Flying to Iselia from Hima wasn't as hard as Caleb thought. The two villages were fairly close to each other as long as one was flying between them. The forest remained as lush as ever and Pepper seemed eager to get to the trees. Once on the ground near the house, Caleb let the mana beast loose to chase after a myriad of smaller animals. He scratched his head as he watched her pounce a rabbit.
"I didn't know that she could hunt for meat, too. But then, I guess that's what she's pretending to do whenever we play Fetch." he murmured in surprise and headed for the house. He hadn't even had the chance to knock on the door when he heard the sounds of crashing and small explosions. "Oh no! A monster attack!" Caleb cried and burst open the door, already calling up a spell, "Aqua... huh?"
Tables were overturned, chairs were pierced through walls, and the three swordsmen of the Heroes of Union were racing up and down the stairs. Caleb stopped his spell and watched in confusion as they dashed in and out of rooms, slamming doors and screaming at one another. He blinked a few times, then folded his arms over his chest in irritation.
"Hey! What the hell's going on in here?" he yelled and the three swordsmen halted suddenly and stared at him. "Zelos, you idiot, why are you running around with that pot?"
"Because these two wimps won't eat the Wonder Chef's spaghetti." the former Chosen grumbled, glaring at both Kratos and Lloyd as they took cover behind an upended table.
"You guys have spent the last week or so just running around with a pot of spaghetti?" Caleb snapped incredulously.
"We're very bored angels." Kratos declared matter-of-factly as Lloyd nodded with a smile, "The world doesn't need saving at this time, Zelos insists we're not all fully well enough to continue the Exsphere collection journey..." The rusty-haired seraphim seemed to snap at this point, grabbing and pulling at his hair with both hands, "And I'm about to go berserk if I don't get out of here! I can't take cabin fever!" Caleb stared at the group, then shook his head.
"You're all insane. But I need to talk to you three, so here's the deal." the doll told them in a low, controlled voice, "I'm going to close this door. I'm going to count to ten, then I'm coming back inside. If this place still looks like a disaster zone when I stick my head back in, then I'm hanging all of you by your fluffy little angel wings." With that, he shut the door on them and began to count.
Once he hit the promised number, Caleb returned to the house and peeked inside. The main room looked decent and everyone was seated at the table, though Zelos wielded a spoon filled with spaghetti and continued glaring at the other two men barricaded behind a wall of potted plants.
"I'm looking for access to the four seals in Sylvarant so that I can gather more information about the world. Do you have any maps or details I might need to do that?" Caleb finally asked them.
"Zelos does." Lloyd blurted out, peeking between two stalks of bean plants.
"Well, you do! He was drawing out what the temples looked like when we had Sheena making all those pacts." Lloyd added.
"Can I borrow them? I might run into trouble getting into those places." Caleb asked. The other redhead sighed and shrugged.
"Sure. I don't have much use for them myself anyway. I was just doing it to help out the Renegades and to keep myself busy." he replied and got up to retrieve the sheets.
"Oh, Caleb, where's Wren?" Lloyd piped in suddenly. Caleb blinked in surprise.
"That came out of nowhere. He's back home with his family." he replied.
"That's good. Hey, Dad, let's hide the spaghetti before Zelos gets back!" Lloyd whispered brightly. Kratos grinned and nodded almost childishly, and the two of them scurried to grab the pot and vanish into another room. Zelos came back downstairs minutes after the plot was enacted, rolls of parchments in his hands.
"Okay, these are the maps of all the temples we've been in..." he began and looked up from one to take in the room. He looked around once, then gave Caleb a droll expression. "Let me guess. They took the pot." Caleb gave him a helpless shrug, smiling sheepishly. Zelos rolled his eyes in exasperation as he handed over the rolls. "Those two can be such a pain...!" he growled and spun around, running off towards the room the others disappeared into, "Lloyd! Kratos! Get back here!"
"I'm glad I only look like him." Caleb remarked with a chuckle and left the little house, whistling for Pepper.
They returned to Triet within a few hours. Caleb let Pepper stay in a nearby stall until he could find out where the Seal of Fire rested. Asking around, he gathered a lot of interesting information about the city itself, its history and culture, and a myriad of small legends and rumors. Returning to Pepper to see how she was doing, Caleb was surprised to see that the mana beast held a newly formed data crystal in her mouth.
