Hima proved to be somewhat of a bust for Fredrik as he searched the place for signs of the Wonder Chef. He walked into various inns and shops, poking at anything that didn't look like it quite belonged. He made his way to the Egg Beater shop and walked up to the shop-keeper.
"Hey, nice day." he greeted the sandy-haired man, "Ah, this may sound kinda weird, but I'm looking for a cook."
"You are a cook. Why would you be lookin' for another one?" the keeper remarked dryly, sifting through a book of recipes. Fredrik took a deep breath, held it, then blew it out slowly, trying to ease off the burst of frustration.
"I know that. I'm looking for a specific... chef." he tried again and the shop-keeper finally looked up at him with a raised eyebrow. "He's kind of a kid, blonde hair, blue eyes, carries around a big fork and all... bit of an airhead, too."
"That's Adam... why are you looking for the Wonder Chef?" the man asked suspiciously.
"Just want to make sure he's still keeping up with his cooking, and if he slacks off again, I'll come along and take over his place." Fredrik told him firmly.
"Right, right. Well, I haven't seen the Wonder Chef come by here. Ain't seen much in the way of Wonder Cooks either. Try your luck somewhere el-...." the shop-keeper remarked as the side wall opened and Eve hopped through with a cheerful smile.
"Bon giorno, Uncle Milano! Don't mind me; I'm off to see the world again!" she exclaimed brightly as the man at the counter put his hand over his face with a groan. Fredrik watched Eve bounce past them, then looked back at the shop-keeper with a grin.
"So... where can I find the Wonder Chef? Adam's his name, right?" he asked again. Milano glared at the wall as it closed and shook his head.
"I have got to install a doorbell or something for that thing." he grumbled and looked back at the cook, "And seriously, why are you looking for my nephew?"
"Give him a pep talk. And also, to see what he thinks of this." Fredrik showed him the candy recipe, "I got it from an old couple in Asgard who said it was really important that it was spread around to other people." Milano looked interested as he took the paper in his hands.
"A candy recipe! I thought I'd never see signs of another confectioner in the world since Ozette burned down!" he exclaimed in awe. Fredrik threw up his hands.
"Right! Okay! So, I have to find this Adam kid and let him know that this thing needs major distribution!" he declared and Milano winced.
"Ah, yeah. Sorry. Wonder Chef isn't allowed to spread candy or its recipes. Part of the reason why I'm not Wonder Chef myself." he remarked. He pulled out a sheet of paper and a pencil. "Let me make a copy of it and see what I can do. As for Adam himself, I have no idea where he is now. He tends to hop around a lot; very flighty. He's been that way since he was a tyke. Probably why the nickname Wren fits him so well." he muttered, "Here one second, gone the next. Drove baby-sitters bananas running around like that. Okay, got it. Well, good luck trying to find Adam. Your best bet would be to let him find you."
"That's it? I need to whap him harder." Fredrik grumbled under his breath as he took back the original recipe, "Okay, fine. I'll just make my way across the northern bridge to Izoold, see if he might be there."
"Good luck." Milano remarked with a wave as he studied the recipe again. Fredrik left the shop with a shake of his head. "You'll need it."
Flanoir left no doubt in anyone's mind that it was indeed the lair of choice for Celsius, the Summon Spirit of Ice. Temperatures never rose above the freezing point and snow always fell in the region. To grow crops of any kind was almost impossible, if not for the scientific breakthrough that created the greenhouse. Most other foods and items had to imported from other regions, so the city of Flanoir had to make sure their income continued to support this. It helped that Regal's Lezareno Company held several hotels and ski resorts in the area, drawing tourists and those on pilgrimages by the shipload.
Eve's transport dragon was not impressed by the weather, and in fact despised it greatly, huddled behind a few Elemental Carriages not far from the entrance to the Famine Temple. It especially hated having to walk from over several hundred yards away to get to this point. Eve would not let it fly in directly.
