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The Graceful Griller

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The Battle Chef Brigade has only grown stronger in the kingdom of Victusia thanks to accepting any and all culinary minds that prove themselves. Even the dirtiest dish can shine with a little training and preparation. But sometimes, the heart of a hero beats in the strangest places. Zigfried, Mina Han, Thrash, and Kirin all unique minds in their own ways. But so many minds are passed up because they are different, and their hearts can be turned away from their passions. Thankfully, those who have experienced this nurture those like themselves, and help them blossom into true Battle Chefs. But I digress.

The Village of Summers was a resort town, located on the southern tip of Victusia, where there was almost anything to whet a traveler's appetites. Beaches, parks, luxury boats, and of course, amazing food. Of course, the entire country of Victusia was renowned for this, being the birthplace of the world famous Battle Chef Brigade.

Our story begins in a small restaurant located far from the main street of this fair town, on the border between Summers and the northern forests, called "Kingdom of Giants".

"I got two Barbecue Cheepchi with honey lemon sauce, one Baurun babyback ribs!" Shouted a gruff orc from the front of the kitchen.

"I got it!" Came a much smaller, high-pitched voice. A flash of color burst out of the kitchen to the back property of the restaurant, followed by a battle cry and a grunt of defeat, followed by someone frantically carrying meat into the back of the kitchen, placing it in a grill, breathing fire into the grill as she watched over the dishes, quickly placing two dishes up at the pass.

"Two barbecue cheepchi plates with honey lemon sauce, one Baurun Babyback Ribs! OOOOOOOOOORDER UP!" She called out, ringing a bell.

"Good job, Jaky." Said the orc as he grabbed the platter and gave it to a goblin server to run it. "You're getting faster and faster!"

"Thanks, Delchazor." The woman smiled, finally putting her head up to the pass to show the smooth, almost shining black horns. She had long brown hair tied into a ponytail, and sparkling blue eyes. "You think I've finally got what it takes to become a Brigadier?" She asked.

"You're actually gonna try this year?" The orc chuckled. "I've always thought you had the chops, and the customers agree. We're the top-rated restaurant in all the papers across this whole hemisphere of town. Our waits are almost out the door. And this isn't even you really trying!" He laughs. "But you've gotta loosen up back there, Jaky. It can't be comfortable for you, and the Brigade's kitchens are gonna be even hotter." He says, before a different bell began to ring. "Speaking of, that's your cue, grace." He says. "Knock 'em dead."

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Kingdom of Giants, thank you for joining us for a most splendid day. As a thank you to everyone for coming out, our very own head chef, Jakelyn, has agreed to show off her other talent. Please welcome our Graceful Griller, Jakelyn!" Said a man, pulling on a cord to lift a curtain, where Jakelyn sat at a stool, clearing her throat. She was wearing a long black cloak, attached to her via a wrap around her neck, and even though she could hear a few men at the bar hooting at her to take it off, she simply opened her mouth and began to sing, a band nearby playing, the patrons utterly transfixed on her as she unclasped her cloak, revealing her attire, closing her eyes to avoid the judgement as a spaded tail tossed the cloak away, revealing her body to the bar.

"I had a dream that I could fly, I could feel each moment as time goes by, and though it may seem too far away, I'm here this moment to hear you say..."

She was shapely, that much was for sure. She had just the right amount of fat, giving her a pleasing hourglass figure to her smooth pale skin. She wore a yellow-and-black checkered cape around her waist, covering her rear from view as she danced and sang, wings emerging from her lower back to propel her in the air as she twirled. Her breasts were large but kept restrained with two straps, somehow keeping them from bouncing everywhere, connected to a small chain belt with a blue gem in the center, her legs adorned with similar gems in a fishnet pattern, and her unmentionables were covered by a white pair of panties, all magically reinforced to be as unrevealing as possible. And to show everyone she was taken, she wore a gleaming gold ring on her right ring finger.

By the end of her dance, she finally opened her eyes, to see the crowd, men and women alike, cheering for her. She blushed and took a bow as the curtains closed, panting and wiping sweat off her brow.

