Chapter 14: Decisions
"He said that?" Irene whispered; her voice thick in disbelief. "You must be really good at what you do if he's actually granting you permission to leave the ship… Ah, what I would give for the fresh desert air on a pleasantly cool evening…"
"I don't think you'd want to kill or steal for it, would you?" Vanessa sighed, slumping on the stool beside one of the kitchen's counters. "I've never done this sort of thing solo. I went along with what Skye wanted to do most of the time."
"Honey, when you've been stuck on this ship for as long as I have, you'd be willing to do almost anything for a chance to get out, even if the outing was only temporary." Irene paused as she took out the ingredients for dinner, clearly thinking about what she had just said. Just how far would she go for that chance of freedom? "If you worked with a partner, I can see why you might be a tad nervous to have to strike out on your own. I have faith that you will be able to manage it, though. If nothing else, consider it a tribute to your fallen friend. With or without her, you will still be able to represent the Red Rogues." Irene pulled out a few pots and pans before throwing Vanessa an inquisitive look. "I pray that a pirate can cook. He wants you to make it."
"What? Why?" Vanessa straightened herself, resentment for where she was still heavy on her mind. "He's already got me playing hit man on people that likely don't deserve it; doesn't he have anyone else to cook for him?"
"He's testing you, dear. He wants to evaluate how much of an asset you are to him… and if you succeed, he won't toss Theora overboard."
"Great… He's going to use her to make me do anything, isn't he?" Vanessa mumbled. "Cook, clean, steal, kill random people… what a bright future I have."
"From what I've heard of the Red Rogues, isn't that what you did anyway?" Irene pointed out. "A new layer of paint to a well exercised wagon, I'd say." Vanessa threw her a dark look.
"Not helping." Irene laughed.
"It sure is nice to have someone new to talk to. Besides you and Theora, Evangeline and I are the only girls on this ship. The only few men work below with the weaponry, and there are robots monitoring us everywhere."
"So I see." Vanessa glanced over to the floating contraption that hovered nearby. It moved along with her whenever she did. She already knew that it would be accompanying her on her missions, which only added to the difficulty of the objectives. It stuck out like a sore thumb no matter where it was. "What does the short guy like to eat?"
"He prefers the term height challenged." Irene smirked, clearly joking. "Anyway, what do you make the best?"
"…That's it? There isn't anything else in your repertoire?" Concern laced those words.
"Of course that's not the only thing I can make, sheesh." Vanessa huffed, rolling her eyes. "I usually got requests to make ravioli and lasagne for dinner."
"Lasagne! Perfect, Daikokuya loves anything with pasta sauce and cheese. It seems like I can trust you for the occasional evening and breakfast meals; that's fantastic." Irene looked relieved as she stepped away from the counter to stand by Vanessa's side. She gently tugged the younger girl's sleeve, directing her to follow her over to the makings. Irene gave a brief glance over Vanessa's pirate attire, feeling slightly envious that the teen had already ditched the standard tank top and sweatpants.
"That sure is a lot of stuff…" Vanessa scanned over the objects on the counter, her expression puzzled at the overabundance. "How many people am I cooking for here?"
"Fourteen. Daikokuya shares the evening meal with the rest of the crew to ensure that it hasn't been tampered with." Irene saw the look of worry flash across Vanessa's face. "What's wrong? I do hope that you weren't planning on trying to poison it when I take my leave."
"As clever and predictable that might have been concerning my status, no, that wasn't it. I simply haven't ever cooked for more than three people before. The measurements will be all off…"
"Trust me; it's a lot easier than you might think." Irene smiled softly in understanding. "Prior to my life here, I was a bustling family woman with a husband and two children to feed. Here… this might help you." Irene pulled out a small folded piece of paper from her pocket, placing it gently in Vanessa's hands. "I've taken notes on my experimental dishes; the proper measurements for lasagne should be scrawled on the bottom. Mind you, you'll need to change it up a bit if you intend on making some for yourself and Theora."
