A/N: I have mixed feelings about this chapter. I had fun making all the creatures and plants, but I think I may have gotten carried away. Because of it, my sister tells me that some parts move too slowly. She might be right. This chapter turned out to be literally twice as long as I expected. . And I already threw out several thousand words along the way. Although part of it is likely because I was trying to emulate the structure of a Toriko side adventure. I considered spending more time trying to fix the slow parts, but, in the end, I decided to move on since it's already taken so long. So yeah, thanks for your patience. Enjoy! ^_^

Disclaimer: I don't own the DCMK or Toriko characters.

Toriko Timeline: Consider this a side venture during the time when the Kings were training in preparation for entering the Gourmet World.


14: Let's Eat!

(World 14: Toriko)

When he'd seen the translocater's latest shape, Kaito had expected a highly civilized world packed with high-rise restaurants or something of the sort. He had not expected endless stretches of wilderness without a single building anywhere in sight.

He had caught a glimpse of a sea of dark, forest treetops and jagged, mountain ridges beneath a blue sky traced with clouds when the world had first stabilized around him. Having been some few hundred feet up in the air—again—however, he had not had much time to appreciate the view. He'd managed to engage his glider in time to save himself from crash landing, but it had been a close thing. And now he was here in this forest clearing, trying to remember exactly what the lay of the land had looked like from above and hoping that Shinichi had arrived at a more reasonable altitude.

X

This was, Shinichi reflected, a whole new way to hit the ground running. His feet slipped and slid under him, flying across the ground not because he was telling them to but because the very steep slope combined with gravity's irresistible pull made them do so. The moment he missed a step was the moment he would go head first down the rest of this almost-but-not-quite-a-cliff. Considering that he couldn't yet actually see what lay in wait at the foot of it, he doubted he would survive the plummet. Actually, even if he continued at this frankly unnatural pace all the way down, chances were still high that he was going to break every bone in his body. It all depended on what was waiting for him at the bottom.

If he was lucky, the slope would gradually level out, allowing him to regain control of the runaway train that was his own two legs. If he was really lucky, that flattening path would be wide open and bare of any trees or rocks that he might crash into. But he wasn't expecting that level of luck. Still, a gradually flattening slope dotted with the occasional tree and rock would still be preferable to the alternatives. The slope could decide to transform all the way into a sheer cliff, for instance. Then no amount of mad scrambling would stop him from simply falling down to the invisible ground below. A ground which could be covered in large, jutting boulders or tall, burly trees with long, spiky branches for arms and a whole lot of rough bark. Water was a more pleasing possibility, But again, depending on how the rest of this mad dash went, he could break bones just as easily being dashed against water as he could getting dashed against rock.

As his mind whirled with all the terrible things that could be waiting for him at the end of his next few minutes of life, Shinichi almost didn't notice the little white squirrel that was running alongside him. No, wait, it wasn't a squirrel. It was a bird—then a hare—then a bird again.

"K—Kishiro!" he gasped. It was hard to get any words out through the heavy panting he needed to get enough oxygen into his lungs for the running. "What is it?"

The Spirit Beast leapt upwards then, body shimmering and becoming lupine again. Its jaws gaped open then shut with a snap just inches away from a glittering green stone that Shinichi hadn't noticed falling almost level with him. Kishiro never got the chance to try again because someone—or rather something—else got to it first.

Shinichi almost stumbled, but he managed to catch himself in time before he fulfilled his earlier predictions about tumbling down the incline. "Was that—?"

Kishiro barked.

Shinichi cursed. It had to have been their stone. It couldn't have been anything else.

And there it was being carried away in the claws of a bird unlike anything Shinichi had ever seen before. For one, it was massive. He might have compared it to an eagle except that eagles didn't have serpentine bodies or two extra pairs of legs. It was the middle pair that had snatched their stone right out from between Kishiro's jaws. The right foot in the middle pair, to be exact. The word "dragon" came to mind as well, but the thing was clearly avian, not reptilian. And its head was that of a bird of prey. It looked very much like someone had taken an eagle, supersized it, then stretched it out until its body was long enough to accommodate the extra limbs. The entire creature was covered in black, silver, white, and gold feathers. All except for its long sweep of a tail, which shimmered with all seven colors of the rainbow.

Kishiro snarled and leapt after the creature. Left with no choice, Shinichi tried to veer his steps in their general direction. But this turned out to be a terrible mistake. His right foot slipped out and his left foot slipped forward, and suddenly he was looking up at the blue, blue sky from flat on his back. It might have been a nice view if he wasn't now sliding down the slope like this, bouncing and scraping and tumbling this way and that so that he soon had no idea which way was up, and all he really wanted to do was throw up.

Then, with an abruptness that was like being struck by a lightning bolt, it all ended in a splash.

The sudden slap of icy water against his bruised and battered skin was painful. He felt as though he'd plunged into a cauldron of cold fire. But the pain lasted only a second. Then it was gone, replaced by the numbness that only intense cold could bring. His mind reeled from the shock.

He choked, getting a mouthful of liquid. His lungs screamed for air. He had to get out of here, but he couldn't move a muscle. Even if he could, he was too dizzy to figure out which way he had to swim to reach air.

If he just relaxed, he should eventually float to the surface. He just hoped he could hold his breath that long. It was all he could do not to swallow more water. His vision was already beginning to go dark. Through the haze descending slowly but surely over his mind, Shinichi thought he saw something coming through the water towards him.

He was dimly aware of something tugging at the back of his collar. He was moving through the water now rather than just drifting. He watched through half-lidded eyes as the deep, blue green of the world grew paler and paler. The colors really were beautiful: so pure and clean and fathomless like…like…

He couldn't finish the sentence.

The blueness shattered. Light blazed and sound returned. The next thing he knew, he wasn't floating anymore but being dragged up a sloping bank. Whatever had been hanging onto his collar let go when he was lying, coughing, half in and half out of the water.

Rolling onto his side, he heaved, coughing up water. When he was able to breathe regularly again, he simply lay there, panting and waiting for his head to stop spinning. He could already tell that he was going to have a splitting headache later.

Something warm and soft pressed against his back. Startled, he remembered that there should be something else here on the shore with him.

His body still didn't want to move, but he managed to bully his muscles into allowing him to turn his head and peer back over his shoulder. His searching eyes were met by a wall of white fur. Relief flooded through him. It had to be Kishiro. And if Kishiro was here and calm then Kaito was probably okay for now as well.

"Thanks," he whispered hoarsely before letting his eyes close.

He had no idea how long he lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness. What he did know was that the sun was much higher in the sky when he finally opened his eyes feeling like himself again. He sat up slowly, wincing at the aches and pains even that little movement inspired.

He was sitting on the shore of a lake. Crystal clear waters lapped over his feet. His socks had long been soaked through, and his shoes felt very much like buckets keeping his soggy, squelching socks pooled about his feet. The shore itself was a gravelly one rather than a muddy one. Here and there, a stand of large boulders would jut up like loose teeth. The lake itself was of medium size, but he could see through its transparent waters that it was very, very deep. The shore opposite was more rocky, and it didn't spend much time being a sloping shore before it grew into the steep incline that he had just come tumbling down.

Drawing in a deep breath, Shinichi let it out slowly. So he had survived. That was good. And, though there wasn't an inch of him that didn't hurt right now, he was almost positive that he hadn't broken any bones.

Turning slowly so as not to aggravate his aching head, Shinichi found a large, white wolf lying curled up behind him. It had been warming his back with its own. A pair of intelligent, yellow eyes opened to gaze quizzically at him as though assessing him for any more damage. Satisfied with what it saw, the Spirit Beast rose and stretched before sitting down. His proud, wolfish head turned to gaze at Shinichi as if saying, "What now?"

"We'll have to go find Kaito," Shinichi replied, trying to keep the weariness out of his words. All he wanted right now was a soft bed to lie down on, but despite the sheer exhaustion left behind by his ordeal that morning, he found himself unable to stop worrying about a certain magician. This wilderness was no safe haven. He could tell that much just by the feel of the place. There was something wild here. And there were creatures they had never seen before, like that—that thing that had stolen the stone right out from under their noses. It was always possible that some might be friendly, but Shinichi had the sneaking suspicion that most would be of the hostile variety.

"We should eat first," he declared. Groaning, he shifted into a cross-legged position and pulled the wizards' box out of his pocket. He had no appetite whatsoever, but he knew enough about how living beings worked to know that you needed to eat in order to recover. And hiking through untamed wilderness on an empty stomach would just be asking for trouble.

So he dug a sandwich out of the box, broke it in two, and handed half to Kishiro. Like Aome, the Spirit Beast didn't seem to have to eat for sustenance, but he enjoyed the act of eating and had almost just as discerning a palette as his master.

When they were done, Shinichi rose slowly to his feet, cringing all the way. Kishiro stood and positioned himself to the detective's right. The Spirit Beast seemed to have grown even bigger, Shinichi mused. He could now comfortably drape his arm across Kishiro's back and use him as support for walking.

"I'm sorry," he murmured against thick, white fur. "But you might have to carry most of my weight for a while. I'm pretty sure I twisted my ankle on the way down the mountainside."

Kishiro yipped softly and turned to nose Shinichi's hair before giving his face a cheerful lick.

And so it was with Shinichi half draped on and half leaning against Kishiro that the two made their slow way up the gravel shores towards the tree line beyond which, the Spirit Beast knew, his Master was waiting for them.

X

It really was wilderness in every sense of the word.

After landing in a clearing, Kaito had sent Aome off with instructions to scout the area and meet back up with him in an hour. He had told her that he would be walking westward. And so he and Aome had parted ways.

It had been almost an hour now, and he hadn't seen even a single sign of human life. There were no trails at all, old or new, and certainly no campsites or little wooden cabins or anything else you might expect to run across in a remote but occasionally visited stretch of wilderness.

Stopping beneath a particularly tall tree, Kaito tilted his head back and examined the branches, wondering if he should climb up it for a better look around. Deciding it was worth a shot, he leapt up and caught one of the lowest branches. He swung himself up on top of it with ease then began to make his way slowly but surely up the tree. He was about halfway up when he noticed something round and yellow dangling from the branch just above his head. It was hanging from one of the smaller branches a little farther out from the trunk. A fruit? Not one he had ever seen before, but that was nothing new these days.

Carefully, he inched out towards the thinner, weaker end of the branch he was on. When he felt it beginning to bend, he reached out. From here, he could just about grab the round, yellow fruit. It came away from its branch with ease, suggesting it was ripe. Fruit safely in hand, he retreated back to the trunk where the branches were almost as thick around as he was. He sat down then and held his find up to the dappled light filtering down through the leaves from above.

Round and yellow, the fruit was about the size of a coconut. Its surface was smooth and hard and slightly translucent like it had a sugar glaze. Lifting it up to his ear, he shook it gently. The sound and the way the thing's weight shifted suggested that it was very likely liquid inside. Next, he raised it to his nose and sniffed. The thing had a faintly sweet smell that reminded him of vanilla pudding with a hint of citrus.

He lowered the fruit to his lap and gazed down at it in thought. "The question now is if you're edible. Or are you going to poison me?"

The fruit made no move to answer.

