Life's Little Scars
"Dreadfully bitter, sinfully sweet;
Liquid life flowing from my veins.
Blade to my skin, whip to my flesh;
This is how much I love the world."
They're hurting again.
Not as bad as some days, where the pain is enough that I want to cry and leap off the mountain; tonight, it's just a little throbbing. Nothing a cup of tea and some reading can't help me ignore.
The night is nice, cool and dry and quiet; the sky is clear and the forests aren't buzzing with noise. Relaxing. Normally, I'd be asleep by now, with Pepper nearby helping me stay warm and Caleb keeping watch the whole night. I suppose being an automated doll has its usefulness in some areas. Unless he's overexerted himself a heck of a lot, he never needs to sleep, and even when he's recharging he's just in what he calls Standby Mode, and he can jump out of that and be at full power in the blink of an eye if he was needed.
Tonight, though, I don't sleep. I want to enjoy the night a little longer. That, and I can't sleep if they're hurting. So, while Pepper's snoozing away like a giant cat and Caleb's making another round at patrolling this little meadow, I make some tea, dig out my recipe book and get to reading. It's all in elven lettering, so that's good. My mind can busy itself with translating the recipes and maybe then I'll forget the pain.
But I open the pages and, stuck between two of them, is a sheet of paper I thought I'd put somewhere else for safekeeping. I pull it free and open it, checking the date in the corner. It's fairly recent; I haven't been able to update it since I joined Caleb on his journey to the seals, not only because I haven't been able to find my healer friend but also because Caleb would blow a fuse if he ever saw it.
Or maybe he has, he's just not telling me about it. He has the perfect expressionless face when he wants it, can freeze it so no one knows what's going on in his head...
Not stopping. The pain isn't dying away this time. The paper crumples in my hands as I try to push down the sensations, try to shove them away in the corner of my head. It works for the moment and I spread the sheet open to study it.
On it is a sketch of a human figure, with brief tracings of lines and marks on what is supposed to be its back, arms and legs. It's a medical chart, used to catalog and keep track of old wounds, scars and injuries. This particular chart is mine.
I trace my fingertip lightly over each line on the drawing as the throbbing starts up again. Each scar stings almost in concert with my study. And as always, each one holds a story, a memory, of how I earned every last one of them, and a few of those stories come to mind.
Here's one. A thick line that traces down from just behind my right shoulder-blade to the center of my back. That one was particularly painful. It stings to think about it. I got that one when I was fourteen, only five months in my duties as Wonder Chef, from a Desian whipmaster. Horrible experience, that one. My first attempt to rescue a kidnapped victim and the first time I took someone's life. The young woman was lagging behind in a death march, looked over by the Desian as he tried getting her to stand and continue. They were alone, unguarded, so it looked like an easy rescue.
Suffice to say, I botched it, earning that lash to the back as I sent the woman running into the underbrush of the forest. I had thought the sleep okonomiyaki would have knocked him out, but apparently the food hadn't penetrated the Desian's helmet. I ended up hurling one of my cooking knives at him and it lodged in his throat. He died there, right before me, and I felt sick to my stomach. Even though he was a cruel person for what he did to that woman, even though he tried to kill me as well, I gave him a decent burial, even said a prayer for him as I finished. I threw the knife away and never saw the girl I saved again.
The scar had faded some, you can still see the white strip of skin if you look closely enough. Not the first scar I got defying the Desians... defying Mithos Yggdrasill. But it was one of the more damaging ones.
This one was pleasant, and I mean that sarcastically. I'm not a masochist... or maybe I am? Well, who knows, but the puncture mark on the sheet right there on my left leg, somewhere above my knee... yeah, that one. I honestly thought I was going to die when I got that one.
Bet you didn't know that I was in the Remote Island Ranch when Lloyd was there. Bet you again that when Rodyle took him on it was while he was under the effects of my paella recipe. And here's the kicker; I cooked that recipe for him, knowing as I stood there and watched him eat it that he was going to use that power to try to kill Lloyd and his group. It wasn't willing, I assure you. That puncture wound in my leg was from a bolt fired on me. Those archers are good shots, and the pain of it was so immense, I couldn't focus my thoughts to use the Wonder Fork to escape.
That's what I get for not hiding well enough to follow Lloyd in Palmacosta. I get my stupid self kidnapped and ordered to beef up security's power with my recipes. Luckily, I only used the weaker versions of the recipes, as I had given out the better ones to Lloyd already. Well, most of them.
I restrain the compulsion to touch my neck. Not easy. Thinking of that puncture wound leads me to thinking of the bruises on my neck, the ones Rodyle gave me as thanks for my cooking. What saved me was the alarm as Lloyd breached the higher levels of the ranch.
