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||You are on Week 648
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 Six Hundred Forty Eight Ends Friday, March 21
|Sometimes you're so close to victory that you can almost taste it.
Susie, a Kacheek, could almost taste the victory as she frosted the final touches on her cake. After weeks of preparation she was finally here, at Mystery Island, competing in Neopia's biggest cake-making competition. Up and down the beach work stations dotted the shore, where other bakers were feverishly putting the final touches on their cakes.
"Here we are at Extreme Cake Bake-off, Mystery Island!" An island Kougra climbed up to a raised platform near the center of the beach, met by a round of applause from the numerous fans who had come to watch the contest. "Remember, contestants -- in order for your creation to qualify for judging, then you must include at least one native Mystery Island fruit ingredient in your cake. After all, this is Gadgadsbogen!" The Kougra nodded and smiled as the crowd cheered again.
Susie smiled and looked at her cake. It had taken the better part of the day to make, but now -- seeing it sit there on the table in front of her, complete with Owabit jam filling and pale purple frosting -- every minute was worth it.
Other Neopets ran by Susie's table, trying desperately to finish their cakes in time. A little less than an hour was left, and some contestants just hadn't prepared as well as Susie. Enjoying the leftover time, she walked down to the water's edge and let the waves' foam wash over her paws. In the cloudless sky, the sun was just starting to lower behind the mountains in the distance, and the late afternoon was still pleasant and warm. Caves by the edge of the beach caused a whistling noise when a breeze passed by. Away from the hustle and bustle of the competition, Susie was finally able to take a deep breath and relax... until a piercing shriek cut through the calm.
Susie looked back to the competition, but nothing seemed to be amiss. In fact, no one even seemed to have heard the scream. Looking in the other direction, she saw the caves again and figured that it had just been the wind. This was some consolation to her, and she was about to head back to her workstation when another scream reached her ears, this time very clearly coming from the caves, and very clearly not the wind.
Susie checked her watch and, with the realization that there were still forty-five minutes left until cake-judging time, she decided that she should really see what it was in the caves that had been screaming. She began to run toward the caves with an increasing feeling of panic. Her run slowed to a jog, then to a walk, and then to a deliberate plod, at which point she realized that she really was not looking forward to finding whatever was in the caves. She was seriously weighing the possibility of turning around and going back when she reached the mouth of the nearest cave. Something inside it rustled. Cautiously stepping inside, Susie clenched her teeth and tensed every muscle, prepared to run as fast as she possibly could in the other direction if necessary. She wasn't quite sure what to expect, but she most assuredly did not expect what she found...
Date: Mar 17th
...A Gnorbu decked out in pirate regalia, complete with tattered sailor's finery and a slightly-balding Pawkeet on his shoulder, stood in partial darkness, waving his hands in apparent anguish. He was not, however, the most astonishing feature of the cave: in front of him was a table groaning under the weight of pastry, fondant, piping bags, and one of the most magnificent cakes Susie had ever seen.
It was taller than she was and looked like a delicious sunset; each tier was a different delicately-shaded color that melted into the next, and the top tier was midnight-blue and covered in tiny frosting-and-fondant stars. Susie stared at it in awe. Her cake didn't stand a chance against this confectionery masterpiece, but she didn't even care.
"Ruined!" the Gnorbu wailed, causing the Pawkeet to squawk in surprise and flap away. Susie jumped, startled out of her reverie, and surreptitiously wiped a tiny bead of drool from the corner of her mouth. "Blister me barnacles, it's ruined!"
"How can it be?" she said, tentatively stepping into the cave. "It's... it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!"
Far from looking comforted, the Gnorbu glared at Susie, drawing himself up. "Were it you? Were it you who stole it?"
He took a few deep and steadying breaths, and all the anger seemed to seep out of him. "What am I saying, yer just a wee sprog. I've seen ye workin' on yer cake. Ye wouldn't have had time to steal my secret ingredient.”
"Your secret ingredient? Why would anyone do that?" Susie asked, horrified.
The Gnorbu's face crumpled. "I never should've come out o' retirement," he said, his head drooping. "I should've known somethin' like this would happen."
