Spice Everywhere

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The sound of the microwave humming in the back of the room was the only thing anyone could hear before Zavok began to speak after collecting his snack from it, chewing on a part of it and swallowing it. Paprika could see Zomom staring at the snack while drool escaped from his mouth, and seeing as it was an unfinished chicken fajita with just chicken and cheese, the way she liked it, she sort of wanted something else to eat.

In fact, Paprika seemed to be seeing food everywhere around her. Though Zomom was gazing down Zavok and his fajita, there was a perfectly good cheeseburger sitting in front of him, fresh from the food court down at the nearby mall. Near the front of the room, Zor was sadly nibbling on a French fry. Zazz was having fun with the condiment packets by the back while Zeena was rummaging through the fridge, looking for something she could have. Two empty seats from where Paprika was sitting, Master Zik was silently chewing on noodles from a cup.

"Okay, everyone. I understand that tensions may be high especially after our problems with that small blue inconvenience, but the blackbird assembling us today has promised to keep everything settled," Zavok announced, turning to Paprika. "Introduce yourself."

Paprika stood up and cleared her throat nervously. "Um... hi. I'm Paprika the raven, and before you zap me with balls of electricity and try to drown me in lava, I just want to say that I'm not here to irritate you. I gathered you all here to help you. You may not have figured it out yet, but nothing can harm you now. Nobody's got anything to brainwash you with. No conch, no AIs... you're all free to enjoy yourselves. If you want, I could become 'Zara' so you'd feel more comfortable..."

"No, no. Your original form is all right," Zavok replied. "So, what do you intend on achieving with this?"

"I want to help you find some way to be at peace with me and my friends so there'll be no more manipulating machinery to destroy us. I understand we've made a bad first impression on you, but we've found out much of that came from all those people messing with your brains. I know a few people who are still studying the mysterious ways of the Lost Hex, and they don't have any ill will towards you. They just want you to be okay with your lives, and so do I. Maybe you could even find a friend in one of us," Paprika explained.

So far, no one looked interested. Paprika was hearing Zeena chuckle at the idea.

"Is this girl for real right now?" Zazz whispered to Zomom, breaking into laughter. "She thinks we can just... she thinks..."

"Hey, at least she got us lunch!" Zomom retorted with his mouth full. "I don't think I've eaten a better cheeseburger before!"

"Okay, now that you mention it, where's my food? I believe I ordered something too," Paprika asked.

"Sorry, raven girl..." Zomom said, belching. 

"That's just great. Oh well, I went to that pancake place for breakfast. I'll be fine."

"Can I have another fry, please?" Zor asked, pointing towards the box of just a few fries left, now having gone cold. 

"We've eaten most of them because you always take forever to chew and swallow them," Zeena said to him. "Your best record is six whole minutes."

Zor sighed. "Sometimes, I just feel my whole mouth going numb..."

"Is there anything we can do to help you with that?" Zik asked him.

"No. It's okay. I'm just used to tasting all of the bitterness in the air. And it's not like it's anyone's fault..."

"So, do you have any ideas on what we can do so you won't have to name any names?" Zeena asked.

"Maybe I... maybe I can..." Another sigh drifted out of Zor's mouth. "I don't know..."

"Well, a good part of being free is that you have plenty of time to find your answers," Paprika commented. "But, how can you do it without having to show hatred and violence towards people?"

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