The Breadmaster's Challenge: Part Two
Surprisingly, Aventia had never been to Brightvale before, despite living so close to it. She and her mother had arrived the day before the competition, so that they could look around and see all the tourist attractions, like King Hagan's castle.
Each had tried to impart their wisdom to the King, who had told Aventia that she needed some more studying before trying again, but who seemed quite impressed with her mother's piece of advice: "Never trust hungry Turtums". Aventia had no idea what it meant, even though Florence had been saying it to her daughter for years, but King Hagan was pleased enough to hand her mother a book about himself.
Then they ventured over to Meridell to visit the giant marrow, the sleeping Turmaculus and to roll a cheese down a hill (a strange custom, traditional to Meridell, apparently).
They also visited the castle to tell a joke to King Skarl, who after hearing it, promptly threw them out of his castle in a temper – whoever said that King Skarl was the better King was clearly on his payroll. At least King Hagan was nice to them – even if he was a tad patronising.
The next morning, Aventia rose before dawn, having had a disrupted night's sleep. As the date of the competition grew nearer, Aventia had grown more and more nervous.
Her mother had tried to reassure her that she wouldn't have been chosen if the judges hadn't thought she was good enough, but nothing seemed to help her.
What if she completely froze and forgot how to make something as easy as pie? What if the judges realised that they'd made a mistake in choosing her? What if she was the most inexperienced of the lot and was cut on the first round?
For the past few days, all these thoughts had plagued her mind. So much so that she was having nightmares about it; during last night's dream, she had taken her cake out of the oven and realised that she was... uncustomised! All of her wearables had simply vanished and she had absolutely nothing on. Everyone around her had started laughing hysterically and the cameras had zoomed in on her. She had been a laughing stock on national Neovision.
After bolting upright in bed, she had gone straight to her mother's room and told her that she couldn't go through with it and that they needed to go home. It had taken over an hour for her mother to calm her down and slowly convince her that she couldn't quit at the last minute; it was rude and disrespectful and she hadn't brought her up that way.
"You love to bake, Aventia. Just go in there and pretend that it's not a competition, that there isn't anyone watching you. It's just you and your ingredients. I know it's a bit cliché to say this, but whether you win or lose, it doesn't matter; it's the taking part that counts. And you never know, something good might come from this!" she assured her, sincerely.
"Okay, Mum. I'll try," she eventually agreed, though still not entirely convinced.
After washing her face and getting dressed (double checking that she was fully clothed – just in case), Aventia and her mum left for the competition, which was to begin in a few hours. After following the directions Aventia had been given, they came to a stop outside a huge red and white striped marquee. "Wow! They've really gone all out for this, haven't they?" her mum commented, taking a peek inside the tent.
"Looks like they've got everything set up in there; fridge, oven, work stations... the lot." She looked back at her daughter who was looking a little green, which was a hard thing to do considering her lilac colouring.
"Don't worry, sweetheart. You'll be fine! I know it. I'll be out here, watching with all the other visitors. Now, go and show those judges what you've got!"
Paws trembling, Aventia took a deep breath and with one last glance back at her mother, tip-toed inside.
"Aha! You must be the last contestant – Aventia, isn't it?"
A vivid red Jetsam, in an expensive looking suit, briskly approached her. He shook her hand firmly and without waiting for an answer, carried on.
"Finley Murfield, Network producer," he introduced himself. "Very pleased to meet you... Now, as you know the Breadmaster's retirement is big news in Neopia and of course, everyone is just dying to know who'll be replacing him – and that's where I come in... or rather, should I say, my team. We'll be filming all of you, individually – an interview of sorts, just a few minutes to introduce yourselves to the viewers; your name, how you got into baking, why you applied for the competition, et cetera, et cetera. It won't be live, of course... I don't think any of you are prepared enough for that – no, we'll be editing it afterwards, along with the footage we'll get of you baking and then we'll air it just before we go live with the judges tasting and the results of who'll be leaving the competition today."
"So," he said, finally taking a breath. "You go and stand with the others waiting in that corner and we'll call you when we're ready for you, sound good?"
Aventia opened her mouth to speak, but Mr. Murfield had marched off hastily before she could say anything. It seemed like the Jetsam was always in a hurry; everything he did was rushed, from the way he walked, with long, quick strides to the way he spoke, clipped and straight to the point, with no time for interruptions. Clearly this was a man with no time to waste.
Before heading over to the rest of the contestants, Aventia took a good look around. There were eight workstations (four on each side of the room), consisting of an oven, a sink and counter space. There were cabinets underneath, which presumably held everything one would need for baking: bowls, whisks, palette knives, as there had been no notice to bring their own.