"When did you--" Susie stopped in the middle of the sentence and gasped. "I know who you are! You're the Marine Marzipan Magician! The Triple M! You were the most legendary Bake-Off champion in the history of the competition!"
"I haven't heard that name in a long time, sproggie," the Gnorbu said sadly. "Nowadays, most call me Marty."
"Why did you quit, Marty?" Susie asked. She knew she should be getting back to her table, as there wasn't much time left in the competition, but she was so star-struck she couldn't bring herself to leave.
"I loved what I did, but I got too famous. Too arrogant. Others got jealous, an' things like this started happenin' everywhere I'd go, like someone were followin' me, hopin' I'd fail." Marty gestured toward the table. "A few months ago, though, I were watchin' a beautiful Krawk Island sunset and just knew I had to get back in the game for one last hurrah, so I registered in secret and set up shop over here where nobody would know it were me... and I were goin' to bring the cake out at the very last minute, so I could add the secret ingredient right before judgin'. I left to check the time, however, an' when I came back, it were gone!"
"Your cake looks perfect, though," Susie said. "Can't you use it without whatever you were going to add?"
"That's just it!" Marty cried. "It was me Mystery Island ingredient -- a fillin' made out of mashed Grunions an' special spices, which could only be piped into the cake just before servin'. Without it, I'm disqualified!"
The island Kougra's voice sounded again. "Only half an hour remaining, contestants! Please be at your tables within thirty minutes to qualify for judging!"
"There's not enough time," the Gnorbu groaned. "I'll never be able to replicate it. I need to find out who took the fillin', an' fast."
Susie bit her lip. On the one hand, she badly wanted to win, and if Marty was disqualified, she was sure she'd be taking home the Islandberry-shaped statue at the end of the day. However, she wanted to win in a fair fight, and she didn't want a pastry-chef legend to lose just because of someone else's malice.
"I'll help you," she said firmly. "Come on, we have five suspects and only twenty-nine minutes to figure out which one is the culprit."
"Thank ye, wee sprog," Marty said, a note of hope in his voice, and he followed Susie out of the cave, only to be faced with...
Date: Mar 17th
...a loud squawking green ball of feathers that flitted so fast around their heads that it was but a blob of color.
"Wags!" Marty cried. "Off with ye, ye rascal!" The green blob slowed enough for Susie to make out the balding Pawkeet who settled contently back upon the Gnorbu's shoulder, eyeing Susie shrewdly. "Come, we're wastin' time."
Susie walked beside the Gnorbu as they headed back toward the beach. "I'm Susie, by the way. Why did you call your Petpet Wags?"
"It's short fer scallywag," Marty said, giving Susie a wink.
She couldn't help but like him already. "Okay," she said, "there's five other contestants, not counting you and me, so one of them must have taken your secret ingredient. I say we observe each of their stations and see if we can find--"
"Fess up, I know ye did it!" Marty had marched right up to Contestant #1, a Disco Lutari who was fervently stirring a large bowl of white frosting, his orange afro teetering dangerously over his lopsided and slightly burnt cake.
"What?!?" he said, his voice unusually high. "I didn't! I mean, I have no idea what you're talking about. Do I know you?"
"Marty, calm down," Susie said, but she noticed the Lutari had started to sweat profusely. "Look, if you did something you weren't suppose to do--"
"Alright, alright," the Lutari said, practically bursting into tears. "This competition is just so tough. I needed something to help a little."
Susie nodded consolingly, but Marty swelled up indignantly. "Ye stole me secret ingredient!"
"Shh!" the Lutari said, waving his hands in the air. "Stole? I didn't steal anything. I was talking about this." He reached under the table and withdrew a cardboard box.
"The Crumpetmonger's Moist Chocolate Cake Mix," Susie read. "You used a pre-made cake mix? The cakes are supposed to be made from scratch!"
"I know, I know... but I didn't steal anything. I was only hoping for third place, anyway. You should check out the contestant next to me, though. I saw her disappear earlier from her station for almost a whole hour..."