Oddly enough, even though I should hate that guy for what he did to me, I only feel sorry for him. I mean, Rodyle died horribly that day... maybe it was a sign that my cooking skills were going to fail? Though it sounds strange, sounds unbelievable, I just don't hate him. Rodyle didn't deserve the end he got, no one does; and I always say a prayer for that poor Desian on the anniversary of his death.
There it is. My first scar. Not on the paper, because I refuse to have it charted. It's here, on my face, just above my left eye. Why do you think I wear my hair like this? Certainly not to attract girls, though my uncle would beg to differ and my father would step up the search for a suitable bride.
It's not very big, but it's noticeable if you stare at me long enough, assuming I'm dumb enough to not comb my hair down over my eye like this. It's a small scar, cuts down through part of my eyebrow and kinda makes it look a little wrong. I got it when I was eight from a Desian Grand Cardinal. I think his name was Kvra or Kevar or something, I dunno.
Point is, I was someplace I shouldn't have been and got caught up in a really bad Desian raid on a small village. Kinda pointless to say the name of the village, not only was it utterly decimated but my accent at the time wouldn't let me pronounce it properly. So I just call it Maroon. I had friends there, when my father finally allowed me the luxury of escaping Hima for a brief bit of normalcy. They're dead now, thanks to what's-his-name. Oh, I tried to save them; according to the deal between Cruxis and the Wonder Organization, Desians can't do anything to members of the Organization. We all wear red scarfs and capes because of it, as a sign of who we are. Being just a kid, I had a neckerchief and when I saw what was happening to Maroon, I tried to put it on a close friend of mine, hoping it would trick the Desians into leaving at least her alone.
That was an utter failure. She was still dragged away because the Cardinal saw us and he backhanded me when I refused to tell him my name. The ring on his hand opened the cut over my eye and I hid myself for a few days to cover the whole thing up. Needless to say, that event severely traumatized my view of things. I cleaned myself up as best I could, prayed fervently for my friends to be all right, then gave myself the hairstyle you see today.
It was that event that made me decide to become Wonder Chef to begin with, so that I could somehow, someway, find a way to stop the cycle of life and death. I even thought that the spell on the Wonder Fork, Incineration, would be strong enough to defeat Mithos and force him to reunite the worlds.
Goddess, I was stupid... and I still am...
Oh, he's staring at me now. I put the paper away, slowly, so I don't look suspicious, sip at my tea and smile up at him.
"Hey, Caleb, nice night, huh?" I remark, hoping to divert any questions he may have.
"Yeah. You looked strange for a minute there. Something wrong?" he asks. I shrug and finish my tea. He calls me his best friend, and I suppose I feel the same way. It's been so long since I had a friend who wasn't of the Wonder Organization, wasn't on their payroll. Sometimes, I'm afraid I'll lose Caleb the same way I lost my other friends... like I lost Deanna. So I snap at him on occasions, insult him, beat him, and short of casting Incineration on him I've been as vicious as I could to keep him out of my past, to keep him at a safe distance.
"I'm fine. Just thinking of stuff." I tell him curtly. He frowns at me, walks up and sits by me, gazing into the fire he had Pepper set earlier. "Really. I'm okay. Go work on your archives. Be sure you have space for when we visit the next seal." I press on, annoyed that he seemed to ignore my tone.
"I get the idea. I have plenty of space." Caleb mutters and glances back at me, "You've been awfully quiet lately. If anything's troubling you, don't hold it in. Talk to me, talk to Pepper, just talk to one of us. We're friends, Wren."
"It's Wonder Chef stuff. You wouldn't understand." I lie and ignore Pepper's sleepy growl. That beast can sense everything, even when she's out like a light, and never hesitates to put her two cents in. "I wasn't talking to you, Pepper. So butt out." I gripe and wince as Caleb grabs my ear and tugs on it.
"Be nice. She's only being worried about you." he scolds. I hate it when he does that. I feel like such a baby when he scolds me, like I'm not doing good enough to be his friend. Just like I'm not doing good enough to be the Wonder Chef.
"Sorry, Pepper." I apologize and jerk my head away with a slight gasp, Caleb's fingers tried to brush my hair away, the strands that hide the scar. "Don't do that!" I hiss at him and he gives me a confused look. Maybe he doesn't know about the scar?
Nope, I'm wrong again. He's holding my arm this time, tight enough that it hurts to move, and lifts my hair away with his free hand. I shut my eyes, flinch at his sharp intake of air, and again when I feel his fingertip trace the scar.
"Who did this to you?" he asks softly.
