2015-02-21 - Cooking Club Climax!

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Title: Cooking Club Climax!

Round two of Denko Misono's challenge to Gordon is underway - and Gordon is determined to make it the last! This means, unfortunately, that a true master chef is the students' opponent - allez cuisine!


Kuniko Saito, Gordon, Lucy Iwai, Mai Tokiha, Sailor Jupiter, Rei Hino, Izou Saitou, Fuu Hououji, Hikaru Shidou, Yuu Nikaidou (NPCed by Nadeshiko Fujisaki)
GM: Honoka Yukishiro


The Chairman's Stadium (on the roof of Infinity Institute)

OOC - IC Date:

28 May 2014 - 02/21/2015

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what you are." --Brillat-Savarin


It isn't in an Infinity auditorium this time -- rather, as it is a beautiful late spring day, it has somehow materialized on the roof of the Infinity skyscraper in a splendid array of fluted pillars and sparkling fountains and marble cherubim and wind-catching silks and gauzes, done up in the blue of the heavens themselves in honor of their location, be that Infinity uniforms or the vault of the sky itself. All Tokyo is spread out in an incredible panorama below, the many blues and greens of the Tama environs dominating the near-field visual palette.

Well, there's that -- /and/ all the kitchen equipment.

Creating a structure not unlike a circular Parthenon, shining counters, ranges, ovens, freezers, and every other conceivably useful piece of cookware is laid out in twin crescents, in between still more of the pillars. A second, concentric ring holds the audience at its top, with the judge's area at roughly 2 o'clock. The middle of the clock, where the hands would radiate from, is of course covered with fog, concealing Today's Ingredient.

The Chairman's Box, of course, is at midnight.

The Chairman cuts a dramatic black figure against all of this white and blue, and despite the glorious sun beaming down -- veiled by silks in strategic places to prevent sunburn of judges, audience, or chefs -- the Chairman's face is in shadow even as a wine glass swirls its contents between nimble fingers.

From the angle of the sillhouete of the Chairman's neck, their attention is cast downwards, awaiting the formalities of challenge between human and bunny.

Another figure can briefly be seen attending him, before they vanish down below. Perhaps it's the Chairman's security.

Denko Misono strides in with presumably another student challenger on her heels: this one wears his Kyoto school uniform slung open and his pants baggy and a little low. His arms are corded with strength -- perhaps the strength of kneading dough. His hair is big and he has a brawler's scar on his jaw; a tough guy all around.

"Misono-san," rumbles the Chairman, more neutrally than last time, when he was warm. Still, he doesn't seem angry. "Another challenge already, I see. Welcome to the Arena! Is your student prepared?"

"He is, Chairman-sama," Denko replies with a honeyed mien just a hair shy of obsequious eyelash-batting. "I present Kento Yamada, third-year high school student, three star-rated chef of traditional Kyoto cuisine."

Kento grunts. Somehow it isn't a rude grunt, just the sort of growly monosyllabic that some people only express themselves in. The effect is only slightly ruined by the kitten that abruptly peeks her head out of his baggy uniform jacket sleeve, and perches two paws on his wrist. "MEW!"

"Yamada-san's mascot, Kuroneko-san," Adrian, the turtle being carried on a silver dish at Denko's side, pronounces.

The Chairman turns expectantly towards the Infinity team, while microphone-wielding announcers begin introducing the judges.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Kuniko had not had a great day previously, feeling a certain embarrassment after coming home from visiting a friend, bearing a load of loving baked goods. While biting into one of those friendly cookies - a gingersnap, accompanied by a small cup of milk - the following vision occured in her mind's eye:

Makoto Kino, seen softly lit and with glimmering gentleness in her eyes, on one side of a table. "Oh... I love to cook. It's a little silly, but..." Kuniko Saito, as portrayed by a Muppet, says, "OH ME TOO. YOU SHOULD COME TO MY SCHOOL," followed by kermit-flailing a plate of stir fry into her felt maw.

"Arrrrghhh I AM SUCH A FREAKING NERD!" Kuniko had proclaimed at her breakfast table. (A dog two houses down started barking. Nobody else heard.)


"Another challenge already? Are these maniacs just trying to wear us out?" Kuniko complains, the beautifully surreal vista of the Stadium being set atop Infinity's roof making her very faintly height-phobic. But, she tells herself, she base-jumped once before, but there is no cool and stylish musket Mami here to provide her with a ribbon chute...

It fades, though, as the other figure makes his entrance. Big. Tough. And his mascot... is an adorable little black kitten. Ugh, she thinks. How did she know all my favorite things?!

Her head whips around to look at the others. Taking in a huge breath, she says, "Well... I guess we have to do this again. I hope this isn't gonna be a weekly habit for six years or something like that. Iwai, thank you for coming out. Ah... I hope you get a good experience, Tokiha, and--"

Kuniko's hands go into her pockets as she looks at her shoes and kicks dirt that isn't there. "... Your cookies were great, Makoto!" With that, she turns around, whirling almost 180 degrees, and marches outwards, her cap tilted insouciantly and her boning knife and meat-carving saber still in their accustomed places at her waist.

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Last time, Lucy and Didi were happy to commentate and cheer on their friends. But now? The stakes have been raised, and they can't just sit idly by!

...Not that Lucy (of the Mesozoic Maiden variety! Just like last time, the line is a little blurry.) seems very confident, uncharacteristically enough. She's a cavegirl with a magic club, not a skilled chef. Still, she wants to help Saitou-senpai and the rest!

With Didi (wearing a tiny chef hat because why not) sitting on her shoulder, she follows Kuniko and the rest. She looks at Kento Yamada, their challenger. "He really looks tough," she comments to her teammates, "...but I'm tougher," she adds fiercely.

Not that toughness has anything to do with this particular competition. The adorable kitten's appearance has Lucy distracted from that particular line of thought, anyway. Awww.

At that invisible dirt kick, she looks between Kuniko and Makoto with slight amusement. Also awww.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Once again, Gordon is in the Chairman's Stadium. He feels his nerves rising, as it does every time he comes here. And yet, beneath that, is a sense of anger. Last time, they won; they proved his methods in the stadium. And yet, they are back. The petulant part of him rankles. The more intellectual part knows that this is part of the fight. He tries to let that side of part of him rule his mind.

He looks up, pausing at Adrian. His eyebrow shakes once; but, for the moment, he keeps his temper under control, and turns to look at Yamada for a moment. Denko is momentarily ignored, while he contemplates this next student. He looks tough, but he saw more than a few tough-looking cooks in his day.

And, of course, he doesn't compare to his former sous-chef, Rafael.*

He nods, loosely, to Kuniko; there isn't any reproach for the comment today. (He thought it too). He glances at Kuniko for a moment, before he hops forward. This, he thinks, isn't right. His students shouldn't have to be exposed to constant challenges; they shouldn't have to do repeated battles for the sake of his pride or Denko's.

"Chairman!" the rabbiut barks out, as he hops ahead of her. "This contest of Denko's has gone on long enough. Come on, Denko--Adrian." He looks at her, then at the turtle. His anger boils over. "We don't we settle it, once and for all? We're right where bloody need to be do that! We don't need a war of attrition to decide this!"


  • The part of Rafael is played by Danny Trejo.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

There had been rumours about what the challenge to Infinity's cooking program might entail. Having been there for the actual challenge delivery, Mai didn't put much stock in most of them - and having missed the first round of battle, she was still expecting something rather more...mundane.

The better part of a year spent dealing with magic and Ohtori, and this still defies all preconceptions she'd had.

She'd hoped to see this culinary battle for herself, and Ohtori had offered an opportunity - putting out a quiet call for cooking enthusiasts to aid in the competition. Kuniko's advice had proven useful, and this might offer an opportunity to repay the favour - and to see how her skills might match up. This stage, though..."

"A...three star chef?!" Wasn't this supposed to be a battle between students - that's a high schooler, right? How can a high schooler already be a ranked chef, let alone a three star one?! What was she thinking, half her meals are ramped-up instant noodle soup, dreams aside her principal experience is in bringing food to tables!

That inner monologue is mercifully interrupted by Kuniko's encouragement, and she visibly starts. Despite all her preparations, the sheer level of this competition has her feeling like a minnow in the ocean - and so her responding smile is incredibly hesitant. "I'll do my best, Saito-san. Or senpai, you're definitely the one to call the shots here. Still, I'll do what I can to help - our schools stick together, right?"

She gives Lucy and Makoto a nod each. "We're going to do our best." Aaaand then Mai turns back to taking in the magical arena and the countless spectators and the judges' box and what in the world was she thinking.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> tinyurl.com/mllstn6

A spider monkey scales up the pillars with an adroit grace. A dapper creature dressed in a smart three piece suit, one of its big black eyes gleams behind the glinting glass of a monocle, its fine length of chain vanishing into a well-pressed collar. It carries an apparently wireless microphone in its tail, vaulting to the top of the column with ease.

Clearing its throat, the monkey named Monty adjusts an old fashioned tie in the full windsor style, spritzes a spray of some aerosol liquid into his open mouth, and begins to speak with a rumbling basso that belies its small stature. "Judging today is Ms. Rei Hino. A sterling student of the prestigious Ohtori Academy, Ms. Hino pursues her studies as both a scholar and as a Shinto sage, serving as the miko of the Hikawa Shrine. She is the only child of Takashi Hino, a scion of the Liberal Democratic Party and a representative of the National Diet. A frequent staple of Tokyo's restaurant scene, her palate is remarkably refined for her age"

As introduced, Rei appears in the judge's box. She does not arrive so much as she materializes by the Chairman's magics, right on cue. Her long black hair is marked by a poinsettia. She wears a long red dress with a matching cape, short enough to just reach her waist and affixed around her shoulders by a single golden button. Her red heels are matched by red gloves. Smiling, she waves to the ground in a regal and collected manner, before taking her seat.

She knows that much of why she's here is because of who her father is, and she's as tweaked by that as one would expect. But no matter her loathing for the man she knows better than to air dirty laundry in public. Besides, in her heart, she believes that her taste mattered more in her selection. She loves food, and this is the place for those sharing that passion.

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

Over by the judge's platform, a new announcer, filling in for the sublime job previously fulfilled by new members of the Infinity team, excitedly chatters to the world. "Everyone's excited for an unprecedented SECOND MATCH here at the Chairman's Stadium at the Infinity Institute! It's big! It's bold! Who knows what intense culinary wonders will pass before the plates of the judges today! Nobody, that's who!" The girl nods, firmly to herself, and then is interrupted by a high "WAUGH!" as one of the judges tumbles over his own feet and lands flat on his face.

The judge in question is a tall, lanky man with unruly, bright red hair that looks like it hasn't seen a comb since he left college, and glasses that have impressively survived his little tumble. His tan suit and green tie are in better condition than usual, which is still rather below the standards of the Chairman's Stadium, a little rumpled but at least he's done the top button for once.

The announcer blinks twice, and picks up gamely. "Next up is a first-time judge at Champion's Stadium, Yuu Nikaidou-sensei from the Ohtori Elementary school! Nikaidou-sensei's job requires he have a great eye for every kind of talent, don't you think? And a strong stomach, to boot! But, uhm, Sensei, are you quite alright??"

Yuu picks himself up with a practiced ease, laughing nervously and with a little shrill tone to his voice. "Ha ha ha! Oh, I'm just fine! I have to deal with elementary schoolers all day, so I'd be in real trouble if a little tumble could do me in!" He scratches the back of his head, but his smile is genuine enough.

"That's true, that's true! So, Sensei, what are you hoping to see in today's match?"

Yuu hums, considering the gathering teams, and then nods to himself. His face splits in a wide, broad smile, even as he eases himself into a seat. "I'm hoping to see a lot of creativity..." His head tips, just a fraction, and his eyes slit for just a moment. "And a lot of heart."

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

There was a letter waiting for Fuu when she got home from classes yesterday. Not just any letter, but a very high-quality envelope, cream-colored parchment containing a single crisply-folded sheet of paper ... perhaps not so much a 'letter' as an 'invitation,' but still. It wasn't the sort of invitation Fuu was inclined to refuse, either; she had a good time watching the previous contest in the Chairman's Stadium, and the chance to be an announcer - well, her biggest worry was how to dress for the role. If she wears her Infinity uniform, it'll look partisan, won't it?

So as the spotlights come up in the Stadium, Fuu Hououji is standing also in the Chairman's Box, wearing a dark green skirtsuit, a white blouse with a red ribbon tie visible under the jacket. She bows politely towards the audience before straightening up and speaking into her microphone, facing a camera. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the fabled Chairman's Stadium for another battle of culinary expertise! Tonight's challenge has been formally issued by Kento Yamada-san, a protege of Denko Misono-san - a name which should be familiar to those who remember the last match-up contested in this space."

At least, she THINKS it was the most recent ... who's to say how often the Arena is actually used? She could have missed some other duels since the one she was here to see.

Fuu continues, "It looks like Gordon-san - Infinity Cooking Club advisor of record - is in somewhat high dudgeon at Misono-san; apparently he's tiring of these formal student-against-student contests when he knows full well that Misono's issue is against him, not his students. That's rather a breach of Arena etiquette ... let's see how the Chairman responds to that?"

