We made our way to the building they were holding the cooking competition in. Oddly, instead of the normal greetings and proposals from the boys, they would not get close to us. Even the girls, while they did not avoid us, gave us strange looks. Not that I was complaining because I had gotten used to being harassed so it was a nice change. I thought about it for the entire walk but I was still perplexed by their change in attitude. Their change was just too sudden.
Either way my mood was light even as I saw the huge crowd that was going into the complex. The food competition was not a live broadcast like the main event but would be shown sometime next week due to the editing involved. There were just too many people that signed up for this. Hundreds of students could be seen crowding into the entrance. The older kids seemed to have expected this. Even as we were pressed together they still somehow made way for teens that held a red crystal that I knew were recorders. So as we milled about, trying to find out where we would be setting up, the older students managed to place themselves at the best angles to be recorded.
It took us almost a half hour before we were finally at our own cooking stations. Lilly’s area was beside mine. Although, I did not know how she managed it. She probably used bribery to make it happen. Each station had the same setup. It had a fire pit set into the floor and all the basics like pots, pans and knives for us to use in the competition. Once it would begin, dungeon food materials would appear. This could be anything from eatable mold to slain monsters. It was up to us to design a dish around anything that appeared. It was like a mix between those shows where they eat disgusting foods and top chefs making delicious meals. I kind of felt pity for the taste testers.
They gave us a little bit of time to make sure our equipment was all there before the first round began. The fire pit lit up with a crackling fire right before a bunch of bright yellow and red bugs, a weed about the size of my arm with a bulbous tip, and a tiny pile of multicolored berries ,appeared off to the side of it. I was not too surprised by the choice. This was a setup to get rid of most of the contestants.
I adjusted the fire logs with the prongs to make a little fire next to the blazing fire. Anybody stupid enough to use the main fire risked their food being burnt to a crisp. The fact that the school had not set it up before hand was on purpose to get rid of those that only cook in kitchens. I then placed the cast-iron skillet next to the side fire to heat it up.
Once I was satisfied with all that, I began to look through the ingredients. The bugs were something they covered in class and were poisonous. The head, leg tips and tail section all had to be discarded or you risked poisoning people. I never saw the weed before and broke off a tiny piece to test its flavor and toxicity. ‘This is probably what grass tastes like’, I thought before moving onto the berries. There were not many. The handful of berries were not all the same. They simply looked similar to each other. I carefully separated them until I had three piles. I slowly looked through each pile trying to identify each type. I only knew two of them. One of which was mildly toxic and would give those that ate it diarrhea which was a shame since they were said to be delicious.
All the other students were already cooking by the time I finished all that. I was not too surprised since there was a time limit to this competition. They were rushing. Even so, I needed to get moving. I grabbed the first insect and using the flat rock that would act as my cutting board and began to break it down into usable parts. I repeated this until I had a decent pile of meat. I scooped it into the pan and then placed it above the small fire.
I saw some of the girls holding the weed bulb above their pots or pans. I quickly looked at it again. Holding it up, I took a small knife and poked a hole in it. A milky liquid slowly oozed out of the tiny hole. I gave it a quick taste and found it had a licorice flavor. I took a bowl and added the non-toxic berries to the juice from the weed, mashed it up, and took a taste. It was ok but not fantastic.
I flipped the insect ‘meat’ while I thought of how to make the berry sauce taste better. There had to be something I could do. I looked at what they gave me and the only thing I have not used were the other two piles of berries. I tasted the unknown berries and instantly regretted it. I imagine that this was what soiled baby diapers tasted like. I quickly spit it out while trying not to throw up. I dry heaved a few times before I could fight down the nausea. I moved those berries further away. Even if they were not poisonous, I still could not use it.
That left the poisonous berries. I wonder. I took a berry and cast ‘Detoxify’ on it. The berry took on a golden hue briefly before going back to its natural dull maroon. ‘It is a mild toxin’, I told myself, over and over, as I popped the berry into my mouth. Delicious! I pulled up my display and checked to see if I was poisoned. Once I saw that I wasn’t I cast detoxify on every berry as quickly as possible while trying to multitask by flipping the meat again. I placed the berries into my sauce before I began to break them apart and mix them together with the others. I cast one more detoxify on the finished sauce just in case and took a taste. This mix was so much better!
