The contest of cookery that followed was something of a fever dream. An airplane scattered gore and smashed bird bits over the crowds, inciting a small enraged mob who attempted to chase it. It also splattered the Wizards, which incited rage from... Everyone except Stanley, who roared with perverse glee at the sight of pigeon murder... He was less pleased by the loud plane interrupting his strange semblance of tranquility by flying so close to his head. The much taller and more cadaverous Donnovan had to duck out of the way to not get clipped by the wing.
At some point toward the end of the cookery, prominent figures rose out of the general patronage to give their two cents. A strange, eloquent fellow who dropped his pigeon on the ground and started miming a bit before giving Corvin 100 points... A man apparently upset that he couldn't eat food and breathe at the same time, choking on pigeons and giving Corvin an indignant 1.
But then, came another visitor... He was a strange man, who walked stiffly, and stared glaze-eyed at nothing. He stumbled into the marketplace and toward the smell of food. Occassionally he would pick some random sample from one of the chefs and declare, "I, a random spectator, sample Corvin's food. Delicious! I rate it 100 points."
He wandered from Corvin's kiosk to Ethel's, "I, a random spectator, sample Corvin's food. Delicious! I rate it 100 points."
The most distinguished guest of all, however, was the legendary Food Hermit. The crowds cleared a path before him, hesitant to even touch the legend. The bustling market grew noticeably quieter around him for a radius of 30 feet, everybody wanted to hear what he was saying- For what he had to say was quite sagely indeed!... Only, he suffered an interruption on his trip to the second stall, as a panicking woman with a red bandana started... Forcibly dryheaving over his meal?
Luckily, he had already eaten most of it, but eventually, the woman reached into her throat and blew her chips all over the remains of his once-flaming Pulled Pigeon! There were gasps of astonishment throughout the audience.
"What the FUCK is wrong with you!?" Shouted one of people in the crowd, drawing his knife, "Can't you see that's the Food Hermit!?"
The woman didn't stick around to find out, slipping a pan over her head, a beard over her face, and running off into an alleyway.
The man-thing walked stiffly up to the Food Hermit, reaching his fingers into the puke and procuring a pigeon scrap...
"I, a random spectator, sample Corvin's food. Delicious! I rate it 100 points."
The marketgoers looked on in horror, and the man with the knife stabbed the un-reviewer angrily. Not blood, but white, pulsating... Veins, spilled out of the wound. They slid wetly over the surface of his chest... And onto his attacker's hand, spreading out into a wet, vibrating network of thickening probosci.
"F-FUCK! FUUUCK!" The attacker yanked his hand away, the white tentacles that dug into his hand leaving bleeding pinpricks behind, "GET AWAY FROM THAT GUY! IT'S A SLUG! THAT GUY'S A SLUG! SOMEBODY GET AN AXE!"
People ran screaming out of the market, and he grabbed a meat cleaver from one of the stalls. He attempted to amputate his hand, hacking rapidly at his wrist before the Slug could spread through his body... All it took was "SLUG!" and the screams of the crowd to get the Wizards' immediate attention.
"There's a Slug-Infested in our number, men!" Donnovan said, stepping hurriedly toward the stairs.
"I HATE THE INFESTED!" Screamed Stanley, leaping over the table.
The three walked to the market square, where the Slug was drunkenly staggering after the one-handed man, who was heavily bleeding and trying desperately to crawl away!
"How many have you infected, Charlatan!?" Donnovan shouted, trying to get the creature's attention. Hiram kept quiet, continuing to lurch forward toward the one-handed man without stopping.
"I, a random spectator, sample Corvin's food," Said the man, his hand outstretched toward his victim, fingers and other joints all over his body bending and folding in unnatural ways, "Delicious!"
"DIE, INFESTED!" Stanley launched a great gout of flame from his hand, which caused the Slug to make... A high-pitched, hissing squeal.
He turned to the two wizards and started toward them, his face rolling, rumbling... Deforming. His mouth opened wider than any mouth was made to, splitting open at the corners, and that white shifting substance caused the eyes to fall out of his "head". His skin sack deflated as the Slug began to pour out of his mouth, and it branched out at the Wizards like an increasingly wide tree of shuddering white flesh.