"I thought those can only be made by dwarves refining the mana crystals!" he remarked and Pepper set the crystal down, clacking with pride, "But I guess Ascension clan mana beasts can do whatever they want once they figure out how, huh?" He collected the crystal, set it into the small reader/writer unit and placed his fingertips on the tiny panel, allowing the device to pull the new information and the rest of the Wonder Archive from him into the crystal.
"That does it. I'm cleared for new data." Caleb remarked and stowed the data crystal in his pocket with the first one. The mana beast whistled, then made an irritated sound, projecting the image of a dark wooden fork in Caleb's mind. "Wha-?"
"Hey, still here?" Ginger's voice murmured behind the doll. Caleb jumped and whirled around, startled.
"You? You're still in Triet? I thought you ran for it that last night I was here!" he exclaimed. Ginger shrugged, her fork strapped to her back. "If I were you, I'd hop the first dragon out of here." Caleb added in a growl, "There's no place for a Dark Chef anywhere in the new world."
"Oh, get over yourself. You're not even a Wonder Recruit, what makes you think you've got anything on me in combat cooking?" Ginger retorted, her arms folded over her chest. She drummed her fingers on one arm thoughtfully. "Ah, speaking of Wonders... that blonde kid isn't around, is he?" she added as if in passing.
"If you're trying to use your candy wiles on Wren, that's not gonna happen." Caleb told her, "He's already safe within the walls of the Wonder Organization Headquarters." Ginger grinned.
"Honey, anywhere the Wonder Chef goes is never safe from me. All I have to do is feed my Bleat Treats to enough cooks and Blondie is in my grasp once again." she purred.
"Ugh! Look, lady, I don't have time to deal with your weird obsession with Wren! I've got ruins to investigate and the Wonder Chef Family has him safely protected from the likes of you!" Caleb snapped as he let Pepper out of her pen, "So beat it!" He winced and held up his hand as Ginger moved to say something, "Wait, wait. On second thought... don't beat it. Just get out of here."
"Tch. Fine. Be that way. I was just here to offer you a bit of information that you... and Bird-Boy... might be interested in." the Dark Chef returned as she turned on her heel and began to walk away. "But I shall do as the great Chosen says and get out..."
"Don't ask. Don't ask. Don't ask, don't ask, don't ask..." the doll ordered himself sternly as he began walking in the opposite direction, "Agh! Wait!" Ginger paused and looked over her shoulder, an expression of mock surprise on her face. Caleb had also stopped, glaring at his shoes in self-disgust before turning to face the woman. "I collect information. What is it that you have?" he called out.
"The Alliance is pooling its resources for what appears to be the final push for domination. I haven't got all the details myself, but I'm pretty sure their latest scheme will be what will force the Wonder Chef to step down." Ginger told him with a half-smile, "It's been DuGorge's obsession to wield the Wonder Fork once more, and permanently this time. You know what power does to people."
"And your price for this is...?"
"I'll write out an IOU and hold it over your head. It'll be fun. You'll see." Ginger laughed and vanished in a burst of powdery white confectioner's sugar. Caleb looked at Pepper, who gave him a droll expression with an added projection of a mule.
"Don't start with me. I didn't sell out Wren, and this kind of information might actually be useful." the doll griped, "Next time I see him, I'll deliver the message and ask why it is that I keep getting caught between Dark Chefs and Wonder Cooks whenever they get into one of their spats."
The Seal of Fire seemed to do weird things to Pepper. She spent time working on using Lethal Floraon random monsters as Caleb picked his way down the wreckage of the ruins. He poked around for a minute as he tried to find an entrance. Sitting on one of the stones that used to be part of the temple, Caleb unrolled the corresponding map and stared at the parchment. There were red scribbles and lines all over the sheet in addition to what looked like stick figures of the Heroes of Union and Efreet. One corner of parchment was dedicated to a stick figure of Kratos with several magic swords thrust through its body and head.
"Ah, must be before they got into that adoptive Father-Son mentality." Caleb muttered as he turned the parchment one way and the other, "How the hell am I to read this? What is that? A Fire Element or a rubber ball?"
