Onyx: We will now proceed to the first challenge.
Ambrosia: Indeed! Brave contestants, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to the most exciting competition of all.
[Wildfire’s snicker is half a snort.]
Wildfire: Of course she would think that.
Ambrosia: You will be facing off against each other in a fierce battle of the culinary arts!
[On that note, her palms come together. Despite the serenity of her voice, the faint sparkle in her eyes and the motion of her hands, her fingertips fluttering once against each other, belie her excitement. She really does think cooking is fun.]
Ambrosia: Yes, you shall be vying for the judges’ taste buds by preparing three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Arsenik: You’re welcome to prepare it any way you like. We already have a room set up with everything you might need. The cooking method you choose doesn’t matter just as long as it’s edible.
Wildfire: But if it’s a little burned, you can just give it to Arsenik. He can handle it, right?
Arsenik: Ah, we haven’t discussed the judging criteria yet.
Night: You will choose three of us to serve. Then, decide which of us will have the breakfast, lunch, and dinner that you prepared. We will rate your meal based off our personal taste and how unified it is. It will help to have a theme.
Wildfre: So, you better not look to the nice ones for an easy win. If what you cooked isn’t their thing or just tastes like trash, they can’t lie about it.
Wildfire: Did you want to kiss their butts that bad?
Ambrosia: Those are all the rules. If you’re ready, then you may begin…now!
Night: Oh, by the way, keep in mind that you can’t choose Onyx as one of your judges for this competition. He’ll just be watching over all of you to make sure you don’t cheat.
Wildfire: Or take too long. This isn’t a race, but if you’re taking the better part of the day, he’s calling time on you. So, come on. Hop to it!
Ambrosia: Ah, and dear Sir Banality Man, since you’re braving this challenge on your own…you’re allowed to make one phone call, if you’d like. Oh, do forgive me if I’ve said that wrong. I’m not accustomed to the methods of communication in your world.
Wildfire: Stop flirting with the competition.
Arsenik: You make it sound like we’re the ones competing with them.
Ambrosia: If I didn’t tell him about the choices available to him, then he would be at a disadvantage, Lady Wildfire.
Wildfire: If you ask me, I wouldn’t underestimate him. Now, go! Don’t just stare at us.
Banality Man: Curses, they’ve discovered my archnemesis—the culinary arts! At least I’ve been given recourse to phone a friend.
[Pulls out phone]
Banality Man: Hmm… I bet the judges could really go for a pizza. I think I’ll call my friend Beretta Mondatta and see if she can help!
Beretta Mondatta: Hey, what’s up?
Banality Man: Beretta, you’re Italian. Make me a pizza!
Beretta Mondatta: Uh, first off, no. Second off, even if I wasn’t slightly offended by that, if you need a pizza, you definitely called the wrong person.
Banality Man: Please? I’m on television. I think it might be The Great British Baking Show because everyone’s talking funny and asking me to cook, although I haven’t really been paying attention.
Chase: Huh? British?
Wildfire: Beats me. Maybe he meant to say ‘Brinish’?
Chase: Brinish? Oh, he’s talking about seawater? Maybe he’ll make us something with seaweed.
Banality Man: Is there anything you can cook?
Beretta Mondatta: Well… I’m real great at toast. Like, maybe the best in the world. I can talk you through it if you need help.
Arsenik: He’s speaking in reference to a particular region known as Britain. However, I’m not all too certain how he arrived at that conclusion. The only one with the hint of an accent is Imugi, and even then, it doesn’t sound very…British.
Chase: Don’t you mean brinish?
Banality Man: Anything else? I need to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Beretta Mondatta: Just trust the toast, bro. Toast for every meal.
Banality Man: Got it! Sounds like a plan.
Wind: Like you even know what a British person sounds like.
Arsenik: I conduct my research, Imugi. When you’re inviting guests over, you would do well to study their culture and customs beforehand.
Wind: Guests? Sounds more like prey.
Arsenik: You would think that way.
Wind: Don’t act like you know me.
Princess Yanyu: Our first challenge… is to cook?