After a few minutes of consideration back in Hima, Eve had decided that their best bet of finding out what the Dark Chefs were really up to would be to turn their best trick against them. Meaning, send in a spy of their own. Since no one had counted on a female spy snooping around in the Wonder Organization, maybe no one would think of a female spy in the Dark Chef Alliance? She hoped this would hold true, especially now that she had just whacked a passing patrol cook over the head with the back end of her spoon. She dragged the agent behind the ECs, told the dragon to look after it, then stripped off the uniform. Eve changed quickly, the air was bitter cold and she still had to shove the patroller into the back of the carriage. Once that was said and done, and she decided a Dark Chef uniform didn't completely look drab on her, she slipped on a pair of sunglasses and marched off to sneak into the Famine Temple.
Getting in was a little worrying. She'd been stopped a few times to identify herself as she walked the halls in search of clues. With a smile that dazzled so many people in her former career as a fashion model, Eve gave her name as Angel, a cake specialist, then pressed a small kiss on the cheeks of her accosters and twirled off before they could snap themselves out of their stupor. By then, the cooks were too infatuated by the 'vision' that they didn't bother to note her arrival and, in this world as in all others, if it wasn't written down, it never happened.
The halls of the Famine Temple were as familiar to Eve as the halls of the Wonder Organization Headquarters, which proved itself by making her completely lost. Since she had exiled herself from the Wonder Cooks to pursue her modeling career, she'd lost touch of the only home she'd known as a child, remembering only the most important locations and how to reach them from the main hall. For a moment, Eve wished her younger brother was with her. Adam had spent much of his training as Wonder Chef within these walls, learning of the history of the line he came from, the importance of the missions he would undertake and the even greater importance that he must not break the pact with Mithos.
Which Adam did as soon as he got his hands on the Wonder Fork.
Eve shook her head slightly with a small smile. She'd heard the stories, read the letters that were sent to her in hopes that she would return to talk sense into the boy born only two minutes behind her. It was almost scandalous; a Wonder Chef practically spitting into Mithos' face when it came to that deal. Well, now here she was, on her own, doing sort of the same thing. What a scandal this would make! She could barely contain her glee as she walked down the corridors. The walls were decorated with carvings and inlays, images of the ancient legend that gave birth to the First Wonder Chef in the world. Since the resealing of the Famine Lord, the Wonder Cooks only stayed in the temple long enough to do a clean up sweep, then left. Which was probably when DuGorge took it back over to make his base.
She hated the idea that the Dark Chef Alliance was something that the Wonder Organization indirectly created. Eve had heard of that rumor many times as a young girl. Over three hundred years ago, long before the Voraci Family had even heard of the Organization, a Wonder Chef committed a serious crime of discrimination and was banished from his position, his family sent out to make their own way in the world. After a few decades, the Wonder Organization took notice of several cooks using heavily altered recipes to ruin the food supplies of the then declining world. The first true confrontation between Wonder Chef and these strange new cooks established the name of the other group, as well as ignited a bitter feud that continued to this very day. The Dark Chef Alliance vowed to regain what was rightfully theirs, even as they vowed to avenge the fallen Wonder Chef.
That was how the story went, and it was an urban legend passed down from chefs to cooks to recruits as a way of trying to understand when and why the Dark Chefs existed, and also to scare the arrogance out of those recruits that expected to be quickly elevated to Wonder Chef position in a matter of days. A fallen Wonder Chef became titled a Dark Chef almost instantly, sort of like the story of an angel becoming a demon once cast out of heaven. Even though it was just a rumor, it was enough to send shivers down Eve's spine and she prayed every night before she went to bed that her little brother would never be 'Fallen'.
"Hm?" Eve suddenly hummed in interest as she came across a room that looked as if it had been heavily damaged. There were burns all around it, the floor was scorched and the door was brand new. She took careful note of her surroundings, searching about for anyone that could be watching her, then walked up and tested the door. It was locked, of course. Eve reached into her bag and pulled out a small container of wood wrapped in layers of thick cloth. It was something the Wonder Cooks invented for carrying hot and cold liquids while retaining the heat or cold of them. They called it a thermos, for the way it maintained the temperatures. Eve's thermos held a serving of the acidic broth that every Wonder Cook was taught to make right off the recruiting line.
"This is going to leave a lot of evidence that someone's been here, but if I hurry, it won't matter." she murmured softly as she poured the broth onto the hinges of the door, melting them away. The broth was created to eat through metal and synthetic materials, which was why the thermos was made of organic wood. The hinges liquefied and Eve carefully put away the broth, then eased the door aside to allow herself entry.