I hummed happily as I poured the berry sauce over the meat, removed the pan from the fire and then placed it onto a few wooden plates. I took a bite just to make sure it was eatable and then indicated that I was done. The judges on this floor moved over to check it. It looked like roadkill. No really, the red berry juice darkened with the added maroon ones to look more like a bloody color. My poorly chopped up bug meat, which oddly did not taste bad, looked like it was bleeding once I had added the sauce.
I saw one of the judges eyes glow violet, probably checking for poisons, before he nodded and they each gave it a taste, marked their sheets and moved to the next contestant that indicated they were done. I couldn’t tell if they liked it or not. I was not the first to get done so I already knew I had points deducted for time and of course presentation. I glanced around at the plates of those near me. There were all types of dishes from soups to a type of salad made out of the weed. Most of them, even after the judges had took their test bite, looked better than mine. Whatever, I did my best and nobody had to be detoxified after tasting my meal which happened five tables down from me.
I went to Lilly and we left. I just shook my head at her plating. It was as if I was looking at an art piece, even with the couple of small sections that were missing from where the testers took samples. Presentation was part of the score. I could only hope that I excelled on taste and that others did worse than me.
Lilly and I separated as we exited the building since both Bella and I had events coming up. Lilly went to cheer on Bella who was competing in the Ritual Magic event. Her family practiced it because it was used in times of war. It took hours, if not days to complete one spell. The more power you wanted to unleash equated to the time it required but was offset by skill and power level of the caster. I did not know that much about how it all worked since I have been training on speeding up my spells; the complete opposite of her training.
Both Lilly and I agreed that Bella should have somebody there to cheer for her. For all her antics and false bravado, she tended to worry too much, so Amy and Lilly would try to improve her mood. I tended to focus so much that I never noticed people in the stands so I urged them to go. They had already done enough. They signed me up once they found out that the materials were covered. All I had to do was except the quest and go.
My event took me in the opposite direction. It was to be held in the Administration building due to the cost of the materials. They had more security measures inside that building so they held rare components here. There was only forty of us competing so, unlike the food competition, we were quickly sorted and put in our respective place.
We all started off doing the same low level enchantment. It was an ever-sharp spell that was placed onto everyday edged weapons and tools. A knife appeared with all the items needed. A few random items were mixed in because they were cheap and wasting them were not too big of a deal. I knew this enchantment and the time given seemed to be double what was needed. I sorted out what I needed, placed the knife in front of me and began. It was not until I was about halfway that variations on how to do the enchantment started to appear in front of me. Three pair of hands floated in front of me with the words ‘Faster Enchantment’, ‘Standard Enchantment’, ‘Stronger Enchantment’ and ‘Multi-Enchantment’. With a thought, I selected the stronger one. The first one simply completed the enchantment quicker and I had time. The last made me hesitate but I was not sure adding a secondary enchantment would disqualify me so I let it alone. I’d ask later if it was allowed just in case. I saw the judges write down that my finished product was around three times sharper than the normal which just made me smile.
Even so I was one of the first to finish. I stood around until the timer ended and we were judged. The whole process only took less than an hour. Those that failed to enchant their blades or did a substandard job were led out. We were given a brief rest while this was going on. The blade and materials vanished from their resting spots.
After the break the remaining fifteen participants were told about the next enchantment, ‘Slow Fall’. It was more complex but took around the same amount of time. It was usually placed on cloaks but with a bit of resourcefulness, could be placed into belts or shoes. Not surprising, a cloak and materials appeared in front of us. Again, options appeared in front of me. This time they were ‘Faster Enchantment’, ‘Standard Enchantment’, ‘Float Enchantment’ and ‘Meteor Enchantment’. I had gotten clarification and (was told that) additional enchantments or ,similar but better enchantments, were allowed so I selected the float enchantment which was a crappier version of flight but an upgrade for slow fall. The last option sped up your descent until you crashed like a meteor into anything below you while protecting you from the impact. It was a neat enchantment but my preferences always lean toward protection verse attack type enchantments. I did the enchantment quickly, stitched in a few runes to strengthen it and finished. They came and judged it leaving me with a bunch of time on my hands.