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Standing alongside Fuu (being BFFs has benefits) is Hikaru, who watches with a smirk as her friend makes the announcement. Hikaru's no cook, nor is she good at judging, but given how she was invited to come along, she figured she couldn't miss out on something like this. So she's just standing there, hoping that, for a change, things go smoothly.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

After the last time, Makoto thought she knew what to expect from the Chairman's Stadium. As it turns out, she was wrong, and any chance she might have had of coming into this new challenge with the confidence and poise of a seasoned campaigner is rather spoiled by the wide-eyed look with which she takes in the open air and dizzying view of this new venue, and their latest competition.

A three-star chef, Misono said. He looks tough, Mako thinks. He looks--

--that is a *kitten.*

Anybody watching Mako at just the right moment will see the beginnings of a starry-eyed look start to come over her face before she snaps out of it and hastily reins herself back with a quick shake of her head. NOPE NOPE NOPE that way only lies trouble. She's here to cook and that's all. Focus, Makoto!

With a renewed sense of purpose, Mako nods firmly to Lucy and Mai, agreement with Mai's statement. "We've got this," she says - and at the last thing Kuniko says before she marches forward, Makoto can't help but grin, so she's wearing a bright (if slightly embarrassed) smile as she ranges herself behind the older student in a position of support.

(She almost waves to Rei up in the judges' box, but at the last moment thinks better of it and guiltily snatches her hand back, clasping both hands behind her instead. Rei's judging, after all. Better not.)

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

There comes a time in every antagonist's life when their number comes up and they find themselves well and truly beaten. Not just temporarily set back but defeated, done, with death awaiting them upon their return to their dark masters as the price of that final failure.

With that in mind: "Does this lady not know when to quit?!" Izou Saitou complains, arms crossed, from his seat in the audience. He makes no attempt to keep his complaint sotto voce. Because seriously, if /he'd/ gotten whipped as bad as Misono('s protegé) did in the tofu match, he'd be a pile of ash at Beryl's feet by now.

(It's not a pleasant thought, but even Zoisite is well aware of what happens to lieutenants who so displease their queen.)

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXFSK0ogeg4

Denko draws herself up, nose in the air, shoulders back, core tight, 'offense' writ large across her face with operatic scope.

"You would challenge /me/, the leader of the Kyoto Culinary Institute?"

Her eyes glitter with fury... and then something even more horrible happens.

One fold of middle-aged, tension-wrought skin at a time, her cheeks lift in a satisfied smirk. Adrian's is about ten times wider.

"Very well! I accept! And, under the provisions of the Prudhomme Protocol, as a directly challenged culinary school's master, I have a right to appoint a champion!"

A spotlight shines down from the heavens to illuminate her more brightly than the sun can, somehow casting everyone else into contrasting darkness for the crucial moment. Under cover of this darkness, Kento slouches, exiting stage left. He knows better than to think he'd be simply re-selected.

"I choose..."

The drums, once again manned by the Infinity Taiko Team, obligingly roll...

"...the Jewel of Cuisine! I know he is here tonight, I saw him in the Chairman's Box!"

The drums bang into staccato silence, and a chorus -- the Infinity Opera Club -- pours into it, overflowing it with rising, wordless harmonic intensity. Directly beneath the Chairman's Box, lifted onto floor-level by a gradually rising platform, is a man all cast in shadow. Certain details emerge; a ruby redness to his shimmering uniform, the magnificent size of his chef's hat, the pear cradled in his hand.

The lights all shift to him, revealing a magnificent moustache and a serene smile, just as the Chairman booms, "Let it be known by all: in the final battle for leadership of Infinity Institute's culinary program, the Kyoto Culinary Institute will be represented by the Jewel of French Cuisine!"

The Jewel of Cuisine strides off of his platform and takes his place in the appropriate crescent-shaped cooking part of the Arena. Where Kento had a gang of other students behind him to act as sous chef, no one else appears to support the Jewel, nor is he summoning his personal crew. It appears he will be cooking alone. Is this a big break for the Infinity team, or an intentional, voluntary handicap?

Either way, the presence rolling off of him is palpable. It is intimidating, but only because of how perfectly, politely self-possessed he is. This is a chef absolutely secure in his abilities, culinary confidence and exquisite passion personified. He seems faintly surprised by this turn of events, but as implacable in his newfound course as a river rushing towards the sea.

Up at the Judge's Table, the only repeat judge from last time, pickle-faced Saeki Nobuko, the wise fortune teller, is introduced, then leans forward eagerly.

"I'm so excited for the opportunity to sample food prepared by the Blue Ribbon Society's finest, legendary champion chef! The inventor, the leading light, in the fusion of Japanese and French cuisine! Though of course the fortunes predicted this, I am not surprised at all, and if you don't cut to the next judge immediately YOU WILL DIE."

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"A champion? That's a coward's way out and you--" Gordon tries to snap back up furiously at Denko, but then it dies in his throat. The reason isn't the protocol; the reason is a mixture of respect for the Chairman and the sudden glare of the spotlight. His words die in his throat, as the drum rolls, rumbling through the place. He opens his mouth up when the declaration is made.

And then the man himself rises up, his red uniform cutting a stark impression that is reflected in Gordon's dark brown eyes. He stares at the Jewel of Cuisine for a long, long moment. The fact that he is not summoning the rest of his brigade is merely a dim thought in the back of the chef's mind. His tiny shoulders slump.

A Jewel of Cuisine.

He has faith in his students, but this is a true master of the craft; a chef selected by the Chairman, who has become one with cuisine. So much so that, in a sense, they surrender their own names. And, Gordon thinks dimly, he called the Jewel of Cuisine down on them. He lost his temper and now he pays for it.

But, worse, so do his students.

Gordon stands there, staring emptily for a long time, not quite saying anything. He may have issued the challenge, but now there is only silence from the rabbit.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Misono-san has *accepted* Gordon's direct challenge!" exclaims Fuu. "But rather than facing Gordon-sensei personally, she invokes a little-known rule of the Stadium and selects a champion to represent her ... the Jewel of French Cuisine himself! Gordon-sensei seems dumbfounded by this new development ... I have to wonder how the members of the Cooking Club are taking this? Or whether the sudden change in players will affect any of the decisions which prepared for this afternoon's contest?"

That seems like a good reason to actually leave the box and venture down to the main floor, so Fuu proceeds to do exactly that. She's a little hesitant to break the team's focus at this juncture, but - well, she's curious too.

"Kuniko-san, do you or your team have anything to say about the new shape of the challenge ahead of you?" Fuu asks. "Do you think your collective skills can still prevail against a true Jewel of Cuisine?" She offers the microphone for Kuniko's reply; other members of the Cooking Club will get a chance to speak up as well if they indicate a desire to.

And whatever Fuu had been thinking about at least appearing non-partisan, she's hoping the chance to speak will help reinforce the Club's determination ...

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Kuniko would be like, eight stars if she'd opened Caravanserai. (Caravanserai has become a more practical shawarma lunch concept and may appear later, rather than its original overly ornate three-schedule setup.) Believe that.

She is setting herself to fight this handsomely rough fellow and his preciously adorable mascot, when Gordon speaks out. Her eyes turn towards him -- when Gordon speaks.

Kuniko's brow furrows. "I..." she begins to say, but then Denko speaks up, accompanied by a drumroll. She's relenting? Well, Kuniko thinks, it's almost a shame if this is going to just end prematurely. But no...

"Prudhomme --" Her eyes widen, and her team mates may start to sweat now, because when that immense choral accompaniment rises, and a ruby-red man in a chef's hat arises upwards. Kuniko's mouth stays open. Her eyes widen. Sweat glistens on her forehead as she says, "J, J, Jewel of French Cuisine --"

He's coming down. Comfortable. Assured. My father was a person like this, Kuniko thinks... And even if she was never directly shown the magical side of her father's cuisine, she does not expect that she could out cook her father, were he returned to life now, before them!


She can see that look on the face of Denko and the oddly congressional head of Adrian. The drooping, defeated glimmer in the eyes of Chef, in the eyes of Gordon. That handsome guy from Kyoto's here. A politician's daughter. A model. And the others who came alongside to accompany her.

"France... the southern reaches of France border the Mediterranean," Kuniko says, not looking at the others. "Their cuisine's influenced by the old Romans and the new world... France has had strong connections to North Africa, culinarily, for decades..."

She takes her cap off for a moment, but only to re-seat it properly. "I don't know if I can keep up with him... I'm sorry it's not what you might've been expecting, Tokiha. The Jewels of Cuisine... I don't know how we can do against them. Against him. Even alone... The intensity of this could be dangerous. You know what they say, about standing the heat..."

Her voice gets tighter, feigning cockiness to push back the quaking in the pit of her stomach. "Well, I'm gonna give it my all!!" With this she steps into the stadium itself, resting a hand on the side of a table so she can maintain a properly upright posture, eyes not daring to look at that ruby-red master chef, instead staying upright.

"And we might get lucky with the ingredient," she says, perhaps more for Gordon than for herself. "French cuisine's got its weaknesses...!"

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Lucy waves to Announcer Fuu and has friend up there. She isn't particularly worried about accusations of bias.

But then, Gordon issues a challenge and Denko Misono responds in kind. The Jewel of Cuisine steps in where their opponent should have been. Lucy's eyes widen. Didi, meanwhile, can only cover his.

How can they hope to face a man whose uniform is so... red?

Lucy looks to Makoto and Mai, then her eyes rest on Kuniko, hopeful. Their team leader is not backing down, right? Then neither is she!

"I'll do my best too!" the Mesozoic Maiden says into Fuu's mic. Then, like a cat, leaps right after Kuniko. She skids to a halt with some difficulty to stop next to her and pose defiantly, having kicked up only a tiny cloud of dust in the process. Didi managed to hold on.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Infinity's music clubs are really having a good time tonight, aren't they?

Selfconsciousness can swift be forgotten in the wake of a dramatic event - and Denko Misono's naming of a new champion is enough to derail Mai from worrying about what everyone might think of her food. Instead, she gets to join everyone present in outright boggling at Denko's new champion, a Jewel of Cuisine.

(Mai wasn't personally aware there was someone called a Jewel of Cuisine, but given the reactions to his presence she can make an educated guess.)

She works her jaw, lost for words - if the opponent's /student/ was a three star chef, what calibre chef must someone with this impressive a title be? There's that niggling doubt in the back of her mind - that little voice saying she was out of her depth here. It's louder, now - if she was possibly outmatched before, she certainly must be now - and yet it's fading under the tempest of a stronger line of thought.

Righteous anger.

"That - she's calling in a /master chef/ to win this argument?! How can she- how is this even legal, this kind of skullduggery-" Mai grinds her teeth in fury a moment - and whirls at Kuniko's apology, Fuu's inquiry. "Like h- There's no way I'm getting out of the kitchen. After this kind of low blow, there's no way I'm letting her get away with this without a fight! Just - gah!" Undignified rage is hidden in her voice, and poise aside Mai needs to vent - and so she storms off to the side, ducking behind one of the ornate pillars for a moment.

There is a brief frustrated scream of indignant rage - accompanied by a bright flare of flame.

Mai returns in full HiME splendor, rings of gold and jade gently spinning around her wrists and ankles, trailing wisps of flame as she returns to Kuniko's group. "Okay. They want to turn up the heat? Let's turn up the heat."

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha transforms into Mai-HiME!

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> tinyurl.com/mfpwm7r

Rei glances to the side, brushing her hair back with the cast of a hand. Of the three other chairs at the table, only one is filled, by a rather overweight woman of middle-age, wearing a little too much makeup in her mind. She smiles with a polite warmth to her. "Good afternoon, Miss Nobuko. It so happens that I tell the occasional fortune myself."

Little time for pleasantries. Before the match even begins there is a dramatic bombshell. The..the jewel? Surely not..

A single red column reaches up from the ground, surrounded by a steamy, billowing fog..a harbinger of what is to come. A man emerges from the depths, cloaked in crimson and shadow like a demon or a deity. A Jewel..a /The/ Jewel..she sits at the edge of her seat, her eyes slightly agog in astonishment.

It seems..so terribly unfair. But the Chairman's booming proclamation seals it in stone. A kami of cuisine will do battle against a motley crew that had no idea what they'd face in this arena. They have truly been flung into the Minotaur's labyrinth. Rei fills with excitement and anticipation..to taste the dishes to come, of course. But even more so..to witness sublime creation from this lofty perch.

And yet..she smiles. /How lucky for them../ She meant it, too. Adversity is the best teacher, is it not? Then surely there are few better senseis than this. They will lose, she is sure of it. Bashed against the rocks by a storm beyond their control..but they will emerge stronger than ever, if they can endure this defeat. Of course, as a judge, she will strive for objectivity..even as she wishes she could help..even as she can hardly conceive of a path to victory for the forlorn fighters in this terrible moment of twilight.

But then..she and her loved ones have survived the impossible, hadn't they? Threaded fate's needle with a single gossamer strand of fate and friendship. She shivers, goosebumps blossoming like fields of flowers along her forearms. The scale is so different, the stakes so smaller..but is this, in this microcosm, what it feels like to be a God?

All she can do is watch.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

What the *hell?* says Makoto Kino's open-mouthed, wide-eyed stare, as she watches the Jewel of Cuisine take his place on the platform. She looks hastily to Kuniko for some kind of confirmation that this isn't as bad as it looks, but Kuniko seems even more floored than she is.