Prince Shun: I did learn some basic skills pertaining to food preparation when I stayed at Zheng’s…
Zheng: Well, aren’t you two royal siblings glad that this ‘vile witch’ is here with you for this challenge?
[The royal siblings stood in silence, watching the ground as the youth gloated.]
Prince Shun: You must admit, without Zheng, the two of us would struggle to prepare one meal, let alone three for our judges.
Princess Yanyu: …If anything, I can still make better tea.
Zheng: Yeah, tea-brewing alone isn’t going to cut it. We need to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Princess Yanyu: At least they were nice enough to give us all we need.
Prince Shun: Have you decided on what dishes will be prepared for the judges?
Princess Yanyu: We should prepare some Nantu delicacies, like Ascetic’s Temptation and Jiangcheng-style Roast Duck! That’ll surely make us the winners-
Zheng: Whoa, dishes with proper names and everything? Look, I’m not a culinary expert, so we’ll have to keep it simple.
Princess Yanyu: That’s true… It’s not like the dishes will be made for us by our royal attendants…
Zheng: Must be hard to be deprived of your foot servants for a day. How do people live like that?
Prince Shun: There is no time for wishful thinking. I will defer to your decisions, Zheng.
Zheng: We’ll start with congee and youtiao for breakfast, hmm, maybe radish cake and some fried rice for lunch and then dinner will be an all-out feast with steamed garoupa! I’ll even make a special dessert. Is that fancy enough for you?
Princess Yanyu: It sounds like we’re feeding the sick…
Prince Shun: These dishes certainly will not upset the stomachs of those who are unfamiliar with our cuisine. It might even better reflect the daily life of a Nantu citizen. We can think of it as giving the judges a more authentic experience of our culture.
Princess Yanyu: If you put it that way, it does sound a little better!
Zheng: Yes, yes, what better than the authentic cuisine of Nantu’s poor.
[The youth seemed to shrug off the royals’ opinions on their suggested dishes easily, and busied themself with collecting all the necessary ingredients.]
Zheng: You know, I also had to keep it simple since I had to take into account your cooking skills. …Or lack thereof.
[The last line was said with a smirk as Zheng arranged the ingredients and tools on their team’s work station with ease. The royal siblings stood to the side, as if waiting for instruction.]
Zheng: Yanyu, I’ll entrust you with the preparation of the rice for all three meals. I’m sure you can handle that.
Princess Yanyu: Excuse me, even a princess knows at least how to prepare the staple food of her country.
[Princess Yanyu huffed a little in protest, but obediently set off to measure out rice and water.]
Zheng: I’d hope so. We don’t really need another crunchy congee experience.
Prince Shun: Yes, we can do without the memory of such an event at this crucial time. Thank you very much.
Zheng: Anyway, Princeling, you can slice up the radish for the radish cake, the garnishes for the fish, and anything else that needs slicing.
Prince Shun: That sounds within my capabilities.
Zheng: It better, ‘cause I don’t know what else you’d be able to do if you couldn’t even handle that.
[The Prince took his insult easily with a light laugh, before getting to his assigned work.
Meanwhile, Princess Charming enters the room. The three princes trail behind her, looking a little lost. Prince Snow turns to address Princess Charming with a hesitant look on his face.]
Prince Snow: Do you need my help with this challenge, Charming? I suppose I can cook, but I wouldn’t say it’s anything special. I did spend most days eating at the tavern after work instead.
Mer’s Illusion: I’m afraid I’m not much better at cooking. I never had much food to work with as a child, and when I lived at the palace, I was never allowed to cook myself.
[Princess Charming winks with a light laugh.]
Princess Charming: Don’t worry. I got this. This challenge is easy.
Prince Zel: What do you have in mind, Charming?
Princess Charming: Just wait and see.
[Princess Charming stares at the table in front of her intently, a look of concentration on her face. The princes turn their gazes to the table, waiting in confusion.]
[Suddenly, the table is filled with delicate food, ranging from three-tiered chocolate cakes to plates of pancakes and steak. Prince Zel lets out an exclamation of surprise, his eyes sparkling as he practically drools at the buffet in front of him. Prince Snow recovers from his shock quickly, nodding in admiration. Prince Mer merely smiles, his composed demeanor in place as usual.]