We would compete one more time today so I could not simply leave and, if I did well on the next one, would have to come back tomorrow afternoon to continue. I glanced around while I waited but could not see much since enchantments were part of the equipment and unless active, were hard to even tell if equipment had any on them much less the type.
We were given two options for the next enchantment, ‘Reflector’ and ‘Observation’. Probably because each enchantment used similar materials. Soon after they announced it a helm appeared with the material and the first rare one was mixed in with the common ones. I selected reflector. It was an enchantment that reduced damage taken from any blow that hit that location. I soon had the ‘Faster Enchantment’, ‘Standard Enchantment’, ‘Stronger Enchantment’ and ‘Multi-Enchantment’ options just like in the first round. I selected multi-enchantment and another list appeared. The options included just having both of them as they normally were but also offered a melding that used the base of what they were supposed to do, to which you could add another enchantment to create new ones. There were defensive ones like ‘Forecaster’ that allowed you to see where blows would be before they even swung their weapons or ‘Distortion’ that masked your basic shape and, to a lesser degree, your movements making it harder for people to hit you. As well as sight oriented ones like ‘Weak Point’ that showed you areas of opportunity or ‘Gage’ that simply allowed you to judge the strength of an enemy’s protection. There were a little over a dozen and all of them were pretty useful in their own ways. I picked the distortion enchantment mainly because I wanted it. I thought the extra protection would be nice but sadly watched it vanish along with every unused material. I expected it though. The judges simply scribbled something down as they judged my finished product, left and then poof no more master piece.
I checked the time and headed off to meet my friends at the cafeteria for dinner. They were waiting for me when I got there which surprised me. I swiftly grabbed food and joined them. I wanted to hear how Bella did. Lilly and I would have to check the list they would post tomorrow to see if we made it to the next round.
They were already in mid-discussion about Bella’s event and I learned that they had placed a temporary enchantment in the area to increase the time that passed. It was not real time but a distortion of perception. People would not get hungry but time would seem to pass so the competitors could show their skills as if days had gone by instead of a few hours. So for Bella, she had weaved a spell for five days to fight an incoming horde of monsters that the school had put into the simulation to put pressure on the students. She used the five day reprieve to make a normal lightning bolt spell into a lightning storm that tore through them, killing over eighty percent. Her result was fantastic, finishing second. In the future, she and her husband could choose to live in a border town and get a stipend. The tradeoff for the extra money was that she would be required to defend it in case of emergencies.
We spent some time discussing her and Lilly’s achievements while I glossed over my roadkill dish as fast as I could. It was when we were cleaning up that I noticed another group of girls staring at us, namely me. It was a group of three and while two of them seemed normal, the middle one looked like she wanted to put a knife in my back. She was around sixteen, blonde and fairly pretty. Her face was average but her body made up for it. The one on the left was a bit shorter and wore royal purple throughout her robe depicting that she was royalty of some sort. The last one was too thin for her height and it made her seem starved.
As I looked at them, they looked at me. I was the first to brake eye contact since, as far as I know, I never met these people before and I did not want more enemies. I heard Bella’s soft voice come from behind me, “We can talk about it once we get back to my room.” Sighing in my heart, I nodded my understanding and left with my friends. Hopefully, I can win this competition and go into the dungeons. School life is too dangerous.
We made our way back to the dorms. Once we got into Bella’s room they filled me in on the latest gossip that had spread across campus. Yesterday night, Prince Lucas had told the boys of his dorm that I was off limits and to spread the news to their friends. That rumor has been confirmed but because of that a few more rumors had sprouted up. The first was that I now used illusion and charm magic to captivate the prince’s affections and will soon become his fiancée, concubine or mistress depending on the version that was being told. Another version, was that he fell madly in love with me and used a priceless potion to age me so that he could marry me right away. Another, was that he already fixed the competition just so he could have a lover in the dungeon. This one was popular because there were few women that could go into the dungeons and even fewer that would choose to go. The last one was that I was a far removed cousin that he dotes on and protects.
