Spear of Fate
Eye of Truth
Flame of Immortality
Lord of Demons
Body of Sin
Bud of Survival
Spear of Fate
With a crash, Cappuccino hurled the last flower vase in the room. But still, the bedroom's door and windows were sound and intact.
"Let me out! I need to go save !"
"Young Master Cappuccino, no matter the reason, His Lordship and Her Ladyship have said that you are not to come out before the day's end. After all, no one forced you to run off this morning, did they?"
Through the door, the servant's voice sounded muffled and fuzzy, but there was still an audible teasing lilt to it.
Cappuccino sat on the floor in a huff.
He hadn't the slightest understanding of how things got to be like this.
This morning, he was going with Master Attendant to attend a royal family banquet. But since these banquets were usually so boring, Cappuccino slipped out the carriage half-way there when Master Attendant and Madam weren't paying attention.
Cappuccino didn't go back home though. Rather, he went to Professor Daniel's. Garden of Eden was having a free tour event, and he planned to go help out.
Who could've guessed that not long after he arrived at Garden of Eden, guards from Ark would suddenly bust in, claiming that Professor Daniel's garden was harboring dangerous evil plants, and then using a strange apparatus to make Minestrone show his true face.
--Minestrone actually had a horrid Flower of Evil parasite living inside him. He escaped, but Professor Daniel was taken away by the guards, since he was previously responsible for conducting Flower of Evil experiments.
He wanted to stop them, but Professor Daniel said the first order of business was to tend to Garden of Eden's affairs. After all, Minestrone's escape had given many visitors a fright...
And so, Cappuccino unwillingly stayed behind and picked up the pieces at Garden of Eden all by himself, after which he hurried back home without any further delay.
He wanted to seek the help of Master Attendant and ask him to use his noble status to get Ark to release Professor Daniel. To his surprise though, upon returning home, he was met by servants who had been waiting a long time for him and then immediately "arrested" him for the crime of "running away from a banquet again and angering His Lordship".
In normal times, being locked in his room would be par for the course for him, but today the situation was different. With Professor Daniel still not free from danger, how could he just sit idly by like this?
But no matter how he pleaded and cajoled, or what fits and tantrums he threw, the servants standing guard all turned a deaf ear. To them, this naughty young master was always playing too many tricks, and so as not to be hoodwinked, the best course of action was to wait for His Lordship's return and let him deal with it.
Could it be that I'm just too playful normally, and so now this is my just deserts?
After a bout of futile struggle, Cappuccino hung his head dejectedly and flopped down on the floor.
Sunlight poured into the room through the window, and the morning glories outside the window began to turn a faint violet as the evening drew near.
Time was ticking away second by second...
Suddenly, Cappuccino heard a strange sound come from outside the door.
He sprung cautiously to his feet and skipped over to the entrance.
"Wh-- who are you??? Ugh--"
The male servant outside didn't answer him, and the noise gradually subsided.
"Hey--! Are you guys all right??"
Cappuccino's heart pounded. He knocked urgently on the door.
Just then, the sound of a key going into a lock came from outside the door. Cappuccino jumped back several paces, looked around, then grabbed a decorative spear on display beside him and faced the door alertly.
With a click, the door swung open, and Minestrone sauntered leisurely in, kicking a fallen guard out of his way as he did.
With the opening of the door, the magic circle of imprisonment was broken, and spirit power flowed in the room once again.
Although Cappuccino was finally able to use his spirit power again, he felt no joy in his new-found freedom.
"Stay right where you are!!"
He raised the spear and rushed at Minestrone as he yelled.
To be honest, his mood right now was very complex. Although in days past Minestrone and he would often get into fights, ever since their journey to The Land of Eden, their relationship had warmed up considerably. Cappuccino even thought that even though they still squabbled from time to time, their relationship would never truly turn hostile and would always remain intact.
But today, right now, right in front of him-- Minestrone was displaying that evil power from the Flower of Evil without so much as a second thought.
"How did things get to be like this?"
--For the second time today, Cappuccino thought this to himself.
"This people are just in a temporary nightmare. I didn't come here to fight you, sissy."
He didn't bat an eye at Cappuccino's spear as he strode around Cappuccino, heading straight for the window. He grabbed a curtain and pulled it shut with a "woosh".
Instantly, the sunlight in the room was cut in half, which seemed to make Minestrone much more comfortable. His furrowed brow now relaxed, but the evil aura around him tripled in size.
This set Cappuccino even more on edge -- he'd never seen Minestrone so full-on evil like this. Compared to right now, those occasional hints of evil he sensed back at Garden of Eden were like nothing.
"What's going on here! How could -- how could you be infected with this thing?!"
"None of your business." Minestrone replied icily.
Cappuccino froze up, then grit his teeth.
"What about Professor Daniel? If it was him asking, is this how you'd respond?"
There was a slight pause in Minestrone's movements, but then he quickly pulled the other half of the curtains shut. As the room plunged into total darkness, Cappuccino heard him speak again in a low voice.
"That's exactly why I came here, to have you tell him that I stole the seed of the Flower of Evil in the Polar Snowfield. The Flower of Evil was why I was going there. And meeting him was no coincidence either. I saved him so that I could learn the whereabouts of The Land of Eden."
"In short, this was all a con job -- from the very start -- and he fell for it. So, from now on, you can both just forget you ever knew me, and try not to be so naïve around strangers anymore."
"So, that's what you came to say to me?"
Minestrone laughed coldly and nodded his head. The next second, Cappuccino knocked him to the ground with one punch.
Cappuccino grabbed him by the collar with both hands.
"Why you... you little... You think by saying that, he won't feel bad?"
"Who gave you permission to just go end everything all by yourself?"
"Professor Daniel, he... he regarded you as his best friend!!!"
Cappuccino was on the verge of sobbing as he screamed. Minestrone was stunned for a moment, and then he wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth and slowly stood up.
"Ark didn't find Garden of Eden by accident. Their true goal is to take The Land of Eden from Daniel."
"What did you say?"
