A/N: I will say this now, I have not returned reliably to this site, and so while Heart of A Child is still under the finishing stages, I will give you this story about Caleb, whose new series of adventures occur shortly after Heart of A Child and alongside another story that will come after it. It's short, but it was written in DOS Edit, so please bear the limits I was under when it came to this story, I had no hard drive and was running everything off of pure RAM so saving was a pain to do. Please enjoy and be warned, you might get hungry during this story. Heh...
The woods near the Ozette Ruins was buzzing with activity. Birds and animals scattered as a strangely cloaked group of beings raced through the woods. The hunt for a special type of prey had led them all to this particular part of the region. Not far ahead of them was the elusive man they'd been chasing for many months now.
"Don't lose him again! The Master Chef will roast us for sure if we lose him again!" one cloaked figure shouted in near panic. Another merely grinned and held up her prize.
"Not likely. He won't be able to teleport anywhere without this. Just make sure we get him in one piece. He's no good to any of us if he's dead." the second figure remarked. The message relayed quickly and the air was filled with, of all things, clumps of boiled rice all aimed in the fugitive's general direction. The man darted aside, avoiding a majority of the food, and promptly slipped down a steep ravine, disappearing with a startled cry into the overgrown shrubs and fallen timber. The group chasing him stopped abruptly at the edge of the escarpment and peered down into it.
"Well, that's just peachy. We lost him." one of the younger members grumbled in irritation, "What do we tell the Master Chef now?"
"Just tell me the man's goose was cooked. That should be fine. Without their leader, the remaining chefs and cooks won't be able to stop us from dominating the culinary world." the group leader answered in a smug tone and turned to take the item from his subordinate. "This venture was quite profitable, thanks to you. Now, onwards! To gourmet glory!" With that, the group disappeared into the woods.
Not far from the scene, a green-clad young man was trudging home from his trip to NeOzette, hauling a small wagon filled with supplies and food behind him. Long red hair tied loosely with a green ribbon, Caleb shook his head in irritation at having lost the Elemental Carriage he once used to make the regular excursions. Since the Heroes of Union collected the Exsphere that helped the engine operate, the cart sat uselessly near Altessa's cave. The dwarf had promised to work on it and was currently poring over his worktable in an effort to devise a new method of running the carriage. Caleb made his trips to nearby towns on foot. Being an automatic doll had its benefits; the redhead never tired or struggled with his often heavy loads. But having recently acquired a soul of his own, and thus emotions and a personality far more advanced than his older 'sister' once had, Caleb soon became annoyed with the chore and often returned from his trips in a snappish mood. This day was no exception.
"Almost home. Then I can put this stuff away and start work on the cleanup and then I have to make dinner. With the new load of ingredients, I can finally practice the more exotic dishes." he muttered and looked skyward with a sigh. "This wouldn't be so bad if I had the carriage working. Then I can enjoy the scenery again." He paused to pull back the strands of bright red that came loose from the ribbon. It was then that Caleb could hear the faint groan of pain just off the beaten path. Wary of the sound, the doll made his way towards the source of the sound, examining the area carefully with glowing green-blue eyes.
"Hello? Anyone there?" Caleb called and listened for a response, searching the forest for signs of life. Another groan and he turned his head sharply, glaring in suspicion at the underbrush several yards from the base of a cliff, one of several that served as a fence of sorts for the Yggdrasill Tree. Moving cautiously towards the brush, Caleb began to make out the form of a fallen figure. With a yelp, he rushed to young man's side and cleared away debris from around him.
"Hey! Are you okay? What happened?" Caleb blurted out, quickly checking the half-conscious man for injuries.
"...bad egg... in mix..." the youth whispered brokenly. The doll dashed back to his cart and began mixing ingredients feverishly. There wasn't time to cook the concoction, so Caleb made his way back to the injured man and set to work bandaging cuts and splinting a broken arm. He carefully lifted him and carried him back to the cart.
"Can you tell me your name?" Caleb asked as he made a small campfire to cook the dish. The young man had fallen unconscious by then, lying silently on a makeshift bed beside the wooden carriage. Shaking his head for different reasons now, Caleb went to work trying to heal the broken youth.
Altessa was waiting outside when Caleb finally arrived home with his new charge wrapped snugly in a blanket. He had regained consciousness soon after the stew had finished cooking and sat in a fog, staring blankly at the spoonful of meat and broth put before his face. He'd eaten at least, and an oddly proud expression came across his face, as if he'd been pleased with the way the meal had been prepared and how it tasted, rather than glad that it had served to restore his strength.
"What took you? Who is that? Caleb, what's going on?" the dwarf immediately began firing questions at the doll as the redhead began unloading the supplies.
"It's alright, Master. I found him on the way home. He looks like he fell from the cliff near the Yggdrasill Tree." Caleb answered soothingly, the same tone he'd used to talk to the silent young man the whole trip home. "He's got a broken arm and some minor injuries that are healing quickly thanks to my beef stew, but I want to keep him here until I'm positive he'll be alright. Is that okay?"