Other than the last one, I came out looking like a cheap whore that should be drowned in a pig’s cage but it did explain why the boys wouldn’t get within three feet of me. I could not figure out what was going through Lucas’s mind and wasn’t sure if I should thank him or drop kick him the next time we met. The girl that was glaring at me was his actual fiancée while the girl in purple was one of his sisters from another mother. They obviously believed in one of the first rumors probably because of my body’s changes. Not that I could blame them because the rumors were more believable than me going through puberty in one night.
We did not stay up too late this time. Everybody had gone back to their rooms fairly early since everybody had a busy day competing in their specialties and, because of their success, had another round to go through tomorrow. I was tired but could not sleep just yet. I stayed up altering one of my dresses for tomorrow. As for the rumors, I did not worry too much about them as they say ‘rumors stop with the wise’ so if they confront me I will just explain it to them and, if they don’t, I am sure time will fix any misunderstandings. I was not interested in marriage much less to a prince; too much drama.
Lilly and I stood side by side as we scanned the list trying to find our placements. Lilly’s was the easiest to find because it was the fourth one down. Mine on the other hand was the second from the cut off. I made it… barely. I consoled myself that in the five hundred people competing, I was one of the hundred that got through. Today, like the enchanting tests, there would be multiple rounds now that there were less people.
The first round of the day we were given a lot to work with. There were Bone Bats which was a type of undead, Absent-minded Fruits which were common in low level dungeons, several heads of Mini-frost Drakes they were dragons about the size of tiny dogs, Acid ooze a type of slime, some type of grass and finally a few mushrooms. I took it all in and decided on trying to make a dessert. I took the bone bats and slowly cut the ligaments that connected all the bones off, scooped them up and set them to boil in a pot.
I took the Absent-minded Fruits and cut away the skins and removed the seeds, both of which would cause people to fall into a stupor if eaten. I diced the meat and most of the fruits into tiny cubes and placed them to the side. The last couple I smashed to get their juice.
I removed the ligaments from the water, dried them as best I could and then used the acid ooze to extract the collagen. It was not perfect and the acid spit due to the moisture they still held. I rinsed the collagen, patted it dry and then placed it next to the fire in hopes that it would dry more.
The mini drakes were harder to work on. Their skins were tough and hard to cut through. What I needed was a gland that grew inside their cheeks and they tended to be delicate. It took time. Something I lacked. I cracked the jaw of the first one and dug it out from the inside. It was a bit quicker. The gland was about the size of a raisin, see-through with tiny white veins running through it. I dug out three more before I was happy with the amount.
With time running out I coarsely ground the collagen, mixed it with water, fruit juice and cubed pieces. Once it was all mixed together I very carefully pricked the gland pointing it at the mixture. A chilly air gushed out, hit the mixture causing the top to start to crystalize. I mixed the ‘jello’ and kept repeating the steps until time was almost up. In the last couple of seconds, I shook it out of the bowl and onto the plate. The finished product was frozen in sections while jello’ee in others. This was due to the rushed process with the collagen. It was not dry enough and not ground enough.
I knew just looking at it that it was not good enough to make the cut. I watched the judges scan, write something down and shortly after they left ,a teenage girl came and walked me out. I went with the go big or go home tactic and failed. It was too late to regret it but even so this was about where I expected to place with my skill level.
I quickly checked the time in my display and noticed I had a lot of time on my hands. Bella’s event should be half over while Amy’s should be about to start. I decided to check Amy’s competition and then head over to mine. Her event was called ‘knowledge Seekers’ and was set up into teams unlike the others. That was about all I knew about it. She said it was hard to explain and I would not understand so I was curious.