"Thank you." Vanessa's features warmed with relief, though it fell as she caught sight of Irene's bracelets blinking. She was being summoned. "I guess I'll see you at dinner, then…"
"I'll help you serve it, not to worry." Irene promised; giving Vanessa what she hoped was a comforting pat on the shoulder. "We'll talk seating arrangements when I return." With everything that was to be said spoken, Irene exited the kitchen and headed to the captain's quarters to discover the purpose of her calling. This left Vanessa alone to ponder over the significance of the meal she was about to make… and the repercussions that would come if it were not perfect.
"… My Prince?" The silver haired teen started, entering the meeting room where the Prince currently resided. Karen didn't have to walk too far from her former location to speak with him. She wished it were on better terms. The Prince had to know about who was residing in his kingdom; before the citizens of the high council did, at least. He sat in a chair, staring up at the ceiling. His form was slouched, his lavender cape spread out underneath him. His platinum hair seemed unkempt and he looked rather distraught. "Are you alright?"
He groaned, sliding a hand over his face. He pushed up his brow with a sole finger, rubbing it in place. Her Prince wasn't normally this unresponsive. Well, this was lovely. The timing of her news couldn't be better.
"I'm tired." He said, almost throwing Karen off her feet. Although relieved to hear his answer, she had hoped his current state was for a better reason. "I had to get up early this morning and it was horrible. The council discussed some really boring issues; such as the ice sculptures representing the wrong message to our public. Who cares about some icicle hanging in-between some guy's legs?"
"What?" Karen spoke, surprised. The council wouldn't request a meeting with the Prince to discuss a sculpture of… "Which sculpture?"
"I wasn't listening. I was just thinking of how great it would be to go back to sleep." He whined; his voice muffled by the hand currently placed on his face.
"It just seems rather peculiar that the members of the high council would report such a thing to you - oh." A massive blush formed on Karen's face. If it were the sculpture that was displayed near the city… she was sure it would be taken care of right away. "I'm sure something will be done."
The Prince hadn't responded to Karen, continuing to groan.
"My Liege, you may want to sit up, for I'm about to deliver a message that may or may not please you." She cleared her throat, as the Prince haphazardly lifted himself up. His jade eyes calmly settled on hers as she began.
"An Arcadian is in the palace."
Karen waited for a response; one of shock, curiosity, anger… anything! However, the Prince didn't react. Instead, he blankly stared at her.
"An ARCADIAN!" Karen raised her voice. "An outsider."
"…What?" The Prince's attention shot up. "Karen! Are you serious?"
"Of course, my Liege." She bowed her head, giving her word. "A pirate from the skies above, I reckon."
He fidgeted, looking uncomfortable. "That's a little scary."
A little scary… was that all he could say about the predicament, that the mere mention of a pirate was 'a little scary'?
"What do you think we should do with the Arcadian?"Karen asked in a whisper, choosing not to respond to his previous statement. "I would be frightened for the girl's life if the high council were to find out before you were."
"A girl?" his voice was shaky. "Why would a child be all alone on a ship?" His mouth curved in a frown, thinking of multiple answers to his question.
"Prince, she's my age. She's not a child." Karen raised a brow. She knew of the Prince's 'disability' but he wasn't supposed to take it literally…
"Oh, I see." He paused. "Where did she come from?"
"I found her body encased in ship ruins. I couldn't leave her to die, so I took it upon myself to bring her back to save her." Karen said, her face presenting n awful shade of white. "I do hope the high council won't have my head."
"Don't worry, Karen." The Prince grinned. "I'll protect you."
Karen smiled at his response, happy to hear her friend was supportive. In return, Karen would share what she contemplated earlier. "I was thinking… You know where your mother came from, right?"
"Karen, she was raised in Nasrad. I'm perfectly aware of that."
"Maybe the Arcadian knows about Nasrad; she could tell you things that you aren't able to find out otherwise."
The Prince paused, unsure of how to reply. He knew where his mother came from, and when his parents met. That was about as much as he was allowed to know. He was forbidden to explore any more into his mother's heritage, fearing that he'd be completely possessed by the powers of curiosity. What Karen was suggesting was sound; it was a gracious opportunity to explore something that wasn't allowed otherwise. But, was it the right thing to do? What would he say to her? What would he ask?