It did smell good though. And, though he hadn't noticed it before, he found, now that he had a fruit here waiting to be devoured, that he was, in fact, quite hungry. And thirsty too. If this fruit contained as much liquid as it felt like it did then it was the perfect answer to both his thirst and his growling stomach.

"I'll eat you," he declared. "But only if Aome says you're okay."

The fruit did not answer.

As if on cue, a small, white bird came darting from the canopy. She landed on Kaito's shoulder and cooed, rubbing her head against his cheek.

He smiled and raised a hand to pet her gently on the top of the head with a finger.

"Did you find anything?" he asked.

She bobbed her head and burbled happily.

"Good. You can show me after we decide if we should eat this." He held up the yellow fruit for Aome's inspection. "What do you think? It smells sweet, looks kind of like a coconut even if it is the wrong color and texture, and appears to be ripe. Dare we risk it?"

Aome chirped then hopped over to stand on top of the fruit. She pecked a few times at the glossy, yellow carapace before fluttering back to Kaito's shoulder with what appeared to be a bird equivalent of a shrug.

"Let's cut it open then," Kaito declared. He spent a moment running his fingers over the shell, searching and feeling along its curves and dips. It was lighter than a coconut would have been, and it felt as though much of the weight was in its liquid center. If that were the case then the outer shell was actually quite thin. When he pressed his thumb hard into the side, he could also feel it give. Deciding against cracking out any tools for now, he positioned his hands with care. It was a bit like cracking a very large egg. He pushed the tips of his thumbs in, breaking the shell, then pulled. The yellow fruit came apart and lay in two halves in his hands. Each half looked very much like a yellow bowl with a jagged rim, and, inside each yellow bowl, was a creamy liquid substance.

Kaito held one bowl out to Aome first, figuring she'd have a better nose for poison than he would. The Duel Monster leaned over the bowl, pecked at the rim, inspected the insides, then ducked her head down just enough so that she could get a drink of the creamy liquid. When she rose, she made a "jap jap" sound a lot like someone smacking their lips (though considering she had no lips, he was mildly confused as to how she had produced the sound). Then she began to burble happily and ducked her head for seconds.

"I'll take that as a green light then." Grinning, Kaito lifted his own half fruit to his mouth and drank a mouthful of its juices. Thick and creamy, it tasted almost exactly like vanilla pudding. Only it wasn't just vanilla in the pudding. There was a hint of oranges and grapefruit and maybe even a dash of peach. It was delicious. Once he'd drained all the liquid out of it, he studied the shell for a moment before deciding to try taking an experimental bite of that. It crunched like many-layered pastries did. In fact, the shell really was remarkably like a flaky pastry with a hard candy coating on the outside. It was sweet, crisp, and crunchy: a delectable treat to go along with the more mild but filling juice from the fruit's insides.

"This stuff is really good," the magician said to Aome, who cooed back in enthusiastic agreement. "Let's pick a few more so we can take them with us. Then you can show me what you found."

And that was what they did. They managed to collect another ten yellow fruits in a bag Kaito pulled out of his hat.

X

There was something serene about such a truly untouched and wild place. Everywhere they turned, the world was a lush and living green splashed with brighter colors and streaked with sunlight. It wasn't long before Shinichi rather lost track of where they were, though he supposed that might not be quite the right way to look at it anyway because he hadn't known where they were to begin with. There was only towards and away. Even then, he wasn't at all confident that he could direct them back to the cliff and that lake if asked. Fortunately, he didn't have to worry about directions with Kishiro's unerring ability to find Kaito. There was no doubt that they would meet up with the magician sooner or later, Shinichi just hoped it was sooner.

With his mind free to wander as he leaned against Kishiro, letting the Spirit Beast lead the way, he tried once again to work one of the small handful of spells he had learned back when they had still been traveling with Lina and the others. It was one of the spells he had really wanted to learn and one of the ones he was most chagrined at not being able to use after all. It had been a simple healing spell. It could only repair minor injuries, but it had still struck him as a tool that he and Kaito could really use. He hadn't gotten much practice with the spell (Kaito had caught him trying to practice by giving himself a very tiny nick on the finger with a knife. The magician had not been pleased, and he hadn't taken very well to Shinichi's attempts to explain himself. Shinichi didn't see what the big deal was. It wasn't like he was stupid enough to actually really injure himself. And a prick on the finger never hurt anyone. But Kaito had been extremely vehement about it, and Shinichi had felt the issue to be unworthy of getting into a fight over and let the magician have his way). Even so, he knew he had been able to do it. Now, he did his best to try and remember how that had felt.

The spell didn't work. But, he noted with interest as he tested his foot on the ground again and found that the pain did appear to have lessened, maybe it hadn't been a complete failure. Or maybe it was just nature taking its course. Still, he thought he might have felt…something.

"I suppose it's the energy Kaito was telling me about," he mused aloud.

Large, triangular ears flicked in his direction before reorienting themselves forward again. Smiling at the gesture, Shinichi reached over to scratch the wolf behind the ears.

It was as they stepped out into yet another sunlit clearing, this one dotted with little yellow flowers, that Shinichi caught the faintest whiff of a tantalizingly familiar scent. The rich, deep aroma of fresh coffee. It was extremely faint, but it was definitely there.

"There must be people nearby," he said, turning to Kishiro. What he wouldn't give right now for a cup of coffee. "Which way is it coming from?"

The Spirit Beast turned his head towards a pair of dark oaks but, instead of walking, he sat down.

"Is there something dangerous over there?" the detective prompted.

The white wolf yawned, showing off all of his very white teeth and a large pink tongue. Then he glanced in a different direction entirely, looked back to Shinichi, and promptly lay down.

Shinichi stared down at the large, furry white puddle of sleeping Spirit Beast, bemused. He had no idea why Kishiro had just lain down like that, but if he had to guess, he would guess that Kaito was coming their way. It made sense. And if that were true then waiting would certainly be the logical thing to do. So the detective followed Kishiro's example and sat down in the soft, springy grass.

He should have a few books stashed in the wizards' box. There was one he had managed to force himself not to read yet as he'd been saving it for just such an occasion.

As he felt around in the box for the book in question, his eyes landed on one of the clusters of flowers nearby, and he paused. Was it just him, or did those flowers look an awful lot like tiny custard tarts? Each was only about the size of a coin with a cup of thin, brown crust in which the yellow custard all but glowed.

Shinichi stared a moment longer before giving himself a shake and opening his book. He had to be imagining things. They were just some surprisingly strange looking flowers, obviously. They couldn't really be miniature custard tarts on bendy green stems.

And so it was that Kaito found them.

"It just figures you'd be reading while I tramp around looking for you," the magician complained, heaving a melodramatic sigh. "And here I thought you'd be looking for me too."

"I was," Shinichi replied truthfully. "But Kishiro seemed to think you were coming this way, so it was more practical for us to just wait."

Kaito snorted, though he wasn't really upset. "Hey try one of these fruits we found. They're amazingly good."

Fruits were handed round, and it was agreed by everyone, even the doves, that it was indeed a very good fruit.

"It would be even better if we had some coffee," Shinichi said.

"Yeah, about that. I've been smelling coffee for the last few minutes. I thought maybe you'd had some."

Shinichi gave him a flat look. "From where? It's not like we have a portable coffeemaker or something in our supplies."

Kaito opened his mouth to say that Shinichi could have filled a thermos while they'd been at the hotel then changed his mind. Shinichi could get very touchy about his coffee for some reason that would mystify Kaito to the end of time. And while the magician liked to tease him about it anyway, he could sense that Shinichi was already above averagely grouchy today.

"Did something happen?" he asked instead. "You look pretty banged up. Are you injured?"

"I'm fine. I just had a bit of a fall." Shinichi frowned slightly, not meeting his eyes. "I'm sorry. I saw our gem earlier, but…it got away."

The magician cocked an eyebrow. "It got away? What, did it grow legs and run or something?"

Shinichi snorted. "No. It got carried away by a bird. Finding it is probably going to be a lot harder this time…"

Kaito digested the new information before speaking. "Well, crows and magpies have been known to collect shiny things. It'll probably take the stone back to its nest. All we'll have to do is track down the nest."

"It was a really large animal. It looked like it could easily fly long distances without any trouble. If we're even to have a hope of finding its nest, we'll need to learn more about its species: the places they prefer to roost, how far they fly from their nests, their temperament, and so on."

"True. Shame we didn't land in a library."

Shinichi rolled his eyes. "Well I say we follow the smell of the coffee. We can find who's making it and ask them if they know anything about the bird that stole our gem."

Kaito grinned as he rose. "The coffee is calling you~."

"Shut up," Shinichi snapped, face pink as he started determinedly towards the pair of oaks Kishiro had pointed out to him earlier.

Kaito bounded after him, the grin falling from his face. His sharp eyes had not missed the slight limp in the detective's steps. "Shinichi," he said, his voice now entirely serious. "Are you sure you're not hurt?"

Shinichi paused, startled by the sharpness in Kaito's voice. "No. I just twisted my ankle a bit," he elaborated when he saw the magician's expression darken. "But it's better now."

They follow the scent of coffee as they each recounted their landings. The aroma was growing gradually stronger, but so far they had yet to see any signs of human habitation. Above them, the sun too traveled slowly but surely across the dome of the sky. It was as the trees around them thinned, heralding a sunlit meadow, that Kaito caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned quickly to follow it. He blinked. Then he blinked again.

"I think I'm going delusional. I swear I'm seeing flying French fries on butter pat wings."

"I don't think they're French fries. They look more like baked potato wedges…"

"I take it that that means you can see them too."

The thief and the detective came to a stop at the edge of the meadow. Before them, a whole flock of baked potato butterflies darted this way and that over deep flower beds. It was, quite frankly, one of the most bizarre things either of them had ever seen. And they didn't make claims like that lightly these days.

"Well, I mean, it's hard to get a good look with them flying around like that," Shinichi said slowly.

Aome launched herself into the air from her perch on Kaito's shoulder. Darting into the meadow, she returned a moment later with one of the odd insects in her beak. She deposited it on Kaito's outstretched hand, looking very pleased with herself. Both the magician and the detective bent their heads over the critter and stared.

Yes, it did indeed look like a slice of baked potato. And yes, it had pale yellow wings that glistened faintly like warming butter. But it also had six long, thin legs the color of potato skin and little, black insect eyes.

"It even smells like a baked potato," Kaito said, feeling just a tiny bit disturbed. He couldn't seem to stop thinking about it as a baked potato, but it was waving six little insect legs. There was just something…unappetizing about that fact. And yet the aroma was making his mouth water. Nothing waving six legs at you should make your mouth water.

"Maybe it's some kind of evolutionary adaptation," Shinichi suggested dubiously.

"Tantei-kun, it's baked. You could probably feel the heat radiating from it if you hold your finger closer. And its wings are beginning to melt on my palm. What kind of adaptation is that?"

"…Do you think it would taste…?"

"It might. But I can't say I'm all that eager to find out. Are you? If you want, I'll pluck the legs off for you."

Shinichi grimaced, trying not to gag. "No, don't."

Not sure what else to do with the creature, Kaito placed it on the leaf of a nearby bush. "Let's just keep walking."

