Shopping for something new for Ginger Spicewood, former Dark Chef spy, to wear was almost a disaster. There wasn't quite enough leftover allowance for the Wonder Chef known as Wren to be happy with the idea of buying her a new set of clothes, so Caleb sifted through his pockets, sold his extra mana crystal, then handed the gald to the chef. The first shop they went to sold mostly fine dresses for nobility. Wren immediately told the woman that they were not going to buy anything from there, then yelped as Ginger cheered and ran in, dragging him along by the wrist. Caleb, the automatic doll with a soul, stood outside the shop with his partner and friend, a mana beast named Peppermint FireBlossom, teaching her new words and meanings as he hoped the two cooks didn't kill each other.
Ginger loved the ruffles and silks, darting around the racks of flowing dresses. Wren stuffed his hat into his pack, hoping with a furious blush that no one asked what he was doing in such a place. And to make things worse, he was feeling far too warm for comfort. In a flash, the former spy leaped out in front of him, clad in a deep blue gown with black lace and adorned with shimmering gems around the deep neckline.
"Ta-da! Isn't this just to die for?!" Ginger cried happily as she twirled around before Wren.
"Yow!" Wren yelped and fell back off the low bench in a startled faint. Ginger blinked and hurried over, peering over the heap of legs and arms to see what had happened.
"Blondie?" she puzzled, leaning over to make sure he was okay. The chef blinked dazedly, then went pale, eyes wide as he stared up at her.
"Yowyowyow...!" he stammered and held out his hands, covering up the top of Ginger's dress, "That shows too much!" The woman blinked and looked down at herself, then snapped her head up with a furious blush.
"You pervert!" she yelled and started slapping at his head, "What are you doing staring there?! I told you to look at the whole dress!"
"Ow! Then take it off!" Wren yelled back, covering his head. She only slapped harder.
"Pervert! Sicko! Now you want me to strip?! Jerk!" she scolded.
As predicted, nothing was bought at the dress shop, and the next boutique was a little lighter in tastes, simple sundresses and shorts for boys. Ginger was sorting through the outfits, wrinkling her nose at anything that didn't suit her style. Wren sighed and looked towards the door where Caleb stood guard and gave him pointed looks. Pepper only blinked at them and cocked her head.
"Yummy not okay?" she asked.
"For the last time, don't call me Yummy!" Wren yelled in annoyance and turned back to see if the spy had finally picked out something that, hopefully, covered more than eighty percent of her body. She held up a sundress in shades of cyan and jade in consideration, then turned to give him a stern look.
"Does this make me look fat?" she demanded to know. Wren rolled his eyes and shrugged.
"I don't know. Candy makes people fat, not dresses." he retorted and earned a shoe thrown at him, "Ow! Hey!"
"Idiot! Don't make fun of candy! Get back here! I'll teach you to call me fat!" Ginger snapped, chasing him down and tearing through the shop after him as the salesgirl watched in shock from behind the counter. Caleb watched them calmly and shook his head in exasperation.
"She's not gonna give you any if you keep that up." he remarked as Wren ran by in shrieks.
"I never wanted it!" he wailed and ducked another shoe.
A third shop offered the simplest of clothes, mainly uniforms for servants and maids. Wren sat in one corner, holding up the Wonder Fork defensively as he looked around furtively to see which direction the former spy would come in from. Ginger had poked at the racks, shaking her head at what she considered dismal selections. She finally approached him in a navy blue maid's uniform, frowning.
"There is no way on earth I'm going into the Temple of Darkness dressed like this." she growled as Wren shut his eyes and covered his face, hoping he didn't look as red as he felt.
"And there's no way I'm paying for that." he agreed, "Get something else. Better yet, why not stay in the Wonder Cook uniform? You look good in that." Ginger tapped her fingertips against her lip thoughtfully, studying him with a slight bit of interest.
"Really? You think I look good in that uniform?" she asked softly. Caleb looked up from his book, a vaguely hopeful expression on his own face.
"Well, yes. It's not a Dark Chef uniform and it covers more than anything else you've put on so far." Wren remarked with an innocent expression and yelped in shock when Ginger fumed and hurled another pair of shoes at him, "What'd I say now?!"
"You jerk! Ingrate! What the hell do you know about women's clothes anyway?! Pervert!" she screamed and Caleb sighed despairingly.
"Tell me I'm not the only one who knows what's going on." he pleaded of Pepper. The mana beast glanced skyward thoughtfully, then gave him an expression of confusion.