"My body is hosting the Flower of Evil, that's a fact. But the seed was in his charge, so the only way I can clear Daniel of suspicion is by completely severing ties with him and avoiding getting caught."
Minestrone spoke calmly.
Cappuccino clutched at his hair anxiously.
"No, you're wrong. Even if you have been infected by a Flower of Evil, what does that mean? Only that the experiment failed. You and Professor Daniel haven't hurt anyone... hold on... unless..."
Cappuccino halted mid-sentence, as if something suddenly occurred to him, and he looked in disbelief at Minestrone.
"You're guess isn't wrong. I have killed people. Many people."
Cappuccino's face went stark pale, "...Because of... the Flower of Evil parasite?"
"No. I purposefully used the Flower of Evil to get vengeance." Minestrone spoke very matter-of-factly.
"...Vengeance? Against whom?"
"That's not for you to ask."
Minestrone quickly skipped over this topic.
"You just need to remember that this time Ark used me as an excuse to take away Daniel. Next time, who knows who it will be, or what method they'll use to get to him... But when that time comes, little sissy, the only person by his side will be you."
Cappuccino stopped his questioning, and a silence fell over the room.
A short time passed, and Cappuccino let out a helpless mutter.
"How did things get this way..."
A pain like a tide surged in his heart, but he didn't understand why.
Suddenly, Cappuccino received a sharp smack on the head from Minestrone.
"Ow, that hurt--"
"If you keep acting like a child all the time, how will you protect Daniel?"
Cappuccino held a hand to his forehead. The mysterious pain in his heart vanished clean away for the moment as he glared at Minestrone: "Don't you worry about that. I can definitely protect Teacher!"
"Of course, you have to protect him..."
Minestrone bent over at the waist and squinted his eyes.
"Or else, I'll just have to come back and handle things myself."
"Why you... Don't even think about it. I won't give you the opportunity!"
"Hmph. You'd better hope so."
Minestrone straightened his posture and cocked a smile as he withdrew a piece of paper from his pants pocket and tossed it into the air.
"This is the address where Daniel is being held. I've laid the groundwork for you, and the people there won't give you any problems, so all you've got to do is go bring him back."
With that, he stuck his hands back in his pockets and walked off without so much as a glance back.
Cappuccino frantically snatched the piece of paper as it fluttered down.
By the time he caught the paper and rushed out the room, Minestrone had already disappeared from the empty hallway.
A wind from out of nowhere then blew open a corner of the curtains that had been drawn.
Light entered the room anew.
As long as a sliver of hope existed in this world, the light would always return.
Cappuccino took in a deep breath, gripped the slip of paper tightly, and walked out of the room.
"You wait and see! I'll be more powerful than you think!"
Body of Sin
"Take this gold. Take everything."
"Oh... Sir, this... isn't a matter of money..."
"Please, I'm begging, lend me a ship."
Off the southern coast of Gloriville is an island visible in the distance. It's name: Sicilee.
Due to an invasion by the wicked elven plant "Flower of Evil", the royal family of Gloriville issued a decree sealing off the entire island.
Mashed Potatoes was sailing a small boat, crossing the seas on his own to get to here.
Because this shipping channel had been blocked, he had to spend a lot of gold to buy off the employee guarding over the route. The worker said, "You'll have to wait for dark and sneak by, and at that point, whether you live or die is none of my concern."
Mashed Potatoes agreed without hesitation and set off on the path of danger.
"That island is past the point of saving. It's crawling with foul things. Not even the Crown can deal with it, so what good will you do?"
The employee gave Mashed Potatoes this final piece of friendly admonition as he handed over the key to the ship.
He had just struck it rich off this Food Soul before him, and the prospect of spending the rest of his days in toil-free happiness made him feel a twinge of regret toward Mashed Potatoes.
Mashed Potatoes just shook his head and set off without a word.
In the eyes of others, he was perhaps a fool trying to play the hero, but he knew that this journey wasn't to save others. Rather, it was... to save himself.
It was he who had originally planted the Flower of Evil in the Polar Snowfield.
If at the time he hadn't planted that first seed, Minestrone wouldn't have been infected by it when he passed through the Polar Snowfield, and subsequently wouldn't have been able to use the Flower of Evil's power to destroy this entire island.
"This is all because of me. How can I stand by and do nothing... No matter how bleak the situation, at least let me do something to ease my mind some."
With these thoughts in mind, Mashed Potatoes ran the little boat up onto the beach and set foot in this strange land.
It was said Sicilee used to be Gloriville's most popular tourist island, where every season was as mild as spring, the scenery pleasant, and the people warm and hospitable.
But now it seemed all that was no longer the case.
A thick fog shrouded the towns here, making day and night blend together. In the dark nights without street lights, there were still orbs of eerie ethereal light sticking everywhere to roof beams, walls, and windows along the street.
Mashed Potatoes knew that these were nascent Flower of Evil spirits in search of a host.
They were like evil spirits roaming the night for food, restless and hungry. Seeing Mashed Potatoes approach, they started stirring one by one. Several aggressive ones wanted to pounce forward, but they were bounced back as if blocked by something.
Mashed Potatoes took a deep breath and gripped tight the necklace on his chest giving off a faint heat -- Inside the little glass vessel was the leaf of the Tree of Life and Death that Gaia had given him.
He knew the power of the Tree of Life and Death was protecting him, preventing the Flower of Evil spirits from attacking, but still, walking down the street by himself, he felt afraid all the same.
Mashed Potatoes knew he was never the brave and fearless type.
But every time he underwent a test, there was always someone at his side extending a helping hand, giving him strength.
Suddenly, he found himself missing Minestrone.
This was perhaps a bit inappropriate, since everything terrifying him on the island right now was all Minestrone's "masterpiece".
But Mashed Potatoes missed him all the same.
Perhaps it was because during the few nighttime adventures he'd undergone in his life, Minestrone was always right there with him.
In Polar Snowfield, in The Land of Eden, in those moments plunged into darkness and dreamlands, Minestrone never left his side.
