Mistica Chronicles

Welcome to Issue 47

Lugia Winning Entry

"You know, the best cake starts with the best ingredients," Lyra was saying as Esme fumbled with the keys to her apartment, her phone nestled between her cheek and shoulder. "It doesn't matter how golden-crispy it is when you pull it out of the oven if the taste's off."

Half Lyra's words were lost to static made somewhere along the telephone line, but the Braenon nodded at her friend's sageness as if she had been there in person and punctuated any crisp silence that arose with "Mhm, you know it."

She came up with the correct key after a moment. Thrusting it into the lock, the Braenon fought against it until a crisp clicksounded. Aha.She shifted her phone to a more comfortable position on her shoulder, listening to Lyra drone on about her predilection to shop exclusively at Gordon's Gourmet (she always went for organic) and about how a cake was as much a piece of art as the prints Achryli sold. Not nearly as expensive, though.

That much Esme was grateful for. Money had been tight of late, and the Braenon was not about to filch from those of her friends who could afford such luxuries that MC brought. It had been taxing enough to purchase a box of dry cake mix. The best ingredients, Esme reflected, her friend's voice no more than a buzz in her ear.This cake is like to kill me.

She pocketed her keys and shouldered open the door, expecting the homey smell of trash not yet taken out to greet her. Instead she was met by a queer smell, one of mingling cinnamon and apple. "I--I have to go, Ly," Esme said suddenly, breaking into Lyra's oration. "I'll see you at my party tonight. Yes, we can talk more there. Bye." Only after wishing Esme happy birthday a hundred times did Lyra hang up. Afterwards there was only silence, and the smell of cinnamon and apple. Most strange.

Esme freed herself from the weight of her groceries with a grunt most unbecoming of a Braenon, taking care to set the canvas bag containing the prelude to her cake off to one side of the sparsely-decorated counter. I have time enough to rest, Esme reasoned when feeling returned to her arms. She dropped her phone on one of the bags, knowing she would forget which one when the time came to cook, and made her ponderous way to the living room. I thought I was supposed to look forward to my birthday.

But all Esme looked forward to was plopping down onto the couch and sleeping the day away in the sweet-smelling comfort of her apartment. Ten minutes' rest is all I get, she told herself. Then I've got to root out this smell's origin.

She was halfway across the room when the first streamer hit her across the face. She first thought it was the gloved hand of some burglar come to reave her modest apartment, but then the shouts came, and the music, clarion as a bell's clangor. More streamers came to drape her like so many cloaks, and Esme only had time to think, Lyra, before the Haruba was on her, screaming "Happy birthday, bestie!" in her ear with the force of an amplifier.

"What is this?" the Braenon cried, equal parts surprised and chagrined. Her pink fur was standing on end, her eyes had adopted a skittish look. I should have known from the moment I smelled cinnamon. If Esme knew one thing about Gordon, it was that he loved using exotic-sounding spices in the dishes he created. But what dish would there be? I told her -- specifically told her -- that I was preparing the cake myself...

But for whatever reason, there was another one standing strong on the coffee table atop a porcelain plate Esme was not entirely sure would hold its girth. Cream, dyed pink and piped in plump rivulets, adorned its sides, ivory its center. On each corner lay a sugar-rose, crimson as an evening sky. In areas the cake itself was visible, golden-crispy as Esme knew it would be. Candles stuck out of it at those points, dancing between the lines of icing and saccharine rose petals on feet fluid as liquid wax. Between the flame rising up from their wicks and the maplike smile on Lyra's face, the whole thing was quite a spectacle.

Esme laughed, uncertain of how she should feel, and slipped from Lyra's grasp. She closed the distance between herself and the couch, and sank down on it. You deserve a party, one part of her said, and the scent of cinnamon rushed to her nostrils anew, but something else gnawed at her. No.

"Esme?" Lyra's tone had dropped a step. It was almost a croon now, though this croon sounded sad. "Is there something wrong?" The Haruba blinked, her heavy-lashed eyelids seeming weighted.

Esme shook her head. "Most certainly not," she said, willing her doubts away as best she could. When Lyra gave her a hesitant look, the Braenon cracked a wry smile. "How could anything be wrong when you've gone to such lengths to throw me a surprise party?"

"I suppose you're right."

"It may come as a shock, but I sometimes am." Lyra beckoned her friend down to the cushion beside her. "Come on, that cake looks delicious. Home-made, I assume?"

"If you count Gordon's restaurant as home."

"Thank you, Lyra."

"Anything for the birthday Braenon."