"Jeez...the dining room is too hot..." She groaned, drinking a glass of water. "I don't know how I'm gonna survive in Brigade Town."

"Well, if you kept the cloak off, you'd do better." Delchazor says with a lighthearted snort. "But not only do you keep it on, but you spend all day in a hot kitchen, and then you come up here and sing your lungs out. That can't be good for you Jaky." The orc shakes his head. "Go home to your fiancee and tell him you're going to the tournament."

"But the Kingdom...!"

"Will fare just fine without you." The orc retorted, looking every bit like the stern big brother. "You need to get out there, and realize not everyone's like where you came from."

Jaky gripped her cloak tighter, nervous at the mention of her home. "I-I guess so. Thank you, Delchazor. I'll go talk it over with Syrus."
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Jakelyn stood at the gates of the small cottage she called home, drawing her cloak tighter over herself, she strode in and shut the door.

"Jaky!" Called a young man from the kitchen, coming out carrying a steaming cup of tea and a salad. "Welcome home, my love!" He says, and the horned woman was all too happy to give him a hug.

Syrus was a short man, although not dwarf size, just below average for a human. He had short, dark brown hair, and a smiling round face. He wore a simple long-sleeved brown shirt despite the year-round heat, and long blue pants. Jakelyn plopped down onto a chair and took her tea gently, her fiance strolling across to give her a kiss on the cheek. "How was work?"

"It was alright...Delchazor kept trying to get me to go to the Proving Tournament this year." She sighs.

"Well, don't you want to go?" The young man asked as he pushed the plate of salad to her, which made the girl scoff jokingly...but slowly pick up her fork and start eating with a smile.

"Yeah, but...the tournament attracts all the competitors from all over the country!" The woman somewhat wailed, almost on the verge of a panic attack. "Someone from...home, might see me!"

 

"Jakelyn, you can't live in fear of your hometown forever." The young man said quietly, gently grasping her chin. "You left that place never to return,and it's done wonders for you, but there is no reason to live in fear of them. No matter what they've done, they can no longer hurt you." He took her by the cheeks and smiled. "You can do it. There's not a person here who doesn't believe in you." Jakelyn slowly smiled and nuzzled into that hand. "Just because you're half-succubus doesn't mean you're not a great friend, an amazing cook, and the best fiancee, and soon, wife, to walk the planet.

"Thank you, my love." She said slowly, nuzzling into his hand. Her fiancee leaned forward and gave her a kiss, lowering his lips to hers to let her sample his love...and something else that stirred something in her.

"You've got to leave tomorrow to make it in time for the tournament. I don't suppose you'd want to have a little pre-ceremony fun?" Syrus asks with a chuckle.

"Syrus! You're incorrigible." She says, slapping him on the arm, making him laugh as she gulped down her tea and cookies down. "I didn't say no~"
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Two days later, Jakelyn stood at the front gate of Brigade Town, oohing and aahing at the sights. The smooth white stone making the gate, Kitchen Colloseum shining like a beacon in the distance, even the spices hanging from shops and smelling so delicious just got her ready. She calmly walked to the back of the large line, guessing that it was for registration.

"Well hello there, little demon." Jaky jumped, and even looked ready to slap the tall, thin man who had called her such a thing, before the man threw his hands up in apology. "Sorry, sorry!" He said with a sincere grin. "Guess I shouldn't go assuming, should I? Sorry about that, what's your name? Tiefling right?"

"Y-Yes...I'm a tiefling. My name is Jakelyn, but most just call me Jaky. What about you?"

"My name's Ziggy. Well, Zigfried, but not many people know that. You're in line for registration, right? Well, you got here pretty early. Not a lot of the hotels are filled up." He shrugged, shaking her hand politely, and Jakelyn couldn't help but notice his hand was unusually bony. "So, what brings a pretty tiefling here to Brigade town? Not a lot of your kind around these parts."

"Good." She spat reflexively. "Sorry, just...Don't have fond memories of back home."

"Quite alright. I'm glad you found some passion in cooking at least. Grave knows I couldn't stay away from it for long."