Princess Charming: Ta da.
Prince Zel: Heavens! This is amazing, Charming!
Prince Snow: Impressive indeed. This should easily put us in the lead, I would imagine.
Arsenik: It would be, if it was allowed.
[Arsenik stands at the doorway, an easy smile on his lips. With Onyx overseeing one of the other teams, he had taken it upon himself to monitor the third group. Unfolding his crossed arms, he moves to approach them. When he’s at an arm’s length, he sweeps a hand against his chest and inclines his body forward in a slight bow.]
Arsenik: Your Highnesses…
[When he straightens to his full height, it’s easy to see that he’s a tall man, well over six feet – someone much accustomed to overshadowing others. He looks kindly upon Charming, dipping his head ever so slightly in an effort to meet her gaze from his stature.]
Arsenik: The fault lies with me. I should have been more specific. You may avail yourself to any of the equipment within this room, but as exceptional as your power is, you aren’t allowed to use any extraordinary abilities that would put the others at a disadvantage.
[Princess Charming crosses her arms, frowning.]
Princess Charming: Do none of the other teams have magic as well?
[There’s a moment’s worth of hesitation, one that’s barely noticeable. You might choose to believe he’s thinking it over.]
Arsenik: If they do, none quite so lofty as yours. For that reason, let’s not put the other teams on unequal footing.
Princess Charming: Very well. We understand. We won’t use any of this food for the challenge.
[Prince Zel’s gaze has not left the table of food this entire time, and at Princess Charming’s words, his head snaps up. He looks at Charming eagerly with pleading eyes.]
Prince Zel: Does that mean I can eat this, Charming?
[Princess Charming’s pout turns into a reluctant, amused smile.]
Princess Charming: Oh, go ahead. No point letting all this food go to waste.
[Prince Zel cheers and immediately starts digging in, letting out moans of appreciation.]
Prince Snow: In that case, I’ll help myself to a slice of cake as well.
[Princess Charming rolls her eyes as her companions all start hungrily consuming her hard work. She turns to eye Arsenik, who’s still standing nearby. She sighs before smiling in a friendly manner.]
Princess Charming: Would you like to try some of this food as well? Of course, we won’t ask for this to be judged. It’s just that it is impossible for the four of us to finish all the food on this table ourselves, so it would be our pleasure to share some with the hosts as a token of our gratitude for this opportunity to join the show.
[One brow raises before Arsenik’s lips break into another smile.]
Arsenik: That’s very kind of you. Or, perhaps, I should say sly? To bribe a judge.
[He chuckles in clear indication of it being a mild jest.]
Arsenik: Very well. It would be an honor, Your Highness. However, I think it would be wise to limit my portion. I don’t know how many meals I’ll have to judge.
Princess Charming: That’s understandable. Well, help yourself to as much food as you want. If Zel fights you for a particular dish, tell him I said the hosts should get first pick. In any case, I suppose we should get back to actual cooking. My princes?
[She turns to her teammates, who are still too busy eating to respond to her. She lets out a sigh.]
Princess Charming: I suppose I’ll try to make good use of this time to perhaps learn more about the hosts. We do have to pick three as our judges after all… It would be an advantage if we can figure out their tastes in advance.
[Swiping a plate of some strange delicacy off the table, Princess Charming makes her way towards Night. She stops in front of him, holding out her plate as an offering as she bobs a quick curtsy.]
Princess Charming: Night, I believe? Greetings. I was just informed that food created with magic is not allowed for this challenge, so now I have a full table of food to share with everyone. I figured you might enjoy this particular dish — it seems interesting, just like you.
[She winks at him playfully with a flirtatious smile.]
Night: It would be my honor.
[His smile broadens faintly, an invitingly sensual smile in return for her flirtatious one.]
Night: Feed me then.
[Princess Charming tries not to let her surprise show. Standing up straighter, she gives him a charming smirk.]
Princess Charming: Open your mouth then.
[He obliges her, leaning his head down and meeting her eye.]
