As far as I can tell, the hermit who lives above town has been there since before the revolt a decade ago, when the mayorship became the administratorship. No one I've asked has ever talked to zer; and ze seems content with not knowing the villagers proper.
But occasionally, strange things will happen up there. There will be a flash of light, the scent of burnt water tinging the air for a parasang around, the smell of fractus that you wish you could eat, of steel seasoned with the local spice-berries.
I become cautiously curious of our friend. What wondrous things was ze cooking? Did ze ever have guests to cook for? Could I perhaps try this strange cuisine that regularly permeated the village?
So one day, I make the trek up to zer roost. The way is overgrown with all manner of plants, as if someone has haphazardly transplanted most of them here.
One of them grabs my leg.
My cry of surprise is quickly silenced as another vine covers my mouth. I try to bite through, but its thick skin doesn't yield to my teeth. I try to kick out with my leg that isn't ensnared, but another vine takes that as well.
I'm contemplating giving in to my fate when a whirlwind whooshes by me and I'm suddenly able to pull away from the vine. No, pull away with the vine; it has been cut.
I turn to see the whirlwind, actually a human wielding dual butcher knives. The hermit.
“Why do you intrude on my orchard?” ze says no sooner than I'm able to look at zer.
“I—I was… just…” I stammer.
“Curious?” ze finishes for me. “Don't you know what it is to be curious in Qud? Curiosity is what leads the Moon King to their grave.”
“I'm no Moon King. But I thought… that maybe… you would want…” I trail off.
Ze turns away to leave. “I am hungry only for the glory of the Kitchen, not for companionship. Begone.”
I note the special tone given to the word Kitchen. “Why do you pronounce it in that way?”
Ze turns zer head so that just one glaring, crazed eye is visible. “I refer to the Kitchen. Kitchen Heptagon.”
“I've never heard of such a place.”
Ze turns completely away from me again and scoffs. “Of course you haven't. It doesn't exist in our Qud.”
Ze brandishes zer knives towards me, but somehow in a grandiose way and not a threatening one. “I am going to cross the borders of space-time in order to take my rightful place as a Carbide Chef! Though none but I may know its name in this time and in this place, it is as famous and glorious a place as a great chef such as I could ever hope to aspire to.”
“How… are you going to get there? If it's in another dimension?”
“Another dimension? Agates, no. If it were merely in another dimension, don't you think I'd be there already? Kitchen Heptagon is in another reality!”
“So… how are you going to get there?”
Ze slumps zer shoulders. “I don't know yet. It is my hope to travel Qud in search of clues. But it will be a dangerous journey.”
“How did you learn about it in the first place if it's so impossible to get there?”
“It speaks to me in my dreams. Tales are a magic older than the Sightless Way. They know how to traverse the boundaries of realities in a way I, in my frail mortal body, cannot hope to.”
I take a moment to think on this. It's possible ze's simply mad. But on the offchance that ze's not…
“Would you… perform the ritual with me?” I say.
Zer eyes go wide. “I am loved by no one, forgotten by all but a few, and loathed by the remainder. You would not benefit in any material way whatsoever from performing the Water Ritual with me.”
“Will you anyway?”
Ze thinks on it for a moment. “Yes.”
Your thirst is mine,” I say as I kneel down, pouring my water into a dish and raising it so ze may take it.
"My water is yours," ze says, joining me in my kneeling and pouring zer own water into the dish.
“I am called Zaccharias.” I say. “Loyal to the villagers of Nenur.”
“I am called Hest.” says the hermit. “Loyal to no one, but kindred with pariahs.”
“Hest, I have a great request of you.”
“Will you teach me to cook as you do?”
Zer eyes go wide, but there is no hesitation. “I will, for so long as I can before the call of the Kitchen Heptagon takes me elsewhere.”
“That is all that I ask.”
And so it is that I study under the hermit Hest, Carbide Chef-aspirant. Ze is a genius, and I do believe I use the word literally— there is a quality to zer skill that could come only from being born to do what ze does. I don't let this hold me back. I try my best to take the lessons ze has to offer me.
I muse on how quite possibly this reality's greatest chef could have come to be a hermit, but it all makes sense even just from the story ze told me— if there really is another time, another place, where Kitchen Heptagon exists, and if word of it somehow made it to Mastrex Hest, then no one would have believed zer about it. For my part, I do believe zer.
It's months later when our sad farewell takes place. Ze has prepared me for this day. Warned me that it would come. My final challenge, my final display of skill, demonstration of all that ze has taught me.
I prepare the farewell meal. Roasted jilted lover vine meshed with broiled twinning lamprey steak, seasoned with carbide spice-berries.
I watch zer eat what I've prepared. Zer eyes start watering. I'm surprised; did I overdo the spice-berries? They shouldn't have had such a strong—
“Thank you,” Hest says through tears. “I have done well by you, and you have done well by me. This food… is the best I've ever tasted.”
“Surely you can't mean—”
“No, it's not as technically nuanced as my own. But it's still the best meal I've ever had, because… we both have been putting love and care into it for months, and it came out just right.”
“Mastrex,” I start to cry. “I'm touched.”
“Your training is complete. And now we must part ways.”
The tearful goodbye concludes right after the meal. We say our farewells, and we part ways. Hest bids me take what I will that ze's left in zer house, and then goes off on zer way.
I arrive back home that night, bearing the first frying pan I used under zer tutelage. I don't hang it on the wall— no, the only way I can think to honor zer with it is by using it.
And use it I do, cooking the villagers all manner of delicious meal. I spread the tale of Hest through the village. Even if they spurned zer while ze was here, they may still learn of the true legend that, for a brief time, graced us with zer presence.