Even now, after he'd witnessed with his own eyes the nightmare Minestrone had wrought, he still kept the memory of his friend who always protected him connected to the archcriminal responsible for all this.
"Just why would you do such a thing..."
Mashed Potatoes lowered his eyes, letting out all his grief, disbelief, pain, and confusion in that utterance, scattering those emotions into the night...
Then suddenly, the situation altered.
In his hand, the heat from the power of the Tree of Life and Death suddenly surged in intensity. Mashed Potatoes snapped to attention, and his heart skipped a beat. This wasn't good.
Before setting out, Gaia warned him again and again that the Flower of Evil was as psychic-based elven plant. It was most skilled at infiltrating someone when their negative emotions started piling up. It was true that Mashed Potatoes had the protection of the leaf of the Tree of Life and Death, but if his emotions became disturbed...
A ball of purplish-black ghostly light attacked. Mashed Potatoes whirled his head around, but there was no time to put up his guard as he became entangled in a brawl with the Flower of Evil.
"What... are these things?!"
Cries. Everywhere was the sound of bitter crying and wailing.
Mashed Potatoes clutched his head. The Flower of Evil's psychic attack sent him falling to the ground under its unbearable weight.
Just as they were summoned forth and before they could be put to use, the purple vines were already too weak to move and could only cling to the body of their master, protecting him as a last line of defense.
Countless distorted faces flashed in Mashed Potatoes' head.
They were wailing, squabbling, hysterically lashing out at an invisible enemy. They were the dead residents of this island.
The Flower of Evil clearly knew that the heaviest burden in Mashed Potatoes' heart was the deaths of these island inhabitants. And so, it replayed their pained expressions as they were about to die, so as to drive the guilt home deeper.
Mashed Potatoes felt like he was suffocating, and he couldn't bear to see any more, but the Flower of Evil forced him to stare at each and every gory scene.
Suddenly, in the illusion there appeared a most familiar figure.
It was Minestrone.
Mashed Potatoes took in a breath as he watched Minestrone walk past him wearing a ferocious smile that Mashed Potatoes had never seen on him before. Wherever he walked, black Flowers of Evil spread and blossomed...
Mashed Potatoes reflexively reached out to him, but the Minestrone in the illusion walked straight through him without noticing at all.
Mashed Potatoes turned his head in panic to see Minestrone slowly drawing near the pained, struggling islanders.
Minestrone grabbed one of the humans by the collar and laughed a vicious, cold-blooded laugh at him, without so much as a word.
But that person he'd grabbed seemed to have a moment of clarity, and upon seeing who it was before him, a deeper look of terror came over the person's face.
Just like-- just like seeing a demon returned from hell.
"H-- how could this be? How could it be you!!?"
"Long time no see... my... Master Attendant." Minestrone said with a smile.
Mashed Potatoes froze.
Without waiting for him to get a grip on himself, on the other side -- in the illusion -- Minestrone had released is grip, and the human fell like a heap of mud on the ground. Not long after, he flopped up like a dying fish and crawled on hands and knees to Minestrone's legs.
"P-please, p-please, let me go! Let us go! Don't kill me. I was forced to do it at the time! I had no choice!"
"Master Attendant, what is this nonsense you're spewing?"
Minestrone stood up straight and kicked that person away.
"Without receiving the order, we Food Souls are incapable of killing an Attendant... Isn't that the rule that you taught me in the beginning?"
Minestrone smiled and shook his head.
"How could I kill you then? I've long ago given up on the idea. It's just, who could've guessed that their experiments wouldn't torture me to death, that I'd survive, much less that I'd encounter this beautiful Flower of Evil..."
"N--n--no!... I-I was wrong! I was wrong!!! I shouldn't have sold you off, but honestly I didn't know that they would... do that to you! I thought they just wanted a Food Soul. A Food Soul to do work for them, that's all!"
"...Do your thing."
In practically a split-second, Mashed Potatoes saw a black ghost spring out at blinding speed from Minestrone's hand.
The world turned pale white, and all that was left was a dark shadow jumping around and devouring humans one by one, accompanied by a crunching sound.
Suddenly, everything ended.
Mashed Potatoes slowly opened his eyes. In the east, the first red rays of the sunrise tinged the island, and the monsters of the dark night were temporarily forced back into hiding. It was the natural turning of the world itself that just happened to save his life.
Mashed Potatoes laid down on the spot, breathing heavily. The vine tenderly caressed the wounds where he'd been attacked, but he was still in a daze and didn't notice.
Soon after, he stood up and dragged his spent body to a patch of earth in front of him.
Mashed Potatoes took off the glass vial around his neck and took out the leaf of the Tree of Life and Death from within, then buried it into the dirt.
In an instant, a faint blue light swept through here and rippled in wave after wave across the entire island. A blue sapling poked out of the earth, revealing a new bud.
"You'll have to take it from here."
Mashed Potatoes lightly patted it as he whispered.
The leaf of the Tree of Life and Death that Gaia gave him wasn't as strong as it would be in The Land of Eden, but it could still slowly cleanse the island of its negative energy. All it needed was time. Perhaps ten years, maybe longer.
But right now, he needed to leave here.
He knew that this road of redemption for himself, and also for Minestrone, now had a new direction.
He had to find out just who that Food Soul trader was that bought Minestrone from his Attendant and used him in unspeakable experiments. And how many more people might be involved.
Innocent, guilty, who could say? At any rate, there was no way to salvage the past.
He wasn't able to absolve Minestrone of a mistake he'd already made... but at least, maybe he could prevent the next one.
"This is the final atonement that I can make for you."
Eye of Truth
Champagne sat on the throne, his tone resolute, leaving not even an inch of room for a rebuttal.
Fondant Cake let out a light sigh, but very quickly, she opened her mouth again with a determined look in her eye.
"Your Majesty, the Gloriville royal family has already publicly abandoned the island of Sicilee. This is a request their local church has sent to us. If our church can oblige, the empire will surely gain international acclaim, and those refugees on the island will have a place to go to. Isn't that killing two birds with one stone?"