"You can do as you wish with him, just keep him out of my workshop. I'm on the very edge of a breakthrough on our transportation trouble." Altessa muttered gruffly and headed back inside the cave, "And don't forget to make dinner!"
"Yes, Master Altessa!" Caleb called back and helped the young man step down from the cart, "I'll make miso stew with some of the new vegetables I bought..."
"Too heavy." the young man murmured as he was led inside the house. Caleb looked at him in confusion. Since giving Caleb the cryptic message, the young man hadn't spoken a word. "For a dwarf in his condition and mood, a light, crisp dinner with fish and his favorite dessert will do nicely." Caleb raised an eyebrow questioningly, but said nothing else.
Once the young man was set up in a guest room and told that he could call on Caleb for anything he may need or want, the doll went to the kitchen and studied his ingredients carefully. He had intended to make the stew as soon as he got home, but his new charge's words stuck in his mind. Shrugging, he opted to try the suggestion and made a delicate filet of fish with leafy cabbage and crunchy carrots, then set a fresh fruit salad on a tray with the dinner. Altessa barely registered Caleb entering the workshop, but made an uncannily accurate reach for the plate of fish once the tray was set down near him.
"Excellent as always, Caleb. It was just what I needed to finish this project. This design has been wearing me down lately." the dwarf remarked after eating, sounding less harsh than before. Caleb hid a surprised look as he thanked Altessa, collected the empty tray and dishes, then headed back to wash them off.
"How did you do that?" Caleb asked his charge once his chores were done. The young man blinked at him in confusion, a soup spoon still in his mouth. "How did you know what kind of meal would be best for Master Altessa?" The man shrugged and set aside the empty bowl. "Well, can you tell me your name at last? And why you were lying out in the forest in such a bad shape?"
"I can't." the man replied softly, a forlorn expression on his face. "I can't remember a thing. I really wish I knew something, but I don't even know what my name was." He rubbed his head, fingers running through the short blonde hair. The bangs swept to one side, hiding one of a set of deep blue eyes that were filled with distant and confused emotions. Caleb propped his chin on one hand and hummed softly to himself.
"Well, maybe you'll recover your memories once you've fully healed. In the meantime, I can give you a name to use, if you like." the doll finally said. The man grinned weakly.
"I suppose that's the best option for now. I can't even think of what to call myself." he laughed. Caleb looked around, then gazed out the window at a small bird perched on the windowsill. He smiled brightly and looked back at the young man.
"I know! I'll call you Wren!" he exclaimed. The young man blinked and looked out at the bird for a moment, then returned the smile.
"That's not bad! I like listening to birds, so being named for one is perfect!" he agreed. Caleb nodded.
"Then it's official! Your name is now Wren. Judging from your clothes, I think you must have been a traveling cook. That's probably how you knew what dinner to make. I guess I should have thought of that sooner." Caleb added and motioned at the sling supporting Wren's right arm. "How's it feeling? Does it hurt? Do you need any pain relievers?"
"No, it's fine. Thanks. So I'm a cook..." Wren murmured and trailed off thoughtfully. "For some reason, that just doesn't seem quite right." He went quiet and, when Caleb couldn't get through to him, the doll left him to his thoughts.
The next few weeks were spent on healing and recovery, with Wren studying his chef's hat intensely, as if it would surrender the secrets of his life if he just kept up the glare, and Caleb following his new friend's suggestions on recipes and meals. Once Altessa linked the improved diet with Wren's presence, he was more inclined to let the cook stay around, even after he recovered. Caleb joked about it one day as Wren made his first foray from his room to join him in the kitchen.
"Better watch out, Wren. Master Altessa might decide to adopt you!" the doll teased. Wren gave him an embarrassed laugh before turning his attention to the vegetables and meat set out for preparation. "Want to help me make lunch?"
"Okay, but... there's only enough ingredients for two lunches. Did Altessa already have his meal?" he asked in confusion.
"Ah, not really. I'm not hungry, so this lunch is for you and Master Altessa." Caleb answered quickly and set to work on the first sandwich. "Maybe making lunch will trigger a memory for you. Cooking is a part of who you are, after all." Wren nodded and joined in, deftly putting together the ingredients to make a delicious fresh fruit sandwich. He looked over at Caleb's plate and cocked his head, eyebrows furrowed thoughtfully.
"Cheese on ham? That... seems familiar..." Wren murmured faintly, "I think I knew someone who made sandwiches like that." Caleb looked at him dubiously.
"You knew my sister Tabatha?" he asked. Wren blinked slowly and turned back to him.
"I think so, yes. Is she here? Maybe she can tell me who I am." he answered. Caleb shook his head.
"Tabatha left to follow another path." he replied. The two of them finished making lunch in silence.