They trouped out into the meadow. The baked potatoes fluttered around them, busy at their own buffet of flowers. Shinichi saw Kishiro snap one out of the air. The creature disappeared down the Spirit Beast's throat with nary a sound. Then the wolf licked its lips and began to eye the other potato butterflies with great interest. Aome too caught one and ate it, though, since she was a bird and it was a bug, it seemed somehow less weird.

Tearing his eyes from the baked potato life forms, Shinichi spotted one of the large mushrooms in amongst the flowers that the butterflies had been darting around. Only now that he was looking and thinking about food, he found that the mushroom looked an awful lot like a bread bun. The paler lines across its cap were the slits that bakers cut in the crusts. Reaching down, Shinichi gingerly plucked a mushroom and brought it up to his nose. It smelled exactly like freshly baked bread. It had a light brown crust on the outside, and when he broke it apart, it was fluffy and soft on the inside. It was warm too, like it had just come out of the oven.

"What've you got there?" Kaito asked, coming up behind him.

Shinichi handed him half the mushroom bread. "I think it's a mushroom. But I also think it's a loaf of bread…"

Kaito examined his half, sniffed it, pinched it, then took a bite out of it. He chewed slowly then swallowed. "Tastes just like fresh bread," he declared. "There's even a hint of butter, which I'll bet comes from our potato friends' wings."

Shinichi munched through the rest of his own mushroom bread bun in silence. It was a very good bread, and there was just the right amount of butter to enhance the bread's natural flavor.

"Is it just me, or is this a bit…I don't know…"

"Convenient?" Kaito suggested. "Strangely ready to give us hungry travelers exactly what we need?"

"Er, well, yeah, that too. I just… This can't be natural. Someone must be putting these things out here to…to…"

"To what?"

"I don't know. But this couldn't have just grown like this. It's a fresh loaf of bread! But it's a mushroom. It doesn't make any sense. You can't grow processed food like that."

"Maybe we're in the garden of some mad biologist preparing to fight the war against world hunger," Kaito suggested with a grin. "I'll say he's come up with some pretty awesome ideas."

"Or we're both going mad."

"Well, if we are, it's a very tasty kind of madness."

"That is not funny." Shinichi sighed and resumed trudging towards the far side of the meadow. "I'm starting to wonder if that really is the smell of coffee."

Now the pungent aroma of coffee was thick in the air. It felt like they were walking through a particularly dedicated coffee shop. Yet still there were no signs of any buildings or even any campsites. And maybe it was his imagination, but Shinichi rather felt that the coffee filled air was much denser—much fuller—than he might have expected. It was almost as though there was coffee all around them.

It was as that thought crossed his mind that the trees parted once more, and he found himself standing on the edge of a small spring. A small, brown spring that was sending wisps of steam into the air. A small brown spring that was…that was…

It was a spring bubbling over with hot coffee.

Kaito glanced from Shinichi to the brown spring and back again. The detective was just standing there, wide-eyed and clearly awestruck. On an impulse, the magician reached over and waved a hand in front of the detective's face. There was no response.

"Hello~, anyone home?" he asked, amusement tugging the corners of his lips up.

Coming slowly out of his reverie, Shinichi turned to Kaito, still with those big eyes all a sparkle with hope. "I'm not dreaming, am I?"

Now Kaito did laugh. "Want me to pinch you?"

But Shinichi wasn't listening. He had started walking again, almost in a daze. Coming to the edge of the spring, he dropped to his knees and peered down into the rippling, steaming depths. The pungent aroma of truly rich coffee wafted over him in tantalizing waves.

"I hope you're not thinking about sticking your had in there," Kaito remarked from behind him. He was only half joking this time. "That stuff looks scalding."

"I'm not an idiot," Shinichi huffed. "Give me a cup."

"You realize you're the one who currently has our supplies."

"Oh. Right." Shinichi blushed and fumbled through his pockets. It took a bit of rummaging to locate the thermoses they had picked up from their last stop (they hadn't had much luck stocking up on Kaito's chemical supplies, but with the money Kaito had earned from his magic shows at the hotel, they'd been able to plump out their inventory with some 'luxury' items like tents and other camping equipment as well as a few additional changes of clothes). Unscrewing the top of the thermos, Shinichi carefully dipped it into the spring. He could tell without touching the liquid directly that Kaito was right. It had to be scalding hot. Sitting back, he wrapped both his hands around the thermos and gazed down into it, willing it to cool down enough to drink.

Kaito shook his head and started to laugh again. "Seriously, you look like you've stumbled into Paradise or something."

"Oh be quiet," the detective retorted, but the rejoinder was less than halfhearted. Most of Shinichi's mind—soul and body—was focused on the coffee he knew he was about to drink.

It was like watching some kind of religious ritual, Kaito thought. Shinichi was just sitting there, eyes fixed on the contents of his thermos, and an expression on his face that was more suited to the face of someone who had seen God, not the face of someone looking at a cup of coffee. Then, slowly, the detective was lifting the thermos as his eyes fluttered shut of their own accord. Lips met coffee. Kaito would freely admit that he had never seen such a rapturous look on Shinichi's face before. Not even when the boy had been reading a book. And that was saying something.

"Kind of makes a guy wonder if that stuff is really that delicious," he murmured to Kishiro. The Spirit Beast had sniffed at the spring then turned away to curl up on the grass nearby. Aome, on the other hand, had found some bushes on the far side of the spring. She had disappeared into them, but they could hear the leaves rustling wherever she was, accompanied by the occasional soft coo.

Curious, Kaito rose and headed off around the spring's perimeter. It took him about ten minutes to reach the far side and the row of scruffy bushes that grew there in clumps. They were berry bushes, he discovered upon closer inspection. There appeared to be two types. There was a larger bush with long, narrow leaves whose berries were a dark, chocolate brown. They were growing alongside a type of smaller bush with fan-shaped leaves and small, white berries that grew in clusters like miniature bunches of grapes. Aome was picking away at one of these. She would pluck a berry from its bunch, swallow it, then burble in happy bliss.

Reaching past her, Kaito plucked a berry and held it up to the light. It was a hard, white berry. The outside of it had a grainy sort of texture. Seeing as Aome was still eating them, he decided it was probably edible and popped it into his mouth. It crunched.

"It's rock sugar," he exclaimed, crunching away and letting the sugar crystals dissolve on his tongue. It was sweet and mellow just the way rock sugar should be. Now he had to examine the other berry.

These walnut shaped berries smelled an awful lot like chocolate. And when he pulled the flat cap off the acorn-like berry, he found the inside filled with cream. It tasted just like the cream that came in little cups for you to add to your coffee at restaurants. As for the acorn shell and cap… They were made of dark chocolate.

So, cream and sugar berries growing next to a coffee spring. Talk about convenient. Almost like it had been planned that way.

"Hey Shinichi, do you want some cream for your coffee?"

"What?" The detective sounded distracted. "Oh, a little might be good. Not too much though. Why?"

Materializing beside him, Kaito cracked an acorn over Shinichi's cup. White cream plopped into the brown liquid and instantly began to spread.

"So is it good coffee?" the magician asked, watching intently as Shinichi slowly began to drink from his thermos.

"It's…wonderful…" Shinichi breathed, expression going all soft and dreamy. "I've never had coffee with so much flavor. It's like there's butter in it too. It has that kind of smoothness. It's—it's incredible!" He turned to Kaito with bright eyes. "You should try some."

"I must admit, after watching you, it feels like I'd be missing out on something grand if I didn't give it a try." Taking the second thermos from their supplies, Kaito scooped up his own cupful of spring coffee then dropped three whole acorns into it. Hopefully, it would turn into something like a mocha.

His hopes were answered beautifully. It was rich and dark and sweet and everything that the perfect mocha should aspire to be in its greatest dreams.

"This is the kind of coffee that makes me understand why you love it so much," he mused. "Who'd have thought it could come bubbling out of the ground just like that? Maybe there's a layer of prehistoric coffee beans down there or something, slowly being cooked by the magma below the Earth's crust."

Shinichi's brows knitted, and Kaito could just see the detective trying to figure out a way for that to work. Or come up with another explanation for the existence of naturally brewed coffee. Eventually, he shook his head and turned his attention back on Kaito. The magician was crumbling a loaf of mushroom bread into small pieces to feed to his doves.

"I think we should camp here for the night."

Kaito chuckled. "Somehow I knew you were going to say that. You know that too much caffeine can kill you, right?"

Shinichi rolled his eyes. "You'd have to drink a few hundred cups of coffee all at once to get anywhere near that much caffeine. And we don't have to camp here if you don't want to. It just seems like a good place. There's plenty of room for the tent, and there's lots of food nearby."

"Yeah. I'll set up the tent if you'll go get us some firewood."

As the sky burned gold with sunset before fading to the dusky purples and blues of late evening, it found a moderately sized tent rising up next to the steaming spring. Soon, a thin column of smoke rose like wispy shadows beside the thinner, whiter wisps of steam.

"There's something nice about roughing it like this sometimes, you know," Kaito remarked as they sat around the fire. The birds had been given a piece of felled log to perch upon, and Kishiro had decided yet again to retain the form of a large wolf. Though Shinichi privately thought that the Spirit Beast had gotten smaller again. Back to the more normal proportions of a large dog as opposed to a giant one.

"It's nice," the detective agreed belatedly when he realized that Kaito had been waiting for a response. "The stars are a lot clearer when you can see them from places like this."

The magician laughed. "Yeah. It's too bright in the cities. But here, things truly get dark. It isn't just a dimming like the city after nightfall. And that means that the moon and the stars are given a free go at center stage."

"…Okay." Feeling warm with coffee and good cheer, Shinichi smiled at the way Kaito was gesticulating grandly as though directing a great performance being carried out in the night sky above.

"Maybe a wilderness every once in a while is just what we need."

Kaito paused in his pantomime of directing the stars in their slow, celestial dance to give Shinichi a sidelong look that the detective didn't see. Kaito had just realized that he and Shinichi were basically stranded here far away from any civilization that they could see. Alone. The only other companions they had were a bunch of birds and two not-birds who, while undeniably intelligent, could not be considered human. There was no other human in sight, and there might not be another human around at all for a great, great distance. Suffice to say, they couldn't possibly be more alone. And did his brain have to get stuck on this fact?

He cast around quickly for something else to focus on.

"So do you remember which way the bird monster went?" he asked.

"Roughly, yes." Shinichi stifled a yawn. "We should get some sleep. We'll need to make good use of the daylight hours if we want to travel more safely. This place is too full of weird things for us to go walking around in the dark."

"Very true," Kaito agreed. If his chipper tone sounded a little strained, Shinichi didn't notice through his sleep-fogged mind. "Why don't I take first watch?"

"Kishiro can do that," Shinichi said. "We've both been active all day. We'll need the rest. That's why we got a tent in the first place. We might as well use it."

Kaito wanted to protest, but at the same time he didn't want to. He followed Shinichi into the tent and watched as the other boy crawled around setting up their sleeping bags. The detective had already tucked himself in before he realized that Kaito was still sitting by the tent flap.

"Is something wrong?" he asked, beginning to worry. He'd never seen Kaito so visibly distracted. It was unnerving. Was it something he'd eaten? Maybe they shouldn't have been so quick to eat all those weird plants. What if they were toxic?

The magician blinked then coughed lightly. "Ah, no. You go ahead and sleep. I'm going to take a quick walk. I think all that caffeine in the air is getting to me," he added jokingly before he vanished back out of the tent.

