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The Next Iron Chef

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The Next Iron Chef

Merlin was cleaning up his kitchen. It was already clean enough, but for Merlin, it was never too clean when your domain was in consideration. On top of that, he was expecting Will to come over soon to brainstorm and cook the upcoming menus for both of their restaurants.

Despite the fact that their style was different, Will's brashness being predominant in his dishes (as well as the use of bacon) while Merlin's elegance preferred to use the least meat possible in his dishes, the two chefs were fast friends and didn't hesitate to help each other out where cooking was concerned. They knew that they could trust each other, as their friendship was born during the five years they had slaved away under chef Gaius Smith.

Chef Gaius Smith was considered a bit of an eccentric in the culinary world. He started out as a doctor for the first twenty years of his life before deciding that cooking was his calling. This translated in his cooking where everything was calculated with precise measurements, using the least amount of scales possible and presentation had to be perfect with millimeter precision. His four-star restaurant, The Cooking Clinician, was renowned for his tasteful designs, coupled by the bitter-sweet tastes of his dishes that originated from English cooking.

Merlin and Will were both sous-chefs that suffered the most under the old man's tutelage. It was rare for Gaius to take even one apprentice, a great honor in the cooking world, so when he did, he was extremely harsh. Nonetheless, the fact that he took two rippled through the cooking circle, as well as the scrutiny they — that is to say, Merlin and Will — were under.

So when they parted ways with Gaius, the two of them decided to keep in touch and help each other out when they started their own restaurants. Which lead to this situation five years later, where Will was coming to Merlin's place with his ingredients so that they could decide this year's changes to the menus of their restaurants.

Speaking of Will, there went the doorbell in Merlin's apartment. When he opened the door, he was greeted by a gigantic pig's head, completed with the apple to boot, tottering on top of a pile of cardboards, held by two rough, tanned hands barely visible under the towering big boxes.

"Hey Will." Merlin greeted the tower of boxes, openingthe door a bit wider to let his friend in.

"Hey Merlin. Where can I put my ingredients?" Will had a pronounced Texan accent which went well with his Texan personality, all fiery and proud. He boldly strode into Merlin's home, accustomed to it, just as Merlin was to Will's. Ever since they got their apartments, they would alternate in kitchen usage when creating menus or even cooking for fun. Sometimes, they would cook a dish together that they would present for one restaurant or the other, or they would cook as a duo in a contest.

"On the counter, Will, just as usual." Merlin answered, he was looking through the mail that he got on the doorstep. "I'll be with you in a minute. Anything new since we last saw each other?" The last time they had seen each other was barely a week ago. Shifting through his mail, his eyes landed on a particular piece of envelope with a logo of two knives crisscrossing on the front right next to his address. A very famous logo that made him stop and stare.

"Yeah, but I want to see you face-to-face to tell you the great news." Will shouted back from the kitchen.

"I'm coming, I'm coming." Merlin didn't dare open his letter yet. Why was this program writing to him? "Can it wait for a moment? I've got a letter from the program Iron Chef."

Will's face popped out from behind the doorframe of the kitchen. "Y'a serious? That was my news too, got one of those letters this morning, which is a bit weird since, you know, we've already participated in one of those tag-team duels."

"And we had a draw." Merlin added. "I still remember that since that's how our restaurants got so popular so quickly."

"Yep, gotta love y'a decorating skills, full points for that."

Merlin chuckled at the compliment. "It was your originality that helped us create the dishes." He still recalled the roaring flames that Will used to cook the pork and salmon for the main dish. They had the fortune of having the theme of mixing land and sea as the "secret ingredient".

Will went searching in the outer pouch of his backpack — the backpack itself being stuffed full of condiments and cans of home-made goodies such as preserves — to bring out his own letter. "Open it together? On three?"

"On three." Merlin agreed. "One … Two…"

"Three!" They said together, opening their letters in two different ways, Will ripping the top off quickly, Merlin by opening the lid softly. Unfolding the paper gently, they read it slowly. Then, they re-read it once more to be sure that they weren't dreaming the contents up.

"Did you…?" Merlin started while Will echoed at the same time "Have you …?"

They laughed together while exchanging their letters. Reading it, they realized that it was the exact same content, provided that you exchanged the names.

Dear Mr. M. Emrys, (or W. Mitchell if you were looking at the other letter)

You have displayed the necessary skills required for being potential Iron Chef material. But the journey is not over yet, as others have displayed those same talents as well. To be able to reach the top, you will have to battle against nine other candidates whose goal is to also become an Iron Chef.

You will have one week to reply once you've received this letter. You can reach our coordinator, Elena Godwyn, either by phone, (585) 366-3638, or by e-mail, .

However, I believe that I already know your answer. If it is yes, like I fiercely believe, then pack your bags with sturdy knives and don't forget your cooking skills, before arriving in front of The International Culinary School in New York on the 1st of June by 8 o'clock in the morning. The address is 462 Broadway, New York City.

Anticipating your arrival,

The Chairman.

The two men stared at the letters. Rubbed their eyes, then stared some more. At least Will had had the good sense — which was channelled to anything that held food — to put the frozen things in Merlin's freezer before they had opened the letters. When the information had sunk good and proper in their brains, the two men cheered loudly while dancing around the table in joy.

Becoming an Iron Chef meant that they would be joining the cooking Elite, which was an immense honor, one would say. Oh, they had already gained fame by tying with two Iron Chefs, but it didn't compare to the fact that they may join such an illustration rank.

Of course they would agree to it. They didn't even haveto think about such a decision, and Merlin went to get the phone. He quickly dialled the number on the letter. The air was tense for the next three rings before a feminine voice answered with a breathy "Hello?". Then there was a great clash heard in the background. The mouthpiece was covered slightly as that same voice, muffled now, shouted back "It's nothing, don't worry about it." Then the clear voice came back. "Hello, Elena Godwyn, coordinator for The Next Iron Chef speaking."

"Good morning Miss Godwyn, Merlin Emrys with William Mitchell by my side. We've just received the letters concerning our participation to become an Iron Chef." Merlin had put the phone on loudspeaker, just so Will could hear and talk as well.

"Ah! Mr. Emrys. Mr. Mitchell. What perfect timing, you are the last two to contact me. Have you the answer the Chairman wants to hear?"

"Of course we'll accept. How can we refuse such an honor?" The eagerness was very present in his voice, just as it was visible in Will's anticipation.

"Perfect, I'll be adding you to the lists then. Any questions that I can answer at the moment or will you wait until I send you the information packet?" Miss Godwyn's voice seemed professional, despite the weird beginning.

"Yeah, I mean yes." Will intervened. "Can you give us the names of the other candidates, Miss Godwyn?" He was trying to speak normally, softening his accent since he wanted to make a good impression.

"Sure, so far, five candidates have answered back." The speaker's voice was quite bubbly, knowing that everything was going alright and that she didn't have to answer some too difficult questions. "Their names are Gilli Parker, Kilgharrah Nash," at that name, Will and Merlin shared an incredulous look. The Kitchen Dragon was participating? They would have to bring out the A-game for this. "Elijah Peterson, Brianna Ward, and Freya Riversong. Oh! And by the way, you guys can call me Elena. Miss Godwyn is more for my bosses. Besides, we will be seeing each other a lot so I think that using my first name will be better in the long run."

"Of course." Merlin answered. "Than I hope that you'll be using Merlin when addressing me."

"And Will for me. William is a bit of a mouthful." Will's smooth charming voice made Elena giggle.

"Such a charmer." She giggled some more. "So should I send the information packets to Merlin Emrys' apartment?"

"Not really. It was just a coincidence that we were together when we received the offers. Otherwise, send us the information packets at our registered addresses."

"No problem." Elena chirped. "Don't hesitate to call or e-mail me if you have any questions whatsoever once you've received the package." She seemed to be searching for something as both men were hearing papers being shuffled around in the background. A muffled "Aha!" signaled her success in finding the thing.

"Ok, one last thing before we are completely done. Have any of you seen the program The Next Iron Chef?"

Both chefs answered "yes" at the same time.

"Perfect, so you have some ideas of what can happen. The thing is, we don't expect you to come up with some random menus or dishes on the spot. So, what will happen is that you will be given a twenty-four hour warning of what might happen, the chairman being the one to decide what will happen."

"Just like in Iron Chef where we're given five possible secret ingredients to prepare for." Will summarized.

"Exactly like that. Except, it will be more vague. Hope you guys aren't too camera shy since there will be little to no re-dos. We want everything to be perfect."

Both chefs answered negatively. "Perfect then," Elena chirped. "I can't wait to meet you in two months' time. By then, I hope that you will have read the packet and sent back the information forms that we want to have. It will be essential in making sure that the program runs smoothly. Make sure that your passports are up to date, your shots as well, and revise your knowledge of basic cuisine. The Chairman is known to make complicated tasks out of simple actions."

"See you Elena." Merlin told her.

"Bye Elena." Will added.

Merlin hung up before the two chefs grinned at each other. Their mood was very upbeat at the fantastic news. With great cheerfulness, they started to plan and cook the estival menu. Starting tomorrow, they wouldn't have enough time to train, think, and organise for the upcoming event of their lives.

Of course, Will had this genius idea that might give them an advantage over the other competitors. When he told Merlin, the latter agreed to do it. After all, all was fair in love and war, and if a little acting could bring them far… well, why not?

— The best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. At least that's how the saying goes… Well, that does limit the potential wives if men are considered the greatest chefs in the world, not women. —

T - Seven weeks before the First Task.

For some reason, Merlin's agent had decided that Merlin should have a vacation one week after getting The Call — Merlin was hearing the capital letters quite clearly from both Will and Gwaine, his agent.

Gwaine Lott was one of Merlin's exes. They had met right after Merlin had gotten out of Gaius' tutelage and dated for a whole year. A whole year before they realized that they were acting more like friends, or brothers sometimes, rather than boyfriends. Soon after they had broken up, Gwaine met Ivan Greenleaf and it was love at first sight. The two of them had gotten married and were now the proud fathers of two boys: two (and a half) year old Mordred, Ivan's biological son, and one year old Percival (Percy to shorten it), Gwaine's biological son. Both of the boys were Merlin's godson's, which gave him the perfect excuse to spoil them rotten already.

Gwaine was a fun agent who took his job seriously. Unfortunately, sometimes his playfulness would come out more than his seriousness, which had resulted in this situation.

"What do you mean you made some reservations in my name? And at what restaurant?"

"Listen Mer-bird, you were getting too stressed out by the end of the first week. So I thought that a nice meal would take your mind off things. A buddy of mine told me that "Camelot" is a great restaurant. It had a great reputation when it first started out, but then the main chef died from childbirth. It was re-opened five years ago by her son, and since then it has only kept on growing. There are rumors that it will be gaining its third-star Michelin, so before it does, why don't you try it out? You have a reservation for six o'clock."

"Which is only seven hours away. Not enough time for me to find the address, scoop it out on its customer service and see if the food looks appetizing. You know how I am when I try out new restaurants for relaxation."

"That's why I'm telling you now. It's in the Upper West Side; the exact address is 251 West 85th Street. You'll see an immense Fruit & Vegetable and a Fish Store at the corner. I figured that you would like to see it during the day." Gwaine was laughing. Merlin couldn't hear it clearly, but he knew it. "If my GPS tracker is correct, you are just about five minutes away from the area."

Merlin spluttered at the fact. "Have you been bugging my phone again?" He would have to see if Will could help Merlin de-bug his phone.

"Well, I may have." Gwaine trailed on. "But you're changing the subject. Get your cute, perky, butt to "Camelot" to try it out. You can take a light luncheon there without needing any reservations. The best part is saved for dinner." A baby cried in the background. "Well, there goes Percival wanting his lunch. I have Mordred next to me, want to talk to him a bit?"

"Please." Merlin loved talking to Mordred. Ever since he had held the baby boy in his arms at birth, Merlin had been ensnared by those big crystal-blue eyes and mop of curly black hair. "Hey Mordred, how are you?"

"Fine, Uncle Merlin." Mordred's quiet voice travelled through the phone. "Is it true?"

Merlin was perplexed. "Is what true, Mordred?" He knew that his godson was quite intelligent, but sometimes, the quiet personality made it so that he wouldn't fully ask what was on his mind. At some points, Merlin believed that if supernatural powers truly existed, then Mordred would benefit from being a telepath.

"That you are going to be an Iron Chef?"

Merlin smiled at the adorable question. "Not really, little one. I am going to try and reach the top but I'm not a hundred percent sure that I will."

"You are going to be one, uncle. Your cooking is the best. Better than Uncle Will's"

"Thanks Mordred. Now, I've got to go and see what sort of restaurant your Papa wants me to go to. Wish me luck."

"Luck Uncle Merlin. Don't meet any boyfriends that I don't agree on."

Once more, Merlin stuttered as he heard the dial tone from his godson hanging up on him. It was rare for him to even date, what with his cooking schedule and the upkeep of his restaurant, but the last two boyfriends he had dated were quickly chased away either by Gwaine or, more recently, Mordred, who had mastered the art of the freaky stare.

Of course, his day got a bit worse when he heard some shouting not far from his position. Grumbling to himself, Merlin started to jog towards the shouts. The few brief moments he heard were something about a "stupid, good-for-nothing who can't even peel a potato correctly" person. It took some time as he shoved the people in the crowd to get to the forefront of the scene.

It was a chef berating what looked like a sous-chef. The chef was handsome with strands of dirty blond hair that escaped his hat and the bluest eyes Merlin had ever seen. Not that Merlin was looking, he was more concerned with the verbal abuse.

"Hey!" He yelled at the shouting chef. "What's the big idea?"

"The idea is to mind your own business." Blond chef spat back. His voice was deep and sultry, just the kind Merlin would melt for … if he wasn't such a big prat.

"Now come on, friend, maybe we can talk this through civilly and not make a scene in broad daylight?" Merlin was trying to diffuse the situation. The sous-chef was a young boy with black curly hair and wet brown eyes. It pulled on Merlin's protective instincts (or maternal if Gwaine had anything to say about it.).

"This little piece of good-for-nothing can't even peel correctly. He has had a whole month to get his act together but doesn't know how to do anything. Today is an important day and he made one too many mistakes for me to forgive."

Merlin was flabbergasted at the information. He could agree that a sous-chef should be able to do some simple tasks, but a month was a bit harsh, especially if the chef was expecting too much too soon. He knew how hard it was to join the cooking world, especially when you were young, like this sous-chef under his eyes. "So you'll just fire the poor boy? Is that your solution? Or could you leave him alone and give him some easier tasks?"

Grey-blue eyes blinked, narrowing in anger as Merlin stood in front of the sous-chef. "What is it to you? Why protect the little sous-chef who doesn't even deserve the title of a vegetable peeler?"

Oh that was it! "Is being a prat your default mode?" Merlin's eyes were spitting flames. "Or does it give you pleasure to bully the weak?"

The chef looked even more furious than before. "Why don't you take his place if you want to protect him. Peeling potatoes should be easy for a peasant like you."

"Bring it on, Blondie. I'll be your sous-chef if you'll leave the kid alone." Sky blue pitted against grey-blue. The game was on.

"If you'll help me get through the lunch hour, then I'll agree to allow that sous-chef come back and work here." The chef offered grudgingly, knowing full well that not everybody on the street could do the work of a sous-chef.

"If he wants to. Otherwise, you'll have to find him a decent restaurant that will pay and teach him what he has to know." Merlin countered, happy to be getting the better end of the deal. "Give me ten minutes to find out what I have to do, menu and all that, before giving such help that you can't complain."

"Fine. The vegetable-boy will tell you while you change." Blond chef left in a huff while the crowd dispersed now that the fun was over. Merlin took a deep breath before he sighed deeply; this was not what Gwaine meant when he said that he wanted Merlin to take a vacation.

"Alright then," he stated, turning towards the sous-chef, "let's start out with your name, ok?"

"Galahad, sir." The sous-chef said softly, still in an emotional upheaval. "Thank you for helping me. But you don't have to worry about me. I'll try to find another job to help my family and pay my education."

"Nope," Merlin popped the p a bit loudly, trying to be cheerful for Galahad. "your chef made a big mistake making this little bet with me." He ignored the teenager's surprised look before asking a different question on his mind. "Do you want to work here or do you want another job that will give you a good salary?"

Galahad looked curious at the turn of events. "This was the first restaurant that agreed to keep me while paying me. I need to intern in kitchen for a whole year. Normally, it should be six months, since the school wants me to write a report, but the time doubles if I want to be paid while being allowed to come next year. I need the money for my ma and my sisters."

Merlin nodded, remembering how it went for him. "Alright. Last question, do you have to stay in Manhattan for the job? Or is Queens a good place?"

"Why's that?"

"Simple, even if that chef wants you back, you can come at work at my place. I own a restaurant in Queens called "Ye Olde Wise Dragon". I was looking for a sous-chef. That is, if you want to have the job of course." The last sentence was said a bit softer, as if Merlin realized he was taking charge. Seeing that Galahad was about to open his mouth, he stopped him. "You can give me your answer later. Right now, I need to change into something more practical than a shirt and jeans for the kitchen, learn what's on the menu, and make sure that his royal pratness doesn't underestimate me. You don't treat a sous-chef like that, especially if you want to be respected in your kitchen."

Galahad's hands were twisting around each other. "He's not normally like that, you know, … um … that is, … I've realized that I don't know your name." The boy was leading Merlin inside the restaurant, through the backdoor, and into the changing rooms, where he was rummaging for some spare aprons.

"Merlin Emrys, at your service." Merlin accepted the white clothes then quickly took off his own to change. "Then why was he so harsh on you?"

"His dad will be coming to eat during either lunch or dinner, so he is really stressed out. Normally, he would be helping me out when I do a mistake, but this time, he really couldn't do anything. One of his dad's sycophants caught me and Arthur didn't have any choice but to berate me."

"Doesn't matter, a prat's a prat. Nothing changes. Do you have a menu so that I can quickly see what sort of courses you serve?" Gaius had this game he would play with his students. By reading the menu, they had to be able to guess all the ingredients.

Galahad quickly gave him a couple of sheets of paper. Merlin raised an eyebrow at it. "You have spares in the changing room?"

"Just in case. Arthur likes to see the menu every morning and he changes it so that the others know. But you won't know how to make the plates."

"Just from the menu, I have an idea as to what will be in the courses. Then, I only have to see how a dish is decorated once before I can imitate it perfectly." Seeing Galahad's incredulous gaze, he chuckled slightly. "I had a mentor who was pretty harsh concerning decorations. If it wasn't that, it had to be something else like cooking or cutting technique."

Then Merlin noticed the logo on his uniform: a shield with two swords crisscrossing on the front. Bugging the back of his mind, Merlin had to ask. "What's the name of the restaurant?"

"Camelot." Galahad told him.

Merlin cursed slightly. "Well, there go my lunch plans." He motioned for Galahad to show him the way to the kitchen. "I was going to eat here this afternoon and a friend of mine made some reservations for tonight. Looks like I'll be seeing the kitchens up close."

The duo arrived at the kitchens, already bustling and bristling with activity. Merlin was ready for his role; he hadn't let his skills get rusty by letting someone else do the menial jobs for him. He recited to himself the menu of today. Three dishes to choose to make a three-course meal.



- Soupe de tomates avec pointe de basilique [Tomato soap with a hint of basilica.]

- Croque Monsieur sur un oeuf de caille poché [Croque Monsieur on a poached quail egg]

- Salade de thon, tomates, morceaux pelés de poivrons jaunes et verts et une pointe huile d'olive [Tuna salade with tomato, skinned yellow and green pepper with a little bit of olive oil]

Plat Principal

- Foie de Veau au vinaigre de framboise, accompagné d'une salade verte forêt et des tranches de topinambours frits [Foie de Veau with raspberry vinegar sauce, accompanied by a forest green salade and fried slices of topinambours]

- Paella de champignon, Tom de Savoie et de cabillaud [Paella with mushrooms, Tom de Savoie and cod]

- Tournedos Rossini servi sur un lit de brocolis bouilli, tomates séchés, champignons et lardons. [Tournedos Rossini served on a bed of boiled broccolis, dried tomatoes, mushrooms and diced bacon]


- Forêt Noir avec coulis de framboise, glace à la vanille et crème chantilly [Forêt Noir with raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream and whip cream]

- Mille-feuille praliné, sauce au chocolat et thé vert avec des cerises confites [Praline-flavored Mille-feuille with green tea and chocolate sauce topped by candied cherries]

- Gâteau meringué au marron glacé et sauce à la menthe [Meringue cake with candied chestnuts and green mint sauce]


Pretty standard things, nothing to fancy despite the fancy french names. Arthur — if Merlin understood correctly that was the blond's chef name — was ready for him. "Do you know what you have to do?"

"Not really, you haven't assigned me my station yet. I memorized the menu and the dishes that you want to serve for lunch, all you have to give me is what I will have to do." The blond chef looked perplexed, quite a nice look for Merlin's ego. "So, let's get down to business, shall we? Where to, your royal pratness?"

"Take care of the Entrées and Desserts."

For the next three hours, Merlin chopped, pealed, plated and cooked. This was his idea of a relaxing day, minus the bustling kitchen and anxiety of being prepared on time for the clients. What was funny was that after one hour in the kitchen, he saw that Arthur was a bit preoccupied by another person being obnoxious — maybe that sycophant that caused troubled for Galahad — Merlin decided to take over the Entrées and Desserts.

Taking charge was even easier than expected, Merlin only had to snarl once and the others obeyed him quickly. It was nice to be in control of the kitchen, even if it wasn't your territory. Merlin could say with certainty that lunch was a success.

It was only after they were finished that Arthur realized that he had less problems than usual. Looking back, he realized that the only thing he had to truly take over was the main dishes. When he looked around, he saw that the stranger he had hired on a dare was finishing up the things that a chef usually does after a lunch rush. That is to say, directing the cleaning up and preparing for dinner time.

Arthur knew that he had been a bit too harsh on Galahad. The boy had told him about his family situation, hence why Arthur had been a bit more nicer teaching him how to cook in a kitchen. The boy was a second year in cooking school and needed some more experience to be able to get a scholarship, some stupid excuse for the school to not take any charity cases.

However, this morning was even worse. His sister had called this morning from Washington to warn him about Uther coming to town and eat at his restaurant. Well, for Uther it was Ygraine's restaurant and not Arthur's, of course. Since he didn't want his father to believe that Arthur wasn't worthy of the restaurant, Arthur wanted everything to be perfect. On top of that, he had to make sure that any of Uther's spies could report something crunchy, such as having a sous-chef that "isn't good".

If Arthur had berated Galahad like that, at least he would be able to make sure that he could get a good reference for another restaurant to take Galahad in. If someone like Uther had done it, then Galahad could have kissed his cooking career goodbye. Uther was a famous food critic, one word from him and it was over.

Although, that stranger didn't have to treat him as a prat! Arthur didn't like that at all!

Spotting Galahad in the corner, Arthur strode towards him, wanting to at least make amends with the lad. "Hey Galahad." He tried to smile, it only came out as a rictus. "I'm sorry about earlier."

"Its alright, Arthur." The lad smiled happily at the man. "I understand why you did it. That's why I told Merlin that you aren't normally like this. He doesn't like you, but he doesn't know you like I do. You've been helping me ever since I worked here, so I can't complain." Brown eyes looked sad, unshed tears glistening. "I'm sorry that I messed up earlier."

"It's alright. According to the deal, you can come back to work here or I can refer you to another restaurant if you want." Arthur was already going to do the latter, but it didn't hurt to say it.

Galahad rubbed his eyes slightly. "I would like to stay here, but I know how hard it will be on you."

"That doesn't stop me from wanting you to stay here." Arthur cut in. "Galahad, you have been hardworking ever since I hired you. At least you don't use any connections or money to stay here." He laughed bitterly. "I'm only owner in name, Galahad, you know who the real owner is." He was sorry about that.

He got hugged by the younger boy. Surprised, it took him a little time before Arthur could respond. "You are perfect, Arthur. One day, you're dad will see what an idiot he was not to trust you."

"Thanks Galahad."

"Everything alright, Galahad?" The stranger came up to them, frowning at Arthur but smiling at Galahad.

"Yes Merlin. Arthur was giving me the chance to either come back at the restaurant or recommend me to another one that will help me. I haven't told him of your offer yet."

"Offer?" Now Arthur was curious. "What offer, Mr …?"

"Merlin Emrys" The stranger, no Merlin, stated cooly. "I offered Galahad to come work at my restaurant if he needed."

"Wait a minute, you're a chef?"

"Well how else would I be able to help you out in the kitchen so easily? Oh and by the way, I refuse to work the dinner shift. I have a reservation in my name." Merlin had to admit he enjoyed saying that. "Now if you don't mind, I'll be going back to my hotel, get a shower, then come back for the six o'clock reservations, alright?" Merlin started to turn around

Arthur grabbed his wrist quickly. "I'm sorry, we seemed to have started on the wrong foot. Arthur Pendragon, owner of Camelot. Thank you for helping Galahad." He saw the blue eyes blink. Now that he had the time, he thought that the man was beautiful. Of course, he had to ruin everything with his next words. "However, I do hope you know that I had everything under control."

Merlin was going to nice to the chef, after all Galahad had told him that Arthur was a pretty nice guy in his own sort of way. Nonetheless, with those last snarky words, Merlin was beyond forgiving him. "You know what," the black-haired cook said, "I thought that you could have been a nice guy from what Galahad said. But a prat is a prat and there is no changing that. So, I'll be going now. Good-bye Arthur Pendragon." He yanked his wrist away from Arthur before turning to Galahad with a smile. "Just so you know, Galahad, my offer still stands. Come by Ye Olde Wise Dragon whenever you can. The job offer is still open for you."

He left to change before getting away as far as possible from the restaurant, Camelot. Merlin wanted to be as far as possible from Arthur, that infuriating chef that was much to handsome for Merlin's own good. Besides, Merlin bet that Arthur was straight, so he would have no chance anyway.

Once Merlin reached his hotel room, he phoned the restaurant to cancel the reservations. The maître D wasn't happy, but at least Merlin warned in advance. Then, Merlin's next phone call was for room service where he ordered a late lunch before calling Gwaine to rant for at least an hour or two. He didn't understand why Gwaine was chuckling, nor why Ivan, on the other extensions, was trying to get more details of the encounter.

Traitors the lot of them. At least Will was much more supportive when Merlin called him.

— Just a spoon full a sugar makes the medicine go down. —

One week later, Galahad came by for his job interview. Merlin and Lancelot, the other sous-chef of Ye Olde Wise Dragon, were both very happy to have him and actually understood his situation.

The truth was that Galahad's school did not accept charity cases. For him to even have a scholarship, Galahad needed to write a report and stay at least six months up to two years working in a restaurant. Then, the restaurant should then be the one to sponsor Galahad through his courses.

On top of that, Galahad needed money to support his mother and two younger sisters, his father having abandoned them. Merlin readily agreed to these terms, going as far as to offer him some accommodations for the younger boy so that he didn't have to do each day the commute.

The accommodations were at Gwaine and Ivan's home, a small guest-room that they sometimes loaned to those in need, such as Galahad, for a small price. Gwaine opened the door and treated the duo, Merlin and Galahad, to the sight of a dropping mouth.

"Gala - Galahad?" Gwaine asked, a bit softly as if he was too afraid of the answer.

"That's my name, last time I checked. Do I … Do I know you?" Galahad wondered, his head cocked to the side.

Merlin took a good look at both men. He was surprised to see that Galahad looked like a much younger version of Gwaine, minus the sweet personality that Galahad seem to possess.

Gwaine shook his head slightly. "I don't think you know me, Galahad, but I know you and your family." He gestured for them to come in. "I'm forgetting my manners, come in, come in. Would you like some tea or coffee?" Gwaine led them to the living room where Percy was playing in his pen in the corner.

Merlin went straight for his godson. Lifting the baby up, he kissed the baby with loud wet noises. Percy just giggled, some of his pearly white baby teeth shining through in a wide smile. Merlin sat back down on the sofa, Percy on his lap, the baby babbling some sort of nonsense to the three men.

Galahad smiled nervously at the sight. "So, how do you know me Mr …?"

"Lott. Gwaine Lott." Gwaine swallowed. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Just to be clear, your father is named Cyndeyrn Garthwys, right?"

"Was my dad. He left my family and I about six years ago, did a runner on mom and tried to leave her with his debt." Galahad looked curious, eying Gwaine with something akin to wonder. "It didn't work out since mom made sure that any transaction he would do would be on him. Made sure he signed a prenup agreement to be on the safe side. She may have been in love, but she wasn't stupid."

Percy started to squirm, reaching out for Galahad while babbling eagerly. Gwaine nodded at Merlin and Galahad's silent inquiry. Galahad took Percy in his arms, eyes full of warmth and happiness.

"At least your mother was smarter than mine. When Cyndeyrn did a runner on us, she had to work hard to repay his debt. Luckily, she had enough savings to be able to do so. When I was twenty-one, I hired a private investigator to track that man down and give him a piece of my mind. When I found out that he was living with your family, I came to see him that day. I think that you were around seven or eight. Your baby sister was just born and Cyndeyrn pleaded for me not to say anything. I agreed and left you guys alone. Now I see that I shouldn't have." Gwaine had that fierce air that Merlin recognized easily. It was the look Gwaine bestowed on all those who dared harm his loved ones or those related to him by blood.

Gwaine was about to open his mouth to say something else when the front door opened. Mordred bounded in the living room, zooming straight towards Merlin and jumping on his godfather's lap to receive his hug. Ivan strolled in moments later, his dirty blond curls bobbling up and down. He leaned down towards Gwaine to kiss him before noticing that they had a guest. Striding over to Galahad, Ivan held out his hand while introducing himself.

Galahad shook it cautiously, wondering what will happen to him. That very same question was voiced by Ivan out loud.

"He's family." Gwaine said simply, smiling at his half-brother fondly. "Hope you don't mind Ivan, but he will be staying with us while he works for Merlin."

"Welcome then, Galahad. I'll get the guest room ready." And just like that, two halves of a family were joined, bringing great joy for Merlin. After all, wasn't this an auspicious sign for the upcoming contest?

That happiness was quickly doused by Ivan asking about "Merlin's cute asshole of a chef", much to the latter's dismay. Just because the chef was handsome didn't mean that Merlin wanted to date him! Anyway, all wanting of having a hot blond with blue eyes in Merlin's bed was quickly dismissed by the atrocious character that the chef had. Honestly!

— "Food for thought" means something to ponder on. Not something physical to eat that would make you a better thinker! —

Day of the First Task: Luck and Ingenuity.