Pepper blasted another plume of fire into the air and clacked proudly at the smoke she quickly shaped into an apple before it dissipated into nothingness. She looked down at Caleb and floated into the pit, a questioning look on her face. The doll looked up at her and smiled.
"Hey, Pepper. I'm still trying to find a way inside." he told her, stroking her snout. The mana beast looked at the wreckage, raised an eyebrow, and glared at it, planting all four feet firmly into the ground. "Pepper? What are you doing?" Caleb asked in suspicion and shouted in surprise as stones and pillars were flung over them into the sands. With each group of wreckage that was hurled away, a path was beginning to open for them. "Keep it up, Pepper! We almost have a way in!"
Finally, a cavern-like entrance was revealed and Caleb pet his friend affectionately, hugging her snout and nuzzling the mana beast.
"Great work, Pepper! Thanks!" he exclaimed and hurried into the tunnel with the mana beast trotting happily along behind him.
The interior of the Fire Seal was partially collapsed and still held a great amount of heat as magma seeped up from portions of the temple. Caleb held up his arms defensively at the first blast of hot air, then blinked as the blast blew apart before it could touch him. For a moment, he was confused, then he looked back at Pepper, who smiled and nuzzled him. He returned the grin.
"Thanks, Pepper." the doll murmured and walked on, staying close to the mana beast as they explored what they could of the seal. There really wasn't much, but Caleb recorded everything he could examine for the next few hours; the decor of the walls, the setup of the rooms, the wreckage of old weapons and pieces of quartz. "That's about everything. Let's head back." he remarked, standing up from one last examination of a monster's skeletal remains. As the two friends made their way out of the seal, Pepper began to grow agitated. "What's wrong? Don't want to leave the land of your father's clan's blessing?" Caleb remarked with a chuckle and blinked when the mana beast sat down abruptly and made her strange irritated noise, half-growl, half-hiss.
"This... isn't about the seal, is it?" Caleb murmured and tried moving around Pepper to look out the entrance. A large cloud of sand was moving quickly towards the ruins and Caleb retreated. "A sandstorm! Geez! Pepper! Plug up the door!" A stone column rolled into place and the doll scrambled down the tunnel to stand within the ruins. "Well. Looks like we're stuck here overnight." Caleb muttered as he looked around. He smiled back at Pepper. "I suppose we could take another look around the place. Maybe find some more relics that Ms. Raine Sage may like?" The mana beast clacked and followed along after him once more, pausing once to take a good look at the entrance room, slip into a trance, then shake herself out and carry on.
A combination of Caleb's angelic-like strength and Pepper's own psychic power cleared enough of the wreckage for the doll to make a new discovery. A strange-looking ring with a small red gem shimmered faintly from a pile of broken rock and wood. Caleb picked it free and studied it. Engraved along the interior of the ring were various letters, all of which were written in what looked like garbled angelic language.
"Elven language makes up part of the language of angels, which in turn is the basis for modern language. So I shouldn't have too much trouble reading this." Caleb muttered and sat down by the pool of lava to study it further. "Hmm. Proof? This one looks like...sal-um, salmendra? Salmendra's Proof?" he murmured and stood up to pace as Pepper sniffed at the lava pool. "'Salmendra's Proof... holds back... the power of... the frozen north?' What is this other stuff? These runes look almost familiar, like I've seen them somewhere before..." Caleb paused and studied the ring more carefully. "Hmm. That's a rough translation of what I can actually recognize, but some of the words don't mesh quite right. I guess in order to read this properly, I'll need to have either Colette, Zelos or Kratos read it to me." He looked over at the mana beast dipping a claw into the lava in curiosity. "Pepper, stop that. You don't have enough FireBlossom blood to withstand the heat of lava. Let's go back to the entrance. I'll make you dinner, then you can eat and rest while I try to figure this out." he told her and smiled at her happy clacks as she pulled away from the pool and bounded towards him.
Caleb received a shock upon reaching the entrance. Pepper only let out a happy cry and several clacks as she raced towards the lone figure crouched over a small cauldron. Wren looked up from the pot and smiled, stirring whatever it was he was cooking.