For a moment, Makoto feels like flailing. This isn't what any of them came for, is it? It was supposed to be a contest of the schools' respective cooking programs, not a group of students up against--

Her mouth closes, thins into a determined line as she listens to Kuniko's explanation, her declaration of her intention to do her best.

"This doesn't change what we came here to do," Makoto states, her voice ringing with conviction. "We're here to *cook.* Whoever we're up against, we'll show everyone what we're capable of!"

Moments later, while the eyes of the onlookers are on Kuniko, on the Jewel of Cuisine, on the judges still being introduced one by one - Makoto's hand drops to the pocket where, even at a time like this, she always keeps her transformation pen, just in case. The moment she gets the opportunity to step out of sight--

Electricity flashes. "Jupiter Power - MAKE UP!"

So where it should have been Makoto Kino, it's Sailor Jupiter who joins the rest of the Sister Schools team, clapping a hand briefly on Kuniko's shoulder in a gesture of solidarity. "We've got this," she says again, flashing her team a quick grin that she hopes at least *looks* confident.

COMBAT: Makoto Kino transforms into Sailor Jupiter!

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

Nikaidou's uncommonly high, nasal voice hems exaggeratedly from his position at the judges' booth, head tipping to one side at the shocking twist things have already taken. Even in the darkness, his glasses gleam to conceal his eyes, tilted at the angle of his head. "My, my. That's no good for them at all! Good news for us though!" he laughs, settling back in his seat as his crinkled eyes sweep across the arena. The Chairman's announcement is like the falling sword of Damocles, the final declaration of doom, and Yuu takes it all in curious stride. It's all so interesting!

"A Jewel of Cuisine...that's going to be a pretty tough act to beat..." He hems again, watching the students' last-minute preparations. The magic of the stadium helps to take even the most mystical preparations in easy stride. "Shame. I didn't expect them to have to see just how ruthless cooking can be right in front of me."

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyv905Q2omU

Saeki Nobuko beams at Rei after being called 'miss'. "How wonderful, how wonderful!" she gushes with unfeigned enthusiasm. "So few of your generation have proper appreciation for tradition and mysticism. Soon I fear they will be lost arts."

Meanwhile, Jewel of Cuisine, perhaps aware of the effect he's having on his opponents, politely averts his gaze from them as well. He simply waits, at ease, still holding his pear.

The Chairman walks -- strides -- strolls down the spiral steps from his Box to the floor with unexaggerated, perfect panache, until he's standing behind and above the twisting, swirling, concealing fog.

"Today's Ingredient Is..."

The Taiko Team is still on the ball. And the stick(s), which they pound furiously against their drums.


A choice that shows absolute faith and support of, and in, both sides: for Kuniko is known as a poissonnier, a fish specialist, and salmon falls squarely within the Jewel's specialty as well. If anything, it's an advantage for the beleaguered students, who could have been well and truly trapped by some horrifically obscure French ingredient instead of being presented a fish that is beloved around the world and perhaps especially in Japan.

The fog explodes, revealing an artfully arranged pile of beautiful silvery fish. There are massive ones and fingerlings, bowls of roe and everything in between. A few, for the satisfaction of the audience, have already been cut open, revealing the succulent and beautiful pink flesh within.


<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon continues staring emptily for a time; he looks up, dimly, when the ingredient is announced. At first, it doesn't register as an advantage. He is lost within his own world, and he doesn't quite process that the ingreident could work to his team's benefit. But, then, facts begin to catch up to him. Kuniko has been rallying the team; they've summoned their magic, and they're preparing to try anyways.

His eyes narrow and regain focus. He finds a sense of clarity, then; he realizes that they aren't giving up. He got them into this, but maybe he can help get them out.

Besides. Winning isn't everything.

"I'll help," he tells Kuniko; a hint of gruffness enters his voice, before he looks at the rest. "I'll make some sirloin medallions to go with the salmon. Surf and turf, but make the turf more of a side, this time. Garlic and butter, simple but... effective."

He reaches down into one of the freezers usually at his feet, and begins withdrawing flanks of meat. His knife lifts up -- there is a deep breath, as he settles his nerves -- and then a loud thwock when the knife cleaves the first flank in two.

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

For all he tries to maintain an air of aloof detachment, Zoisite cannot help but be drawn, as a needle is drawn to a lodestone, to the edge of his seat as it becomes apparent Something is about to Happen. That malevolent glint in Misono's eye -- the triumph that enriches her voice -- the fortissimo swell of strings and voices united in wordless aria--

Izou's hand flies to his open mouth, a gasp threading through his fingers. It's a stunning development -- a Jewel of Cuisine! -- that will have far-reaching consequences for his school, for how can a team of students compete against an avatar of the culinary arts?; yet, beneath the shock, Zoisite can admire Misono's ruthlessness and resourcefulness. To turn Gordon's challenge and his temper against him in such a devastating manner...truly -- and now that hand covers a cruel smirk -- the hallmark of a master tactician.

And then he realises he won't be tasting any of the Jewel's dishes, and he whines to himself. The pout only deepens as the fog dissipates to reveal beautiful meaty, oily, savoury salmon, including bowls of roe heaped and gleaming like rubies.

Even knowing Sailor Jupiter's hands will be getting all over everything doesn't make it any easier. Ugh!!!!

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The arrival of Sailor Jupiter surprises Kuniko enough to get an awestruck look. "Where--" but then a hand's clapping her on the shoulder.

"Yeah!!" she says, punching the air.

Then comes forth the theme ingredient. Her lips purse, and then she sucks in a breath. "Come on!!" she shouts, lunging forwards to gather up armfuls of the ingredients, wrestling an entire salmon over her shoulder with one arm and stumbling to the side, almost going down beneath its majestic weight! An armful of fingerlings and roe and she's running back to the Infinity side of the table, hustling to save seconds.

The salmon is flopped down with great force and Kuniko exhales. A moment to think, a moment to plan, even as she pulls out her big old carving knife. "Sailor Jupiter, thank you for joining us... You like plants, right?! We could do a meaty salad kinda thing!"

Over to the Mesozoic Maiden. "You like paleo, right?! I'll get you a sauce!!"

To Mai! - Actually she's distracted by Gordon momentarily speaking up. "Oui chef! Just get the butter out here once it's reduced, we'll get it done!"

And what is she herself doing?

Cleaning a big ol' salmon, for now. She has a plan... but her own role in it has yet to be revealed!

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The tension is high - for all her simmering fury, a large part of Mai is terrified. She's never even cooked at Linden Baum - her actual cooking experience really limited to her, her brother, and friends. As much as she enjoys trying recipes...this is a whole different arena. And yet - they're up against a Jewel of Cuisine. It's kind of liberating in a strange way - against this kind of foe, anything they can pull off is a victory of sorts, right?

And then - the reveal. Salmon. Mai's face goes blank for a moment as she tries to find her footing-

-don't think of it as a contest. Imagine that there was a sale on salmon, so that's what this week's food budget can include. What will she make for supper for herself and Mikoto? She takes a moment, looks within, and utters the first word to come to mind. "...ramen."

Maybe not literally ramen - this is a high-class competition - but some kind of soup. That much, she can manage - maybe make the noodles if she has time, but if she's to keep up then there's no time to lose. She looks to her companions - starting in surprise at Sailor Jupiter having shown up when she was distracted - and tries to grin. "We'll do our best - I'm going for a soup, pass me any extra bones you're not using." Gordon and Kuniko have commentary that she'll have to keep in mind, but first and foremost she needs to get things started.

Step one - broth. She takes one whole fish, butchering it as swiftly as she can. Deboning in particular, saving parts oft discarded and adding them to a stock pot full of water. Seasoning she can adjust later, but the base first. A big pot of water and bones is placed on a grill...and then with a look of focus, she carefully removes one bracelet, placing it beneath the stock pot.

It hovers. It turns, shakily. And then it erupts with flame, bathing the pot in intense heat - hopefully getting it to a boil faster than a mundane stove might manage. And...she still has her hands free. Mai openly grins, and sets to cutting the filleted salmon into manageable pieces, and considers what needs to go in the broth next.

She might not be a professional, she might be sorely outmatched in this arena - but all the same, it's her passion. There's no way she's just going to -quit-.

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNssQe43Vlw

Lucy clasps her hands together, leaning forward, with Didi matching her pose on her shoulder while the ingredient is announced, and...


"Okay then!!" Lucy pipes up to Kuniko with a raised fist, determined and maybe just a little bit desperate. "Paleo" is just like back home! She just has to do things the way she remembers them, let Kuniko take care of the sauce, and this should be a cinch!

The clock starts, and she dashes for the secret ingredient table. She leaps to grab the most colossal salmon she can find and drag it away by the tail. Most unsanitary, but she comes from a world where hygiene hasn't been invented yet.

But wait! In a stunning twist, the salmon has come back to life and is trying to get away! The Mesozoic Maiden, not letting her prey get away, lets go of the tail to clobber the giant salmon's head. The taiko drummers are going wild in the background while Lucy has her Ultra Fight with the dreadful sea monster. She wrestles, punches, clubs, bites, and--

But wait! The salmon was only moving because tiny Didi was trying to help move it. Lucy scratches her ear and mumbles an apology, before they move on to the actual cooking portion.

Lucy does take a moment to actually clean the fish while Didi, not opting for a regular grill, straight-up assembles a crude one out of branches. This is a very well-furnished kitchen, accomodating of many cooking styles.

One this is done, Lucy slams the salmon down onto the makeshift grill, Flintstones-style, scrapes her club against the neighboring column, grabs a spark in the air and exhales magic into it, turning it into a fireball and roaring flame! With her, Mai and Makoto here, it looks like things will REALLY be cooking today!

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

It would be most fair for Fuu to go and let the Jewel of Cuisine say something as well, but he looks like the silent type - and, well, Fuu's pro-Infinity partisanship is sneaking in a bit more, as she doesn't want to give him a chance to demoralize the Cooking Club.

For now, though, she addresses the cameras/audience again. "It looks like the sudden change of opponent hasn't done anything to dampen the Cooking Club's spirits; if anything, it's only whetted their appetites for the challenge ahead!" That's all she really has time for before the secret ingredient is revealed - and Fuu smiles a bit wistfully, as if she already wishes she could try whatever the two sides will come up with. She would go and ask Gordon for a word, but he's already focused on working. And if she's taken aback by the fact that a couple of the Cooking Club members have tagged out to be replaced by magical girls, she doesn't show it at all.

"And so the clock has started; Gordon-sensei is throwing in to assist his pupils, and the secret ingredient looks like it'll be straightforward enough for both sides to plan their menus around."

She falls quiet for a few moments, watching the Infinity team start going to work, and keeping an eye on the Jewel of Cuisine ... and she makes her way back up to the Chairman's Box, because there's something that's nagging at her.

"Chairman-san, perhaps you could explain one thing for the spectators who may not have seen something like this before - what is the significance of a Jewel of Cuisine being called upon as Misono-san's champion? Does he have a name outside of his title? Do you believe the Infinity Cooking Club still stands a real chance?"

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Hikaru would smile along with Fuu, but there's something uneasy about this to her. Jewel of Cuisine? Seems a little unusual to Hikaru. Still, she tries to force a smile, but it's one that's very forced and easy to tell is kind of faked. She's obviously feeling a bit suspicious now. Fate Testarossa walks over from Infinity Institute. Fate Testarossa has arrived.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> tinyurl.com/qxbc6gf

Rei smiles again to Saeki Nobuko, a little warmer this time. For a woman that seemed to possess such a severe aura, she was being quite nice. "That is the wonderful thing of tradition. It will be there when people search for it. So long as I live the arts will endure, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one.

She settles in her seat, peering down into the fray. Poor Gordon..the teacher seems absolutely shell-shocked. The students though..she inwardly beams with how quickly they compose themselves. Sailor Jupiter in particular shows all the strength that Sailor Mars has come to treasure and rely upon. There's something odd and wonderful about seeing her spirit uplifting a team that Rei is not a part of.

The traditionally-minded students of Kyoto..she feels sorry for them. They came to compete, to fight to reclaim their honor..and now they have been callously sidelined. Their teacher should be a bedrock to support them, an unyielding foundation. Instead she seems blinded by a thirst for vengeance, and has cast them aside. A destructive path to be sure..

As she leans back, she feels a subtle weight against her collarbone. Glancing down, she realizes that there is a lavalier microphone clipped into place. Delicately taking it into her grip, she examines it, soon finding the proper switch, and speaks.

"Freshwater salmon find harmony with hardship and struggle in their lives. Against all resistance, they fight the river's flow, pushing onward against adversity, driven to defend the light of life. Perhaps that heroic nature lives in their bodies as well as their spirits..a creature that survives seemingly impossible odds, generation after generation. Truly a perfect ingredient for those who refuse to be swept away by the tides."

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Act now, think later - Sailor Jupiter is right beside Kuniko when it comes to gathering ingredients, and with her great strength it hardly matters *how* big or heavy the fish.

When the suggestion of a salad is tossed her way, she nods gamely. "On it!" Salmon first, she thinks, mind spinning through possibilities - she knows the fish will have to be involved, and prepping a broiler, laying out a generous filet on a baking sheet to sprinkle with salt and pepper, gives her a few precious seconds to pull together ideas in the back of her head.