The sun shone hard rays down on New York's pavements, bringing beads of sweat upon those waiting in front of a school. Not just any school, oh no, this was the famed International Culinary School that New York's finest chefs graduated from. Cooking styles, ranging from the stylist French cuisine to the hearty Italian one while passing through the quaint Greek methodology were taught among these walls. The school branched out in California, Napa Valley to be more precise, Spain and Italy with plans of entering the French industry soon.

But right now, it was gathering a crowd on either end of the streets where the school was cornered. 462 Broadway Street and 123 Grand Street had been blocked by filming crews, security and anything else one could think of when there was a live program being filmed in the streets in broad daylight.

Right in front of the 462 Broadway Street Entrance stood ten chefs, all dressed up in their restaurant's uniform with the ensign for their restaurant or the symbol that represented them. Four women and six men, all aiming for the top of the ladder.

This season of The Next Iron Chef was a special one, where there would be an edited version and a live version. They were filming the live version for the adoring crowd who was cheering eagerly for one chef or another. Out on the street, two of the commentators was describing, in a random order, each chef as well as giving a brief little intro about them. They alternated between each chef to be able to consult their notes and be precise.

The first commentator was called Amanda Pine, a pretty brunette with those long English curls and big doe green eyes. It did help that she had a figure that would attract any sort of men. She was the one to start things off as she walked towards the first contestant who looked grand with his arms crossed, the red bandana covering his flat brown hair, while the golden ensign of a smiling pig head wearing a chef's hat and had a crisscrossing two-pronged fork with a big carving knife glittered in the sunlight.

"This here is Chef William Mitchell, Will for his friends and family, from the restaurant Golden Pig. Bold and brash, this typical Texan displays that same personality in his food, with eye-catching colors and innovating tastes. Hiding a gentleness and dexterity that surprised more than many when eating his cooking. From a small school in Texas, Chef Mitchell studied for five years under the tutelage of the great Gaius Smith at The Cooking Clinician. Chef Mitchell, why do you want to become an Iron Chef?"

Will grinned at the camera. "To show off that despite our brash nature, we Texans rule in the kitchen. By joining up with Iron Chef Cat Cora, us southerners will be a majority in the Elite. This will also show which student of Gaius Smith is the best." Turning towards Merlin, he bellowed. "That means you, Merlin Emrys. I'll be the one to reach the top while you'll be at the bottom watching me with hunger in your eyes."

Merlin just laughed at Will. "We'll see, Willy. I'll be the one to reach the top."

Amanda laughed, a small one that someone would make to diffuse the situation. "Your turn Frederich."

Frederich Pierson was an older man that still looked very charming for many. Salt-and-pepper hair, bright storm-grey eyes, he captivated his audience with a well-toned body as well. "Thank you Amanda. Our next contestant is a local, here in the wonderful city of New York, chef Arthur Pendragon, owner of the famed restaurant Camelot and who recently gained his third-star."

Arthur wore that very same uniform that Merlin had seen him seven weeks ago. His dirty blond hair swayed in the cool breeze, an oasis in this hot mid-morning event.

Frederich continued his introduction. "He graduated from the world-wide winning culinary school, Ashburton Cookery School in the United Kingdom and cooked for five years under the tutelage of Dave Thomas here in New York. Cooking seemed to be genetic since Camelot once belonged to Chef Pendragon's mother Ygraine Pendragon, née Tintagel from the famous line of Tintagel cooks that have said to have been in the kitchen of more than one monarch throughout history. Chef Pendragon, do you believe that you will be able to uphold the family legacy in this contest?"

Arthur laughed, making more than one women swoon in the crowd. "I'll certainly try. I may have gained my cooking skills from my late mother, but I've also inherited my father's bullheadedness. We Pendragons get what we want, when we want it. We never have to try."

"Thank you Chef Pendragon" The commentator stated. "Now your turn Amanda, who is the next contestant that you will present?"

"That would be this young lady, chef Sofia López. She was home-taught by her father, chef Alfredo López, after being cast-off from the Sidhe Escuela de Artes Culinarias in Spain. She is a also a co-owner of the Miami restaurant Deliciosos platos de hadas. The restaurant is aptly named indeed since once you taste a dish, you are enchanted for life to their restaurant. Chef López is known in cooking world as the Fairy Princess. A reputation that is truly well known."

Chef Sofia López smiled coyly at the camera, small dimples appearing on her cheeks as brighter than blue eyes shone. "Indeed it is, Amanda." Her voice was soft and sweet, just like the doll she was. "A reputation that will enhance once I become an Iron Chef so that the Sidhe Escuela de Artes Culinarias will recognize that the López family should be back on their roll of honor students. It is something that both my father and I dream to fulfill." She were a grey apron where a white-thread embroidery of a waiter-fairy stood over her heart. Depending on the angle you were looking, the fairy was either smiling or smirking, which was a bit scary if somebody thought about it closely.

"Thank you Chef López." Amanda smiled at the camera before the angle changed to go back to Frederich standing next to another female chef.

She was more timid looking than any of the other nine chefs standing straight and tall. Shoulder-length black hair was tied back in a ponytail that hung limply. She had a homemade apron, dusty, rusty, red color that muted her surroundings. Her ensign was a winged cat. The chef waived hello at the camera, her face a blushing red.

"This here is Chef Freya Riversong, who despite looking very shy is actually quite fearsome in the kitchen. Her sweet nature brings joy to those that eat in one of her two restaurants. Bastet is located in Washington, not far from the White House, while The Lady of the Lake, a more family type style of restaurant, is located in San Francisco with a magnificent view of the Golden Gate bridge." Frederich smiled at the camera while putting an arm around Freya's arm. "But that's not all, is it Chef Riversong? From where did you graduate?"

He brought the microphone towards Freya, an encouraging smile made her answer, in a surprising clear voice. "From the Institute of Culinary Education right here in sunny-side New York. I hope that by becoming an Iron Chef, I'll make my alma mater proud of what I have accomplished so far."

"Thank you, Chef Riversong." Frederich Pierson started to walk to the next person he was suppose to introduce as Amanda had already reached, and reviewed, hers.

"Next up is Chef Mitchell's rival, Merlin Emrys. As we have seen just minutes ago, the two ex-students do not seem to be on good terms. After graduating from The Culinary Cottage in Welsh, Chef Emrys gained the title of the Crafty Wizard for his decorating skills gained at Squires Kitchen International School." Amanda smiled at the camera some more. "He also owns a restaurant in Queens, Ye Olde Wise Dragon which upholds his reputation as a decorating genius."

She turned towards Merlin. "Chef Emrys, any words on what you expect in this competition?"

"Well, a fierce battle, that's for sure." Merlin replied, grinning from cheek to cheek that lit up the surroundings. His symbol was a rolled up dragon snoring on top of a plate. "I know that Chef Mitchell won't be going down without a fight, so that should be making things interesting."

"Yet both of you had fought together in a dual battle of Iron Chef against Iron Chef Cat Cora and Iron Chef Michael Symon."

Merlin laughed. "True, but that was three years ago. We had a small … falling out you can say. That's why, we'll be hindering one another if we can."

"Thank you Chef Emrys. Who is our next contestant Frederich?"

"That would be the lovely Chef Morgana La Fey, Chef Pendragon's cousin." Morgana smiled at the camera, more calculating than coy. She wore a full-bodied apron in white with a golden emblem of a crowned fairy holding in one hand a sword and in the other a very large fork. "The battle between rivals seemed to be a theme here, since we now have the famous Pendragon/La Fay rivalry as well. Chef La Fay is the top graduate from l'École Lenôtre in France before joining the Ritz to gain some experience. She has three restaurants opened, two of them in France, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and La Fée d'Avalon in Marseille. Her recently opened third restaurant Valhalla Valley is located in Richmond, Virginia. With that sort of résumé, wouldn't you consider your specialty to be french cuisine, Chef La Fay?"

Morgana's voice was molten gold, soft and sweet like cotton candy and roasted marshmallows. "Well, you could say that my cuisine is heavily influenced by the cultured French, but I think that my cuisine is more of a mix between French and Italian with a little bit of American in it. I think that it will help me branch out and find my own style very soon." She laughed delicately before sending a kiss to the camera. "Please cheer me on with your letters and ideas."

The crowd grew wild at the announcement, many men shouting their love for Morgana. That earned the ire of Sofia who wanted the attention on her. Morgana sent a smirk at the blond bimbo who only whined a lot. She hated that sort of chef that was only in for the money or the fame.

"Next up is Gilli Parker." Amanda told the cameras. "He may be an unknown chef, may he quickly rose to the top. His four-star restaurant, Swallow-tailed Amphibian has reached hights unknown in the culinary world. With just a few ingredients, Chef Parker has invented more than one wondrous dish with creative artistry never seen before. From where do you have such inspiration, Chef Parker?"

"My father mainly," Gilli answered calmly. "He was a great cook yet he never opened up his restaurant to share his cooking. I tend to change that situation, using my father's cooking skills he taught me, I am going to win this."

"Thank you Chef Parker. Who do you have on your end, Frederich?"

"Well, the one and only Chef Kilgharrah Nash!" The crowd grew wiled at the name. Kilgharrah was a man around his late forties, with copper red hair streaked with white and grey wounded so delicately together that it looked very distinguish. His ensign was on his right breast, a breathing lion that held a right paw in the air."As many of you know, the Kitchen Dragon, as he is known, is not only known for his four spicy-eating restaurants known as The Last Great Dragon, Draconic Draconis, Fire-breathing Barbecue and Dragon's Treasure, but Chef Nash is also that author of best-selling romance novel series Two sides of a same coin." Another great cheer came through the crowd coupled with high pitched fangirl screams to complete the deal.

"Thank you all for being there for me." Chef Nash exclaimed, his voice deep and profound. "While my passion is cooking, my hobby is writing. Which reminds me, there will be another novel coming out very soon, so stay tuned for Knifing Hearts who will be based on this competition."

"Kilgharrah! Kilgharrah!" The crowd chanted, the ones that were there at least, phones being whipped out to take photos and texted or twitted their friends for the information. Some of the girls were crying out. "We love you, Kilgharrah Nash!"

"Thank you Chef Nash. So then, I hope that the competition brings you great inspiration." Frederich said.

"Oh I'm sure of that." Chef Nash was watching two of the competitors with great interest. He sensed that they would be perfect to represent the next couple of his future book.

"And the next chef is …" Frederich Pierson trailed on, giving the anchor to his counterpart, Amanda.

"That would be All-American rising star, chef Brianna Ward. You haven't tasted real Chicken Tenders or even a Mac 'n Cheese until you tried hers at Democratic Delights."

The chef next to her was a tall, long-legged brunet, half of her hair was tumbling down free while the other half was in an elegant chignon held by one long strand of golden brown hair. Her big brown eyes twinkled of mischief and delight as a bright pink bag, decorated with black Hello Kitty skull-bones. Her clothes were more sober looking than the bright bag — most likely holding her cooking utensils — apart maybe for her apron which was a cheerful leaf green. Her symbol was yellow-gold: a waiving flag crossing with a sharp knife on top of a platter.

"Number one from a small cooking school, Seasonal Kitchen in Rochester, this chef quickly rose to the top, earning her fame by winning the best Chicken and Pasta Combination Contest, more preferably known as the CPCC. What delights are hidden under her cooking-hat? Mind giving us a peak, Chef?"

"Now now Amanda," Chef Ward told friend, they have known each other since that interview that brought Brianna to fame, "you know that I can't do that. All I can say that it is a great honor in being here and that I'm already having some inspiration for my next dishes."

"Still trying to write that book?"

"You've got in one. I'm still stuck on deciding what type of dessert I want to invent and write about." They shared a scheming grin.

"Better watch out folks, her dishes may sound weird, but they bring a heavenly touch." Amanda sent a wink to the camera with one of those big smiles that sparkled with her diamond-white teeth. "Who's your last contestant, Frederich?"

"Chef Elijah Peterson, standing right next to me." Elijah was a tall african-american man, who was more fit to be a runner rather than a cook.

"Hello to all of you." His booming deep voice rivaled that of Kilgharrah's, carrying far more than the latter, and enchanting the feminine company not far away. What was mesmerizing about him wasn't the giant black and red dreadlocks on top of his head, oh no. It was his bright green eyes, shaped a bit like a cat's. His clothes were grey-white — a t-shirt and some darker colored pants — and he too was carrying a bag. On it was a bright red flame surrounding an African mask — a Dan mask to be more precise — carrying a tray, that had an apron just below his long pointy cheek..

"Chef Peterson is a second-generation African-American. Nonetheless, his family is deeply entrenched in their roots and traditions, something that is reflected in his cooking. His spicy dishes bring flames literally to your mouth, which is quickly doused by his cool drinks and desserts. Be sure to stop by his café Desert Desserts or his restaurant Yam Yam Yum. His background is generally shadowed by the unknown, such as where he studied or who his family is."

"Thank you Frederich for that wonderful introduction. As for my family members, all that I can tell you is that Alina, my younger sister, is now taking care of my café while Thomas, her husband, is in charge of the restaurant. Now would be the time to see them, if you are so interested in my private life." His white teeth glittered in the sunlight, slightly menacing while facing the reporter while, at the same time, charming for the ladies.

With a small shiver running down his back, Frederich Pierson beat a hasty retreat back to the middle of the circle, soon joined by his counterpart, Amanda Pine. They smiled at their camera before Frederich started to speak once more. "Well folks, that's all concerning our contestants. Unfortunately, we won't be able to stay on the floor throughout this grand event. After and before challenges but not during."

"Don't worry, you will have someone whose commentaries are the best in the circle, in particular when it concerns Iron Chef battles. Now, let us present to you your culinary host throughout the competition." Amanda continued.

"ALTON BROWN!" Both of them cried out cheerfully, while waiving their free hand at the front door of 462 Broadway Street, otherwise known as the International Culinary School of New York. The glass doors opened in a flourish as a short-brown haired man strode out amidst a thunderous applause and cheers, rivaling any of the chefs introductions.

"Welcome all to The Next Iron Chef." Alton declared, his voice cheerful and energetic. The ten chefs turned towards the man, their face serious as to what was "Chefs, the Chairman has chosen each and every one of you since he has seen some sort of trait of an Iron Chef that you may possess. Be warned, that doesn't mean that you are truly qualified for becoming an Iron Chef, as nine of you will go home. Who will it be? Enter through these doors to find out."

With the cheers and hollers of the crowd, the ten chefs entered in the main room which, coincidently, was also a restaurant. Dainty white tablecloths of four or two seats tables, covered with only a small decorative vase with either a small white, green, pink or blue inked flower stood, spreaded out in even spaces around the room.

The group by-passed the room to go back to the school kitchens. There were ten cooking stations in total, each numbered in a certain order. On one side of the room was the gigantic pantry, stocked to the brim with vegetables, fruits and other products. On the adjacent side was actually a fridge for the fresh stocks of fish, dairy products and other such type of food. The third side held the pots, pans, cooking utensils and the diverse plats to carry the food for the judgement.

Alton Brown gathered the chefs around on of the tables, before setting down a small TV screen. Upon lighting it, the Chairman's face appeared.

"Greetings Chefs." He began his speech, the camera began to zoom out. The room where the Chairman was sitting in a dark blue room with a single beam of sunlight that lit around him. He wore a dark blue-grey suit with a red tie, his hair combed backwards with a fringe sliding on the right. "A good chef should be able to make something out of many different ingredients. An Iron Chef, on the other hand, must be able to create a dish out of any type of ingredient Fate brings to him. Let's see how innovative you can be, and may Lady Luck smile upon you."

The screen turned dark by the end of the message. Alton picked up the small TV to put it back in his in-suit pocket. "The next event will be separated into two tasks. The first one will decide who will get an advantage for the next tasks. The latter will result in a double elimination, so give it your all for the next two tasks."

He let the chefs think about it for a couple of seconds, letting the anxiety settle in a bit to get the adrenaline going. "The themes of these tasks are Luck and Initiative. Let's start off with the first part, shall we?" He gestured to a wooden box on the table, made of oak and had a slit, big enough for a hand, on the top. "In here are ten pieces of paper, numbered from one to ten. They represent two boxes full of ingredients, one in the pantry and one in the fridge. One by one, you will pick a number and bring those boxes to your stations. You have sixty minutes to prepare ten plates of one dish using all of these ingredients. Got it?"

Clearing his throat, he picked up the wooden box in both hands. "Ladies first." He stated. "Chef La Fay, if you would please come and take a number."

The dark-haired chef glided towards Alton Brown and picked the number three. Going to the pantry and then the fridge, the brought out two small, plastic blue and white boxes full of food that she placed at her station. She didn't open it yet, waiting for the signal.

"Chef Ward, if you please." The brunet had her hair completely arranged in a bun, using two strands of her hair to hold it in place. She got the number four and went to get her stuff as well.

"Chef Riversong." With cat-like grace, Freya picked out the number one. She blushed slightly from the intensity of the gazes before she went to get her mystery boxes of ingredients.

"Chef López." With arrogance oozing from her walk, Sofia received the number nine for her troubles. Troubles, yes, for she tripped all of the sudden in mid-air and fell flat on her pretty little nose, amidst the laughter of everyone in the kitchen. Scowling, she went to get her stuff.

"Now men, it's your turn to get a number." Alton said. "Chef Parker." The man smiled as he moved towards the box and get his number, an eight.

"Chef Peterson, don't hang in the back of the room and come pick a number." With a rumbling laugh, the older african-american walked to get his number. He was a bit further in the back with his friend, Kilgharrah. He got the number six. "You too chef Nash, come get your number." The number ten was drawn.

Alton peered at the last three remaining chefs. "Hmm, who should I choose now?" Seeing that Will was glaring daggers at Merlin, even if they were as far as possible from each other, and Merlin trying his best to be unflappable, Alton Brown decided on his next course of action. "Chef Mitchell, come pick a number."

Will, after sending one more glare at Merlin, went and picked the number seven. With angry strides, he went to his numbered station. At Will's back, Merlin sent a glare of his own.

"Chef Emrys, seeing that you are so energetic, why don't you come pick your number." Merlin got a two, placing him right next to Chef Freya Riversong. The two of them greeted each other politely before bracing themselves for what was to come.

"That would leave you the number five, Chef Pendragon. Get your things quickly for the first part to start. Remember, you need to cook ten plates of one dish. You must use every ingredient in those two boxes, nothing else a part for the salt and water."

Arthur complied, ready to open his chest full of goodies at the start of the clock.

"Chefs! Are you ready to cook? Yes, then the timer … starts … now!"

Ten boxes opened at the same time as the clock began to tick-tock towards the countdown. Taking out their ingredients, the chefs rushed to get their dish done in the giving time.

Chef Parker's ingredients: Salmon, Berries, Chicken Eggs, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Beef, Flour, Bananas, Curry Powder and Akane Red Apples.

"When I opened those boxes, my first thought was … what was I going to do." Gilli explained later on to the camera. Anchor Frederich Pierson was the one to interview him. "I mean, I would have made a dish with most of my ingredients. But curry powder? You can say that the curry powder threw a wrench as to what I could make, so that left to improvisation. I just hope that it will please the judges for my … well, it would be un-orthodox creation."

Brown eyes shone softly in the light, imploring the audience to believe in him.

Gilli started to hack big pieces of de-boned salmon, which took him a good ten minutes to do so, boiling it in a big pot full of water with the berries, the cherry tomatoes and the red apples.

Covering the top, he went towards his bananas to take care of them. Peeling all ten of them, he sliced them up in thick round pieces, before placing them on a pan to be roasted in the oven. The cucumbers received the same treatment, minus the oven part. Instead, they were salted on both sides and placed in a strainer in the sink.

The next step was to take care of the beef. The brunet had an interesting idea as to how he would mix the curry powder in the dish.

Alton cried out, "Thirty minutes have passed, you now have sixty minutes left to complete this first task."

Time was flying fast for what he wanted to do. In spite of all that, Gilli Parker wasn't his father's son in the domain of cooking.

He turned towards the next part: the frying of the beef.

Chef Ward's ingredients: Green Tea Powder, Powdered Rose, Lemons, Beef, Duck Eggs, Goat Milk, Cod, Tuna, Red Wine (a Merlot) and Cheddar Cheese

"I've never really worked with green tea or even with duck eggs." Brianna Ward stated when she was asked her thoughts about the challenge. "Oh! Let's not forget the goat milk in the lot, since it has a different taste than the usual Milk. So that makes three ingredients that I have to make work together, in ninety minutes."

She paused before adding sarcastically to the camera, "Lovely thought on a normal day, but in a competition like this?! That was the most difficult part."

Chef Ward had a small idea as to how she would mix many of her ingredients. She started her first two minutes by trying to find an idea to used everything. Once she was ready, she grounded her beef before mixing it with the rose powder, diced lemons, the shredded Cheddar Cheese and the green tea powder. A dish rag covered the bowl as it was placed in the fridge to rest.

Then, she put her cod in the goat milk before cooking her tuna with the Merlot in a saucepan. Half hour passed in such a fashion and she hadn't even prepared everything to her liking.

Looking to the side, she realized that Chef La Fey, despite her cool disposition, was also in a panic as the time passed by. Time to lit up the fires.

Chef Nash's ingredients: Topinambour, Dijon Mustard, Mango, Tabasco Sauce, Cinnamon sticks, Yoghurt, Clams, Mussels, Nuts and Pine Nuts.

"The main problem I had to by-passed was the clams and the mussels. Seafood has a specific taste that can be too easily overpowered. A problem that was hard to solve since I love spicing my food up. If I wanted to win this task, I needed to find the perfect balance for the food that I must cook and my cooking experience." Chef Kilgharrah Nash explained to the camera.

"That must have been very difficult to do, Chef Nash." Amanda announced in her microphone. "Was that the only problem that you had to encounter?"

Kilgharrah laughed as he scratched the back of his head, deep bellowing laughs that rumbled. "No, not really. My main problem was that somehow, my new book idea came to mind and I wasn't fully concentrated as I wanted to. Instead of giving a hundred and fifty percent, I've only gave hundred."

Both of them laughed merrily at the thought.

Kilgharrah Nash truly deserved his title of the Kitchen Dragon. With deadly precision, Kilgharrah peeled his topinambour before dicing them. He added it in a pot with the tabasco sauce to cook for a few minute. He prepared on a pan long slices of mango, nuts and pine nuts, all of this with grated cinnamon on top.

All of this while making sure that his station neighbor, Chef Sofia López, couldn't play foul in his space and recipe. The other chef barely avoided a swift, accidental, knife accident. Her doll face was pouting, disfiguring it with elegance.

Chef López's ingredients: Paella, Beef-heart Tomatoes, Black olives, Green olives, Turkey, Bacon, Mash, Honey, Olive Oil and Raspberry Vinegar

Her laughter peeled like dainty chrystel, joined by the lower, more gruff-like voice of Frederich. "Yes, I was quite happy with the ingredients I got. It was much easier to find a good dish using all of them, instead of trying to figure out what to do."

Her smile was both razor sharp and gentle. "I was lucky to have such a dish in my arsenal."

Sofia knew that if she was to win, she needed to sabotage her competition. A little slip of the knife here. A lot of cooking space used, even if it wasn't needed. Her idea was very simple.

All ready, her tomatoes had been cut open on the top and gutted. Beef-heart tomatoes were renown for their lumpy form and sizable size. She put it in to over to cook for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, she started on preparing the Paella, using water instead of milk. Letting it stew, she went on to the next phase of her recipe: the stuffing.

"Time?" She called out.

"Fifty minutes." It was Chef La Fey's voice that answered back.

"Thanks." She still had a bit of time before platting.

Chef Pendragon's ingredients: Matzot, Carrots, Peas, Onions, Turtle Eggs, Sugar, Chipotle, Leeks, Snails and Tripes.

"I thought that my luck was completely rotten when I opened my casket. I had the most varied types of ingredients, some of them which were pretty hard to cook and use." Arthur explained when he was asked his thoughts about the first part. "At least I still had my wits to try and go around this little obstacle. Alton Brown asked for one dish done ten times, that didn't mean that the dish couldn't be broken down."

The blond looked calm and cool.

Arthur had been dismayed at the ingredients he had. So he decided to not do only one dish, but he will break it down into many parts. He had been lucky to read a recipe using Matzot, even if he was in no way Jewish, thank you very much.

Reducing the pieces of Matza in a fine powder, he added the Turtle eggs, a bit of chipotle and water to mix the whole thing. Letting it rest in a fridge, it needed twenty minutes minimum, he chopped up the carrots and the onions to be put in a soup. The peas were soon added to the rest of the mix. He let it rest for a while.

He then went to make his second part of the dish. It took him a bit longer than needed to open and get the smooth flesh of the snail out of its shell. The tripe was easily cleaned and diced into very small, square pieces. Then, the leeks needed to be clean as the grilled started to heat up.

"Forty-five minutes left." He heard Alton Brown shout out. Arthur cursed slightly under his breath, he hadn't even finished his brochettes, while using the leeks as a skewer. His soup hadn't been finished, nor as he used his sugar yet! Not to mention the platting that was needed.

Arthur trudged on as fast as he could.

Chef La Fey's ingredients: White-horse Radish, Green Beans, Dark Sesame Seeds, Giant Shrimps, Quail Eggs, Duck, Clementines, Grapefruit, Cinnamon and Ginger Powder.

"My main strength lies in my French Cuisine. So when I saw that most of my ingredients belonged to my speciality, I know that I got lucky. All I needed now, was time." Morgana had the air of the cat that got the cream. "What I wanted to make would take a little time, something that was limited in this part."

She smiled, a bit like Sofia, even if her eyes were more calculating. She wasn't someone you wanted to mess with.

When the timer reached the forty-five mark, Morgana was half-way through her dish. The shrimps were cooked, gutted apart for the head and the tail, covered in the dark sesame seeds, and were now roasting slightly in the oven to keep warm as they were seasoned by the fumes of water and ginger. The latter had been in a pail which was then put in the oven.

The green beans, the radish and the duck were cooking in a different pot as the quail eggs were being hardened. All that was left was the salad fruit and the plating. She had the time, if it weren't for the burning smell coming from her oven! She had a small problem of Sesame Seeds that had burned to much!

Chef Peterson's ingredients: Beef, Beefs Tongues, Couscous Grains, Dahlia, Radishes, Eggplants, Chinese Grapefruits, Granny Smiths, Golden apples, and Roman lettuce.

"Couscous can be used in many shapes and forms. Thanks to that one simple ingredient, I could use most of the others ingredients, making it a bit more sweeter than the usual couscous that many people knew." Elijah Peterson speech was calm and steady. "The fruits helped in making the dish interesting, the Chinese grapefruit in particular. I had never encountered such a fruit in my life before, much less taste or cook it."

"So you would say that it was the most difficult part of the challenge?" Amanda asked gently, her eyes fluttering slightly, coyly, charmingly.

"Hmm, it could be the main difficulty. That doesn't mean that I, as a chef, can not give my all and try to accommodate the rest of my dish."

Dahlia was a type of flower with an excellent root to eat. Just to be sure he wasn't wasting an ingredient, Elijah had cut the head and already put them on a plate for the decoration, the bright white and yellow colors showing out from the glass rectangle plate. He then cut the roots in small square shapes that he tossed in a saucepan with the radish and the Chinese grapefruit to simmer slightly.

In a pot filled half-way with boiling water, he added large pieces of beef and the tongue to cook for an hour. In a different pot, also full of boiling water, he added a bit of salt and the large pieces of peeled apples. He was planning in making applesauce, with the two flavors of the apples combined — the sharp-taste of the Granny Smith would be tempered with the sweet Golden Apples —it would make things interesting at the first fork-full. Only a few rinds of both types of apples were left on the side.

Soon after, the eggplants had been washed, cut in half and de-seeded. They were surrounded by the previously abandoned rinds of apples to be grilled in the oven at high temperature.

Wiping his brow, Elijah Peterson saw that he had only forty-five minutes left before this task was finished. He still had a lot of work to do, and the battle had only just begun.

Chef Emrys' ingredients: Bitter Mash, Lychees, Un-salted Butter, Coffee, Pork, Spicy Sausages, Cornbread, Milk and Potatoes.

"In the literary or in the art world, opening a box brings usually very good fortune. It can also bring you extremely bad luck." Merlin was a cheerful lad, whatever the circumstances. His blue eyes sparkled with mischief.

"So what did you believe to have received when you opened your box?" Amanda asked the Chef with great interest.

Merlin gave a grin in response. "What do you think?"

With what he had, Merlin knew that the simpler was the better. So he started out with making some mash potatoes, using the milk, the butter before mixing it with pieces of the sausages and roasted pieces of bacons, thinly diced together.

When there were thirty minutes left, he went on in making his salad of de-pitted lychees, the pieces of cornbread, the roasted pieces of bacon and the bitter mash. He started out his plating, using a small white porcelain plate. On the outer ring, he used his salad as the greenery, while the middle held the mashed potatoes.

He created a tress of carved sausages, thin stripes of roasted bacon and the mash to devise a harmony with both rings.

As usual, his decoration was picture perfect, even if Merlin wanted to do something a bit more sophisticated then he was allowed to do. The time limit and the ingredients being big constraints to his desire. To bring the finishing touch, Merlin used the coffee as a beverage.

Chef Riversong's ingredients: Chestnuts, Salted Butter, Dried Jasmine Flowers, Pears, Turkey Breast, Corn, Red Peppers, Yellow Peppers, Kakis and Black Pepper.

"I thought that I was the luckiest candidate when I opened my box." Freya Riversong told her audience. "Sugar, spice and everything nice is my motto when I am in the kitchen. The fact that I had the same ingredient twice, with a slight variation of taste, made it less stressful in my opinion."

"Did your dish come quickly in your mind?" Frederich asked her gently.

Freya blushed at the question. "Yes, I did indeed, even if I knew that my peppers were different in tastes. "

Freya-the-cook was the complete opposite of normal-Freya! While outside she was sweet, nice and otherwise very gentle, … the kitchen was a battleground with her in the area. The good news, at the very least, was that she respected Chef Emrys' work as he did the same for her. That didn't stop her from shoving, cutting with flying knives, and take up as much space she could, all with much force and emotion to prove she wouldn't let herself be walked all over.

The pears were finishing up their soak in the Jasmine tea water as she started her plating. The baseline were steamed slices of yellow and red peppers, crisscrossing and alternating to make the colors come out more. The plate she used was a green rectangular plate curving in a half-circle. On top of that bedding of peppers, she added the still sizzling mixture of buttered pieces of turkey breasts, mixed with corn and chestnuts while being spiced by the grounded black pepper. Only a small space on the right-hand side was open for the small dessert she had made on the side.