"I did. I was clumsy as a kid." I reply, unwilling to open my eyes, "My arm hurts." He loosens his grip, retraces the scar lightly.
"Does it hurt?" he asks when I shudder.
"No. Just looks bad. That's why I hide it." I force a smile, "Can't scare away the girls, right? Need to find a girlfriend for the sake of the Voraci name, right?" He lets go of me, I open my eyes and brush my hair back down. Now he's just sitting there, watching me, that thoughtful look on his face.
"It can be repaired, the damage reduced. When I learn how, I'll treat it." he finally says slowly and his eyes hold mine steady, "Along with the others." I stiffen at that.
Good Goddess, he knows!
"They're not that bad." I tell him and his expression turns fierce.
"Not bad? Then why do you whimper on some nights when you sleep? Why does the supply of medical herbs dwindle faster than your ingredients for meat stew and fruit salad?" he asks me harshly, "Tell me, Wren, why do you flinch in pain when nothing has touched you and you think no one is watching?"
"I'm invoking the rule of the Wonder Chef; my reasons are my own." I snap back at him, "Leave me alone, Caleb; you don't control me!" He ignores me, I know he's doing that; the light flickers out of his eyes briefly as he conveniently filters out my voice for that span of time.
Suddenly, his fingers are tracing short jagged lines at the base of my throat, quick flicks of his fingertips that sketch out a broken pattern of dashes and cuts. For a moment I don't understand what he's doing, but then I stiffen as I remember what caused those scars and my eyes go wide.
"What about these?" Caleb asks me softly, "I saw them once in Triet, when it was so hot at night you actually slept in the nude to reduce the heat." My face feels hot now.
"You pervert!" I hiss and pull away, "Don't touch me!" Caleb glares at me, an indignant expression on his face.
"Don't lump me with Zelos. I merely gave you the routine examination to be sure you were still in good health. I did not lower the bedsheets beyond your waist, if that's what you're implying." He gives me this strange grin, teeth flashing perfect white. "Maybe you're the sick one, Wonder Chef. Did you hope I would pull the covers off of you completely?"
"Don't call me that either!" I yell at him angrily, "I'm no pervert and you promised not to call me Wonder Chef when I'm with you!"
"Then don't invoke the Wonder Chef's power when you deal with me. Such a hypocrite; you use it like a slave, then complain it enslaves you." the doll growls back at me, "Now about those scars. Who did that to you?"
"The chain I wear around my neck; does that ring a bell?" I grumble another lie, "It scratches my skin when it catches on my clothes. Don't do anymore of your 'examinations' unless I'm conscious."
"Kind of hard to do that, considering you keep getting knocked out by something or another." he remarks offhandedly and smiles at me. I recognize that; he's trying to play down the tension, get me to relax again. It's the closest he gets to an apology without outright saying it.
"Maybe if got your nose out of your books, you'd see things coming my way a lot sooner so you can warn me." I shoot back. I can't help it. His smile is far too infectious, damn that face. Within moments we're laughing again, Pepper stirs and gives us a death glare for waking her before dropping off to sleep again, and Caleb rubs my hair the wrong way.
Gah! I hate that! My sister does it all the time! But I endure it, fix my hair when he's done, and settle into bed. After all, tomorrow, we're going to continue archiving the Summon Spirit Seals, and I'm going to continue training myself on using dwarven recipes. Caleb says good-night to me, but he has a strange expression on his face. He smirks once, shakes his head and turns around to keep watch again. I give a mental shrug and close my eyes to sleep.
In the morning, I find a new scar on me, just above my heart, a small curved nick that stings when I press a finger to it. It's still bleeding, just a little, and I shoot Caleb a rather malicious glare.
"What the hell did you do to me?" I snap at he just stares at me.
"For all the times you've hurt me, now I add my mark to you." he replies and lifts a fingertip. There's a bit of rust-color on the edge of his nail. What the hell is going on in this man's mind? "Life is inflicting scars upon us both, some more obvious to the naked eye than others. What's one small scratch between friends?" he asks innocently.
"I didn't do anything to you!" I yell, "You jerk!" He just smiles at me.
"I'm sure you'll think of something, Wren. In fact, here's a challenge." he remarks brightly and twirls his finger in the air. "I left a scar of my own on you, to show that I have your life in my hands and am responsible for all that it entails. Hence why those scars of yours concern me; you're my best friend and I don't want anything more to hurt you." He traces short, jagged lines over himself, mimicking the scars on my neck from last night. "However, I cannot be scarred like you can; I can repair physical damages to perfection." he muses aloud, watching me as I follow his motions with my own eyes. It's a little scary watching him; some of his tracings come close to the Key Crest on his body and if he were to just stop and think about what he's doing, he'd know I seriously lied to him.