"How many times have you been competing?" She asked.

"Oh, a few times. I know I'm good enough, but being a Brigadier isn't really my style. I just come here for the competition." He breathed deeply, as if inhaling the atmosphere himself. "There's nothing like it, cooking a dish for each judge, the combination of flavors of a time crunch, flavor preferences, and hunting for your ingredients. It's to DIE for!" He says with a large grin, his teeth seeming a bit unnaturally sharp.

Jaky simple raised an eyebrow. "Are you dead?"

"Well, yes and no. Congrats, you're actually the first person to figure it out that quickly, and I make it more and more obvious every year. But yes, I'm technically undead, although I'm not a bad guy. The Brigade didn't exactly trust Haunt Cuisine for some time, well, until last year. Oh! Speak of the grave!"

"Next!" Called a tall human woman with pink hair tied in a ponytail. "Name?"

"Ziggy~" The dead man grinned, trying to hold in his laughter for some reason. Unfortunately, this made the lady stop in her tracks.

"Ziggy?" She looked up and sighed at the tall man still flashing her a winning smile. "Are you seriously thinking of competing again, Zigfried? Kamin's already named you an Honorary Brigadier, and the Brigade "isn't really my style" as I recall you saying."

"Aw, but can't I compete anyway, Inspector Razel? Just because I helped stop one measly little blight, you mean I can't compete? That's the entire reason I'm here!" He says, looking like a spoiled child denied dessert.

"Zigfried rules are rules, it may not be in full, but you ARE a Brigadier. Perhaps you'd like to be a judge or an instructor this tournament instead?"

Zigfried sighed and thought about it. "You know, there's a few people in this line who have caught my eye. I'll be a mentor, but only to one aspiring chef. Her." Jakelyn blinked as the bony finger pointed at her.

"Mysterious as ever, Ziggy. Very well. Go reserve your new protege a hotel room if you want to look busy. I WILL expect you to keep the peace while the tournament is going on. Since you're so good at it."

"Of course, of course, gotta keep calm and cook on as it were." Ziggy chuckled to himself as he walked off, and Jakelyn shyly walked up.

"Name, cadet?" Asked the woman, eyes squarely on hers, and Jaky gulped as she felt herself being scrutinized.

"J-Jakelyn." she fretted.

"Fill this out, entry fee is 20 gold." She says, passing her a form, where a large man in an iron suit smiled at her tiredly. "Name, Jakelyn. Species...Tiefling. Profession: Head Chef and Dancer. Title: Well...Syrus does love calling me his graceful griller." She mutters as she signs the forms and heads over to Ziggy who was standing near a white hotel building with a grin.

"Good news, Jaky-Jelly." Ziggy grinned. "Got us the last two rooms at the Regal Warren. One of the best hotels in town, I guarantee." As if in reaction, a strange, slimy jelly thing swooped through the air and alighted on Ziggy's shoulder. "Ah, there you are Jelly. Scoping out the competition of our protege, hm?"

"Why did you do that?" Jaky asked, frowning. "You didn't need to...to teach me. I can cook just fine!"

"Ah, but you also have the one thing that's kept many a great chef out of the big leagues for a long time. Confidence. I get that you may not have had the best upbringing, but you've gotta be free. So tell me about yourself, J...Hm, it's gonna be hard to give you nicknames. Don't want to confuse you with ol' Jelly here." Ziggy hummed. "We've still got some time before an explanation of the tournament's mechanics."

"Well, Zigzag..." Ziggy laughed as he was given a nickname of his own. "I work at a restaurant called the Kingdom of Giants. I also dance there, and I've wanted to be a Brigadier since I was little. My family...didn't support it. And most of the other humans in my home village didn't either. But then I met my fiance, Syrus. He's amazing, and I've never been happier, and he encouraged me to follow my dreams of being a Brigadier."

Ziggy grinned at that. "Ah, true love. So nice to see. Well, Jakypeno, you're going to be facing some of the toughest challenges--" He stopped, and looked at her. "Are you warm? We're in the tail end of summer, it shouldn't be that hot."