Date: Mar 18th
..."Aye!" Marty exclaimed as he turned on his hoof heading toward the next contestant over.
Susie grabbed Marty's front blue-grey paw, "Marty, wait. We need to play this smart." Marty turned around with an annoyed look on his face. He wanted to find the Grunion filling thief and he wanted to find him or her fast. "Whoever stole your secret ingredient isn't dumb and is probably highly manipulative. If we're going to catch them, then we need to play smarter," Susie explained logically.
The Gnorbu frowned as he considered Susie's words. "She has a point, you know," the Lutari agreed rather eagerly, now that the pair was distracted from her rule-breaking cake.
"Argh... ye have a point, wee sprog," Marty groaned. Even though he agreed, it was obvious that he preferred a more aggressive approach.
"Just follow my lead. Let's go," Susie said as the pair left the Lutari's station and approached the contestant next-door.
A transparent Blumaroo stood at his station carefully piping a blue leaf on the side of his cake creation. He was too distracted with concentration as the competition's minutes passed one by one. Susie took advantage of his ignorance to their presence to survey their environment.
There were bowls in the sink with leftover colored frosting and chocolate cake batter. Next to an empty box of Alabriss Almond Cookies was a strangely suspicious-looking brown paper bag. As Susie tried to focus more on it, she heard a distinct clearing of a throat.
"Erm? Can I assist you with something?" the Blumaroo asked, looking at the pair with cautious black eyes. Susie could see the bones in his ears move as they perked up, alert.
"Aye, ye--" Marty began before Susie nudged him with her elbow.
"Yes, we... um... we wanted to see if you needed any help?" Susie asked, saying the first thing she could think of. "We could help you clean up your station," she explained while reaching for the empty paper bag.
"Help? Do I LOOK like I need help?" The Blumaroo looked offended. His chest swelled and Susie noticed his lungs expand through his transparent skin. She assumed that, if he'd had an external layer of skin, then it would be red with anger right now.
"Why would I want help from The Triple M -- a Bake-Off drop out -- and a newbie who probably doesn't even know the difference between a drop flower icing tip and a rose icing tip?" The Blumaroo huffed as he hastily stashed the brown paper bag under a pink shelf.
"Ye seem to know a lot about me and this 'ere girl," Marty said accusingly. Susie wondered if she looked inexperienced, or if, maybe, she really was. Did she really have a shot at the gold trophy? Also, what if she had to compete against Marty? There was no chance...
"Only a quitter and a beginner wouldn't read up on their competition," the Blumaroo scoffed, a deep laugh bellowing in his belly.
That's when Susie noticed it -- with each snarky laugh, an object bobbed up and down in the Blumaroo's stomach.
"Wait, in your stomach! Is that a Grunion?"...
Date: Mar 18th
...The Blumaroo threw his paws up sarcastically. "Oh, how impressive! The newcomer knows her Mystery Island fruits. Unfortunately for you, this isn't a trivia competition." He rolled his eyes, and Susie watched uncomfortably as she saw them turn a full circle in the Blumaroo's eye sockets.
"Now, ye look here--" Marty started. Susie shot him a sideways glance and his voice tapered off awkwardly. Clearing his throat, he continued in a much more affable tone, "Ye have a fine taste for fruits, lad. Grunions are me favorite."
"How interesting," the Blumaroo chef drawled. He didn't look up from his cake, but Susie saw his ears twitch at Marty's compliment.
Nice one, she thought, cheering for him silently.
"You two may have time for idle chit-chat as you prepare your entries, but mine requires the highest level of concentration. So, if you'd please--"
"Aye, we'll be off!" Marty waved his paws dismissively. "Could ye tell me one thing, though, laddy? Where'd ye get that lovely-lookin' Grunion? I haven't seen me such a fine specimen as that in ages."
"Any advice from an expert like you would be greatly appreciated, sir," Susie added, hoping the smile that she flashed the Blumaroo was convincing enough. The transparent 'pet paused for a moment, and then Susie saw his muscles relax -- he lost about an inch in height. She had to swallow a giggle at the sight of the pretentious baker falling from his high horse.
