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Week 386
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Week 388

Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...

We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!

Story Three Hundred Eighty Seven Ends Friday, October 10

Sweat beaded on Erold's forehead as he painstakingly cut the fish for that night's Fish Special. The Maraquan Zafara couldn't believe his bad luck. What were the odds that a Neopian Times food critic would just happen to be writing a review of kelp on Erold's second night on the job?

With paws shaking, Erold delivered his dish to the chef for his approval. The chef that night (a Maraquan Skeith known for bellowing at the staff when things displeased him) raised an eyebrow, but nodded and motioned for Erold to pass the Fish Special on to the head waiter.

The Zafara watched with a mix of nervousness and excitement as the waiter served his Fish Special to the food critic. The critic, whose waistcoat strained to stay buttoned over his massive belly, examined the plate of food from every angle before finally taking a bite. After slowly chewing, a small smile spread across the Tonu's face and he made a few notes in his notepad. Erold sagged with relief. The critic had liked his food! He knew it!

Working was easy after that, and Erold turned out plate after plate of delicious food, whistling merrily. That whistle died on his lips, though, when the snooty Scorchio maitre d' swam into the kitchen.

"Mr. Upington has requested kelp's Signature Ice Cream to complete his meal," he informed the chef.

"Erold, you've been doing well tonight -- I'll leave the dessert to you," the Skeith chef rumbled.

This should be simple, thought Erold as he took out one of the ornate purple bowls that the ice cream was served in. When he went to scoop the ice cream, however, the Zafara's heart sank. The container was empty! Frantically, he dug through the freezer for another, but there was none. He was about to tell the chef when he remembered that it had been his responsibility to prep the ice cream that morning.

"Uh, Chef, I think I'd like to prepare this fresh, so it's extra special," Erold said.

"Fine, just make it fast."

Erold nodded and began taking out the ingredients he needed. He would make the best dish of ice cream the critic had ever tasted. The Zafara opened the jar containing the ice cream's secret ingredient and started to pour it into his mixing bowl. Nothing came out, however, apart from a few specks of greenish dust...

Author: Wafer-thin mint, anyone?
Date: Oct 6th
...that floated down in an almost mocking fashion into the bowl.

Erold trembled once, a small shudder that ran down his spine and set his lavender fins aflutter.

The ingredient was secret, of course. So secret that only the chef knew exactly what it was. Erold secretly suspected that it contained dashes of faerie dust. So it wasn't like he could suddenly whip up an extra batch of the powder on a whim or at any moment, such as, say, when his job was on the line, a well-known critic was dining at kelp, and the whole restaurant suddenly seemed to be breathing down his neck.

Of all the nights to go wrong...

He sagged, his tail unfurling. Without the ingredient, the ice cream would be merely ice cream. Nothing special. A bit anti-climactic, really. A mediocre end to a perfect dinner made the perfect dinner not-so-perfect, and kelp would be the laughingstock of fine dining when Mr. Upington's reviews in the Neopian Times claimed that it was not nearly as much as it was cracked up to be. And his coworkers would blame it on him, too. He --

Wait.

The ingredient was special. Very special. A sprinkling of it was used in plenty of kelp's signature dishes. Too special for the chef to let it run out.

And the bag had been completely full this morning.

Could it have been used up? He doubted it.

No, it had been stolen.

His suspicions were confirmed when a low chuckle reverberated through the water, and a flicker of cream and orange fins flashed in the corner of his eyes...

Author: dianacat777
Date: Oct 6th
Erold turned to find his fellow sous-chef, Franz, watching him out of the corner of his eye and chuckling to himself.

Erold immediately gave the giggling Maraquan Scorchio a sharp prod with his spatula. "What exactly is so funny, Franz? You wouldn't know where the stock of Chef's special powder has gone, would you?"

Franz sobered up immediately. "No, Erold. Of course I don't."

"Well, where could it have gone?" pressed Erold. "Come on. Help out the new guy."

"The new guy seemed to be doing just swell until now," Franz pointed out. "I have no idea what happened to it. I'm waiting with interest for you to come up with a really elaborate conspiracy theory about it, though."

"Conspiracy theory, nothing! This is my job we're talking about!" Erold huffed and bustled past Franz, lifting the lid of the various storage containers scattered about the kitchen counters. "My jar is empty. I can't find any anywhere."

Franz whistled a little tune absently and kept peeling the large Meridellian potato he was working on. "I have no idea, Erold. Maybe you should tell the chef."

"Are you crazy?" whispered Erold loudly. "And lose my job?"

