what did Sky say when we talked?
“No. I certainly have not.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “Let me make this perfectly clear, Underby. I do not, and will not have anyone tampering with my cocoa or influencing what my drinks choices are and from whom I receive them. I do appreciate the gesture, but this is unwanted and must stop at once.”
“This is your way of informing me of your new supplier?” He asked, pointing to the mug.
“What? No…” My face morphed from surprise to disgust. “Are you playing me, Underby?”
“It certainly is not mine,” he informed. I looked back at the mug. It was missing all the characteristics of Mr Underby’s recipe, and it did not resemble pocket cocoa in the least.
“Well… well… If you’re ever cross with me, I’ll make sure you’re sorry,” I blurted out before stomping out the door, mug in hand. I was certain I had just proved myself an irritable, irrational and fickle young woman.
I sat in wait, staring a few seconds at the door and the glaring back at the mug on the table, who’s contents had now grown cold. My first explanation for the mystery mug had already been foolishly I saw a swish of skirts through the door and I squirmed in my chair.
“Evening ma’am.” Sarah looked started when she saw me sitting in the kitchen, idly gazing at the mug, and hurried over to poke the fire. She looked like she was severely lacking sleep. Her hair was a mess, pilled in a rush on the top of her head, conveniently placed in some areas to cover what looked to be bald patches where her hair had recently fallen out.
“Sit.” I said flatly, still staring at the chair across the table from me.
“Yes, ma’am.” She said softly, sitting directly in front of me. The only object that sat between us on the table was the cold mug of cocoa, now settled for hours.
“I… I’m not sure what happened ma’am. One day I was fine and the next my hair was falling out, in large chunks, pieces and pieces!” She looked to be in tears, absentmindedly playing with her hair, which I as I looked further at her, was coming out as she played with it nervously. When she noticed, she immediately put her hands on the stool.
“I mean the cocoa, Sarah. My emergency supplies in the cellar are almost gone and I have not touched them in nearly a month! Sarah, if you have had anything to do with this, inform me at once. I have my suspicions that it may be connected to your… unfortunate hair loss.”
Indeed, I had my suspicions for weeks now that my strange behavior towards Mr Underby had been caused by something in my cocoa. This was not the first time that someone had been putting something in my beloved drink. Indeed, the last time was nearly fatal, as I had wandered around the city in a daze, not remembering where I had gone, who I had seen or what I had done. Not to mention the strange paintings I had been doing without knowing, nearly revealing the secret formula that was the key to unlocking a powerful form of energy. It was a fearful time, and I had tried my best to date not to remember how uneasy it made me still feel knowing what still lay in my subconscious.
Sarah still sat silent.
“My mother,” I continued, “died from being poisoned slowly over the course of a few months. There were very evil and powerful men that wanted to destroy my family because of the work of my father. It is not easy losing a parent, but it is more dire when the person of interest happens to be you.” I looked at her again.
“It was me, ma’am! I couldn’t help myself! You looked like you hadn’t touched your cocoa in weeks and I thought you wouldn’t notice if I took a bit fer myself.” She continued to avert my gaze.
“A little, Sarah? A little!” I exclaimed. I sighed, pushing back a bit of hair behind my ear. I did not like to do this, but it was my duty. “You’re done. Go back home and regain your health, and when you do, do not expect there to be a place upon your return.” I gritted my teeth as I watched her rush out the door. As a secure measure, I tossed the last of the cocoa in the fire.
It looked like I would be needing a new baker. And a plan. Yes, a good plan.