--I should've known. When has she ever been persuaded so easily?
Champagne put his chin in his hand and leaned back in the chair, hiding the smirk on his lips before nonchalantly saying:
"Those islanders infected by Flower of Evil are already beyond saving. I cannot expose my own country's people to the threat of widespread infection just to prolong their lives temporarily."
"They won't infect others. I'll be very careful in caring for them! Your Majesty, you need only give them a quarantine space--"
“Enough, Miss Priestess." Champagne cut off Fondant Cake, adding, "Do as I say. Write a gently-worded rejection letter to their church. You have done your duty. There is no need to discuss this matter."
Fondant Cake looked at Champagne's proud demeanor, balling her fists tightly and struggling to hold back her rage.
Champagne pretended like he didn't notice and took out a pocket watch to check the time.
"I have an important meeting with my minister. If there is nothing else, then you may go."
"--Champagne! You've gone too far!"
Fondant Cake shouted angrily.
--What did she just call me?
Ever since Fondant Cake came to live in the palace, even though they often butted heads on all kinds of political matters, at least in the way they spoke to each other, they always maintained a level of respect and deference.
Your Majesty, Miss Priestess... It seemed like this way, no matter how contentious the words that came after these appellations, in the end there was still some room to maneuver.
It was like the relationship between them, a partnership that was always polite and civil.
Champagne always thought this was only right and natural, with nothing wrong about it, that is until--
"You're always like this! Always! Could it be that I'm just a symbolic figure to you that lets you sit on your throne feeling perfectly justified?"
Watching Fondant Cake leave in a rage, Champagne got up, wanting to call her back. But having just been called by his own name, he suddenly couldn't bring himself to say the words "Miss Priestess". However, just yelling out "Fondant Cake" also seemed somewhat too undignified...
And so, all he could do was yelp out a gruff "Hey". Although, seeing Fondant Cake quicken her pace as she left, it was clear that this brusque attempt at getting her attention only added fuel to the fire.
"Hmph. I was just being matter-of-fact, that's all. When did I ever say anything of the sort?! Pesky woman! Who knows what's going through her mind!"
Champagne suppressed the troubles that were tumbling in his mind.
"Heh-heh." Suddenly, a snicker sounded from a corner of the palace.
Champagne turned his head and strode toward the place where the sound came from.
"Lou, your area of supervision includes me now?"
A long-haired man walked slowly out from the corner, with an indifferent smile on his lips and a scepter in both hands.
"Apologies, Your Majesty. I just happened to be in the area."
Without a word, Champagne strode over to Lou's side, took the scepter, then walked over to a wall and channeled his spirit power into the scepter.
A light golden spirit power flowed from the top of the scepter like fine wine, pouring into the wall. Soon, a golden eye design emerged before them. The eye scanned over them, and after verifying their identities, a hole opened in the wall, revealing a space within.
It was a large conference room, with eight chairs placed around a round table.
Champagne sat in the main seat, and Lou sat across from him, placing a gift box upon the table.
Champagne: "Alright, start."
Lou nodded. He pulled open the ribbon on the box and pushed it to the center of the conference table. In a moment, the box opened by itself, and a ray of light shone out of it, projecting a person's image.
"Your Majesty, Instructor Lou, long time no see. In this communique, I will relate to you the most recent developments on the island of Sicilee."
The person in the projection was none other than Sachertorte, an inspector in Midgar's inspection agency "Eye of Horus".
Practically no one knew that the behind-the-scenes organizer of the Food Soul inspection agency "Eye of Horus" was actually Champagne.
On the surface, they have long dealt with cases in Midgar arising among humans, Food Souls, and Fallen Angels. But in reality, they have all the while been working for Champagne, investigating clues into an organization called "Ark".
"As you might expect, not long after the Flower of Evil incident occurred, the royal family of Gloriville broke off all contact with the island. However, before that, as per your orders, Eye of Horus got to the island first and saved a group of survivors, then settled them in an old church in Midgar to quarantine. That church is being guarded by the powerful Food Soul Cookie. It will not be discovered by humans."
The hologram of Sachertorte recounted these facts with a reserved calm.
"In our communications with the survivors, they told us that the reason the royal family abandoned Sicilee was because they wanted to cover up a secret. Dozens of years ago, the residents of Sicilee collectively sold Food Souls to a secret organization under the Gloriville royal family's control in exchange for plentiful development resources."
Upon hearing this, Champagne's expression grew alert.
"...Trafficking all the same."
"Moreover, these residents informed us, the perpetrator of this Flower of Evil infestation was a Food Soul that was sold out of Sicilee back then, doing it for revenge. His name is Minestrone. As it just so happens, we have crossed paths with Minestrone several times before. We know that his spirit is broken, and that he exhibits characteristics similar to that of the Fallen."
"Piecing together reports from the residents of Sicilee, I suspect Minestrone has undergone some kind of modification, and that this organization and the Gloriville royals are connected, very possibly the very same "Ark" that we have been after all along."
The light from the box disappeared, and it flew back onto Lou's hand.
"Tell Sacher, keep investigating at full force. If there is any need of funds or equipment, I will take care of it."
"...Very well." Lou replied warmly. "Well then, that concludes the report. Your Majesty, if there is nothing else to discuss, I'll be on my way."
Champagne waved a hand, and Lou turned and left.
"...Lou," Champagne suddenly called out to him
Lou turned back, a bit uncertain.
"Is there something else, Your Majesty?"
"I very much trust you, but I'd like to once again stress... the confidentiality of this matter."
A flash of understanding immediately showed across Lou's face. He laughed and said, "Don't worry. I don't usually have dealings with Miss Priestess, and I won't go seeking out her company in the future."
"Pff, I never said that this was about her!"
"I understand. I also won't actively avoid her, so as to not arouse her suspicion."
"I said that's not what I meant!"
Champagne looked at the innocent and puzzled look on Lou's face, knowing full well that his counterpart was merely teasing him. He waved his hand agitatedly, shooing away this mischievous minister.