"I-I don't know, Karen." He said uncertainly. "I'm rather –uh, I don't know."
"Think about it, Prince Marion." She smiled. "I know it's a lot of information spewed out at once. I'm hoping that I can make things a little easier for you." She started. "It's my fault for your confusion, but you have to listen to me. I couldn't let her die."
"Karen, I'm not saying you should have. I'm alright with this, you know." He nodded. "I have no problem with outsiders."
Karen knew what he meant; that he didn't have a problem with the idea of an outsider; an Arcadian. She couldn't help but worry about him. He was half Glacian, and half Nasr. However, fate had spared him to resemble his late father in every aspect. He literally carried no genetic traits to the late Queen; a dark haired beauty with sun kissed skin. He was pale, blonde, and quite tall. Mya, the prince's former body guard (who had let herself go after retiring a few years back) took responsibility in raising him after the King had perished. She had tried hard to instill the skills it took to be a strong minded person. Despite that, the high council made it difficult for the young prince to develop the skill of independence. They wanted him to be crippled; fearing that he would emulate his father and allow outsiders from Arcadia into their sacred lands. Or worse - marry one and further taint the bloodline to disintegration.
"My Liege, I'd like to discuss a few topics with you before you make your decision. It doesn't have to be today, however it should be sometime soon before the High Council become riled up about the Arcadian."
The Prince sat in his seat, giving Karen his full attention. "Go on?"
The surprised gasps and whispers of the crew was the immediate reaction when their eyes first laid sight on the elegant presentation that was to be their dinner. The aroma of the lasagne filled the room luxuriously and gave the room a comfortable atmosphere despite its steel décor. As they filtered through the hallway and took their seats around the large rectangular table, they could not stop gawking at how amazing the food actually looked. The cook had also provided a small garden salad for each member of the crew to accompany the main dish; a healthy assortment of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, and sliced hard boiled eggs being the toppings. There was also a bowl of shredded cheese should they wish to apply some to their salad – optional, as they were already about to feast on a cheese indulgent meal. Glasses rested empty beside their plates, ready to be filled with a choice of beverages – the most popular one surely to be the large bottle of loqua that sat honourably on its own table nearby. As their eyes took it all in and their stomachs grumbled with anticipation, one question was voiced and shared by many; this was the pirate's work? It seemed far too delicate and extravagant for that of a surly pirate.
The men were eager to dig into the meal set before them, but they knew that it would be their last if they did not wait for the girls and Daikokuya to take their places among them. Impatience nipped at many a man's composure but they withheld, excitement buzzing as Evangeline entered along with the younger of the two pirates, who appeared terrified at the sight of them. Eva steered Theora towards one end of the table before she herself occupied the seat parallel. Theora quietly scooted her seat as far away from the man next to her as possible, feeling deeply discomforted by his bulky presence.
Silence took over the room as Daikokuya appeared; his eyes scanning the presentation of the meal with what looked like a slight tinge of surprise and disappointment. It was clear to the ones that knew him that he had hoped for the pirate to trip up; to give him an excuse to commit to something horrible. He was not given one. He was, however, pleased at how delicious everything looked, sitting down at the head of the table with a rather satisfied expression on his face. Daikokuya snapped his fingers only a moment later, permitting entrance to the last two residents of the ship; the veteran and the newbie, both attractive females, whom had been waiting for this invitation out in the hallway. They flanked Daikokuya's sides as they took the sole remaining seats next to him, all eyes on the new girl as she nervously shifted in her seat. Irene nudged her under the table, directing her to speak. The crew was expecting it.