By the time the Town Watch arrived, the creature was a smoldering mass, and Hiram had attached a new hand to the wounded citizen. He just happened to have a fresh one buried away under his robe...
With the angry mobs chased off by the rumors of a Slug, and the town watch scouring the area for infected, there was effectively a... Forced intermission, of sorts. This was a lucky break for the disguised woman, who, in her attempts to run away from her crimes, found out the hard way that, well, there weren't so many places to hide out there.
She was more or less swept back to her spot in the marketplace by the tides of returning people once the event was handled.
~~~ 1. Amelia Earhart ~~~
By the time they sat back down again, the judges were rattled, covered in pigeon viscera, and deeply annoyed. They hoped, for all the worlds, that the upcoming dishes would be good. Because if they weren't, there'd be hell to pay.
Fearful attendants scrambled to bring them the first dish, an array of pulled pigeon sandwiches was laid out before them, and two in front of Stanley, who clapped merrily at the sight.
"Plane Pulled Pigeon with mike high Barbecue sauce," said the attendant at the edge of the table, "Prepared by our first contestant, Amelia Earhart."
"What are our condiments?" Donnovan asked.
"Onions, mustard, and tomatoes have been provided in these jars, your eminence..."
Before the others could reach out, Stanley swiped the jar of onions. Upon finding his hands were too big for it, he crushed the lip of the jar and tossed the fragments away, scooping handfuls out and eating them like winnie the pooh. The other judges merely picked up their sandwiches, taking a bite.
A wide array of flavors washed over their tongues, it seemed there were a million things mixed in with this pulled pigeon sauce. Not bad things, there were plenty of good tastes abound, but... Donnovan couldn't help but pipe up.
"Where's the bourbon?"
"T'sinthere. Gotta go lookin' for it" Hiram said, "Some blood in here too. And feathers. Feels like somebody threw a pigeon in a blender and used everything but the squeal."
"It is... A little upsetting. What do you think, Hiram?"
The container of onions was empty, and the sandwiches had disappeared while the other wizards were talking.
"GOES GOOD WITH ONIONS!"
Donnovan: One of the key ingredients is clearly not the star here, but at least the sauce tastes good, which is something... The errant bits of bone make chewing an upsetting experience. It's like the entire sandwich is filled with those hard bits you find in sausages. And the feathers also don't do good things for the texture. I feel like these things made to bribe the other judges were quite poorly incorporated.
200/1000 (+50 bonus)
Hiram: 'Sgot everything in it. Like consuming a whole bird. If I wanted feel like I was eatin' a bird fresh off the side of the road, though, I'd do it raw and chew it myself. Nothin' appetizing about just throwin' it in a blender.
300/100 (+350 Bonus)
Stanley: THE PIGEON WAS MUTILATED! GLORIOUS WAS THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BIRD. HOW ENRAPTURED I AM THAT THE EXISTENCES OF THESE VERMIN HAVE BEEN CLEANSED IN SUCH A BEAUTIFUL MANNER! THEIR SEARED AND LIQUIFIED CORPSES CRUNCH IN MY JAWS LIKE A VENGEFUL DREAM! THE OTHER JUDGES WORRY THAT ONE OF THE INGREDIENTS I DON'T REMEMBER WAS NOT INCORPORATED PROPERLY.
500/1000 (+550 Bonus)
Chet Chipman: 110
Total: 2050 points.
~~ 2. Maria de Cabeza ~~
The judges that weren't Stanley had quite sour expressions by the time the next dish arrived. Stanley's expression was an enraged scowl, but this appeared to be the way his face rested. Though, at least Donnovan's expression piped up as the next dish was being brought up the steps.
"Smell that?" He said, nudging the other judges, "It smells delicious!"
"Smells fried!" Hiram grinned.
Each skewer was handed to the judges in short order, and the attendant began his introduction, "A special presentation by Maria Dolores De Cabeza. Her grandmother's recipe for pigeon!"
Hiram took a bite, taking in the juicy golden crunch, pressing his tongue in to taste the juices over the roof of his mouth. He chewed for a long time before swallowing, all the judges, in fact, chewed for a wile before swallowing. It was the best they'd had so far, considering that the meat was actually, properly butchered.
