"Asbel Lhant, you can't be serious."
Cheria's voice echoed across the open kitchen, its tones mixing with the sound of the boiling water and sizzling spices that spread their aroma throughout the room. The day had only begun in the small hamlet and the sun was just starting its climb over the horizon, pouring its rays into the room where Lhant's lord and his two family members stood in avid discussion.
"I don't get what the big deal is," Asbel replied, rubbing an arm self-consciously behind his head. Why was Cheria so mad all of a sudden? "I just thought it would be a good idea for supper, that's all."
"Asbel," Sophie interjected. "You said the same thing yesterday."
"But you guys didn't want to have curry yesterday, and I've kind of been craving it lately," he replied.
"The answer is still no," Cheria insisted, a ladle tapping against her arm irritably in time with her foot. "I've already made curry twice this week alone. You need to have more variety in your diet. It's not healthy to eat the same thing all the time!"
"Grilled chicken bowls aren't exactly changing it up either, you know," Asbel retorted under his breath, though not silently enough to evade his fiancée's notice.
"If you don't like what I cook, no one says you have to eat it!"
"I didn't say that!" Asbel fired back defensively. "I just- well you make Sophie crablettes almost every day, why can't we make curry for supper again? It doesn't have to be the same kind you made a few days ago. I'll even go get the ingredients if you want."
"That's not the point," Cheria retorted. "You may be just fine, but everyone else around you gets stuck eating curry too, you know! What about poor Lambda? He must be positively sick of the stuff by now."
"Oh come on, he doesn't mind!"
"What if he doesn't even like curry?"
"Nobody hates curry!" Asbel insisted, offended by the blasphemous thought.
"Have you ever tried asking him?" Cheria challenged.
Asbel opened his mouth to fire a reply but then stopped. Had he ever asked Lambda what he thought? No, he hadn't. Come to think of it, Lambda had never said anything either way about anything they ate, or about any of the things he liked or didn't like. It caught Asbel kind of off-guard. He and Lambda had been sharing his body, sharing their mind space for years now. They talked all the time, experienced all kinds of things together. So why was it the harder he thought on it, the less Asbel realized he knew about his friend?
'Hey Lambda,' Asbel began; silently passing his thoughts across to the ancient creature he knew had been watching the entire time. 'Do you like curry?'
Lambda let out a sigh, a deep reverberation that passed through Asbel's entire body.
I find the frequency with which you shove that concoction into your mouth utterly disgusting.
'What?' Asbel was completely taken aback by the reply. There was just no way… he didn't really… actually… hate… curry… did he?
"Well?" Cheria's voice snapped Asbel back to reality, having noted the interaction between the two. "What did he say?"
"N-Nothing!" Asbel answered. "He said it's all good."
"I said no such thing," Asbel's voice continued to speak but its tone shifted so drastically that it startled the two onlookers. In the space of a second his entire posture shifted to one full of arrogance and power. Lambda's twin violet eyes stared out at Asbel's family with an intimidating aura that the young Lord could never have achieved. Both girls stood shocked by the being's sudden presence. He seldom if ever bothered to speak to anyone but Asbel and he almost never assumed control in such a way.
"I said that I find your obsession with that single plate of food appalling," Lambda said aloud, crossing his arms across his chest. "Now stop misinterpreting my meaning, I don't have the energy to correct all your stupid mistakes."
"Lambda wait!" Asbel's voiced regained it's original demeanor, the being retreating back to his own mind space.
"Well," Cheria huffed, her hands on her hips. "If that's the case then I just won't make it anymore."
"No, wait, come on guys!" Asbel pleaded. There were things in life that came and went, that much Asbel knew, but just the thought of never having another plate of Cheria's curry again was enough to reduce the proud Lord to tears. There was no way he was going to take this laying down. If that's how Lambda wanted to play, then this was war!
"Really now, Asbel," Cheria spoke up. "Grow up a little, it isn't fair of you to force him into eating something he hates just because you want it all the time."