"Yummy not okay with Candy?" she asked and the doll smacked his forehead, ignoring the rampage that continued in the shop.
Trupelos only had lightweight armors, guards, and robes for females, clothes that Ginger picked through and critiqued until she found a dress that seemed appealing. It was sleeveless, with a mid-length skirt that was loose around the legs. Forest green in color and breathable, it had everything Ginger wanted and Wren didn't.
"She can't wear that! It's an invitation to disaster!" Wren hissed under his breath in what sounded like a rising panic. The cook had scampered off to try on the dress, giggling excitedly as she clutched it in her hands. "I'm not buying that!" Caleb turned at the sounds of ripping cloth and watched with a horrified Wren as the remains of the Wonder Cook uniform were thrown out of the dressing room.
"Well, you're gonna have to now. She tore up the other uniform." he remarked with a slight grin. Wren shot him a glare.
"You're not helping!" he complained and rubbed at his forehead, "And it's way too hot in here." Caleb looked confused as he scanned the area.
"Seems just fine to me. Sun's going down, though. We'll have to leave Meltokio in the morning." he remarked. Wren panicked again.
"Ohhh no! I'm not taking her back to the hotel with us! No way!" he cried, "She'll kill us in our sleep!"
"She'll kill you in your sleep." Caleb corrected, "I don't need sleep."
"Fine! Then you can have the fun of watching me die!" the chef snapped as Ginger stepped out of the room in the dress. She spun slowly around before them, a shy look on her face as she studied herself in the one piece dress. She had a wide belt cinched around her waist, the fabric fitting well on her, and the boots she had worn with the old uniform seemed to match just as well with the dress. She'd left her hair out loose, with a pretty green silk ribbon tied up in a bow on her head.
"This looks good. What do you think?" Ginger finally asked, giving the two men a sidelong glance. Caleb cocked his head in thought.
"I've always had a deep appreciation for the color green." he replied and grinned at Wren's open-mouthed stare, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to make some... adjustments... to our hotel room. Ms. Spy, you'll be joining us tonight, and we'll leave tomorrow for the temple." He gave her a polite bow and left the shop. He tugged on Pepper's sash on the way out. "Come on, Pepper, let's leave them alone for a bit. I don't think she's gonna try to hit him this time." the doll remarked with an amused grin. The mana beast trotted along by him, shooting a questioning glance back.
"Candy wear Guardian ribbon?" she asked in confusion.
"Yeah. But that's okay. If it helps them out, I can write it off as a reasonable loss." Caleb replied brightly, "Now let's go mess up our rooms!" Pepper brightened.
Back in the shop, Ginger waved her hand in front of Wren's face, then carefully closed his mouth shut with a grin.
"You look like you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar." she snickered, "Now, are you gonna buy me this dress or not?" Wren blinked and backed away quickly.
"Can someone tell me why I'm helping a Dark Chef again?" he mumbled helplessly. Ginger stamped her foot in annoyance.
"I am not a Dark Chef anymore! I quit! Now buy me this dress!" she declared. Wren threw up his hands in exasperation and headed for the counter, sorting out the amount of gald the shop-keeper requested. "And you didn't answer my question! Do I look good in this or not?!" The blonde mumbled something as he paid the cost of the dress. "I can't hear youuuu!" Ginger sang as she followed him out of the shop.
"I said you look great! Okay?! Is that what you want from me?!" Wren yelled in frustration. Ginger blinked at him, then smiled and clapped her hands with a laugh.
"Hah! Your friend was right; you are so totally a virgin! Come on! Next, we have to get me a new utensil! I threw the Dark Chef fork over a cliff when I quit." she exclaimed and grabbed his hand, ignoring his startled cry as she raced off with him in tow.
By the time they returned to the hotel, Ginger was proudly working out the finer points of using a normal sized spoon as a candy-launcher and Wren was feeling dizzy with heat. On top of that was a sick feeling that something was very wrong with Eve, but how could that be? Eve was safe in Hima with their parents, right? The check-in girl flagged him down and he looked at her in confusion.
"Your friend told us you had another guest joining you. He paid the extra fee to get you a room of your own while he took the lower-class one." she told him. Wren blinked at her, puzzled as his brain tried to work through the dizzy spell and understand her.
"Wh-what? Our room was a single bed... what fee?" he muttered, rubbing his head. The girl handed him the key.
"It's a suite, third door on the second floor. Try not to make too much noise. It disturbs the other tenants." she told him and gave him a strange look, "And take some medicine or something, you look sick. This your first time? I hope you didn't pay her in advance."