[Princess Charming lifts the fork to his mouth, gently feeding him a bite while staring into his eyes. As she slides the fork into his mouth, the warm weight of his hand alights on the side of her fingers, almost as if steadying them.
She breaks the eye contact, her eyes flitting to the side as though to regain her composure before returning to Night, a slight hint of a blush on her cheeks. She gives a teasing smile.]
Princess Charming: Well? How was the food? Did you enjoy it?
Night: It’s as interesting as you said it would be.
[His thumb strokes the back of her fingers once, with an absentmindedness that makes it seem entirely accidental, before he withdraws his hand from hers.
There’s a hint of satisfaction in Princess Charming’s smile as she winks at him.]
Princess Charming: I knew you would enjoy this. It does seem to be the kind of food you would like. I’m glad I wasn’t wrong. Here, you can have the whole dish. Have as much as you want.
[He accepts the dish with a low chuckle.]
Night: All right. Are you planning to make this when the time comes for judging?
Princess Charming: Unfortunately, most likely no. We aren’t allowed to use my magic for the challenge, and it depends on what my companions can cook. Speaking of that, I suppose I should return to them and discuss our strategies for the challenge. Thank you, Night. It has been a pleasure.
[Princess Charming curtsies at him, a light smile playing on her lips. She turns and walks back to where her teammates are huddled.
Before she can reach them, Ambrosia intercepts her path.]
Ambrosia: Ah, Your Highness?
[She pauses to give a respectful bow in greeting.]
Ambrosia: I do hope this will not sound presumptuous. I know not of what you think of him but…
[She lowers her voice until it’s above a whisper.]
Ambrosia: Please be careful around him.
[Princess Charming cocks her head to the side in confusion.]
Princess Charming: What do you mean? Who? Night?
[Ambrosia inclines her head in the barest of nods.]
Ambrosia: Yes. He is not to be trusted.
[She makes another bow – this one, in parting. She moves back, preparing to stand beside the perpetually glowering Wind again.
Princess Charming stares after her, her brows furrowed. After a moment, her expression clears, and she continues walking back to where her team awaits.]
Prince Snow: What did she say to you, Charming?
Princess Charming: Nothing of importance. Well then. After that unexpected food break, we need to get back to work.
[Princess Charming shoots them a playful glare, at which they bow their heads in shame.]
Princess Charming: So what should we do for the challenge, since I’m not allowed to use magic anymore?
[Silence ensues. After a few moments, Prince Zel coughs, causing the others to turn to look at him. His face flushes red before he speaks in such a quiet voice that his teammates have to lean in to hear.]
Prince Zel: I can cook if you want me to. I have had a lot of practice over the years. There isn’t much else to do while in the tower, after all.
[Princess Charming’s face is lit up by a brilliant smile.]
Princess Charming: You are a lifesaver, Zel. Thank you. Please. The kitchen is all yours.
[Prince Zel blushes at her words, ducking his head.]
Prince Zel: I – I will do my best, Charming!
[Prince Zel looks around the room, his confusion growing with every passing second as he takes in all the strange appliances and machinery. His frown melts into a relieved smile when his gaze falls onto the pots and pans near the fireplace in the corner.]
Prince Zel: Yes, I can definitely work with this.
Prince Snow: Wait a moment. Before we get started, we need to choose three judges, as well as come up with a theme.
Mer’s Illusion: Does anyone have any clue what kind of taste each host has in food?
Princess Charming: Well, I did talk to Night for a while. Unfortunately, I didn’t get too much useful information out of him, but I have an inkling that he would be into something more… exotic. Interesting. Preferably a dish one’s never heard of before. Zel? Would you happen to know how to cook anything like that?
[Prince Zel looks thoughtful for a moment, then nods hesitantly.]
Prince Zel: Possibly. Though it really depends on our theme as well.
Prince Snow: Zel, if you will be the one doing all the cooking, why don’t you choose a style for the food first?
[Prince Zel looks to Princess Charming for approval, and she nods.]
Prince Zel: Ah… well… I suppose when I’m cooking, I tend to go for a food style that is more… comforting and warm. Perhaps with a feel of home.