Now only Champagne was left in the deserted secret room.
He ran his fingers over the scepter in his hand. There was no sunlight anywhere, only candlelight illuminating this room.
But he was well accustomed to that.
Just as this world contained not only the light, as a ruler, Champagne had to master not only one way of doing things. He was also responsible for plumbing the depths of the darkness.
And that was something that a creature of the light such as Fondant Cake need not know about.
Back then, Champagne took the royal scepter of this empire from the hands of the general, making this empire the first country to be ruled by a Food Soul.
For a time, international relations were an ever-changing landscape. In addition to maintaining stability internally, he had to deal with the myriad international diplomatic relations and do all he could to establish essential partnerships between the empire and those human nations.
Fortunately with the help of Fondant Cake, through the Church in which so many have a shared faith, the empire in its infancy was able to navigate safely the dangerous waters of diplomacy. It then established new diplomatic relations with the various countries.
However, during this period, there was one enormous allied organization that flatly refused to cooperate with Champagne's empire the entire time.
That organization was none other than "Ark".
"Ark" is an international charitable organization with a sterling reputation among human nations. Its establishment can be traced back to the end of the Elven Age, at the very beginning of human history.
When the first large wave of Fallen Angels appeared in this world, some humans took it as a sign of the end times. The largest human nation at the time, "Gloriville" led the way in initiating the "Ark" plan, attempting to assemble the forces of every nation and establish a last line of defense for human civilization.
When Champagne took the reigns of the empire, the Ark organization had already been developing in this world for a thousand years. Through all the successive governments during that time, no one had ever heard of Ark completely severing relations with any one country.
And so, Champagne felt it was a bit odd. When he finally dug into the royal archives and read in detail what this organization had done in the past, he realized that a large amount of documents had been tampered with, and the members of Ark in his own country were already gone without a trace.
Not only that, in further investigations, he also discovered that the bizarre deaths of some Cooking Attendants, the fall of Food Souls, or the disappearance of old cases all had some murky connection with the Ark organization.
All of these fishy phenomena had occurred in the past one hundred years.
During this period, the supreme authority of Ark was none other than the House of Clemens of Gloriville.
In order to ascertain what Ark was actually doing behind the scenes and determine if they were harming the existence of Food Souls, Champagne deployed an investigation squad led by Sachertorte to the capital of Gloriville, Midgar.
Flame of Immortality
"Scram! You pestering rat!"
In the gloomy cave, Minestrone's red bullet barreled ruthlessly toward Turducken, hitting her black wings.
Turducken frozen up for a moment. She realized that her body had somehow changed.
That feeling for all these years of being constrained suddenly disappeared. Both her body and the energy within became incredibly relaxed and powerful... Just like... just like.. this was the way shw was always meant to be.
But what exactly was it that had happened?
As she burned up that bullet with the greatest of ease, she simultaneously replayed the events of the day at turbo speed.
Morning: attended a client's funeral at the cemetery with Pan de Muerto.
Afternoon: accepted a job from Sachertorte to repair the remains of a returned spirit unable to find its family.
That repair job was a little complicated, causing her to once again miss a dinner that Pan de Muerto had cooked. When she got back to her room, she chased off the little fox Cookie had sent to harass her at her door, then she went in and slept.
Everything was perfectly normal. Just an ordinary day if there ever was one.
She couldn't figure out what unusual thing happened to suddenly give her this form in her dream and suddenly appear in this cave she'd never been to.
Moreover, the person currently flying into a rage at her was that stubborn and obnoxious creature from so long ago -- Minestrone.
As she was thinking this, Minestrone rushed at her again, firing quite a few bullets.
Turducken was forced to temporarily pull her thoughts away from those riddles so she could properly deal with the situation at hand.
Minestrone held up the gun and looked guardedly at her. Behind him there was a panicked-looking white-haired Food Soul.
Turducken watched the actions of the person Minestrone was shielding, finding it a little amusing.
After not having seen him for so long, had this violent loner-child who loved stirring up trouble actually learned to protect others?
Although the situation didn't seem to be that simple.
She'd already realized that Minestrone had some abnormal spiritual aura about him.
What is that? She couldn't be sure.
But she instinctively felt a repulsion toward that black shadow. She knew it was a being that must be eradicated.
Turducken summoned a Nirvana Flame.
"I will eliminate the scum of your soul."
Then, Minestrone's expression suddenly changed. It was as if he'd been stabbed in an Achilles' heel he'd been trying to keep secret.
Turducken's heart leapt -- It seems, he knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Well then, now I really can't let him get away.
She assumed an attacking stance, and the flame more powerful than ever before morphed into a ghost phoenix, sweeping toward Minestrone...
"Oh... the proportions of this face are really just right..."
Turducken heard a familiar voice and opened her eyes.
Cookie grinned from ear to ear, politely backing up from the head of her bed a step. "Eh? You're back?"
Turducken chose to ignore the ruler Cookie was hiding behind her back. She sat up in bed and tentatively raised her hand.
My body... it's so heavy...
No, it's not that my body's become heavier, it's just that in the dream I was so light. Only upon awakening do I realize the pain of my soul in fetters...
Turducken moved her wrist awkwardly,
"...Cookie, I don't remember inviting you here tonight."
Cookie shrugged and sat down on the sofa, playing it cool all the while.
"I sensed that you had suddenly gone missing, and so I decided to come check in on you."
Turducken froze and looked in confusion at her own hand.
Cookie tapped her chin lightly with her finger.
"Looks like a guessed right. And, you still remember it, don't you? Just now your soul went somewhere else, and all that was left here was a body... I was almost scared to bits.:
Turducken lowered her eyes, fell silent for a moment, then slowly started to speak.
"I went to a strange place. The power there was... incredibly pure."
Cookie was curled up on the sofa, all sleepy-eyed.
"I don't care for power, but if it's a place you find interesting, then you can tell me. I'll carve one out and give it to you as a souvenir... You just need to agree to be my model."
Turducken ignored her.