"I know, but how about a deal!" Asbel suggested. "We can share. We'll eat curry half the time, and we can eat Lambda's favorite the other half!"
"And? What is Lambda's favorite food?" Cheria inquired.
"That's… a good question," Asbel conceded.
'What kind of food do you like, Lambda?'
I am not a fool like you. I do not get pointlessly excited over items intended for primary sustenance.
'Oh come on, there has to be something.'
Why? Because you humans do?
'No, because everyone has things that they savor. Even you must have something you at least like the taste of.'
I have told you in the past; I have no need of the fuel that supports your frail bodies.
'It's not a matter of necessity, it's about appreciating the little things that make you happy.'
If that is all it takes to please you, you are a fool indeed.
'Lambda… you've eaten foods before, right?'
Of course I have. Don't be an idiot.
'Well then what out of all the things you've eaten did you enjoy the most?'
How many times must I repeat that there are no foods from which I derive your ridiculous perception of enjoyment?
'You do have something you like, don't you?' Asbel couldn't resist the smile. He'd felt it; a small surge of energy that swirled through him, the one sure-fire way he knew Lambda was lying.
I would have thought that getting an idea through your thick skull would have been an easier matter from within, but that appears to not be the case.
'What is it?' Asbel asked, determined to get an answer.
I have no need to tell you.
'So there is something!' Asbel almost jumped and Lambda silently cursed.
I am through with this.
Lambda completely retreated from the shared mind space, leaving Asbel in the vast emptiness, a grin spread ear to ear. If Lambda wanted to make it a challenge then Asbel was just going to have to take him up on it. No matter how powerful or how all-encompassing Lambda's power was, he wasn't very good at hiding things, especially from Asbel who had gotten used to the nuances in the energy his presence created. For the most part Asbel could sense Lambda's moods, which was why he knew the being wasn't nearly as irritated as he pretended to be.
"He says that he doesn't have a favorite," Asbel said, answering the Cheria that waited expectantly. "But I don't believe that. Even he has to have something that he likes eating, that's why if he won't tell me, then I'm just going to have to figure it out for myself!"
"But Asbel," Sophie interjected. "How are you going to do that if he won't tell you?"
"I'm pretty sure if I taste it I'll know," Asbel replied. "Lambda's not a very good liar."
"That's one more thing you two have in common," Cheria muttered under her breath. "So," she continued at a tone her future husband could hear. "What exactly do you intend to do? Taste every single food under the sun?"
"Sure, why not?" Asbel replied. "If I can figure it out, then we can eat curry again! So I'm not going to give up until I know exactly what it is that Lambda likes to eat!"
"I'll help!" Sophie raised an arm in the air excitedly, a habit she'd long since picked up from Pascal.
"Slow down you two," Cheria interjected, trying to be the voice of reason. As much as she'd like to head this idea off at the pass, she knew if only by the look in their eyes that it was long past the point she could talk them out of it. "I doubt you'll be able to try every food in the world, you may want to try and narrow it down a bit."
"How would we narrow it down?" Sophie asked, curiously tilting her head to the left.
"Well…" Cheria pondered. "They say that a person's favorite food says a lot about what they're like, so maybe you could work backwards to try and figure it out."
"Wait, really?" Asbel asked skeptically. "What do I have in common with curry?"
"Well you're both thick for starters…" Cheria said with a sigh.
"Oh I know!" Sophie jumped in. "Lambda and I are kind of the same, we both come from Fodra, so maybe Lambda likes crablettes!"
"Sorry Sophie…" Asbel answered, trying to hide his laugh. "I don't think it's crablettes."
"Maybe not, but she might be on the right track," Cheria agreed, placing a finger on her cheek. "Lambda's not from around here, so maybe his favorite dish is something more exotic. Something like lychee or mangosteen. Or perhaps even escargot."
"I've never even heard of those first two things," Asbel retorted.
"Of course you haven't, you only eat curry."
"Either way!" Asbel's face scrunched up, angry that he couldn't deny the truth in her statement without suffering yet another curry penalty. "I draw the line at eating snails."