"I suppose you really could use it," he muttered to himself, "and it’s not as if I have anything to worry about... well, fine. If you must know, I found it over on the taste-testing table. I don’t think I was supposed to eat the Grunion, actually; it was part of a display for some absolutely divine spiced Grunion filling. Fyora knows who made it, though; the chef is listed as anonymous. Quite a shame, really, for talent like that to go unrecognized..."
If the Blumaroo continued, Susie didn't hear him -- out of the corner of her eye she saw Marty whip around and take off into the crowd, and not about to lose him she followed immediately. Dozens of 'pets were lingering about the stations, ogling over the stunning cakes and waiting for the contest to begin, and it seemed that almost all of them were much bigger and taller than Susie. At one point she found herself squished between an island Skeith and his Tonu friend; she let out a mortified squeak, but the two 'pets were too busy guffawing to notice the poor Kacheek they'd just trapped.
With no other options, Susie was forced to get on all four paws to crawl out from beneath them. She emerged on the other side, red-faced and breathless, when she caught sight of the Gnorbu she'd been looking for just a few paces ahead.
Susie dusted herself off and hurried to Marty's side, frowning as she noticed that he had his head in his paws. "Er... Marty? What is it?"
The Gnorbu gave a melodramatic sniffle and thrust a paw out toward the table he stood in front of. It was covered by a luxurious white tablecloth with bright, intricate tribal patterns in every color of the rainbow, and the items set out along the table's length displayed just as much variety. Susie felt as if her eyes were about to pop out of her head at all the icings and fillings and gels, but then she saw what Marty was pointing at. A glass bowl was filled with a smooth filling -- Marty’s special mashed-Grunion-and-spice filling. At least, she figured it had been filled at one point; all that remained of the filling now was a few streaks near the bottom of the bowl. A sign behind the bowl read "Made By: Anonymous," and several whole Grunions surrounded the bowl in a circle that would have been impressive if it weren't for the spot where one fruit was obviously missing.
"It's all gone!" Marty cried despairingly. "Me secret ingredient! Oh, blast. I'm ruined!"
Unsure of how to console him, Susie moved to place her paw on his shoulder, but just as she stepped forward to do so she felt someone tapping lightly on her own shoulder. The 'pet she saw when she turned around was not one that she recognized...
Date: Mar 19th
...The face Susie looked into was luminescent -- literally. Standing behind them was a glowing Kougra whose green eyes sparkled as their gazes met. "Hullo!" the Neopet enthused. Her tone was as bright as her form.
Susie blinked at her, momentarily dazzled, as she took a couple of steps back. "Hello," the Kacheek replied automatically, her own voice guarded.
"I've come to grab another bite of that marvellous Grunion filling," the Kougra told them conversationally, peeking past them. "It had flavours I don't think I've ever tasted before and, as a local, I eat Grunions regularly. Oh!" She winced as her glance settled on the table. "I see it's all gone. Ah well, I can't say that I didn't expect it to go fast. There was a huge crowd," she prattled on, gesturing with her paws, "by the table earlier, and each and every Neopian here was simply gushing about the talent of our mystery baker." The 'pet paused for a second's breath. "It was truly," she finished, smiling, "delicious."
"Yarr, I know," Marty forced out, still staring at the empty bowl. "Believe me, lass, I know." He half-turned away, his head drooping further as he shifted. It seemed to Susie that he was withdrawing into himself and all the more profoundly for the Kougra's bright comments. Remembering the Gnorbu's earlier gusto, the icy fist she felt inside her chest squeezed her heart still tighter. She wouldn't know what to do in his position, either. As it was, she didn't know what to do right now. The pastry chef had obviously poured a lot of effort into his filling; firstly in making it and secondly in looking for it once discovered missing. With it he had poured his hopes and, just as the bowl was empty, Marty himself was now drained of optimism. "I shouldn't a come back," he muttered to the sand. "I'm absolutely ruined!"