Seeing that she had another five minutes left, she placed her pears, in the oven at extreme temperatures, covered in the small balls of black pepper. Her kakis had been cut in half, steamed then carved out. The pulp was to be used as a drink with the cooked Jasmine tea to give it a nice, refreshing taste.

"You have two minutes remaining. If you haven't started your plating yet, then you better do this now." Alton Brown called out for the remaining chefs. "Hurry, hurry, hurry!" The cheerfulness was underlined by a tinge of mockery.

Freya smirked, she had nearly finished with her dish.

Chef Mitchell's ingredients: Chicken, Bone Marrow, Rock Salt, Grape Tomatoes, Carrots, Onions, Raisins, Dates, Bananas and Red Delicious Apples.

"*beep* *beep* was my very first reaction." Laughed out Chef William 'call me Will, please' Mitchell for the camera. Frederich joined him as well. "I mean, I'm a meat guy, a Texan born, bred and raised. The chicken and the bone marrow? Not a problem, I love these types of ingredients. But give me the fruits and the vegetables? Aya! That was hard to find something interesting to use them."

Will's plan was going to be something simple, while at the same time, knock the judges of their feet. The first part would be a tomato soup, reducing the soup with a mixed past of carrots and onion. Then he cooked the pieces of chicken and the bone marrows in hot boiling water, before letting it simmer for the next hour in the soup.

While the soup was on the stove, he started to cook the dates and raisins in a bit of water as he put to dry the pieces of bananas and apples. Then, he mixed in a paste the dates and raisins before starting his plating. The paste was used as the bed for the dried pieces of bananas and apples.

The plate he used was a small square clear-glassed plate. On top was a light green bowl that was going to be filled with the soup. He finished it off by adding the rock salt on top of the bone marrow, to give a little crunch.

Will had just finished salting his dish when Alton Brown called out "TIME! Alright people, step away from your dishes. Nothing can be done now."

As soon as Alton called the time, everyone stepped back. They clapped and cheered at the fact that they had finished this first task. Then, everyone went to get refreshments, such as a much needed glass of water or going to relieve themselves before gathering them around the first table at the very front.

"Chefs, each of you had a box randomly assigned to you with ten different ingredients. The goal of this task was to see how innovative you were when you had to use all of the ingredients. I've asked you to make ten plates of the same dish since all of you are going to be the judge of each others creation. The winner will be giving an advantage for the second part of the task."

He stared down at them for a couple of seconds. "Alright," he declared cheerfully, "Chef Mitchell, why don't we start with your dish?"

"Thank you everyone." Will told his colleagues. "My dish is composed into two courses. The first one is the main dish, a tomato soup that is thickened with a paste of carrots and onions. Then, I added some pieces of chicken and the bone marrow to give it some flavor. The bone marrow is sprinkled with a bit of rock salt on top in the end to give it a little crunch."

He waited for everyone to taste the soup and give their opinion. He wasn't deceived as he received some compliments with his dish from nearly everyone. Merlin, of course, found something to criticize about.

"Your chicken hasn't been cooked enough." The chef stated with an air of finality. "It's still a bit raw in the middle, while the soup is a bit too overwhelming in flavor. A good try, but not Gaius material."

His comment was repeated by Elijah, who also agreed on the undercooked pieces of chicken and that the bone marrow's flavor got written off by the tomato's soup."

Will just grounded his teeth and didn't say anything. "My second course is dessert to use all those fruits. I cut up in long pieces the bananas and the apples that I put to dry. Then, I added on top a purée of dates and raisins which I diluted slightly with water to not make it too sweet."

"I particularly love the dessert." Chef La Fay complimented Will. "It has this slight crunchy texture that goes well with the sweetness."

"Next dish will be presented by Chef Peterson, if you please."

"As you wish," the African-American declared. "I got a lot of ingredients that went well with couscous, so that is the main composition of my dish. I made so it was both sweet and sour with a little bit of originality mixed in the lot."

"That's for sure," Brianna pipped in, "chinese grapefruit isn't something you would typically find in an Oriental dish, but it does give a good taste to it."

"Thank you, Chef Ward." Elijah Peterson acknowledged with a nod of his head. "I only used some of the juice of the grapefruit to link it with my second dish, a mixed salad with the radish, the dahlia, the grapefruit, grilled eggplants and dried apple rinds."

"Delicious, I can't believe that you found a way to link every part of your dish together." Morgana gushed happily. Arthur was edging away slowly from his cousin, when she had that sort of face, it meant that she was actually jealous of something. He did not want to see the repercussions of what she would do. "I assume that is why you put in some apple rinds, right?"

"That is correct, Chef La Fey, you are very astute." Arthur mentally wiped his brow, crisis averted with the compliment. At least Chef Peterson wasn't the type to get angry easily. "That is what I did for the dessert, since two of my ingredients are apples. I thought that an applesauce would be appropriate with a slight twist since neither are typical red apples that we generally use. Notice how the taste is different with two flavors being combined? That is because one type of my apples is more sour than sweet, which is compensated with my type of apple which is more sweet than the usual kind."

"This is really good," mumbled Kilgharrah, who secretly had a sweet tooth despite his obvious spicy cuisine. "Crunchy as well."

"I actually like how you decorated the plate." Merlin chimed in. "Especially since you didn't have to put in the dahlia after using the flowers as decorations."

Will just glared at Merlin, the tension being so thick in the air that the other chefs would be at fault if they hadn't noticed it … at all. The question being: was it an act for the camera or was there really a rivalry between the two of them? The general theory was the latter, since there had been rumors of Chef Emrys and Chef Mitchell not seeing eye to eye for quite some time. It was different reading it in the papers than seeing it.

"Chef Emrys, why don't you introduce us your dish." Mr. Brown decided, the tense situation giving him his next vict… target. "What did you cook with your boxed ingredients?"

Merlin's coffee made everyone smile as they needed the energy boost after this hard, nervous, task. As for usual, his decorations were perfect, starting off with his salad of dark green mash, the bitterness being balanced out by the decorations of half-oval white pieces of fresh lychees, linked by a more neutral flavor with the dark squared golden pieces of cornbread. To top everything off, he had added small rectangular pieces of extra crispy pieces of bacon to give it a little oomph to the whole dish. The next bite that Merlin recommended was the mashed potatoes to wash away the taste of the salad, with the small pieces of sausages inside for tastiness, the finishing touch being the roasted pieces of bacon on top. The last part of his dish was the tress of sausages and stripes of bacon to not only separate the two main components of his dish, but to bring about a sort of spiciness for those who liked that sort of thing.

The latter being the perfect excuse for Will to bemoan about, much to the ire and dismay of the other contestants. Why were they fighting so much?

Coughing, the commentator decided to make things move forward. "Chef Riversong, why don't you present your dish?"

"Um, alright then." Freya stated shyly. "Well, this is my dish, a bit more sweeter than Chef Emrys', at least I think so?" She blushed while mentioning Merlin's name, small glances heading his way to note his reactions. Indeed, her dish was more sweet, with a dual sensation of spiciness thanks to the black pepper. The downside being the yellow and green peppers which were cooked to much, loosing their natural sweetness and becoming to gorged of water.

Chef Ward's had a found a way to bypass the too many strong flavors that she had obtained through the box: by creating a crescendo of tastes with small pieces of her dish, all of this washed down by the bitter green tea, to make sure that each taste was different. The first part being the seared Tuna with an aftertaste of the red wine (Merlot if you wanted precision), followed up by the boiled cod in goat milk on top of which was slightly toasted Cheddar Cheese. The dish was finished with the hamburgers with a side order of diced lemons. Only one part of the dish wasn't liked, to many strong flavors were fighting in one small piece: the cod, which spoiled the tastes before and after.

Chef Gilli Parker's dish was a big, boiled, squared, piece of salmon, spiced with the berries and the apples that were in the water, de-gorged slices of cucumber as it's bed while two gorged cherry tomatoes laid on the side. Separating the fish part from the meat part was the roasted circles of bananas, slightly brown from the oven being too hot, thus the timing off to what they were suppose to be. Speaking of meat, the second part of the dish was the the fried beef that had a small taste of curry, as Gilli mixed the flour with the curry in order to spice the beef slightly, but not enough to overflow the taste of such a fine piece of meat.

Just as her vicious cooking style, Chef López dish wasn't sweet in any shape or form. On a bed of mash, bitter but not as much as the one used by Chef Emrys, dressed in olive oil, honey and the raspberry vinegar, was a lumpy beef-heart tomato had been gutted and cooked in the oven to make it more juicier. The filling was the cooked turkey and bacon mixed and mashed together, strongly flavored by the black and green olives. The latter practically overflowing the meat when tasted. Finally, to top of her plate, Sofia put on the plate a thick circle of paella, with one green olive and one black olive to decorate the yellow touch.

A more tempting dish would be that of the Kitchen Dragon. The main part of the dish was hot, while not burning. The mango-topinambour salad, with it's escort of nuts and pine nuts, was crunchy to the taste as the tabasco and cinnamon brought out their flavors. The mustard being used as a dip for the sort-of potatoes. Washing the taste down was the mango lassi, something that Chef Nash had made at the last moment. Finally, to finish everything, he had played a small amount of boiled seafood, that is to say, the clams and mussels.

The second-to-last chef presenting a dish was Chef La Fey. She went for something a bit Asian in taste, with the sort of ingredients she had received, she didn't have much of a choice. Although her main predisposition was French Cuisine, Morgana had the foresight to dabble in different cultures, just in case she could be inspired to develop her own personal dishes. This helped her try to win this round, much better then Chef López. On a clear, circle, glass plate, she laid a ring of green beans, a bed for the two rose-colored shrimps and two quail eggs, who alternated at the four cardinal points. They surrounded a the fruit salad composed of the sweet clementines, the sour grapefruits, the more neutral white radish, spiced by the powdered cinnamon and sesame seeds. On top of this delicious composition, she put a square breast piece of the duck, decorated with a round piece of yellow ginger. She received many more compliments than her other competitors.

Last but not least was Chef La Fey's cousin turn, Chef Arthur Pendragon, to present his own dish. He had separated his plate into two parts, the first one was the speared pieces of snails and tripes by the leeks, slightly caramelized by the grill. The second part was the matza ball soup that Arthur made from a recipe he had recently read, not long ago for fun. The chipotle made the matza balls pack a punch, much to the delight of the other tasters, as the soup smoothed their tastebuds over.

As the each chef presented his dish, all of them gave the opportunity for a small bickering fest between Chef Emrys and Chef Mitchell, the reasons being anything and everything. Despite the fact that they brought a comic relief to the first task, something that would make the audience go up for this episode if the statistics were true, they were quickly becoming a nuisance to the other chefs as the defaults of each dish was quickly pointed out in short and cold sentences (Chef Emrys') or violent and nearly-shocking sentences (Chef Mitchell's).

When all of the tasting had ended, on a clearly good note, if the looks and noises of contentment was an indication, Alton Brown spoke. "Chefs, now that you have tasted each other's dish, you are required to vote which dish was your favorite, and which was the one you disliked the most. Starting with the ladies, if you please."

One by one, each chef gave his or her favorite dish, sometimes giving a small reason as to why they liked said dish. A grand majority preferred Arthur's Matza ball soup with his skewered meat on the side, even if a few them loved Elijah's dish as well, mainly the dessert part. On the flip side, it was only by one point that Brianna's dish was considered the least favorite, mainly due to the clashing flavors she had to do for her fishes. Although, she was given bonus points for having such difficult ingredients to cook with. The other contestant that nearly lost was Chef López with her too aggressive flavor and cooking style.

"Since Chef Pendragon is the winner, you get an advantage for the next task." Alton Brown told them, quite seriously. "But first, word from our beloved Chairman concerning the next task." He gestured towards the small TV screen.

The Chairman was sitting on a table-stool near a roulette table in a casino. "Chefs, you have done a good job with those random ingredients you gained through luck. Now, let's see how you'll face in front of … winning your own ingredients. I'll let Alton Brown explain to you how your luck and ingenuity will be decisive in the next task. Good luck and do your best."

"Thank you, Chairman. Let's start with the first thing, Chef Pendragon, can you come up next to me?" Arthur complied quickly, still looking puzzled. "Great, now for the next round, you all need to be in teams of two. Chef Pendragon, since you won this round, you get to choose who will be paired with who. Choose carefully, since the team that looses will be eliminated."

The other chefs looked at each other a bit worriedly. All except for Morgana who seemed to be quite smug for some reason, the reason being somewhat clear to those who could rationalize. Thinking for a couple of seconds, Arthur had already two teams in his head.

"To start, I would like my cousin, Chef La Fey, to be with me. The second pair I want is Chef Emrys and Chef Mitchell." Pondering about it for a bit more, Arthur soon reached a decision for the other pairs. "I think I'll put Chef Riversong and Chef Parker together, Chef Ward and Chef Nash. Which leaves Chef Peterson and Chef López to be a pair." His logic was that he'll put the two last with the potential winners.

Most chefs were kind of happy with who they were with, except for Chef López who was glaring at the African-American, and the rival pair of Chefs. The latter were glaring at each other so fiercely that anyone with a screen could see the sparks fly between them. Pairs that wouldn't be able to work together, just as Arthur wanted it to be.

"Perfect, now here is how the second event will go. In a few moments, I'll be bringing you to a hotel not far from here who has been transformed into a casino for this special occasion. For the next hour, you will have to win your ingredients."

"Win our ingredients?" The indignant tone from Sofia was a bit amusing … for the other chefs, not for Mr. Brown.

"Yes, you'll have to win them, enough to create a five-course meal." The voice was a bit harsher as his eyes bore down in her own blue. "Your tokens will be your potential ingredients, all of your potential ingredients for each dish. So be careful what you use to play and how you use it to play it. Now, if you would please follow me, I'll be taking you to the hotel where the casino will be set up."

Two-by-two, the pairs followed the organizer, talking softly between them about what sort of dish they could try to do and what sort of ingredients they should win in total. They were too many variables to be completely certain as to what they would, should or could do. Fast pace conversations were held between the pairs that didn't get along — such as the bickering former apprentices or the hot-headed Spanish lady with her African-American partner —, while the other chefs seemed to have a somewhat good idea as to how they could put their skills and techniques together or even their luck, depending on the game they would have to play.

They walked to across the street, passing through the crowd of curious pass-buyers and the news vans. All of the chefs smiled and waved as they had a public image to uphold. The hotel was a nice one, grand and filled to the brim since it had been leaked where the second event would take place. Even if they weren't able to see what would happen, they would have the front row seats for when the chefs come out and see glimpses of what they would do. For the first part of the task, the ballroom had been changed to hold four games: two card tables (one for poker and one for blackjack), a roulette and a two coin slots.

"You will each have to play fifteen minutes per game, in whatever order you so decide. You can play by pair or separately. Before all of this starts, you will be given a bucket with tokens inside, some you may need, others you may not. You will be given twenty minutes to decide what you will want to do and which ingredients you may want to keep. There are pen and papers on the table here," Alton Brown gestured to his right side. "to help you set your course of action. They begin … now!"

The pairs rushed off to take pen and paper, then a random bucket, before going somewhere else so that none could hear their strategy. You could hear the clatter of the tokens as they were dropped to the ground. Some of the chefs cursed as to what they got, others were muttering quickly as to what they could do with most of the ingredients they had received.

Surprisingly, the only couple that was arguing fiercely was the one composed by the hot-blooded Chef Sofia López who clashed greatly with the more mild-mannered (not for long if this continued) Chef Elijah Peterson. Otherwise, the chefs each took another bucket so that they could separate their tokens to play with more ease. After twenty minutes have passed, a bell rang, signaling for the chefs to rush off, with their buckets, to their respective games.

"Tell me chefs," Reporter Amanda Pine started, sitting in front of Chef Mitchell and Chef Emrys, "how come you were angry at each other during the first task yet you seemed to have reconciled during the second?"

Merlin and Will shared a look, before laughing together quite cheerfully. Will gestured to Merlin, letting him speak first. "We were never angry against one another to begin with. We had a hunch that there would be a tag-team task. Hence the little act we put in place."

"Really, how so?" The blonde inquired.

"Easy enough," Will intervened, "if you look at the candidates, more than half had the potential to be a tag-team against Iron Chefs. Us who have had a draw, Chef Pendragon and Chef La Fey who are one hell of a team when they are together, and even Chef Nash and Chef Peterson who had the fortune of competing together and won."

"If you go by that logic, than there was a high probability that the Chairman had concocted a tag-team task, if not early on, then never. In the worse case, we would make others think we hate each other, thus sabotaging each other's cooking when possible, as we know each other's style." Merlin continued, smiling broadly at the little joke the two of them had played on the others.

"We were lucky that such a task happened early on, and that our act fooled Chef Pendragon." Will intervened before Amanda could ask another question.

"That's true." The reporter agreed eagerly. "And it was also very lucky when playing such games."

Will sent Merlin a Look. No one needed to know that to get through their culinary education, both Will and Merlin gambled a lot, illegally. So they did know a few tricks into winning, or loosing the tokens they want.

Sometimes, the best planning came on the fly, as Morgana and Arthur soon came to realize when they worked together on a project, much to the dismay of Uther Pendragon who raised them. To many times their plans would fall apart when they outlined their stratagems in great details, so they would plan the barebones and see what sort of ingredients they would get. The final planning would be during the twenty minutes where their ingredients would be gathered and placed at their respective cooking stations.

Fortune smiled favorably upon them, as Morgana won at blackjack a very important ingredient: a Mont D'or, a french cheese that was delicious when put in the oven to heat it, making the cheese inside the round all gooey and yummy on top of pieces of breads that people would dip inside. On top of that, they had won different types of bread, such a white bread, full-wheat bread and even a baguette that they could toast before putting on a plate around the Mont D'or. At least, that was the tactic that the two chefs were going to use, putting the cheese as one of the five courses.

Speaking of courses, Arthur and Morgana planned to have a mix of both French and English dishes. They planned a wide range of dishes in which they could use in various combinations when they had their hour of cooking to do. On the other hand, they both agreed on what type of dishes they would cook: a salad, a soup, a hot dish, a cheese dish — in this case, they would have the Mont D'or — and various small desserts, based on the same main theme.

It would be needless to point out how happy they were when they got a most gracious haul of ingredients. Many of them repeating, so they had less ingredients to cook with than what would seem at first glance. The two chefs were overjoyed by such luck.

Now, they only hoped that their cooking would be un-par to what would be asked of them, as would their decorations. Even so, the final judgement laid upon the shoulders of their still unknown judges. They still had approximately two hours before the results would be given, half of which will be used to cook said meal.

They weren't afraid of winning, as their experiences together would gain them that win.

When Arthur had put together Sofia and Elijah, he expected the Spanish Lady to bring down the African-American Man, he didn't expected for the move to be so well done. For the first ten minutes, the pair would bicker so much that, finally, in a moment of exasperation, Chef Peterson decided to split in half the dishes they would do. He proposed to Chef López that she do the first and third course, while he would do the second and fourth, while the fifth would be a simple fruit salad.

She rapidly agreed, much to his relief. The rest of the planning went much faster and easier after that. Astonishingly, Sofia put forward another idea to make things better: drinks to go with each dish. She was put in charge in trying to win the drinks that they might need. Seeing the dishes that they written, she had an approximate idea as to what to gain.

In order for them not to fight, they both agreed to try different games separately. That way, their partnership would work during this task, before they went back to being enemies. Chef Sofia López believed that she could survive such a task, even if she would prove that she was the master in everything. Chef Elijah Peterson just wanted for things to be over. He didn't care if he didn't win, he just wanted to be as far away as possible from this spanish harpy. She was most insufferable.

Chef Brianna Ward was aware that she wasn't that experienced compared to the others chefs. She was also mindful that she was put with Chef Nash in order to bring him down. Therefor, she graciously allowed him to be in charge, something the older man didn't hold over her as he tried to make them as equal as possible. She was grateful to that fact.

Kilgharrah had concocted the dishes in such a way that both their special cooking styles could appear without any problem. Leaving outside that, it wasn't as if Brianna was without any ideas of her own. Recalling some of her ingredients from the precedent task, Chef Ward put forth ideas for potential drinks that, at first glance, did not seem related to the dishes themselves. However, when Chef Nash heard her ideas, he quickly wrote the idea down.

For the last five minutes, the chefs planned as to how they could win the very needed ingredients and what to do if they did not have what they needed, allowing for possible contingencies. With two, willing, heads, it was much easier.

The menu, in itself, was quite diverse, starting from a simple dish of fish, followed by another simple one of soup, followed by Chef Ward's speciality (which was heavier than all five). The last two dishes were more lighter in name (an omelette and a cake), then in reality. They were still mouthwatering when imagining it from paper. Not counting the fact that each dish was flexible enough to have various ingredients depending on what they would win.

With light hearts and strong determination, they set out as the bell signaled the beginning of the games of luck, chance and, of course, determined their future in this high-risk competition. It wasn't as if the Kitchen Dragon wasn't skilled enough to help out a fellow candidate.

The last couple was quite unlikely in appearance: strong-headed Chef Parker and mild-natured Chef Riversong. After seeing the first task, the most observant people could see that Freya Riversong wasn't that soft-hearted when she was cooking, something that Gilli Parker was counting on. Which was he was extra courteous to her concerning the planning, he wouldn't want her to be his enemy while they were both cooking.

The menu was simple to put in place, with only the dessert being a bit more complex in nature — Gilli had quickly conceded when he saw how much Freya wanted to do such a dish. It mainly consisted of vegetables and of meat, specifically chicken, much to their surprise. Neither chef had counted on such a thing when they were in the strategizing stage.

"Oh, once last thing that I forgot to mention." Mr. Brown called out, surprising the candidates from their pondering. "You must have token ingredient per dish. I repeat, you must have one token ingredient per dish. That means that if you need salt for all five of your dishes, you will need five "salt" tokens to be able to do so. It doesn't matter if you have more. Sorry about that, I forgot to tell you this little rule earlier."

The chefs grumbled a bit, since they would have to be more specific in what they were aiming. Gilli and Freya just shrugged the thing off. Most of their ingredients were quite common to gain, they wouldn't need any special thing at all, much to their relief.

When the bell rang, Freya, the sweeter version, suddenly turned into Demon-version Freya. She wanted to win, and she would gain it by any means necessary, even by stepping on the corpses of her allies, or ally in this case.

One hour and thirty minutes later, back at International Culinary School on 462 Broadway and 123 Grand Street.

Each chefs were with their respective pairs, in front of their specific stations, with the number of ingredients that they wanted. For the most of them, they had gained what they wanted with little to no difficulty. For others, certain dishes had to be changed, which wasn't such a difficult thing to do since they planned for it. Zooming around them were the cameras that were filming their cooking, trying to not be in the way.

The pair being the most interesting for the audience being the most famed duo: Merlin and Will, after their little scheme had been revealed. In a fantastic work of art, the camera captured their seamless teamwork, Will working on the meat portion, such as the beginning of what seem to be a hamburger and the glazing of thinly-sliced pork. He then started to clean some large salad leaves, while, at the same time, boiling an egg, cleaned the different tomatoes before starting on his sauce béarnaise.

Meanwhile, Merlin was starting the competition by mixing flour, honey, butter and eggs before putting it in the fridge. He then started to chop the peppers — red, yellow, green and orange — in small cubes before putting in a pan with a little bit of water, in order for the food not to stick. He then added some mango to the lot, to add some sweetness to the next part. As the mixture sizzled in delicious aroma, he started to clean and cook some small shrimps, before frying them in a mixture of eggs and flour. Merlin

The station behind them was the one of Arthur and Morgana, the cousins also having a good teamwork, as they shared the tasks for their many dishes. To begin, both of them were over the stoves, cooking the various ingredients that they would need. Such as the boiling of the mushrooms, the eggs, the potatoes, the green beans and the crozets, oversaw by the regal eyes of Chef La Fey as she started her béchamel sauce in a small pot not far away. Next to her was her handsome cousin, Arthur, sizzling away the onion, the shrimps and black mushrooms. Next to the pan, Chef Pendragon was cleaning the red onions that he sliced before putting in a bowl on the side, he then cut the vine tomatoes in quarters and the pickles in slices. On the side, the salmon and the tuna looked eye to eye, ready to be de-boned and cooked according to their respective dishes, as the shrimps were put in boiling water by the French-oriented Chef, who then drained and peeled the eggs, that she cut in quarters before putting them in a bowl. They only had an hour to prepare this five-course meal and they will do an excellent one.

The separation of their dishes worked wonders on their teamwork, at least, it was like that in Chef Peterson's eyes. He started by cooking his chicken in the spices he needed for a Orange and Chicken Couscous, such as the saffron, the paprika, the salt and the pepper with some orange and lemon juices, to give it a little taste. As he let it simmer, Elijah started on his carrots, onions, tomatoes and potatoes that he cooked with the pepper, the chili and the salt. Nearby, hot water was boiling for his medium-sized couscous grains. Chef Peterson also noted that his ingredients were on stand-bye for his spicy salad.

As her partner worked, Sofia was preparing for her first course, a varieties of tapas that Spain was known for, with the traditional guacamole, the nachos that she was starting from scratch and a spicy potato salad she thought would be good. In her mind, she was already reviewing what she would need for her paella. The clock was ticking and she needed to act quickly in order to prepare the dessert they agreed upon. She wanted to be the one brought forward in the judges' eyes in order to win the next rounds. She will win the title of Iron Chef in order for those cursed Sidhes rue the day they dared cast out her father and her. With even more vigor, she turned back to her cooking, pouring in all her resentment and anger.

Chef Ward was gladly dancing at her station, preparing her favorite dish that would definitely help the pair win. She started by preparing her pasta dough, before helping out Chef Nash as she laid the dough to rest. Her job was to take care of the soon-to-be richly made tomato soup while her onions were searing not far, she needed them to be nice and sweet. She also needed to watch the time in order to prepare the dessert.

Keeping an eye on the potential chef, the elegant man started on his salmon salad, a quirky little dish which he think would bring a smile to any taster. The trick was to infuse the water to cook his salmon with red berries, black pepper, rosemary, rosebuds and thyme. Their was also an exquisite smell of garlic being mixed with a great variety of seafood. The camera recorded the sure ways the Chef moved in his kitchen, enhanced by his less-skilled (though, by experience only) teammate. The knife danced across the board as the melody of the stoves accompanying him, among the dancing steam. This was a true master at work. Yet, the question remained as to whether or not he was an Iron Chef material.

Chef Parker thought that he couldn't be more afraid of Chef Riversong after seeing her gamble. He was wrong. Completely and utterly wrong! Thankfully, he knew how to pick and choose his fights, therefore, allowing her to boss him around in the kitchen … in a matter of speaking. Freya had divided what they would do, ordering him which dish he had to choose. Somehow, Gilli could hear the music of Mission Impossible playing in the background as he chopped nearly all of the vegetables, putting a priority on those that had to be simmered, cooked and stewed (in that order) as a priority. Chef Riversong, on the other hand, was concentrating in creating a faster-version of macaroons for the dessert, testing some chemicals that she had brought with her in her bag. Very soon, the only thing to truly concentrate would be the curry, as the rest was faster in cooking, the complete opposite of the preparations needed.

Absorbed in their tasks, the pairs still kept an eye on the clock. A helpful Anton Brown kept calling out the time every fifteen minutes, with a stressful encouragement to boot. The commentator would also patrol to the different stations in order to comment on the procedures, as well as asking questions as to what the chefs were doing. If was incredibly distracting.

The worst part was the cameras who would be bothering the chefs as they zoomed in and out of the pots, pans and bowls for the amusement of the audience. Still, being the one in from of the cameras gave a boost of adrenaline that no spectator could have from behind a screen, even if you could feel it. It was euphoric, if you know how to use it of course.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAND … TIME!" Cried out Commentator Brown. "Leave your plates alone, no additional details can be added. I'm talking to use Chef López."

Sofia jumped slightly as she had added a last-minute spice to the dish. She had, at least, the decency to blush red among the chuckle of her competitors. Inwardly, she seethed at, what she perceived to be, mockery. She would show them, all of them, as she will win this competition, before discrediting all of them.

All of the chefs clapped and cheered each other on, in a good show of sportsmanship. Yet, if one would to look closely, one could see that the pairs that stuck together the most was the one with the two friends and the one with the two cousins. The others were more polite towards one another, as friends during a harsh trial would do.

"Follow me please, I will introduce you to your judges. Then, you will be called two-by-two to present your dishes. I wish you all luck."

It was a short walk towards the restaurant part of the International Culinary School, where tables have been put together for the three judges: a woman and two men. Each and every one of them famous in their own way in the culinary world.

"Let me introduce to you your judges." Alton gestured at the man all the way on the right.

He was a man in his late fifties, early sixties, with salt-and-pepper hair and a small beard, grey-blue eyes and a kind disposition written all over his face. "This is Iseldir King, leader of the group The Druids, who spearheaded the mouvement of mixing cooking with healing properties. It doesn't matter how the dish is cooked, only that it must have a healing property." Mr. King smiled and gave a small wave to the contestants.

The next person, on Iseldir's left, was the woman. She was tall, blonde, thin with sharp cheekbones, highlighting her icy brown eyes, which was further accentuated by her grey eye-shadow. "This is Morgause Delanoé, a former model for Vogue in France before taking over her family's food brand Gorlois. She has also written two cookbooks, one of them being a best-seller, Simple Dieting Recipes for All." She gave them all a arctic-cold nod, her eyes barely softening as she gazed at Chef La Fey.

Alton Brown finally gestured towards the last person of the group. A man over seventy, with thick white eyebrows who overshadowed his kind brown eyes. He held himself with grace and strength, almost noble in his demeanor. "This here is Anhora Rhoan, CEO of the food chain Gedref's Unicorns. He is also the owner of the magazine A Maze of Food, who helps everyday restaurants gain a measure of fame by writing articles about them, according to a theme that changes every month. Mr. Rhoan runs a nonprofit organization for the endangered species and their natural habitats." Just like Mr. King, Mr. Rhoan also gave the chefs a smile and a kind wave. His gruff demeanor brightened slightly.

"Let's be a bit unorthodox here. Who would like to go first?" The food commentator asked the chefs, gazing in their eyes one by one and slowly. "Yes?" He noticed Chef López bounce on the ball of her feet. "Chef López, Chef Peterson, do you both volunteer?" Elijah, not seeing any other choice, nodded his agreement. "Great," Alton Brown clapped once, "then let's get started."

