Lots of people in the Fright Zone didn't know this, but there was, in fact, an official cook. She was a suitably intimidating woman, seven feet tall with arms that could break twiggy Horde recruits in half without breaking a sweat. Luckily for them, she was also a woman of solitude, preferring to keep to the darkest parts of the Zone and stay out of sight.
Hordak had discovered her early on. She'd been newly-orphaned by his slow but sure expansion of power. To her own betterment, she believed. After pledging loyalty, she offered her services to him, being trained in the culinary arts. The army camp stationed in her old village had shown her just how abysmal the state of their rations was.
Hordak accepted her help after a days-long grilling, examining the extent of her knowledge in chemistry as well as cooking. He then described to her a special type of food he'd once subsisted on - ration bars, packed with all the nutritional requirements his kind needed to stay strong and healthy. With his meager supplies and lack of access to a reliable laboratory to conduct experiments, he'd since been unable to recreate them. There was also the problem of him knowing so little about Etherians (a fact he never stated outright, but was evident to her.)
It was a challenge, which she liked. While Hordak's growing army was busy building the rest of the Fright Zone, his new chef - given the name Hoka by the big man himself, for she'd requested freedom from all ties of her past life - hid away to conduct her own experiments.
It took close to a year, but the perfect recipe was inevitable with her on the job.
Soon, Horde soldiers were eating her hand-made ration bars. Plain to curb distraction, economical in size for easy storage and transportation. They were wrapped and sealed in thin paper, which could be recycled, and had a shelf life of six months.
They were divvied up into three different kinds - brown, grey, and green. Each color had something to offer: protein and carbohydrates, or maybe a daily dose of necessary vitamins. Soldiers would be fostered on three bars a day, one of each color, to round out their diet.
Hordak was pleased, and allowed Hoka to work in her own space. She did not live off the ration bars, of course. She had access to any and all food resources required to make them, and so Hoka made her own meals with the leftovers.
When The Horde's reach grew larger and their yield from conquered villages or towns provided a surplus of food, Hoka insisted on at least one feast in the year. It had been a hard sell, but Hordak could see her point: good food could bring people - his soldiers - together, make them feel unified, and increase moral. It would be a special occasion and a chance for everyone to have tangible evidence of their labors, to reap the rewards that come from hard work and loyalty.
Feasts were the only time Hoka made a public appearance outside of required meetings with Hordak, when she was forced to leave her kitchens and trudge all the way up into his sanctum. The young soldiers saw her there - big, broad, scowling with her thick brown arms crossed; they left her alone.
It was all she could have ever wanted.
Hoka was pleased.
Sometimes, though, it was difficult.
Hoka stared at the list she'd just been given. She couldn't recall a more absurd request being made of her since joining The Horde. "What the hell is this for?"
"That's not your problem," Lord Hordak said, seated on his throne. "Your problem is making it - exactly as specified."
"You know it won't be possible to include everything here and all the necessary nutrients."
"Get creative. Make multiple types, if you must, like with the ration bars. I encourage variety, in fact."
Hoka raised a brow. Now that was new. "I can play around?"
"Do what you must to get me the best results as quickly as possible.” He paused, then squinted at her with those bright red eyes. “ I have no reason to doubt your abilities,” he said simply. A question masquerading as fact.
Hoka looked down at the instructions, suppressing the urge to smile. Stony-faced, she asked, "And do they have to be these colors?"
At last, Hordak lost that stoicism - just ever so slightly. In all honesty, he and Hoka didn't talk much. But she'd been with The Horde longer than almost anyone else, unwavering in her loyalty, perfectly content with her station. Hordak had never found a reason to suspect her intentions. Hoka did as she was told with little fuss, and so Hordak had never needed to utilize intimidation to keep her in line.
All this to say, sometimes, he dropped his guard around her. Just a little. Enough for Hoka to see how her question struck him as a little embarrassing. Now, both of the cook's eyebrows were raised.
Hordak snapped out of it quick enough, scowling a little. He might have snarled, if he were speaking with anyone else. "You are dismissed. I can't be bothered negotiating asinine details. You have your instructions, so go follow them."
"Yes, Lord Hordak, sir," Hoka replied easily. She offered a quick salute, then turned to make her way out of the throne room. Already, her mind was racing with possible ways to introduce such artificial colors without sacrificing the nutritional value, how making smaller portions would affect taste-
"Don't disappoint me, Hoka."
At the door, Hoka, head chef and lord of the kitchens, laughed. She sent Hordak a look he'd grown to know well - one he could appreciate, perhaps even admire. "I never disappoint, sir."