The other members of the team wield heat, and though she doesn't have time to watch them in action (pity; she'd really like to if she could) it gives her an idea for how to best support them with her own efforts. To go with the heat, something cool. Refreshing.

While the salmon broils, she quickly collects greens: arugula, cucumber, fennel. A mandolin quickly reduces the cucumber to thin slices.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy039eKE5eo

Fuu Hououji discovers that her attempt to penetrate the Chairman's Box is politely but firmly prevented by the appearance of more white-clad chefs (security) who slip onto the steps to bar her path. The Chairman is never available for comment in the middle of a match, and it looks like today will be no different.

Adrian, the turtle rival of Gordon, however, is all too happy to hog the mic. Carried over by a KCI student, he quips sharply, "The Jewels of Cuisine are the highest echelon of membership in the Blue Ribbon Society -- they have cast away their names, wedding their identities wholly to the cuisine that they embody!" He is exactly classy enough to not answer her final question directly, having just done so indirectly.

The Jewel of Cuisine in question stands alone, but it hardly seems to matter. Within the first minute of the hour he has pans set to simmer and pots to boil, a heating oven and a chilling freezer. Only then does he move to the table of salmon and select an array of whole fish, as well as a heaping bowl of the caviar.

Back at the tables, his magical skills with his mise-en-place are on full display as he pulls a wide array of other ingredients and tools out of thin air. One moment, he's whipping a bowl of some kind of thin, silken batter. The next, he's chopping onions and mashing potatoes with one hand while the other pulls long, luscious strands off of a side of bacon.

His work does not lack for intensity despite the relative novices (and Gordon) that he faces. His moustache quivers with excitement and his eyes twinkle with the simple joy of cooking.

He is a force of nature in the kitchen -- but also, it's plain to see, with every tender slice of his knife or whisk of his spoon, a force of love.


"Generational wisdom!" chimes in the fortune-teller, gaily missing Rei's point completely... "They return to the path of their parents, though they hardly knew them -- still they can follow in their footsteps!" ...and saying something that is profoundly applicable to this situation completely by accident.

Or maybe the fortunes are guiding her.

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

Nikaidou-sensei leans in excitedly as the theme ingredient is revealed, and a big smile slides across his face, lazy and cheerful. "Golly! Now that's a big help, huh?" He doesn't know enough about French cuisine to see how well this serves the Jewel of Cuisine, as well, but he knows it's indeed not some obscure French ingredient; something he himself could prepare, if without the flare or wonders he's surely about to witness taking shape.

He settles back to observe, fascinated foremost by the work of the Jewel of Cuisine, who seems to have a new piece on the fires every time his eyes wander off. Fascinating, fascinating...he smiles a goofy, delighted look, and then angles his neck to look at the excitable judges accompanying him. "That might be true," he muses, "But wisdom and hopeful spirits can only take you so far. It's no different for this." He sweeps his arms across the bustling teams, watching for another moment before he continues, his register a little lower from contemplation. "They're not up against a fierce current...they're up against a shark, swallowing up everything in its path." Sharks aren't really a thing for freshwater salmon, but Yuu isn't a biologist, either. "Most dreams up against odds like this, they'd just..." he mimes an explosion with a single hand. "Well," he says, diplomatically.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"Right!" Gordon answers Kuniko.

And then he sets to cooking. He does a garlic butter sauce, first, with just a little cream poured in. He can't add the beef right away -- for one, it must be cooked after reaching room temperature -- and he needs the sauce right. Crushed garlic, smashed under the flat of his knife, and pepper go into the sauce. Some asparagus and thyme flavor it, too.

He rushes it over to the stations that need it after cooking; Gordon's expertise in the kitchen keeps him from panicking at the gout of flame from Lucy's station. He pays quick glances to the works of the others, but he trusts them completely here. They wouldn't be here if he didn't think they could produce at a high level.

"Keep at it! We can't let time be our enemy now, or we'll drop the ball!" He stops by Kuniko, to give her some of the garlic butter cream sauce. Then, he rushes back to his station. The pan goes on the burner -- and then he lays down the sirloin cuts.

They sizzle deliciously.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Kuniko looks out as Mai gets to work, as she's preparing the salmon into some primal cuts while she gets her idea in order. Mai's cutting up a smaller fish and putting things in order. She wouldn't object to ramen herself, though it's true, she thinks, that it's kind of out of where she lives -

Her cutting blade slides into the side of the fish and, with a focused concentration and some murmuring under her breath, Kuniko feels for the pin bones... The blade tinkles faintly. This is kind of showboating, she thinks, but --

I have no choice, against a Jewel of Cuisine!

And then her blade comes up, twisting around, and what looks like the greater part of a salmon's skeleton is resting atop the long blade. Kuniko twists it around to slide the bones off to where Mai's working. After this she grabs a skillet and some butter, putting on some salmon there to sizzle.

In the mean time dishes come out, and they seem to dance at Kuniko's touch. Mixing bowls. One of them is filled with several different sorts of cream cheese, and from a higher shelf, Kuniko pulls out an entire sleeve of lush and buttery crackers - which she yanks open like a Christmas cracker (get it?) which seems to instantly disintegrate the crackers within. She then reaches under the table and pulls out...

A coconut?! Which she immediately stabs through one eye, pouring out a fair bit of the juice within onto her crushed crackers and cream cheese. After this she starts dosing things into that coconut. Basil leaves, sprigs of oregano, a spoonful of her favored Harissa hot pepper paste, salt, olive oil, the juice of a lemon, and the juice of a lime... and concluding it all with -- an ice cube?!

Is this gonna work? she thinks, looking at this. She plugs the hole she made and shakes it all vigorously, pouring her blessing into it while calling out, "Lucy! Heads up!" And then she lobs it overhand -- and the charm of Service guides the coconut, /which is now a serving utensil/, to Lucy's side. "Pour this on the meat while it's cooking!" The sauce has been mixed to perfection by the largely melted ice cube, leaving the sauce itself at just a bit below room temperature.

Kuniko turns back to her own stuff and snaps her fingers, making two identical... cake molds? fall off the rack in front of her. She reaches behind herself and plucks out the perfectly crisp'd meat from the pan, putting it into the mixing bowl. A squeeze of another lemon, a dash of white wine vinegar, four eggs...

And then begins the beating.

As she hammers ten shades of hell out of the strange mixture with a marble pestle, Kuniko asks Sailor Jupiter, "Pass me some dill-- and, do you know anything about chilling things? Because -" And now she's beaten everything into an even consistency.

The crackers go into the pans with some flakes of aged parmesan fresh grated. "I'm gonna need to cool these fast, and we may have to wait to the last minute to make sure --"

In goes the mix! And then into the oven they go!

"These don't fall apart before they can hit the table."

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Getting cut off at the pass doesn't seem to take Fuu aback, at least beyond a mildly sheepish (and not-so-mildly apologetic) look. She bows politely in thanks to Adrian for filling her in, though, and makes her way around to the judges' box. She noticed the look on Izou-san's face a few moments ago, although she's not entirely sure whether there's anything she can ask politely about that. As she goes, she's also watching the teams at work - well, the team and their singular opponent.

"Even without seeing how the sides' respective dishes are shaping up," she says to Rei and Izou, "we can already see something of their style - the Jewel of Cuisine really is living up to his title as far as technique goes, I think ... What would you say are the key factors in how this is going to play out?"

Technically that question is also extended to Saeki-sensei, but ... well, the psychic's frequent predictions of death are a little unnerving to Fuu. She's much more curious about what Rei and Izou have to say on the subject.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The smell of salmon is in the air - strong, between all the roasts and searing and the ever-simmering bone-born broth. Mai's cuts of fish meat are on ice, briefly, after seasoning them with just enough oil to keep the water from soaking in too much, and Kuniko's bones joined hers to make sure that it's sufficiently rich. Not that she's been idle while the broth was simmering away - there are vegetables to be chopped, and seasonings to be considered, and advice to be heard.

It's hard to ignore everything going on - her teammates' efforts having showmanship of their own, Adrian giving a bit of explanation, and the Jewel himself - well. There's a full minute that Mai's hands are still as she witnesses the essence of cooking. Would that she could just watch that for the duration of the competition, learn from the absolute best-

-but if she just fritters away the hour watching cooking, then Mikoto will go unfed - or rather, her team will be down a dish. Either way, not something to let happen - she promised to give this her all, and she will. So the carrots are matchsticks, the asparagus is cut into bite-size segments, mushrooms are carefully and artfully sliced, and she's started the workings of some noodles. Can she finish them in time? The eternal question of this kind of event.

"Thanks for the advice!" Mai glances to Gordon - catches the garlic-smashing trick, making a mental note - then turns to the broth. A quick check with a sampling bowl assures her that it's fishy enough, at least; a cheesecloth to strain out all the bones that went in, and the now-clear broth rests cheerfully in a fresh pot. It needs something - and Mai spends a couple of precious minutes trying a few things. By habit, nothing overtly spicy, but spice alone is far from the sole source of flavour. Some soy, perhaps? A hint of basil? Sesame oil - no, too strong, save that for the garnish. She toys with the seasonings, including a bit of freshly smashed garlic and ginger on a whim, and sets the broth to simmer anew atop her blazing Element.

There's an order to be had with the ingredients - the mushrooms and seaweed free to go in a bit sooner, to infuse the broth further, but for the rest...Mai considers the salmon, the asparagus, the carrots, and extends one hand.

The one that holds a second gently turning flame-invoking gold-and-jade ring.

She can't help but grin to herself. Something she does at home, for all that it's a bit of showmanship, but the best way to cook these ingredients without having them dissolve in the soup. Today's keyword...is 'sear'.

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Lucy is not cooking at a high level. It's arguable, though not very nice to say, that she's only cooking in the sense that she applies heat to something edible. She'd be laughed out of any cooking competition if she were doing this by herself.

But remember, first, that this is not any cooking competition.

In this very special kitchen, a cook's feelings have importance and weight. Lucy fans and controls the roaring flame, flips the oversized, sizzling salmon with her bare hands, stops her dinosaur companion from drooling over it or eating before it's done... Each of these is a memory of home, reminding her of the determination she'd put into the hunt to supply lunch to her many, many siblings, and the quiet satisfaction she'd feel when everyone's bellies were full. She hopes she can, somehow, share it with the judges.

And remember, second, she's not doing this by herself.

She catches the coconut, beaming. "Thank you, senpai!" She uses the magical utensil to pour the sauce over the fish evenly. She smells the air, delighted, as the sauce Kuniko tossed to her makes her simple entrée suddenly seem so much more scrumptious! She flashes a smile to Kuniko, then to her other two, quite busy-looking, teammates. That warmth she feels... Is it... the magic of friendship?

The roaring flame might also have something to do with it, but no, she's pretty sure it's friendship.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> tinyurl.com/pw8tp7o

Rei nods with polite distraction at the elder fortune teller's blase comments. That conversational thread had clearly reached the end of its spool. The scene below is a hive of activity..half of the arena is comprised of the hurried, hasty symphony of the Infinity students' efforts. In their flying hands and feet she can practically hear the ticking and the tocking of their minds, conjuring up ideas and churning towards their execution.

And the other half..there is something astonishing about a single man sustaining so much magic, and with such precision. Talent is one thing..Rei is a cultured girl in one of the greatest metropoli of the world. She is no stranger to witnessing genius. But in an arcane arena, there's something that goes even beyond a virtuoso violinist, or a yokozuna.

Rei realizes that this Jewel of French Cuisine..were his passions for war instead of taste, he could be a fearsome opponent. There is something tremendously admirable about that, that so much power has been dedicated to beauty and art instead of something crass and destructive.

Talk of sharks..she shifts upon her seat, feeling a little uncomfortably. The metaphor was going off the rails in such a way that she feels..it's better to cut losses than to attempt to recover it. And then, the roving reporter herself asks a question! She smiles brightly to Fuu, tapping her chin with her forefinger in consideration.

"That's an excellent question..normally such a competition comes down to each team's ability to work together. But the Jewel of Cuisine operates his entire kitchen through a singular will. There is no possibility that he will not work well with himself..but at the same time, he will not be able to surprise himself either. At the heart of this fight is..well, heart! The feelings and sentiment of the chefs for their dishes..and the ability to express those feelings. Infinity has everything to gain, and the Jewel has everything to sustain. I believe that their emotions may burn brighter indeed..but there are almost none alive better able to express their sentiments in food than the man below. Regardless of the outcome, and the unusual aspects of the match, this is truly what the arena is all about!"

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Without missing a beat, Sailor Jupiter finishes slicing the fennel and moves to pass Kuniko the dill that she asked for. On the way back, she grabs a lemon, tossing it upwards once before she catches it again and places it in the middle of the cutting board.

"I think I can manage something," she answers Kuniko, leaving the lemon for a moment to check the salmon and, on a quick decision, pull it out and set it to cool. "Mine's probably going to need cooling off, too - it'll be a little flashy, but it *should* work--"

As she comes back to the cutting board she picks up a knife, and with a quick, decisive WHUNK the lemon is split neatly in half. A strainer goes over a bowl - this is about to get a little messy - sure, she could use a lemon juicer, but after all they're on the clock. She picks up a lemon half and simply crushes the juice right out of it with a firm squeeze of her mighty hand. Then the other half, no less efficient than any juicer would have done.