"Pay? For what? Noise? What are you talking about?" Wren echoed blankly as Ginger grabbed the key from his hand and ran up the stairs with a laugh.
"Come on! I've never been in a suite before! I get dibs on which bed's bigger!" she exclaimed. The counter girl winked at Wren.
"Don't worry, it's one big bed. I'll send up breakfast in the morning, just don't forget to put the little sign out." she told him.
"I'm gonna whack Caleb." Wren muttered tiredly, heading up after the candy-maker and wincing only after she let out a shriek at her discovery in the room. He swore he could hear the redhead laughing at him from the safety of the old room. "First, I'll dismember him, then I'll whack him." the chef growled irritably, shooting an evil look at the locked bedroom.
Ginger was aiming a deadly glare at him when he finally got into the room. It was big, that much he could see when things weren't trying to double on him. Wren frowned, trying hard to focus as he set the Wonder Fork down against a wall. Things didn't look right at all.
"There's only one bed." Ginger hissed in a rising fury.
"Is there?" Wren murmured hollowly as he reached out to check. He stumbled on something and fell onto it. "Huh. Guess there is."
"I'm not sharing a bed with a loser cook! You sleep on the floor! Now get off!" the woman ordered.
"Can you at least stop screaming? I've got the worst headache...." Wren complained, "And tell them to turn off the heat. Why they would put on a fire this late in the spring is beyond me." Ginger looked around and frowned.
"There's no fire. Now, will you get off my bed?" she growled.
"You sure? It's too hot in here."
"Idiot." Ginger muttered but held out a hand to his forehead on impulse. She yanked it back in shock. "You're burning up!"
"Yeah, I've kinda been saying that for the past few hours, but does anyone listen? Nooo." Wren grumbled irritably, glaring up at her, "Everyone ignores the Wonder Chef. Not like he's really got anything useful to talk about... unless you're hungry." Ginger sorted through her bag of candy and pulled out a deep blue gel, holding it out to him.
"Eat this! Hurry!" she told him and he sniffed.
"I'm not eating anything that came out of your bag. For all I know it's probably poison." he muttered.
"Gah! Idiot! It's not poison! It's the antidote to the poison that's already in you!" Ginger hissed, "Now eat it or I'll force it down your throat!" Wren picked the gel out of her hand.
"Okay, fine. Such a bossy little candy-maker. But if I die, I'll come back to repay the favor." he muttered and popped it into his mouth. He chewed, then swallowed and suddenly smiled. "Hey, that was pretty good. It's like being wrapped up in a big invisible blanket or something."
"Good. It'll purge the poison from your system pretty quickly. Now get off the bed!" Ginger growled but by then Wren was already fast asleep.
Morning brought a sense of rejuvenation for Wren as he yawned and stretched comfortably. Most of last night was hazy, but he remembered he wanted to do many painful things to Caleb. What for? Sitting up in bed, Wren rubbed his eyes and blinked at Ginger dozing in the large plush loveseat not far from him.
"Oh, that's right." he grumbled, "That's why I want to turn Caleb into scrap iron." He stayed put, rubbing at his head and slowly coming to the realization that the fever and dizziness he'd been feeling the other day had gone completely. Whatever it was that was making him sick was probably finally gone now. But the sensation that something was wrong somewhere still stuck to him, a sinking feeling that made his stomach lurch for a moment. He shook it off as best he could and jumped at the knocking on the door.
"Breakfast." the serving maid intoned as she pushed the cart with its covered dish at him. She looked him over and Wren blushed, unsure what to do in his situation. "Huh, you're a cute one, but I didn't think you'd be that quiet in the sack. I was pretty sure there'd be more of a racket up here." she remarked and shrugged, "Oh well. Lost twenty gald there again."
"Ugh! Beat it!" Wren growled, "I'm not doing anything with that crazy woman on the couch!"
"So you didn't even make a move? Goddess, you're pathetic." the maid grinned and left him with the breakfast cart. He grabbed and took it into the room. Wren wasn't in the mood for people messing with his head that day. He already had plenty to worry about with Caleb and his constant jabs at him.
"Papa.... Gran-mama...." Ginger moaned suddenly, shifting in her sleep. The blonde glanced at her warily as he lifted the cover from the dish. Who served vegetable soup for breakfast? Wren sighed and shook his head.
"Amateurs. I guess I'll have to have a talk with the cook here." he muttered as he took a taste. "Hmm. Not bad. Needs a little work with the flavoring, but whoever did this is Wonder Recruit caliber."