The room smelled of fading smoke and lavender, and the huge desk set near the back wall was covered in papers and notes. Other than it and the few chairs and cabinets, the room was sparse and looked more like an office than anything else. Eve went straight for the sheets on the desk and began reading through them.
"Let's see, these are recipes for candy. 'Spicewood'? I've heard of that name. The Spicewood Family was famous for their candies in Ozette, but they were all killed when the village was destroyed." she muttered in confusion, "Their recipes were thought to be lost, and no other confectioners existed since then, except for Uncle Milano. These are the Holy Grail of confectionery. What would the Dark Chefs be doing with these recipes?" She gasped in realization. "All those baking goods that were stolen! Flour, sugar, satays, milk, butter...! They plan on modifying candy for their battles against the Wonder Cooks!" she exclaimed and looked confused, "But that doesn't tell me how they got these recipes. Or why they wanted Meltokio steel and all the other foods that were stolen."
Eve sifted through more of the notes, absorbing the information with growing horror as a dark figure wrapped in deep blue moved in the shadows behind her.
"So that's it...! We shouldn't have ignored Heimdall after all! These candies aren't going to be used on us, they plan on giving them to everyone else! If that happens... all those people... I've got to tell Daddy!" she whispered and brought out the golden disc, crying out in fright as a hand reached out from around her and knocked away the disc.
"You will do no such thing, little girl. You make a lousy spy, you didn't even bother to see if I was in here." DuGorge sneered, grabbing Eve by the arm and pinning it behind her back, "Now that you've discovered my delectably devious plans, I can't let you go running off to tell your idiot brother or anyone else for that matter."
"Let go! The Wonder Cooks will stop your plans, no matter if I tell them or not! This whole plan is doomed to fail! No one alive and on your side knows how to make candy!" Eve snapped, struggling as the Master Chef pulled her along and headed down the corridor with his new captive.
"Oh, someone did. And once we had all the information in her head for this plan, she was no longer of any use to us. You, however, are going to be very, very useful." DuGorge snickered cruelly as he made his way to a large, open chamber. Dozens of men and women looked up at them from newly installed consoles, work tables and crafting tools. There were dwarves, humans, and half-elves in the mix, all looking a little wary but mostly interested in what DuGorge was bringing in.
"Ah! Wh-what's all this?!" Eve cried in astonishment, looking around the room with wide eyes as a Dark Chef agent stood up from a chair and inspected his hand with pride, the newly attached Exsphere shimmering in the light of the consoles and computers.
"This is where I keep my special division. They're not cooks, but they have other uses that warrant their continued existence." DuGorge remarked with a grin, "I picked them up after that little incident with the metal dragon terrorizing Symphonia."
"The one people say was killed by an Angel of Light." Eve murmured softly, "These are... Desians?"
"I don't care what they call themselves, as long as they call me their master." DuGorge disregarded the question and pushed the blonde into the arms of one of the half-elves working at a table. "You there! This girl is to be given special consideration, as I need her to be my bargaining chip against that air-headed brother of hers." he ordered, "You still have plenty of Exspheres left, right?" The group nodded. "Good. Then, attach one to her and make sure it makes her nice and quiet, and very obedient." DuGorge went on with a smile, "Something special for this one, and make sure it has a nice design crest on it." Eve kicked and yelled as she was taken away for the compatibility testing. "I have great plans for this one. Yes, a weapon sweeter than candy to be used on the Wonder Chef... how very fitting...." DuGorge mused as he left.
Lunch was late as it took forever for Wren to finally pick out a restaurant that met his approval. Ginger glared at him as they ate on opposite sides of the table. Caleb sat with them to act as referee, looking half-bored and half-amused. Pepper sat outside, pulling mental images of the going-ons from the doll while waiting for them to finish and return to the journey.
"You are such a picky bastard." Ginger growled between bites of thick-cut steak.
"And you are an expensive little witch." Wren growled back, stabbing at pieces of tenderloin. Caleb put his hands over his face, hoping no one would think to connect him to these two.
"You didn't have to pay for my lunch, you know." the woman pointed out coolly.