The pulp and seeds caught by the strainer are tossed aside, and into the lemon juice she adds white balsamic vinegar, honey. She catches Lucy's smile as she's whisking the mixture slowly into emulsion with olive oil, and flashes a bright, almost conspiratorial grin back. Never mind that they're totally outgunned; she's catching the spirit again, like she did the last time, the sheer joy of teaming up to cook with friends.

When she's done whisking, she goes back to the greens. Parsley, celery leaves, the rapid thnk-thnk-thnk of the knife on the cutting board as she chops up some fresh chives. And then back to the salmon - still warm from the oven, but she has, she hopes, a trick for that. For now she works on carefully flaking it into bite-sized pieces.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WGP7VF3-BA

Saeki lifts an aged eyebrow at Yuu. "It seems that 'pop' would be the onomatopoeia to go with your gesture. But the dreams of our youth do not simply 'pop'," she mimics him with her own hand. "I feel the strength of the Infinity students' dreams from here. Surely they will perservere!"

She's a fickle beast, though, because she's quick to counter Rei's words as well. Maybe when you get to that age you just enjoy arguing. "To merely sustain? Oh, no. The Jewel of Cuisine is the /vanguard/ of the art, responsible not only to uphold tradition but to shape it, endlessly pushing the boundaries into the future!"


The Jewel is just /all over/ the fish. Fish guts, fish bones, fish heads, flaky, thin fish fillets, thick fish steaks. It seems like no part of the fish is going unused.

Evidently Mai will be going head-to-head with him in her choice to prepare a salmon soup, and the smell of the billowing steam coming out of his huge, shining pressure cooker is nothing less than exquisite. Onions, leeks, carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes, abalone, garlic... so many aromas carried so tightly, and yet not overwhelmingly.

And, of course, salmon. Well, salmon heads; they're bobbing up and down on the surface, before it disappears beneath a lid.

He's also got salmon sauteeing in what appears to be a mix of white wine and a very light oil, but his pans are not solely reserved for fish. That first, light brown batter -- perhaps some soba mixed with Western flour in a cultural fusion? -- is transforming into delicate, bubbling crepes.

And he's got salmon steaks, beautifully shaped, wrapped in that bacon before they went on the stove -- Gordon is not the only one sizzling. AND he's got what look to be the salmon innards soaking in a bowl of milk... set on to boil, along with some kind of truffle reduction. That one might just be weird.

He takes a single moment to glance over at the opposing team, which turns into another, and another. It seems like a luxury, and one he can, perhaps, afford. A satisfied smile tucks itself into the corners of his mouth as he sees the students working so furiously and brilliantly.

It is not the satisfaction of a poor winner, but another, palpable feeling: approval.

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

Nikaidou has successfully derailed an artistic attempt to bring hope and cheer into the universe, meaning today is already a win as far as he's concerned. He lets his lips curl up. Which he has to wrestle from turning into a full laugh when Saeki's rejoinder comes in; oh, you poor dear, if you had *any* idea... After a second he bobs his head in her direction, settling for a noncomittal chortle. "I have no doubt they will put in everything they have. Miss Hino is quite right...one digs deepest when against the toughest threat, hm?"

But the talk of dreams and passion brings his eye back to the arena, with one half a bustling hive and the other a veritable totem of...no, calm isn't the word. Yuu's seen work like that before; easy confidence, yes, but accompanied by passion, pure and proud and shining. The novices have it too, but the Jewel reminds him of a man he used to know: A man who almost set Yuu's own path toward a different future than this. He emits a low, unpleasant 'tsk!' and glares to the side. The light of a pure dream is difficult for a fallen man to look at. He wonders if this one ever had a Guardian Character. That might be interesting data to collect, at least.

He decides the adult thing to do when confronted with his own unpleasant failings is to be a jerk via the announcer, who has posed.

a question to the panel. "They're up against the biggest, meanest thing around, really. The Jewel of Cuisine will have perfect technical skills, excellent understanding of both the science and art of cooking, and..." his lip quirks a moment, some unreadable thought glancing past his hindbrain. "You can even feel his passion from here. Can school students even try to match that? The challenge of trying might make them pull out all the stops, but...heh. They'll have to. That ability to push to the very edge in a tight spot...that and numbers might be all they have to work with, here."

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon's expertise in cooking really comes out the moment that he starts pan-frying a steak. It seems such a simple thing, but he proves that it is anything but. This is no matter of cooking it on each side and call it done.

No, for one, his griddle allows him to get the grill lines on -- and that means when the medallions come out, they will have those perfectly seared cross-hatch patterns of grill lines. He moves them with the prongs quickly. But more than that, he uses the sauce he cooks it in. Throughout, he carefully spoons it on.

When this started, he felt a great deal of pressure. Now that he cooks, that evaporates; the stress is gone, and there is even a smile there. He, too, loves to cook. He may love to teach more, but he is in his element. "Steaks in five!"

He yells it out, as he does his final flip. The medallions come off steaming; brown with the grill marks black, and juice running through them. Asparagus tops them as he plates each of them. He slides the plates over then, with a quick nudge -- sending them towards Kuniko, to finish the shared dish.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai's soup hopes are met with opposition - the master chef's own soup forming a battlefield she doesn't stand a chance of fighting on directly. In the end...she goes for what she feels must be done. It might not be some five-star restaurant dish, but this will be -her- dish.

So - she went for the noodles. A quick batch, kneaded together in a feverish rush, rolled out, and sliced. Perhaps not perfectly evenly, but they're soup noodles. Long, thin, homemade ramen noodles. Eyeing the time, she adds them to the simmering soup pot, along with the remaining vegetables. The salmon gets roasted on a rack above open flame, and set aside.

And then she takes half a dozen eggs, and cracks them directly into the soup pot.

Time's running out, but she's almost ready. While the soup finishes cooking, she dices green onions - largely the green. The vegetables...she has too many, thanks to having decided on the noodles after all. Raising her head, she looks around... "Saito! Iwai! Either of you need some rabbit food?" She winces, glancing at Gordon, and then just tosses a bowlful in Lucy's direction.

Right. Time to serve. Wide bowls, not deep ones, she needs the room. Each bowl gets a cluster of matchstick carrots on one side, a heap of noodles and mushrooms and asparagus in the middle, and a single soft-poached egg on the other side. A salmon broth, with hints of soy and garlic and ginger and just a hint of miso - added at the last minute - and an evenly seared cut of salmon to top the bowl off.

And then garnishes - a healthy dose of sliced green onions, a scattering of sesame seeds...and it's done. For elegance, it might not match what's happening at the other end of the arena, or even what her teammates have concocted...but it's something she'd be more than comfortable serving at work.

Actually, it looks better than she expected it to. At the last minute, she impulsively adds a cluster of bean sprouts to an unused corner of each bowl...and there. Dinner is served.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Bacon!! Now that's just not fair.

Kuniko focuses on the oven she's packed her cake pans into, even as Sailor Jupiter vacates them. She takes a moment to look up - sadly, she does not catch the eyes of the Jewel of Cuisine, because his attention comes only briefly. She can't focus on what he's doing - this is a battle whose outcome will be determined in the lips and mouths of the judges. She hopes the spicy note she'd put into that salmon won't sear the lips of that fancy young woman up there.

Of course, if she knew who Ms. Hino was, she'd be a little less anxious.

Kuniko wipes her forehead with a white cloth as she looks at Sailor Jupiter again. "Gonna be up in a few." She turns around then as Chef calls the steaks, answering on reflex with "Oui, chef!" and considering the assemblage of flatware.

They have so many dishes to put together. "Ugh, we're gonna run out of time, the presentation's gonna look like dog - wait," she says, looking down at her hand.

"... If it works for something small... like a little seed, it'll grow," Kuniko says as her fingers curl together. "All I have to do is feel it." Then, in a louder voice, "I'm not gonna embarrass Makoto by stumbling over my plates like a busboy!!"

"The power is mine!" she declaims, as the plates move - and not one on one, but in organized echelons! Drawing approximately towards Kuniko, most of them form their lines and settle down - the tasting portions for the judges and the others for the enjoyment of the onlookers. Bowls on plates, salad dishes, accompanying silverware. All of it gleams with Mediterraenaean warmth underneath the command of Kuniko Saito! The bowls in position for the soup - the entree dishes whip into Kuniko's arm as she says, "My hand, chef!" and twists around to get the steaks, before flourishing --

And sending them right where Lucy can plate up fine!

But from here, the final challenge must be reached. Opening the oven, Kuniko puts on mitts, drawing out the two cake pans and setting them on wire racks - near Jupiter. Her eyes narrow as she tries to will the heat to radiate from them - but while this may be effective, these take more. The cake pans remain hot. Picking up the cutting knife, she says, "Sailor Jupiter... I'm counting on you here..." Ready to cut and plate the instant the two cheesecakes are chilled!

IN THE INTEREST OF BREVITY: Dessert! A salmon-dill cheesecake, using the fine soft texture of the fish along with egg and sweet cream cheese to produce a creamy dessert. Rustic and tart, it's truly a fisherman's dish, with an added savor from the well distributed caramlized surface of the pan-seared salmon.

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8zlUUrFK-M

The clock is ticking, and Lucy's dish is almost done! It was really quite simple, but now there only remains one important step... to turn this huge thing into individual portions the judges can enjoy.

Lucy is looking through the knives and unsure which to use. She wishes she had a piece of silex right now, to be honest. But then, she looks to Didi, and has an idea. She hands him... a toothbrush? This is a very well-furnished kitchen, okay.

A moment later, Didi's teeth are shiny clean, and Lucy tags her partner's clawed hand. A massive burst of mesozoic magic later, and a full-sized tyrannosaurus rex towers over the stadium! Is he going to roar or step on someone?

No, Didi just keeps his mouth opened, sharp and just-brushed teeth glinting in the sunlight. With a battlecry, Lucy grabs the salmon by the tail and swings it right through the dinosaur's jaw, which for her purposes might as well be lined with giant kitchen knives!

Nimbly as the raptor, she then drops to grab the plates from Kuniko. She hears Mai's suggestion, shouts out "Sure!", catches the veggie bowl thrown at her, then hastily distributes it amidst the plates before catching one large piece of disconcertingly clean-sliced salmon in each. The entire process only takes about two seconds. It is a magnificent concert of magical girl acrobatics, gravity and timing.

"Eeeeee," Didi, shrunk back to his normal form, falls into a sink with the fish's head.

Wiping the sweat off her brow, Lucy presents her entrée to the judges.

THE ENTRÉE! Lucy's contribution is quite paleo indeed. Simple, grilled chunks of salmon meat cooked in sauce, served over various vegetables. It's not culinary high art, though Kuniko and Mai's contributions to Lucy's efforts have elevated it to a dish that takes Lucy's love of her home world and combines it with love for the one she now lives in, as well as the many friends she's made there.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The salmon Sailor Jupiter has so carefully flaked goes into the bowl with the rest of what is clearly a salad; she sneaks a small piece to taste, just to make sure, and nods approval. It'll do. The dressing she whisked together earlier is poured over the whole thing, and she tosses it a few times, lightly. Green flashes above the rim of the bowl once, twice, again, each time dropping neatly back into place, no spills or waste.

As she dishes the salad out into individual portions for the judges, she's watching Kuniko out of the corner of her eye, waiting for a cue--

--and when it comes, she squares her stance, draws in a deep breath.

She really hopes this works.

Her arms reach upward, stretching over her head towards the sky, and as she's done many times before, Sailor Jupiter calls the wind. The cool, fresh breeze of early spring, chilling against the skin, but invigorating rather than biting. It swirls up around her in a spiral, petals scattering from her fingertips and lifting into the air - controlled, she has to keep it tightly controlled, brisk enough to chill her dish and Kuniko's, gentle enough not to destroy them, contained enough not to wreck anyone *else's* dishes and spoil what they've worked so hard to create--

Her heart's beating fast in her chest, but it's a rush - the sheer pleasure of cooking mingled for the first time with the thrill of the power she was born to command, the ability to call storm winds and lightning to her hand and make them *hers.*

Her hands come together with a clap that rings through even this wide open space like a crack of thunder, fine threads of lightning flashing out between her fingers, and in that instant the wind that surged up around her drops into stillness. Only the rose petals remain, drifting down gently to scatter over the row of salads, the final touch.

The now-chilled cheesecakes are left for Kuniko to serve: for her part, Sailor Jupiter - flushed with exertion and pride - presents a cool, refreshing salad to complement the team's other offerings.

It's a mixture of fresh green tastes from baby arugula and fennel, celery leaves and chives and parsely, a medley of sweetness and tartness dressed with a simple vinaigrette with lemon and honey and garnished with dewy-fresh rose petals, all of it the better to offset the subtle richness of the salmon that is the star of all the dishes tonight.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Fuu thanks Rei for her observations with a smile and a polite bow, then moves out to the audience, picking Izou out at 'random'. "It looks like the teams are almost done - who are you favoring to win at this point? Like Hino-san said, this is really a battle of hearts over technique ..."

She's also watching as the final dishes are served up. The sirloin medallions from Gordon, complementing Mai's soup, Makoto's salad, Lucy's main course, Kuniko's dessert ... all of that compared against the extensive spread laid on by the Jewel of Cuisine.

