It was evening when Jensen and Wilfred had returned to the lantern room to escort us to their headquarters. We had taken a familiar route in the elevator and stepped out into a quaint manicured rose garden, which had a path leading up a flight of stone steps to an enormous square mansion surrounded by a thick belt of trees and the tops of terracotta roof-tops visible on the horizon.
The air carried a smoke and musky odor. I breathed in a lung full, enjoying the evening's cool, freshness. Felt like a long time since I had stepped outdoors.
"Come on," Wilfred said as he led us up the steps and through the main entrance.
"Checkin' in?" War exhaled with shock and awe upon the sight of the lavish and spacious foyer we had stepped into.
We had passed through a set of large oak wood double doors. Stepped into a foyer with gleaming cream marble floors reflecting a high white stucco ceiling of patterned vine leaves and an enormous open flower.
At the stucco's floral disc hung an old gold chandelier with twelve candle arms burning in three-tier layers.
On either side of the chandelier ran two wide circular staircases (the span of twelve balustrades) to the first level balcony.
The elaborate staircases were fashioned of polished marble steps with central carpet runners, of red and gold floral patterns, running the length to the top.
Rows of intricately wrought iron balusters, thick oak rails and polished oak posts still smelling of freshly applied mineral oil, framed the staircases.
"Hellooo!" War tested the enormity of the space and chuckled at the sound of his voice resounding off the cream walls.
We continued to follow Wilfred and Jensen's lead. They showed us the center of the ground floor area between the left and right staircases.
I marvelled at the enormous floral arrangement perched on a circular glass table trimmed in silver. A delicious springtime rose, and honeysuckle aroma lingered about the air.
War helped himself to a cream cushioned and oak wood chaise lounge that was propped against the wall space the stairways had created.
The coffee table book, by the skinny bone china lamp on the matching oak wood side table next to him, caught his attention.
I cringed when I saw his hand accidentally knocked over the lamp. Fortunately, it had landed on the seat next to his lap. He returned the lamp to the table before Wilfred and Jensen had noticed.
I turned my attention to the wall-sized tapestry behind the floral arrangement, which was the map of Sol.
"Armia, Gonade, Tempra, Minoa, Caldera," I mumbled the names on the map.
"Pretty fancy huh? Armia our royal kingdom to the west. Gonade the oriental stronghold of the east. Tempra, home to our northern desert tribes. Minoa the summer set islands to the south. Caldera the center of our world where Gat Shiem sat as its eye." Jensen came up next to me. "A map this big makes you realize how vast our world is."
"Yeah," I replied.
He patted my shoulder to draw me away.
We followed Jensen and Wilfred to the first floor, which was another luxurious area of polished dark wood, cream walls and delicately patterned white marble floors covered with red and gold floral patterned rugs.
Beyond the floor's main archway was a large-sized sitting area with a quaint arrangement of dark leather or plush lounges and single chairs, lending an impression of relaxation and quiet time to be had.
"Looks a pretty picture. Can't see meh self relaxin' in it for some strange reason," War commented next to me.
We continued our way up a staircase of full dark wood balustrades and floral carpet steps, which gently curved to the second floor.
"Eek!" I yelped as I almost tripped on a metal thing that scurried past my feet at the top of the balcony, and gasped when I saw a black cat-bot sprinting past.
"Whaddahell?" War cursed when he had caught sight of the black cat-bot. "Dat wasn't a cat right?"
Wilfred chuckled knowingly. "Cats make grinding noises when they run?"
"Huh?! Yah 'aving a go Chibi!" War grilled Wilfred up in his face.
I rolled my eyes and stepped in between the men's escalating spat.
"It's a cat-bot, you hot-headed idiot!" I shouted at War and pulled him away from Wilfred before they could go at each other's throats.
We passed through the balcony's double oak wood doors.
"Sleeping quarters or muck up area, whatever you wanna call it."