"I was raised to be a gentleman as well as a chef. Which is more than can be said about you." Wren returned just as coolly. Pepper's questioning images nudged into Caleb's mind, which he returned with the picture of two mules butting heads. The group turned to watch the mana beast roll over in guffaws beyond the wall-sized window at the front of the building, all four paws kicking at the air. Wren glared at the doll. "What did you tell her?!" he demanded.
"A joke I heard Zelos say once. Are you two lovebirds done?" he returned flatly.
"Stop making fun of this!" both cooks yelled and returned to the meals, attacking them almost viciously. Caleb sighed, then waited until both plates were cleaned off before clearing his throat.
"Right. Well, now that you've both been fed, I want to know why Ms. Spy is still stalking Wren." he finally said and studied her, waiting for an answer.
"I've come to finish what I started; that cooking battle is still on and we have to have it out to prove my candies are better than your desserts!" Ginger declared and smiled, "And that my newest candy is so potent, I bet it will replace the Ultimate Recipe!" Wren stood up in a flash, a furious look on his face.
"That right there is an outright lie! The Ultimate Recipe is over seven thousand years old; what makes you think that something you whipped up in a backwoods kitchen can possibly come close to its power?!" he hissed. Ginger stood just as quickly to face him down.
"Hey, that backwoods candy was what saved your lousy hide back in NeOzette, so just shut up!" she snapped and flicked his nose. The surprised look on his face, coupled with the sight of his hands flying up to cover it, was enough to make her laugh.
"Wha-?" Wren stammered out and glared at the confectioner standing across from him, still giggling. "So that dream I had wasn't a dream after all! You really were in my room that night!" Caleb looked up in interest. This was new; he'd been so deep in his concentration to keep the young chef alive that he'd blocked everything else out.
"Yeah, duh." Ginger retorted, "Your sister told me where you were and I came to challenge you to finish the battle, but there you were, all sick and helpless like the baby you are. How am I to beat you fair and square when you look like Death warmed over?"
"You fed me something. What did you give me?" Wren questioned.
"My newest candy, the one that will bump out the Ultimate Recipe in power and potency." Ginger replied haughtily, "If it weren't for my candy, you'd be dead. That cream stew wouldn't have done a damn thing for you."
"Meh, yeah it would. I got sick again in the Temple of Earth, and all it took to cure me was cream stew and Healing Wind." Wren shot back, "Candy doesn't have the power to do anything but rot kids' teeth and waste good ingredients!" Ginger gasped in shock and slapped him in a fury.
"Ingrate! Candy can be just as good as every other recipe!" she yelled. Caleb didn't know whether to break up the argument or just keep Pepper entertained with joke images to ensure no blasts of Mana Light ripped into the little restaurant. Wren glared at the woman, then flopped down in his seat, seething quietly. Ginger waited for a moment, then sat down as well, looking embarrassed and a little guilty at her outburst. "Um... I didn't mean to do that." she mumbled an apology.
"Are we done now?" Caleb asked after silence stretched uncomfortably long, "'Cause Pepper's asking more questions than I can make up answers for."
"Yes. Let's go to the Temple of Darkness." Wren muttered and got up. Ginger jumped up after him.
"Wait! I'm coming with you!" she exclaimed and halted when the blonde stopped to glare at her.
"No, you're not." he growled. Ginger blinked and seemed to wilt, then brought herself up again, face flushing with controlled anger.
"Yes, I am! And you can't stop me! We have a cooking battle that needs to be done and until I've planned out my tactics, I have to keep an eye on you!" she told him firmly, "S-so don't think you can just p-push me away! I'll follow you wherever you go until we finally have that... that battle!" Wren stared at her for a moment, then sighed.
"Fine. But you are to say nothing else about your lousy candies. Or get in the way of my journey." he told her and began walking out. Ginger looked down at herself, then called out to him again.
"Wait! Can I at least get some decent clothes?!" she cried and chased after him. Caleb shook his head as he followed them out.
"I'm witnessing a marriage in the making...." he sighed, venturing into a new realm of strangeness.
To Be Concluded
A/N: Omg, I had no idea that this one had been incomplete for so long. Ouchu. Okay, still need to wrap up the ToS fandom for me.