Shinichi watched him go with raised eyebrows. Maybe he shouldn't have recommended that Kaito drink the coffee?

X

Shinichi was awoken in the middle of the night by a distant roar. Blue eyes flew open, and he stared through the darkness into a pair of indigo orbs looking back. Kaito was awake too. They both lay perfectly still in their respective sleeping bags, ears straining towards the outside.

The noise came again, but this time it wasn't alone. It was joined by a screech like nails being dragged down a gigantic chalkboard. Shinichi winced and sat bolt upright. Kaito was already in a crouch, hands deftly checking over his card gun and other tools.

The screech cut off so abruptly that Shinichi jumped. The roars lowered into a rumbling growl. Perhaps its owner had won the fight?

"Stay quiet," Kaito murmured as he moved to the mouth of the tent and shifted the flap aside just enough for him to peer outside. The embers of their dying fire weren't very bright, but they provided more than enough light for the thief. He'd always had superb night vision. Currently, he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary outside. But his ears told him that there was indeed something out there. Something big.

On cue, the foliage on the opposite side of the spring rustled and parted. A large, dark head moved out over the spring and lowered to drink.

Kaito stared. Never taking his eyes from the beast, he reached back and tapped on Shinichi's knee. Curious, the detective crawled up beside him and peered out from under Kaito's arm. His jaw dropped.

The creature, whatever it was, had a head that looked very much like the head of a dinosaur. It was certainly a very large, reptilian head with spiked ridges over its eyes and spikier ridges atop its head. When the light from the embers caught and reflected off its scales, they could see that it was blue. The scales themselves were extremely glossy, almost bejeweled. And the eyes looking out from beneath those eye ridges were the same orange red as the embers in their campfire.

As they watched, the creature dipped its entire snout into the coffee spring and began to drink, making a low rumble in the back of its throat as it did so. A purr perhaps?

"Do you think it's friendly?" Shinichi whispered.

"Not sure," Kaito murmured back. "But considering those ten-inch teeth, I'm guessing we should keep our distance."

Shinichi nodded in mute agreement. They were about to settle back into the sleeping bags when a new sound shattered the night.

This time it was definitely a howl. It rose and undulated, sweet yet chilling in its unearthly timbre.

The dinosaurian creature by the spring lifted its head, turning to gaze into the darkness to its left. Then it peeled back its lips to bare its white teeth. A snarling roar erupted from between its jaws.

That was when something massive and brown streaked through the air right over the spring to crash headlong into the bluish reptile. The dinosaur tumbled backwards with a bellow, rolling over and over with its assailant. In no time at all, the two were nothing but a whirling mass of claws, teeth, fur, and scales. The ground trembled beneath the two massive beasts as they bit and scratched and tore at one another.

Frozen in their tiny tent, one thief and one detective looked on from between the tent flaps. Tree trunks were snapping like twigs, and sugar berry bushes crunched as they were reduced to pancake-hood. Then a broad, hairy feline head rose up, and its jaws gaped open. Fangs like those of a saber tooth tiger glistened in the moonlight. Then the beast was diving down and closing its massive jaws over the neck of the dinosaur.

There was a sickening crunch and snap. The dinosaur thing let out a half shriek, half hiss of agony before it fell limp.

The winner of the battle rose to its full height, standing over its prey. It was a cat in shape despite its howl, but it was as tall at the shoulder as the trees around the clearing. It was lean and its fur was a mottled brown. It really did look like a saber tooth tiger, Shinichi thought, but it appeared to have four eyes. Two on each side of its head. Those eyes rolled this way and that, and the detective found himself holding his breath as one of those burning irises turned their way.

Fortunately, their little tent must not have looked very scrumptious because the feline bent and seized its spoils by the base of its sinewy neck. Then the beast turned and bounded away, carrying the dead dinosaur thing away with it with ease.

It was only when they could no longer hear the monster crashing through the forest that either human dared to begin to breathe again.

"That was…" Kaito started then stopped, shaking his head. "I feel like we just watched a monster movie or something."

Shinichi grimaced, turning his face away. He felt a little sick. The image of those massive fangs sinking into that scaly neck and laying it open replayed over and over in his head. Corpses were one thing. As a homicide detective, he'd seen plenty of those. But actually watching a living creature being brutally ripped apart was something else entirely. He gagged.

Kaito moved to sit cross-legged on top of his sleeping bag. Something told him that he wouldn't be getting any more sleep tonight. "Well, we won't starve around here, but we might get eaten."

"That is not funny."

"I wasn't joking."

Shinichi had the sneaking suspicion that Kaito might be right.

X

The following morning dawned clear and bright. Too bright, Shinichi thought grumpily as he squinted into the sunlight spilling in through the ten's open front.

"Come on, rise and shine, Shin-chan!" an obnoxiously cheerful voice blared from outside, making Shinichi wince. "You're the one who said we shouldn't waste any daylight."

Shinichi grumbled incoherently but started the laborious process of forcing himself to get up. Yes, they shouldn't be wasting time, but did Kaito really have to throw open the tent flaps like that? It was the equivalent of having your curtains opened so that the sun would shine into your face in the morning. And, as anyone who likes to sleep in probably knows, there is little that is more irritating when you're trying to grasp for that precious five more minutes than a face full of bright sunlight.

Still mumbling grumpily under his breath about stupid morning people with no compassion, he extracted himself from the tent and stood blinking on the shore of the coffee spring. The rich, wonderful aroma of fresh coffee once again wrapped its loving arms around his soul, and he found his sour mood slipping away despite his best efforts to hang onto it.

A warm thermos was pressed into his hands. He looked up to see Kaito smiling at him, amusement bright in indigo eyes. He didn't say anything. He didn't have to. Shinichi accepted the thermos gratefully. His entire being seemed to be radiating contentment.

Kaito almost laughed, but he didn't want to ruin the moment. If he laughed, Shinichi would go all huffy again. And while that was cute and all kinds of funny, the dreamy contentment of a Shinichi lost in coffee dreams was just too adorable to disturb.

Indigo eyes turned to gaze at the other side of the spring where the trees that had been growing perfectly the day before now lay like so much timber. Smashed branches and skeins of dying leaves fell all over each other, forming haphazard piles of matchsticks and firewood. And amidst it all were several large patches of dark, dried, reddish brown stuff that they both knew was probably blood. The blood of the creature that had been killed the night before then carried off to be devoured who knew where.

"I guess we can't use this place as a base then," Shinichi sighed. He'd had high hopes that they could just make their main camp here and foray out on their searches. It would have been a comfortably warm place to rest with an endless supply of fresh coffee. And an endless supply of fresh food, if they walked a little back the way they'd come for the breadshrooms or those coconut pastries Kaito had found. The potato butterflies were also available, though Shinichi didn't feel ready to try eating those yet. He wasn't sure he ever would be ready. The creatures just sort of gave him the creeps. The fact that they smelled tasty only made them more disturbing.

"I say we take some time first to gather supplies then," Kaito was saying as he filled an empty jar with sugar berries. "It would be a shame not to take advantage of such a wealth of resources when it's all ripe for the taking. Once we're ready, we'll head out in the direction you saw the bird fly."

"To the mountains," Shinichi replied. "Um, do you…hear anything?"

Kaito screwed the lid onto the now fully packed jar of sugar berries then popped open another jar. This one he began filling with chocolate acorns. "Hear what?"

"It sounds…like something hissing."

Kaito paused in his work to look around the clearing. Eventually, his gaze landed on the spring. "Well, the coffee kind of hisses when it steams."

Shinichi was still frowning. "The coffee was a bit different this morning."

"I'll have to take your word for it. The stuff's all the same to me."

"It was the buttery undertone. It's missing."

"Does that make it less appetizing then?" Kaito asked teasingly.

Shinichi ignored his tone, hand rising unconsciously to his chin as he thought. "It's still good coffee. I just think it's strange that it would taste different this morning than it did last evening. What could have changed?"

"Shin-chan, we are sitting by a naturally brewing hot spring of coffee. I really don't think logic is big in this situation. Just let it be and be grateful."

"I guess…" Picking up one of the empty bags in their supplies, Shinichi turned towards the trees that were still intact. "I'll go see about getting more of those breadshrooms. Do you want any of the flying potatoes?"

"I can't say the thought has much appeal. But you can catch some if you want."

"The thought doesn't appeal to me either," Shinichi admitted, laughing a bit sheepishly. "I'll be back soon."

"I'll leave the animals to watch the camp," Kaito called after him. "I'm going to see what other supplies I can rustle up. Meet back here in twenty minutes, alright?"

Shinichi called back an affirmative and vanished beyond the trees.

A large lizard launched itself at Kaito the moment the magician stepped into the underbrush. He caught it deftly around the neck, noting the strawberry pattern of its scales and the faintly sweet, strawberry scent it was giving off. Indigo eyes traveled down the length of the thrashing creature to its tail where the tip was attached to a long, green stem. The stem, in turn, led up to the small tree just a few steps away from him. The creature was lizard shaped, but it had no eyes, and, even though it had sharp little teeth, it couldn't possibly eat anything because its throat wasn't open. Deciding it was a fruit, he gave it a sharp yank. The stem snapped, and he stuffed it into one of his empty carrying bags. The creature continued to squirm for a few more seconds, scrabbling at the sack with its sharp little claws, before it went limp.

Next to follow it into Kaito's supplies pack was a pair of crispy bacon cattails and three large, black fruits that appeared to have oatmeal inside. It was when Kaito was reaching for a large, brown fruit that looked an awful lot like a croissant that something rustled in the leaves. Then, with a hiss like a hose that had had its water pressure turned up to max, a massive, green and yellow thing erupted from the underbrush and spread yellow petals edged with needle-thin teeth. The flower, for flower it was, roared at him. It lunged.

Kaito felt no compunctions at all about tossing a fireball down the flower's throat. Startled, the plant reeled backwards, screeching. Then it hiccupped a cloud of black smoke, hacked like a granny with a dry throat, and keeled over to shrivel up until it was nothing but a twist of blackened fibers lying across the forest floor.

Kaito absolutely refused to become plant food.

He had no sooner dealt with the vicious plant when something in the distance howled. It was an undulating cry that sounded eerily familiar, and it was definitely from their camp. Bag of new supplies tightly in hand,. Kaito turned and ran back towards the coffee spring. When he arrived, it was to see that the tent had been torn down and tossed aside. Their sleeping bags had been scattered, and what was left of their campfire looked like it had been kicked apart then trampled. The doves were all up in the branches of the surrounding trees now, mantling their wings and glaring down into the heart of the camp. Only Kishiro was missing from the branches. He was missing because he too was standing in the middle of the camp. He'd grown to the size of a small bear. His fur, white that morning, had darkened too until it was a brown almost the same shade as the coffee in the spring. He was standing with all four feet braced and tail held high as his fur bristled.

The source of his ire was impossible to miss.

There was an alligator lying in the ruins of their camp. Its body was covered in buttery yellow scales, but its eyes were a fearsome black with yellow pinpricks that contracted at the sight of Kaito. Its jaws gaped open to reveal a black mouth with an equally black tongue surrounded by ivory yellow teeth. Lots and lots of ivory yellow teeth.