"Powder doesn't just disappear," said Franz. Erold thought him remarkably unconcerned about the special ingredient's disappearance, even for a seasoned kitchen hand.

"Here," said Franz quietly, and he handed his potato to Erold. "You should finish peeling this one."

"Finish peel--" started Erold in outrage, but Franz gave his fin a sharp squeeze and a significant look.

"Yes," said Franz. "And watch what you're doing."

Puzzled, Erold looked at the potato, and he noticed that Franz had carved a word faintly into the skin...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Oct 7th
...Chef.

"No," whispered Erold, earning him a shush from Franz.

"Are you kidding?" he asked in a quieter voice, but the Scorchio shook his head solemnly.

"This can't be true," said Erold to himself. Why would the chef empty his own secret powder from the jar?

"I don't believe you," stated Erold defiantly. "Let's just see what Chef thinks about this."

"No!" Franz yelled loudly, causing every head in the room to turn and watch them. Franz pulled the Zafara to the side, slightly crouching beneath the counter.

"You can't trust Chef. He's trying to take control of the restaurant."

Erold's eyes widened at the Scorchio's accusation, then narrowed in distrust. "Why would he get rid of the secret ingredient, then? That doesn't make sense."

Franz looked at the Zafara like he was an infant. "He wasn't getting rid of the ingredient. He was sabotaging you."

Erold glanced over toward the chef, not sure who to believe. It was starting to make sense, but he didn't want it to be true.

But when the chef turned around, Erold saw the greedy look in the Skeith's eyes. Right then, he knew that Franz was telling the truth, and they had to stop Chef.

That's when Chef spotted him...

Author: be2aware
Date: Oct 7th
Chef strode toward their workstation with a sneering determination. "You there," he barked at Erold, "where is Mr. Upington’'s dessert?"

The Zafara swallowed hard to settle his quivering nerves. His hesitant, squeaking response was interrupted by the Scorchio sous-chef.

"Chef," said Franz, "I would like to make a suggestion." Presenting a parfait glass filled with green shaved ice, he continued, "I have prepared a special Seaweed Sorbet for the food critic. Would it not be best for him to cleanse his palate after the Fish Special? The better to savour the rich blend of exotic flavours in your Signature Ice Cream?"

The Skeith narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Franz, but pulling a spoon from his apron, tasted the concoction. Chef's face transformed from a look of annoyance to one of blissful delight to one of professional disdain. "Satisfactory," he told the sous-chef. Turning to Erold he added, "When Mr. Upington finishes the sorbet, the Signature Ice Cream had better be ready."

"Yes, Chef," the Zafara responded. The Skeith motioned for the head waiter to take the sorbet out to the food critic and marched off to loudly berate an apprentice for his soup-stirring technique. Turning to Franz, Erold hissed, "What do I do now?"

Franz began to chuckle to himself and replied, "I just bought you the time you need, do I have to spell out everything for you on a potato?" When Erold continued to shake his head in bewilderment, Franz rattled the empty jar that once contained Chef's secret ingredient.

"You think I should replace it?" asked Erold incredulously. "It's a secret ingredient. I don't even know what it is and you think I should get some more?"

"It's a secret ingredient," Franz repeated mockingly. "How could you not have known that you were being set up when Chef let you take the lead tonight? Listen -- anyone who has read Chef's autobiography, Cooking for Skeiths, knows what his 'secret' ingredient is."

"All right, I am naive and I haven't read the book. Please, just let me know what the ingredient is."

The Scorchio tossed Erold another potato and the startled Zafara mouthed the words written on it. Leaning closer to Franz, Erold whispered, "Caylis's Tears? Where do I even begin..."

Franz cut him off, and in a condescending tone informed the Zafara, "In the Maraquan Ruins, there's a well filled with Caylis's Tears. Bring some back and we can dry and grind them into powder. It's an ingredient that, when added to Chef's signature dishes, evokes strong emotions in the eater, emotions so overwhelming and unfamiliar, that our patrons mistake their own sentiments for gustatory delight."

Erold shuddered to the tip of his pink and teal tail, shaken by confusion and doubt. Taking a scan of the kitchen, he saw Chef bawling out an underling and made up his mind. Grabbing the empty spice jar, Erold murmured to Franz, "Stall for me if I'm not back right away."

He exited the kitchen by the rear delivery door and Franz replied to his disappearing figure, "Oh, I'm sure I'll be stalling for you." In the Scorchio's eye was a glint of malevolence every bit as honed as the paring knife in his right hand...