High above him, the Princess of Dryl was using a welding gun to repair a collection of vents and pipes. There had been an unfortunate incident involving one too many robots and a few loose screws, causing an avalanche of metalwork which had more or less destroyed a section of the lab. Hordak recalled his fury, as well as how swiftly it had been dashed by his worry. Then, how both had been snuffed out when Entrapta's gloved hand shot out from amidst the debris. "Oopsie!" she had said. "I'm okay!" she'd said right after.
Then, "Oh, wow, that's a big hole! That'll take days to fix!"
She had been correct. She was usually correct. And so Hordak had been stuck running simulations and tweeking their portal machine, prepping for another test, while Entrapta set to fixing and reinforcing things across the lab.
She wore her welding mask, bright red eyes flashing with the flames. Upon hearing Hordak's call, she turned the gun off and floated down toward him. One coil of hair held her suspended upside-down from the pipes, like a bat. She asked from behind her mask, "Yes? Do you need something, Hordak?"
"I need you to take a break."
At this, she flipped her mask up with a thumb. Big fuschia eyes blinked at him. "Oh?"
"I have something for you."
Now the eyes sparkled. "Really? What is it?"
"If you come down, I'll show you."
With an odd amount of grace, Entrapta flipped herself around and put her feet on the ground, disentangling her hair from the rafters. Once she'd put her tools down, she scampered over to Hordak. "Show me!"
Hordak led her to a section of the lab reserved for eating. Not that either of them did much of it. Such a fact was fine for Hordak, who required less and got everything he needed from his ration bars. Entrapta, however, was what Hordak had learned was called a picky eater. She refused to eat anything that couldn't sit neatly in her palm, and wouldn't drink anything that wasn't fizzy, excluding water. She could eat or drink other things, of course, but would complain and resist until forced, and even then, her expression of absolute distaste might make one feel vile for subjecting her to it.
It just felt bad, she'd explained once to Hordak. She didn't like having so much in her mouth at once, and preferred the texture of pastries and other things easily delivered in small bites. She thought drinks that weren't fizzy were boring, and 'slithered down her throat' in a way she hated. All of this amounted to a reluctance to eat, which could evolve into a willful avoidance of food altogether.
Hordak asked why, then, if this was the case, did Entrapta allow her former wait staff to stay behind in Dryl? When she'd consented to Horde troops occupying her kingdom, Entrapta had asked her three servants if they would come along with her.
"They didn't want to," Entrapta had explained. Her eyes were planted firmly on her work. "They said they would come if I needed them, but never said explicitly that they wanted to or would be happy to accompany me. They avoided eye contact upon hearing my request; all my research on human body language and nonverbal communication implied they didn't like the idea. So, I said they could go home instead! They all have families in the village a ways west of the castle. That's where everyone else went, I think."
At first Hordak hadn't cared much, quickly moving the subject along. But he'd soon began to see the consequences of Entrapta's decision. She would sometimes go an entire day without eating - two, if she could get away with it. She only accepted water and ration bars when ordered, chopping the bars up into bite-sized pieces and hardly ever finishing them. Hordak could see how the lack of food made her weaker, thinner. It was a gradual process, but the evidence was clear. There was no way she could continue like this without her health failing.
As they approached the table, Entrapta impatiently picked up the pace, using her hair to carry her over. When she caught sight of the brown paper rectangles, Hordak could see the way her entire body - and seemingly her hair - deflated. "Ration bars? I already have those."
"I know you do," Hordak said, forcing his voice to remain neutral and not betray the strange giddiness making a home in his chest. He gestured to the pile of bars, noting with pleasure that Hoka also included a brown paper bag. It had been an additional task, not required as the bars were. He should have expected Hoka to be up to the challenge. "These bars are different. Open one."
Curiosity piqued once more, Entrapta picked up a bar and carefully unfolded the plain paper wrapping. For half a second Hordak fretted; he'd gotten a little eager upon seeing Hoka’s work had been delivered. Not a moment had been spared actually assessing the food. He did believe in Hoka's abilities, but Etherian's were seemingly prone to asinine mistakes. What if they came out wrong? What if Entrapta refused to eat them?
I'll make her eat them, Hordak told himself, trying to sound resolute. At this point, it was either these bars, or he waste time and resources sending a squad to go kidnap her former chefs.
When Entrapa fully opened the bag, she immediately gasped. "Wow! They are different; this one's pink!"