"Her grandmother's a chef I'd like to meet." Hiram grinned lecherously, but Donnovan covered his mouth before he could continue, adding his own two cents.
"Simple, delicious, and ergonomic, the way it should be. I feel like it married the two flavors well enough."
"I LIKE MARRIAGE!" Stanley said with his mouth full of kebab. He pounded his fist on the table to emphasize this, but tears appeared to drop from the shadows of his hood, "I... LIKED MARRIAGE..."
Donnovan: A very strong opening dish. It tasted good, but the spice covered up the flavor of the intended ingredients a bit. A minor flaw, however, since it was hugely enjoyable.
Stanley: THE WAY DONNOVAN SAID IT REMINDS ME OF BETTER DAYS. I HATE REMEMBERING BETTER DAYS! THE MEAT STICKS ARE GOOD, THOUGH.
Chet Chipman: 200
Filthy Slug: 100/100
Captain Scurvy Greybeard: 300/500
Total: 3100 Points
~~ 3. Grandma Ethel ~~
Another set of skewers were soon brought, this one not so spicy, but... With a very different color. Black, with a fine, liquidy sheen, the sauce was entrancing to look at, like half-liquid obsidian. And there were three more options to go with, even!
"WHAT ARE THESE?" Stanley asked at his usual volume, causing the attendants to flinch.
"A submission from the contestant named Ethel, your eminence," Said the head attendant, "She has prepared Skewered Bourbon Pigeon."
"First it's gramma's recipe, now an actual gramma's makin' it." Hiram said, taking a bite.
Rich organ flavors laid bare under a bittersweet sauce. An acquired taste, but one that Hiram had acquired quite easily...
"What's in this?" Donnovan asked.
"Liver, kidneys, blood, bit of intestines..." Hiram poured one of the sauces over his serving and licked it, "Hot damn, sweetbread!"
Donnovan looked on in awe, "I hope to never be as experienced in these things as you are..."
Donnovan: It's a little bit precarious having to eat meat off the bone, that's in turn held on by a stick, but it's servicable. There's a lot of very... Complicated flavors, but they work together in non-cacophonous way. It's likeable, but not approachable. The color is nice, but the structure itself really doesn't look too appetizing. It's tastier than I ever assumed pigeon guts would be, at least. And the potatoes were delightful! I also appreciate that there were eyes to consume... Heh, may not have been intentional on your part, but know I appreciate these things.
600/1000 (+350 Bonus)
Hiram: Tastes good. Rarely see pancreas used these days. Glad it made a comeback after The day The Things came out of the Earth. All the condiments were good. Custom-made, stuff you don't see too often. Crisp, well-seasoned. Haven't had guts like this in a long time.
800/1000 (+350 Bonus)
Stanley: THE GUTS ARE WRAPPED AROUND THESE POTATOES LIKE TINSEL ON A CHRISTMAS TREE! THE BEAK IS FORCED OPEN BY THE SKEWER IN AN EXPRESSION OF UNENDING TORMENT! CAERBOG BLESSES THIS WHIMSICAL VENGEANCE!
600/1000 (+350 Bonus)
Chet Chipman: 325/500
Filthy Slug: 100/100
Captain Scurvy Greybeard: 250/500
Disguised Maria: 400/500
~~4. Rockwell ~~
Stanley could sense when fire was coming his way from a mile off, and he watched intently as the next dish was brought up, his fingers wearing grooves in the edges of the table, his eyes staring through his hood... As a small hamster made the tremendous journey up all those steps and, somehow, to the table.
After the chef set their skewers alight, the attendants braced for Stanley to ask what this was again... But he sat silently, scowling, hypnotized by the flames.
"... What's this?" Hiram eventually spoke up.
"SILENCE! FIRE!" Stanley shouted.
When enough silence had passed, at least in Donnovan's opinion, he spoke, "Continue, Peon."
"It's some sort of pulled pigeon kebab, prepared by the hamster you just saw. His name is Rockwell."
"SOMETIMES I SEE YOU IN THE FLAMES, DONNOVAN. YOU WOULD NOT LIKE THEM."