Menu for the Peterson/López pair with the ingredient:

- Tapas: cornflower, avocado, milk, tomato, potato, flour, eggs, black pepper, salad, cayenne, sunflower oil, corn, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and chili.

- Orange and Chicken Couscous: oranges, chicken, saffron, couscous grains, carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, chili, lemon and pistachio.

- Seafood Paella: mussels and clams, rice, saffron, almonds, nuts, giant shrimps, cod and dried corn.

- Spicy mixed salad: cucumber, egg white, spiced yolk, tomatoes, cayenne pepper, red pepper, green pepper, preserved lemons, black olives and salt.

- Fruit salad: banana, mango, apples, raisins, oranges, clementines, peaches, strawberry, lemon juice, apple juice, peach juice and a dark chocolate for fondue.

"Chefs, please present what you have made for us." Alton Brown invited them. Elijah, ever the gentleman, gestured for Sofia to start. She complied readily.

"To start off, I thought that you would be delighted in trying some tapas from my home country. I prepared three classical ones for your pleasure."

In front of each judge was a green, rectangular plate, where three tapas stood, the size of a mouthful, placed in each angle. There was an omelette with visible pieces of potatoes, corn and tomatoes, some nachos in a pile next to a dipping bowl filled with guacamole and finally some avocado soup.

"I would invite you to start off with the tortilla, or omelette if you want to be more technical. Careful, it is slightly spicy as I added some chili in it." The judges ate them, Mrs. Delanoé wrinkling slightly her nose after the first bite. Sofia didn't notice it, but Elijah did. He wondered what the Spanish blonde chef had done for such an action.

"The next one is the traditional nachos with the guacamole, which is a mix of avocado and tomato, please dip them at your leisure." Once more, the judges tried the tapas, making noises of agreement as they ate. "And finally, I would like you to cool down for a bit with the avocado soup. I hope that this is to your liking."

"Very nicely done, Chef López. Although, I believe that my tortilla was slightly soggy, I don't about my fellow judges …" Mrs. Delanoé trailed on, looking at the two men.

"Mine was alright." Mr. King stated. "But, it would seem that I fell on a too spicy bit for mine. Was it intentional?"

"No Mr. King, it was not. The chili must have gathered in a specific place for I only wanted to give it a taste to it. I am sorry that you fell on such a piece." Sofia simpered slightly.

Chef Peterson grounded his teeth, discreetly. That little fool would antagonize the judges with her talking. Anyone with an ounce of common sense could see through her act of modesty!

"My tortilla was well done, I congratulate you on it." Mr Rhoan told her with a no-nonsense sort of voice. "I would recommend that you salt a bit more your avocado soup or add pepper instead since it is a little bland. But still refreshing."

Seeing that the three judges have finished giving their opinions, Alton Brown intervened. "What about the next dish?"

"That would be my turn." Chef Peterson stepped forward as his partner stepped back. "For your pleasure, I give you a Orange and Chicken Couscous from my own culture. It isn't the traditional recipe since I decided to make some improvements to it. That is why you have the traditional couscous in your plates, with the chicken being cooked on the side with lemon juice, chili and the oranges to have the taste. I added the pistachios in the end to give it a little crunch to the whole thing, as well as linking it with the classical version of the dish."

In a white, rectangular bowl, was the dish. On a bed of grains, Elijah had added the vegetables of the couscous, mixed with the shredded pieces of the chicken, creating a sort of salad looking dish. He had added a tiny bit of the broth/sauce, just enough to dampen the grain and give it some taste, but not enough it to drown the whole dish in. On top of the mound were grossly chopped pistachios, giving a dash of green on the plate, among the pale flesh of the chickens and the reddish color of the rest of the couscous. In a glass on the top right of the dish was an orange and lemon juice that Elijah had freshly pressed himself with the rest of his fruits.

"Delicious, most scrumptious." Mr. King told the chefs with a large smile. "I particularly like the added pistachios for the crunchiness that they bring out."

"I must agree with my colleague. The drink was also a nice touch since it also links with the dish." Mr. Rhoan added as well.

Mrs. Delanoé didn't say anything, but her thoughtful expression didn't seem to be too against the dish. At least she wasn't making a face, even one that could be carefully hidden as Chef Peterson was watching her like a hawk.

"Next dish, if you please."

"That would be my Seafood Paella, sir." Chef López took back her place in front as she was proud of this particular dish. "It was something that my father and I often made together and I was lucky enough to win all of necessary ingredients. I hope that you will like it as much as I do. Also, to satisfy your first with such a dish, I have provided you a two thousand and eleven Bodegas Borsao Garnacha, a Spanish, red wine."

On a a pale orange plate, rectangular in shape and slightly hollow was the saffron-colored rice with a multitude of different tastes. There were mussels and clams on the very top for decoration with their gleaming shells of white, silver and grey, mixed with big, pink, pieces of shrimps and the white ones of cod. The latter having a slight golden shine to it due to the the saffron spice. To give it some more crunch, like the dish before hers, she had added dried corn, crushed almonds and nuts.

"This is tasty. Crunchy too." This comment was surprising since the one to say it was Mrs. Morgause Delanoé. She appeared to be thoughtful as she chewed on the rice.

"True." Agreed Mr. Rhoan. "Yet, I believe that the wine does not go with this specific paella. It would have been better to try and get a pink or white wine since a red overwhelms the taste of the seafood. A good try though as the spirit of the drink goes well with what the dish represents."

"Understood." Elijah interrupted before Sofia could antagonize one of the judges that were on their side. "We will remember that the next time."

"And you, Mr. King?" Alton wanted to know. "Anything to add?"

"Nothing that my fellow judges haven't already said. A good dish with taste, texture and a nice visual. I am looking forward to what your next dish will be."

"That would be a spicy mixed salad where I thinly chopped many vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, cooked tomatoes, black olives and preserved lemons. To make this salad different, I added pieces of egg white and spicy yolks." Chef Peterson continued from his place, letting Chef López have her spotlight of glory. His mixed salad was in a large, clear, glass on top of a white, circular plate, to show of the colors of his salad.

"Just as spicy as the omelette we had in the beginning. A nice parallel between both dishes that highlight your teamwork." The CEO, Mr. Rhoan seemed to muse. "It is also a good touch to mix in white and yolks with the vegetables."

The other two judges "nodded" their agreement. The term could be used loosely as Morgause remained impassive as ever.

"Finally, for dessert," Sofia spoke again, "we have a fruit salad to cool your tongue as well as a multi-fruit juice for drinks. "

The fruit salad was placed in a blue-and-white bowl in big pieces. The mixture of colors were pretty together, shimmering slightly from their juices as they were freshly cut. In the middle of the table stood a chocolate fountain where dark chocolate trickled down in beautiful waves of dark brown. Special forks have been provided to dip the fruits in the chocolate.

The judges didn't say anything, but wrote down what they thought in their notebooks. "We thank you for your delicious meal, Chef López, Chef Peterson." Morgause spoke up. "It was most interesting."

"Sirs, madame." The two chefs answered back, before turning around and leaving the room.

Alton Brown waited for a few moments before calling out the next pair. "Chef Pendragon and Chef La Fey, you are next."

"The judges' reactions seemed to be quite positive, don't you think?" Adam Pierson asked the pair in front of him.

"I hope so." Chef Peterson stated. "Our dishes were quite varied to allow the judges to like a certain aspect of our course."

"Besides, our cooking is the best, so we will definitely win." Chef López charmed towards the camera. "I doubt that the other candidates could ever beat us." With a flick of her wrist, she placed her braid on her back.

"… It would seem." Adam hesitantly agreed.

Menu for the Pendragon/La Fey pair with the ingredient:

- Salad Niçoise: eggs, tuna (canned), green beans, vine tomatoes, pickles, raw tuna, potatoes, corn, vinegar, salt, black pepper, sunflower oil and sesame seeds.

- Mushroom Soup: milk, butter, salt, pepper, mushrooms, red onion and camembert.

- Croziflette: crozets, crème fraiche, emmental, salmon (fresh and smoked), shrimp, black mushrooms, onions and a large piece of reblochon.

- Mont D'Or: six cereals bread, baguette, full-wheat bread and a Mont D'Or.

- Divers petits tiramisu: mascarpone, lady fingers, coffee, Amareto, cocoa, raspberry, cherry, strawberry, eggs, banana, mango, coco fruit, vanilla powder, rum and raisin.

"Chefs," Commentator Brown gestured regally with his hand, "please introduce us to your dishes."

"Thank you." Arthur spoke up after conferring with his cousin with looks. "Sirs, madame, let's start off with a nice little salad from France. It's not the traditional one since their is no salad leaves, hence the name of salade niçoise." Arthur stated the name in perfect French, with nary an accent in sight.

Said salad was in a large, white, porcelain bowl. Unlike the classical salad, a salad niçoise was made by putting together many different ingredients that was interesting such as green beans, pickles, tuna, potatoes, corn and sesame seeds. Arthur and Morgana had done all that for their salad as well as adding quartered hard-boiled eggs and cut vine tomatoes. They had gained two types of tuna: canned and raw. The latter being slightly cooked while being sprinkled in sesame seeds. To finish off the salad, Arthur made a vinaigrette to give it taste.

"Interesting." Morgause muttered to herself, while marking something down on paper. "Very interesting."

Arthur gulped at the sight he saw. The former model looked like a shark.

"It is very good. Nice and fresh, easy on the taste buds, healthy to eat. I like this salad a lot." Iseldir King voiced his own thoughts.

"If you liked this dish, then please try the next one, a mushroom soup." Morgana spoke out, wanting things to continue to go smoothly. The thick, grey soup was put in a porcelain bowl that was smaller and white with some blue swirls on the side. The bowl had been placed on top of a small, rectangular, white plate where two pieces of camembert cheese were placed on the side.

The judges didn't say anything. Simply writing down their thoughts on their notepads. The hmm of contentment was either very good or extremely bad. Which one it was, neither Arthur nor Morgana could say. They could only hope.

"Our third dish is what we call a croziflette." Morgana continued. "It's actually the same thing as a tartiflette except that we replaced the potatoes by some crozets." She gestured towards a large brown pot — the bottom half being a shade lighter in a more beige-like tone than the upper, darker half — had a wide brim covered by a slab of cheese. "We added some smoke salmon, some fresh one, shrimp and black mushrooms to the mix in order to elevate the taste. Otherwise, we kept the same recipe."

"Just one question comes to mind," Mr. Rhoan stated just as soon as Chef La Fey had finished her little speech. "Did you both work on this dish?"

"Yes sir." Chef Pendragon acknowledged. "Since we both our strengths and weaknesses, it was quite easy to complement our cooking styles. We decided to angle for a more seafood, french cuisine and from there we separated the tasks to maximize the time we have."

"I see. With a lovely touch as well on the standard recipes."

"Indeed, they did." Mr. King agreed with his fellow judge. "I hope that the next parts will just as interesting."

"Well then, I am pleased to announce that we were lucky enough to win a Mount D'Or." Morgana continued. "If you would please take your favorite slices of bread to dip in the hot cheese."

The Mount D'Or was a large, round, cheese on a white platter that had an orange outline. In front of every judge was an orange plate, with a white outline, where three thick slices of bread of different types: six-cereals, baguette and full-wheat.

One-by-one, the judges dipped a piece of bread in the cheese, making sure to have a bit of the upper crust on it. The tasty morsels were swallowed with a smile from all of them.

"And finally, to finish up everything, we have some small desserts for your pleasure." Arthur finished the discussion, quite proudly. "This is the Pendragon and La Fey's speciality."

The desserts, five of them, were in little glasses on top of a blue plate. All of shared the theme of tiramisu, an italian dessert strangely enough. The first one was the classic tiramisu of Amareto and cocoa, the brown powder contrasting nicely on top of the white foam. It's counterpart was the vanilla flavored tiramisu, with a hint of cocoa on top, although the majority of the sauce on the bottom was a pale yellow, like the the flower of the flavor. The three others were a banana-mango-coco tiramisu, a rum-raisin tiramisu and a raspberry-cherry-strawberry tiramisu.

"To compliment the dessert, we also made a kir." Morgana added proudly. She had the right to as she was the one to win the white wine and cassis cream.

"An ending on a good note indeed." Morgause Delanoé pointed out softly. "An ending on a good note."

"You could say that again." Mr. King spoke while taking another small bite of his vanilla tiramisu. "Too bad you can't give me a second helping, otherwise I wouldn't be able to take another bite of the the other contestants meals."

The two men shared a laugh as the woman scoffed slightly.

"Our next course has been prepared by Chef Nash and Chef Ward." Alton Brown told the three judges.

"So, how does it feel for two cousins so close as you are competing against each other?" Amanda Pine questioned the pair with interest.

"Us? Close?" Morgana laughed lightly. "We may be cousins, but we know when to lock those feelings away during a competition. Ever since we were little, we have always been rivals, one way or another. Cooking just being the longest term hobby."

Arthur gave a small smile at his cousin, his demeanor still staying neutral. "That's true. However, it is thanks to you, Morgana, for helping me re-dress Camelot back on it's feet. Without your fierce attempts in defeating, which didn't happen let me tell you," Arthur told the commentator laughingly, "I wouldn't be at this high level."

Morgana twirled a strand of her beautiful brown hair thoughtfully. "You should be thanking me, Arthur. That means you will be taking me to the newest Channel store in town after this is done."

"We'll see, Morgana, we'll see. You'll have to be an Iron Chef for me to do that."

The trio laughed in good cheer.

Menu for the Nash/Ward pair with the ingredient:

- Rosemary Salmon salad: red berries, black pepper, rosemary, thyme, water, potatoes, salt, olive oil, Romanian salad, cucumbers, nuts, cherry tomatoes and rosebuds.

- Tomato soup: Tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, milk, black pepper, basil, flour and eggs.

- Macaroni and cheese: flower, eggs, mimolette, emmental, mozzarella, salt, garlic, onion, olive oil, butter, milk.

- Seared cod and Omelette: tuna, salmon, garlic, shrimp, eggs, milk, sunflower oil, surimi, mussels, clams, salt, black pepper, cod, butter, basil, thyme, black olives and green olives.

- Chocolate and raspberry cake: flower, eggs, sugar, yeast, chocolate, raspberry, cocoa, cherry jam, strawberry jam, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and whipped cream.

"Hi there." Chef Ward chirped energetically. "To start off, I propose a fresh salmon salad. The salmon being cooked for a long time in rosemary, thyme and red berries."

Chef Nash placed a calming hand on her arm to stop her from literally bouncing up and down. "We also added potatoes, nut, tomatoes and cucumbers. We put a vinaigrette on the side for those who want it."

"And we have some delicious rose tea for you to drink with." Added Chef Ward.

The salmon had been shredded into large pieces on top of the mentioned ingredients and a bed of salad. The plate holding it was a small, white, bowl on top of a large plate that also held the small cup of vinaigrette and three small, beautiful, rosebuds. The teacup was also a porcelain white with a bouquet of three, small, rosebuds painting.

Waiting for the judges to eat their dish, Brianna and Kilgharrah shared anxious looks between them. Somehow, during the last two hours and a half, the younger chef had found a mentor in the older one. Once the competition was over, Chef Nash was planning to give Chef Ward an opportunity to work together.

Once the judges finished eating, Brianna stepped forward. "Our next dish is a simple tomato soup." She announced quite cheerfully. The simple soup was in a dark pink bowl. The red liquid was strewed with translucent pieces of onions, orange carrot ones and a couple of green basil leaves on top with the black trail of pepper. Since she had made the third dish, Brianna added some part of it into the second one.

"I love a good tomato soup, reminds me of my childhood." Anhora Rhoan stated in-between spoonfuls. "Especially with the pasta."

The pasta in question were small and round. To speed up the drying part, Brianna had but them in the oven at high temperature for a very short time.

"Some of them are overcooked, the melted pastas lowers the quality." The former model sneered slightly at her present spoonful that held the unfortunate problem.

Chef Ward looked slightly bashful as she did try to make every pasta the same size with the dough she had. She hadn't planned on making some of them to small.

Her partner sent her a reassuring look, she hadn't a mistake that they couldn't catch up. "We'll be sure to not make the same mistake again." He announced, his voice clear and strong.

"See that you do." The reply was cold and swift.

"On that note, why don't you present us your next dish." Alton Brown tried to diffuse the situation.

"I am proud to present to you Chef Ward's speciality: macaroni and cheese." Kilgharrah announced, pride leaking in his voice.

"A bold choice." Curiosity came from Iseldir King. "How did you come to such a decision?"

"Luck. Winning all of those ingredients helped a lot in our decision, even if we had a pasta dish planned out." The female chef answered. "We were very lucky to have all the ingredients I needed, hence my signature dish."

"At least this goes well with everything else you have made." Judge Rhoan acknowledged. "A very good combo so far."

"Which would, hopefully, be continued with our fourth dish of this course: seared cod with an omelette on the side." The male partner announced. "I would recommend that you start off with a bite of the cod before tasting the omelette."

Staying on the porcelain them was a large, rectangular plate with light blue and yellow striations going from left to right and up to down. The slice of cod was slightly colored from the butter, the basil and the thyme were used for the flavoring. Around it were green and black olives that were cooked with it. Next to it was a small, round and thick omelette with tuna, salmon and shrimp cooked in it. Finally, in between those two parts was a small garlic-butter salad of mussels, clams and surimi.

"As much as I liked all of your previous dishes, this one is quite strong in taste and ingredients." Morgause spoke out. "Explain yourself." It wasn't an order.

She sent an icy, frosty glare for good measure. Seeing that Brianna was slightly intimidated, Kilgharrah decided to answer. "Again, since we had to use every ingredients that we won through those casino games, we had to improvise. So here is the improvisation for all those ingredients we had to use."

"An excellent answer, don't you agree Miss Delanoé?" With Mr. King's sentence, he had effectively steamrolled the other judge's malice.

"Excellent improvisation as well with those ingredients. There weren't the most easiest to boot." Mr. Rhoan added, looking for an opportunity to shut his fellow judge up as well. As more time passed, the less he liked her. "What's for the dessert to finish everything up?"

"A scrumptious chocolate and raspberry cake, if you don't mind me saying." Brianna declared. She gestured to their blue and white plates where their slice of cake laid.

It was a three layered cake with a mixture of dark chocolate — third and first layer— and milk chocolate inside, glued together with a cherry jam for the third and second layers while the strawberry jam was for the first and second one. Chips of white chocolate strewed the top part of slightly bitter cocoa cream, bestrewed with big, juicy, red raspberries. The finishing touch was the small flowers of whip cream: one on each slice.

"For those of you who are thirsty, we have prepared some green tea to go with your dessert." She finished. The cup had no handle, just like the japanese style, it's blue color gradually turning to a lighter shade as you go nearer to the rim. The bitter taste went quite while with the sugary confection. Brianna had yelled in happiness when she won that particular ingredient since she wanted to use it once more.

"I'm beginning to regret that I can't taste any portion of the meal, the dishes are looking better as they pass by, if my noise doesn't deceive me." Alton Brown sighed mournfully. "Especially that cake, I love a good chocolate cake. Oh, well, I'll make sure to take a nibble for after the viewing. So, to be sure I am not to jealous of the esteemed panel, I'll be calling out the next pair. Chef Emrys, Chef Mitchell, if you please."

"OMG! That was the only thing I could think of when I was standing in front of the judges with Chef Nash." Brianna was giddy with the excitement. "I couldn't believe that I got to the second round, especially since my dish was the less liked, so I was even happier to have such a master as my partner."

"The honor would be mine with such an exuberant and energetic partner. We were explicitly lucky with our ingredients, well, mostly lucky."

Frederich was laughing from the animated atmosphere. "Glad to see you are optimistic in this round."

"Not optimistic, realistic." Chef Nash insisted. "We are definitely either first or second. I would definitely believe the former rather than the latter."

"Hell yeah!" Came the bright cheer. "We will win this round with our superb combined cooking."

Menu for the Emrys/Mitchell pair with the ingredient:

- Honey-glazed pork salad: pork, Romanian salad (large leaves), honey, sliced almonds, cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, salt, olive oil and raspberry vinegar.

- Mixed salad: Cucumber, green pepper, yellow pepper, red pepper, orange peppers, mango, shrimp, eggs, flower, sunflower oil, honey, salt, pepper and onion.

- Hamburger: quarter kilo of sliced beef, big tomatoes, pickles, sugar, vinegar, egg, egg yolk, tarragon, salad, ketchup, hamburger bread, onion, cheese and potatoes.

- Meat presentation: pickles, pork slices, chicken breast, turkey breast, tête de moine, emmental, bread, egg, olive oil, mustard, honey, mash, tomatoes and corn.

- Multi-fruit crumble: flour, sugar, eggs, red apples, bananas, pears, tart dough, lemon juice and vanilla ice cream.

"To start off, our favorite combo when we cook together." Merlin commenced, "Will's honey-glazed pork salad with it's nutty, sweet and fresh combination, and my iced lemonade, a mixture of lemon juice, lemons and mint."

"As you can see, I've added large slices of pork, glazed with honey, freshened by the cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and sliced almonds on those large salad leaves. The vinaigrette has raspberry vinegar, opposing the honey." Will continued smoothly as soon as Merlin finished. The plate in question was a round one, with a thick, orange, edge. Merlin's lemonade, on the other hand, was in a tall glass with a branch of mint leaves on the top for decoration.

"A perfect idea for this hot weather." The CEO of Gedref's Unicorns smacked his lips after taking a sip. "It's simple, soothing and fresh."

"It's good as well in the healthy department since I presume that there is no sugar in the drink?" Mr. King trailed on. Merlin nodded his head once. "Excellent idea indeed. It goes well with this salad."

Chef Mitchell decided to present the next dish after that good note. "This is also a salad, yet a bit more sweeter that it's predecessor." In a large, fat, glass, on top of a white plate was the dish. Thinly sliced and cooked were the peppers of various colors, with the mango and onions mixed with it. On top of it were three fried shrimps, with a fourth one being skewered by a plastic sword and hanging on the side. The honey was used as a decoration around the glass.

"I love this salad, the sweetness goes very well with the shrimps. Still, I am curious as to how you got such an idea in such a short period of time?" Anhora asked the two chefs.

Will scratched his nose nervously while Merlin stifled a chuckle. "At a wedding a couple of years ago." The former answered. "It stayed in the back of my mind as well as Merlin's, so when those particular ingredients were won, we decided to do it."

"You decided to do it? I decided to do it." Merlin jumped in. "You preferred to take care of the next dish. A hamburger."

The hamburger was a large sandwich on a thick, grey, stone plate that was still warm. The burger was composed of the classic beef steak (a quarter pound to be more precise), some fresh slices of tomatoes, raw rings of onions, some cheese that was starting to melt, a sunny-side up egg and a sauce béarnaise. On the side, in a white, porcelain bowl, were some thick, piping-hot fries and a few pickles as well. Also on the stone plate were two (very) small bowls that held the mustard and the ketchup, the latter being fresh with the sugar and vinegar to go with.

"That's right, my special deluxe hamburger à la béarnaise." Chef Mitchell announced proudly. "Once you get a taste of this, you will never find another hamburger just as excellent as this one."

Each of the judges took a bite of the sandwich, Mrs. Delanoé being the only one to use her knife and fork to cut the piece she needed. As Will predicted, all of the judges loved the smoothness that the perfectly cooked meat produced, the sauce brought out an interesting taste that made the mouth watered just as the fresh vegetables gave the flavoring needed.

The comments that the two chefs received from the judges proved that they had both done well up to this point, even if the female judge was a bit more … frosty in her delivery. Still, it was major points in their benefit.

Once the dish had been devoured, they waited for the second-to-last part of the mouth-watering course. Said dish was presented by both chefs at the same time: a silver platter of diverse meats. On a bed of large leaves, mixed with some mash, small pickles, yellow corn and baby tomatoes were slices of pork and pieces of chicken breast. There were also some cheese with the lot, flowered-shaped tête de moine littered the whole platter as well as slices of emmental cheese. For the judges, a white plate was placed in front of them with slices of bread for their use, as well as small pots filled with home-made mayonnaise, mustard and honey.

It let the judges rest from all the very flavored dishes they had just eaten. The lightness of the morsels were quite refreshing. The dips went well with all the parts, honey with the cheese, mustard and mayonnaise for the meat part, … everything was elegant and simple. The main piece being the way the salad was decorated, done quickly by Merlin, living up to his reputation as the Crafty Wizard. No words

Finally, for the dessert portion of the course was a crumble with apples, pears and bananas. On top of the still oven-hot slice, served on those same white plates but this time with a blue edge, was a round scoop of vanilla ice cream. Just on the side, a glass of liqueur, to pair with the slice of crumble, stood.

It was the cherry on the cake in the most scrumptious course that the judges have ever tasted so far from the eight contestants.

"Well, looks like we are down to our last two contestants. Chef Riversong, Chef Parker, if you would please come in."

"To tell you the truth, it was surprising to see you both such good friends, even you have already mentioned that you were acting." Amanda was talking with the two allied chefs.

"We know, we know" Merlin tried to gasped out, both chefs were laughing at the little prank they had played on the other chefs. It was fun having an ally among all the strangers and potential rivals. On top of all this, it would seem that the judges liked their dish. Things were looking great on their end.

"But in our defense, at least we had some sort of plan ready to be enacted. I doubt that any other contestant thought that far ahead, nor did they have the same alliance as we have." Will added, his breath heaving in and out.

"That is true." Amanda giggled as well. "Looking forward to the next practical joke you guys would be playing on your competitors."

Menu for the Riversong/Parker pair with the ingredient:

- Onion soup: Onion, water, sesame oil, cheese (grated), pepper, salt and baguette.

- Grilled meat and vegetables: green peppers, carrots, lamb, pork, chicken, onions, lemon grass.

- Grilled Chicken: Chicken, potatoes, eggs, basil, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, green beans, small corn, salt, paprika, green peppers, red peppers, mace, cloves and mash.

- Chicken Curry: chicken, curry, cumin, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, turmeric, thai rice, mango, coco milk, ginger, garlic and onion.

- Macaroons: eggs, grounded almond, sugar, coco, cocoa, pistachio, mango, raspberry, cherry, banana, flour, dark chocolate, honey, vanilla powder, vanilla stick, vanilla ice cream, rhum and whip cream.

"Um, hello." Freya started, reverting back to her previous shy-self. In the back of Gilli's mind, he was wiping his brow in relief. He didn't dare think what would have happened if his fellow cook's other personality appeared, especially with Judge Delanoé's being in the room. It would have been the epic showdown at the cost of his place in the competition.

Freya continued, unaware of Chef Parker's internal relief at the situation. "To start off, I would like to propose … to propose some onion soup." Even if she appeared to be looking at the judges, in reality, she was looking at the wall behind them. She would later gather up her courage to look at least in one of the judges' eyes, maybe that nice Mr. Rhoan.

The onion soup was placed in a reddish-brown bowl, the grated cheesed slice of baguette covering the top and keeping the liquid warm. The bowl was placed on top of a burgundy, square, plate. In the top right-hand corner was a small pitcher filled with sesame oil. "Um, you can use it to spice your soup up, if you … if you like it spicy of course." Chef Riversong answered when asked.

The oil was promptly used by Morgause since she thought that the soup was a bit bland in the beginning —a fact that she promptly told the chefs. What she didn't show was that she was actually quite impressed with the quick thinking that both chefs showed. On the other hand, her fellow judges made up for her harshness with their lavishness.

Chef Parker decided to speak up, after a while, since he was seeing his temporary partner turning redder in front of all the attention. Really that girl! "Our next dish is grilled meat and vegetables, flavored with lemon grass. We barbecued the skewered ingredients to give them a more smoky taste." He gestured towards a large, green, rectangular, plate with white stripes as six skewers laid on top. On the stick were slices of carrots, pieces of green pepper, intermixed with square pieces of lamb, chicken or pork depending on the skewer, two per type of meat.

"Delicious," Mr. King smacked his lips after his fourth one, "most delicious. Who was the one to barbecue?"

"I did." Chef Riversong was gathering courage to look in the judges' eyes. Somewhere, from inside her mind, a voice was crying out 'HELL YEAH I DID! TRY TO TOP THAT!' Cook!Freya, the aggressive personality, was punching rapidly in thin air.

"I have to agree with my fellow judge. I mean, I like to barbecue from time to time, but my wife doesn't." The two men laughed at Mr. King's joke. "Glad to see that some women like to barbecue." Freya blushed a pretty little red before turning her gaze at a lower level. Gilli, in a surge of protectiveness, he would later reprimand himself for doing so during a competition, started to speak again in order to bring the attention to him.

"Our next dish would be a simple grilled chicken, after having it marinate in a variety of herbs. We also added some mash potatoes, and some salad with hard boiled egg." His voice was a bit louder than normal, but it did the trick.

The previous plates were replaced with the new ones. The plates were also green, however, the stripes were black instead of white. The piece of chicken was the breast, slightly browned from the grilling and smelling deliciously of rosemary, thyme, mace and nutmeg. The salad was a bit further away from the chicken. It was composed of red peppers, green peppers, green beens, small corn and quartered hard-boiled egg. The latter was peppered with paprika and salt. Finally, to complete a triangular shape was the mashed potatoes that had a hint of cloves in it

"Everything in the plate was delicious, yet…" Morgause began, "I'm sensing a lot of dryness in your chicken." She tutted slightly while writing something down on her paper. Freya seemed down, before her face hardened. Cook!Freya had taken over.

"We will take this under consideration for next time." Chef Parker replied, haven't seen the transformation yet.

"Besides, the next dish with chicken is a chicken curry." Chef Riversong cut in, her tone of voice held more authority than before. The judges could quite clearly see the chef had lost her meek personality. This dish was in a white, rectangular, bowl-like dish, with light green and light blue swirls decorating the exterior. The bowl was placed on top of a darker blue plate with white swirls.

In the bowl was steaming white thai rice that was covered in curry sauce. Mixed in the lot were pieces of chicken, potatoes, zucchinis, carrots and mango. There were also small pieces of cooked ginger, garlic and onion. On top were shredded pieces of chicken that had been cooked in the curry before it had been fished out a couple of minutes before the end of the timer, before being de-boned and cut in small pieces.

Not far from the plate, on the right hand side, was a long, transparent glass, decorated with leaf green swirls decorating the side, that held hot water while a dried flower was on the side. "Put the dried jasmine flower in the glass when you want." Gilli explained to the perplexed judges. "We thought that it would be best if you chose how strong you would like your tea. Plus," he made a small hand gesture, "we thought that you would like a little show."