The reptile lunged. Massive jaws snapped shut, missing Kishiro by a hair—literally—as the Spirit Beast leapt into the air. The monster jerked its head up, maw gaping open again in expectation of its prey's inevitable drop back to earth. But rather than letting gravity pull him back down into the massive reptile's open mouth, Kishiro shifted shape in mid air, becoming a large, white bird. He wasn't a dove this time though but a bird of prey. An outraged shriek emanated from his sharp, curved beak. Extending his talons, he dove at the alligator.

The alligator reacted instantly. Twisting its massive body around faster than a creature of its bulk had any right to move, it whipped its tail at the Spirit Beast. Kishiro banked his wings sharply, but the monster's tail caught him a glancing blow to one wing. The force of the assault was just enough to send the Spirit Beast straight into the branches of a nearby tree. Branches snapped.

The flailing bundle of bird and splintered tree limbs fell right in front of a wide-eyed Shinichi.

The detective gaped. "What—"

"Get out of here!" Kaito ordered. He flung an arm out towards the alligator. Flames sparked at his fingertips then flashed forward in a brilliant streak of gold and orange. The flames struck the ground next to the alligator's forelegs. Tongues of orange fire lashed at its shoulder.

Kaito had been hoping to scare the creature off. Most animals avoided fire after all. This creature, however, didn't even flinch. Its yellow scales glimmered in the firelight as it hissed. Slit eyes focused on the magician.

He had to give the creature credit. It was fast. Its four bowed legs motored over the ground as it charged straight at him.

Kaito thought he might have heard Shinichi shouting his name, but he wasn't sure. All of his attention was focused on the beast and the massive jaws coming straight at him. He considered dodging to the side, but he'd seen how quickly the thing could twist around. That, and there were trees to either side of his position. They weren't close, per se, but they were still in the way. So instead, Kaito leapt up and grabbed the branch just above his head, dropping his supply bags in the process. He swung himself up into the branches just as the alligator took a bite out of the air where he'd just been. The creature's momentum carried it right on past Kaito's position and into the underbrush of the forest beyond.

Not waiting to see where it had gone, Kaito dropped back down to earth, snagged the supply bags, then ran to where Shinichi was fumbling to stuff his own newly gathered supplies into the wizards' box.

"Let me." Kaito snapped his fingers. There was a puff of smoke, and all their bags were gone. The wizards' box followed shortly. "I'll keep this for now. Let's get going."

"What about the tent?" Shinichi asked, glancing in the direction in which the alligator had vanished. The underbrush was still rustling violently, and they could hear screeches and roars. The sounds were farther now, but they were still too close for comfort. "We still need them."

"Move quickly then. I'll get the tent. You get the sleeping bags."

Together, the two travelers rushed back into the ruined camp. Shinichi began to roll up and secure the sleeping bags as Kaito untangled the tent and folded it all back into a neat package. They were in the process of stowing it all into the wizards' box as well when they both realized at the same moment that the noise had stopped.

"Do you think it's gone?" Shinichi asked hesitantly. He squinted at the screen of trees, searching for signs of yellow scale.

"Don't know." Kaito glanced up to the bare branch where his doves were all lined up with their feathers fluffed out. A large, black cat extracted itself from the mess of broken branches and leaves where Kishiro had fallen and padded over to sit next to Shinichi. Kaito gave it a quizzical look before turning his own attention back to packing. So now Kishiro was some kind of panther creature. There really seemed to be no end to what the Spirit Beast could transform into. Did he even have a real shape? Kaito wondered idly what it might say about him, Kishiro being a reflection of his soul and all. But then again, maybe it didn't matter if the Spirit Beast had a true form or not since Shinichi could always tell that it was Kishiro behind the shape. So he supposed there was something in the animal that made it essentially itself.

Huh. There was probably some kind of philosophical epiphany to be found there, but they didn't currently have the time for that.

"We should get going," he said again. He took one last look around the clearing to make sure they hadn't missed anything.

And that was when, of course, they were interrupted again. This time, however, the interruption came in the form of a human being. The first human being either of them had seen since landing in this strange, strange world.

"Oh yeah!" the newcomer was saying with great enthusiasm. "There's nothing like coffee from a butter gator's coffee spring!"

Kaito stared.

Shinichi stared.

The newcomer walked right past them like they weren't even there and fell to his knees beside the hot spring. He inhaled deeply then let out an appreciative sigh. "This is definitely the real deal. Hurry up you two, if you wanna try some of this coffee before the gator wakes up."

Shinichi thought for a moment that the man was talking to him and Kaito, but he was proven wrong when the underbrush rustled again and two more humans emerged. Compared to the giant of a man that had been the first new face, these two strangers were much, much smaller. In other words, they looked normal. One was a young man with black hair and an open face. The other was a woman with a video camera in her hands and a round, yellow bird perched on her shoulder.

The girl had her camera up and filming as she announced, "And here we have Toriko of the Four Heavenly Kings and one of the fabled coffee springs of Morning Valley."

As the girl was busy filming the first man, and the man in question was busy tasting the coffee, it was the dark-haired youth who finally noticed Kaito and Shinichi.

"Oh, uh, hi there," he said with a slightly sheepish grin. "Sorry about just barging in on you guys like that. Are you here for the contest too?"

"Contest?" Shinichi repeated blankly. "Uh, no. We were just passing through. We were camping out here by the spring, but a giant alligator attacked us. It ran off in the direction you guys came from…"

"Oh. The butter gator! Toriko knocked it, so it shouldn't be back for a while."

"That's good to know," Kaito murmured. He'd been ready to try striking it with a lightning bolt the next time it reared its scaly head, but maybe there wouldn't be any need. "This might sound strange, but could you tell us where we are? You see, we got a bit turned around in our travels, and we really don't know which way we should be going to get where we need to go."

"That happens a lot," the stranger agreed with a laugh. "Well, this entire area is part of Morning Valley. It's full of amazing breakfast and dessert ingredients—including some really rare ones like the contest ingredients we're here for. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself, didn't I? I'm Komatsu." He bowed to them, a friendly smile on his face. "I'm a chef. So are you two gourmet hunters then?"

The travelers traded puzzled looks. "No," Shinichi said uncertainly. "We're just travelers."

"Okay." Komatsu seemed to find this a little strange, but he was too polite to comment on it. "So you said there was somewhere you needed to be, right? Where were you headed?"

"Towards the mountains," Kaito said, pointing. "A strange bird carried off a possession of ours. We need to track it down and get our jewel back or we won't be able to go home."

"A strange bird who steals jewels, huh?" The giant of a man that had apparently been responsible for the temporary incapacitation of the alligator came striding up to them, a cup of steaming coffee in one hand. He was very tall and built like a pro wrestler. His hair was a curly mess of blue. Seriously, blue was turning out to be a much more common hair color across the universes than Shinichi would ever have guessed. "What did it look like?"

Shinichi shifted his weight from one foot to the other as everyone's eyes turned on him. "Uh, well, I didn't exactly get a good look." He had, after all, been fighting a losing battle against gravity on a steep slope. "I guess it kind of looked like an eagle, but it had three pairs of feet."

"And its tail?"

"It was long and rainbow-colored, but the body was more monochromatic."

"How many pairs of wings did it have?"

"Uh, just one…?"

"That sounds like the rainbow sorbet bird," the girl with the camera said, joining the group. "Hi, I'm Tina from Gourmet News," she said to the travelers. "And you say you actually saw the sorbet bird?"

"It flew by me and grabbed our jewel. Then it flew away."

"That clinches it then," said Toriko. "Sorbet birds collect and eat rocks and minerals at this time of year. I've heard that they have a particular liking for gemstones. They say the color and sparkle of the gems remind the birds of their eggs, so they think using gems will encourage healthier hatchlings."

"Wait, wait, you said they eat gems?" Kaito demanded. He wasn't liking where this was going. The horrified look on Shinichi's face was a decent reflection of the magician's thoughts. If their translocater was digested…!

"Only to help with the sorbet creation process," the blue-haired man explained, unperturbed. "When they're done, all the hard substances they swallowed for the purpose get ejected."

"So we should be able to retrieve our gemstone."

"If the birds are done with it, sure."

"So where can we find these birds?"

"We're actually looking for them too," Komatsu exclaimed. "The sorbet is the ingredient we have to find for the contest. We can all go together. That would be all right, right Toriko?"

The taller man shrugged. "I've got no problem with it."

The travelers traded looks.

"We really appreciate this," Shinichi said, bowing to the group at large.

X

Traveling with their new acquaintances was, well, Shinichi would have to call it educational. Out of all the strange worlds they had seen so far, he might venture to say that this one was the strangest yet. It was in the way everything around them seemed not only to be edible but to have evolved for the purpose of being eaten. Of course, he supposed that such a concept was not entirely unnatural. Plants grew fruits to attract animals who would help them disperse their seeds by eating those fruits. Flowers lured in insects with their nectar so that the insects would help them pollinate. So, in a sense, quite a lot of living things evolved to be eaten. But he still couldn't wrap his mind around the idea of living baked potatoes and sprouting pastries.

"Shinichi, duck!"

The detective ducked before his mind had fully registered the cry that his ears had heard. Something red swished through the air above his head just as a hand shot forward. Still crouching, Shinichi looked up to see Kaito holding onto the middle of a bright red lizard. It was thrashing wildly, but despite its efforts, it was making no headway against the magician's iron grip.

"Not these things again," Kaito said, making a face at the little beast. "Talk about vicious fruits."

Shinichi blinked. Fruits? Straightening, he gave the creature a closer inspection. After some contemplation, he concluded that Kaito was right. It was a very vicious fruit. It nearly managed to sink its little teeth into his nose when he leaned in a little too close.

"Oh wow, that's a snap berry," Komatsu exclaimed, coming up beside them. "I've never seen one in person before! They're supposed to be absolutely delicious. But they only bear fruit once every decade. And they only grow in Morning Valley. We're really lucky to have found some."

"Oh, hold that one up, will you Kaito?" Tina asked, raising her camera. "I totally have to get a shot of this. The first snap berry harvest of the decade!"

"And look at these." Toriko dumped a massive bundle of ivory white brambles in the middle of the group. "Wild batter bushes!"

Komatsu crouched beside the mass, examining it closely. "I've read about them. The leaves and branches can be crushed to make a high-quality flour, and the berries have all the flavor and nutritional qualities of eggs with only a fraction of the cholesterol."

"That's right," Toriko agreed with a broad grin. "Let's take a break and have ourselves some lunch."

Shinichi offered to lend Komatsu a hand. So while the others set up a temporary camp (and brought in more ingredients), the detective and the chef headed towards the sound of running water with several large, empty jugs. They soon came to a thin stream running quick and cold between rocky banks.

Komatsu crouched down on one of the large rocks that jutted out into the current and peered into the pools where the rocks had cut parts of the stream off from the main current. He paused in the middle of dipping one jug into the water.

"Oh hey, these are blueberry jelly fish! You normally only find the strawberry ones."

Shinichi couldn't resist. He had to look. Picking his way across to the rock in question, he looked down into the water.

There, swimming in lazy circles around and around their watery home, was a whole school of translucent fish. They were mostly purplish blue in color.

Cupping his hands, Komatsu dipped them into the water and carefully scooped two of the fish out of the pool. Then he dropped them into the water jug.