Jensen grinned when we stepped into a liveable looking floor that was overrun with cat-bots (of various breeds and colors) perched on plush or leather loungers and chairs that were aesthetically positioned to fill up the central area.
The room smelled of oil, iron, stale foods and morning coffee.
"This looks lived in," War said with a hearty grin.
He touched one of the tabby cat-bots curled up on a three-seat lounge before a rectangle coffee table that had various paraphernalia scattered all about its surface.
"Ha! Whadyaknow? Feels like dah real thing." He chuckled as the cat-bot grunted its purr at his soft touch.
"Don't break it," I said over my shoulder. My finger brushed over a cup ring stain on the surface of the oak side table next to the lounge.
This stirred Jensen and Wilfred into hearty laughter.
"That's right. You said your brother was clumsy." Wilfred smirked.
I glanced at War and sighed with relief when I saw he had turned away from the cat-bot with a huff.
He went to check out the snug setup of two chairs and a chess table tucked in a quiet corner. I saw that the board had pieces paused in a game.
"War, you can't meddle with someone else's game!" I scolded him when he moved a white piece to a position that knocked off a black piece from the board.
"I dunno if Saku will love you or hate for that move." Wilfred grimaced.
"Bwhahaha! The Dancing Queen should be grateful. He's finally won a game against Trix, and he didn't even know it." Jensen laughed.
We were shown the doors of the rooms everyone slept in.
The oak door furthest to the left belonged to Saku, and the one next to his was a spare. In the center was where Jensen shared a room with Wilfred. The women shared the room the furthest on the right.
Once the show and tell was completed for this floor, we made our way up the wrought iron spiral staircase that was on the right side.
We alighted to a wide balcony and set of large double oak wood doors at the far end.
Wilfred knocked on the doors; paused for permission to enter from the other side then opened the way for us.
War and I gawked at the large-size library where the ground area was more floor than anything else.
Two single-sized wrought iron staircases, on either side of the room, curved up to the balcony of the second floor that also had walls filled with shelved books.
Underneath the balcony were chairs and lounges to form a sitting area. Towards the right of the chairs was a wall-sized bay window, which was paneled with stain glass images of angels and demons. A dark grand piano was propped up before the window to complete the picturesque scene.
We headed upstairs and found Leinard waiting for us behind a polished oak wood desk and high back chair. Afternoon daylight streamed through a large pane window to his back. I glimpsed a sight of swaying purple Wisteria trees beyond the glass. A teardrop escaped my eye.
"Oi, Famisto, don't go gettin' gaga for home," War grumbled with a pinch to the back of my hand.
"Ouch! Why'd you do that for?" I hissed back at him.
"Yah look like yah gonna cry," he whispered, discreetly, back to me.
"Was not," I argued back and saw Small Cap poking his head out of the belt pouch.
"Freend sad?" he innocently asked.
"Geh!" War made a weird sound when he caught sight of the spider.
"Ahem!" Leinard cleared his throat to draw our attention to him.
We were called to stand before the desk.
"Seems you've been enjoying the sights of the place," said Leinard.
He stood to stand before us and leaned his back to a part of the desk upon his next comments.
"I entrust that you have all your belongings from the medical unit because you will be housed here from this moment on."
"Eh?" Both War and I said in unison.
"Well, you are part of the squad," Jensen commented.
Leinard groaned when our conversation was interrupted by a catcall that rebounded the walls to draw our attention to the floor below.
We leaned over the balcony rail to see what it was and saw Trix looking up at us from below.
"Hey, Newbies, make yourselves lively!" Trix beamed a cheerful smile.
He was balancing a small wooden barrel on one shoulder.
"Trix!" I waved cheerfully back at him and turned to Leinard. "How?"
Leinard answered with a smug smile.
The library doors opened. I saw Ryoko, Saku and Lita cross the floor carrying more barrels, and crates that released savory cooked and other food smells into the air.
"Hurry up and come down," Lita called out to us.
We all made our way to the downstairs sitting area.
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