"Hey, Caleb. Bet you weren't expecting me to return, huh?" he greeted and blinked as the doll seemed to snap.
"What the hell are you doing here? You're supposed to be safe at home!" Caleb yelled, storming up to him. Wren shrugged and went back to stirring.
"I spoke with my father about the old legend, and I learned that Kartha's name was probably taken out long ago by a Wonder Chef who was exiled for discrimination. Since no one caught onto what he did, the legend remained the way it was. I can't repair it in the archive, but her name will live on in the true legend I will tell my successor so that Kartha will have the honor and credit she deserved all this time." he remarked and tasted the recipe lightly. "Mmm. Still a little off. I can taste it myself." Wren sighed and looked glumly at the cauldron. "Why? Why can't I still get that last bit of my skill back?"
"I wasn't talking about what you were doing in Hima, I'm asking why you're here! How did you even know where I am?" Caleb demanded.
"Pepper told me. I asked her to let me know where you are at all times so that I could rejoin you later." the chef replied, "And anyway, I have to travel. I told the Council and my family that I would practice the new recipes while traveling with you." Caleb sighed in exasperation.
"I'm not gonna be rid of you anytime soon, am I?" he whimpered, "We're best friends and all, and I do like spending time with you, but for your own safety and the well-being of what you stand for, I really wish you would just stay home!"
"Too bad. I've got official leave to tag along with you." Wren told him with a smug grin, "So you're just gonna have to put up with me."
"Fine. Do as you wish, you're the one with the magic fork." the doll relented with a sigh. His interest turned to the strange dish in the cauldron. "So, what are you cooking?"
"Something called goulash. It's similar to curry, but not as hot or spicy. It took a while to figure out how to reduce the dwarves' recipe to a basic recipe that everyone can work with, and that's not including our modifications to that recipe so it has other benefits." Wren answered and sat back. "What's been going on with you?"
"Recording data on the Summon Spirit Seals and picking up relics here and there." the doll returned and pulled out his rolls of 'maps' to show him. "I've gotten all the data on the Seal of Fire, so once the storm blows by, we'll head for the next seal." He showed off the ring he found. "By the way, I found this not far from the altar room. Any idea what it might be?"
"Huh. Actually, I think so. During the Kharlan War, there were lots of different charms and accessories, often more effective than the ones we have now. Most of the knowledge to make them was lost, as were a majority of the accessories themselves." the chef replied and sprinkled some extra ingredients into the pot before taking the ring for examination. "Interesting to see one that survived. Which one is it?"
"Salmendra's Proof. Says so in the ring."
"Really? Never heard of that one."
"It's a rough translation. The words aren't quite angelic in origin, and it's not really dwarven. I only got this far because I was matching letters and arrangements to what I know." Caleb pointed out as Wren studied the interior of the ring more closely.
"It's not angelic. If it was angelic, I wouldn't be able to read it this well. That part is elven. The rest is Old Runic. You only translated half of it. It basically says this is the Salamander Ring and that it renders bearers immune to cold in two languages." the chef corrected and handed the ring back. Caleb pocketed the ring with a questioning look on his face. "What? So I know how to read elven language, big whoop. It's useful for writing out recipes I don't want anyone else stealing. And some of our cookbooks are written in Old Runic; I had to learn that just to get to some of the older, original recipes. Stop staring at me like that!" Wren remarked, a little annoyed with his friend's expression, "So where to after this?"
"Oh, well, let's see." Caleb went on and shuffled through the parchments, "The next seal is the Seal of Water, on Thoda Island. That's gonna decrease Pepper's power. We can try going to the Tower of Mana, that would be the Seal of Light. She'll be a big help then and according to all these little squiggles, there must be a library in there. But I'd like to take a closer look at the Balacruf Mausoleum, there's so much there to learn and absorb!"
"An indecisive doll. Sad." Wren muttered and tasted the stew again, this time grimacing at the result, "Ugh! I ruined it! Damn." He looked up at Pepper with a smile. "Hey, Pepper, want to munch on something... unique?" The mana beast clacked and picked up the pot with her paws, dumping the contents straight into her mouth before setting the cauldron back down. She licked her lips, smacked her mouth, then blinked once the effect of what she ate hit. Panicking, Pepper raced off, screeching loudly as smoke began to billow from the corners of her mouth. Caleb stared after her as she dashed back and forth, plumes of fire erupting from her mouth.