Morgause gave them an approving look, her displeased look from the previous dish had lightened up as she wrote something down again on her pad. She had understood what the duo had done. Picking up her flower, she dropped it in her glass of how water, watching it changed to a more golden color as her flower started to slowly open up. All of the sudden, the flower shot up in the glass to float at the surface. Another plus was that the tea cooled down the parched throats from the spicy curry.

"Very nice, Chef Parker, Chef Riversong." Mr. Rhoan complimented them. Freya preened slightly at the comment. Gilli was also relieved that Mrs. Delanoé had liked this dish. It would erase the previous bad feeling that she had.

"Now, to finish up this quality course, what will you give us for dessert?" Mr. King practically demanded with his eagerness, after seeing that all of the judges have finished their dishes.

"That would be our assorted selection of macaroons." Chef Parker told them, after waiting a few moments for the dishes to be changed. On a bright red plate were four half macaroons of different flavors with either a of ball of ice cream or a pudding on top. "As for drinks, we prepared a pistachio and vanilla milkshake." In a tall glass was a pearl-white, thick liquid mixed with a bit of green added in swirls. On top was a big, flower-shape whip cream and a preserved cherry to top it all.

"This all seems very good." Mr. King acknowledged, "however, how should we proceed?"

Gilli gestured at Freya to start off. "Our first recommendation would be the vanilla flavored macaroon with pistachio ice cream." On top of the ice cream was a small, mound of whip cream and crushed pistachio.

Seeing that the judges have taken a bite, Gilli continued. "The next one would be our banana macaroon with a cherry and raspberry pudding on top." What was also on top of the pudding were a couple of banana slices that had been flambé.

Alternating in their explanations, the chefs presented the next two macaroons. Number three was a coco macaroon with mango ice cream and shaved coco pieces. Number four, on the other hand, was a dark chocolate macaroon with vanilla ice cream, dripped with a bit of honey as well as some whip cream topped by some shaved vanilla sticks.

"Now this looks very good. I'm sure glad that I'm not part of the judge panel." Alton Brown exclaimed after a while. "On the other hand, I'm a bit envious with all those delicious looking dishes passing on this table." He sighed playfully.

"Still, we have to decide on a winning team and a loosing one for this round. No matter how good all of these dishes may be." The former model answered back coldly, her face had regained it's stony appearance of before.

"That's true." Alton agreed. "Hence why I said before that I wouldn't want to be in your place." Seeing that the two chefs were still there, Alton addressed them. "You can go now. Come back in fifteen minutes with all of the others, we will give out our verdict."

The two chefs nodded before leaving through the double doors. They joined the group of other chefs, a ball full of nervousness.

"Chefs," Alton Brown addressed the group of ten chefs, all of them standing back straight and in line. "You have all been put in teams to cook us a five-course meal. You have all presented delicious dishes. Now, the judges must render their judgement, having the difficult choice to decide between who wins … and who will not be able to compete further on."

With that somber announcement, he turned towards the judges. Since Morgause Delanoé was in the middle, she was the first spokesperson. "First of all, thank you for presenting these dishes. All of them were good, which made this decision particularly difficult for us. Chef La Fey, Chef Pendragon." She practically barked out, reigning herself in since their were cameras. "We particularly liked your croziflette as well as your assorted desserts. The fact that you stayed on a French theme was good, not to mention that your teamwork hadn't lower the quality of this course. You are not the winners, but you came by a close second. You have survived to cook another day."

Morgana and Arthur were both relieved as they left the room. Being second was way better than being last. They waited in the kitchens of the school, wondering who else survived for the next rounds.

Mr. King was the next one, to speak up. "Chef Nash and Chef Ward." Both chefs tensed up. "Your teamwork was remarkable, for two people who have two different styles of cooking. You made an effort to bring out the best out of each other, especially with Chef Ward's Macaroni n' Cheese. Most delicious, by the way, I still have the taste in my mouth." Brianna blushed at the compliment. "With those factors, you survived to cook another day."

Both chefs sighed in relief before exiting the room, soon to join the cheering cousins as they congratulated each other on the camera. Inside, they were measuring each other up. Only four more chefs would pass through those double doors. Who would they be?

Mr. Rhoan was the next one to speak up. "Chef Emrys, Chef Mitchell." The two chefs perked up. "You both created an excellent course, filled with good dishes that had balanced flavors. On top of this, you made sure to give an artistic presentation. With those factors accounted for, … you both won this round. Congratulation."

Both jumped up in joy as they high-five in the air. They couldn't stop cheering as they exited from the double doors. The other chefs from the group clapped them on the shoulders. Both men couldn't stop grinning, big large ones that went from ear to ear and their eyes sparkle in joy.

The four left in the room with the judges were afraid as to what awaited them. Either the team Riversong/Parker or the team Peterson/López would be the losers, and none of them wanted to be it. Second-to-last allowed them to cook for another day. The other option would eliminate them from the tournament.

"Chef Riversong, Chef Parker." Mrs. Delanoé stated. "Although your dishes were good, you have a few things that go against you. The first was you repeated twice the same main ingredient for two separate dishes, your grilled meat and your grilled chicken. This could have worked in your favor if the chicken hadn't been so dried, another malus point for you."

The chefs faces were afraid as to what verdict they would receive.

"However," Morgause pursued slowly, knowing full well that the chefs in front of her were sweating in anxiety, "your saving grace were your assorted macaroons as well the as the jasmine tea that had a nice finishing touch for the curry. You survived to cook another day."

The two chefs relaxed under the verdict before leaving softly. They knew as to how close they might have lost this round. They joined he cheering group of chefs, hugged and being hugged on all sides. The euphoria of still being in the game was marvelous. Now, they knew who they will be facing off in the next challenge.

Meanwhile, the last two were devastated in learning that they lost with no chance of redemption. Now, they'll now why and how they lost. Alton Brown was the one to explain the judges' reasoning.

"Chef Peterson, Chef López." He started, tone grave and solemn for the occasion. "The judges have liked your dishes, but found to many faults in your course to be able to allow you to continue on. The first and most important was that you haven't respected the one of the themes of this task. You have been paired up in teams to cook something in tandem. The judges have found that your dishes, while separately very good, were too opposing in style, taste and spice to be even put together. On top of which, your teamwork, while presenting your dishes, showed that none of you have decided to work together. You failed that aspect of the task."

"The second factor was that you made to many dishes that were rich in ingredients and taste." Mr. Rhoan continued, his eyebrows giving his somber face an even more darker look. "The two main examples would have been the couscous and the paella. Now, my fellow judges and I have been lenient in what type of dishes any of you chefs may have served since we are aware that the ingredients were completely random. Still, you have passed that fresh hold, with your two main dishes, and your two salads."

"The last factor concerns you, Chef López." Mrs. Delanoé announced, a bit gleefully if one knew where to look. "You had a great idea with your seafood paella, but you made two major mistakes. The first one would be the drink that you served. As stated before, a red wine would have been good for a more classical paella, while a pink or white would have been better for a seafood one. If that had been your only mistake, we would have let it past. Nonetheless, the judges and I have decided that you put too many variants in your seafood paella, making the tastes clash as well as overwhelming our taste buds."

Sofia looked liked she swallowed a lemon, not liking the criticisms sent her way and not her fellow chef.

"With those faults in mind," Mr. King finished up, "we decided that you, Chef Peterson, Chef López, have lost. I'm sorry, but your won't live to cook another day."

Elijah and Sofia both nodded gravely at the decision, trying to remain stoic. As soon as they exited the room, they were crowded with the other well-wishing chefs, who in reality were not that sorry at all. Chef Sofia López didn't make any friends during the last two rounds. Regrettably, Chef Elijah Peterson had to go, but those were the rules in the game they had to play. Besides, it was best that he left early on, making them have one less good chef to compete against. The well-wishing for the blonde were completely for the camera, while only mostly for the African-American chef.

"Even if we lost, we both had a great time." Chef Peterson stated to both Amanda and Frederich, speaking for a sulking Chef López who couldn't even muster a smile for the audience.

"Is there anything you learned from your time here in the competition?" Amanda Pine chirped her question.

"For me? I'll say that even if you think you are good, even with the best ingredients in the world, luck plays a good part when you cook. I only realized as to how much today. Although, I must say that I am happy to have lost so early on. I now know that there are better chefs than me in the competition and wish them luck." The black chef stated, a small wry grin on his face. He discreetly elbowed the female chef by his side so that she too answered as well.

"I learned that even with the best intentions, you can't always win. At least I had fun with all of these new ingredients and learned some new recipes to my repertoire." The smile she had paste on was false, but only for those who would look closely. Her response had been short and fake.

Amanda's smile grew colder at the other chef. She wasn't paid enough to deal with such people.

The eight chefs were surprised to see that they were told to stay as the two losers were escorted out of the room. Elena Godwyn bounced in the room. "Hi there. I'll just a couple of minutes of your time for next week's show."

Merlin wondered how someone as spunky as Elena could still keep such a personality after spending so much time in the show biz. For the past couple of weeks, they had conversed many times, Elena had came to the restaurant, Ye Olde Wise Dragon, many times. In the process, Elena and Gwaine had bonded with one another, a frightening aspect for Merlin. Merlin zoned back to the conversation.

"Next week's task will involve the four seasons and two hours of cooking. I won't tell what will happen, but be prepared for something revolving around those two clues." She waited for a few seconds, allowing the information to sink in. "Alright then." She clapped her hands once. "You may all go. I'll see you on the Eighth of June at the Japanese Culinary Center on 711 3rd Avenue by eight o'clock." Seeing that the chefs were a bit tired, she smiled at them. "An e-mail should have already been sent with all the info, but I prefer to address you guys directly, just in case. Thank you all and see you in a week."

The chefs started to leave, joining in small groups as they discussed the day's event. Merlin and Will were still riding high on the win of the day, the euphoria like a drug running through their veins. All of the sudden, Merlin heard his name being shout out. Turning around, he saw that it was that blond prat from Camelot, Arthur Pendragon if Merlin wasn't mistaken.

"Yes?" The brunet asked a bit harshly, he wasn't ready to forgive the other chef yet for his treatment of Galahad.

Arthur jogged up slightly, wanting to be face-to-face with the other man. "Look, I know that we started off on the wrong foot and all."

"Y'a think?" William cut in, not liking the blond just one bit. Merlin had bitched to him for a long time from his experience at the restaurant.

Arthur looked a bit put upon. "Can we talk alone, … please?"

Merlin nodded before addressing his best friend. "Will, why don't you go up ahead for a bit? I'll join you soon."

"But Merlin!" Will started.

"Please William."

Will sighed. "Fine, just for you." He sent his darkest glare towards Chef Pendragon. "I'll be watching you."

"Noted." That was the only answer possible that Arthur could ask. Will started to walk faster, soon joined by the pretty brunette that was Arthur's cousin, Morgana. She quickly started a conversation with Will, focusing his attention on her.

"So…" Merlin started. "You wanted to talk."

"Yes. I wanted to ask how Galahad was doing." Arthur was a bit nervous, even if he didn't show it. "How is the kid?"

Merlin's gaze softened a bit at the mention of Galahad. "He's doing fine. Actually, he's doing great."

Arthur smiled slightly. "That's good. He's a good lad, always hard-working. Listen, when you saw me that day, … I wasn't in the best of moods. I'm sorry about that."

Seeing how the blond was acting, Merlin decided then and there to cut the guy some slack. He knew how bad days could be. "Would you like to see him? He works the same hours at my restaurant as he did yours."

"You wouldn't mind?" Arthur was surprised that Merlin would agree so easily, he thought it would take more of a fight to do so.

Merlin shrugged. "Galahad is the little brother of one of my best friends. He never stopped talking about you, so yeah, you can come over to speak with him."

"Thanks, Merlin, right?" Arthur was grateful that he could talk with Galahad. Somehow, the boy had burrowed his way into Arthur's way. The boy, while younger by at least fifteen years, had become like a little brother to Arthur, despite knowing each other for only a couple of months. Something that Galahad didn't know about was that when the boy came to Arthur's restaurant, the man had done his research about him. The results were not what he expected, hence why Arthur paid the extra tuition, in secret, to help out the boy to become a chef, asking the school to hide his contribution. Something like a little project, you could say.

"That would be Chef Emrys to you, Chef Pendragon. Merlin is only for my friends." Merlin's reply was still curt. "If you can't recall Galahad's timetable when he worked for you, I can send you an e-mail."

"Or, I can contact Galahad directly if needed. I still have his resumé with his coordinates." Arthur agreed that fewer contacts between them would be best.

"That would be best." Merlin agreed. "Now, if you'll excuse me. My friend and I would like to celebrate surviving the last two rounds before getting a good night's sleep."

"You do that. See you next week." Arthur put his hand forward, wanting to shake. Merlin took it, his grip firm and strong.

"See you next round." Merlin jogged towards Will, having to drag him from his stunning conversation with Morgana La Fey. The fact that Chef La Fey was Chef Pendragon's cousin seemed to have slipped his mind. In front of any beauty, Will would always become a pig.

Both men went to Merlin's apartment, which was far closer than Will's, where Gwaine, Ivan and the boys were waiting for them to celebrate. Even better, Gwaine had convinced Galahad to come too with his family as well, despite protest for being virtual strangers. Gwaine was rather firm in his intentions to watch over the family this time.

Elaine, the Galahad's mother, was an Art Historian, specializing in Asian culture, in particular Japan. She was someone that had an iron backbone, especially after her snake of an ex-husband left her. Gwaine liked her a lot, as she was the complete opposite of his mom whom had wasted away. Galahad's younger sisters were called Anest, a sassy ten years old who was also interesting in the culinary word, and Glain, the baby of the family as she was only five.

Surprisingly, Anest had became Mordred's role model. The child followed her around whenever he could, imitating her as well. It was quite a cute spectacle, amusing the fathers, Gwaine and Ivan, and the adoptive uncles: Merlin and Will. On the other hand, Glain was fascinated by baby Percival, wanting to hold him whenever she could and watched over him with a fierce intensity. It was, for her, like having a living baby doll.

Glasses were raised as toasts were being was in high spirit for the great win that the pair had. Once everyone started to cool down, they all sat down to eat a meal that the Lot-Greenleaf had prepared just for their friends. Gwaine and Ivan may not be master chefs like Merlin and Will, but they still knew enough to be great cooks.

During dinner, Elaine turned to the men of the hour. "So, what sort of clues do you have for the next task?"

"Well," Merlin started, "we know that it concerns the four seasons and that the task will be at the Japanese Culinary Center. And ideas?"

Elaine pondered on the question. "Well, Japan does have a food culture surrounding the four seasons. Each dish, each plate is tailored specifically for the season and the event. The clues are a bit too vague for me to help you out."

"That's ok, Elaine." Will patted her hand. "Any information is good enough for us. After all, the rest is up to our cooking skills."

Elaine blushed, she chided him slightly. "You are such a charmer Will."

"I do my best, especially in front of such a pretty lady." Will continued.

"Oi!" Gwaine mock-scolded his friend. "No flirting with my step-mom."

"She isn't your step-mom." Will fired back.

Elaine looked at Gwaine with amazement. She had been aware that Cyndeyrn had been a womanizer, how couldn't she? However, she thought that he had been sincere with his love towards her and was willing to settle down. That couldn't be more false, as Cyndeyrn ran away, leaving his debt with them. Debt that she was still repaying as of today.

What was even more amazing were the following words from Cyndeyrn's son. "Of course she is. After all, she is the second woman that married my biological donor." Her heart warmed up, wondering how could Cyndeyrn could ever have fathered such a kind-hearted son. "Therefore, that makes her my step-mom. If you don't mind of course, Elaine." He sent her some puppy-dog eyes, full of hope.

"Of course you can." Elaine agreed readily. "Provided that Galahad, Anest and Glain agree to having an extra brother."

The replies were frantic nodding from Galahad and Anest, while Glain just ran up to hug Gwaine. If Gwaine hadn't sat down, he would have been bowled over. If asked later on, Gwaine would swear up and down that he didn't tear up at all.

The rest of the evening passed by in merriment, even more so than before as the people gathered together realized that they were more of a family than before.

— "Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect." R. W. Emerson

Arthur sighed once more as he gazed outside on his balcony. He couldn't forget the other chef, Merlin Emrys. He would admit that their first meeting wasn't the best, what with him being stressed out from his father's (potential) impending visit (said father who didn't even set foot in his restaurant). That didn't stop from his father's sycophants from coming over and creating havoc that Arthur didn't need that day.

Since one of his father's had been watching the kitchen, Arthur had been forced to berate Galahad in the most public matter possible. Unfortunately for Arthur, and fortunately for Galahad, Merlin swooped in like a bird of prey to protect the young boy. Which soon turned into that stupid bet before Arthur even realized that he was a chef.

That fiery personality could not be forgotten, no matter how much Arthur tried. Then, he met that chef again for the beginning of the Iron Chef competition. That handsome face full of passion as he cooked —not that Arthur was looking intentionally of course—, the way he had light up when he won with his friend. Arthur still wasn't happy about that last coup, he was still seething a bit about it.

"Why are you sighing so much, Arthur?" His cousin's voice surprised him. "Thinking of someone special?"

Damn that woman! She was infuriating good in finding the right words that would bother him. Even worse, she was living at his place, since it was easier than rent a hotel room, so he couldn't avoid her like he wanted too.

"No, Morgana, dearest cousin of mine." Arthur gritted his teeth. "I wasn't sighing about anyone. I was actually wondering what other tasks we would face."

Morgana laughed airily."Pull the other leg, cuz. I know you better than you know yourself." She leaned on the balcony next to her blond cousin. "So … how did your conversation," she finger quoted that word, "go with that cute chef?"

Arthur spluttered slightly. "He's not that cute."

"He totally is. Which reminds me, isn't he your type as well? You know, brunet and frail-looking?"

"You make him sound like a girl. Besides, you knew I prefer curvy blondes."

This time, it was Morgana who sighed, before sending a small glare. "I'm not Uther, you know. I know about your tastes and he was totally your type. No need to hide it from me, I see all, I hear all and will never speak your secrets." Seeing that Arthur was about to protest, she deflected the current trend of the conversation. "You still haven't answered my question. Did your conversation with that chef go well?"

Arthur's face was graced with a small, wistful, smile. "Yes. Yes, it did. He invited me to his restaurant when Galahad was working."

"That's good news, at the very least. You couldn't stop moaning and whining when you lost him."


"Chill out, I was only joking." Morgana laughed once more, her good humor contagious. "We did well for those last two rounds."

"Yes we did." Arthur had too agree. "Now, we only have to survive the next seven before facing off in a duel. I won't let you win."

"Well I should hope so. You better not loose before, dearest cousin of mine." On that note, she left him alone with his thoughts and the stars twinkling in the night. "Good night" She called out from her back.

"Good night." Arthur hollered back, his gaze not leaving the moon. He stayed there for a while before he too went to his room to sleep. He only had the morning off before going to take of his restaurant.

— Namagashi: Japanese sweets that represent the four seasons. Each sweet has a different form or taste according to the season. —

Third Task: Namagashi.

If the first of June had been sunny, then the eighth was of a more cloudy disposition. At least it wasn't raining, otherwise the whole show would have been postponed. The eight chefs were waiting in front of the Japanese Culinary Center, a large building with big windows on the side. The building itself wasn't something especially noteworthy in appearance.

The chefs were waiting as patiently as they could be, as the cameras were flittering about before the beginning of the task. Will and Merlin were talking softly with one another, sometimes mock hitting the other — especially from Will —, as they waited with a bit of anticipation for the next round. Morgana and Arthur were doing the same thing, with more elegance that spoke of their good breeding. Actually, each paired chefs were talking with one another, to pass the time and in order to put at bay their nervousness.

Finally, after an hour of waiting, they could finally begin. The cameras began to film the chefs, just for recalling purposes later in the DVDs, as an off-voice will be added later on. The sliding doors opened as Alton Brown strode out of the building. "Welcome chefs, to your new location for this little task." He rubbed his hands in glee, putting up a notch the anxiety of the other. "Come in, come in. The Chairman has left a message just for you eight, so hurry, hurry. We got some cooking to do."

The chefs followed him in a small group. They arrived in a beautiful, stainless kitchen with various stations for each chef. They gathered around a table where thirty-two pieces of paper were, separated into two piles of sixteen. Those pieces of papers were flanking, on either side, of a small TV box, the chefs had seen the exact TV for the first two rounds when the Chairman had given his speech.

Just like before, the screen lit up upon the image of the Chairman, smiling mysteriously, as he was sitting in a tatami room. A small scroll with elegant kanji calligraphed upon it. If one knew how to read such symbols, radically different from their more printed form, one could read A rare and splendid delicacy [珍味佳肴 or Chin mikakou].

"Greeting chefs." He spoke with poise and elegance. "In Japan, the food culture revolves the seasons. Namagashi is the term used for japanese sweets depending on the season. Some of their tastes vary depending on the holiday." The camera started to zoom in. "This is what you must do for this task, to create a Namagashi for each season. Mr. Brown will explain in more details. Good luck chefs. Don't forget," the camera started to zoom out to encompass the whole room once more, "the simplest dish can be the most gratifying."

The screen went blank before anyone would really think about the mysterious parting. Alton Brown didn't leave them that time either, as he quickly started to explain what the task would be.

"As the Chairman stated in his speech, each of you will have to create four dishes, one for each season, in two hours. However, since you are short on time to come up with only sweets," here he paused to allow a few chuckles from the contestants, "the Chairman has graciously allowed you to do any type of cooking you want. You will have to fulfill only two very important criteria."

He took one pile and fanned it out for them to see. On each cards were the words: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Sweet, Salty, Sour and Spicy. One season with one flavor on each card, only being repeated twice at maximum. Putting every card in four columns of eight, Alton continued his explanation. "For each dish, you must represent one taste, or one main flavor if you prefer, with one season. The tricky part is that only two of you can repeat the same season with the same flavor." He let the chefs ponder a few seconds on such a thing. "Chef Mitchell, Chef Emrys, if you would please come stand next to me."

Merlin and Will walked up next to Alton. "Since you won the previous rounds, you guys get to choose which flavors you want to associate with which seasons. The others will have to fight for it." A nervous chuckle ran through the group, mostly from Gilli and Arthur. They were quite aware of how ferocious Freya and Morgana can be when they want something.

Thinking a bit, Merlin and Will soon decided what taste they would like for which season. Once they have gained a respectable distance from the table, Alton Brown shouted. "START!" The chefs ran towards the table, quickly grabbing cards that was to their advantage. Morgana and Arthur, seeing that the other had a card that they wanted, quickly changed without a word, so deep was their bond of family, practically siblings or twins, despite not being born from the same set of parents.

They ran to their designated stations, the plan sent in attachment by Elena with the rest of the packet of information. The game had started.

"What were your thoughts when this task was revealed ?" was the main question all of the chefs were asked. Here were their various replies.

Chef Gilli Parker: "That this was a difficult round. In all of these rounds, you need to use wits, in this one in particular. The only thing that I am certain is that I will be passing this round with the skin of my teeth." Gilli shrugged at the cameras. "We'll see how this will go."

Chef Merlin Emrys: "It wasn't that much of a surprise. Will and I have a mutual friend who guessed that this sort of task would come about. Although, I must admit, we didn't really expect this twist with the flavors. This should be fun, what with the advantage I gained, with the help of my best friend, in the last round and all."

Chef Morgana La Fey: "Most interesting, for a cooking competition. You need to take into account all of the limited features, how you'll do it and cook it as fast as possible before the hour was up. Yes, this round was the most interesting one yet. We'll see what the Chairman will plan for the next part." She smiled a pretty little smile that would charm anyone, while still remaining royal-looking.

Chef Arthur Pendragon: "Anticipation. Cooking isn't just the art of mixing different ingredients and hope for the best. It's something more. This round forces is us to bring everything out, while making sure we can't do too complicated dishes due to time constrictions." He paused for a while to send a more masculine version of his cousin's smile. "This is going to be fun."

Chef William "Will" Mitchell: "This?! This is completely *beep* awesome. I mean, Merlin and I, we were aware of something like this was about to happen. But really, who could have guessed the whole thing? This is going to be so *beep* awesome, pardon the repetition."

Chef Brianna Ward: "Let's play! That was my first thought, after, of course, the initial panic that always comes right after learning about the specifics of this round." She twirled one of her knives that she brought with her. "Then, I realized that the only thing a chef could truly count on is their cooking utensils. So whatever this round would bring, I just have to trust my knives to get me through it. It couldn't be worse than the first round."

Chef Kilgharrah Nash: "The first thing you have to know is that writing is a bit like cooking. You got a bunch of ingredients, a certain idea as to how you're dish will be and then … you cook. So yes, I was a bit surprised as to what this task was, but this isn't very different as to when I write." He gave a small, brass, chuckle.

Chef Freya Riversong: "Um. Yes, I was surprised. But, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't do my best." Her face grew a bit more fiercer, while still conserving her pleasant facade. "It's not like I got any disadvantages. On the contrary, this was playing with my strengths." Her grin was a bit scary for such a pretty face.

Chef La Fey's cards:

- Spring: Sour

- Summer: Salty

- Autumn: Spicy

- Winter: Sweet

Morganna's tactic was simple enough to fulfill such a task: a dessert plate. She got the idea from the Chairman's introduction, namagashi. With her French background, with hints of Italian and American, enabled her to make a diverse platter of desserts, ranging for all four seasons while fulfilling the second criteria.

To start off, she started to prepare her pâte brisée (or shortcrust if you wanted the English version), for at least two of her desserts. It only took five minutes to mix, but she needed at least fifteen to thirty minutes of cool down in the fridge before it was usable. Next, she started on the mix for her chocolate cake, all the while planning her next step.

It was going to be close, but she was relatively certain she could pull the next thing off. It's not like she didn't have a trick up her sleeve.

Skipping over a cable from one of the cameras (cursing slightly under her breath in French and English), she started to cook four dishes at a time. She had a round to win and by all the cooks in her ancestry, … she would win!

Time remaining: One hour and fifty-four minutes and counting.

Chef Riversong's cards:

- Spring: Sweet

- Summer: Spicy

- Autumn: Salty

- Winter: Sour

Freya started off slowly. Her "cook self" (as she liked to call her more fiercer alter ego) wanted her to have a bit more camera time. As such, Freya started off a bit more shyly than her usual gusto. She started off with her summer dish, a beef curry as it was a dish who needed to simmer the most.

As the curry spices and sauces began to simmer, Freya realized something. Too much time had passed for her taste. Scared out of her wit, she pleaded mentally for the other Freya to take over. She needed to win desperately. Everyone knew that desperation made things fly.

And fly she did, with wings of steal soaring through the air as a ruthless Freya chopped, cooked and prepared her diverse dishes. All while keeping an eye on the clock for one particular dish had to be precisely times for it to be fantastic. If everything went well, and she would make sure that this time it will be, then she would definitely win this round.

Cook!Freya was a woman on a mission. If this was an anime, you would be seeing flames coming out from her body. Imaginary flames that Chef Gilli Parker could practically feel from his station from the other side of the room.

Time remaining: One hour and forty-four minutes and counting.

Chef Emrys's cards:

- Spring: Salty

- Summer: Sour

- Autumn: Sweet

- Winter: Spicy

Merlin was quite glad that he and Will had won the previous round. They didn't have to fight for their cards, nor loose any time in choosing. They could get right into the cooking, using every single one of those minutes.

Since he had the time to choose, Merlin also had the time to decide mentally what sort of dish he would do. Since he only had two hours, Merlin decided to do two big dishes and two smaller ones. In the beginning of his first hour, just like Morgana, Merlin did a shortcrust that he put in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes. While the shortcrust was resting, Merlin quickly washed his apples and put them in a manual apple peeler (a machine that would not only peel the apples, but cut them in spirals while removing the core inside. The only physical portion was for Merlin to turn the crank.). Still having ten minute before his could use his dough, Merlin put a big piece of salmon (that didn't need to much de-boning since it was a big piece of flesh) to boil in a pot full of water, dill, red berries, thyme and eggs. The apples went into another pot to cook among a bath of bubbles, with cinnamon, sugar and cut-in-half vanilla sticks.

Into the oven went a delicious apple pie, covered in egg yolk for it's golden aspect. Chef Emrys then turned to start on his coulibiac. He only allowed himself a couple of seconds to wipe the sweat from his brow.

Time remaining: One hour and forty-two minutes and counting.

Chef Parker's cards:

- Spring: Spicy

- Summer: Sweet

- Autumn: Sour

- Winter: Salty

For some reason, Gilli was very lucky in the cards he grabbed from the table. He was very lucky to have the right kind of dishes pop into his head as soon as he read what he had. The only problem was that one of those dishes would be cutting very close. Running towards the pantry he gathered as many ingredients as possible, using a giant bowl to do so, preferring to take the ingredients for his first dish: cinnamon rolls.

Mixing the ingredients needed, he then let the mix rest on the side, an hour was needed before he could cook it. His next task was to prepare some puffs for the sweet portion that he needed. The mix too was put on the side to rise, as he went on to do the buttercream for the filling.

Checking the clock, he saw that he would be cutting it very close, unless he went through a couple of shortcuts, with a very real possibility that his dishes could loose their quality. However, if he had to decide between finishing on time and a gamble, he would take the first choice and hope for the best.

At the very least, Chef Parker was thankful that his last dish, a sour flavor for Autumn, was the easiest to make and required practically no cooking. It was easier

Time remaining: One hour and twenty-four minutes and counting.

Chef Pendragon's cards:

- Spring: Sweet

- Summer: Sour

- Autumn: Salty

- Winter: Spicy

For some reason, Arthur was having a nursery rhyme running through his head:

Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man.

Bake me a cake as fast as you can;

Roll it up, roll it up;

Put it in a pan;

And toss it in the oven as fast as you can!

Over and over again, the rhymes continued as he cooked, mixed and prepared his dishes. Arthur started on the most difficult dish, the one that took the most time to cook: the fruitcake. Dried fruits, flour, water, sugar and eggs. Adding a few more spices to the mix, and the cake was ready to be put in the oven.

Then, Arthur decided to peel and chop his carrots, as they went to boil in pot of water and a bit of sugar. On the side, some potatoes were being given the same treatment (minus the sugar, of course).

Putting a timer on, he readied himself for the other part of his dessert. Something involving lemons, eggs, milk and flour (lot's of it). Ever since he was little, Arthur would always associate summer with his mom's lemon pudding. It wasn't really his mom's, but it was based on his mom's recipe that his aunt Ywain (Ygraine's sister) would make when he would spend his summer's with Morgana's family. It would make a sensation, he was sure of it.