It was, perhaps, easier for Susie to take an objective step away and think the situation over. A dozen thoughts flicked through her mind, each progressively clearer. While true that Marty had told her that it was impossible to redo the filling in the initial forty-five minute time period, the first option that presented itself was to try. Glancing at her watch, Susie saw that they still had twenty minutes left. It might be enough to cobble something together, even if there wasn't time enough to remake the filling completely. The older Neopet's head, though, didn't lift as she voiced her suggestion. "I'd help," she offered.
"Ye can't." Marty's voice caught slightly.
"I know that contestants are meant to work alone, but," Susie paused, taking a steadying breath, "we could explain to the judges that someone stole your filling. It's worth a shot."
"No, ye can't," Marty choked out a second time. "Ye know how we were able to prepare our fruit elements in advance? It took me hours to make that fillin'. I had to leave the spices I used out in the sun to bake a while to give it a tang, see?" The Gnorbu's jaw had become set. "There's just not enough time."
"Well," Susie deliberated, her thoughts again in a whirl. "Why don't you make something different with the Grunions here, or use another fruit? I know," she continued, her voice soft, "that it wasn't what you wanted, but it's better than being disqualified for having no native fruit ingredient." Her eyes scanned back over the length of the taste-testing table, taking in a cluster of Blobbules and the gorgeous, vibrant ruby of several Appriberries. There sat a number of viable fruits native to Mystery Island that the Gnorbu could draw on.
"I can't. It won't be the same." Marty's reply was short, even stubbornly gruff, and left his predicament as hopeless as ever. Susie fought down the urge to scream as Marty had some twenty or so minutes before. It was like he no longer wanted to rectify the situation he faced.
The Kougra had remained next to them, silent. Susie gasped slightly as the glowing Neopet cleared her throat. Caught up in her exchange with Marty, she'd forgotten that the Kougra was there. "Am I to understand," the Kougra started, "that you are our mysterious baker, and that the filling you made was... stolen?!?" Marty's glower was answer enough and the Kougra straightened. "That's a most serious allegation, and one I take seriously as a judge here." Her eyes moved from Marty to Susie before settling once more on the Gnorbu's agonised features. "I can't promise you extra time or special consideration, but I can ask our staff if they saw who placed the filling here, or even if they saw anyone acting oddly."
Marty's expression didn't smooth out at the Kougra's words. If anything, his features appeared to contort as his breaths became increasingly heavy, coming in harder and faster. Susie exchanged a concerned glance with the Kougra judge when he doubled over, and she then stepped up to pat him on his back. "Hey there, Marty. Are you alright?"
"He's hyperventilating." The Kougra searched the taste-testing table, pushing some plates aside. "There should be paper bags here."
The alarm Susie felt intensified. Marty's face was turning as red as the Appriberries she'd noticed.
"Aha!" The glowing Kougra's paw seized on a paper bag and Marty's paws grabbed it in turn, holding it to his mouth as he rocked back and forth slowly. "That, for one thing, is odd," the Kougra mused. "I could have sworn that there was a whole stack of paper bags here just ten minutes ago..."
Date: Mar 19th
..."Is he going to be okay?" Susie asked, but to her relief she saw that Marty's colour was already returning to normal.
"Yeah," the Kougra said. "He's okay now, but I wonder what happened to all those bags. Do you think someone stole them?"
"Who would steal paper bags?" Susie questioned.
"I'm not sure, but I'm going to get to the bottom of this." The Kougra smiled at Marty. "You're going to be just fine," she said. "Keep breathing slowly. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's something I need to do." With her calm smile never wavering, the glowing Kougra walked away as she returned to the judges' table.
Susie gently touched Marty's arm. "Are you sure you're okay now?" she asked.
The Gnorbu nodded as he lowered the bag. He no longer looked in danger of hyperventilating, but the sadness etched into his features was unmistakable. "I should 'ave nay came here," he moaned. "I could 'ave retired a champion."
Susie hovered helplessly, wishing there was something that she could say that could make this whole situation right, but before she could speak she heard someone shouting over a bullhorn.
"Attention contestants, judges, and spectators!" It was the glowing Kougra from before. "We have just learned of an issue. One contestant had his special filling stolen and other things have gone missing. We are going to delay the beginning of the competition until we get to the bottom of this situation. Thank you."