Donnovan tried his best to ignore Stanley. Fire always seemed to make him... Easily bothered. More than usual, anyway.
"I see. And the condiments?"
"I think you may find them on your tray, your eminence. He's personalized each one to you. In fact, you're to blow them out when they're cooked to your liking."
"Oh, I see! How... Considerate?"
"Way to make us do the work." Hiram scoffed, shaking the flames off his skewer and taking a bite.
It was remarkable to the judges that everything worked so well- The cooking was simplistic, but, it functioned well. And the spectacle of fire was nothing to sneeze at! Or, at least, Stanley would be very upset if anybody hinted at such a thing.
Donnovan: An ingenious use of ingredients for a technical achievement. This is the sort of outside-the-box thinking that we need! The recipe was a little simple, but the sauce was excellent. Though it didn't taste much like bourbon by the time it was done cooking properly, I can't say it wasn't the star of the dish!
600/1000 (+300 Bonus)
Hiram: Tasted good. Had bourbon and pigeon. Liked that blood and gore were included. Goes good with the mustard I stole from Stanley.
700/1000 (+500 Bonus)
Stanley: THE ONLY FLAW WAS THAT THE FIRE STOPPED. AND THAT I DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH MUSTARD.
800/1000 (+500 Bonus)
Chet Chipman 450/500
Not Geoffrey: 400/500
The Hermit Conniseur: 100/100
Deeply touched audience member: 100/100
Captain Scurvy Greybeard: 400/500
The vampire hunter arrived in short order, with something that was, for the first time so far, not on a stick. That was when Maria saw her chance. It appeared that none of the dishes she'd ruined so far would count toward the score! No, she had to sabotage him here and now! Luckily, she was wearing her trusty disguise.
She dashed up to Corbin and puked on the dish in front of Stanley. The attendees, horrified, attempted to grab her, but she got away just in time. Stanley looked down at his dish, taking a whiff...
"THERE IS PUKE HERE! I DO NOT LIKE TO EAT PUKE!" Stanley screamed, grabbing the nearest attendant by the face and shoving his thumbs in the poor man's mouth.
With rough, twisting motions, he ripped. There was nonstop, incoherent screaming from both of them as Stanley started pulling the attendant's face off in long rubbery strips, cheeks first.
Luckily, Stanley's fit of barehanded bloodlust gave Corvin enough time to run back to his stall and swap out the defective puke-covered bowls for a proper one. He was wise not to stick around after that.
"What's this dish?" Hiram said.
The attendant who had been announcing things lied "faceless" on the ground, haven fallen from the stage. He was wheezing and squealing through sprained vocal chords.
"I see," said Donnovan, "What do you think of it?"
"I HATE PUKE!"
"Stanley. There's no puke on your dish anymore. It appeared to be some sort of sabotage..."
"I HATE SABOTAGE. SOMEONE FIND THE PUKE MAN SO I CAN KILL HIM!"
"We'll set the town guard on it, Stanley. For now, let's enjoy the next dish, alright?"
The judges settled in. It did immediately smell amazing- And it tasted amazing too. There was that soft semi-liquid crunch of congealed oil and breading covering the meat and potatoes, the marinaded bourbon meat expelling its subtle sweet and dirty flavors. It was at least clear why the Slug thought they'd assume it was a human by liking this food. It was hard to think of a human that wouldn't... Still seemed odd that the Slug could know Corvin's name and all that. Suspicious, even.
Donnovan: An exquisite presentation, and the best-tasting dish so far. Just when it started looking like this would be a kebab contest, this has rocked the entire foundation! The ingredients were all employed in a unique way, and most importantly, were delicious and indulgent.
Hiram: Exactly to my tastes. If I was ever cursed to be vegetarian, I'd eat this every day.
Stanley: IT DISGUSTS ME THAT ANY MISERABLE WRETCH WOULD DARE TO RAPE MY FOOD WITH HIS GUT FLUIDS BEFORE I COULD EAT IT. I WILL FIND THE MAN WHO DID THIS AND MELT HIM WITH MY OWN REGURGITATION.