Time remaining: One hour and fifteen minutes and counting.

Chef Mitchell's cards:

- Spring: Spicy

- Summer: Sweet

- Autumn: Sour

- Winter: Salty

True to his self, Will was planning to use pork in all of his dishes. First, he popped in the oven a great portion of raw meat with a few spices, such as thyme basil and pepper. They would be used later.

Then, he started on the first dish which was his pork ravioli soup. Mixing flour and eggs, he late the paste rest a bit, preparing the spicy sauce for his next dish. The sauce was red and thick, made with lot's of chili in it, bubbling hot in the pot. Putting the pot on the side to cool a bit, time that William used to put his raw pork loins so that they would start to cook slowly, while being seeped with the spicy taste.

Since he used a hot flame to speed up the process for his soup, he turned towards his ravioli mixture made with mixed raw pork, eggs, powdered dried rosebuds, pepper, cumin, salt and a bit of chili for the taste. He put it in the fridge as well with the pasta dough, ready to be used later. The next step was to cook the sour soup that he needed for his ravioli.

Mentally, he was rehearsing the next steps that would be needed for him to continue. He needed to make the rolls, the mix for his corned pork, … all simple stuff that he would have time to do. The hard part would be the ravioli being cooked enough. If he made them too big, then they would be undercooked. On the other hand, they would be overcooked if he made them small. A great dilemma, that's for sure.

Time remaining: One hour and ten minutes and counting.

Chef Ward's cards:

- Spring: Salty

- Summer: Spicy

- Autumn: Sweet

- Winter: Sour

Brianna did not like her cards. Especially her winter one! That didn't mean she didn't have a plan, only that it would take a bit of time: a grapefruit, ginger and honey jelly. It would make a nice dessert, if only to finish off everything nicely. She started on such a dish, using agar agar for the thickening, something she did after squeezing the grapefruit and diluting the ginger with such a juice. She added the honey to the agar agar to sweeten the deal slightly before putting the whole thing in the fridge in pretty little cups, one blue, one red and one orange.

Then, she peeled, washed, cut and salted large pieces of cucumber that she let sit in the sink. Next, she started on her pasta dough as her tomato sauce was boiling a happy, little, song as tomato paste, celery pieces, black olives as fresh pieces of tomatoes was added to the bath.

As soon as that was over, she started on her meat balls, full of red, raw, beef, peppers, cayenne peppers, a bit of cream, chili, tabasco sauce, onions, garlics and a masala paste. She grounded everything together, adding a battered water, oil and eggs little by little to smooth everything over. As she formed her meatballs, she added pieces of either potatoes or artichokes (that she had previously boiled with olive oil and salt). She then fried them, turning them golden and brown, tasty as well.

To keep them warm, she put them in a covered, clay pot that she left in the oven. All that she needed to do was make sure that her pasta dish was ready in time before preparing her cucumber soup. If all was well, she would have ten extra minutes for platting.

Time remaining: One hour and counting.

Chef Nash's cards:

- Spring: Sour

- Summer: Salty

- Autumn: Spicy

- Winter: Sweet

Kilgharrah was in his element. The older man picked a random set of cards, before walking fast to the pantry and get the ingredients he needed. One main ingredient in his bowl was chocolate, a lot of them ranging from milk, white and dark. Apart for his summer dish, Spring, Autumn and Winter had a chocolate theme.

The first thing he started were cinnamon-chocolate cupcakes (with a bit of tabasco sauce to spice things up a bit). Mixing the cinnamon with the cocoa was nice, nonetheless he added big chunks of white and black chocolate. The oven was host to some nice, mouthwatering smells, if Alton Brown was to believe.

The next pièce-de-resistance, if he dare say so, was to be chocolate croquets. Now, normally, the chocolate balls needed to be placed in a freezer for the next forty-eight hours so that it would hold when he would fry the chocolate balls. Normally would be the term, something that Chef Nash didn't always follow. In order to freeze them quickly, the chef used liquid nitrogen. He placed the balls in the freezers to fry them at the very last minute. He repeated the same process for various cheeses that were cut roughly the same size — Parmesan, Emmental, Camembert and Tome de Savoie.

The last thing he needed to prepare were the sour fruits covered chocolate. This was the hard part since chocolate was notoriously hard to melt correctly before taking a correct shape. Especially for what he wanted to do with the fruits: a three-layered ball of chocolate, one for each type of chocolate. The surrounding layers would have preserved ginger powder around it.

Looking at the clock, he tried to think as to how he could embellish his dishes to the judges' taste. Especially for Morgause who had one mean poker face.

Time remaining: Fifty minutes and counting.

Looking around the room, Alton Brown was pleased to see how the chefs were doing, each of them creating beautiful dishes, one after the other. From time to time, he would approach one station or another, in order to comment as to what the chefs are doing or to ask what sort of dishes they were doing as well as the reasons why.

He was not disappointed from their replies, at least, not in front of the cameras. Well, he wasn't disappointed in general. How could he when he saw some great talents compete against one another? Some of the dishes looked so appetizing that he wished he could eat them while they were on air. The good news was that he could try some of the dishes after the end of the filming from all the rests. Something that all of the chefs took advantage.

From time to time, Alton Brown would shout encouragements as well as the time remaining (when it wasn't shouted out in a female electronic voice every fifteen minutes). When there were forty-five minutes left, he saw that Chef Nash was mixing something in a bowl at rapid speed.

"What are you doing now, Chef Nash? Aren't you nearly finished?" He asked the man, approaching the chef's station at the same time.

"That's what I thought." Kilgharrah explained. "Then, I got this idea for my spring dish, to accommodate my sour, chocolate-covered, fruits: a cookie base with a bit of foam to hold them together. This should make this dish a bit better than before." He had continued on his batter while talking, multi-tasking at the same time.

"You think you'll have the time to do it?" That was the most crucial piece of information.

"I should hope so." Chef Nash was a bit affronted at such an assumption, even if it was playful. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be a chef of such a caliber if it weren't the case." The batters went into the oiled moulds before they went in the oven. "Besides, this is only an extra thing, if it isn't finished, then it isn't."

Alton nodded along, understanding the concept. "That is a great philosophy. Still, you should know that this isn't alway applicable in this show. Keep this in mind, just for the next round."

"That's for sure." Kilgharrah agreed over the whirring of the batters as his whites began to rise, slowly incorporating some cocoa powder, turning it to a dark brown. In another bowl, the yellows, with water and sugar were being mixed together as well. Chef Nash slowly added some melted chocolate, slowly so that it would cool down by sliding down the sides, in order for it not to cook the eggs to early. When both parts were finished, he slowly mixed both of them together, adding a bit of a of arrowroot to thicken the mousse. He put it in the fridge to rest, before starting to plate his dishes.

Alton left Chef Nash to go bother Chef Emrys who was starting on his hot chocolate, using an abundance of spices — the main one being cinnamon —, black chocolate, milk and honey. Merlin was also working on the decorations for his dishes, using smells and colors as the baseline

"Alright people, there is only ten minutes remaining. If you haven't starting plating yet, then do so now. Hurry, hurry, hurry." Mr. Brown announced, clapping thrice along the word "hurry". The pressure grew among the chefs, as some of them hadn't indeed do such a thing. They rushed around, busy, busy little bees as the electric clock ticked down the seconds before judgement time.

10 …

9 …

8 …

7 …

6 …

5 …

4 …

3 …

2 …

1 …

"TIME!" Alton Brown called out, among the blaring noise of a horn. "Everyone, step away from your plates. You had two hours to do everything, not a second more."

The chefs cheered and clapped among each other, congratulating for a job well down. Great gulps of water or juice. Arthur and Morgana were tempted in opening a small bottle of wine to drink, nonetheless, they decided to wait until they won this round, or at the very least survive it.

After ten minutes passed, Alton led them to the double doors of doom where the three judges were seated. Introducing each of them one more time, repeating the same information as before, in a different way of course. All eight chefs were standing at attention, faces slightly strained in high anticipation as they waited to know who would be the first one to be called out.

Alton Brown named that person. "Chef La Fey, if you could please present your dish. The rest of you should leave the room until you are called."

All except Morgana left the room, as she brought out her dishes. The most crucial part had begun.

"In what order should I present the dishes?" Morgana began, wanting to know how she should introduce her dishes.

Morgause Delanoé spoke kindly to the Chef while her face still retained that soured-lemon expression. "Unless you have a specific order that you want to show us, why don't you for from Spring to Winter."

Morgana nodded. "Alright then, first of all, I would like to point out that all of my dishes are desserts. In my mind, desserts can be eaten in any seasons, however, these specific ones are for one particular season as they were my favorites during such time."

On a square, light blue, freckled black, dish were two slices of cakes and two bowls — one blue and one black —, in a pattern-like formation. Morgana started with the blue bowl, holding a yellowish sort-of pudding with small pieces of lemon zest strewn about as a leaf mint laid there in the middle.

"My spring dish needed to be sour, something difficult to do since people rarely eat sour things. That is why I decided to do a lemon pudding. It is both sweet enough to balance out the sour taste, without overwhelming it. The mint leaf is to give a refreshing taste in the end."

The judges tasted it, their expressions neutral. They didn't say anything special, apart from "This is good." from Mr. Rhoan, making Morgana worry a bit. They did, however, scribble down something on their papers. Good or bad, she didn't know.

"On the other hand, my summer dish was salty, so I decided on a cheesecake. Something light enough to follow the pudding, while still retaining it's special taste." Morgana decided to continue after seeing the pudding gone, pointing out to the slice of creamy white pie, upon which laid a small, square piece of preserved lemon. The slice was on the right hand side of the blue cup.

"Interesting." Mr. King stated. "You replaced the pastry crust with shortcrust. Why?" It was an interesting fact since shortcrust was usually used in quiches.

"A pastry crust would have been too sweet, overpowering the salty one I needed to bring out for this dish. On top of this, I added the preserved lemon, to link with my spring dish. You'll see why with my next two dishes." Her reply was sharp and concise, no hesitation whatsoever.

"As I said before, interesting."

"It does bring out the salty flavor as well as lightness." His fellow judge, Mr. Rhoan gruffly added. Mrs. Delanoé didn't say anything. A few seconds after the last bite finished, he asked for Chef La Fey to continue.

"My autumn and winter dishes can be either eaten separately or together. Truth is, they were suppose to be one dish, as my mentor during my stay at Lenôtre showed me, but I thought that they would be better separately." Morgana explained, pointing out the black bowl filled with a bright green, thick, sauce underneath the cheesecake, and it's neighbor, a small, round, brown cake.

"Oh really?" Alton Brown asked. "As I recall, you drew Spicy for Autumn and Sweet for Winter."

"True. For my spicy dish, I have an avocado banana sauce, with a small hint of chile to give the flavor needed. As for the sweet one, it would be the fondant au chocolat. Now, Chef Pierre Hermé, my mentor, usually makes the sauce thinner before surrounding the chocolate cake and add a banana-orange wafer. Here, my avocado and banana sauce is thicker, easier to eat separately, or you can dip pieces of your chocolate cake in it." Morgana explained.

This time, the judges reactions were much better than before. The praises, especially from Morgause, whose praises were rare enough, knowing her personality. Alton Brown also added his two cents from the technical aspects, the smells and designs.

"Next up, will be Chef Emrys."

Chef Emrys' presentation was a bit particular. There was a giant coulibiac in the middle of the table, a hole in it's flank from where the three pieces were taken for the judges. It laid on a silver platter, the golden-brown decorations on it's crust reflecting nicely beneath the shiny surface. This was his spring dish which garnered more than one remark on the prettiness of the decoration as well as the softness of each bite. Alton just moaned at the toothsome smell, just a few feet from his seat!

Then, there were the small sunshine-yellow bowls, hosting a fruit salad with many sour fruits such as kiwis, grapefruits, blackberries, raspberries, cherries and green apples, placed on the upper right-hand side of the plate. The sharp summer dish contained many different colors from the divers fruits, while still having some sort of unity as all of the pieces were stained dark red (or had such a natural color) from the cherries and the raspberries.

"A bit more simplistic than your previous dish, isn't it?" The former model asked snidely.

"It may seem so." Merlin agreed. "Fruit salads have always been associated with summer, the freshness and the harvest of many of those fruits explaining the origin of such a dish. Despite that, my main priority wasn't to be overly complex, but to fulfill the task to the best of my abilities and bringing about a good set of dishes." He was rewarded with a smile from Mr. King and Mr. Rhoan.

His sweet autumn dish was an american apple pie on top of a bright blue plate, the thick slice covered by home-made whip cream that Merlin decided to do during the last thirty minutes. All that was missing was the vanilla ice cream, something that Merlin didn't dare do with the ice cream maker, the machine had jammed at the most opportune times in the previous shows. That didn't mean that Merlin wouldn't try in one of the next rounds as he would be able to make the most interesting flavors.

He was praised for this dish by Mr. King for the use of apples, cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, sugar and honey. Even Mrs. Delanoé couldn't find fault with such a dish, apart for the missing vanilla ice cream that would have made the whole thing better. In short, nothing at all apart for a minor detail just for the sake of finding a fault, which, in reality, didn't bother Merlin as much as it should have.

The last dish (and that was using the term loosely) was pored into white porcelain cups, placed just opposite to the fruit salad, from a teapot. The teapot didn't contain tea (as the name would imply), but delicious, spicy, hot chocolate. The drink was much thicker than the usual hot chocolate made from powder and milk or melted chocolate and milk, with a small layer of mousse on top from the mixture being whisked repeatedly. A dollop of the whip cream — that was used on the apple pie — rested on top, sprinkled with fragmented white chocolate and cinnamon.

Since the winter dish needed to be spicy, Merlin had decided to do a variant of the Mayan formula, using nutmeg, cayenne peppers, chili and cinnamon with a teaspoon of honey to sweeten the drink just right. Another thing that Merlin used was both dark chocolate and powdered cocoa, melted and boiled with raw milk, as the foundation of his drink.

Lavished with praise, Merlin lapped up the feeling that he just might win this round as well. Even the CEO of Gorlois remarks didn't abate his mood, since that was her default mode. If anything, Merlin would be a hundred percent certain that his dish was a success if she had given him a non-backhanded compliment.

After thanking Chef Emrys for his hard work, Mr. Brown announced the next contestant. "Chef Ward, if you could please step forward."

If asked, Brianna Ward would not admit that she had been nervous when she approached the judges. After that fiasco that was the first round — Brianna couldn't get passed that —, the brunette had studied hard for the third round. During the past week, she had experimented with various asian ingredients, as the many possibilities to expand her cooking was open. She had never been more thankful for that as it helped decide for her winter-sour dish.

"If you don't mind, may I ask you a quick question?" She started off right away.

"You just did." Alton joked, trying to keep the mood light.

Brianna chuckled a bit, before becoming serious once more. "Is it important that my dishes appear in the chronological order of the seasons or can I decide for myself?"

"Will it have a major impact in our decision?" Mr. King wondered.

"Not particularly." Brianna admitted. "It will be better in the long run, but it is only a minor detail."

"Why not?" Surprisingly, Morgause was the one to put forth such an idea. "Just be warned that we may be more harsh with you in our judgement."

Chef Ward was, in her head of course, cursing the blonde in front of her. Was she made of ice or what?

"Alrighty." She chirped, wanting to get a rise out of Morgause. "Let's start with my sweet autumn dish, a cold cucumber soup." The soup was in a green with a white edge. Light green was in the bowl, the top parceled with persil and black sprinkles of pepper. To thicken it a bit, without loosing too much of it's taste, she had added potatoes in the soup.

"The soup is a bit bland." Morgause's comment was bland as well. "Did you taste your dish before?"

Brianna wanted to bristle at the implication. "Of course I did. Although, this is only the appetizer for what is to come."

"I thought that it was good." Iseldir stated, not wanting to have only a negative impression in the beginning. "A nice, refreshing taste that I can see being served under the autumn leaves."

"Thank you." Chef Ward's smile was nice. "Now, let's go with my salty spring and my spicy summer dishes. My sour winter will be my dessert." This was the crucial part for her. If the judges liked her sequence, then all would be great for her.

"Go right ahead." Anhora Rhoan told her, quite curious to know what she had cooked up for this round.

"Alright then, the second dish is a simple spaghetti dish with my father's recipe for the tomato sauce. The third dish that goes well with it is my mom's spicy meatballs. Please, try them." On a simple white plate, with a green edge this time, was a pile of freshly made of long-strings of pasta mixed with the black and green olives, the red tomato sauce, the green capers, the white garlics and onions together. On the side were three meatballs: one with an artichoke, one with a potato and one with only meat.

This time, she received more praises for her delightful dishes. This made up for her first dish. That's what Brianna Ward thought, at the very least, from the judges' reactions. Morgause Delanoé didn't say anything at all, much to Chef Ward's relief. Finally, something that went well, as even Alton, from his perch on the side, chimed in a compliment.

When those plates have been cleared, Brianna gestured towards the last dish, a small teacup dish of white with rosebuds and golden leaves decorating the sides as a round jell-o of dark pink. "This is my winter dish, a bitter-sweet jelly of grapefruit and ginger. I've sweetened it slightly with lavender and thyme honey. Why these special honeys? They are just strong enough in taste to not cloy the jelly, thus keeping the acidulation needed to fulfill the two criterias."

"You know, this is an excellent reason for breaking the cycle of the seasons." Joked Mr. King with a wide grin. "Isn't that right, Mrs. Delanoé, Mr. Rhoan?"

"I must agree with my colleague. Chef Ward, your suggestion has worked this time. Just be wary to follow the rules to the letter in the next rounds, if you pass of course."

"Won't I?" With that, Chef Ward was sent away as Chef Pendragon was asked to come in.

Arthur was in a little binder. On one hand, he could present his dishes in any order he should choose, provided that they follow the seasons. On the other, he could present them in disorder, like Chef Ward — the other chefs would watch the judgements on the tv screens just for them — and risk the displeasure of said judges.

Making a split-second decision, Arthur Pendragon made his choice. "I would like to start off with my salty autumn dish, a simple carrot soup." On a dark orange plate, laid a light red bowl was placed the orange soup, sprinkled with persil as bit and bobs of potatoes and carrots were about. This was deliberate on Arthur's part, as he did not want to have a smooth soup this time about — something that he was sure that all of the other chefs who have made soup would have done. He explained his reasonings to the judges when asked.

Arthur could not say if it was good or bad when they said nothing and wrote something down on their pads.

The next dish, that Arthur presented to the judges, was the zesty winter dish: a fruitcake. Not completely down, as he would have had to wait for at least forty-eight hours minimum, but it was close enough. This particular dish was a bit risky, as Alton Brown was known for his fruitcakes — something he had made during one of the Christmas specials of the show Iron Chef —, however, Arthur was quite confident of the slice of cake, bejeweled of red, orange and yellow among the brown on top of a light blue, circle-shaped, plate.

He was praised by the male judges and even Alton Brown dropped in a word or two. Morgause, the ex-model, CEO and most harshest judge to please, only spoke a more neutral remark. Something that could be taken well or not, all depended on the final judgement. (And wasn't that ominous in some weird biblical way.) Arthur did have faith in his cooking.

His more lighter spring dish was the sweet zucchini flowers, fried slightly and put on a summer-green plate. They were surrounded by small circles of cut zucchini, raw and garnered only by olive oil and rock salts. For a moment, Arthur grew worried from Mrs. Delanoé remark of "This doesn't seem sweet to me, more rather salty."

The Chef was relieved when Mr. King immediately piped in his defense, stating that the general taste was sweet. A relief that grew more moderated when Morgause's face didn't change and she wrote something down.

On the other hand, his lemon cake were a success, laying about on their white plate. In the beginning, he had wanted to do a lemon pudding, something that he had thought about while cooking at his station. However, once he saw Morgana doing the same thing, he quickly adjusted the pudding to a cake, not wanting to copy her. His cousin had the priority on the recipe, as it was his aunt who made it often and not, much to his regret, his mother.

It was a good thing too! Arthur sensed that Morgause would have treated him more harshly if he had presented the same dessert as Morgana. Nothing concrete, of course, just a hunch. The compliments overwhelmed the advice. Off went Arthur with a lighter head and a spring in his steps, thinking that he may survive this round, if not outright win. Yep, it was good being a Pendragon and a Tintagel.

Alton Brown called out the next chef. "Would Chef Parker please come up? We would like to taste your cooking next."

Gilli Parker was in trouble. He had gambled and the gamble seemed to have not paid off. His cinnamon rolls, the jewel of his dishes, the best of the best, weren't completely cooked! Oh, they were alright, if you compared the cinnamon rolls of a housewife to that of a chef's! Still, he had what he had and hoped for the best. That's all he could do.

"To start off these dishes will be my sour autumn dish, an avocado salad. Now, I know that avocados aren't sour, but sweet, which comes to the next part of the dish where I added lemons, sour oranges, grapefruits and feta cheese." Said salad was on a bright yellow dish, to contrast with the majority of green and white.

The salad wasn't such a success as Chef Parker had expected, as the taste was much to bitter for the judges' liking. There weren't any negative comments, but there weren't any positive either. Not good at all, silence was the worse thing that could be used to gauge their reactions.

The next dish was by far the best dish of them all: a cheese soufflé. The salty winter dish was a tricky dish as soufflés were tricky to complete, and even trickier to maintain. It was his second greatest dish, since Gilli didn't want to ride on only one dish, which was his cinnamon rolls. The soufflés were placed each in a cup of bright orange, on top of a white plate.

This time, the reactions were perfect, compensating for the first disastrous dish. Well, perfect if you knew the judges fairly well. Hence why Gilli didn't read too much into it. He presented his spicy spring dish: the famous cinnamon rolls that he had failed. The rolls were placed on top of a simple, small, white plate. The glaze was perfect, but the rolls themselves were slightly raw. On one hand, it could have been taken as an artistic liberty, on the other, it could be badly taken.

"Slightly raw, nonetheless this is good." Mr. Rhoan told him nicely. "I would have liked it a bit more cooked, but this is still good." It turns out that Mr. Rhoan was the nicest of the three, despite his gruff appearance.

Finally, Gilli presented his last dish, the sweet summer dish. On a light blue plate, decorated with daisies, three cream-filled, sugar puffs. Their lightness were a nice finishing touch for the whole series of dishes. So, there was one dish that none of the judges liked while two of them were good and the last one was good. To sum up, not such a bad haul, if one would forget that this was a competition. Unless a miracle happens, like another competitor fail this round even more than he did.

"Thank you Chef Parker. Your dishes were interesting." Alton Brown told him. "Chef Riversong, if you could please come present your dishes."

Chef Freya Riversong's strategy was to present three, simple dishes and one more complicated. The hitch was that one of her dishes, her spicy summer one, was exactly the same as her last round, with a slight variation: a curry. Her beef curry, much different than her chicken curry, would be the first served, then she would present her other dishes.

"Chef Riversong, if you could please begin?" Alton asked the chef, as she was standing there, for the past couple of seconds, not moving.

"Oh!" She gasped in surprised, red coloring her cheeks. "I'm so sorry. Yes please, let us start." She gestured towards her red platter, filled half with taiwanese rice, while the other was covered with a thick brown sauce and pieces of beef. There were also vegetables in the curry, such as potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic.

Even if the dish was similar to the previous round, this curry was even better than the last one. This was normal as both Chef Parker and her had worked on the chicken one. This one was one hundred percent hers. The compliments she received also showed how well it was well-received.

As the curry disappeared in the judges' mouthes, Freya presented her salty autumn dish on a light yellow-edge dish. "These here are my mom's famous cheese puffs. I hope that you would like them just as much as I did when I was a little girl."

Her hopes were rewarded as all of the judges loved the cheese puffs.

"Such a simple dish," Mr. Rhoan started, "yet these large, round, balls are soft and delicious. Very well done indeed. What sort of cheese did you use?"

"Parmesan and emmental. My family loved these two cheese and we would use them whenever possible." Shy!Freya was still hear, as normally Cook!Freya would come out and help her by now.

Once the plates were cleaned, Freya spoke up in that soft voice of hers. "My next dish will be be a turnip and sour orange salad, for my tart winter dish." In a red, curved plate, a lighter shade than the curry dish, were the slices of turnips with large chunks of oranges. The salad was doused with a lemon-radish sauce.

"Why did you use turnips and radishes?" Morgause asked, interested in the answer from the chef.

"I thought that many of the chefs would use lemons and oranges for their sour dishes, so I thought that I can be different with the turnips. The radishes, on the other hand, are very sweet, balanced out with the lemon juice, and the salad has the required tastes without being disgusting."

"I see." Mrs. Delanoé murmured, jotting something down.

"I particularly liked the fact that these ingredients are good for you." Mr. King added, most impressed indeed.

"Thank you. Now, my last dish are corn muffins for the sweet spring dish." Lo and behold, two muffins laid on a bright yellow dish, contrasting with the dark, golden-brown muffin skin. "I know that this isn't a common desert dish, but this is also one of my mom's dishes so I thought that this round would be dedicated to her and her traditional season dishes."

"An excellent call," Alton Brown piped in, "and an excellent reason as well. Very well done indeed from what I can see."

"Too bad you haven't thought of a drink to go with all of these." Mr. King spoke out loud. "It would have made things much better indeed."

"I will keep that in mind." Chef Riversong agreed eagerly, not wanting to loose their good opinion of her.

"Thank you indeed, Chef Riversong. You may leave. Chef Nash, it is now your turn to come to the stage."

Using a chocolate theme was an excellent idea for Chef Kilgharrah Nash as three of his dishes used various types of chocolate. His first dish — or last, if you want to be technical — used cheese to represent the salty summer dish. Interestingly enough, the chef presentation was only three plates sitting in front of each judge, as Chef Nash wasn't going to present in the seasonal order, just like Chef Ward had done.

Gesturing to the central dish, a black plate sprinkled with white spots, were six croquets laid: three fried cheese balls and three fried chocolate balls. He started describing his estival dish to the judges. "I decided in frying three different cheeses. I would recommend that you start off with the ball on your left, which is a two-years old parmesan. Strongest in taste, the middle ball, using brick cheese, has a more soothing flavor for your tastebuds. To finish everything, the last ball is the classical mozzarella cheese, just sweet enough to go to the next plate."

Morgause Delanoé tried the cheese balls in the order Chef Nash had recommended, while Iseldir King tried brick, parmesan than mozzarella. Meanwhile, Anhora Rhoan tried the mozzarella, brick and parmesan. Any combination was good, as all of the cheeses weren't that strong or too weak to influence the next taste.

"Tasty enough," the former model stated, keeping a calm composure. "So, if I'm not mistaken, you will not be going in the sequential order of the seasons?"

"That is correct, ma'am." Kilgharrah was most gracious with the judge, just as he had been taught. "I can put them in order, if you prefer, however, the disorder would be preferable, at least for the tasting of the dishes."

"Oh let him, Morgause." Anhora chided his fellow judge slightly. "We did let that previous chef do it."

"Yes, she was aware of the difficulties in doing such a thing. Meaning we will be harsher than usual in our tasting. Do you still agree with this, Chef Nash?"

"Of course, otherwise, I wouldn't have done such a thing." That was a complete lie, as Chef Nash wasn't aware that he could change the order of his dishes, he was thinking for the esthetics of the presentation. "Now, I would like to move to the second dish, candied winter. Now, when I think of the winter seasons, I think of hot chocolate, or in this case, chocolate croquets." He pointed out to the next half of the black-sparkled white dish. "Just like before, I prepared three different chocolates, with a little extra something, that have been fried. The first ball is a macadamia and dark chocolate."

This time, he waited for the judges to cut the ball open before moving on, as the order was more important for the tasting. The chips of macadamia nuts were crunchy around the oozing dark chocolate. It was good.

"The next ball has white chocolate with a heart of caramel gold. The caramel is slightly stronger, to balance out the cloying taste that a normal white chocolate ball would have, if fried on top of everything else." Chef Nash explained to the judges. There was another reason as to why he had chosen the white chocolate second. In the previous chocolate ball, the dark chocolate was so bitter that there needed a softer touch to counter-balance the thing.

The last ball that Kilgharrah had fashioned was similar to a fried Reese: a chocolate covered peanut butter. As this was one of the American classical candies, it was great hit. One that Kilgharrah relished.

The next dish that Chef Nash presented was his sour spring one. He wanted to finish with his signature taste of spice. The spring dish was presented on a dark green, round, glass plate where cherries, raspberries, grapefruits, oranges and granny apples laid in small circles of two pieces (or two fruits), being covered in dark chocolate, milk or white depending on the fruit that was being used. The result was diverged in tastes, while still staying in a similar range that didn't stray to far from each other. A nifty little trick that Kilgharrah was lucky to master as one little mistake could have ruined the dish.

The judge that loved these chocolate covered sour fruits the most was Iseldir King. The reason? Chocolate had a lot of healthy property, if used correctly — and not with a lot of sugar, milk or grease, something that Chef Nash had avoided as much as he could —, while the various fruits were quite refreshing.

Finally, the oldest chef of the group presented the dessert: a cinnamon muffin with huge chunks of chocolate inside. The muffin was big, soft and squishy, presented on top of a white tea plate. It was delicious with a hint of something more that exploded in the judges' palate. When asked, Kilgharrah revealed that he added a bit of tabasco sauce in the mix, to give the muffin that extra boost.

The judges are impressed with the extra ingredient. Something that pleased the writer-slash-cook.

"I'm impressed with all the uses for chocolate," Alton Brown spoke out. "Thank you very much Chef Nash." The chef nodded before leaving the room regally. "Finally, we have Chef Mitchell to present his dishes."

Will was in his element as he used pork in various states. On a huge, dark red, platter, small dishes were placed holding the dishes. The platter turned on itself, presenting each dish to the judges when it was time.

Will started with the simplest of his cooked things: spicy pork bread to represent spring. The golden-brown roll was on top of a white napkin, still nice and hot for the judges. Since bread wasn't that good by itself, Will presented his sweet summer dish as well, glazed slices of porks, on top of a bed of green salad, cherry tomatoes and small pickles, all of this on top of a pure white plate, the same color as the bread's napkin. The chef's recommendation was to make a small sandwich with the bread and slices, only if the judges wanted to of course.

"Was it intentional that you separated the bread from your salad?" Morgause wanted to know, her face just like stone.

"Not really," Will admitted sheepishly, "in the beginning, I wanted you to taste both dishes separately, then I thought, why not bring both of them together? Hence why I presented them together."

