“What bountiful spoils of war! Not only did my guide escape the curse, but was even able to snatch away a Sinner of Existence!” Saiximili exclaimed, looking immensely pleased as he examined Philo who was currently lying at his feet, still wearing the Stone of Lethargy around his neck. He had originally thought that he would soon be out of a job, but unexpectedly he was given a salary increase instead?
“Bountiful my ass!” Shooting Star growled with a sinister expression. “I was this close, just this tiny bit away from incurring the jealousy of the heavens and being paid an early visit from the Grim Reaper! Yet look at you, you useless, so-called starseer, still celebrating over there like an idiot!”
Alan had a puzzled look. Is it even possible to simultaneously be “incurring the jealousy of the heavens” while also “being paid an early visit from the Grim Reaper”?
“Of course this is worthy of celebration!” Saiximili had a smug knowing look as he explained. “Think about it. There’s only a total of seven sinners, and you already have two of them on your side. If the enemy wants to eliminate you, they would at least need to command three of them to have a chance at succeeding. If you were to kill off one of their sinners, that would greatly reduce their chances of finding three more sinners to go against you!”
Only then did Shooting Star’s face showed that he finally understood the significance of this moment.
“H-hold on, who did you say you planned to kill off?” Bai Saya who had collapsed on the ground after returning to White Feather due to over-expending the power of the stone yet again, and even had no energy to properly place down the two people he was carrying suddenly interrupted. He had promptly lifted his head as soon as he heard the word “kill”, revealing a panicked expression as he butted into Saiximili and Shooting Star’s dangerous conversation.
“Of course it’s the Sinner of Existence! No matter if its the Guide of Existence, the Sinners of Existence, and most importantly, the Starseer of Existence, they are all undeniably our eternal enemies unto death! Killing them off is the easiest solution, though for the Sinners of Existence, it may be possible to spare them if we perform that ritual on them…”
“Ritual? What ritual?” Bai Saya asked anxiously. Any potential method that may spare Philo from being a casualty in this war that they had all unwittingly been dragged into would be worth considering.
“Well, according to my visions, there’s a slim chance of breaking the bond between a sinner and their guide, but it’s not an easy procedure. The best case scenario would be that the sinner gets converted to our side, but it’s far more likely that the sinner would go berserk, rampaging like a mindless animal until they are put down. It’s possible that they would even detonate all their power at once, directly destroying everything around them within the radius of a large city.”
“Philo is our friend and companion; we cannot simply give up on him without trying! Don’t you think so, Shooting Star?” Bai Saya shone again with righteousness, a pleading yet insistent look plastered on his face as he gazed at his companions.
It was instead Dan who first spoke up. “Saya, this is much too dangerous. Philo may be a friend, but we can’t risk all of our lives to save him. And as a knight sworn to protect others, losing his dignity would be a worse fate than death. He would not want to leave such a legacy behind.” Dan cunningly gave a seemingly logical reason on behalf of Philo to not save said person, perfectly masking his actual intentions of not risking putting Saya into harm’s way.
“Saimi, at least tell us more about the method and if there’s any way to mitigate the risks.” Bai Saya insisted with increasing desperation, seeing the nonverbal cues that his party is hesitant to support him in his plans.
“To release a sinner from the knots of fate tying him to his faction, the other side’s guide must brand the sinner with their own mark from within as well as to himself. The effect is increased if the guide also applies this mark to any of his own sinners at the same time. As long as the other side can quell the power released by the opposing sinner without harming his mind throughout the duration of the ritual, then the sinner would be freed from his original fate and would no longer be able to support his original faction.”
“What is this mark of the guide that you speak of? And what does it mean to apply the mark ‘from within’?” Shooting Star asked with suspicion. He definitely did not want to expose his own demonic emblem, and wasn’t sure if that was what Saiximili was referring to. If Saiximili knew about his demonic emblem and exposed his identity, that would really spell a big problem for him!
“The mark can simply be anything created by and symbolizes the identity of the guide. Applying the mark from within, well that just means the mark needs to be ingested by all its participants. For you, Shooting Star, luckily I have just the thing.” Saiximili started jotting down a set of instructions, and after a few minutes, tossed a scroll with his notes at Shooting Star.
“What is this?” Shooting Star inquired intriguingly and secretly sighed in relief seeing that this has nothing to do with his demonic emblem.
“It’s from King Arthur1. They’re really good, and it should be easy enough to pull off, even for a novice like you. Just follow the recipe and you’ll end up with a beautiful Shooting Star Bread.”
Shooting Star widened his eyes. This looked so good, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to even share any with his companions, ritual be damned.
2 cups (241g) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup (46g) potato flour or 1/2 cup (46g) dried potato flakes2
1/4 cup (28g) Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup + 2 to 4 tablespoons (198g to 227g) lukewarm water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough
4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
1 teaspoon (6g) salt
6-8 tablespoons of apple butter3
1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar to taste
- Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.
- Next, sift the flour, potato flour, and dry milk through a strainer; this is an important step to prevent lumps in the dough. (If you’re using instant mashed potatoes rather than potato flour you can skip this sifting step.)
- To make the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 60 minutes, until it’s nearly doubled in bulk.
- To shape the loaf: Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, cover the balls, and allow them to rest for 15 minutes.
- On a lightly greased or floured work surface, roll one piece of dough into a 10″ circle. Place the circle on a piece of parchment, evenly spread with 1/3 of the apple butter and sugar, leaving 1/4″ of bare dough around the perimeter.
- Roll out a second circle the same size as the first, and place it on top of the filling-covered circle. Repeat the layering process while leaving the top circle bare.
- Place a 2 1/2″ to 3″ round cutter in the center of the dough circle as a guide. With a bench knife or sharp knife, cut the circle into 16 equal strips, from the cutter to the edge, through all the layers.
- Using two hands, pick up two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other twice so that the top side is facing up again. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough so that you end up with eight pairs of strips.
- Pinch the pairs of strips together to create a star-like shape with eight points. Remove the cutter.
- Transfer the star on the parchment to a baking sheet. Cover the star and let it rise until it becomes noticeably puffy, about 45 minutes.
- While the star is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Brush the star with a thin coat of the beaten egg. Bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, until it’s nicely golden with dark brown streaks; the center should register 200°F on a digital thermometer.
- Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.
- Store any leftover bread, well wrapped in plastic, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage. To reheat bread for serving, place it on a baking sheet and tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Place in a preheated 350°F oven, and warm for about 15 minutes, or until it’s as hot as you like.
1. Original recipe taken from https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/cinnamon-star-bread-recipe with adaptations.
2. You can substitute with cornstarch on a 1:1 ratio if you don’t have any potato flour/starch.
3. A shortcut to making apple butter is to start with unsweetened apple sauce and cooking it down with cinnamon and other warm spices.