Fuu migrates back up to the judges' box, taking position on Nikaidou-sensei's end this time. "Time is up, and the meal is served ... what do our judges have to say about the presentation?"

Of course, she'll be holding the mic out for their reactions to the actual food as well. (Holding the mic out as she is also helps to ensure that it won't pick up on her stomach, if it happens to growl at the lavish menus being presented by the competitors.)

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"A dinosaur?!" Kuniko screams as she sees the sudden rearing form of Didi.

But his teeth -- "His teeth are completely sanitary! How the he--" But Kuniko has no more than a few moments to goggle before she is in the order of presenting the dishes.

The final order leads with Mai's soup, goes on to Jupiter's refreshingly cool salad, goes into the hot grilled salmon with its beefy 'turf' accompaniment courtesy of Gordon, and concluding with her savory dessert.

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Meanwhile, Hikaru simply continues to watch and smiles to herself. She's glad there were no youmas today or anything like that. For once, the Magic Knights weren't needed here, and that's a relief on Hikaru's shoulders.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Where there's smoke, there's fire, and gorgeously scented smoke from cherrywood chips coated in sugar is rising above the Jewel of Cuisine's part of the stadium, a succulent message straight to heaven. It also carries the smell of some extremely thinly-sliced fillets and some of the milk-soaked innards, which are now above the chips, becoming SMOKED salmon.

Pressure-cooked vegetables, bubbling soup, sizzling steaks, light crepes; there's so much, and it is all getting just beautifully plated. It is, for the time being, difficult to see just what, exactly, is coming out of his kitchen. Billowing smoke, steam, and cunning camera angles prevent it.

As time comes to a close, the Jewel of Cuisine finishes his artful presentation and waits for the judges to sample, not his food, but the kids'. He will go second.

It's probably just as well -- he's a hard act to follow.


The Chairman rolls down to the sound of 'five, four, three, two, one, time' to join the judges at their table, and -- much as last time -- is largely expressionless as their plates are filled with, then emptied of, the students' proudly presented cuisine.

Not so Saeki Nabuko. Of all the judges to repeat, why did it have to be HER? There is an answer to this question: judges rise and fall, but the cranky fortune teller is inescapable.

"What is this, fancy ramen?" she complains about Mai's soup, though her actions speak louder than her words, gobbling it down with enormous, slurpy enthusiasm. "Mmmf. Tastes like insecurity, pride, familiarity... family."

Sailor Jupiter's salad goes down a treat, though she's suspicious of the rose petals. "Bitter," she mutters, "Though beautiful. And not so bitter that it overwhelms the sweetness."

The sauced, grilled salmon chunks that comprise Lucy's contribution get a predictable complaint about lack of presentation. "Was this fish chopped up at random?!?" (Please, like she didn't see /exactly/ how it was chopped, courtesy of the teeth of a gigantic T-Rex.) Still... "Good sauce, and the vegetables have just the right texture. Like something far away, beyond the stars, yet still right at home."

"Dessert," Saeki grunts as it's served, apparently surprised by its presence given the ingredient of the night. "...sort of. More of a pate. Needs something to crunch it with, like crackers. Anyone got some crackers? Salmon cheesecake," she shakes her head, "Talk about someone who never gives up."

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

The hour passes quickly, though not as quickly as it seemed during the last battle; knowing there's nothing delicious coming his way at the end makes the wait that much harder to endure -- especially when you're as legendarily impatient as Zoisite is. You can bet he'll be cajoling Kunzite into taking him to dinner somewhere outrageously fancy after this.

Toward the end, Izou finds a microphone thrust under his nose, a bespectacled blonde behind it. "As a representative of Infinity Institute, I'm naturally pulling for my fellow st- IS THAT A DINOSAUR?!" the redhead shrieks, leaping backward (and almost into the lap of a startled physics professor) as Didi grows to tower over the smoky, steamy stadium.

Eventually, after Didi's shrunk down once more to his usual portable self and time has been called, Izou slides back into his seat. "They should really pass around some hors d'oeuvres or something," he mutters, leaning on one elbow. "Having to watch this without a snack is a violation of the Geneva Convention."

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

Nikaidou's glasses almost fall off at the majesty of a T-REX appearing!! "D, dinosaur!?" he squawks, lacking much else to say on the matter. But then it's gone, and they're plating the salmon it cut. He adjusts his glasses and leans in, tilting his head. "Is, is that quite sanitary?"

Kuniko loudly assures everyone it is, though she seemed as confused as he is. Yuu is unfortunately quite used to receiving information in this manner, so, OK then.

The Chairman is approaching, and he straightens himself up as well as he can for the circumstances. Slow, deep breath Yuu; mmmm, the aroma of freshly cooked food! Especially salmon! Each plate is set, tabled. Yuu is conscious of the Chairman's silent watchfulness for a time, but his prodigious concentration filters out the awe-inspiring presence soon enough. He has survived the Ohtori Youth Cooking Club! And Yukari Sanjou's...endeavors! He's ready for anything!!

And he better be, because the Infinity team leads off strong! The lead is, as Saeki puts it, Mai's 'fancy ramen.' A similar thought had already passed through Yuu's head, and he considers first the aroma, then a mouthful, then a few more. "Not quite a technical marvel," he muses, "but it has that punch of...hm." He considers for a few more moments, and wishes he had his instruments. They'd give him the words, the numbers to quantify this into a solid phenomenon. He doesn't gulp it down like Saeki, but that rumpled suit isn't some fashion statement; he eats with a bachelor's speed. When he's setting the dish aside, he concludes, "I could taste the effort," with a laugh. "You really put your heart into that!"

Salad next, and Nikaidou cranes his neck around it, trying to understand the dish visually first and olfactorily second. And finally, a bite! And then more, and more still, making loud HEMMM noises through it because he's not particularly high-class of a man. "It's tough to make me think a salad has much skill to it," he muses, because he doesn't have a lot of experience with them mostly. "There was a lot of talent in this, though!" He tips his head the other way, thinking some more. "An interesting balance between sweet and sour. And that in addition to the salmon's own flavor...yes, I think I see the design you were after."

The entree was pretty much an inevitability, and Yuu is again fascinated by just the appearance of it on the plate, particularly given the...highly original cuting methodology. "I asked for creativity," he muses aloud. "And boy did I get that! I'm not sure if I should be calling the plating haphazard or impressive...is this that paleo diet thing they're doing in States, now? I never did understand that." But, after a few moments of consideration, he does add, "But it's tasty! I guess old school isn't always so bad! And you don't get much more old school than having a dinosaur saw it up..."

His face at the serving of dessert is a little unbelieving, wide-eyed behind his glasses. He adjusts them self-consciously. "Ahhh....really?" he wonders. "I just...hm, I never even considered a dessert with salmon! You must have thought awfully fast to put out something like this." He smiles, brightly. "It doesn't seem too bad, either. What a creative student. You must have so much passion for this." Once he's done marveling at the mere concept of Kuniko's desert, he digs in, and responds with a slow, and slowly accelerating, nod. "Yes, yes, I think I see! Definitely tart, not really what I'm looking for in a cheesecake if you ask me, but goodness, you've done something remarkable with what you had to work with. A fine display! Such hopeful futures on display here!"

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> tinyurl.com/m24exyb

At long last..it all seemed to pass in a blur to Rei! So much had happened in this past hour..and yet it flew by so quickly. The Chairman joined the judges..even though the regal figure is so much closer, his features seem no less indistinct. His aura is no less ambiguous..her sense is not that there's nothing beneath the surface, but that the strange lord of this realm only revealed what he chose to expose.

Her scarlet gloves clutch fork and knife and spoon, feeling their heft but not their material through thin fabric. The soup comes first, a ramen made from scratch. Closing her eyes, Rei draws a deep breath, savoring the strength and the tang of the aroma. A strong medley of flavors and ingredients..it is not a showy dish, but it is richly composed and arranged. With a few tastes, she smiles to Mai. "There's a lot going on in this dish..it's almost too crowded, but not quite. The vegetables, the mushroom, the salmon and soy and garlic and ginger and miso..it's like a rainbow of flavors, a rich spectrum! The noodles and the egg feel like the floor, the onions, sesame seeds and bean sprouts the roof. It doesn't exactly surprise me, but it is immensely satisfying!"

The salad ensues..soup and salad, the eternal appetizer twins. She smiles to Sailor Jupiter too..but not as brightly as she'd like. It wouldn't due to show her full affection for her friend and comrade. It's clear enough in her eyes though, and she hopes that she understands. It was amazing, watching Makoto wield her magic in the making of this dish. Rei had had no idea she was capable of such a thing! A garden in a bowl kissed by an electric effect. A few forkfuls and she's enjoyed all the tastes to be found within. "I very much enjoy the texture of this dish, a harmony of gentle yielding and crisp crunch. Each ingredient is like a paintbrush in a beautiful painting with no more strokes than needed. The dressing truly brings it all to life, and the rose petals are so beautiful! They go so well with the salmon..which is cut so finely and wonderfully. A strong flavored fish like salmon could overwhelm a salad but you've expertly proportioned it out."

At last, the entree..as lovely as the lead-ins have been, Rei is looking forward to this meaty meal. Like its predecessors, it is a simple and humble dish, unhindered by an artificial need for flourish. Like the salad, the fireworks were in the preparation. Rei can't imagine when she'll next a sample dinosaur-cut meal! The aroma of grilled salmon is so strong and substantial, and she digs in with gusto. The steak medallions along with it meet in a delightful harmony, fitting as well as peanut butter and jelly. Both are expertly prepared, two manifestations of the same philosophy. "Mmm..the outside is wonderfully crisp, but the meat beyond is so tender..each bite is so juicy, and bursting with the essence of the ingredient! Both meat smake a very bold impression, I enjoy the way that it takes the lead! The sauce, the asparagus, and the other accoutrements all provide such delightful support." She smiles to Lucy, and Gordon too.

Dessert is last..after so many delightfully down to earth dishes, the sheer inventiveness of this last piece is astonishing. A salmon cheesecake? What a bold idea, truly taking no prisoners! Admittedly, Rei has a gut reaction of some hesitation..could such a concoction truly work? Had Infinity spent so much time thinking about how they could, that they didn't stop to think that they /should?/ Her apprehensions are shortlived, dying with the first melting bite upon her tongue. Gently sighing in pleasure, it is remarkably decadent.."Mmm..when I first learned of this dish, I admit that I didn't know what I was getting into! But now that I've tasted it I clearly had nothing to worry about. The fishy flavor I feared is not so overwhelming. The sweet succulence of cheesecake is married to the flaking, melting in chunks texture of a well prepared fish in such a strange and wonderful way. It is difficult to trace where both flavor influences begin or end. A dessert as delicious as its heritages, and a dish that has expanded my understanding of flavor!"

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"I try to keep clean," Didi explains to Kuniko as he emerges from the sink, toothbrush in hand.

The time has come to judge. Lucy has butterflies in her stomach. She was already nervous for her friends last time, while she was commentating, but this is another level entirely! A lot is at stake, and they've been pitted against a Jewel of Cuisine, a giant of cooking in red. Have they ever really stood any chance at all? She looks down... No, she looks at her three teammates and loveable bunny mentor figure. It's not over until it's over! She looks at the judges straight, her hands balled up.

Saeki Nobuko comes first, unpleasable as ever. But then she says... beyond the stars? Lucy's eyes go wide. Didi seems less impressed, as he's used to her weird insights.

Then, Yuu Nikaidou. He calls it creative, tasty and old-school! Lucy's spirits are lifted.

And finally, Rei, who she mostly knows as a friend-of-a-friend, and isn't quite sure what to expect from. She holds her breath, and... she loves it, obviously!

Overjoyed, Lucy holds up both of her hands, offering Didi a claw-five and Gordon a paw-five. Didi takes it, but... will Gordon leave her hanging? This is not over, after all, he'd have much reason to be stressed out.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai's part...is done, and her feet sink to the floor - her ankle-rings having spun up enough to give her a mild boost flitting around the kitchen counters to get everything ready in time. But it's over - Kuniko is taking the soup bowls to be presented to the judges, and she now has a moment to rest. The flames swirling around the soup pot die down, and the ring beneath flies out to hover in place around her wrist once more. Aside from turning down the pyrotechnics, she can just catch her breath.

And then there is a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the middle of the arena. Who needed breathing, anyway?

Fortunately, she's stunned enough to not take action until she sees what the dinosaur is doing...which, in itself, raises more questions. "That - dinosaur - kitchen - wait, how do you know it's sanitary?!" Utter bafflement combines with shock, and some part of Mai decides - nope. Done. Not thinking any further.

All told...if she's to be honest, she did what she could on this stage. Looking at what Jupiter and Kuniko are producing - to say nothing of the Jewel of Cuisine veiled in steam and smoke - it's humbling. And yet - "Well. We did what we could, right?"

A dinosaur. Seriously, what in the world.

Having caught her breath - at least in part - she looks up to the judges' box. Her hands clench - for all that she knows she's utterly outmatched here, she can't help but hope and worry all in one. It's the soup she'd have made at home, just with a bit more effort in places - so what will they say about it? And - what will they say about the group's efforts as a whole?