"How do you know? You've never tried it," Sophie pointed out.
"It doesn't matter," Asbel shook his head in a more serious tone. They sounded like good ideas, but something inside him, probably Lambda, was telling him they were barking up the completely wrong tree. "I don't think Lambda likes any of those foods."
"Asbel, why don't we try asking Richard," Sophie suggested.
"That's a great idea Sophie!" Asbel's eyes lit up. "He and Lambda lived together for almost seven years, he must have at least some idea of what Lambda's favorite food might be."
"Let me guess," Cheria said with an expectant sigh. "You're heading for Barona."
"Do you mind?" Asbel asked sheepishly. "I really would like the chance to catch up with Richard. I'm ahead in my paperwork, so things ought to be quiet while I'm gone."
"You may not be able to just walk in and see him, you know," Cheria pointed out. "He is the king."
"Don't worry Cheria," Sophie reassured her. "Richard always makes the time to see us when we visit."
"Well I suppose if it's not going to put you behind, then a trip to Barona is harmless enough," she conceded. Really, how could she deny them the chance when they looked as excited as they did? Besides, even she could attest to how hard Asbel had been working lately, he'd more than earned himself a break. "Do try to be back within the week, okay? We have important company coming from Strahta to discuss the cryas exports."
"I know," Asbel replied, leaning in and kissing Cheria on the cheek. "Hey, if I get this all figured out by then-"
"We are not having curry."
Asbel let out an exasperated sigh.
If there was one thing Asbel could always count on it was that Barona never changed. Even from his very first days at the Academy, the town seemed consistently overflowing with energy and life. The people here were welcoming, many still recognized him from his days as an aspiring knight and he never passed through without at least one friendly greeting. He loved this city, partially for the fond memories it held, and partially because this was Richard's city. It overflowed with thoughts of his closest friend and he could never seem to get to the castle fast enough.
The guards barely took note of him and Sophie, having long since been told the pair was to be allowed through without question. It was true that Asbel didn't make it here as often as he'd like, Sophie was the more common presence here at the castle, but the two were still recognized by the majority of the staff, many who waved in greeting as they passed by.
Asbel knocked on the large wooden door that marked the entrance to Richard's office. The young Lord had only a moment to admire the intricate carvings along the frame before the door creaked open, and an older man peered out from within.
"What business do you have with His-" The butler stopped when he noticed the two people standing before him. "Please come in."
"Richard!" Sophie called, running down the length of the room and up to the large wooden desk at which their companion sat. He looked up from the document he'd been revising, brushing a wisp of blonde hair from his eyes, a smile spread across his face.
"Sophie! Asbel! What a pleasant surprise!" He stood up from his seat, coming around to greet his friends properly. "It's been a few months, hasn't it?"
"Time sure does fly," Asbel agreed. "It doesn't feel like it was all that long ago."
"No, it most certainly doesn't," Richard said with a nod. "So, to what do I owe this pleasure?"
"We have something we wanted to ask you," Sophie explained. "It's about Lambda."
"Lambda?" Richard queried, his face instantly taking on a serious air. He nodded at his attendant who immediately left the room. "What's going on? Is everything alright?"
Richard's gaze instantly turned to Asbel, who watched him with an expression akin to curiosity. Asbel's single violet eye glowed for a brief moment, but the flare receded as quickly as it came. Nothing seemed out of place with his best friend, at least not that he could tell.
Asbel smiled and shook his head. "No, nothing like that. Lambda and I are both doing just fine."
"That's good to hear." Relief spread visibly across Richard's face. "You mustn't scare me like that."
"Sorry," Asbel apologized. "We're actually here because there's something about Lambda we're trying to figure out, and we thought maybe you might know the answer."
"Well, as you know, Lambda spent most of his time within me dormant, so I'm not sure that I know much more than you. But if there's anything I can help with, I'd be happy to do so."
"We're trying to find out what Lambda's favorite food is," Sophie provided.