"Oh yeah... just now when you woke up, your eyes were golden... just like your soul... so beautiful..."
After hazily getting out this last sentence-- and after running across over half Midgar in the middle of the night to get here-- Cookie finally fell asleep on Turducken's bedroom sofa.
Turducken leaned on the bed's headboard, gazing out the window.
The moon hung clear and bright over the cemetery, as a multitude of white ghosts wandered around in their easy and simple world.
As she watched them, a chord in her heart that had been dormant these thousand years was finally, discreetly plucked.
After staying so long in this world, one could almost forget what it was one started out looking for.
"If there really is a place like this where I no longer have to be confined to this corporeal shell, then I have to find it... even if... it's only as fleeting as a dream."
She lifted a hand and lightly toosed a blanket over Cookie, then turned away and laid down.
Before the morning broke, she still had time to slip back into a dream and find the village of souls.
Lord of Demons
Today is spring cleaning day at Satan's Coffee House.
Without even realizing it, it's already been a long, long time since Coffee and I came to live in this forest.
At the start, it was just the two of us, but later, there came many friends.
As the number of people in Satan's Coffee House grew, all kinds of objects also piled up in the coffee house over the days and months.
So we decided to use today to do a thorough cleaning.
"...Is this your dress?"
As she was helping me straighten up the room, Black Tea suddenly asked this question. I turned and saw she had fished out a long, black dress from among my clothes.
I thought it looked a little familiar, but it definitely didn't look like a style or cut that I would have chosen.
Then, Black Tea bent over and dragged out a much heavier object from the same place she had found that dress.
"...Is this yours too?"
She was referring to a giant black battle axe in her hand, with a complex look in her eye that said, "Do I even know you?".
Seeing that finally jogged my memory.
To tell the story of that outfit, one would have to go back to a time long, long ago.
--At that time, there wasn't even a "Satan's Coffee House".
At that time, me and Coffee, and our Attendant, were living in a town together. Up until a great fire burned Attendant to death and turned our house into a complete ruin.
In order realize our Attendant's dream from when he was still alive, we opened the first coffee house in the town. With Tiramisu's help, it did pretty decent business.
But not long after that, Tiramisu came to find me in secret and told me the truth.
All of the thriving and prospering that we were experiencing was just the work of Tiramisu, making it seem that way to us in accordance with our Attendant's wishes, which had been entrusted to Tiramisu before the his death.
The humans never truly accepted this new coffee drink. They were only screwing up their courage and coming to our shop to drink some because Tiramisu made it worth their while.
Moreover, Tiramisu said, the death of our Attendant was no accident. It was a hit job by activists who opposed equality between Food Souls and humans.
I asked Tiramisu why she was only telling me about this.
She said, after the Attendant passed, I seemed more even-keeled than Coffee, and so she guessed I'd be able to more readily absorb the blow of this truth.
She said she was really worried about Coffee. She knew she'd have to tell him sooner or later, but seeing how passionately he through himself into his work at the coffee house, she hesitated a long time. In the end, she decided to tell the truth to me first, then let me decided what should be done.
"You tell him. He'll make up his own mind."
That was my answer to Tiramisu.
The next day, the shop was extremely busy, and I was performing my normal duties.
Even though I knew the people who came in were probably forcing smiles and holding back fear, and that they probably furtively dumped out their coffees soon after I diligently packaged and handed it to them, I still didn't let on that anything was out of the ordinary.
We were just partners in a transaction. No matter what their reasons were for coming, once money exchanged hands, all I needed to do was provide the service.
And then, Tiramisu arrived.
As expected, she called Coffee to come away in private.
That day, up until the coffee house closed shop, Coffee still hadn't returned.
After finishing up with cleaning, I finally found him on the rooftop, all alone.
He was looking off into the distance. Tiramisu must have snuck off at some point.
Coffee clearly already knew everything. He looked at me, and I waited for his decision.
He fell silent a moment, then finally spoke.
"Let's leave this place and go live somewhere that's not easy for humans to find."
I had already prepared myself for any decision he might have made, but hearing him really say it out loud, I still needed a long time before I could compose myself and make a reply.
"Got it." That's what I said.
After that day, we spent some time getting our things in order, including shutting down our short-lived coffee house business.
Coffee was in a constant funk, but he never said a word about it to me.
He had always set the tone of our relationship, so when he wasn't talking, I didn't know what to say either.
All the way until the day before we were going to set out.
I packed up my bag and came out to see Coffee sitting in the coffee shop, a ring of keys sitting on the empty table before him.
-- They were the keys to our Attendant's house, which was also our former home. But the door had been burned up in the fire. The keys were now useless.
I rarely try to guess what's on other people's minds. Too bothersome.
But this day, I suddenly really wanted to do something for Coffee, so I asked him, "Do you want to go check out the old place?"
Ever since the fire, we had never been back.
Coffee had said he didn't want to stir up old feelings; and I simply thought, now that Attendant wasn't there anymore, it didn't matter what the house was like, so I never went back either.
"Coffee, I don't like to ask twice."
"...No, let's not go. We're leaving here tomorrow. I don't want to get angry and impulsive and do something I can't take back."
"You go get some rest. I'm going out for a walk."
Coffee stood up. As he passed by me, he patted my head, seemingly to console me, but I thought that at that moment he seemed to need consoling more than me.
I looked at that key on the coffee table, then walked over and picked it up.
Attendant's house had been turned into a ruin in the fire.
I didn't know what emotion Coffee could still be harboring toward this pile of rubble, but I decided to come here for him, thinking maybe it would cheer him up somehow.
But when I got here and set foot on the black ash, for a moment I didn't even know where to look to say a final goodbye to our Attendant.
Everything was completely changed.
I looked all around, and finally noticed at the doorway a milk crate fallen on the ground.
It had been charred black, already completely different from how I remembered it.
But when I recognized it, I still felt a wave of emotion.
The reason why was because one of the tasks Attendant gave me was to get the milk from the milk crate every morning.
It was a boring task, and I protested with Attendant many times, but he remained stubborn about it.