The fortune-teller's words make her cringe initially - yes, it's fancy ramen, so what? - but Mai has to stare openly at the woman's reading of the flavour, condemnation and praise in four succinct words. That's...surprisingly fair. And fairly surprising - Saeki can actually taste those kinds of feelings in the food? Maybe there's a reason she's always called back...

Nikaidou's judgment is easier to understand. Mai's gaze falls at the technical comment - formal training is something she doesn't exactly have in spades here - but she's able to hold her head high with a slight smile. At least he seemed to enjoy it?

As for Rei - here, at least, she can keep her head high. Crowded is a fair judgement of her ramen - if it's all someone's going to eat, then she's going to make sure it has everything they might need. The end result...yeah. It's not some culinary shock, but it's at least satisfying, right?

So. That's the judgment. Mai's hands, resting on the counter, are forced to support her weight as she lets out a sigh - exasperation, regret, relief? She looks up, catching the eyes of friends and teammates and a rabbit. "...well, I guess they didn't hate it? No one can say we didn't give it our all." And if she's honest...there's a smile on her face. For her part, at least, she's satisfied with her efforts - and seeing Lucy's offer, holds a hand out for Sailor Jupiter to...either shake or low-five.

What remains to be seen is what the Jewel of Cuisine has done - which is sure to be terrifying and awe-inspiring all at once.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Now that the work is done, Gordon has to wait nervously. The nerves return, then; when he cooks, they vanish, but judging has to be stressful. Once again, what's at stake comes to mind -- and he is forced to consider that his program may be over. He can only wonder about that. He stands, thoughtfully, through the judges' consideration and evaluation of his and his students' work. Unlike before, he keeps quiet.

He listens to each judge in turn; Saeki's is damning, though there is -- for her -- some praise there. He can breathe a little easier with that. The others were surprised, perhaps a little critical, but also surprised in a good way.

He nods, finally, and then reaches a paw up to Lucy's hand. *doink* He looks up at the Chairman, then, and nods once. "Thank you," he says, to the Chairman and the judge's table alike.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Fuu is still by the judges' table with microphone in hand, ensuring that their comments are picked up for all to hear (and/or recorded for posterity, should posterity care what happened here today). She's hoping her stomach doesn't betray her sense of propriety, too - all of the food looks so delicious, and hearing the judges' remarks just whets her appetite further.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Finally, service. Kuniko wipes her forehead again, taking off her cap and smiling.

The smile is a little forced at Saeki's words. She takes a moment to look at her comrades in arms. The fact that her own dish is getting polite reviews about her creativity and cleverness, but not the flavor, is worrying her a little. But then, the legendary temptation of a dessert in the Stadium...

Hino seems to like it. Phew. She smiles at the complementary words there, which /do/ discuss the flavor.

"How do you do that? I mean, the size change thing," she asks Didi parenthetically, but matters seem to be moving onwards, which may leave this a mystery for the ages. "That was some awesome grilling," she tells Lucy, before smiling at Mai. "... Yeah. I hope you had a good experience here in the Stadium, whatever happens."

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Hikaru is standing by as well, waiting to hear what the final decision will be. She looks a little excited, but not too excited. Partially due to the fact she's not as hungry as Fuu is.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ursfhBhnykw

As the judges wind down with their experience of the Infinity culinary program's presentation, the Jewel of Cuisine pushes a trolley of his four dishes forward, and serves each in turn to each of the judges, personally... and then, with equal humility and care, he serves the kids. It seems the inverse was also true: he was served the Infinity dishes alongside the judges, and is still licking his lips with overt satisfaction. "Truly your father's daughter," he murmurs in the ear of Kuniko, as his warm bulk passes behind her, an arm extending to put a tray at her place setting. Gordon gets a warm smile that is very complimentary, as are the thoughtfully rabbit-sized portions he gets, presented in appallingly perfect miniature to everyone else's, down to the last detail.

The pressure cooker seems to have done its work; most of its vegetable contents become the soup along with the salmon broth, abalone, and some soy sauce. It's a standard dish, salmon soup, but so wonderfully executed. There is something deliciously satiating about this dish, something satisfying, a sense of perfect balance -- it is likely to be served last, to draw the curtain upon an exquisite meal, to be tucked in for bed by a warm father.

However, some of the some of the potatoes, now soft and flaky, were pulled back out, cored, fried to crispiness, and the milked, smoked, no-longer-foul-scented fish guts spooned inside, with the top half of potato put back on top rather like the top crust of a pie. It is a curious combination of precious preparation and parts that one might simply throw away, a celebration of the underdog, even, and what can come of it when it is given the love it deserves. It is beautifully plated by the Delacroix of French Cuisine along with blanched asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and a little pile of ginger. Presentation is part of his fame, and he does not disappoint with the precision and beauty that his food is laid down. And to think: this is just the appetizer.

The buckwheat crepes, meanwhile, were taken off their pans and cookie-cuttered into perfect roundness, sprinkled with sliced green onion and folded around the smoked salmon fillets. Finally they're topped with caviar and a mild, light creamy sauce (presumably to offset the saltiness of the fish and roe), with hard-boiled eggs split on either side for a lovely presentation. A single leaf of parsley provides a garnish that provides just enough freshness to counter the smokiness. This is a masterpiece of technique, and it brings with it, to go with love of the diner in the soup, and love of the opponent in the appetizer, love of cooking itself.

The bacon-wrapped salmon comes off the stove, and each round is presented upon an artfully arranged layer of onions from the pressure cooker, with a scoop of truffle-rolled soft roux on top. This is a masterpiece, the piece de resistance. The bacon adds body to the salmon; the sweetness of the onions at the bottom adds more flavor to the melting Normandie sauce. It is an ode to the ingredient: salmon at its very finest, not overwhelmed by its company, but enhanced. The Jewel of Cuisine loves salmon very much.

An appetizer that toasts his opponents; crepes that celebrate the art of fine cooking; an entree that embodies love of Tonight's Ingredient; a soup that appreciates the diner themselves.

For anyone who has never eaten cuisine made by a Jewel of Cuisine before, it is rather like a first kiss: soft, warm, endless. And afterwards, the whole world seems transformed. But it isn't what has changed -- it's the diners themselves. A transcendent experience.


"Mmm!" says Saeki, in magnificent understatement.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

As she listens to each of the judges speak their minds, a smile spreads over Sailor Jupiter's face - a small thing at first, but it grows broader and warmer as each dish seems to find favor. More or less. Her brows lift in faint surprise when the fortune-teller finds her salad bitter - but after only a moment, she nods in acceptance of the criticism. But there's praise there, too, and more from Nikaidou and Rei, and by the time they've all spoken Makoto is practically glowing.

They've done well. Well enough to outdo the Jewel of Cuisine - oh, definitely not, but where she's standing right now that doesn't really seem to matter. Her part in it alone wasn't much, perhaps, but what they've done together is plenty to be proud of.

The hand Mai extends gets a congratulatory low-five. "We did good," she agrees. "Nobody has anything to be ashamed of." And then she slings a friendly arm around Kuniko's shoulders. "What do you think, Saito-san?" she says in a slightly more confidential tone. "Still feel like you're not meant to--"

Whatever she was asking, she doesn't quite get to finish, because that's when the Jewel of Cuisine presents *his* creations, and not just to the judges but to them as well.

And all Sailor Jupiter can say after that, with genuine, overwhelming awe, is "...Wow."

Just - *Wow.*

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Mesozoic magic," is all Didi offers as explanation. He points to Lucy, who also doesn't seem to think it needs explaining further. Grilling is more fun to discuss. "Thank you. It's the way we do it back home!" She doesn't explain that further /either/.

Then comes the Jewel of Cuisine's dishes. Lucy remembers that he's technically their adversary, but his obvious respect for them and their cooking softens it all somewhat. That, and the incredible care put into his dishes.

Lucy and her little friend lick their lips and dig in.

A moment later, Lucy still has stars in her eyes. "That was delicious," she says airily, still not done processing the entire experience.

Didi has a bit more to say: "I feel it! I feel the cosmos! The salmon came swimming back! So fishyyyyy!" What the heck. Well, he obviously likes it.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

As great as Fuu thought the Cooking Club's work was, the sight - no, the *experience* of what the Jewel of Cuisine serves: the looks and the smells come together, and she can imagine the textures and flavors to some extent .... on the one hand, she wants to try it even more. On the other - her heart sinks, because she's not sure if the Cooking Club is still going to measure up after this.

It's really up to the judges ... although the fact that he salutes his opponents with that much grace and courtesy, praising Kuniko as well as serving his food to the four, is something that Fuu has to acknowledge with a smile and a nod. Even if Infinity's team loses, it was a well-'fought' match.

There are other microphones for the judges, so Fuu migrates over to Gordon. "Gordon-sensei, do you have any comments you'd like to share while the judges are making their decision ... ?"

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

So far, the Stadium has been... "Exhilarating and stressful all at once - but I wouldn't have missed this. I...really appreciate getting the chance." Mai meets Kuniko's gaze with her own. "Thanks for having me on the team." Everyone she's worked with - the low-fiving Jupiter, the helpful Kuniko, the cheerful Lucy, the stern Gordon - get a grin from Mai. And then - the second round comes.

For all her efforts, her rushing - the Jewel of Cuisine's service puts her culinary work in perspective. Upon realizing that the master chef, too, has been sampling their dishes - enjoying all of it, evidently - she reddens slightly in embarrassment. And then - hesitant - she dines.

Mai Tokiha now has a burning, fervent -need- to at least learn these recipes.

The soup - perfectly balanced in opposition to her own. To say nothing of the potato packets, the crepes, the - all of it. All of this. It's like there was a mountain before her she'd never seen - and having seen it illuminated by the sunrise, she needs to climb it.

This is the art of cuisine - the world Mai had only dreamed of. How is it that she got to this stage...and how might she return someday?

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

It's impossible for Gordon to be angry with the Jewel of French Cuisine. For one, he is a better chef than the rabbit ever could claim to be. He perfected his craft in a way Gordon never quite managed, and he loves cooking without reservation. And the chance to eat this sort of meal -- indeed, he can't say no to such a thing, even with the circumstances being what they are.

He takes each (miniaturized) dish as it crosses his plate; if rabbits licked their lips, he would. He munches on them as they come by. It's divine, to put it simply, and perhaps risk using an overused word. But, that's nonetheless correct.

It leaves a sinking feeling in his stomach, though. They did their best, but could they really hope to beat this? He looks sideways at Makoto, while Didi's words echo in his ears, and he considers for a moment. He smiles -- it's a touch sad -- and nods, before he looks at the Jewel of Cuisine. He nods, again, this time a gesture of respect to a competitor.

All they could do, now, was wait.

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

The Jewel of Cuisine bothers Yuu on a fundamental level. Such a pure dream, fulfilled and elevated to absolute, akashic mastery is...it's antithetical. It is in a sense everything he has dedicated his adult life to the mastery of, if only in the sense that one must understand fully a phenomenon before it can be equally fully destroyed.

And here it is before him. He winds himself up to give bad reviews out of spite, and takes his bites, and his eyes widen to saucers, and some horrible atrophied part of him knows it has witnessed the fruition of something he could have been. Maybe not in this field, but...

His response is a stony silence, seeming to sit taller and glare with greater force for a terrible moment, his teeth grit like diamond crushers as he is destroyed and destroyed by dish after dish. He stammers a response to each; none come to much but platitudes. They're all sublime. And in the end...

In the end, he gathers himself with a long, deep breath, and a weary sigh. "Well! I think I know how I'll be voting on that!" he says, attempting his nasal laugh again and not quite having the gleeful force it usually carries.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"Mmh," Gordon murmurs after a moment, and looks at Fuu. He might be having emotions; he might be feeling something, because he doesn't -- quite -- look ready to talk right now. But he is Gordon, so he will hardly admit this aloud. "A moment. I want to see the judges' decision, first."

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

As they set down, Kuniko is being - served as well?

Her eyes go wide as saucers or ramekins as the Jewel tells her such high words. Her face turns beet red as the Jewel passes. Her eyes turn towards Jupiter again, and she seems to be blinking in surprise. About to say something...

But this train of thought is also derailed.

Kuniko swallows and looks down. The soup... It's warming.

The potatoes are multitextured and full of the subtle evocation of the humble spud. The crepes give Kuniko three different ideas for how to use wheat flour.

The bacon wrapped salmon is simply ecstatic. Kuniko sits back in her seat, her expression less shocked, but more wondering. She pauses, with more yet to eat. She seems to want to say something but it isn't coming. Even so, it sits in her eyes, gleaming and for once, not looking tired at all.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00vDy2lAwC8

Rei cannot help but smile. For all of the Jewel's clear mastery, he conducts himself with exceeding humility as he quietly trolleys up..and even more impressively, serves his opponents with as much respect as the judges. He isn't treating his opponents as enemies in the least, and exudes a soft-spoken encouragement. By etiquette alone his stature is deserved. Now to learn if his talent matches his grace.

The question is blown out of the water, sent hurtling into the sky and then shredded into fairy dust with the swooping divebombs of a thousand hawks of exceeded expectation, only for that fairy dust to explode into fireworks, by the first bite of the appetizer with no name. In all her life Rei had never known anything like it..it is one of the most exotic things that she has ever tasted, crafted entirely from some of the most humble of ingredients. And that is what she tells him, every word of it.