"It's...a Tiefling thing. Our body temperature is much higher than regular beings, so in southern climates, we steam up like this. Tiefling magic is...much more unstable than most other kinds. Even other firebreathers have an easier time containing that heat than us, as it makes up a part of our very being." She says quietly.

"Then why the cloak? Surely you're more comfortable with out it, Jaky Rancher."

"Well..." She divested herself of the cloak, blushing as her body was now visible. "This is how I'm most comfortable. What would the Brigade think?" She says with a blush. "That I dress like a harlot? I'm engaged! But it's a dancer's outfit, and it breathes so well, I can't take it off..." She says, placing the cloak back on and returning to sweating.

"Well, if we're perfectly honest, it's not that bad." Ziggy shrugs, only having taken his eyes off hers for the second it took to assess her appearance before flitting back up. "I've seen worse. Hell, since you know what I am..." His body seemed to light up with green fire from the inside. "This is what I...mostly really look like. And I cook with the undead."

Jaky had jumped back in surprise. "You...make them wear gloves, right?"

"Yes, I do, although I do also question the validity of that considering we harvest these parts off the ground. Either way, rest up, Jakybreaker, tomorrow we start your training and the tournament off in earnest."
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The tiefling girl was up bright and early the next morning, yawning and tossing her clothes on. She sighed as she stepped out, throwing on her cloak before leaving her room.

"Welcome to the Regal Warren, young lady!" Said the kind old man with the big red beard at the front desk. "We have a full Victusian Breakfast ready for you today, and every day! That nice man paid the full ten gold for your stay for the duration of the tournament."

"Thank you." Jaky bowed, sitting at the table and eating quietly.

"Hey there, cutie!" Jaky blinked and looked around. "Yes, you, with the horns!" Jaky finally looked behind her to see a woman with scales and slitted gold eyes looked at her. "How's it goin? Name's Matil." She said, a slight slither in her accent as she moved into the seat next to hers.

"J-Jaky..." She said, eyeing the woman carefully.

"I can't wait to cook against you! You definitely have that air about you. The air of a seasoned competitor!"

"N-No, this is my first time in the tournament." She said shyly, turning away. THe snake-woman didn't seem detered, simply moving to her other side.

"Not like that! Like you've been fighting for a long time for something you really believe in! That's how you find out the best things about yourself! Challenge me sometime! I'll show you what a real Cooking Battle is like!"

Jaky blinked as the snake woman slithered away happily. "How does this whole...thing, work?"

"Well, that's for the Chairman to explain isn't it?" Ziggy chuckled from behind her, making her really jump as Jelly tried to steal her bacon, which she snatched back. "C'mon, finish your plate fast. Kamin's about to start the opening ceremonies." The lich grinned, making Jaky gulp down her food and run off to Kitchen Colosseum.
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"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this year's Battle Chef Brigade Proving Tournament!" Said the man whom Jaky was suddenly fascinated by. He had the air of a man who had seen much and was wise beyond the outer youth he showed. "It was only one year ago that we were nearly brought to the brink of a full-blown Blight. But thanks to the critical research of our budding Brigadiers, we were able to overcome this, and find the one responsible. Those were some of our brightest minds in generations, and I expect nothing but improvement."

Several backs straightened at that, the high standards seeming even higher now. "Today, we welcome a new batch of the finest culinary minds in Victusia, to continue the tradition created by King Heinrich created so long ago, the Proving Tournament! We have newcomers from all across Victusia, and for the first time ever, beyond, willing to show their culinary prowess, and prove that they are indeed among the finest chefs in all the land. What twists and turns will this tournament take this year? Who will rise to the top, and who will have no choice but to go home? But enough questions, I am sure you are more than ready to sink your teeth into the competition. So, I will formally begin the tournament with the words passed down from the very first chairman..." The man bowed, took a yellow bell pepper off the table in front of him...

"VIVE LA BRIGADE!" He shouted, then took a massive bite, the competitors cheering all the while. Today was the start of the Proving Tournament, and a new beginning!

*Chapter One! Waltz: COMPLETE!*