"His favorite food?" Richard asked, caught off-guard by the request. "And he won't tell you himself?"
"No," Asbel confessed. "He says he doesn't have a favorite food, but I don't believe that."
"What, may I ask, brought this on?" Richard queried.
"Lambda doesn't like curry," Sophie answered.
"He does not! Nobody hates curry!" Asbel insisted.
"I see, so you want to figure out what he does like to even the odds."
"Cheria says that you can tell what someone's favorite food is, by what kind of person they are," Sophie explained. "So we thought maybe you might have some ideas."
"Well I'm afraid I don't know what is favorite food might be," Richard conceded, bringing a hand to his chin as he pondered the matter. "But Lambda is a very refined creature, so perhaps his favorite food would be something equally exquisite. I ought to have the chef prepare some natto-based dishes. It was something I ate frequently as a child, so perhaps he picked up on the taste as well. What do you think Asbel?"
"Yeah…" The young lord laughed nervously. The thought of natto alone sent a shudder running across his shoulders followed by a wave of pure revulsion that stemmed far deeper than any of Asbel's thoughts on Richard's peculiar taste could ever hope to reach. "I don't think Lambda cares for natto much."
"So then, how do you intend to deduce his favorite food if he's refusing to tell you?" Richard inquired.
"I think if I taste it I'll be able to tell," Asbel said. "It's kind of hard to explain, it's just this feeling I have."
"So we're going to try lots of different foods!" Sophie exclaimed.
"Well then," Richard spoke up, a light igniting behind his eyes. "I should have you know that Barona has the widest variety of cuisine in all of Ephinea. There isn't any country's dining you can't find somewhere within its walls. If Lambda won't tell us what he likes to eat, then we'll just have to figure it out for ourselves."
"Okay!" Sophie cheered excitedly. "Do any of the places make crablettes?"
"Why yes, in fact, I believe they do," Richard replied, grabbing his cloak from the hook near the door. "There may even be a place that sells royal crablettes."
"Royal crablettes!" Sophie's eyes lit up with excitement. They could almost see the crabs dancing across her mind as she grabbed Asbel's arm and hauled him towards the door.
"Tell me you didn't have a hand in that," Asbel posed with an eyebrow raised. Richard smiled mischievously and shrugged.
"I simply made a menu suggestion. They were the ones who were eager to try it out."
The sun had barely reached its peak in the sky as Asbel dragged himself back into Barona's main square. He had to hand it to Richard; he had no idea half the places he'd been dragged to even existed. His best friend hadn't been lying about the variety of food either. He'd tried everything from bouillabaisse to pudding cake but Asbel tried not to linger on that thought for too long. He was so full that just considering putting something in his mouth made him want to be sick.
With a groan Asbel sat himself down on a nearby ledge, letting out a huge sigh. What a crazy day it had been and it wasn't even lunch yet. He still couldn't for the life of him figure out what Raymond of all people was doing here in Barona or why he seemed so upset that Asbel was out eating without Cheria. Did he really have to make such a racket? It was a shame that after all was said and done they wouldn't be allowed to go back there, but Asbel decided that it had ultimately been worth it. He had vowed, however, to never tell Pascal he had wasted a perfectly good banana pie on that man's face. At least now it matched his hair.
All that fuss and ultimately it was to no avail. None of the seemingly endless dishes that were brought before him had even so much as piqued Lambda's interest much less stirred any kind of reaction from him. Had Lambda been serious when he said he didn't have a favorite food? No, that couldn't be right. It was true that Lambda wasn't human, at least not by the concrete definition of human, but he still had feelings, he still had things that made him happy and sad, that made him angry or that made him feel proud. So what if he didn't live like other people did? Asbel was sure that there must be something out there that he liked to eat more than anything, and Asbel wasn't going to give up until he figured out what it was.
"Conceding the battle?" Richard asked, taking a seat next to his best friend.
"Not at all," Asbel insisted. "There's no way I'm giving up!"