The crepes that follow are more conventional..in the sense that she has a name for them. In every way.. "It's..astonishing. Every single aspect is pulled together in perfect focus..intellectually, it feels experimental, but as I eat it, it feels as natural and fitting as the rising sun. Truly superlative.

The entree itself..if it were served on its own it would seem revolutionary. Coming third in the master's blitzkrieg it seems like the most orthodox yet. But it is brilliant, truly brilliant. "It's..remarkable. I truly can't imagine a better use for any of these ingredients, nor a better realization of this dish. It exceeds my expectations in a way that I can only call..transcendent."

Whereas Infinity began with the soup, the Jewel of French Cuisine concludes with it. In keeping with the presentation so far, it is more traditional than its predecessor, but no less delectable. "A perfect cap upon a brilliant performance..not an encore so much as a gently stupendous conclusion, the cathartic release following so much buildup. It feels like..though ending your presentation, it feels like where you began from, that we have followed the tale of the development of your art in reverse. Bravo.."

The winner is clear. Truly, there never was a contest..but then there are no losers, either. The past hour and the present culmination have been a celebration in the truest sense.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCEDfZgDPS8

The Jewel of Cuisine accepts his compliments and criticisms with admirable solemnity, the occasional lovely smile, and a great deal of bowing. Yuu gets a long, thoughtful look which is difficult for onlookers to interpret. If they weren't in front of an audience, Rei might get a kiss on the back of her hand. Instead she gets a melting grin that equals it.

At last the Chairman assembles the ballots and descends with judges and competitors to the arena floor. Soon, everyone is arrayed beneath (the Chairman's got the stairs), and once again the Arena is cast into the shadows.

The Chairman's arms lift.

"Tonight took an unexpected twist as the Infinity Institute culinary program was forced to challenge the undisputed champion of French cuisine, one of the brighest Jewels upon the Blue Ribbon. They fought valiantly, with spirit rarely seen in my Arena -- and rarely tasted."

Though the Chairman is still mostly in silhouette, the light catches in the eyes, the very white smile.

"And our Jewel of Cuisine has served his function with the same exquisite care and charm that caused him to earn his position in the first place. Such a splendid meal has rarely passed my lips."

Gravity re-enters the Chairman's voice.

"The winner of tonight's challenge is..."

Judgement is accompanied by taiko, of course.

"...the Jewel of Cuisine!" Who bows beneath the spotlight, closing his eyes. He doesn't seem elated by victory, but is far too polite to be anything less than perfectly humble in such a moment. It is the bow of a teacher having successfully completed a wonderfully educational seminar.

There is a long, terrible silence, into which the delighted laughter of Denko Misono and Adrian interjects.


"Well, students," trills Denko, "As your new culinary instruction head, my first act will be to--"

"Wait," the Chairman says, lifting a finger the tiniest fraction, the gesture -- and single, crisp syllable -- somehow carrying the weight of mountains.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

To be honest, once the Jewel's dishes were placed in front of her, Makoto mostly stopped hearing the judges' comments. The competition, the Chairman's ruling, it's important - but this *food.* This is culinary artistry far beyond anything she normally has the opportunity to taste. Makoto is having a Moment.

So Sailor Jupiter doesn't actually really check back into the proceedings until the thunder of taiko proclaims the Chairman's ruling.

And then, suddenly, her heart sinks, because although she couldn't possibly complain about this result she's just now remembered how much was riding on this competition. The glance she turns toward Kuniko is agonized; as Misono laughs, Sailor Jupiter is halfway out of her seat--

--but the Chairman speaks, and she freezes in place, holding her breath.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon knew it was coming. When the proclamation goes out, the rabbit nods; he knew that he lost this fight. They did well; they crafted some amazing food, but they were not quite a Jewel of Cuisine. For some of them, they weren't quite there yet. He closes his eyes and nods. The gloating from Denko -- and the sudden presence of Adrian -- makes it sting. He feels his blood pressure rising.

And then the Chairman's single word cuts the silence. Gordon's eyes open, but he remains uncertain.

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

It was a foregone conclusion, and worst of all this outcome was absolutely /deserved/, but that doesn't stop Lucy from being horrified. Denko Misono and Adrian begin to celebrate their victory...

"This wasn't fair," Lucy says, with a weakness and vulnerability in her voice that very, very few have ever heard, "This was never fair to begin with..." She feels emotion rising up within her, bubbling up like hot magma, and she's seconds away from shouting it out, until--


Time stands still. Magma cools down. Color returns to Lucy's cheeks.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Kuniko swallows as this moment of pleasure, while sealed in her heart forever, passes. Time keeps on slipping, after all. She shifts her hand.

She kind of wants to grasp Sailor Jupiter's, or Didi's, or Gordon's hand. But she isn't about to just grab on.

The Chairman speaks. Kuniko takes in a breath - and her head bows down as she finds out that the Jewel won. She feels her eyes water, but, she thinks, to taste such a meal and face such a challenge... In that moment she feels profound empathy with Mai Tokiha. This must be what she sought.

Looking up, she has a smile on her face.

It falls off when Denko begins laughing. Despair rises in her eyes. She leans back in her chair, and then -


Kuniko's breath stops.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The meal is concluded. Mai glances to her pot of ramen, enough broth remaining in the pot for at least a few bowls, and gives it a sad smile. She cooks for her loved ones, and she could keep up...but artistry? She was practically muddling through the entire evening, putting effort without structure into her dish. It worked well enough - it's probably among the best soups she's ever made -

Mai's gaze comes back to her empty plate. But she's just dined upon a masterpiece. An inspiring one - her cooking might suffice, but this is a clear marker for heights she could still climb towards - but one that eclipsed her, all the same. "Wow."

And so, when the Chairman's judgment comes, it is no surprise at all. She closes her eyes - for all their efforts, they didn't surpass the champion - but applauds, all the same. Polite yet earnest - this is a battle that she can admit to losing.

When Denko starts laughing, though, Mai's eyes snap open as her hands go still. What? No. For one, she's not an Infinity student to be ruled by this woman, and for another - she starts muttering, ready to exclaim aloud. "You think we're going to accept a cheat like-"

With a word, the Chairman puts a pause to all heated fury.

<Pose Tracker> Nadeshiko Fujisaki [Ohtori Academy (6)] has posed.

Once the meal is over and the terrible, awesome wonder of the Jewel of Cuisine's cooking is done with, Yuu feels his blasted sensibilities slowly returning to him; and by the time the Chairman is ready to deliver his final remarks, he is able to issue a final breath and reclaim his goofy facade with a teacher's encouraging smile.

Despite the fact that the only students here have just lost their program. Such a shame! It will allow him some small comfort that his culinary harrowing helped to crush some hearts. Perhaps he should swing by, later...surely at least one of the Infinity cooking clubs' students will have a heart ready to become X'd, in the next day or two.

"It's almost worse that they know he earned it, don't you think?" he muses conversationally, under Denko's taunting.

And then -- 'Wait,' comes the single word of the Chairman, and Yuu finds his jaw slamming shut with a click.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NV6Rdv1a3I

Adrian has less muscular capability of facial expression than Denko, and yet the outrage and horror and humiliation upon his features somehow outdoes hers in its sheer intensity.

But they wait. They have to wait. This is the Chairman, the first and last arbiter of the Blue Ribbon Society.

No one can accuse the Chairman of lacking a killer showman's instinct. The silence, poised upon the tip of their finger, lasts long enough to be agonizing, but not so long as to be cruel. The chilly, exhilarating wind of being so high in the sky, atop the massive skyscraper, tugs at suits and hair and toques, though not the Chairman's. The Chairman wears no uniform but the Chairman's, and it is that of consumer, not producer.

"The purpose of this series of challenges was to ascertain whether or not Gordan la Lapine was a worthy leader of the Infinity Institute culinary program. Whether he was suitable to help shape the future of many of Japan's finest youth chefs."

Their voice is strangely tender, a roll of thunder that brings with it cool, soothing rain for a parched landscape.

"And in the valor and passion displayed by Kuniko Saito-san and her team, that question can only have one possible answer."

The Chairman nods almost matter-of-factly, as though /this/ outcome should be as obvious as the way the vote fell on the ballot of simple food quality. Those strong-yet-supple hands spread again, arms lifting to once again pronounce final judgement.

"The future of Japanese cuisine is very bright, indeed. Gordon la Lapine, you are hereby recognized as the rightful and outstanding leader of the Blue Ribbon Society's interests in the Infinity Institute culinary program. May you continue as you have begun, and show the beauty and passion of gourmet food to many more students over many more years."

Denko and Adrian are aghast, and the former emits an awful, uncontrolled "NOOOOOOOOOO~!" Her hands clutch the collar of her dress, and she's shaking all over.

But this is quickly drowned out by the overwhelming ovation from the audience.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

When the victor was proclaimed, Rei's features were taut and strained. She faced the reality with a grim acceptance, a stoicism that belongs to her religious tradition moreso than her age. Her face is gray, and she inwardly flinches with pain..but she does not feel guilty. The victor was clear. As Yuu said..they knew it, too. The competition felt profound unfair, but..if it was accepted as legitimate in the first place, then the outcome could not be questioned.

Still, her stomach turns as this malevolent woman crows. The judgement was correct, but this does not feel like justice. But then..

It's remarkable, how well he has them wrapped around his finger. The Chairman's position is truly earned. His decree gave this farcical matchup its legitimacy. Now he is altering its course, in some way.. She hangs on every word..and when the words reach their end, she sinks back into her chair, having a visceral reaction of relief.

Her eyes screwed shut, but she only noticed after the fact, and a tear oozes from the corner, slithering down her cheek leaving a shiny trail like a snail. She only realizes how tense she felt when it all takes flight away from her, like a flock of birds from the branches of a tree.

Justice, in the end.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon is quiet during the Chairman's verdict. He had an outburst before, but now, there is a sense of calm. He is not sure what the Chairman will say -- he does not, yet, know whether he will keep his program. It is not that he doesn't care, or that he would accept defeat, but he knows that raging will do nothing about it. For once, Gordon is calm.

His eyes remain closed, and he waits.

And then it comes. The scream of "no" is rewarding (he is, after all, still a bit of a jerk sometimes), but more rewarding are the remarks. He was challenged on the cooking expertise of his students, and though they lost, they proved themslves. He nods, before he opens his eyes. He smiles at the Chairman -- and then smiles a little wider at Adrian.

"Thank you, Chairman," he says, respectfully. Then, he glances proudly towards Kuniko, Makoto, Mai, and Lucy in turn. His words are a soft, simple, and appreciative statement: "That'll do, then. Good work, all of you."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The waiting, is in many ways, the worst part.

It's heartening to know that Mai isn't alone in her outrage - but everyone was forced into silence by the Chairman's singular proclamation. And then...the waiting. And waiting. And waiting in the wind. What is the judgment to be?

The explanation of the challenges' purpose - hazily, Mai can recall hearing something to that effect. Her concern was more on it being a cooking contest. But with this kind of thing as the stakes...if anything, that makes Denko's actions all the more reprehensible. In a challenge to determine who was the better instructor, she brought in a ringer she didn't even teach?

Not something she can say aloud - no one can interrupt the chairman until the final vertict. That verdict being...justice at last. Mai grins broadly, and cheers loudly with the rest of the crowd. "That's what you get for..."

She doesn't finish her comment. Rather, a frown crosses her face - she feels a bit guilty for one part of her participation here, and...goes to approach the victorious lagomorph with a quiet bow and comment. "Gordon-sensei - thank you for letting me participate, even if I haven't been one of your students in the past. I don't suppose there are any after-school activities you hold...?"

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

They won.

They won?

They won!!

Kuniko sits upright, almost tentatively, as if this could really be the case. These last five minutes have been more straining than the last five days - which included her moment of muppet mentalization, along with an argument with her mother about the garbage.

Blinking a few times, Kuniko tries smiling, a little shyly. She looks at Sailor Jupiter, and even lets herself laugh, hearing that screaming of 'NOOO' with just a little bit of schadenfreude. She then pushes herself up, rising to her feet to bow deeply towards the Chairman. Wordless, but heartfelt.

Then Mai comes upwards. "Oh, we," she begins, before sort of tapering off. Let Gordon say it. There's always work to be done, after all.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Jupiter [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

"YES!" Just as suddenly as she froze at the lift of the Chairman's finger, now Sailor Jupiter leaps to her feet, throwing a fist toward the sky in relief and celebration as applause thunder through the stands.

In another moment, she catches herself, and remembers to bow low in respect and gratitude - first toward the Chairman, and then, just as low and just as respectful, toward the Jewel of Cuisine, who did after all more than earn his victory here and in the process set a new bar for one Makoto Kino to aspire to.

When she straightens up again, though, Sailor Jupiter is grinning like a fool.

<Pose Tracker> Honoka Yukishiro [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGVMIp4JLSc

The Chairman smiles softly, turns, and disappears into the crowds along with the Jewel of Cuisine. The Arena acts as escort, and gradually fades as well, disappearing as seamlessly as it appeared in the first place.

Adrian and Misono seem to have stormed out sideways as well, slipping just under the radar so as to provide no more satisfaction to their enemies.

But much remains: the student body of Infinity, the rooftop and glorious tower beneath, the sky above and the city all around, Tokyo stretching beyond where the horizon becomes an indistinct blur.

The sun may be setting on a long day, but it's the beginning of a far longer future.