Indeed, it was pink. A warm, natural shade, reddish like a berry. The bar was slimmer than a traditional ration, and Entrapta let out a little cooing noise when she noticed the grooves cutting it into segments. "Can I break pieces off?"
"You should be able to."
Entrapta snapped off a segment of the bar and made one of her frightful noises, a loud eeeee! of delight that made Hordak's ears twitch. "It's so small and cute!!"
"Try one," Hordak prodded, hoping he didn't sound too eager.
With a smile on her face, Entrapta popped her little bit of ration bar into her mouth, eyes closed. Hordak made sure he could see her expression. A deep, inexplicable surge of satisfaction came when her fuschia eyes burst open again. She made a gleeful sound in her mouth, dancing on her feet as she chewed and swallowed.
"It's fizzy! It fizzes when it makes contact with my saliva! Oh my gosh, cute fizzy food!"
Hordak smiled - he couldn't help it. In an immediate attempt to make up for the slip, he said in as commanding a voice as he could manage around the princess, "You are to begin eating two to three of these a day. No more skipping meals. These bars should contain all the nutrients you require."
"How did you make it fizzy?" Entrapta asked around another bite. It was absurd, the amount of delight Hordak took in watching her eat them. "How did you make 'em pink?"
"I have no idea," Hordak admitted truthfully, watching Entrapta put down her bar and reach for the brown paper bag. "You would have to ask our chef."
"The Horde has a chef?"
"Yes, Hoka. She made the original ration bar recipe. I had her develop these for you."
Entrapta opened her mouth to answer, but then she saw what was in the bag. Something just short of a scream came out instead.
"Awwww! Look, look! They're shaped like various objects!"
At this, Hordak frowned, leaning over her shoulder. Entrapta pulled the paper from her ration bar open more, then dumped a handful of food out of the bag. Bite-sized rations of various shapes and shades of violet spilled out. Hordak noted some gears, as well as one wrench and a few screws.
"They are so cute! I love them!" Entrapta cried, shoving a gear into her mouth. Hordak was surprised. He'd requested cubes - something Entrapta could just put on a plate and grab as she worked, but wouldn't roll off a table. After a moment, Hordak realized this was a gibe at him from Hoka. He shouldn't have written the cubes as optional; likely, she'd taken it as an insult, a question of her abilities. Of course Hoka had to use the chance to slip a subtle counterattack. The insolence of that chef. He'd have to give her a new project, something difficult, so she could put all that snark into something useful. He got the sense she was feeling bored lately, and needed a new creative outlet.
Something touched Hordak's waist, pulling him from his thoughts. When he looked down, he saw Entrapta. She was hugging him with one arm, holding him tight as she grinned. "Thanks, Hordak! You're the best lab partner ever! I love these!"
"I couldn't have you starving yourself," Hordak mumbled, as if her unreasonable behavior had simply forced his hand. Which wasn't so far from the truth, really.
Entrapta hummed, smiling up at him, then let him go to dump another couple of snacks into one glove. She then held up the bag, shaking it a little. A silent question.
The rations were for her and Hordak had little interest in food, but in truth he did find himself curious. He held out a hand, causing Entrapta to grin again. She shook the bag so a couple rations fell out, then turned away to put the bag back down in the platter it had been carried in on.
Hordak plucked a ration from his palm, but before bringing it into his mouth, he took note of the shape. It was rich purple in color, similar to Entrapta's eyes. and it was most certainly not shaped like a gear or wrench.
Entrapta giggled, and Hordak glanced back up. She had a piece of paper in her hand - white, previously folded in half. Seeing she had his attention, Entrapta held it out to him. "I think your chef wrote this for you," she said, her voice sounding soft and strange.
Hordak put down the misshapen ration and snatched the note from Entrapta, who took no notice of his irritation. Swiftly, he read the neat script:
Let me know if this batch works out. If yes, I'll send you a list of what I'll need delivered to the kitchens from now on.
Hope your little Princess enjoys her baby food for babies.
P.S - I want two feasts this year.
"Tell her these are great as-is!" Entrapta said, ignoring how Hordak was now fuming. "Do you think she'll share the recipe with me too? I find these fascinating and I wanna know how she made 'em."
With one hand, Hordak re-folded Hoka's note and put it back on the table, deciding he would deal with insolent chefs later.
He looked back at his handful of rations. With a great, weary sigh, he took the heart-shaped one and popped it into his mouth. It fizzed, which was an altogether strange sensation. He wasn't sure if he liked it.
But he certainly didn't hate it.