"Papa! Run away!" Ginger screamed suddenly, thrashing about. Wren stood in concern, watching for a moment as the spy twisted around and reached out blindly. "Lightning! Lightning! Run, Papa! Everyone, run away!" she cried and would have fallen had the chef not darted in to keep her from throwing herself off the couch. She snapped awake and stared up at him.
"Um. Hi?" Wren stammered out, "You were screaming, so I...."
"Get off!" Ginger yelled, pounding her fists on him, "And don't you think I had any interest in you! This stupid room was Red's idea! And it was probably yours, too!" Wren threw her off back onto the seat and stood back in irritation. She sat still for a bit, rubbing her arm uncomfortably as a faint blush crept along her cheeks. "So... what did you hear?" she finally asked in a soft voice.
"Well, you were screaming about your father and lightning.... Hey... are you from Ozette?" Wren questioned in realization. Ginger bowed her head, rubbing her hands together. "I don't believe this! You're THAT Spicewood?!" he exclaimed in shock, "I thought the whole Spicewood Family had been killed when Mithos attacked the village! How did you survive?!"
"I wasn't in Ozette at the time. I was in Sybak, picking up the imported ingredients for our candies." Ginger mumbled and shook her head, glaring up at him. "It doesn't matter. I'm the only Spicewood left, and I have to restore my family's reputation and honor in the confectionery business!"
"I'm sorry about your loss. The Wonder Chef Family held the Spicewood Family in high regards for the good they did." Wren murmured sympathetically and turned back at the sound of another knock. "Uh... door's open!" Caleb stuck his head in with a grin.
"Goooood morning!" he sang and yelped as Wren grabbed the Wonder Fork and tried to smash his head.
"Caleb! You jerk, what the hell were you thinking, sticking me in a room like this with her?! Do you have any idea what rumors are now running around because of this?!" Wren raged as Ginger got up and proceeded to eat the stew left for breakfast. She grinned as the chef chased the doll up and down the hallway.
Once all was said and done, the group gathered for a talk just outside the gates of Meltokio. Pepper sniffed at Ginger for a bit, then seemed to accept her.
"Candy okay. Yummy okay too?" she remarked. Wren shrugged, the fork once again strapped across his back.
"I'm fine. I was sick yesterday, but I got over it." he answered. Caleb looked at him in concern as Ginger turned on him from petting the mana beast.
"Hey! My candy healed you! What are you talking about, 'got over it'?!" she yelled.
"What do you mean you were sick? That bug came back?" Caleb asked worriedly, "That's the third time! What's wrong with you?" Wren shook his head and shrugged helplessly, looking up at him with a vaguely fearful expression.
"I don't know. But I'm worried that next time I'm just gonna die from whatever this is." he returned. Ginger waved her hand at them.
"Don't worry about it. If Blondie gets sick again, I can just cure him with my special candy." she assured them with a grin.
"I have a name, you know." Wren growled at her.
"Wonder Chef is not a name."
"It's Adam! Adam!" Wren snapped at her in frustration, hands shaking erratically at her, "My name is Adam Voraci! Not Blondie, not Yummy, not anything else! Call me Adam or call me Wren!"
"Okay, fine. Suck all the fun out of this." Ginger grumbled and looked thoughtful. "Adam suits you, but I guess I'll call you Wren. Everyone else seems to do that anyway."
"All right then! Now that all that is done, let's get going to the Temple of Darkness!" Caleb remarked cheerfully. The spy yelped and pulled out a small, round, candy-coated disc.
"That's right! I haven't detonated my other candies yet!" she exclaimed. The two men stared at her. "If I destroy Meltokio, then it can't be used in DuGorge's plans. So, say good-bye to it!" she declared as she held her thumb over the center of the candy. Pepper brightened as Caleb and Wren both cried in shock and tried to stop the spy.
"Goodie!" the mana beast exclaimed and licked it up, crunching away at the detonator. Ginger stared at her in horror.
"Ah! Now those blast candies won't go off!" she exclaimed and shot Caleb a glare, "I just wasted a whole batch of blast candy! You owe me again!" The doll only grinned and shook his head.
"As long as Meltokio doesn't explode, that's fine with me." he replied and motioned to them, "Well, let's go! Off to the Temple of Darkness! Wren, you're gonna have to alternate riding Pepper with Ginger." The chef blinked, then turned to see Ginger clamber unsteadily onto Pepper's back, then settle down with a grin, sticking her tongue out at him as the mana beast trotted after Caleb.
"I don't like how this cookie crumbled." Wren growled as he stalked after the group.