Chet Chipman: 375/500
Captain Scurvy Greybeard 250/500
Filthy Slug: 100/100
Dissatisfied Spectacle: 1/100
Furtive Vegetarian: 100/100 (1000/100, if he could.)
The Hermit Conniseur: 83/100
It was a tough act to follow, but Geoffrey managed without much fear. He had all the airs of an octopod on a mission, that much was for sure. The attendants brought the tortillas to the Wizards, and Donnovan stood up, calling down to speak to the one on the ground, "Which ones are these?"
"Hhhh.... HHHHhh..." The man wheezed in shock. Arterial gouts pooled on the concrete around him.
"Still that guy?" Hiram asked.
"The Liekeeper always reveals in detail what people are trying to say, but don't."
"Yeah. You think I don't notice you guys threatening to kill me all the time?"
"I LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY."
"So, these are mashed potato tortillas with bourbon-glazed pigeon," Said Donnovan, "They were made by Geoffrey the Octopus."
"I LIKE OCTOPUSES." Said Stanley.
"I think you'll find the plural is 'Octopodes'."
"CAN YOU HEAR ME THREATENING TO KILL YOU, DONNOVAN?"
Donnovan: Despite being a combination of ingredients I'd never heard tell of being in a tortilla, I rather enjoyed it. It was thoroughly pleasant in its unconventionality!
700/1000 (+50 Bonus)
Hiram: 'Sgood. Fish sauce was interesting, but the more glaze you add, the better.
700/1000 (+0 Bonus)
Stanley: I ENJOYED THE PIGEON. BUT THE TORTILLAS WERE FLUFFY, AND SO WERE THE POTATOES. THIS WAS UPSETTING TO BITE INTO. IT WAS FLUFF STARCH ON TOP OF FLUFF STARCH. BUT IT WAS THE CHALLENGE OF LABORIOUSLY DIGGING THROUGH THIS UBIQUITOUS MOUTH-FILLING FLUFF IN ORDER TO FIND THE FLAVOR THAT MADE THE EXPERIENCE COMPLETE. IT WAS LIKE THE DELAYED SATISFACTION OF CHOKING A STRANGER TO DEATH.
800/1000 (+400 Bonus)
Chet Chipman: 400
Captain Scurvy Greybeard: 400/500
Secret Rockwell: 410/500
Geriatrophobe Critic: 300/500
"I HOPE THE NEXT CONTESTANT KILLED SOME EVIL PIGEONS..." Stanley said.
"What do you mean?" Asked Donnovan, "By association, every contestant has already killed flocks of them."
"I DON'T KNOW..." Said Stanley, "IT SOMEHOW FEELS LIKE THEY DIDN'T KILL ENOUGH."
Hiram shrugged, "Don't see what the deal is 'tween you and pigeons..."
"YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND."
It wasn't long before Heloise arrived, and Donnovan stood to his full height to lean and look at the Attendant. Finding he was quite unconscious by now, Donnovan decided he'd have to talk to the chef directly.
"What have you brought us?"
"Crêpe de récolte au pigeon et légume bourbon. Harvest crepes with pan-fried pigeon and bourbon root-vegetable mash. The condiments are a choice of tangy bourbon walnut-mustard, fresh sour cream and scallions, or a savory-sweet bourbon bacon-jam."
The corners of Donnovan's mouth upturned ever so slightly. He hadn't heard French since the day the Rifts opened and the psychic spider-people devoured New York. Whoever this was was either sporting a truly rare culinary education, or a filthy Canadian Spy.
"Very well. We shall try it and get back to you."
The taste was a subtle silent symphony of many complex but inviting features. A tour of the senses that started quietly with the first bite but ramped up in complexity and volume as it was chewed. The perfect stretchiness of the crepe, the rainbow of vegetables inside, giving way to the tasteful implementation of Bourbon...
Donnovan found himself on the verge of asking the Attendant for the participant's name, before remembering he was either dead or near it.
"Whoever that was has demonstrated excellent knowledge and control of the medium." Said Donnovan.
"The fuck's that mean?" Said Hiram.
"It feels more... Engineered than the other dishes, don't you think? Everything has its intention. It communicates, in a way."