"These will go great with pancakes," the chef was saying. "Now let's see. I need to figure out the right ratio of water to batter…"

Shinichi was amazed at how quickly the chef managed to pull out and assemble the tools he wanted and begin slapping ingredients together. In no time at all, there were a dozen tiny pancakes on a plate between them. Now Komatsu was gutting and cleaning the jelly fish like a sushi master. Shinichi could see it already. The fish would be sliced into pieces like sashimi and placed on top of the miniature pancakes to make scrumptious, bite-sized snacks.

"Excuse me," he said, glancing around to make sure that no one else was around.

Komatsu paused in his work. "What is it?"

"Would it be all right if we don't mention that the jelly was from fish?"

The chef looked confused. "I guess… But why?"

Shinichi sighed. "It's a long story. And I don't really know much of it. But it would save us all a lot of grief if we tell Kaito that it's just fruit."

"Oh. Well, okay then."

Back at camp, Tina and Kaito had started grinding up the rest of the massive bundle of batter bushes. Or rather, Kaito had started on it and Tina was filming him. Kaito didn't really mind, though he did wonder why they needed so much of the stuff. Komatsu had already taken a sizeable amount to the river for experimentation. Yet here they had another small hill's worth. They couldn't possibly be planning to haul it all with them, could they?

"By the by, Miss Tina," he said as he worked. "I believe your bird may be overweight."

The reporter blinked at him over the top of her camera then laughed. "What are you talking about? Balloon pigeons all look like this."

"Ah, I see. I've never seen this breed before." He supposed if it was called a balloon pigeon then it was probably meant to be that shape. But if one of his birds ever turned up so spherical, it would find itself facing a rigorous exercise schedule and possibly a diet. His father had drilled into him that responsible pet owners did not feed their pets whatever and whenever they wanted out of some misplaced sense of kindness.

Lunch itself was uneventful if not unremarkable. To call it a feast would not have been an exaggeration. The main attraction of the day was a vast array of different pancakes, big and small, but they were far from the only options available. How Komatsu had managed to make so much food in such a short time was a mystery even Shinichi couldn't solve. Why he'd cooked so much was an even bigger mystery—or it was until Toriko started eating.

"Man. He eats more than Miss Lina!" Kaito shook his head in amazement before picking up another plate. "Hey Tantei-kun. Is it just me, or do these fruit tart things kind of look like fancy sushi?"

Shinichi kept his gaze fixed studiously on his own food, though he could feel himself beginning to turn red. "It's your imagination."

X

"We have to go up there?!" Komatsu exclaimed, voice rising a whole octave as he gazed up—and up, and up, and up the almost sheer cliff face that had risen up in their path. They'd seen it coming from a ways away, but it wasn't until they had reached it that its full majesty became apparent. "I can't even see the top!"

"The sorbet birds only nest at the top of high cliffs just like this one," Toriko explained. "In fact, the reason they only live in Morning Valley is that they only build nests on cliffs of a specific height. Not only that, but the cliffs have to be sheer, and there has to be enough room at the top for the whole flock to build their nests. Morning Valley happens to be surrounded by cliffs that meet all the requirements."

"Then how do you know we've found the right cliff?" Tina asked, training her camera lens on the gourmet hunter.

He grinned and pointed. "Look there."

Four pairs of eyes followed his pointing finger to the foot of the cliffs. There, the ground was composed entirely of an army of jutting rocks. It was Kaito who noticed it first. He did, after all, have quite the sharp eye for shiny things.

Scattered amidst the field of rocks were a myriad of glittering fragments. They looked like shards of stained glass. Red, blue, purple, green, pink, gold and silver—every color in the rainbow and beyond seemed to be there, dusting the otherwise drab landscape with a sea of multicolored stars.

"What are those?" Komatsu asked. "Glass?"

Kishiro launched himself from Shinichi's shoulder, shifting from the shape of a bird to a squirrel in mid air. Landing on top of a lumpy boulder, he grabbed a piece of the shining material and raced back to the detective.

Shinichi turned the object over in his hands as Kaito leaned over his shoulder to look. It was more like a piece of rock than a piece of glass. It was smooth and slightly curved. The material itself was a jade green in color, and, when he held it up to the sunlight, they could see that it was translucent. The entire fragment sparkled.

"It looks like a piece of something made of stone," Shinichi said uncertainly. "Maybe a vase or bowl?"

Toriko let out a hearty laugh. "Nope. That, my friends, is a piece of a sorbet bird's eggshell. Their shells are rock hard, so, when the baby birds are ready to hatch, they have to roll their eggs over the edge of the cliff so that the rocks here at the bottom will crack the shells open. If the fall is too short, the eggs won't crack enough. If it's too long, the chicks won't survive the plunge."

"Why aren't there more shells then?" Kaito asked, eyeing the sparkling stones with calculating eyes. "If there's a whole flock living up there, I would have expected this place to be completely covered by shells. Or are the eggs really small?"

"Oh no, the eggs are huge. But these shells are just too tasty." Plucking a piece of pink shell from the rocks, Toriko popped it into his mouth. "Mmmm, like the purest essence of strawberry locked inside a sugar chest. But remember not to chew," he added, scooping up a handful of eggshells and offering them to the others. "If you do, you'll crack all your teeth. Now then." He turned to look up the cliff. The gleam in his eyes was that of a hunter who'd scented his prey. "It's time to head up!"

"You don't mean…we're actually climbing this cliff?!" Komatsu was the picture of horror.

The blue-haired man grinned. "Well, we do need to get to the top."

"But—but—"

"Although," he continued, gaze shifting to a point off to their right. "That path over there would probably be the better way up."

There in the distance, a thin shadow against the rocks might possibly be an extremely narrow path upward.

Komatsu perked up, but his relief was short lived. The path was little more than a narrow ledge just barely wide enough for a single person to walk on. A single, very careful person.

"Think about it this way," Kaito said, placing a hand on the short chef's shoulder. "It beats scaling the cliff."

X

The climb took them three days. Fortunately, they were able to stop for rest and refueling in the many shallow caves that dotted the cliff face. The one not-so-shallow cave they'd ducked into had been housing a ferocious, six-legged beast with big teeth. But it had made a lunge for them the moment they stepped into its cave and run itself smack into Toriko's fist.

It turned out the beast was very tasty.

They saw their first sorbet bird just as the top of the cliff came into view. Its shadow glided across the face of the cliff, making all their heads turn.

And there it was.

Shinichi's breath caught in his throat. This bird was much larger than the one that had flown off with their jewel. Its wings all but blotted out the sky. It could swallow people whole if it wanted to. And Shinichi suddenly recalled that they hadn't asked Toriko and the others what the sorbet birds ate.

"It—it's huge!" Komatsu could be heard exclaiming as he stared up at the creature. Tina fumbled for her camera.

"Hey, you guys!" Kaito called out. "Do these birds eat humans?"

"Nah, they like sweets," Toriko called back.

Komatsu relaxed slightly. "So it's not going to attack us?"

The gourmet hunter laughed. "I wouldn't count on it. We are getting close to their nests. They're cautious birds though. It'll want backup before attacking."

"Did you really have to say that?!"

"Hang on tight. We need to get up to the top before they round up all their friends!" With Komatsu and Tina both clinging to his back, Toriko began to charge up the cliff. This last stretch was much more craggy, so he was leaping from ledge to ledge like a mountain goat.

"We better hurry too." Whipping out his card gun, Kaito aimed and fired. A grappling hook shot out and up to catch at a jutting ridge right at the lip of the top. Then he wrapped his free arm around Shinichi.

"Ready?" he asked, though he wasn't really listening.

"No!" Shinichi cried out anyway because he was most definitely NOT ready for whatever was about to happen. That turning out to be Kaito kicking out from the cliff and activating a mechanism in his prop that started to reel in the wire. Thief and detective were swung through the air away from the rocky cliff and up, up, up until they landed in an inelegant heap at the top of the lower lip of the cliffs. For a long moment, Shinichi just lay still. The rock was cold and rough beneath him, and Kaito was kind of heavy, even if he was warm. The detective's breaths were coming in ragged gasps, and he thought he might have hit his head because there were stars dancing in his vision.

"That," he gasped, "was not fun."

Kaito laughed, the sound just a little too breathy to be normal. "I don't know. I thought it was kind of exciting."

"Well it's about to get a lot more exciting, so get off me!"

Kaito might have cracked a joke under other circumstances. Today, he simply scrambled off of the detective and helped him to his feet. They were just in time to see Tina and Komatsu leaping down into the relative safety of what appeared to be a large crater in the rocks.

Toriko, on the other hand, was standing tall on a boulder that made him an easy target for every sorbet bird circling over their heads. All the birds were looking at him. Their great beaks opened and the cries that emerged were sharp and angry.

One dove at the gourmet hunger. He sidestepped it easily. But that first assault marked the beginning of a barrage.

Back by the edge of the cliff, Kaito and Shinichi soon found themselves being chased by a trio of smaller sorbet birds. Smaller meaning they didn't block out skies with their wings. They were still each large enough to carry a cow off if they wanted.

Kaito stunned one with a lightning bolt. It fell from the air, landing right on top of the bird that had been flying beneath it and bearing it to the ground as well. The third bird let out a caw of surprise as a soccer ball smacked it under the jaw, sending its head up. It jerked and reeled backward in mid air. Then its world crackled electric blue, and it joined the unconscious heap below.

"You know. I'm really getting the hang of adjusting the voltage," Kaito remarked with a grin.

"Pat yourself on the back later." Shinichi ducked as another bird swooped overhead, all six sets of talons extended. He managed to evade its claws, but the buffeting from its wings sent him tumbling into a small crater in the rocks. He landed in a snowdrift. It was cold but relatively soft. Scrambling back up, he spat out a mouthful of snow and looked up just in time to see Kaito leaping into the crater after him. He threw himself out of the way just in time to avoid being squashed.

Two large, avian shadows shot past overhead. The wind from their passing ruffled his hair.

There was a sudden cessation of sound.

Kaito rose, dusted snowflakes from his clothes, and looked up. The sky was clear. He traded glances with Shinichi. Then, slowly, they both made their way to the side of the crater.

It was an easy enough climb back to the top. Pausing just below the rim, they peered over the edge.

They stared.

The tops of the cliffs were now littered with bird bodies. They were alive because they were all breathing. But it seemed that they had, every last one, been knocked unconscious.

Even as the travelers looked on in stunned amazement, Toriko and the last and largest of the sorbet birds flew at one another: the bird from above and the man leaping up from below. They clashed in mid air. There was a flurry of wings, claws, arms and legs. Then they hit the ground, sending snow flying every which way. When the proverbial dust settled, Toriko was standing there over the prone form of his defeated adversary.

"I doubt they'll be up any time soon," he called out to the rest of them. "But I wouldn't recommend dawdling. Let's find ourselves that sorbet!"

The sorbet bird nests were, like the birds themselves, massive beyond compare. A single egg was taller than Toriko, and he was the tallest human in their team. The nests themselves were largely hollows in the rock padded out with branches and the occasional whole tree.

The eggs shone like jewels. There were three in the first nest they looked into. One was a brilliant, jade green. The second was a deep, rich red like the heart of a rose. The last was a frosted pink and purple swirl that glowed like the sky at dawn when the light struck it.