[Prince Zel flushes again and averts his eyes, embarrassed by the personal revelation.]
Prince Snow: Hmm… We can work with that. What about… Mother’s cooking?
[Princess Charming frowns while Prince Zel’s face lights up with a smile.]
Prince Zel: Oh! I know what you mean. I haven’t exactly had experience with it myself, but I’ve read about it in books. I know what kind of feel you are going for. I can do that, I think.
Princess Charming: Well, I personally don’t really know what that means, because my mother never had time to cook for me herself, but if Zel likes this theme, then I suppose this is settled. Unless there are any objections?
[Prince Mer shakes his head with a soft smile.]
Mer’s Illusion: I think this is a wonderful idea. I have very fond memories of my mother’s cooking when I was a child before she passed away. Nothing really compares to my mother’s blueberry pie.
Princess Charming: We will go with this theme then. However, how would this tie in with the exotic, strange dish we plan on preparing for Night?
Prince Zel: Don’t mothers often experiment with strange food? I’ve heard children often complain about their mother’s new recipes that almost always ends up a disaster.
[Princess Charming eyes him in surprise and new appreciation.]
Princess Charming: That’s smart. Rather creative as well. I approve. I trust you have a kind of dish in mind?
[The tips of Prince Zel’s ears turn red at her compliment.]
Prince Zel: Y-yes. You can rely on me, Charming!
Princess Charming: Perfect. Who should be the last two judges? Any ideas?
Prince Snow: I vote for Ambrosia. Perhaps Chase as well.
Princess Charming: I think that sounds fair. I don’t have any particular preferences, honestly.
[Prince Mer simply shrugs while Prince Zel nods with a smile.]
Princess Charming: That’s the plan then. Zel, feel free to start cooking whenever you want.
Prince Zel: Yes, Charming!
[Prince Zel immediately starts rummaging through the pots and pans, his concentration showing plain as day on his face as he tries to decide on what dishes to cook. He starts murmuring to himself as he looks for ingredients in the shelf nearby, counting off items on his mental checklist. Occasionally, while Prince Zel is cooking, he will hum a tune softly, eliciting a smile from Princess Charming. ]
Paige: So… cooking. I can make some pretty run of the mill stuff, but I don’t think that’s going to impress anyone. What about you guys?
Colt: This isn’t the best competition for me…
Blake: The only person I’ve ever known who doesn’t know how to work a microwave.
Colt: It was one time! I figured it would be faster than boiling the water on the stove. I was hungry!
Blake: I thought that exploding microwave thing only happened in fiction.
Paige: What about you, Jordan?
[Jordan shook his head.]
Jordan: My mom does all the cooking at my house.
Paige: Darn it, I guess we will just come up with some simple stuff and hope the taste is good enough to win them over.
Blake: Yeah, whatever, don’t even bother to ask me.
[Paige spun towards Blake in shock. Blake almost backtracked when he saw how thrilled she was.]
Paige: You can cook?! Why didn’t you say so from the beginning?
Blake: I’m not a master chef or anything. Take a chill pill.
Jordan: He’s lying. He’s really good at it.
Colt: Seriously, the one thing you actually have some skill in and now you want to be humble?
Blake: Shut up, Colt.
Paige: Alright, we just need to figure out what to make then.
[Paige started going through the various refrigerators and cabinets to get some ideas. She froze when she opened one fridge door in particular.]
Paige: Oh. My. —.
Colt: What is it?
[Colt joined her and he had to cover his mouth to keep from openly drooling. The fridge had to contain every cheese known to exist.]
Colt: This is what heaven must look like.
Blake: Oh dear —, you two have serious issues.
Paige: Let’s do a cheese theme!
Blake: What– no! That’s not a theme! That’s an ingredient.
Paige: Come on, please, Blake. Pretty, pretty please.
[She took his hand as she pleaded with him, and he averted his eyes, trying to hide his blush.]
Blake: F-Fine, just stop looking at me like that. And we can’t put a block of cheese on a plate. We need to figure out what to make.
Colt: We should pick which judges to give each dish to and try to match their tastes.