"Wren! What did you do?" he yelled. Wren gave him a sheepish expression, rubbing his head.
"Ah, doubled her fire power?" he laughed hesitantly. Caleb sighed again and returned to his parchments, blinking in surprise as one of them displayed sketches and doodles of Derris-Kharlan.
"This is Derris-Kharlan. I've been there before. But, whose castle is this? It's not Sérno's castle; Zelos wasn't alive long enough to record it and this layout is wrong for it." he murmured and studied the drawings more closely. "This is Vinheim, Mithos' castle. And there's a library in there!" Caleb looked excited, "A lot of libraries! Zelos made a note here that he took a couple of books from one of them! Now I really have to go to Derris-Kharlan! Mithos would have had records of the last four thousand years that the Wonder Archive didn't!" The chef looked panicked.
"You can't go there yet! It takes six seasons for the comet to come parallel to Symphonia and that's the only time Lloyd will use the Eternal Sword to transport you there!" Wren cried. Caleb nodded.
"True, but what if we don't need the Eternal Sword?" he remarked with a sly grin. The chef blinked at him, then yelped and clutched the Wonder Fork more closely to himself.
"I said, no!"
"It's magitechnology! And your Eru Crystal has to be far more powerful than any Cruxis Crystal currently in use!"
"But angels can use Cruxis Crystals to teleport themselves to Derris-Kharlan! And if yours is that much more powerful, then there must be no limit to the distance it can take us!"
"I'm not taking you to Derris-Kharlan from here!"
"Sure you can! We just need to get you an image of a place on Derris-Kharlan, and I've got memories of being there! I'll just have Pepper draw one of those memories from me and project it to you." Caleb assured him brightly, "Come on! Why are you so freaked out about this?"
"I'm not freaked out! I just don't want to go there!" Wren yelled and folded his arms over his chest angrily, "You can ask Lloyd to take you to Derris-Kharlan, but I'm not going up there! When it comes time to be teleported there, I'm staying right here on Symphonia!" Caleb studied him carefully, then sighed.
"Okay, okay. If that's the way you feel about it, then don't follow me there after I finish archiving the seals. You can go home after this journey is done." the doll remarked and looked evasive, "By the way... I was given some information that I was told to give to you, but I didn't trust it that much. To be honest, I was debating whether I should even tell you at all." Wren looked at him in confusion. Caleb took a deep breath and rubbed at his forehead. "I ran into Ginger in Triet again."
"That spy?" Wren cried, jumping halfway to his feet.
"Will you listen to me for once?" Caleb snapped in irritation and the chef sat down in shock, "Yes, I ran into her again, and she told me about the Dark Chef Alliance planning something." An expression of deep concern came over his face. "She said that their next move will force you to finally relinquish the Wonder Fork and your title. It sounds very serious."
"Don't tell me you actually believe her?" Wren declared, "She's lying! She's just trying to use you to lure me into another ambush!"
"And if she's not?" Caleb questioned uncertainly, "Are you really sure that she would lie about the Dark Chef's plans? She might have gloated to me about that and inadvertently gave us useful information."
"So is that all she told you? That the Dark Chefs are up to something big?" Wren sighed.
"Yeah. It's not much to go on."
"Then we'll have to find her and get more information. I can't risk the culinary world by ignoring this, even if I think it's all just baloney." Wren told him, "I have to find out what the Dark Chef Alliance is up to!" The doll winced.
"I figured you would say that, and stick a pun in there to boot. Okay. I'll go with you, if only to be sure your butt goes back home in one piece." Caleb remarked, "I can always search the other seals later. Let's return to Triet and interrogate Ginger." He got up and began to walk away, "But first things first... I gotta go see if Pepper's gonna be okay! What did you put in that goulash? A pound of red satay?" The chef only laughed embarrassedly as Caleb disappeared into the ruins, then looked back down at the empty cauldron.
"Yes. Let's find Ginger." Wren murmured and pulled out the handful of nuts he still kept in his pocket, "Ms. Candy-Maker..."