"IT TASTES LIKE THE FEAR OF DESSICATED POULTRY ON A FOGGY AUTUMN MORNING."
Donnovan: This dish was a real standout. I love the artistry involved, there was thought and experience put into this dish, and it shows. And so many of my personal favorite vegetables, too!
Hiram: The main ingredients were prominent, but not overused. Somethin' I appreciate after eating bourbon-pigeons for an hour now.
Stanley: I FEEL DISTURBED ON A PLANAR LEVEL. SOMETHING SICKENS ME ABOUT THE IDEA THAT I MAY HAVE USED LOWERCASE LETTERS IN A PAST LIFE.
Chet Chipman: 325/500
Captain Scurvy Greybeard: 350/500
~~8. Omo the Homo~~
The sound of sirens came echoing over the distance as a white van sped down the highway, pursued by Town Guard Interceptors. The van steered off into the market and sent the bustling crowds screaming again, crashing through stalls whenever it couldn't steer properly through the footpaths, until it came properly to the stage. The double-doors opened, and a fellow came out carrying platefulls of incomprehensible human remains, 2 by 2.
"Why must our contest always be interrupted by lunatics...?" Donnovan growled with exasperation.
"I HATE LUNATICS!" Said Stanley, as some sort of prostitute-based omelette with vaguely pigeon-shaped bits was set in front of him.
Hiram leaned in, giving his plate of ovaries a curious sniff, "... Wait a second, I think I know this bitch... Did you kill Loretta?"
"What!?" Donnovan flipped his dish over, not bothering to look at what else was on it.
"There's... Cocaine injections in this. The fuck did you add more cocaine for!?" Hiram shouted at the lunatic as he attempted to explain himself in an accent too offensively stereotypical to bear white man's description.
"CONDOMS! WHY ARE THERE CONDOMS EVERYWHERE!?" Stanley shouted again. The rage became unbearable, and he elected to throw the entire table off the stage.
Then there were cries of "FREEZE! DON'T MOVE!"
The Town Guard stepped out of their police interceptors and aimed their crossbows at the man, but Donnovan had other plans.
"No need to intervene, Officers. I'll handle this." Donnovan wrapped his hand around the lunatic's head. His fingers spread out like vast spiderlegs around the back of his neck and the top of his forehead.
There was no screaming, no bombastic noise as the spell did its work. Only the sound of dripping. Then the splattering noise of a running faucet, when first his eyes liquefied, then out of his ears, mouth, and empty sockets, a steaming black liquid began to flow. Eventually the madman's skin and flesh began to slough off before he became a wet, melting pile half-dripping off the stage.
"First hour's already been a fuckin' ordeal." Hiram shook his hooded head.
"You can say that again." Donnovan said.
"When'd I say it first?"
Stanley was no longer on the stage. He was currently turning several market stalls upside own.
~~~ The Final Judgement ~~~
When Stanley had been... Appeased, attendants replaced, and the Judge's stage properly cleaned and put back in order, they returned to their seats in order to consult with one another on the matter of the continuing competition. Three times in little over an hour, the great culinary bloodbath had been brought to a halt, by beast, then by saboteur, then by serial killer. The police were still trying to find the Saboteur so that they could be killed like the others, but until the mysterious vomitter is found... Well, the show must go on.
The other Wizards sat silently, and Donnovan stood to announce their decision,
"Chefs of Chopped. You have all competed valiantly before the citizens of Illinois, for their judgment, and ours. And we've gone over the score, and our feelings on each of the dishes you provided today. We've come to a conclusion. Amelia Earhart, please step forward."
Donnovan gestured to the airplane, and a small retinue of Guardsmen moved to escort the chef.
"Out of all the dishes, yours was... Underwhelming," Donnovan said, "It was uncomfortable to eat, and the process of making it caused a mess that only one of us liked!"
A crowd began to cluster ever-closer to the guardsmen, eager to see a contestant get Chopped, as most of them couldn't actually afford tickets to the Arena.
"For these faults..." Donnovan scornfully looked back on his nearly-unfortunate interaction with an airplane wing, "And others... We've decided to end your time here. In the competition, and on the planet. Amelia, you've been CHOPPED!"