Paige: So what do we know? Ambrosia, she seems like she would enjoy something sweet and maybe colorful?
Blake: And apparently it needs to include cheese for you addicts.
[Jordan held up his phone which has some cute mobile cooking game. There was a picture of some fruit crepes.]
Jordan: Like this?
Paige: Yeah, that would be perfect!
Blake: You want me to make crepes… You aren’t going to make this easy on me, are you?
Paige: Well, how about I make lunch then? I’ll make my patented three cheese grilled cheese and fries.
Colt: Or you could make that for us and force Blake to do all the work.
Blake: Haha, real funny. Paige, who are you making this sandwich for?
Paige: Um… Chase?
Blake: Any particular reason?
Paige: I don’t know, I really like the name Chase. It’s such a cool name.
[Blake responded with a roll of his eyes.]
Blake: You can be so weird sometimes. What about dinner?
Paige: How about… Arsenik?
Colt: That guy seems like he has really sophisticated tastes. I feel like whatever we make would not only have to be delicious but also look like a masterpiece too.
Blake: I have a recipe in mind, but I’m not one for the presentation c. Food is for eating not framing.
Jordan: You just want it to look like this stuff, right?
[He pointed to the pictures on his phone again.]
Jordan: I can do that.
Colt: Oh yeah, Jordan is a graphic designer. That would be right up his alley!
Blake: Alright. Paige and I will make the food, Jordan can arrange it. And Colt…
[Colt stared at Blake expectantly.]
Blake: You can go stand in the corner.
[Colt pouted as it seemed like a miniature rain cloud formed above his head.]
Paige: Blake, don’t be mean. I’m sure there’s something he can do.
Blake: Fine, you can fetch the ingredients for me. Just don’t blow anything up on the way to the fridge.
[Colt muttered something beneath his breath but followed his directions.]
[The group of three huddles next to their prep counter.]
Bianca: Cooking… Ettore, how good are you at that, anyway? You do know how to make more than just pasta, right?
Ettore: Of course. I own a few recipe books that I’ve learned from. Dinner… I think I have a recipe in mind for that.
Ettore: Something light and warm before you go to bed would be good, right? Like soup.
Cecil: Ah, and I can bake some bread to go with it!
Bianca: Sounds good to me. Um, so that’s dinner taken care of…Oh, by the way, I think I can do a good breakfast.
Cecil: What are you thinking of?
Bianca: You’re supposed to eat heavily in the morning, so I was thinking something like a breakfast platter.
[As they’re chatting, the group makes their way to the pantry, gathering the ingredients they know they need. Cecil is carrying everything in a big basket, but surprisingly, he isn’t having a very hard time doing it.]
Ettore: You sound like you know your stuff, Bianca.
Bianca: …I like breakfast.
Cecil: W-what about lunch, though? I’m sorry; I can’t really think of anything…
Ettore: I’m afraid I’m at a bit of a loss as well.
Bianca: How about something simple, like… uh, sandwiches, or something like that.
Ettore: Will sandwiches alone make for a filling lunch, though?
Bianca: Well, back in my world, we paired sandwiches with things like… potato wedges.
Cecil: Ah, that sounds kinda nice…
[Bianca scans the shelves and finds a bag of potatoes. She shrugs, and puts them into the basket.]
Cecil: Is there anything else we need?
Ettore: We have the orange juice for breakfast, right? Do you have anything else in mind for lunch and dinner?
Bianca: Hmm. Maybe lemon water…
Ettore: That sounds like it’d be quite refreshing.
[The three go back and forth for a little while, looking through the available ingredients, bouncing ideas for meals back and forth in a surprisingly light conversation. Remembering that they’re on a time limit, Ettore leads the two away from the pantry and to the kitchen. Bianca and Cecil tie their hair back – Cecil seems to struggle a little – and they begin.]
NEXT: The 1st Challenge – Let’s Cook, Chefs!!!
As of this moment, Lads in Distress is in the lead for who y’all think will win. If you haven’t cast your vote yet, do it here!
And now, who will win over the judges’ stomaches?! Find out next week or by following Dreamgazer on tumblr.
Best of luck to them all!