"Why is this so important to you? Is it really that big of a deal if Lambda doesn't like curry?"
"No," Asbel admitted. "It really has nothing to do with the curry. All of this just got me thinking, Lambda and I have been together for awhile now, but I still don't really know much about him. He doesn't like to talk about himself, you know?"
"Yes, that sounds like him alright," Richard agreed.
"I don't know what kinds of food he likes, what sorts of places he would want to go, the kind of music he finds nice… anything. Every day I spend my free time doing the sorts of things I enjoy, but Lambda never gets a chance to do the things he wants to do."
"That's not entirely true, though," Richard pointed out. "You do allow him control of your body from time to time, do you not?"
"How did you know about that?" Asbel asked, taken aback by the comment. He was sure he and Lambda had been careful about not letting anyone know. He figured that as much as the others trusted Lambda, they wouldn't exactly take kindly to the idea. But… it was Lambda's life too, he deserved the chance to actually live it every once in awhile. "I thought we'd been keeping that a secret."
"I thought as much," Richard laughed. "That's just the kind of person you are, Asbel."
Asbel smiled, relieved that there was no judgment in Richard's expression. He, at the very least, seemed to understand. "It's not just me anymore," Asbel explained. "We're both sharing this body, we're both living this life, and sometimes I just feel like I'm hogging it all to myself. If Lambda really does hate curry, as much as it would really suck, I guess I would stop eating it. I don't want to force him to do things he doesn't like, and if possible, I want to find some of the things that he does. So that he can get the most out of the small things in life too. But I guess I won't be figuring it out his time."
"Perhaps, but there is always tomorrow to enjoy," Richard pointed out.
"Yeah," Asbel agreed. "You're right."
"Asbel, Richard!" Sophie called to her companions, jogging over to join them with a small tray in her hands.
"Oh no," Asbel groaned under his breath. "Not more food."
"I brought some ice cream for dessert!" Sophie declared proudly. In the tray she held sat the frozen treats that had become famous in Windor's capital. A slice of frozen cream mounted on a small wooden stick, the treat was especially popular among the students at the Knight Academy. While it had never been one of his favorites, Asbel had still enjoyed one from time to time, though he'd never had much luck in winning a free one.
Asbel looked up at Sophie's smile and could not for the life of him figure out where she put it all. Despite being a good head shorter than him, she had easily packed away twice as much food over the past few hours and she still had room for more? Asbel felt another wave of nausea sweep over him.
"Sorry Sophie," Asbel apologized. "I'm way too full for any more food right now."
"You can never be too full for ice cream," Sophie insisted. "Because it melts and it fills in all the cracks."
"Who told you that?" Asbel asked skeptically.
"Whoever it was must have been a wise man indeed," Richard commented, accepting two of the frozen treats.
"Richard!" Asbel protested.
"What? It's true isn't it?" The King laughed handing Asbel the second treat. Asbel accepted it with a sigh.
Asbel stared at the frozen confection for a moment debating just how smart it was to try ingesting any more food, but against his better judgment he placed the treat in his mouth. He had to admit Sophie was right, in fact the cool cream seemed to help the food he'd eaten settle and before he even realized it, he'd taken a bite out of the small dessert. He couldn't wipe the smile from his face, the sweetness was just right, curling up in his stomach with a satisfaction that permeated throughout his entire body. Funny, he didn't remember enjoying it so much when he was in the Acad-
Asbel's grin widened. He lifted the frozen treat above his head until its shape blocked the sun from his eyes.
Lambda's energy rebounded, trying to pulse angrily but he wasn't fast enough to hide his contentment.
"Ice cream?" Richard inquired. "Lambda's favorite food is ice cream?"
"Well?" Asbel posed, the treat still lifted above his head. "Lambda?"
Don't blame me if that ridiculous face of yours ends up covered in cream while you are pre-occupied with your gloating.
Asbel laughed. "Of course," he said, quickly licking up the drips that tried to escape under the sun's hot rays. 'But if you like it so much, you may as well finish it yourself.'