"Although it may seem like repetitive work, actually every day the crate is in a different place. And the milk you get is different every day. The temperature isn't the same either, and the little flowers and grasses in the garden change every day, and..."
He would go on and on like that, until I lost my patience and walked off.
Until later when Coffee came, and he told me in secret that actually Attendant did this on purpose. He thought I was usually too emotionally detached, and it seemed like only by making me do repetitive work that I'd become a little more "lively".
In other words, he was making me angry on purpose.
Such perverse fascinations these humans have.
I had indeed long yearned for the day I wouldn't have to do these repetitive tasks.
But after Attendant had gone and this yearning could become reality, I found that I wasn't actually much happier.
At that thought, I decided to open this crate one last time. My intention was to put the keys to the house in it, which seemed to me like a fitting goodbye.
But I never expected that the crate wasn't empty. There was a letter inside.
Because it was placed in this milk crate far away from where the fire started, it had escaped all the devastation. This was quite possibly our Attendant's sole thing still left on this earth.
I opened it.
In a bit of a surprise, the letter was written by the Attendant to none other than myself and Coffee.
That day disaster fell, he had a premonition about it, and that's why he sent me and Coffee out, staying back by himself in the house. Then he hastily wrote this letter, and not long after, he was attacked by the opposing faction and engulfed in a sea of flames.
The letter was really too long-- long-winded just like the Attendant himself.
There were a few main points.
The Attendant believed Food Souls were a heaven-sent gift to this world, so he always strove to get obstinate people to accept the existence of Food Souls. But he also guessed that if he sacrificed himself on this battlefield, then me and Coffee would most probably keep our distance from humans and never come back.
So all he could do was leave this letter. He said that humans in this world need the help of Food Souls for many things, and he hoped we would continue helping humanity. But this was his own private hope. He wouldn't force us to do it, which is why he placed this letter inside the milk crate.
-- "In light of how much you despise this crate, Milk, after I'm gone, you very likely will never open it again. So, whether this letter is ever seen by you two is a matter I'm leaving up to fate."
-- "Of course, if there's a one in ten thousand chance that you, Milk, voluntarily open this crate, see the letter inside, and read it, then I just have to say: See? Even after doing the same thing over and over again ten thousand times, there are still unexpected benefits to be had, are there not? So in the end, you have to admit that I win this argument."
...Such an obstinate human.
I took the letter back to the coffee house and told everything to Coffee.
After reading the letter, Coffee fell into a long silence.
Our luggage was all packed, and the carriage was readied for our departure the following day. The coffee house had already been sold off to another merchant.
But I knew none of that was important. The important thing was what he was thinking.
To help humans? Or to keep away from them?
"Get to bed. We have an early start tomorrow."
Finally, Coffee said that.
After me and Coffee left the town, all around Gloriville, overnight there appeared a large number of mysterious black letter boxes.
The people felt both astonishment and fear. No one knew who had put them there.
This was Coffee's idea.
In the end, he decided after all to give humanity one chance.
In the words of our Attendant, writing a letter or receiving a letter at a letter box like this only had a one-in-ten-thousand chance of working. And that was as much of a chance as he was willing to give them.
Since humans saw Food Souls as frightening creatures, then why not let the equally-feared Satan become our codename.
Coffee wanted to see under what circumstances humans would surrender to their desires and make a devil's bargain, no matter the cost.
For a long time, the letter boxes remained empty.
Until the first letter appeared.
But the contents of this letter were far removed from what we were expecting.
The author of the letter was a child. In puerile language, he related how his village had been attacked by Fallen Angels, and that he wanted to pay his soul to the devil to get back his parents.
With no hesitation, we decided to go to the location written on the letter to check it out.
To our surprise, in that village we saw our old friend Tiramisu.
She was helping the villagers heal the wounded and handle post-disaster affairs, and looking extremely proficient at it.
Upon seeing us, Tiramisu's eyes lit up, and she put us to work without much standing on ceremony.
We worked till nightfall, but everything was finally settled.
"I'm glad you both came. It made everything go so smoothly. Thank you guys." Tiramisu had worked all day, but still had that smile on her face.
And the gratefulness and warmth of the villagers around us made Coffee and me feel even more awkward.
We got out of there pretty fast.
On our way back, Coffee suddenly told me that he kind of understood what Attendant meant in that letter.
Humans weren't born despising Food Souls. They were just too weak, so they feared anything powerful or unknown.
Their weakness was the reason why they had to exclude those different from them.
I agreed with his realization.
After returning, me and Coffee wrote a reply letter to that child in the voice of his parents.
We told him that his parents were doing well now, living in a place called Satan's Coffee House, and that although they weren't by his side, they would always protect and watch over him.
Later, after being "forced" by Coffee, I bought a black dress and delivered the letter to the child's house, pretending to be a real demon.
The child read the letter and held it to his chest like a precious gem, then looked timidly at me.
"Are you going to take away my soul?"
I told him, "Yes, but your soul is too small right now, so we decided to leave it with you for the time being, for a period of one hundred years."
And that's the story of this outfit.
The story of me and Coffee, and everything that happened with Satan's Coffee House after that, all officially started from there.
Bud of Survival
"I'm Soft Serve Cone. Professor Westminster of the Academy of Magic recommended me for an internship here at the seed bank."
Soft Serve Cone presented the recommendation letter with two hands and stood meekly awaiting the results of the approval process.
At the reception window, a fat woman wearing a white lab coat took the letter between her fingers and looked at her through the glass.
"Are you sure you're ready to intern here?"
"Yes. I've been yearning to work at the Garden of Eden seed bank for a long time."
"The last intern employed here said that too. Ended up frozen stiff in a matter of days."
"I'm not scared. I naturally enjoy ice-cold places."
"Alright. I hope you can last for a while. Please wait here."
She muttered rapidly.
Then, she scooted over, took a deep breath as if reluctant about something, and hopped off the chair. For a split-second, Soft Serve Cone seemed to see a tail-like object flutter behind her, but in the blink of an eye, it disappeared.