"A good call to make." Anhora complimented him sincerely.

"Thank you." Chef Mitchell was pleased. "Next dish is chinese for the sour autumn, a pork ravioli soup." The bowl was deep, white with blue, geometrical designs decorating the side. The smell was incredible, as rich aromas were only rivaled by the taste of the raviolis and the broth.

"Excellent indeed." Iseldir spoke, just after tasting one ravioli and a bit of the broth. "Was this the first time you made such a soup?"

"Not really, I like to experiment with different recipes using pork. It just so happens that this soup is one of my favorites to make at home. Not at my restaurant, since it doesn't suit the american theme that I cook." Will answered brightly.

"Good enough for an american doing an asian dish." Morgause admitted despite herself. The soup was good enough for her difficult tastes to satisfy.

Before his fellow judge could utter another disparaging remark, Mr. King intervened. "Why don't you introduce your last dish, Chef Mitchell?"

"Of course, sir." Will was eager to finish as well. "My last dish is corned pork, for the salty winter theme. A bit like a hotdog without the bread of course. I hope that you will like it."

The corndog was placed on top of a light blue plate, the wooden stick being dyed dark blue to match the decoration of the plate. It was big, as the sausage that Will made from scratch was huge as well. It was salty, sure, but slightly sweet as well since corndogs use a bit of sugar in the batter.

It was received with a bit of skepticism in the beginning, as the idea wasn't that well know in the land of hotdogs. Nonetheless, once the judges took a bite out of the soft dish, they were quickly converted to the dish. Except, Morgause who wasn't that convinced of this dish. At least she didn't say anything, much to Will's relief. That didn't mean that she wasn't writing the critic down on her notepad for later. Which wasn't very surprising as she was one difficult judge to please.

"Thank you very much, Chef Mitchell. Go join the other chefs and come back in five minutes." Alton Brown told him.

"Understood." Will was serious when he replied back. He left the room to join his friend and other competitors. Who would be eliminated from this round?

When five minutes passed by, the eight chefs stood straight and tall, in two lines of three and one of two. The judges looked impressive from where the chefs stood, high and mighty on their table. They were about to render their judgement upon the chefs as to who would be able to go ahead.

"Chefs," Alton began, "you have each been given a card with a season and taste. You each had to create one dish per card, and fulfill every conditions for all four cards. Now, even if it pains me to say it after seeing all these interesting dishes being served, only seven of you can advance to the next round. It is time for the judges to say who will survive … and who will go home today."

Morgause, just like last time, began the judgement. "Chef Emrys." Merlin straightened up, anxious to know if he would survive the next round. "Your coulibiac was excellent as well as your apple pie. However, your fruit salad was a bit too simplistic, even if it was refreshing. The dish we most particularly liked was your hot chocolate, even if it could be more considered a drink rather than a dish." She took a breath, ratting up a notch the tension. "It is because of your hot chocolate and your fruit salad that we couldn't win. You survive to cook another day."

Merlin jumped in the air since he was so excited. He left the room, a small spring in his step. He waited behind the double doors to see who survived as well.

Since Mr. King had gone second the last time, he left Mr. Rhoan the honors. "Chef Pendragon." Arthur was ready for the verdict. "Your fried zucchini flower was more sweet than salty, which was a malus point. On top of this, your lemon pudding was also much to sweet compared to the sour taste that was needed. It would have passed if that had been your only mistake, but with the zucchini flower, this was quite negative." Arthur's eyes began to widen, worried that he would be eliminated. "However," Anhora continued, "your fruitcake was quite good as well as your carrot soup. You survived to cook another day."

Arthur was quite pleased that he survived. Passing through the double doors, he high-fived Merlin in happiness. In the euphoria of winning, Merlin and Arthur were quite cordial with one another, speaking softly about Galahad, their only common topic. After a couple of weeks, Merlin finally let go of his anger against the blonde.

Meanwhile, in the Room of Doom, Mr. King was about to speak up for Chef Brianna Ward. "Your best dish was the jelly, followed by your cucumber salad. However, your spring and summer dish would have been better to be eaten separately. Your idea was good, but it backfired by the fact that you didn't follow the seasonal pattern." Taking a small breath, he continued. "However, your overall result was good. You survived to cook another day."

Brianna was ecstatic, bursting through the double doors into the duo of other chefs. She was screaming her happiness. The other chefs were happy as well to see such a baubly chef still being in the race.

Alton Brown was the next one to speak out. "Chef Riversong, you have shone in this round. Each dish was original enough, while still maintaining a sort of theme to hold them together. The best dish was your turnip and orange salad, despite it being a tart one. It is my extreme pleasure to announce that you have won this round."

"HELL YEAH!" was what Freya wanted to shout out. Instead, she murmured a quiet "thank you" before leaving through the double doors. Merlin greeted her with great cheer, quickly followed by Arthur and Brianna. The female chefs was well liked and none could begrudge her win.

Mr. King was the one to speak up next. "Chef Nash. While I loved your chocolate theme, my fellow judges and I agreed that you should have been able to find a salty dish following that theme as well. Because of that, you are placed second. Congratulation, you survive to cook another day."

Elegant as ever, Kilgharrah left the room. Second place wasn't too bad, it meant that he had a chance in winning one of the next rounds.

In front of the remaining three chefs, Mr. Rhoan was the one to speak up. Their female judge, Mrs. Delanoé, was eager to say who had lost. Much to eager for their taste, although, at least they wouldn't feel bad when announcing the looser. "Chef Mitchell." He caught said chef's attention. "Your dishes were good. The soup was one of the best out of the four dishes, while the corndog was good. However, your bread was slightly dry and your slices of glazed ham wasn't that good. Especially since you put the two of them together. It could have worked if you did something else with the bread. Knowing that, you still get to cook another day, thanks to your two other dishes."

Will's reaction, once he passed the double doors, was incredible, as he jumped on Merlin's back. Both friends were extremely happy to see each other still in the race. Their friendship was so strong that it didn't matter who won or who lost, just as long as one of them win this competition.

Morgause Delanoé, as planned, was the one to close up the results. "Chef Parker. Chef La Fey." The two chefs were side by side now, wondering who will survive and who will not. "Chef La Fey, although you did an interesting theme, your lemon pudding was too sweet compared to the sour taste needed and your cheesecake wasn't completely cooked, despite being it light and salty enough." Morgana gulped while Gilli was ready to smirk. " On the other hand, your chocolate cake was one of the best as well as your avocado and banana sauce. The combination was good, even if it would have been better if you had not done it. With that in mind, you have survived to cook another day."

Morgana's smile was predatory. She barely passed, but she did it. She will not be in such a position again for the next rounds. She left to join her cousin with the other chefs, who all greeted her cheerfully.

In the other room, Alton Brown was the one to finish with Gilli Parker who was looking dejected. "Chef Parker," he began, "you had some good ideas for your dishes and try your best to complete the conditions of this round. Unfortunately, your cinnamon rolls were slightly undercooked, your salad the bitterest of all dishes which made it practically impossible to like it. You could have been saved with your cheese soufflé, which was excellent from what I heard. But the sugar puffs were not that great, which was your downfall. I'm sorry Chef Parker, you will not be part of the next rounds."

"That's alright." Gilli told them, sad to have lost, but still happy to have gotten so far. "Thank you very much for this opportunity."

He left through the double doors to be comforted by the other chefs. Especially Freya who had liked her partner from the previous round. At least he had been nice with her. She really didn't want him to resent her. Fortunately for her, he did not and even asked her for her number. He apologized to the other chefs before announcing that he would be cheering on for the female chef.

The others didn't begrudge him that, as they had seen the small sparks between the two chefs. The part-time writer/full-time chef had even added it as a possible side-couple in his future book. A book he was basing on this competition, with a dash of supernatural and a broad stroke of love. He even had the best couple in mind as the main characters, even if they didn't know it yet.

Amanda Pine was the one to interview Gilli Parker this time. The chef was stoic, as he tried to contain the disappointment interior. "What are your thoughts on this defeat at this round?"

"Relief actually." Gilli had to admit to the cameras. "Sad that I lost, that's for sure, but I think it's better to loose here than in the very first round or the second." He did a small shrug. "Besides, I prefer loosing to the lovely Freya Riversong and now able to ask her out now. I don't have to wait until the end of the contest."

"Really?" Amanda was leaning in slightly, to give off the effect of lending an ear. "So do we expect you two together than?"

"If she would have me." Gilli smiled at the camera, a dimple formed from it. "Then we'll see how this will go. She is one heck of a chef and lady. That's for sure."

The chefs were gathered together, waiting for Elena to explain the next task and give them their next location. Elena was wearing a kimono, a nice shade of sky blue with cherry blossoms petals decorating the bottom with specks of gold in the storm. Her obi — or belt for the western term — was bright yellow with a small, red bag hanging down. Her getas — japanese sandals — made her walk more slowly while giving her an elegance.

"Hey there." She chirped cheerfully, somehow bouncing with these shoes, which should be impossible with her shoes. "So, I you guys know that I can't give you much for the task, as it won't be too difficult, per say. There will be only one condition, you cannot make any sort of salads." Seeing the perplexed faces, she found an example that they could follow. "A Salade Niçoise cannot be made. Any salad similar will not be accepted. So think really hard as to what you will make."

She waited a couple of seconds for them to assimilate the info before giving them the location. "In one week time, that is to say, the Fifteenth of June, you will have to be already in Chicago. The location of the next task will be the restaurant Alinea on 1723 North Halsted Street and it starts at eight o'clock. I will send you this same info via e-mail, so check them for any confirmation."

Seeing that they registered everything that she told them, she clapped her hands to gain there attention once more. "Alrighty, then I'll be seeing you guys in one week. Rest, plan and make sure to sharpen your knives for the next leg of the journey. Cheers."

The chefs left in small groups of twos or threes. For some reason, Arthur, Merlin, Morgana and Will have found themselves together and talking with one another. Morgana and Will were sharing a wry sense of humor that both didn't expect to see in the other. The duo's quick tongue trading teasing barbs with one another, walking a bit faster than the other two males.

When they arrived at the parking lot, they went to their separate cars, one for the cousins, while the other was for the friends. Just before they entered their cars — they have somehow parked side-by-side —, all chefs exchanged numbers, the bliss of surviving a new round made the air around them light and cheery. So, even if they were enemies, if one could call it that, they would still keep in contact to talk with one another.

Arthur was planning on calling Merlin as many times as possible. He had never met someone so beautiful such as Merlin, and, although they started off on the wrong foot, Arthur would be a fool to let him pass through his fingers.

The other reason was due to Morgana who bet with Arthur that Kilgharrah Nash would come in second. Since she won, Arthur was kinda forced to try and speak more with Merlin, just so that he could "stop whining, you are giving me a mal de tête. [head-ache]". Her words, not his. So he really didn't have a choice, as Morgana was a force to be reckoned with, … besides, Merlin wasn't a bad catch, if Arthur had any hope.

The quartet parted ways, knowing with absolute certainty that they would see each other in one week, if not before.

— Eros/Cupid: Son of Aphrodite, he is the God of Sexual Love and/or Desire. —

Merlin wondered if he hadn't judged Arthur too harshly in the beginning. The blond was nice, when he wasn't stressed of course. For the past week, they hadn't stopped skyping during their free time (which was very little in reality), bonding over some mundane things such as Galahad — the boy was turning into an excellent topic —, godsons/nephews — Morgana had a young son with her husband going by the name of Ywain — and cooking —the most popular topic for both chefs. In an tacit decision, they never talked about the competition.

Still, they discussed many interesting things. Even if it was far from the more physical aspect of seeing each other, it was still enough for them to start something, a basis for a foundation of what could be a relationship, if both tried something.

It will be Morgana and Will, much to their dismay and unknowingly mirroring each other, had to listen to their friend/cousin blabber about the other nearly all the time. The worst part was that they hadn't even realized it! Morgana and Will started stocking up the Tylenol for the future.

Now, they only hoped that they could survive the week. If only so that the next two weeks would allow the chefs some time to get together. At least, that was what Elena had implied for all those that pass the next round. It would be best that it was true, just for their mental stability.

Another head-ache inducing problem was the fact that they had to find dishes that didn't use any fire without falling into the trap that they need to do a salad. As if they didn't have enough on their plate already with Merlin and Arthur.

— In the beginning, mankind wasn't given the gift of Fire. It belonged to the domain of the Gods. However, when Epimetheus did not dote upon man some sort of protection, claw, talon, fur, feathers, etc … the Titan stole a spark from Helios' sacred chariot to bestow upon Man. He taught them how to use it to cook, warm and defend themselves, using such a gift. That was how Fire was born in the realm of men. Greek Mythology concerning the appearance of Fire. —

Fourth Task: Hot n' Cold.

The Fifteenth of June saw seven chefs waiting patiently in front of an elegant, grey, building on 1723 North Halsted Street, Chicago. Many of the chefs had arrived two days before, in order to scout the restaurant and wonder what they will have to do. As they found out, Alinea was one of the top restaurants in molecular cuisine, a type of new cuisine that many weren't that knowledgeable about. Since the organizers were already aware of such a thing, they probably had planned out something to help them out.

Once eight struck, the black doors opened letting the chefs pass through, one-by-one. They met Alton Brown in a monochrome, stylish kitchen, filled with chemicals and strange machines that many chefs have heard of, but did not know how to use. There were two other chefs as well, bearing the symbol of the Alton Brown was his ever-present tv, where the Chairman will give out his message concerning this task. This time, the Asian man was in a lab, wearing a lab coat, while being surrounded with chemicals, vials and other sort of science-y stuff.

"Greeting chefs," all of the sudden, one of the vials started to smoke green, creating a mad-scientist effect on the Chairman. "An Iron Chef is a bit like a scientist, who will use his cooking as an experiment. Especially in this task where no flames would be allowed for cooking. Science will be your answer." The grin was a bit maniacal. "Good luck chefs. May the best scientist win." The screen turned blank.

Alton Brown faced the chefs. "Let me explain your task to all of you, before giving you to these two chefs to help you use these chemicals and machines." The two men smiled with a little waive. "Your tasks consist in not using any flames you would normally used while cooking, meaning the stove and the oven. You will have ninety minutes to create one dish that cannot be a salad. On the other hand, you can create a hot or cold dish, whatever you want. Another hand, if you create a hot dish, you can take the significance any way you want it, you will gain some bonus points."

Alton turned to the other chefs in the kitchen. "Let me introduce to you two of Alinea's chefs. Chef Grant Achatz, who is also one of the partners of this fantastic restaurant, and Chef Dave Beran. They will show you various methods that their cuisine uses when cooking. Fort the next ten minutes, you will be able to test these out to your heart's content and see what makes you happy. However, think carefully, for there is a crux in this round, you must use at least two chemicals and one machine minimum, or vice-versa. You must do this, in order to complete the task." The must was stressed, to show the importance. "Good luck chefs."

So for the next ten minutes, Chef Achatz and Chef Chasseur showed the contestants the carbon dioxide, the ice-cream maker, the anti-griddle, the thermal immersion circulator and interesting things. The explanations only took about two to three minutes before letting the chefs free. Many of them loved playing with their new toys.

Once their ten minutes were up, the chefs stood once more around Alton Brown for the start of the race. "Chef Riversong, can you please step up?" The double-personality chef approached the front. "Chef Riversong, as the winner of the last round, you get to choose first which chemicals and which machines you would like first dibs on. You can also choose your ingredients. No other chef will bother you while you choose, something that the others won't have the luxury to do." The chefs laughed nervously, knowing that this was true. They eyed the things that they needed, wondering who else would take the thing they wanted.

Wandering around the kitchen, Freya looked at the things that she may need. She pointed out the thermal immersion circulator, the Hydrocolloids and the centrifuge. She would need those at the very least for her dish. She also picked first her ingredients before settling it down at her workstation. Alton Brown shouted "GO!" for the others to start. The game was on.

"I think that most interesting about this task," Merlin stated when asked about his thoughts, "is that anything is possible with the tools you have in hand. The only thing that you must know is how to wield them." He chuckled at his little joke. "It reminded me of the chemist set my mom bought me when I was young. I couldn't stop playing with the chemicals."

He paused before going back to pensive. "In all seriousness, this task was hard since we had so many new factors to compute, a time limit all the while being stressed because of this competition. When you boil it down, it's a lot to take in. That's why I decided to play to my biggest strength: my decorating skills. When I'm uncertain about my cooking, I can, at the very least, count on it to shine brightly."

Chef Merlin Emrys' utensils: Liquid Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, Anti-Griddle, Edible Papers and Aromatic Bag.

As soon as Merlin heard the starting cry, he raced towards the pantry to gather all his ingredients. He was quite aware that many of his competitors would be racing to claim either the chemicals or the machinery that they would need, however, in his case, he wouldn't need to many complicated things.

His dish blossomed in his mind during his ten minute playtime, a lovely piece of art that he hadn't realized was possible. Ninety minutes were just right for what he planned to do, showing just aptly named his given nickname was. Now, would it please the judges or not, that he didn't know. At the very least, he would impress them and continue to move forward, while surviving another round.

The only real constraint that he had to look out for was the fact that he couldn't cook while using a flame. That didn't mean he couldn't go around such a snag, what with all his new toys and the brilliant fact that all of the chefs had a hotplate where they could place their sauces and hot water. The downside was that it wasn't very hot and cooking times were prolonged if you needed to use it.

First things first, though he started on the preparations for his almond paste — or marzipan for the more common name — in a large bowl, using sugar, powdered almonds and eggs. He repeated the process five times, four large bowls and one more medium size. In three of the bowls, Merlin added food coloring: yellow (for the small bowl), while dark red and light purple were put in two of the larger bows. Then, every bowls of marzipan were put in the fridge to rest for a while.

The next part of the dish was going to be a first one for Merlin, as he was going to create macaroons with cooking them. Humming a little ditty, Merlin whirled away his batter, as the clock tick-tock the time. At the same time, Merlin's mind was thinking as to what he would print out on the edible paper for the other half of his dish.

If the chef had to put a name on this emotion, it would be giddy from all these fun things he would do. If he could, he would have cackled maniacally.

"Sometimes, I wonder how far the science of cooking will go. I mean, I heard about molecular cuisine, heck, I was even asked by many of my friends if it was true that you could cook a fish in your dishwasher! How low could that be?" Brianna was her usual passionate self, so full of emotion when talking. "So yeah, this task is interesting since it doesn't concern what I would call traditional cuisine." She air-quoted the last two words to emphasize on what she meant.

Tilting her head back slightly, she she had been leaning forward during her little speech, Chef Ward decided to add something else to that little speech concerning her thoughts on the task. "But you know what? I wouldn't trade this experience for all the money in the world. Thanks to this competition, I can explore new techniques and new cooking styles that I wouldn't even have dared tried since it looked like some foreign culture. That means that this task may be difficult to do, since we are all playing with things we don't know, nonetheless, that doesn't mean that it can't be fun as well."

Her beaming smile explained the rest of her answer, nullifying the expanding needed to do so.

Chef Brianna Ward's utensils: Grinder, Thermal Immersion Circulator, Hydrocolloids and Centrifuge.

Brianna was humming to herself an italian air as she used the centrifuge to mix the eggs, flour, pepper, salt, coriander and either shrimp, surimi or crab in three bowls. Her speciality laid in pasta, and pasta was what she was going to do. The only twist was that her pasta wasn't going to be traditional sort. Hey! If this task wasn't going to be completely traditional, then she was allowed to have fun with her dishes as well, it would be one of the rare times where she would have a legitimate reason to serve crazy dishes for her clients — or judges in this case.

Next, she placed on her station a piece of salmon that she de-boned and cut into thin layers that she then placed on top of a big cube of Himalayan pink rock salt to cook them, all while adding herbs such as dill and pepper on top to infuse them with flavors. As she led it rest as she started on the other part for her salmon rillettes: a sauce of five peppers, rosebuds, honey and hydrocolloids — in order to thicken the sauce. Once her sauce finished being whisked and strained (to just keep the liquid before thickening it with the chemical), she turned towards her cooked salmon slices, that she quickly rinsed before shredding it into small pieces.

The next thing that she did was mix her rillettes with her sauce, before forming balls with the whole combination. After each ball was finished, she delicately placed each ball in a plastic wrapping, making about eighteen of these little balls. The plate that held them was then put in the fridge, just a shelf under Chef Emrys' bowls.

Next step was the pasta sauce that she was preparing for her divers salads. A sugary-spicy sort of mixture that she was sure would be delicious, an explosion of tastes if she dared say so. Mentally, she was doing a little jig, so giddy was her mental state. The judges won't know what hit them, that's for sure.

"Ever since it first started, I loved watching the show Iron Chef." Morgana started her explanation with that. "One of my favorite parts was when one of the chefs would create an ice-cream with the weirdest flavors that they could come out with. I actually wanted to try and do such an ice-cream." Her smile was both pretty and sweet.

"This round is one of the best ones, in my humble opinion, as it would allow me to fulfill one of my dreams in creating an amazing ice-cream. I can't wait to try it out."

Chef Morgana La Fey's utensils: Ice-Cream Maker, Centrifuge, Liquid Nitrogen, Griddle, Syringe and Thermal Immersion Circulator.

The first thing Morgana started on was her avocado ice-cream. As she had stated before, she had watched Iron Chef before and one of the most common themes was that the machine would not always prepare the ice-cream when it was needed. That way, she would have all the time for this round to be able to do it at her leisure. Another working factor is that there were only two machines and she thought that there were more than two chefs who wanted to make an ice-cream.

Pouring the batter in the machines, she felt a little bit better now that it was done. Next was her cold soup for the ice-cream: a gaspacho. As she started on the tomatoes, the persil and the pepper, putting all the ingredients in the boiling water on the hotplate, she heard Chef Emrys call out from across the kitchen. "Has somebody seen the liquid nitrogen?"

"I do," Morgana replied, as she had it for later. "Do you need it now?" She could spare it if it was quick.

"If you can spare it, I would like it now."

Gesturing towards the bottle of chemicals, Morgana told him. "Go ahead. So long as you give it back to me in a couple of minutes."

"No problem." Merlin shouted back, as he continued mixing his batter. "I'll bring it back as soon as I'm done."

"Perfect." Morgana threw the bottle towards Merlin, meeting him halfway of the journey so that they wouldn't loose time going from one end of the kitchen to another. "Good luck using it."

"Thanks." He left as she started on her salmon tartare, shredding the pieces of salmon before mixing it with walnuts — that had been soaked in warm milk since the beginning of the round —, small pieces of fennel — that had also been soaking on the hotplate, but this time in water —, fennel seeds, pine nuts and dill. She was planning on putting the whole mixture in plum tomatoes that she would have emptied previously.

During all that, she had cod fish cooking in the thermal immersion circulator, with the potatoes so that she could purée them later on. Things were looking up for her, as she would definitely not loose this round at all!

"For the last three rounds, I didn't play with my strength." Chef Nash admitted to the camera. "My cuisine is based on spiciness, bringing warmth in cold dishes. That means that this round is one where I can play my strength, thus winning it is going to be much easier compared to other chefs."

After a small pause, Kilgharrah added something else to his previous reply. "At least things are heating up for my book. The chefs that I am basing my main characters are really fueling my imagination." He laughed loudly, the laughter being rich and warm. "I know for sure that once we know who the next Iron Chef will be, I can guarantee that my book will be nearly finished, if not alright published on the very same day. So stay tune and check your local bookstores."

Chef Kilgharrah Nash's utensils: Thermal Immersion Circulator, Immersion Blender, Mixer, Food Dehydrator, Transglutaminase, Ice-Cream Maker and Centrifuge.

Kilgharrah wanted to make a very hot dish, while keeping it sweet enough to not burn the judges' mouths. So he started his cooking with the beef being in a bag of salt, to simmer in the thermal immersion circulator while he started cooking his tomatoes with lot's of black pepper (if you could call it cooking when they were only simmering on the hotplate in the pot). The same method was used for the cucumbers with open capsicums to bring out the flavor. Once forty minutes have passed, he would use the immersion blender in order to produce two different foams — layering the tomato foam under the cucumber one to make a nice bed for his piece of beef that will be rolled in in his special mixtures of spices that he had brought with him, just in case. He wouldn't reveal it to the cameras what sort of ingredients he used, as it was a family secret.

While the first part of his dish was being prepared, he started on his ice-cream, a florina pepper flavor that he thought would be an excellent touch for his dessert. Putting it in the other ice-cream maker, he put his mind to rest in order to prepare his prepare his caramelized mutton. Since he didn't have a pan to make his caramel, Kilgharrah by-passed the little problem by putting a bit of water with sugar that he then put in the thermal immersion circulator at the highest setting possible. After ten minutes, he took the bag out, poured the mixture in a different plastic bag that contained some pieces of mutton (or sheep meat), before putting it back in the thermal immersion circulator to cook for only a little one. Since he was making a tartare, he needed the mutton to be as raw as possible for it to work. During the waiting time for his improvised caramel, he grated the three spices that he would parcel the meat with: chili, datil and cubeb.

Chef Nash was on a roll and nothing could even stop him from winning at least this round. Not even the pesky little thing like no flames for the cooking.

"In each competition, we were forced to things we weren't used too. I thought that the ingredient roulette in round two was the most difficult thing that there would be in this competition. This proves that there would always be something more difficult than the previous rounds." Chef Pendragon explained to the camera seriously. "This is just one more challenge that I have to face and win. The good news is that we have been provided with an alternative for cooking." He shrugged once, keeping his cool. "All in all, this will be fun, in my personal opinion."

Chef Pendragon: Spherification, Ultrasound, Thermal Immersion Circulator, Griddle and Maltodextrin.

Arthur was going to do a salad. Well, it depended on what you would consider to be a salad. There was already the huge salad-slash-bed for his main part of the dish, … and then there was the algae salad that Arthur was planning on doing. Technically, the latter couldn't really be considered to be a salad, despite the name of it, since it wouldn't be the main dish, ergo — Morgana would have a field day with his deep thinking — the judges wouldn't be able to say anything against it.

Searching in the pantry, Arthur had found the dried green, white and red seaweeds, hence the second idea for his dish. Another factor playing for the second part was the process of spherication. Ever since he saw that little tool, Arthur Pendragon really wanted to use it. So he put in a bowl full of water the algae to rehydrate, before putting in a bag with water and some sugar a couple of mushrooms to be cooked in the thermal immersion circulator. He was planning in creating a sort of caviar-like effect on his seaweed salad using the process of spherication.

In a pot full of boiling water, on top of the hotplate, Arthur added the giant shrimps, nailed with cloves all around the body, as floating star anises joined the pot. As the shrimps were cooking, taking a lot of time if the chef wasn't mistaken, cucumbers and bananas were being thinly sliced, as the avocados and mangos were cubed.

Seeing that his shrimps still hadn't finished cooking, Arthur decided to start on his plating. On a large, weirdly shaped, white plate — meaning that it had a large oval-rectangular shape before veering off to a smaller opular shape on the right-hand side of the plate —, the chef layered the slices of banana, before adding the cubes of avocado. On top of that, were the layers of cucumbers as the cubes of mango finished the top. It made quite a colorful assortment, with the two different greens, the light yellow and the deep yellow-red.

As for the second part of the plate, Arthur added a small, handless, sea-green cup for his salad.

It was during his plating that he heard shout of dismay from one of the chefs. Turning quickly from where it originated, Arthur saw Chef Nash's ice-cream not forming as it came out in thick foam from the machine. Unlikes his cousin's who was coming out perfectly in that greenish color which could only mean one thing, she had created her avocado ice-cream. Said ice-cream was one of the different flavors she had wanted to create, but didn't have the materials to do such a thing.

"After winning the last round, I knew that I had an advantage for this one." Freya sweet whispering voice answered the question. "With such an advantage, I thought that this task would be easier than when I started on the other rounds. That's why I decided to go with something simple, while keeping things complex in tastes. Well, as simple a potential Iron Chef could create."

Her face then changed to something much more fiercer. "I will win this round again."

Chef Freya Riversong's utensils: Thermal Immersion Circulator, Hydrocolloids and Centrifuge.

Freya just wanted to create two simple parts for her dish, using only the three things that she had picked. So she brought out the salmon, the shrimps and the crabs to form three different mousses using the centrifuge to form such a thing. She used eggs, flour and various spices (according to the meat that she was going to use) as well as the hydrocolloid to thicken her mixtures without loosing the taste. The crab part took a bit more time as she had to clean the crab thoroughly before mixing everything up.

Placing the bowls in the fridge, she prepared some surimi pastas as she needed it for the main dish. Next, she melted down some cheese, before adding the hydrocolloid once more as she planned in making cheese bubbles for her surimi-spaghetti, a little trick that her mama taught her a long time ago. It would be fun to re-make, as well as wacky enough for molecular cuisine.

Once she finished, she checked her various seafoods that had been cooking since the beginning of the round on the hotplate, as they were needed for later, hence why she didn't put it for an express cooking with the rest of her fishy-meat in the thermal immersion circulator for the foams.

Speaking of foams, she starting platting as time was ticking by. On a simple, round, green dish, she placed one of those fat glasses that you would drink whiskey in. Using a bag, she filled the bottom of the glass with the salmon mousse, putting pieces of salmon in between the thin layers she created until it mounted to a very thick layer. She repeated the process for the shrimp mousse and the crab foam, putting in the corresponding meat to enhance the flavor. On top of the crab mousse, she decorated it with a small branch of red berries and three salmon eggs, topped by a leaf of dill.

Just as she finished her first part of the platting, her timer dinged for the cheese bubbles to be formed before putting it in the fridge to stay compact. She placed a timer to warn her when the last eight minutes will be, as she will need five minutes to re-heat the bubbles in the thermal immersion circulator, while leaving a three-minute cushion to be able to finish her plating.

"I was never much of a geek." Chef Will Mitchell explained to the camera. "Heck, I was more of the jock with some culinary experience. So when I see this kitchen, full of all these geeky objects, I was a bit panicked in the beginning." He chuckled at his little joke. "Well, the panic subsided when our teachers explained how to use the machines and chemicals. I even started to imagine what sort of dish I could create with these bad babies."

The smile was someone who was planning a prank. A frightening look if someone had asked Merlin or any other person who knew Will.

Chef William "Will" Mitchell's utensils: Hydrocolloids, Immersion Blender, Fryer, Thermal Immersion Circulator and Maltodextrin.

Will was having extremely fun with the immersion blender as he turned his zucchini into a purée, something that was not always this easy with a normal mixer. "I am so going to buy one of these bad babies." Will declared to the camera, grinning as he was mixing everything, adding from time to time some honey still in the beeswax — quite edible with a strong flavor — to strengthen the taste.