Author: mamasimios
Date: Oct 8th
Erold shuddered and flicked his tail much faster than necessary, propelling himself out of the back door and toward the Maraquan Ruins. Yes, the Scorchio's expression suggested something more devious, but he had no time to ponder that. A well of tears awaited...

***

Franz chuckled quietly but harshly to himself.

Oh, this new fool of a worker was so gullible.

Why would the chef want to oust the competition? He had no competition. He was the chef, and a well-respected one at that.

And using Caylis's Tears as an ingredient in common, everyday food? What an idiotic concept. He snorted. No, the fool would bring him back the prize ingredient in the spell he needed. Quietly, Franz withdrew the jar he'd filled with the secret ingredient from the pantry behind him and began to mix the ice cream.

The chef, the chef he loathed so much, that condescending fool, would be put to shame when he had no dessert to present. And he, Franz, would save the day with the most brilliant desert Mr. Upington had ever tasted. Oh, this would make the best ice cream ever. So enthralling, everyone who caught a drop of it on their tongue would be completely under his power.

He could make it kelp's new signature dish, too.

Grinning to himself, he flicked his tail and began.

"Oh, Chef," he murmured under his breath as he stirred, "who's the amateur now?"...

Author: dianacat777
Date: Oct 8th
***

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Upington the corpulent Tonu was still waiting for his ice cream. He tapped his plump fingers on the immaculate white table cloth in front of him, then twiddled with a spoon. He sighed and looked at the minutes ticking by on the bubble-operated clock in the dining room.

Finally, Mr. Upington took out his notepad and added: unfortunately, kelp seems to be plagued by slow service. Between the time I received my succulent sorbet and the arrival of my dessert, I already had a new colony of barnacles growing on my horn.

A sudden movement caught his eye: through the window across from his table, he spotted a harried-looking Zafara whizzing up the path and into the restaurant's side door, clutching a shellful of something very bright.

"Hm," said Mr. Upington to himself. "An interesting development."

Being the snoopy food critic that he was, Mr. Upington casually made his way toward the swinging doors leading to the kitchens, and he stood there in the shadow of a large coral sculpture.

"Here, Franz," said a breathless voice, which he identified with the Zafara he had just seen. "Caylis's Tears. I had to wrestle a school of Darpinch, and I stepped on an Urgoni while I was doing it, and --"

Mr. Upington's eyes widened. "Caylis's Tears? Those are restricted," he muttered to himself. He leaned into the swinging doors to hear more.

"Just give me those," came another voice, harsh and intolerant. "And for Kelpbeard's sake, stop looking so tired. The waiters are cleaning a spill, so you're going to have to serve Mr. Upington his dessert."

"His dessert? You made the ice cream? But how...?" came the first voice, anxious and verging on tearful.

Mr. Upington leaned in further.

"Just serve it," said the second voice.

Mr. Upington leaned too far.

With a squeak, the flimsy swinging door gave way and Mr. Upington tumbled into the kitchen, where he saw a confused, worried-looking Zafara holding an enormous Purple Scallop Shell filled to the brim with Caylis's Tears...

Author: larkspurlane
Date: Oct 9th
"Er, Mr. Upington?" the Zafara started. "What are you --"

"He's a spy," the harsh voice said. The Scorchio. "I always knew this had to be some sort of plot."

"But -- I --" the Zafara bit his lip, obviously confused. The shell of Caylis's Tears trembled in his hands.

"Don't spill it!" the Scorchio snapped.

"Sorry, sorry, Fra --"

"Don't say my name! Do you want him to know?" The Scorchio pointed accusingly at the Tonu.

Mr. Upington cleared his throat. "Excuse me? What's this nonsense about a spy?"

"You are!" the Scorchio blustered. An obvious lie, of course, but he had to play along with it until Erold gave him the tears.

The Tonu sniffed. "I'm a food critic for the Neopian Times," he said coldly. "And the substance that you happen to be holding is restricted. Illegal for use in this restaurant."

"But -- I -- he told me that this was the secret ingredient," Erold frantically stammered. What was going on? "I had -- I had absolutely nothing to do with this, sir, Mr. Upington, sir. I was just doing what I was told to do, I'm new here, and --"

"Shut up!" Franz hissed.

"-- 'cause, see, I was going to make your ice cream, but we ran out of the secret ingredient for some reason, and then --"

"I thought I told you to shut up!" he roared, brandishing the paring knife.

Erold clamped his mouth shut. This spitting-mad, venomous Scorchio wasn't the same Franz-the-sous-chef, was it? It was all so confusing. First the chef was plotting to take control of kelp, and then they needed Caylis's Tears, and then the food critic was a... a spy? And then Caylis's Tears were restricted, or something.