Soft Serve Cone looked around left and right, pretending she hadn't seen a thing.
Before coming, she'd heard that Midgar's Garden of Eden was a mysterious botanical garden, home to lots of bizarre Food Souls. When coming here on an internship, one had best stay on their good side and not be too nosy.
And anyway she was coming here entirely for the advanced research environment. It was said that this place had the most authoritative and most complete ecological database, a veritable heaven for researchers, and so for that, she could put up with odd work colleagues and surroundings...
"Put this on and follow me."
Just then, the fat woman walked out of the room with the reception window and tossed her a white lab coat.
Soft Serve Cone scrambled to catch it and obediently put it on.
She walked along following the fat woman, soon arriving at a small one-storey house.
"We're here. Don't go forward."
The fat woman called Soft Serve Cone to a halt as she tried to keep walking.
Soft Serve Cone batted her eyes and looked confusedly at her, then looked back down at the place where they'd stopped.
This was a swathe of forest. Aside from the house before them, there wasn't anything.
"Right, this is the place."
The fat woman reached out with both hands, which both appeared quite slender. It was then Soft Serve realized the woman wasn't fat after all, but rather that she was wearing a bunch of large sweaters.
She pushed open the door of the little home, exposing a cramped space on the inside with nothing in it.
Soft Serve followed her in hesitantly.
Before she had a chance to express any reservations, the sweater-wearing woman quickly closed the door shut. Then, she must've pressed a button somewhere, because suddenly the floor under their feet sunk swiftly downward--
Soft Serve Cone failed to stifle a shout.
But the fall ended quickly.
The door of the little house opened again. A gust of cold air hit her face, and an intense artificial light dazzled Soft Serve's eyes.
"Come on out. This is the seed bank."
Soft Serve Cone rubbed her eyes and stepped forward.
There were aisles all around, running off in every direction. Many people in white lab coats like her were coming and going busily along the aisles.
--It was an entire research center built underground!
"Follow me this way. Stick close. If you get lost here and end up somewhere you're not supposed to be, you're on your own."
After the initial shock wore off, Soft Serve Cone hurried off in the footsteps of her guide.
Her inquisitive nature was piqued by her companion's warning.
"What do you mean by somewhere I'm not supposed to be?"
"An area where ancient elf plant seeds are stored, of course."
"They have those here?"
The fat woman gave a look of surprise to Soft Serve. "You didn't even know that?"
"Sorry, back at the Academy I was always researching Food Soul zoology... It was Professor Westminster who said that my weakest area was natural science, so really I don't know much about this..."
"Alright, then for the sake of Professor Westminster." The fat woman shrugged, "At any rate, those are very dangerous things, and it is forbidden to go near them by decree of the garden director."
"But they're just plant seeds. What could happen just by getting close to them?"
"Those seeds aren't like the seeds you're thinking of. If a person is infected by one, it could cause a disaster of unimaginable scale."
The fat woman squinted her eyes, as if recalling some incident from long ago.
"Did something happen before?"
The fat woman shook her head.
"It seems you really don't know much, do you?"
"I'm truly sorry. Teacher, can you tell me about it?"
Soft Serve's use of the word "Teacher" put the fat woman in a good mood.
A grudging look came over her face.
"Oh, alright. It's not like it's some big secret."
"Garden of Eden back then didn't have these advanced facilities and research center. Nor did it have so many employees, so the director had to go out himself to gather seeds and perform experiments."
"One time, he obtained a plant from the age of the ancient elves. The plant was called "Flower of Evil", and he grew one with the intention of collecting its seed to enrich what was then a barren seed bank. To his surprise, during his experiment, the seed was stolen by a Food Soul. The Flower of Evil became a parasite within that Food Soul and turned him into a murderous, bloodthirsty demon that wreaked havoc in Midgar... From that time on, the director hasn't allowed anyone near these seeds."
"Something like that actually happened in Garden of Eden before?"
"You bet it has. Which reminds me, if it wasn't for that Food Soul hosting the Flower of Evil being connected to Ark, after such a big mess that it caused, who knows how badly our director would've been chastised... What's with that look on your face? You mean you don't even know about Ark?"
Soft Serve Cone smiled apologetically.
"You really have been living under a rock or something! This is a really long story. If you want the detailed history, you'll have to find all that out on your own time, but basically, Ark is a charitable organization that actually assembled together a cabal of extremist humans that have secretively performed Food Soul experiments. They use Food Souls bought on the black market as their test subjects, modifying their bodies into weapons, even wanting to create artificial gods, which they say is for defending against the apocalypse. Don't you think that's so laughable?"
"Using Food Souls to create gods? That's just too foolish!"
Soft Serve Cone exclaimed.
"Who said it wasn't?"
The fat woman started off on another rant.
"That Food Soul that was infected with Flower of Evil, he was a test subject that had escaped from Ark, so after he had the Flower of Evil parasite within him, he used it to get revenge on Ark, and caused a whole mess of trouble. Fortunately the director and his friend fixed all of that up, although, they say that they paid a heavy price for it at the time..."
"And sooo...," the fat woman halted her steps, pushed open a corridor door, then turned sideways to let Soft Serve Cone enter, "...in the future, you are not to go near those plants. Even if you are a Food Soul, those seeds are extremely dangerous. Understand?"
"Right, I won't. I'm just going to do the work that you all assign me."
The fat woman nodded in satisfaction.
"Alright, this is your laboratory. Your work is to analyze seeds gathered from various locations, and to ensure the viability of the normal seeds in the seed bank. As for the specifics, your teacher will teach you all that when he comes."
"Thank you for your guidance."
The fat woman waved a hand, then turned and left.
Soft Serve Cone was left by herself in the laboratory, and her expression relaxed as she looked around curiously at all the various equipment. In her left hand, she picked up a microscope; in her right, she opened a glass case, examining them in boredom as she muttered something inaudible to herself.
"Use Food Souls to create gods? What an inferior method... What my Attendant is hatching is a brand new god..."