Toriko ran a hand over the curve of a shell. "Seems like hatching time is close. That means the sorbet should be ready too. It'll be somewhere nearby."

"Excuse me," Kaito called down into the nest. "But do any of you know where these birds keep stolen gems?"

"Well, what goes in must come out."

"You mean we're going to have to go rummaging through bird poop?"

"Yep," the blue-haired man replied, sounding far too cheerful.

The travelers looked at each other then at Aome. Neither of them relished the thought of spending the next several hours elbow deep in bird excrements. But if they had to do it, it would be nice to at least be able to narrow down the search. Sensing the weight of their eyes on her, the Duel Monster stopped preening herself. Beady blue eyes peered first at Shinichi then at Kaito.

The magician coughed lightly. "Any assistance would be much appreciated."

Aome cooed and took to the air.

In the meantime, Toriko and the others were still picking their way between giant nests and unconscious birds. Tina was walking with her video camera up and rolling.

"I'd heard that sorbet bird eggs were beautiful, but I never realized just how amazing they would look in person," she told her future audience. "They're like jewels! And, as you can see, the rumors are true, and they really do incubate their eggs in snow. No, wait, not incubate. More like refrigerate." She laughed. "But we still haven't seen any sign of the coveted rainbow sorbet for which our winged friends were named. As you may have heard, rainbow sorbet birds eat large quantities of fruit around hatching time. The juices and nutrients from those fruits are stored in a special chamber in their stomachs where it is mixed with the snow they eat. Over time, you end up with a tightly packed ball of snow filled with all the rich flavors of all the scrumptious fruits available here in Morning Valley. Then, when their hatchlings are ready to break the shell, the parents start to consume hard rocks and minerals to help break down that concentrated block of frozen goodness they were storing up for their chicks. The rocks grind that frozen flavor bomb until it's like the finest sorbet ever! Then the rainbow sorbet birds regurgitate that homemade sorbet and feed it to their young so that they get an instant nutritional boost. Huh, maybe it's because none of the eggs have hatched yet then that we haven't found any sorbet."

"Over here!" Komatsu exclaimed suddenly, his voice high with irrepressible excitement. "This is it!"

Everyone made a beeline for the chef's voice. Kaito offered Shinichi a hand to help him over the rough spots on the uneven terrain. The detective turned a little pink but accepted the help (even though he didn't think it was strictly necessary). They found Komatsu up to his waist in what appeared to have been an extra large nesting crater. Instead of eggs, this nest was full of snow. Only the snow wasn't white. It was pink and blue and orange, yellow and green and violet. Even standing on the rim of the nest, they could smell the cold sweetness in the air.

"It's making my mouth water," Toriko announced—somewhat unnecessarily, as they could all see that his mouth was, indeed, watering.

Komatsu pulled several bowls out of his traveling pack. Soon, everyone had a bowlful of sorbet on their laps as they sat in a row on the lip of the crater.

Toriko brought his hands together before him and closed his eyes. "We give humble thanks for the vast bounty that this world provides. Now." He picked up his spoon. "Let's eat!"

X

Spiraling down out of the sky, Aome landed on Kaito's arm and promptly took a beak-full from his sorbet.

"Hey," he complained, though there was more amusement than annoyance in his tone. "You can get your own, you know."

"Did you find the stone?" Shinichi asked.

Aome bobbed her head then puffed out her chest.

Kaito heaved an over exaggerated sigh. "Looks like it's poop plunging time."

They were lucky though. Or maybe it was just Kaito's usual luck with things smiling at them after all the weirdness they had suffered through. Their translocater was sitting near the top of a heap of bird droppings. It was slightly filthy, but its green color was unmistakable.

Kaito conjured a handkerchief and wiped the jewel down before tossing the soiled cloth into the air where it vanished in a puff of flame. Its ashes were whisked away by a brisk breeze. Left in the magician's hand was a perfectly spherical gem roughly the size of a large kumquat.

Shinichi gasped as his heart skipped a beat. "Is that ours?"

"Well, I don't see any other large green jewels lying around."

"No, I mean. That shape—could it be ours. You know. Home."

Kaito glanced at him, expression unreadable, then raised the stone into the sunlight. It glittered and gleamed a vivid, flawless green.

"No," the magician said after a moment's pause. "Before it turned into that pyramid, the stone was more egg-shaped. And it was slightly bigger than this. This one's a perfect sphere."

"Oh."

Kaito must have sensed Shinichi's disappointment. He turned and took a step towards the detective, closing the distance between them. Careful to keep the newly rounded gem in his left hand, he slung his right arm across Shinichi's narrow shoulders, giving him a quick, reassuring squeeze while simultaneously maneuvering them both around to face back in the direction of the sorbet. "We'll get there eventually if we keep looking. Now, let's go see if our friends there are ready to go."

Getting down off the cliff was a great deal easier than going up. Kaito had, by now, become quite familiar with how to handle his glider while carrying a passenger. As long as he didn't have to do any fancy maneuvering, it was an easy enough task to bring them both safely to the ground. Their new friends had it a little harder as they had to climb. They still managed to meet up again at the foot of the cliff in half the time it had taken to go up.

From there, it was another four days of hard travel to the town situated just outside of Morning Valley where Toriko and Komatsu presented a bowl of sorbet to the man who had organized the contest. In return, they were each given a basket of pie apples from the man's apple orchard. Kaito and Shinichi were surprised to find that they each had a share of the prize as well.

The pie apple had a crispy, glazed crust and hot, sweet apple filling. It was, both travelers had to admit, the best apple pie—er, pie apple—either of them had ever eaten. Kishiro's fur (he had turned into an Akita) became even richer shades of golden brown and cream. Aome's feathers looked glossier too, as did the feathers of all the other doves.

Tina's camera never stopped rolling.

"So what are your plans now?" Komatsu asked, falling into step beside the travelers. The contest host was now giving them a grand tour of the pie apple orchard. It was a rare treat, as he rarely opened his orchards to anyone outside of his family and their staff. This was, after all, the only place in the world where pie apples grew. They had to make sure no untoward guests slipped in when they weren't looking to do harm to their precious apple trees.

"Well," Kaito said, glancing over to where Shinichi was gazing up in interest at a ripening pie apple. The budding fruit looked rather like a pod of dough with a pinkish hue. It had yet to show any signs of becoming a pastry. "I was actually wondering if you'd be able to lend us a hand. We've still got a lot of traveling to do, and we need to restock our supplies. We've been making do, but there's so much interesting food around here. It'd be a shame not to take the chance to diversify our stock."

"I'd be happy to help," Komatsu said. "I still have a few days off before I have to get back to the Hotel Gourmet. Why don't I take you guys shopping? I'm sure we can find great supplies that suit your journey."

"Thanks. We appreciate it."

"No problem."

It was later, as they boarded the train that would be taking them to Gourmet Town, that Kaito was able to find a moment to brood. He wasn't usually the brooding sort. Brooding was pointless. Actions were better. But a thought had been niggling at him since that moment on top of the cliff when he'd seen the stone's new shape.

In that instant, he had felt relieved.

He too had wondered if this might be the shape that represented their own world, but it wasn't. And that had made him happy.

Leaning back in his seat, Kaito watched the wilderness pouring past the windows of their train compartment. He thought he saw a giant, reptilian head rise from the sea of foliage only to disappear again. He even saw a small sorbet bird swoop past and snatch some kind of round, red creature out of a lake. The crab-like creature waved its spiky legs and tried to stab its captor. The sorbet bird dropped the crab, and it went spinning down from the sky, legs flailing every which way, until it landed on the large rocks at the water's edge. The sorbet bird returned. Using its many sets of claws, it pried apart the cracked shell and dug into the soft, succulent meat inside.

"Uh, Kaito? Are you all right?"

Kaito looked up to find that Komatsu had slid onto the chair across from his with his gourmet case resting on his lap. "Toriko and Tina are in the dining car," he explained without being asked. "And I think Shinichi's there too. I came back first because I wanted to go through the storage information for the ingredients we gathered and make sure everything's correct."

Kaito nodded. "Certainly wouldn't want any of those delicacies to spoil."

The chef laughed. "Yeah. Definitely. So," he continued, tone growing concerned. "Was there something on your mind?"

Kaito blinked then laughed softly. He really was spending too much time around Shinichi. He was starting to let his masks slip more than he'd intended. That could be…dangerous. But he'd give himself some slack today. After all, tough questions deserved attention.

"I've been mulling over some personal problems," he said with a smile. Problems like how he had just realized that, given the choice, he didn't actually want to go home yet. "By the way, that plant you brought back from the cliff. The one you found growing in the snow. What did you say it was called again?"

"Oh, you mean this?" Komatsu set a small, potted plant on the train compartment's wide windowsill. It had a single plant in it. A long, slender stem arched gracefully to end in a cluster of creamy brown petals. "This is a chocolorchid. It produces a really high grade chocolate. They're very rare. It's amazing that we were able to collect four healthy sprouts. They can only grow in cold places because otherwise they melt before they can mature. Their roots have to be buried in snow."

"A chocolorchid? That's…direct."

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind. So is this flower difficult to care for?"

X

Shinichi chewed on his lower lip as he stared at the vast array of foods laid out in the dining car for the enjoyment of all the passengers. He had finished his own meal long ago, but he had stayed, waiting for Kaito to join him. Kaito never came. But Kaito never skipped meals. Maybe he'd just been distracted by an interesting passenger or something. With that thought in mind, Shinichi had gotten himself another cup of coffee and sat down again to continue waiting.

Another half hour had passed since then, and there was still no sign of Kaito. By now, Shinichi was fairly certain that the magician wasn't coming. And it worried him.

Thinking back, the way Kaito had looked when he'd told Shinichi to go ahead to the dining car without him… He'd been wearing his usual grin, but there had been something different. It had been like shutters had closed behind his eyes.

Shinichi's stomach tightened. What had been up with that look?

His breath left him in a sigh. Even after all this time, he still felt like he had no idea what the magician thief was thinking. Shinichi had thought he was beginning to understand the other better, but then there would be a moment like that one, and he would find himself wondering if that sense of understanding was just another illusion. Then again, was it even possible for one person to ever truly understand another?

He sighed again. Why did he feel so depressed all of a sudden? It was ridiculous.

He just wished Kaito would tell him what was on his mind.

Get a hold of yourself, he thought sternly. He picked up one of the empty takeaway boxes stacked at the end of one long counter and began filling it with food that he thought Kaito would like. When he was done, he took a bottle of ginger ale from the drinks case and headed back to their compartment.

He found Kaito and Komatsu in energetic conversation over a small, potted plant. Stopping in the doorway, he blinked.

"Um," he said when neither of them seemed to notice his arrival.

"Oh, hey Shinichi," Kaito said with all his usual good cheer. "How was the food?"

"It was good," Shinichi said slowly, feeling just a little off balance. "I, uh, brought you some since you didn't come…" He held out the takeaway box and the bottle of ginger ale.

Kaito accepted both with enthusiasm. "Thanks."

Shinichi sat down on the seat next to Kaito's and peered at the potted plant. "Is that an orchid?"

"A chocolorchid," Kaito corrected. "It actually grows chocolate. Isn't it amazing? I was thinking we could bring one with us!"