"Do you hear that?" Susie squealed. "Now you have a chance to make another batch of your special filling, after all."
Hope slowly began to blossom in Marty's grizzled face. "Perhaps," he said, "But we still 'ave to hurry."
"This isn't fair!" a voice suddenly shouted.
Susie and Marty looked up and saw the transparent Blumaroo they had talked to earlier shaking his head as he walked over to the Kougra. "You're delaying everything just because some old pirate misplaced his ingredients. That's not fair! If it was anyone else other than the legendary Triple M, you wouldn't do all this." Some of the other contestants began to mumble their agreements.
Marty's face fell, but Susie was determined to not allow him to lose hope. "Go on and gather your ingredients and make your filling," she said. "I'll take care of this."
"But he be right," Marty argued.
"No, he's not," Susie argued, although she wasn't sure if she actually believed what she was saying. "This isn't an unfair advantage. We're just trying to make things fair. Now, go on. You'll still have to hurry."
Marty nodded and disappeared into the surrounding jungle as Susie walked up to the Blumaroo, who was still complaining loudly.
"How would you feel if someone stole your things?" she demanded. "Would you want things made right?"
Anger was apparent in the Blumaroo's eyes. "Sure," he said, "but I wouldn't ask them to delay the entire competition."
"We didn't ask, though," Susie countered. "The judge here offered to do that for us."
"He still wouldn't have done it for the rest of us!" the Blumaroo shouted. "That's what makes it unfair, but I don't care anymore. Go ahead and let that old coot get his special filling. I'll still win. My cake will still be better, but yours won't. Just remember that when you lose." Still fuming, the Blumaroo stomped off back to his station.
Susie walked slowly away as her mind reeled with what the Blumaroo had just said. While she didn't really think that the Blumaroo's cake was all that good, she knew that she'd stood a real chance of winning. Had she just engineered her own loss? Quietly, she made her way back to her station and looked down on the cake that, only a short time ago, had given her so much confidence. Now, it looked okay, but she knew she didn't have a chance to win if Marty managed to remake his filling in time. A tiny part almost wanted him to fail now, and she felt horrible guilt for feeling that way.
Defeated, she slumped down on the counter and hid her face in her paws. Nothing was turning out right today.
"Excuse me," a soft voice said nearby.
Susie looked up, only to see a young pastel Xweetok standing there with a smile on her delicate face. "Yes?" Susie asked.
"I think that was really great the way you would help a competitor," the Xweetok said, "but you probably shouldn't have done that."
The Xweetok leaned forward so that she could whisper directly in Susie's ear. "Because he's cheating," she announced...
Date: Mar 20th
..."What?!?" Susie gasped.
"I saw who placed the bowl of filling on the table," she said. "I thought it odd at the time, since it was such a disheveled-looking pirate."
"Why, though?" Susie asked. "Why would he do that?"
"Isn't it obvious?" the Xweetok scoffed. "He's sabotaged his own cake in order to get favourable treatment from the judges -- he's winning their pity, and their votes. Triple M, no matter what he thinks, didn't retire because others sabotaged him. He retired because he simply lost his touch."
"That can't be right!" Susie maintained.
"Oh, but it is," the Xweetok added. "I've been around a while, I remember the last few competitions he entered. He began to blame his own failures as a baker on others. Now, he's making up for his own shortcomings as a chef by manipulating the judges."
Susie didn't entirely believe this. After all, she'd seen the cake -- it really was brilliant, and the Kougra had mentioned how good the filling was. If Marty had lost his touch in the past, then he clearly had regained it.
"I'm afraid I just don't believe you," Susie told the Xweetok. "For all I know, you might be the filling thief."
"I thought you might say that," she replied with a smirk. "So I thought I might prove it to you. Follow me, there's something you have to see -- the truth about Triple M's cake, and his filling..."
Date: Mar 20th
...Susie wasn't sure what to believe. She had spent all this time trying to help Marty, and now... to be told that he was cheating. It just didn't seem right. Everything this Xweetok was saying could, technically, be true, however.