A line of faerie fridges stood at the back of the marquee and at the top of the room there was a long, blue table where the judges would sit, she assumed. Over on the left hand side, several Neovision cameras were set up, backed by an eager looking Eyrie, and a black-sunglass wearing Bruce, who looked as though he'd rather be anywhere else but here.
"We're ready for you now!" the bored Bruce called out to one of the contestants.
A miserable-looking Grey Lutari traipsed, listlessly to the cameramen, who pointed out where to sit and after a few words of exchange, started counting down from three.
Aventia hastily made her way over to the rest of the contestants, so that she'd be able to hear what was being said.
"My name is Lilith," the Lutari mumbled, monosyllabically. "Baking is the only thing that makes me happy... Several years ago, my owner's wanted to trade me for a Maraquan Cybunny. I was so depressed about it that I ran away. I made it all the way from their home in Tyrannia to Neopia Central, where I stopped to rest in the Bakery. That was when I discovered baking. The smell of freshly baked bread..."
The sound of a derisive snort stopped Aventia from hearing the rest of the Lutari's sentence. She turned around to find herself face to face with a very haughty looking, Royalgirl Kyrii.
"Oh, there's always one with a sob story!" she claimed, scornfully, in a voice a tad too loud to be considered a stage whisper. "It's like they think the judges will vote for them just because they feel sorry for them – pathetic!"
Now the rest of the competitors had turned around to look at the Kyrii; some looked slightly offended by her words, others simply looked interested.
"And of course the audience will lap it up like a group of thirsty Doglefoxes, because Lutaris are just so cute and she must have had truly callous owners if they'd wanted to trade her. Trust me," she stated, to the group of Neopets that now surrounded her, listening. "They'll probably add some depressing background music by the Neopian Philharmonic, just to emphasise her 'tragic' story."
A Desert Hissi hissed with appreciation, its ringed tail swaying upright, as though ready to strike, but the rest of the group seemed unimpressed.
"You know, it's incredibly rude to make assumptions about people that you don't know," Aventia replied, heatedly. She could already tell that this Kyrii was not someone that she would be making friends with any time soon.
The Kyrii shrugged indifferently, as though she really couldn't care less about who she insulted. "I'm just calling it like I see it. A competition such as this one needs to be fair, after all. Speaking of which, Mr Murfield!" she called out, petulantly.
"Am I wrong in thinking that that Mutant Krawk is one of the contestants? Because he has two extra arms than the rest of us! That isn't really fair is it?"
"I'm actually a she," the Mutant Krawk responded, slightly affronted. "And I have a name – it's Mithras."
"Well, you don't look very feminine. Perhaps you should wear a sign or something... or at least a bow. You can't expect people to just guess that you're a girl!" the Kyrii replied, maliciously.
"I'm androgynous. I'm not supposed to look like one gender or another."
"Well, perhaps you should sign up for 'Neopia's Next Fashion Model,' instead. As I doubt your baking's any good!" she bit back, scathingly.
"Girls... girls... settle down!" the Jetsam came rushing over, clearly envisioning some kind of fight breaking out between the two of them (Aventia already had theoretical Neopoints on Mithras).
"For the sake of the fairness of this competition, Mithras will only be using two of her arms," he reassured them. "Now, we're almost finished with Lilith – you're up next Diana, so we'll call you in a few minutes or so," he said, nodding at the Kyrii, who was now looking rather smug, before trotting back to the cameras.
"I think you owe Mithras an apology, Diana!" Aventia spoke up. "That wasn't a very nice thing to say to her."
The Kyrii laughed sardonically. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm not here to make friends or hold anybody's hand... I'm here to win. You can all be as nice and polite as you like, but it won't get you any further in the competition; just like 'mopey' over there won't be judged any higher just because she looks like she's going to burst into tears at any moment. They'll be judging you on your baking, not your personality. It all comes down to whether or not you have the skill and the experience to make it to the final," she said snootily, as she looked down her nose at Aventia.
"And when I'm crowned Breadmaster at the end of all this, you'll realise that I was right. Nice guys, or in your case, girls do finish last."
"Okay, Diana. You're up next!" Mr. Murfield called out, as Lilith the Lutari moved lethargically from her seat.
Diana looked back at Aventia, and with an arrogant smile and a flick of her turquoise hair, flounced off for her interview.
Aventia glared back at her challengingly; she didn't like that Kyrii one bit and it would be a cold day in Qasala before she let her become Breadmaster.
Before today, Aventia didn't think she had a chance of winning the competition, but now she was determined to, if only to stop Diana from winning. Her wings beat faster with motivation, as she thought to herself, 'bring it on!'
To be continued...