Shinichi cast a quick look across at Komatsu. Seeing that the chef was occupied with his storage device, he turned back to Kaito and lowered his voice. "That's not a good idea. Introducing weird plants into worlds they shouldn't be in could cause a lot of problems for their ecosystems. We have enough of that already back home without us bringing in otherworldly weirdness."

"Aw, come on, just one. Think about it. We'll never run out of chocolate again!"

"Kaito…"

"I bet you wouldn't be complaining if it was a plant that produced fresh coffee constantly."

Shinichi blushed. "It's not about how much we want them. It's about not throwing the world—worlds—off balance."

Kaito heaved a melodramatic sigh. "Fine, I won't bring one. But you owe me."

"What? Why?"

"Because I'm giving up a lifetime of free chocolate for you."

"…Okay, fine. I owe you. Happy now?"

Indigo eyes gleamed. "Very."

Shinichi eyed that expression with a sudden sense of dread. He felt vaguely like he'd been tricked. Well, at least Kaito seemed to be back to his usual self. That was worth a little unease.

X

"And these berries are packed full of all kinds of vitamins. Best of all, you can keep them in storage for months without having to worry about them spoiling."

"Sounds perfect." Kaito placed six boxes of the berries in question into their shopping cart.

"I think that's probably enough," Shinichi said, eyeing their loaded cart with some trepidation. He wasn't sure it was all going to fit in the wizards' box. They hadn't been able to determine the exact amount of space inside the box, though they had theorized that the space expanded and contracted based on what they put inside. He supposed they would find out shortly whether their theory was true.

Gourmet Town was everything Kaito had first expected from a world represented by a banquet table. From towering, glass buildings packed to the brim with restaurants to bustling street markets thick with the aroma of dozens of different cuisines, the place was practically food heaven. The travelers had had to cash in some of their gold to afford the entrance fee (as they had no IDs) and purchase their new supplies, but it had been well worth it.

"Are you guys going to be able to carry all of this?" Komatsu asked. "I guess I got a bit carried away. Sorry. I should have asked how much you needed."

Kaito laughed. "No, no, don't worry about it. You've been a great help." He snapped his fingers. The cart was engulfed by a cloud of smoke.

Komatsu jumped back from it with a yelp. When the smoke cleared, the cart was empty. The chef gaped in open amazement.

"What—how did you—!"

"Didn't I mention? I'm a magician."

"That was incredible!" Komatsu exclaimed with all sincerity. "Where did it all go?"

"Into another dimension," Kaito intoned dramatically.

The chef laughed. Shinichi rolled his eyes. On second thought, Kaito was technically telling the truth. The wizards' box could conceivably be seen as its own little dimension.

"Since we're done here, we can head over to the restaurant now. It's almost time for our reservation."

"Is it really all right for us to join you guys?" Shinichi asked as he and Kaito followed the short chef out of the culinary department store and back onto the streets. "I mean, you said you made the reservation before you guys left for Morning Valley."

"Since it's Toriko, they're giving us a private room where the table's bigger," Komatsu explained with a light laugh. "I'm sure they won't mind if we bring a few extra guests. And this is your first time here, right? It would be a shame not to enjoy yourselves."

"Well, thank you for inviting us."

"No problem. Hey, if you have time someday, you can come to my restaurant. I have some new recipes I've been thinking of trying with the ingredients we found in Morning Valley. It'd be great to be able to share it with you guys."

The travelers traded glances before Shinichi answered.

"I'd like that," he said. "If we can."

"Great. Just call, and I'll arrange everything."

Kaito came up behind Shinichi and placed a hand on his shoulder. The detective glanced up at him expectantly. The magician only smiled though with a look in his eyes that Shinichi couldn't quite place. Then the hand on his shoulder was gently but firmly propelling him forward, giving him no choice but to resume walking.

They arrived at the massive restaurant's gleaming doors in time to see a trio of men arguing with the receptionist.

"How can you not let me in? I am the great Zange!"

"We made reservations," one of the shorter of the men said to the receptionist.

"Yes, but we have a dress code." The woman looked pointedly at Zange's outfit, which, Shinichi noted, looked like something a guy playing at being a caveman might wear.

"What do you mean?" The bearded caveman demanded, puffing out his chest. "This is the latest fashion in all the hunting games!"

"Yeah," the last of the trio agreed with great enthusiasm.

"If we get him to change, will our reservation still be available when we get back?" the voice of reason asked the receptionist, ignoring his friends.

She looked down at her books. "You're the party of three, correct? With a Zombie?"

"It's Zange!" the caveman exclaimed. He was once again ignored.

"If you can make it back in ten minutes, it should be okay."

"Great. Thank you." Voice of Reason turned and started to herd the caveman and his other friend back the way they'd come.

Their private room was situated by the windows on the twenty third floor of the building. The view out those windows was spectacular. The view inside, however, was almost even more spectacular.

The table could easily have sat twenty. It was covered in a multitude of large plates filled with exotic dishes that Shinichi couldn't even name. They were all eating—even the animals, and Toriko was putting it away faster than should humanly be possible, but the plates kept coming. Soon, their table was half covered by towers of plates and stacks of bowls because they were being emptied faster than the waiting staff could take them away.

"I can't eat another bite," Shinichi groaned, falling limp against the back of his chair.

On the chair next to his, Kaito let out a short laugh. "You said it."

Before them, Toriko placed three more plates onto the stacks awaiting removal and dug into his next dish.

Shinichi shook his head. "It shouldn't be physically possible to eat that much."

Kaito chuckled. "Well, bread does grow on trees around these parts."

Shinichi found himself smiling. He might have laughed if he wasn't currently so stuffed full of food that he felt like he'd explode if he did. "This place is pretty amazing."

"Yeah."

There was a long silence punctuated by the clatter of cutlery.

"Let's do it," Kaito said abruptly in the tones of one who had made up his mind.

Shinichi blinked in confusion. "Do what?"

"Learn how to actually use this." Kaito flicked his wrist. A round, green jewel flashed between his fingers before it vanished again just as quickly as it had appeared. "We've just been following it around, banking on chance to get us home. I know we've talked a bit about how to tell it we want to go home, but wouldn't you want to be able to come back here too someday? And all the other worlds too. We can go to Komatsu's restaurant, see if Miss Lina and the others made it out all right, check up on how auror training's been going for Harry and the others—maybe even try out those awesome holograms for ourselves. We never did get the chance."

Shinichi blinked again. "I… It's not that it wouldn't be nice, but…"

Straightening, Kaito turned in his seat to face his companion. "I just realized the other day. I won't be satisfied if we stumble over home tomorrow and this all just ends. When we get home, I want it to have been our choice."

Shinichi bit his lip. He suspected that the chances of getting home without learning how to use the gem properly were extremely low, but he knew that wasn't what Kaito was getting at. "So then, if we really do end up home next time or the time after—before we know more. What then?"

"I'd want to keep going," the magician said without hesitation. Reaching over, he took one of Shinichi's hands, clasping it in his own and fixing the detective with a steady gaze. "We could take the opportunity to make sure all our affairs there are in order and tell everyone who needs to know that we're okay. And then…" Letting go with one hand, he waved it expressively. "But only if you're okay with it. Of course," he added. "It likely won't be an issue. But, in case it is, I thought I should let you know now."

Shinichi nodded slowly. The whole idea of not staying home once they got there had never crossed his mind before. All considered, hanging onto the belief that they could even get home was an ongoing battle that wasn't as easy at times as it might sound. So the suggestion that they ought to leave again if they were lucky enough to find their way back soon was… Not unthinkable, per se, but pretty close to it.

Still, he thought he could understand what Kaito meant too. There were so many strange and interesting things out there. They had only just begun to scratch the surface. It would be a shame not to explore more of it if they could. At the same time, Shinichi wasn't sure if the experiences justified the danger.

His thoughts whirred. He opened his mouth to try and put at least some of those buzzing impressions and fleeting notions into words, but he was interrupted by the arrival of a troupe of waiters and waitresses bearing platters of cake, pie, ice cream, and more.

Shinichi's jaw dropped. Even Kaito's Poker Face cracked enough to show his astonishment.

"Now this is a cake," Toriko exclaimed with approval as the crowning dish was set before him. It was the largest of the platters, and it bore upon it a cake the size of three whole roast turkeys. It was all chocolate and cream roses with white chocolate latticework and an array of cut fruits that gleamed like jewels. It was beautiful. It was massive. It smelled delicious. And it was way, way, way too much food at the end of an already much too large lunch.

Kaito let his head drop onto the table with a groan. "I don't think I've ever hated a chocolate cake so much before in my life."

"What? Why?" Komatsu asked, concerned.

"Because if I try to eat it, everything else I've eaten today is going to come right back up. But it looks incredible. It's mocking me, that's what it's doing." Rising, the magician leveled the cake with a venomous glare. ""You fiend! Don't think I can't eat you just because I'm full!"

"Uh, but Kaito," Shinichi hurried to interject. "Over eating isn't going to help—"

"You!" Kaito barked, pointing at one of the waiters. The man came scurrying back quickly.

"Yes?"

"Get me some takeout boxes. Be quick about it."

"Uh, yes sir." The waiter bowed deeply then sprinted away. He returned shortly with the items requested.

By then, only half the monstrous cake was left. Kaito deftly sliced off a slab and packed it into a takeout box. The rest of the boxes he filled with bits and pieces of the rest of the desserts.

It wasn't until everyone was happily over stuffed with good food and ready to head out that Shinichi caught Kaito's arm just as they were about to follow Toriko and the others out of the room.

"Kaito," he said, eyes a little downcast but his grip on the magician's arm was determined. "If you really feel like we got home too soon when we get there, I…wouldn't mind. Going again, I mean. As long as everyone back home is all right, and they don't need us yet." He hoped he wasn't being selfish. He still had responsibilities back home after all. They both did. But…

He didn't want to say goodbye yet. And, if they somehow ended up home tomorrow or the day after that, everything would change. And there was no way to know what that change would be.

So maybe he wasn't so much being selfish as putting off the inevitable. But, he thought as he looked into Kaito's searching eyes, perhaps he wasn't the only one who felt it.

Kaito studied the detective's earnest expression for a moment longer before flashing a quick smile. Then, because he couldn't resist, he leaned down to give Shinichi a quick peck on the cheek. The detective instantly turned bright red. Kaito burst out laughing. Shifting the takeout to his left hand, he grabbed Shinichi's hand with his right and set off after the others at a run. "Come on. They're leaving us behind, and I still wanna see the rest of this town."

TBC


Next: Demons Past and Present [Inu-Yasha]

A.N: Did anyone guess that correctly? ^.^ Anyhow, the next chapter should be more serious. On a random side note, the jelly fish are actually from the series, though I added the bit on flavors. Also, if you'd like to see what the sorbet birds actually look like, you can see a picture here (remove the spaces and line breaks or click on the link in the Travelers status section on my profile. Grr, I discovered I have to re-insert all the cover pick links and everything on my profile -_-):

ofmagicandmonsters.

blogspot.

com

/2017/02/rainbow-sorbet-bird-my-attempt-at.

h t m l

Also, I have made a lot of changes to the world line-up, so comments I made about what might be coming in the past may not apply anymore. Well, see you next time!