Lambda barely had time to protest before he found himself in command of Asbel's vessel. He grumbled; irritated that his meddlesome host had somehow deduced how to forcefully switch their minds' positions. Honestly, Lambda thought as he took another bite of the desert in his hand, what was he trying to accomplish?
As much as he hated to concede, hated to even admit that that fool was right, it was far too difficult to conceal his satisfaction with the confection he found himself in the process of consuming. Somehow he found such lies unworthy of the effort they required. Under the heat of the summer day, such a food was satisfying, cooling him while the cream ran comfortably across the mouth he was unused to possessing. There was a certain… intensity to his senses that he lacked when simply observing the world through Asbel, one that apparently his host had taken note of and decided to intervene upon accordingly.
"How is it?" Sophie asked.
"It will suffice," Lambda replied, letting out a sigh that had less to do with the question and more to do with the empty stick he now held in his hand.
"You certainly led us on quite the chase this morning," Richard commented, acknowledging the presence of his fourth companion. There was no mistaking the shift in persona between the two, and Richard had taken note of Asbel's sudden absence.
"Do not blame me for your insanities, that venture was one you undertook entirely of your own volition," Lambda shot back through narrowed purple eyes, but Richard simply smiled.
"Lambda, do you really hate curry?" Sophie asked. "Cause, I think Asbel would be really sad if he never got to eat curry again."
"I never said anything of the sort," Lambda retorted. "I told him the frequency with which he shoved that concoction in his mouth was disgusting. I have no particular opinion on the dish itself. It isn't my fault that idiot jumped to conclusions."
"That was rather mean of you to put it in such a way that you knew he'd misinterpret," Richard pointed out. "Or perhaps that was your intention all along. Perhaps you hoped that this would ultimately be the outcome."
"I assure you, controlling that man's idiocy is not one of my many talents," Lambda insisted.
"If you say so," Richard answered with a chuckle. "Come on Sophie, why don't we go grab some more ice cream so you can take it home with you?"
"Okay!" Sophie said with a nod, accepting Richard's hand up.
"Are you coming as well, Lambda?"
"I'm quite fine waiting for you right here," the being retorted.
Lambda listened to the sounds of the pair as they walked across the square, Sophie's laughter standing out from the rabble of the midday crowds. His ear twitched as he picked up Richard's voice but was unable to discern his words. Sophie laughed once more. Yes, things were different from this perspective. Even the empty stick in his hand felt rough and sticky in a way he would have ignored had it been in Asbel's hand. From here the world was so incredibly... close, and Lambda wasn't sure how much he cared for that.
'Well would you look at that,' Asbel's voice spoke and he felt his attention drawn to the stick in his hand. On it several dark bold letters carved out the word 'winner'. Lambda held the stick above his head scrutinizing it.
"I assume that is supposed to be significant?" He asked, turning the heads of a few onlookers, wondering to whom the boy was speaking. Neither Lambda nor Asbel paid them any mind.
'Yeah, it means you get another one,' Asbel explained. 'If you bring it to the shop where Richard and Sophie are, she'll give you one for free.'
"That will not be necessary," Lambda replied.
'Why not? I mean you like them don't you?'
"I may turn it in to her any time I wish, correct?"
'Yeah, that's right.'
"Then I will do so another day," he said simply. "I grow weary of your antics for today."
Asbel chuckled, a gesture that escaped his mouth when Lambda surrendered control back to the young Lord. As irritated as he tried to pretend to be, there was a satisfaction that still lingered in the depths of Asbel's chest that left a smile painted widely across his face. Another day… it was Lambda's way of saying he wanted to do this again some time, meaning he'd had far more fun than he would ever be caught dead admitting.
Still holding the winning stick above his head Asbel recalled what Cheria said, about being able to tell a lot about someone based on the food they liked. You know, she just might have been right. That Lambda's favorite food was ice cream… it just… fit.
It was different, and not everyone liked it at first, but once you gave it a chance, you realized that it was actually really sweet.