I walked into the area that she would be competing and saw a group of teens in a circle with a boy in the middle. It already started? I hoped I did not miss her. There was a purple dot with six rings on the ground. The boy stood within the rings but next to the dot peering into it. A screen above their group displayed only the dot. The solid purple dot began to change. It started in the center and moved outward until only the outer edge remained that solid purple. The inner part now displayed the countryside. It was like we were looking down from the clouds.
The view began to move, descending slowly. I saw the group around the ring walking to different places but did not know what it meant so I focused back on the screen. Its display showed the scenery moving. It was faster than a wagon and as the view crested a hill I could see a town. It moved to the road, aimed to go down the main street. It was just about to enter the town when the scene shattered. The rings on the ground vanished one after the other until nothing was left but the teens.
They looked upset as they left the area. I saw the next team enter and saw Amy among them. I waved enthusiastically as she looked in my direction. She smiled, gave a brief wave and moved to stand in the middle of the testing area. Her group formed a circle around her as she placed a piece of grass by her feet.
Amy began chanting. Her purple aura danced along her skin and, as her chant ended, streams of purple ebbed off her. It formed a purple circle above her with a thin purple string connecting it to her.
Above her other purple circles etched in runes began to form. They ran from small to large with the smallest being closer to the body. It looked like an ice cream cone. Each circle was connected by a small thread of purple that ran to one of teens that surrounded Amy. The screen I had been watching soon displayed the strand of silver grass. Amy called out orders. Things like, ‘ring three to twenty’, ‘ring six to ten’ and so on and the blade was magnified over and over again until I could see the basic cells of the plant. They wrote something down, looked happy and let their spells go.
That was a microscope. Did this world have scientists? Wasn’t Amy some ditzy teen? It made me realize that I did not really know that much about her. Even in our fight, she only used potions and a borrowed animal to compete. Even then, the fight was pretty much one sided. I cheered as her group left the field and continued to watch the remaining groups for as long as I could before I had to rush off to my event. The groups I saw displayed clairvoyance, clairaudience and an advanced identify that showed the items stats as well as a detailed history of who used it for the last month.
I was surprised that there were only three of us left. All our stations were next to each other so I could see who was left fairly easily. The remaining two boys were normal looking and while I had seen them around the school I had never talked to them. I gave a friendly wave and wished them good luck as I checked my station and the enchanting equipment before we began. This was the last round.
It did not take long before we were given supplies but what to make was left to us to decide. I looked through the supplies they gave us. They ranged from common to extremely rare items. There was even a dressing doll that had various pieces of clothing to choose from. Our time was only restricted to the end of the day so we had plenty of time. I decided to go all out and see what I could make.
With a smirk on my face, I stripped the doll until I had the male underwear in hand. I had been thinking of what type of clothing I would enchant for the longest time. Out of all of them, underwear seemed to be the one that survived every encounter. Weapons could get disarmed. Shirts and pants slashed into ribbons. Shoes lost but nobody thinks that underwear would ever hold a good enchantment.
Each item enchanted could only hold so many enchantments before the magic failed and destroyed the item during crafting. The better the item the more it could hold. A way around that is combining enchantments making several into one. The downside is it required more magic and concentration for a person do it. The more you tried to combine, the harder it was and if the person lost concentration it usually ended up with a big explosion.
I grabbed the dragon thread and a diamond tortoise shell. Then grabbed six different vials of blood and a sorted them out on my station. I also took a few of the more common materials that I would use to tie all the enchantments together. Once I was happy with everything, I started.
Six hours later, I stood there holding the underwear. I was making sure there was no mistakes. I was exhausted. My clothes clung to me and my hair was matted to my head due to sweat. I felt gross and exhilarated. It was a success! These undies had a self-cleaning feature, armor, any blunt damage would transfer into the ground you were standing on effectively canceling all of it and for the finale all resistances would be boosted by ten. I waved the judges over after a last look. I was the last one here. The others had left an hour or two ago so they were quick and efficient. They made their notes and I was finally free to go. It was too late for food so I just munched on snacks as I made my way to the dorms.
I was finally done with everything I had to compete in. All that remained was to find out where I placed.