No, she had to find out for herself. If she was being played, then she wanted to know. She did trust Marty though, but wanted to see any proof with her own eyes.
"Okay," she said, following the pastel Xweetok. "I'm right behind you."
Susie followed behind the Xweetok as they made their way into the jungle, following where Marty had gone. They brushed back leaves and branches, but didn't have to go far to come to a clearing. What Susie saw there almost made her gasp.
Marty was digging at a spot marked with an X on the ground, and from the look on his face, the pirate Gnorbu had just hit treasure. He pulled out a chest from the ground and opened it. Inside was a jar of Grunion filling!
"I can't believe it..." Susie whispered. "He was cheating."
"That's not all," the Xweetok whispered back. "Keep listening."
A few seconds later, a fluffy green ball flew toward Marty. It was his Pawkeet, Wags.
"Ah, good matey, you're back," Marty said. "Did ye plant the Cheops Plant leaves in all the competitions' ingredients like I had ordered?"
The Pawkeet squawked out, and bits of green leaves were clearly seen on its talons.
Susie couldn't believe what she was hearing. Cheops Plant leaves were poisonous! That must have been his true plan! All of the other cakes but his would make the judges sick, so even if he did lose his touch, he'd win by default!
"Now do you see why you shouldn't have helped him?" the Xweetok said.
Susie nodded. "We need to get back and warn the others! Their cakes have been poisoned!"
The Kacheek turned around to head back to the contest, but she didn't notice that there was a stick on the ground just by her feet. Seconds later, a loud snap echoed through the jungle. Susie looked back and saw that Marty was staring right at her...
Date: Mar 21st
...The Kacheek had the initial instinct to run. There was no way a little baker like herself could defeat an aged pirate-turned-master chef in any form of combat. Yet, she stayed firm. Her eyes darted all around for the mysterious Xweetok, but she seemed to have totally vanished.
"So, now ye know everythin'," Marty started, his drawl slow and thick with aggravation... and anticipation. He started to approach her.
She cowered as he walked over; however, when it became evident he would seek no harm unto her, a pensive look spread across her face. "Marty -- the great Triple M -- why did you do it?"
The Gnorbu grimaced; then his face fell completely. He released a large sigh. "Truth be told, good ol' Wags there isn't doin' the best, and the medicine he needs is very expensive. I figured I could enter the competition, win it, and use the prize money to pay fer it."
Susie frowned. There was money associated with the competition? "Really?" she asked, a hint of doubt in her voice.
"NO, not really," he said, scowling at her. "I just wanted to win again!" he hooted. "Foolish girl!"
She started and cowered again.
"I used to be such a good baker, and -- as ye must know -- I entered this Bake-Off annually, but then I fell out of touch with the competition. One off year led to another, and another... I just couldn't win any more, so I gave up." He almost sounded a touch forlorn. "I won so many times, though, that no one remembers me downfall, just me fame." The Gnorbu grinned, showing his slightly rotted teeth. He must've eaten as many sweets as he made in his day. "So, then," he continued, his voice and facial expressions growing deeper and darker, "years after I retired, a Xweetok who remembered me up 'til the end -- a former competitor of mine -- told me how much of a failure I were... how I left 'cause I couldn't win." He frowned. "I made up me mind then that I'd return, and I'd use whatever means necessary to WIN AGAIN!" the Gnorbu finished triumphantly.
This was followed by momentary silence. "What means were those, exactly?" the Kacheek squeaked.
"Buyin' some fillin' made by the greatest island natives, stealin' the cake made by Jhuidah -- though I be decoratin' it -- and, for added certainty, the Cheops leaves." He grinned smugly. "Although the last were recommended to me by--"
"Stuff it," Susie said, cutting him off. "I don't care." She paused. "I once idolized you, you know?" she started, her voice cracking slightly. "I can't believe you were just so... so terrible, so inconsiderate. I wish I'd never heard of you."
With that, she left, heading back in the direction of the contest.
Marty frowned and reflected as he stared into the Grunion filling.
After the Kougra had received word that Marty's cake was complete, the judging commenced.