Why did it have to be me*? he thought desperately. It's only my second night. I don't know how to deal with things like this yet.

Scowling, Franz glanced from the shell full of tears to the Tonu to the almost-finished spell he'd artfully concealed inside a simmering pot. The food critic was a problem. The Tonu just had to break in when he was on the verge of fulfilling his revenge, didn't he? Humph. Franz could just get rid of him... but that would be messy, and that Erold might scream or do something equally foolish to attract everyone's attention.

No, he had to deal with this situation carefully. Delicately. Franz was just about to tell Erold to put down the bowl of Caylis's Tears when the Tonu snapped his fingers.

"That's it!" he said. "That's who you are! You're Franz, aren't you? You're that kid who first opened kelp..."

Author: mithril_mithrandir
Date: Oct 9th
"...I remember it clearly now," said the critic.

Erold shook his head, trying to clear the foggy sense of obliviousness. Kelp had been opened a long time ago. How could Franz, a young Maraquan Scorchio, have opened it to begin with?

And yet something about this seemed vaguely familiar, as if it had happened before. As if Erold had known this from those years coming as a child with his family. As quickly as doubt had filled him, it disappeared. Franz was the one to open kelp!

The Zafara turned to Franz, watching him. He was unprepared for this, but he had to do something. Working at kelp was his dream. Whatever fear he had didn't matter anymore. Erold would protect kelp from whatever the sous-chef was planning.

The Scorchio's eyes flickered to the pot on the stove.

"What was that?" Erold blurted out, and the Tonu focused on the pot too.

Franz rushed over to the pot, pulling the lid off quickly. The Scorchio positioned himself protectively in front of it.

"You won't stop me from capturing what is rightfully mine. Kelp is my restaurant, and I alone will own it."

Erold's eyes widened in fear. Whatever that pot held, it was able to give Franz the power to take kelp. The Zafara lunged for the bowl of Caylis's Tears, but it was too late.

With a malicious laugh, Franz tilted the dish, letting the tears pour into the spell...

Author: be2aware
Date: Oct 10th
...trickling down in a mesmerising stream, softly falling, dissolving...

And everything else seemed to dissolve as well. The clatter of restaurant noise blended into the texture of the water, the tables, cabinets, pots, and dishes all melted into unreality... Franz the Maraquan Scorchio stood in the middle of it all, his eyes shut, his mouth laughing, his hands clasped in front of his belly as the whirl of magic flowed into him...

"No!" cried the chef, flailing.

"No!" cried the critic, frowning.

"No!" cried Erold, floundering.

It was as though a great sea of memories was sweeping past. Erold, standing near the pot, caught glimpses of it -- Franz as a young lad starting up a small restaurant with a triumphant grin... the first few customers coming in... then weeks of no business... food going to waste... Franz weeping, handing over the keys to a new manager in return for a handful of Neopoints.

Years of patient progress under the new manager’s leadership... the hiring of the esteemed chef... a scattering of positive reviews... and Franz watching from a distance, regretting, wanting another chance, entering kelp again as a sous-chef.

And then, just as suddenly as it had happened, the spell cleared. Franz was smiling serenely, and all the workers at kelp had placid, dazed expressions on their faces. The chef picked up his ladle and started humming a tune. The waiters served the customers. Even the critic beamed and started telling Franz, "What a fine restaurant you have here, Manager. That was quite possibly the best meal I have ever tasted."

Only Erold stood stunned. Was it a dream? Had Franz really been the manager all along? The pot that had contained the spell was now empty, sparkling clean, and a kitchen helper was putting it merrily away into a cupboard.

"Very few meals have touched me as much as this one," continued Mr. Upington. "Quite extraordinary. Were you the one responsible for the Fish Special?" He turned to Erold genially.

"Why, yes, I was," said Erold, and Franz patted him on the back. The critic asked a few more questions, made notes in his notebook, and went smoothly away.

Why bother revealing the truth, even if I know it? thought Erold, as he went back to his work. Everything's fine. I still have my job. I don't know why the spell didn't take my memory, but it doesn't matter because everyone else has forgotten...

*****

In a few years, the restaurant collapsed again under Franz's faulty leadership. Staff were laid off, one by one, including Erold. Franz went into the Meepit Oaks Sanitorium for the Psychologically Fragile.

Another manager took over the restaurant, but would not hire Erold.

History repeats itself -- only the players change. One of the players cast out of the cycle was a sad Maraquan Zafara, wandering sadly into the murky distance, wishing he had defended the truth, wishing he were back in the old story.

The End

Author: yoyote
Date: Oct 10th



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