"Dinner is served… I guess?" Vanessa did not know what she was meant to say, but Irene had told her what she was to do immediately after, which was to serve Daikokuya with his helping first. Though he would not eat it until someone else did, it was out of respect for him that he receive gratification before everyone else. That and he would likely shock either her or Theora if he didn't. Daikokuya kept his face placid as she cut him a handsome portion of the lasagne, remaining still as she cut out even squares for the rest of the crew. There was just enough for everyone, though her piece was notably smaller than the rest because of a slight miscalculation. Theora threw her a stressed and worried look as Vanessa set the young girl's helping before her; the brunette desperately wishing that she could hug or say anything to her older friend but knowing that she could not without there being a consequence. Evangeline had warned her of this when she had been retrieved from her room. The two pirates were to be completely isolated from one another, with the only exception being a stray glance or two at the table. To Theora, this was torturous.
Vanessa took her seat again after she had properly served them all. Irene looked impressed and grateful for her cooperation, knowing how much animosity the Red Rogue felt towards her current situation. This feeling was not helped either by the older man casually rubbing her leg with his hand under the table. Was he always this perverted?
"I would like to thank you all for coming to this meeting." Daikokuya finally spoke, another formality of the occasion that Vanessa would later learn to be a tradition. "It is a pleasure to be amongst the crew in this granted time of a peaceful respite."
"Here here!" One of the men cheered, enthusiasm evident in his tone. Daikokuya looked amused at the support as he continued.
"Today is marked by a special occasion; a time of which we warmly welcome two new members to our family. It is truly a privilege that we are graced with the presence of two of the founding Red Rogues; I trust that you will all see to it that they are treated with respect." He looked over the men of the ship, most of them nodding quite vigorously. Daikokuya could tell that a few were already infatuated with the darling that sat beside him. It was too bad for them that he had already staked a claim for her, and he made sure they took notice of this as he placed one of his hands possessively over one of her own that had been resting on the table. Her skin crawled at his touch, but she did her best not to make a face. "Vanessa here has agreed to serve me to pull off some of my higher ambitions. I'm sure you all remember the attack by Gunthor of the Black Pirates?"
The disgruntled looks of the crew was the only response he needed.
"Soon we will be plagued by him no longer." Daikokuya assured them, his thumb now rubbing the dorsum of Vanessa's hand slowly. "Details need not be discussed now, but I can tell you that he won't be bothering us near the stone reef leading to Nasr anymore." Many men looked relieved, though now their sights were even more curious as they rested on the girl that was to carry out these unspoken objectives. Only a spare few had heard of the exploits of the Red Rogues, and while she certainly fit the bill as a fashionable pirate, none were quite certain that she would be able to pull it off. She did not look like a killer, and besides… surely a girl that cooked so well never had the time for much else. Men and their assumptions.
Food was not only on the captive men's mind as Daikokuya soon proved; his stomach emitting a deep growl as the scent of lasagne wafted over to fill his nostrils. He laughed, knowing that it was taking them all much restraint to not indulge without his permission. "Well now, let us dine together my friends! We do not wish to disgrace the efforts of our wonderful new cook, do we?"
"Certainly not!" One of them chimed in. Finally able to eat the meal that had sat teasingly before them, forks and knives took flight and came crashing down, leaving nary a speck of leftovers. They hadn't had such a satisfying meal in what felt like decades, and when the loqua was passed around, it truly felt like a celebration. For what, they didn't know, nor did they care. They just knew that it filled up their gullets and that the newest addition to the crew was no slacker. She also had quite the figure… something that had gone unnoticed when she first arrived wrapped in heavy coils with her young friend. Vanessa would be the talk of the night in the servant's quarters, there was no question about that.
While the men cheerfully gushed and Daikokuya made conversation with the two beauties he ensured was beside him, the other end of the table was quite despondent in retrospective. Theora did not speak and did not like hearing some of the snippets of whispered comments that took place nearest her. She would not converse with Evangeline, despite the slightly older girl's prompts, and only gave a small pitiful smile to acknowledge that she was being spoken to at all. She appreciated Eva's efforts, but tonight was just not the night to try. Theora was far too busy trying in vain to block out the conversations of the men that sat between her and the one she really wanted to talk to.
Eva sat dejectedly in her seat, separated from her mother because she had been told to look after and befriend a girl that barely even threw a look in her direction. This was intolerable. Stupid reassigned seating arrangements… oh well; at least the food was good.