"If you can find a way to inflict a scar on me that I cannot erase, then I'll put my life in your hands, too. Not right now, of course, but when I feel the time is right, my existence will be yours to do with as you please." Caleb finishes softly, "I was built to be a servant, but I have no master. Maybe... this way... I'll have a purpose again..."
"I'll think about it." I tell him. If his tracing my scars on himself wasn't scary enough, those words alone would have kept me awake for a week. He smiles and casts First Aid on me.
"Okay, then! Sun's up and the weather is fine; let's get going!" he remarks cheerfully and heads off to load up Pepper's harness.
He scares me sometimes, that doll. But I'd have been dead long ago if it weren't for him.
I trace the scar he gave me, stick my bloodied finger in my mouth, and think over the one that Cardinal gave me, that Kev-something. Kvar. That's it.
I suppose I should hate him; he basically destroyed my childhood, any hope I had of being normal. You could say that it's Kvar's fault I'm the Wonder Chef; so if you have a problem with me, blame Kvar. Eru became Wonder Chef purely by chance; he was trying to save the people of his country and wound up saving the world quite by accident.
I became Wonder Chef to hide the blood that stains my hands, the scars that were inflicted upon my soul and heart. Is that wrong? Certainly feels that way to me.
I pull my green over-shirt back on, button it up to my neck and throw the cape I usually leave on in my bag.
I don't hate Kvar. Even though I should for all the atrocities he's committed against everyone, including me, I don't hate him. I feel sick for him, for the things he did; I feel angry for what he caused for others; but it never gets to the point where I can say without a doubt 'I hate him'. I can hate what he did, but I can't hate the man. In the end, he was being used, too. Just like all of us. Why should I isolate him in hatred when it could have easily been anyone else?
No, if anyone in this world deserves my hatred it is myself. I'm the one screwing things up. Every scar on my body is physical proof that I'm not worth the air I breathe, the food I eat, the water I drink. Constant, painful reminders that I'm a failure in everyone's eyes, a threat to the Wonder Organization's way of life, and a sinful Wonder Chef. After all, an impure Wonder Chef can't make the Ultimate Recipe, according to the Council. And if that's the case then I'll never be able to make it.
And that's fine with me, because I hate being stuck in this role. I love what I can do while I'm there, but in the end, looking at it with the Wonder Chef part of me as a separate being... I hate it.
I hate the Wonder Chef. There, I thought it. Gasp and shock. I never wanted to be Wonder Chef to begin with; I only became it because of Kvar and all he did to me, to my friends. I wanted to stay angry at him, hoped it would last long enough for me to gather the courage to poison the whole of Cruxis and the Desians.
Heh, didn't work.
I couldn't hate them, I just didn't have the heart for it. I defied them all dozens of times, earned each of the scars for them, but I didn't hate them. I cared about them all, strangely enough. And the scars... well.
They're the Wonder Chef's fault. I was just Adam Voraci in chef clothes trying to help the people, and the Wonder Chef punished my defiant nature through others with these wounds and scars. When I think of it like that, I feel better about it. It's okay. I'm the one being hated for being sinful, so it frees me up to care for others.
Yay, I'm a hate sponge.
But this one. This scar that Caleb gave me. I don't know what to think of it. He wasn't angry with me when he did it; he doesn't hate me, either. On the contrary, I think he loves me as much as I do him.
It's not bleeding anymore; I guess I swallowed up what little blood hadn't vanished from the spell. Strange little scar, born not of anger or hatred or the spirit of the Wonder Chef's need to put me in my place as his slave. I think...
I think I like this scar.
"What are you grinning about?" Caleb asks in confusion as I join him with my pack. I'll never tell; never tell him how I feel about myself, what I've done, what I am, what I feel towards others, this strange unconditional softness towards people that I've felt since I was a child.
I'll never tell, and I'll take all the pain and anger and hatred the world gives me and swallow it; swallow it and let it continue poisoning me until the day I'm set free of my culinary chains. Maybe the world will learn to love itself the way I love it once I'm done.
"Thanks." I simply tell him. "For being my friend. For everything." I smile wider and nod my head once. "Just thanks. Really."
I have a new scar now. It burrows from my skin to my heart and burns itself onto my soul. It's just a little nick, a strange little curve, but it seems so profound. My best friend has made himself a part of my life, my being, for all my life, and hasn't realized it. I'll return the favor somehow. Until then, I'm enjoying this little pain.
Maybe I am masochistic. Ha ha! A new sin!