All six contestants -- the Lutari had turned himself in -- brought their final dishes to a long table with six seats; every chef sat in their own spot.
Susie, who had scrubbed the Cheops leaves off her mauve masterpiece and re-iced it (though not to its previous splendor, unfortunately), sat beside Marty, who had a place at the end of the table. He looked at her several times, but she avoided his gaze.
As the audience watched, the judges began a visual test where they assessed the cakes by design.
By its completion, Marty held first place standing, followed by the Blumaroo, then Susie.
It was then time for the taste test, comprising two-thirds of the final score.
The judges dug their forks into the first cake, which had been made by a young camouflage Flotsam, and were about to stuff it into their mouths when--
"Stop!" Marty yelled as he stood up, causing one judge to drop her fork. "All these cakes've been poisoned!"
Gasps emerged from the audience.
"By whom?" the Kougra inquired quickly, her brow furrowed.
"By me," Marty finished sadly.
There were now murmurs from the crowd.
"I had wanted to win... but I really didn't want to take it this far, honestly." He sighed. "I got me Pawkeet to add Cheops leaves to everyone's cakes, but young Susie here," he started, putting his arm on her shoulder, "showed me just how far I went and allowed me to see the error in me ways!"
Susie beamed at him.
By contrast, the Kougra frowned. "I suppose I could have suspected as much... disqualified," she finished. She then turned to the other five left. "Are there any cakes that the bakers know, 100%, aren't poisoned?"
Just as Susie was about to raise her hand, the pastel Xweetok from earlier came up seemingly from nowhere and stood behind the Blumaroo. "Him," she announced.
Susie frowned. How did she know?
Marty noted the confusion and whispered to the Kacheek, "That there is me old competitor, the one who recommended I use Cheops leaves as a form of cheatin'."
Susie gaped. She must be mentoring the Blumaroo! She must have convinced Marty to get his Pawkeet to distribute the leaves, but shooed the Petpet away before it came near her pupil, thus ensuring his victory!
"I was watching his cake the entire time," the Xweetok finished, "and I didn't see a single bird fly by it." She smiled with no trace of wrongdoing.
"She's the one who told Marty to use the Cheops leaves, though!" Susie burst out.
The judges eyed Susie, then the Xweetok. "Is this true?" the Kougra asked.
"No," she confidently asserted with a barely perceptible smile.
After a hesitation, the Kougra turned and faced Susie. "Don't make accusations," she barked.
The Kacheek sighed. "Anyway, I know mine's clean, too. I saw the leaves and brushed them all off before re-icing it."
Thus, the taste testing began, with the competition being between the Blumaroo and Susie.
Finally, the Kougra announced the panel had made their decision. "The cakes made by Ms. Susie and Mr. Trent taste equally good, and as Trent placed higher in the design test, he wins!" With the audience applauding, Trent came up, the Xweetok behind him, to receive his trophy.
Susie's face fell. She had been so close... then a hand rested on her shoulder again. She didn't have to look up to know it was Marty.
"I was rootin' fer ye," he started, a slow and almost sad smile growing on his face. "I believed in ye."
"And I believed you when you said the Xweetok told you to cheat -- I still do." She slowly smiled, too.
"I tell ye what," he started, "why don't we partner? Ye help me get me game up again, and I'll teach ye all I know 'bout decoratin'."
She folded her arms. She wasn't sure...
"Come on!" he urged. "Ye really liked the starry design I put on me cake!"
Slowly, she smiled. "Yeah, that's true." Susie unfolded her arms and stood up. It seemed as though something of a partnership had formed between the two. "Not tonight, though. I'll meet you around your cave there tomorrow at noon."
Marty nodded. "Excellent!" he finished as he walked away.
Susie leisurely strolled down the beach as the crowds departed. She wasn't entirely sure if she'd stay true to the agreement -- after all, he was a rather shady figure -- but for now, she was just content to let her feet sink in the sand as the last rays of the lowering tropical sun caught her.
She smiled. The next Gadgadsbogen was a year away, but that was enough time to prepare -- with or without Marty.
She could win it.
Date: Mar 21st
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