As he was mixing everything, Will had some green apples bobbing about in their little plastic bags, in thin slices so that they can soften up much faster with the temperatures they were allowed to use with the thermal immersion circulator. Joining them in their little bath were nine pork loins who were also cooking about. At least these would be the only things that he would have to cook, as the rest didn't need so much cooking. In the worst case scenario that his pork loins wouldn't be ready in time, Will planned to fry them. Just as long as he could finish his design for the plating.

The chef thought that he would plate his purée in big, white, round, plates, making sure to place the sweetened mashed zucchinis right in the center before leaving the dishes on the hotplate, in order to keep it warm. Next, he pounded in a mortar his black pepper and chile, reducing them into a fine powder where he added the green tea. It was ready for the next part.

Checking his loins, Will saw that it was taking to much time. He will move to plan B then: frying. Breaking his eggs and pouring the flower in a bowl, he dipped his loins first in the egg mixture, then in the flour, before repeating the process three times. He then dropped his loins in the deep fryer, liking the sizzling sound that it was producing. He did the same thing for some squash that he would add on top of his mashed zucchini.

Once the plating will be plating, Will was sure that he could brag that it was on parr with Merlin's abilities!

"TIME!" Alton Brown called out, as ninety minutes were up. "Get away from your plates, you can't do anything else. "Gather around as I will present to you your judges. Since this round is a bit peculiar, the judges are peculiar as well."

There were three men on a table in the main dining room. Approaching the table, Alton started from the chef on the far right, someone that most of the contestants recognized. "I'm sure that you recognize one of the pioneers in molecular cuisine, chef Wylie Dufresne. Chef Dufresne has also participated as one of the challengers in Iron Chef America against Iron Chef Mario Batali."

He then moved on to the next to men, who were in fact the very same chefs who had helped them navigate through Alinea's kitchen: Chef Grant Achatz and Chef Dave Beran. Both were Alinea's chefs, however, the former was one of the restaurant's partners, while the latter was only a chef.

"Chefs," Alton started again, "this round's theme was molecular cuisine, where all of you had to create one dish, in ninety minutes, all while using two machines and one chemical minimum, or vice-versa. Another penalty against you in this challenge is the fact that you couldn't use any flames for cooking jut as salads have been forbidden for this round. However, if you have somehow produced a hot dish, and I use the word hot in the loosest possible way, then you will be regarded more favorably by the judges. So good luck chefs, I am looking forward to see what you have created."

He took a deep breath, before announcing which chef will be the first to be judged. "Chef Riversong, if you could please step forward while the rest of you may wait in the kitchen."

The chefs left, wondering how this round will be, as Freya stayed in her cook mode. She will not back down without as a fight.

Chef Riversong: Thermal Immersion Circulator, Hydrocolloids and Centrifuge.

"Chef Riversong, may you please present what you have created." Chef Dufresne asked her kindly.

"Of course." Cook!Freya replied eagerly. She gestured towards her green plate where the surimi pasta filled a good portion on the side of the plate. The red spaghettis were un-orthodox, enhanced by the multitude of mussels, clams, squids, shrimps and black mushroom decorating amidst the pasta. On top of it, Freya had added baubbles of cheese.

"This is the first part of my dish since it is still warm. I created the pasta from surimi, before adding various seafood that goes well with this dish. On top, I added my mother's secret cheese bubbles recipe, which I made from parmesan."

The chefs ate this portion of the dish, not saying anything at all as they waited for an explanation of the other part of the dish. This side of Freya wasn't unerved as the other would be. She gestured to her trio-layered mousse and explained what each layer was, starting from the top. First though, the judges had to eat a bit of crab meat, a shrimp and a small piece of salmon that had been put on the spoon. Freya thought it was a nice finishing touch.

"This is good." Chef Achatz finally said, trying the three mousses together. "I liked how you did a crescendo of flavors, putting the lightest taste on top. Was this intentional?"

"Of course it was. I was aware that crab meat has a much smoother flavoring, that can be easily overcome by the shrimp and the salmon. For the shrimp layer, I thought that it would make a nice middle ground before moving on to the salmon part."

"I like what you did with the cheese, although, I found that some of my bubbles were cold." Chef Dufresne told her bluntly. He was still smiling, taking away a bit of the sting of the comment. "A good job though, I'm impressed."

Freya smiled prettily, glad that something was going well.

"Excellent," Alton intervened. "Thank you Chef Riversong. Chef Nash, if you could please come in."

Chef Nash: Thermal Immersion Circulator, Immersion Blender, Mixer, Food Dehydrator, Transglutaminase, Ice-cream Maker and Centrifuge.

Chef Nash wasn't happy at all! His florina ice-cream failed two times, even if he tried the same machine as Chef La Fey. It wasn't as if he couldn't go around the problem, however, it was still not a nice feeling, especially in a competition. What he did was create a nice, green, plateau where there were two small plates before finishing with a nice bowl where a straw was sticking out.

"Let's start out with something nice and soft. The first portion is a caramelized mutton that I fashioned as a tartare. On top of this, I added some chili, datil and some cubeb, to give it that nice spicy touch. Please enjoy this."

As they tasted this portion of the dish, the judges commented on the excellent balance between the sweetness of this dish and the spiciness that the chef had done. It was exactly the sort of dish that the judges were looking for this round.

"My main portion is beef that has been coated in my special spice-mix. I placed this on top of a double-layered foam of black-peppered tomato and capsicum-cooked cucumber. My recommendation is that you try each thing separately, before cutting a small piece of beef and add a little bit of each foam on top."

Once more, the judges loved the hotness of this dish, as the salt and spice were well done. Compliments rained upon this chef, who soaked it up.

"My last portion was supposed to be banana peppers stuffed with florina pepper ice-cream, tiny dried bananas, dried dates and dried carobs. However, as you can see, the ice-cream didn't take, so I changed it to a milkshake where I dumped the rest of the ingredients. You can use the banana peppers as little spoons, crunch on the diverse dried sweet fruit and even drink the milkshake from the bowl."

The dessert was just as harmonious than the last two previous parts. For this round, at least according to the reaction of the judges, Kilgharrah Nash had outdone himself.

"Thank you very much for this alluring aromas, Chef Nash." Alton Brown spoke out. "Now, let's see if Chef Pendragon is just as good."

Chef Nash bowed his head slightly, before leaving through the double doors.

Chef Pendragon: Spherification, Ultrasound, Thermal Immersion Circulator, Griddle and Maltodextrin.

Arthur's plate was the most interesting yet as he was one of the rare ones to have dared to do a salad as a side-dish. "Before we begin," Arthur started, "I would like to point out that yes, I did create a salad. I know that technically, this isn't allowed, however, I believe that as long as it is a side-dish, as well as not being in the traditional settings of a salad, this wouldn't be so bad."

Arthur was indeed taking a gamble, as he started to describe the seaweed salad, decorated with numerous black spheres that had been the sweetened mushrooms. "This is only a small appetizer for what is about to come, so please dig in using the tiny dessert forks that are provided."

"No chopsticks?" Chef Dufresne asked him curiously. "That's what most chefs would have proposed."

"True," Arthur admitted, "that's what most chefs would have done. However, since the rest of my meal needs forks and knives, I thought that it would be redundant to use chopsticks. If you still want one, then I can provide you with a pair."

"Flexible, I like this."

"What is this powder on top of the seaweed?" This was Chef Achatz who asked as he scrutinized a small forkful, peppered with some bright lemon-colored dried … something.

"My vinaigrette. I did a simple vinaigrette which I then dried up with the maltodextrin. I then added on

Arthur preened slightly before presenting the next portion. "Now this part is the main dish, an avocado, banana, cucumber and mango bed, where I placed a giant shrimp nailed with cloves and that has been cooked with star anises."

"This is perfectly cooked," remarked chef Beran, "how did you do it?"

Arthur was practically smirking at to what he did. "I used the ultrasound. I didn't even know you could use this for cooking."

"Now you know," joked Chef Achatz.

"Now I know."

The reaction from the judges seemed to imply that Arthur's mistake, if it could be called such a thing, wouldn't be so bad after all … At least, he hoped so.

"Chef Ward, if you could please step up to the plate."

Chef Brianna Ward's utensils: Grinder, Thermal Immersion Circulator, Hydrocolloids and Centrifuge.

Brianna's plate was actually a glass, blue-green, big, triangle where the various pastas were in each corners. In the middle were her rillettes balls, six of them that formed a circle, connecting all three pile of pastas.

"I love pasta." Brianna started her introduction, "that is why I created a pasta dish with three different kinds of pasta. The pasta on the very top of the pyramid is made from salmon. The one of the right is the surimi, as the opposite is shrimp. On all of these pastas, I added a sauce with ricotta, egg yolk, sugar, pink peppercorn and allspice. The only difference in taste will be the pasta itself."

Each judge tried a different pasta, discussing in low voices what they thought before trying a different portion.

"Can we try the balls?" Chef Dufresne asked, curiously.

"But of course! These are salmon rillettes balls where I added a five-pepper sauce where I added some honey and crushed rosebuds. A pasta dish isn't complete unless there is something meaty to the dish. So I created these fishballs just for this."

"An excellent initiative," Chef Beran complimented her, after tasting one of the little balls. "There is an excellent mixture of sweet and spicy, with the hint of saltiness from your rillettes. I believe that you cooked the salmon on a cube of salt?"

"Yes I have. I read about this procedure during my spare time and didn't have the materials to try it before. At least this round allows me to try such a method. You can guess that I rushed towards the cube to be able to use it." Brianna explained eagerly. "I may be buying one, we'll see later."

"Still an excellent idea, a great job." Chef Beran insisted as he was impressed with her forward thinking. She was one of the rare chefs who didn't use the thermal immersion circulator, apart for the hot water, to cook something.

"I'm hoping that you put some on the side for me after the filming, Chef Ward." Alton Brown asked eagerly, wanting to try this dish. "Chef La Fey, looks like it's your turn now."

Chef La Fey: Ice-Cream Maker, Centrifuge, Liquid Nitrogen, Griddle, Syringe and Thermal Immersion Circulator.

Chef La Fey was both eager and proud to present her dish. Mounted on top of a large blue bowl was a small, baby blue, teacup where her salmon tartare, filling a fresh plum tomato, presided over on top. A small holder on the side of the bowl held six, white, crackers. In the bowl was some red soup, surrounding a green ice-cream.

"Now this is an interesting set-up, Chef La Fey. Mind explaining how we should eat such a dish?" Chef Achatz looked all around this interesting creation.

"Start from the top," Morgana recommended, "the plate can be moved to be put on more solid ground. This is a filled plum tomato with some salmon tartare in which I added a bit of pine nuts, some fresh chunks of walnuts, otherwise they would have been to big for the tomato, bits of fennel and fennel. I also added some sweet garlic and annith for decorations on top and inside."

"Yes, I could feel the crunchiness inside it." Chef Dufresne commented, after taking a small bite. "The flavoring bursts in a colorful buquet that is then soother by the tomato. An excellent appetizer."

"Thank you." Morgana was happy that this little thing worked. She waited until they finished the tomato before presenting her favorite part of the dish. "This is a cold gaspacho soup with avocado ice-cream. You may have noticed that on the side, there are crackers. Three of them are made from mashed potatoes while the other three are made from cod fish. All six have been fried after beeing freezed on the anti-griddle. Try them with the soup, please."

As the chefs tried it out, the reactions were more amused rather than anything else. It was good, that they could agree on, but it wasn't the best thing they have ever tried. They still complemented the chef though, as she had did something interesting.

"A like this design, very futuristic." Alton stared at the now reassembled dish. "Thank you, Chef La Fey. Now, Chef Emrys, time to step up."

Chef Emrys: Liquid Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, Anti-Griddle, Edible Paper and Aromatic Bag.

Merlin's dish was a work of art. Everything was on top of a dark, brown platter. Covering the platter was the edible paper made from potato and mint ink to form some grassy image. Right in the middle were the macaroons, forming a little square was a giant rose made from marzipan. Merlin had painstakingly created each petal, to make it as life-like as possible.

At the Northern and Souther point of the square were small versions of a jasmine flower as the Eastern and Western points were hosts for the lemon blossoms. Connecting each of the flowers was a tress of lavenders. All of the flowers were made from marzipan (also known as almond paste), creating one of the most beautiful flower arrangements. What else was needed to complete such a work of are? Why the smell of course. In order to finish everything up, as the perfectionist that the chef was — no to mention honed in by Gaius —, Merlin added some aromatic bags for each flower. The smell was directed to the judges by little, toy, ventilators that were at a low speed.

"I love this idea that you created. The perfect decorated plate of all the contestants so far." Chef Dufresne's compliment made Merlin smile before he explained what he had cooked up.

"Let's start off with the squares that you see. It is composed with four macaroons in total: two vanilla and two chocolate. The mousse for the vanilla macaroons is kiwi, with a spicy mango chutney sauce in between, while the chocolate macaroon has a mango mousse with a kiwi-cloved sauce. On top of this is a rose, surrounded by jasmines, lemon blossoms and lavender flowers, made from almond paste."

"I stated before that there was a bouquet of flavors, but this is a real bouquet of flowers." Laughed out loud Chef Dufresne. "Well done indeed. Is the grass edible as well?"

"Yes, sir it is, I would recommend that you eat it last, as this is mint flavor."

"The macaroons are excellent, but I think that you could have made something less sweated." Chef Achatz observed. "The comeback from your dish is the edible paper and the aromas. A great job."

"I think that the dish is one big piece of art. Something that will do nicely for a desert." Chef Beran told his boss. "Mind if we copy the idea later on for the restaurant?" He joked a bit.

"As long as I get the copyrights, sure." Merlin joked back.

"I can smell the flowers from here." Interjected Mr. Brown, smelling the air as the scent wafered towards him. "I hope that your friend, Chef Mitchell is ready to surpass yours."

Chef Mitchell: Hydrocolloids, Immersion Blender, Fryer, Thermal Immersion Circulator and Maltodextrin.

Will wasn't too happy to go after Merlin, as he knew that if the judges compared in presentation, he would be far behind. Oh well, it wasn't as if he didn't have his own strength that surpassed his friend's.

What was the image he had created? The famous sixties peace symbol. Will always liked that image and wanted to try to recreate it.

"Alright, this is a dish that can be eaten in any way you want it. So I will only explain the different parts of this. Starting from the outer layer is a ring of green apples and slices of avocado, powdered with a mix of black pepper, chile and green powder. In the middle is a zucchini purée, or mashed zucchini, with honey and beeswax mixed with it. On top of this are fried squash, being the center that link the fried pork loins who form the Y symbol and connect everything together."

"So we can start from wherever we want?" Chef Beran asked, as he looked over the white dish, eyes wandering over it.

"Wherever you want. On the other hand, if you want my recommendation, you can start from the outside layer, before working your end to the middle by finishing off with the purée. As long as you finish with either the inner layer or outer layer as they would give you that sweet dessert flavor to finish everything off. Otherwise, eat the way you desire." Chef Mitchell was smooth in the explanation.

"I like this dish. It has this mélange of sweet, salty and spice that reflect well what molecular cuisine is. You also created an interesting shape that went well with the whole thing." Chef Dufresne was most gracious in his remark.

"Thank you, sir." Will was happy to receive such a compliment. "I tried to emphasize on the taste, creating a sort-of parallel between the center and the outer ring. Even if they are different in appearance, there is still that little taste that links them both together."

"Yes, I sensed that right away. It was a nice touch. Why this symbol though?" This time, it was Chef Achatz who asked the question. "This isn't your typical sort of imagery that would appear on a plate."

Will scratched his nose nervously. "Strangely enough, I always liked this symbol ever since I first saw it. I just couldn't resist doing it. It was something fun to do."

"Well, the taste matches the look, so you'll have no complaints on my end." Chef Dufresne stated, polishing the plate with the spoon that had been provided.

Seeing that the judges were finished, Alton Brown spoke up. "Thank you for this interesting dish, Chef Mitchell. You may leave and inform the other chefs that they may return in … fifteen minutes?" He asked curiously as he looked at the other judges.

"Works for me." Chef Dufresne agreed, he had been elected spokesperson for all three men.

"Fifteen minutes it is. You got it boss." Will saluted before leaving the room to rejoin the rest of the gang.

Fifteen minutes passed before all seven chefs were standing in front of the judges, waiting anxiously to see if they have passed or not. Taking a gulp of water, Chef Dufresne was the one to start things off.

"Chef La Fey," he began, "one of the most distinctive features about your dish was the presentation. It was well thought out and the taste was good. Your soup was an excellent idea as was your ice-cream. However, the combination of the two weren't the best as they made things colder than needed. On the other hand, your crackers were a nice decorative touch." Morgana gulped, wondering what the verdict was. "Knowing all of this, you survived to cook another day."

Morgana smiled widely before leaving the room in order to wait for the others. It wasn't first place, but it was better than anything else.

"Chef Pendragon," Chef Achatz was the one to speak up as he was in the center of the trio. "It was a great risk for you to create a salad for a side-dish, that gamble paid off. The rest of your dish was excellent, as it was cooked to perfection while blending some excellent tastes. What was excessive, in spite of all you created, was the powdered vinaigrette that you prepared."

Just like his cousin, Arthur was worried as to what will happen. He was more calm though, hiding the raging storm inside his mind.

Chef Achatz continued, after that little pause, wanting to notch up the anxiety. "Without that, you would have won second place. You survived to cook another day, just behind second place."

Arthur left the room, trying to measure his steps, otherwise he would have not acted like a Pendragon. He did, however, celebrate with Morgana by twirling her in the air as they were both so excited to be still in the competition. Now, they waited to see who else would join them?

Continuing with the order, Chef Beran was the one to call someone out. "Chef Emrys, it is my pleasure to announce your results." Merlin felt relief, as he was sure that he wouldn't be eliminated with such an announcement. "Your dish was a piece of art, that is the only qualification that can be said. The smell was top notch, the flowers well made and let's not forget how you presented everything with the edible paper. A very nice finishing touch with the mint ink."

Merlin was sensing a huge "but" coming up and he wasn't liking it.

"However, you went a tiny bit overboard with the marzipan. My recommendation would be to either reduce the amount of sugar, add some spice and salt or even change a bit the taste to make it even better." Drinking a bit of water, the chef paused. "Even with all of this, you still survive to cook another day."

Merlin beamed before leaving to join the other surviving chefs. If Arthur's hug lingered for a little while longer, than the camera missed it, as Morgana didn't say anything.

Will sensed that he was up next, as his dish was the closest to Merlin's, if he wasn't mistaken. Indeed it was, as Chef Beran spoke up again. "Chef Mitchell, your dish was much better on the taste level than Chef Emrys' as you found a way to make it interesting, while still keeping it as simple as possible. The problem was that your design was a bit too researched for you needed. You could have tried to plate things with something unorthodox and it would have been a perfect dish in molecular cuisine. You survived to cook another day."

Will jumped in the air, pumping a fist from surviving another round. And for one upping Merlin in this round as well! Running towards his best friend, he jumped on Merlin's unsuspecting back, ignoring his friend's complaints that he wasn't a pack-mule. Will's reply was that he shouldn't turn his back, when he knew perfectly what Will would do.

Both were giddy, since they were still together in this competition. The two other chefs congratulated him as well, for his "continuous survival" according to Arthur's whisper from the cameras.

Back in front of the judges, the three chefs were alternating between anxious and happy. So far, first place hadn't been announced, as has last place. One of them would have an advantage for the next round, one of them would survive, while the last one would go home.

"Chef Ward," Chef Achatz looked at her, "your dish was one of the most interesting yet. The idea was good, the plating interesting but it was the flavor that didn't work out that much. One of the main good points were those salmon balls. On the other hand, you placed too much emphasize on the different tastes, making the dish good, but with no particular distinction."

Brianna was sure that this meant she wouldn't survive the round. There was to many critics against that dish for her to be able to survive, unless a miracle happened.

"Even with all of that, it was only thanks to your plating and your fishballs that you survived to cook another day." The woman nearly cried from relief. She joined the others in the small group, who commended her for her perseverance.

Now, there were only two, vibrating, chefs that were left: Chef Nash and Chef Riversong. The one would would render the results would be the one who had faced an Iron Chef.

"Chef Nash, Chef Riversong." Chef Wylie Dufresne addressed them. "I believe that you know that only one of you will go home today." The chefs nodded, fear glittering in their eyes. "Very well the,. Chef Nash, while the grilled beef and the caramelized tartare were excellent, your florina milkshake wasn't upon with the rest of the dish. It would have been better if you had turned it into an ice-cream, which you were unable due to technical difficulties, am I correct?"

"Yes sir."

"Chef Riversong, while your pasta plate was good, your three-layered foams left to be desired. On top of this, you added too many ingredients that made your dish heavier than expected, loosing the original taste you wanted to give. Your cheese bubbles were a good idea, if a bit over the top with all the seafood."

The chefs waited during the small pause, which seemed gigantic in their eyes.

"With that in mind, I am sad to tell you that you, Chef Riversong, h as lost this round. You have not survived to cook another day."

Small tears went down Freya's cheeks, as she tried to contain her emotions. It wasn't that bad, as she had tried her best. Nonetheless, the best wasn't enough today. "Thank you," she whispered softly, before leaving the room to be comforted by the other chefs. Even if they did like her, it was still another contestant less than before.

Back in the room, Kilgharrah was happy, as he had won this round.

"As you can deduce," Alton Brown told the older man, "you, Chef Nash, have won this round. You were smart enough to go around your technical difficulty, and served a very interesting dish. Just by pure curiosity, if you had made the florina ice-cream, how would have served it?"

Seriously, Chef Nash replied, "I would have stuffed the banana peppers with it, before adding dried pieces of banana, dates and carobs to counter-balance the spicy things."

The judges seemed to like what he would have done, even if they didn't voice it out loud.

Frederich Pierson was the one to interview the loosing chef, asking her about her thoughts and feelings.

"Sad that I lost, as I just won the previous round." Freya Riversong replied, tears still shimmering in her eyes. "I must have had a bad day in cooking, which was my misfortune." She took a deep breath in order for her to regain her calm. "I'm also relived. The competition was getting to me, and I couldn't keep up with all the pressure. I love cooking, no doubt about it, but at this level? I realized that I was not made for it. I wish all of the other chefs good luck, as they are all nice and have the will to continue. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all of my friends and family, for without them, I wouldn't be here today. I'm proud to have reached this level. I know that I will continue to move forward, at my own pace."

Her smile was watery, yet strong, as she stared in the camera. Frederich was wiping a discrete tear at such an emotional scene.

Merlin was sensing a theme here, as Elena, the food coordinator, walked towards them, dressed as a scientist. She smiled at the six remaining chefs. "As mentioned before, your next task will be in two weeks time. I do hope that your passports are up-to-date as you are all going to … London." She waited a bit for the furor to die down. "More information will be sent to you by e-mail, such as departure times, practical info and other such matters. All that you need to know is that in a couple of days, you will be flown to London International before settling down at the May Fair hotel. Which reminds me, for your next round, please revise the main holidays around the world and what sort of dishes are served. You will be asked to do an american variant of such dishes. Also, the number of judges will be upped as you will have to cook for the American ambassador and his fifteen guests. Two sous-chefs will be provided to help you cook, so don't be too preoccupied y the time."

Elena was about to leave them before she remembered something important that she had to tell them. "Oh, before I forget, you will have to buy your ingredients after receiving your assignment. A budget will be assigned to each of your, as well as the Chairman's favorite food markets before letting you guys roam London with a hired chauffeur. So don't expect a fully-stocked kitchen, ok? Have a nice day you guys."

London. They were all going to London to cook. One of the greatest places to cook, if not for the choice of ingredients available there. Half of the chefs, that is to say Merlin, Will and Brianna, had a giddy step from all of the excitement, while the other half were a bit more composed.

Seeing that everyone was in high spirits, Arthur asked if they wanted to go out for drinks, he was buying the first round. All of the chefs agreed, craving for a de-stressed environment and a bit of fun.

The night passed by swiftly, with not everyone going back to their respective homes.

— Mature (of certain foodstuffs or drinks): ready for consumption. —

One month later. May Fair Hotel, London.

The last two tasks that have passed are:

- Fifth Task: Holidays.

- Sixth Task: Teaching and Leading.

The sun was creeping up in one of the rooms reserved for The Next Iron Chef contestants. Inch by inch, the light reached the bed where two naked bodies were intertwined. Arthur was spooning Merlin, still inside him after a passionate night together.

Sensing that Merlin was wakening, Arthur started to kiss his nape. Small, light, sensual ones that started to bring to life something else. Twisting around, Merlin kissed Arthur as passionately as possible in his position. "Good morning," the brunet husked from his used throat.

"Morning love." Arthur whispered, claiming those delicious lips one more time. "How are you feeling?"

"A bit sore from last night, but nothing bad. You?"

"Feeling incredible, especially from where I am." Moving a bit, Arthur coaxed out a small moan from his lover. "Up for another round?"

"With you? Always ready for another one." In one mouvement, Merlin found himself right on top of the blond, hips steadied by his partner before proceeding to tease him with small mouvements of the hips.

Groaning, Arthur tried to lift the man up slightly, just to get a move on things. Merlin was stubborn though, centering all of his weight just so that it would be more difficult for Arthur to push him with his incredible strength. "Tease." Arthur huffed, planting his feet on the bed, before pushing Merlin using his hips as well as his hands.

"You love it, don't you?" Merlin was moaning from the sensation, the forcefulness from Arthur was fantastic. "You love when I resist you."

"That I do, Merlin." Arthur could only agree, before flipping them over to gain a better access with less resistance. Merlin wasn't making things any better by using those those long legs to make Arthur get in deeper. "How can you still be so tight? I just did you two hours ago, without taking out my cock since then."

"That's just part of my charm." Merlin arched his back, using his hand to bring Arthur's ear next to his lips as he whispered those words. "Think you can make me looser any time soon?"

Lips were being ravished from the brutality, Arthur's answer following it soon after. "If you let me, I'll make you so loose that their would no need to prepare you." Merlin groaned as Arthur came in deeply, wringing Merlin's orgasm.

Collapsing on top of the brunet chef, Arthur marveled as to how far they have gone since that drunken night. Both chefs had woken up in the morning, naked, sore in unusual sort of places with a multitude of love bites decorating their bodies. It wasn't one of Arthur's or Merlin's finest moments, that's for sure.

[End scene]

Things got a little better a day later, once things calmed down a bit, a walk-in closet and the smooth touch of Morgana who was tired, angry and fed up with her cousin's mopping. She had hoped, using Will along the way, that alcohol would have made things better. Will was excellent in making sure that none of their cups had been emptied.

Things got a lot better for the couple, but only for them. The rest of the family and friends, minus Uther of course, suffered from the TMI scenes from the lovey-dovey couple who only stopped making those goggly eyes when they were competing. Otherwise, they were what most people would know as the honeymoon phase.

Feeling the bed dipped, Merlin looked up from his position to see Arthur leave. "Where are you going?" He admired the view of that magnificent backside, marred only by a single green line that attached the apron Arthur used to cover himself. His question had already been answered.

"A little something for the morning, just to celebrate," his eyebrows wagged with the word, "for our survival of another round."

As Arthur bustled around the room's kitchen, preparing a nice little breakfast for the both of them, Merlin took a shower before joining him at the stove. Spinning around, Arthur put his arms around him before kissing him languidly. "Want to take over for a bit?" Arthur's hands wandered down Merlin's backside.

The brunet chef laughed as he took over the pans where some scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes were cooking. "Don't mind if I do."

As soon as he turned his back to the blond, Merlin felt Arthur plaster himself behind him, his large, warm, hands on his, helping him cook as the swell of his cock was only covered by that smooth green apron. A tiny bit of annoyance tinged his voice as he asked Arthur if "they were cooking or having sex?"

"Why can't we do both?" Arthur was cheeky in his reply.

Merlin could feel a breeze as Arthur left him for a couple of seconds to get the lube and the condom. The chef at the stove took the opportunity to turn off the stove as he knew perfectly well that Arthur couldn't be swayed once he put his mind to something.

Soon enough, Arthur came back, wearing only birthday suit, an eager look in his eyes. The sex was hurried, frantic with just a pinch of passion that made it perfect on the floor. Both of them were in high spirits, as they finished the meal up to eat in the living room.

"You know that your cousin is brutal?" Merlin suddenly told him. "I still can't believe how well she commended the sous-chefs during the last two rounds. Did she have a lot of practice with you?" The mirth made him shine even more in Arthur's eyes, despite the subject.

"Hardy harhar," Arthur's voice was monotone. "You could say that, although she was kind of sweet yesterday." Merlin's look was incredulous as the statement.

Let's go back a couple of weeks to the last two rounds, shall we?

The first task that the six chefs had to do was just as Elena had told them. They were each assigned a national holiday in the world where a couple of traditional dishes were listed. Then, the chefs had two hours, with a budget of four hundred pounds (approximately six hundred and nineteen american dollars and eighty-six cents) to search the city for their ingredients. At the same time, they had to think of an American variation that they would have to serve to the American ambassador and fifteen other guests. Two sous-chefs had been assigned per chef to help them cook and set up everything.

Merlin had won that round with his artistic creativity to link his holiday them, St. Patrick's Day, with many green decorations and Irish symbology. His greatest achievement was the four-clove-shaped pie that had been filled with meat, eggs, beer, cloves and some other little things. Another strong point was that Merlin had died the crust a dark green to make things more life-like.

On the other hand, Kilgharrah had lost the round with a simple theme that was, in reality, far more penalizing than he had realized: the French Independence day. The chef wasn't that sad as he had wanted to take the time to write his book and publish it the day after the finals. He had repeated that same piece of information to the public during the interview for the looser.

That very same night, Arthur had made sure that Merlin would feel special, making sure that Merlin didn't lift a finger all night long. Merlin had hinted that if Arthur win one of the next rounds, he would do something very special as well.

The second round in London was a bit unorthodox in itself. According to the Chairman, "An Iron Chef must be able to lead people, without even knowing much about them. That is why, you will be leading a couple of students in creating a masterpiece."

The chefs were brought to Cookery School at 15b, Little Portland Street in London where they were greeted by ten of the top students. Through a process of random drawing, two students were assigned per chef. The goal of this task was for the chefs to direct the two students to create a five-course meal in three hours. The chefs were unable to due any major work as the students had to do everything themselves with a little help from the chef. At the same time, they had to make sure that they were teaching the students in making something beautiful without terrorizing them.

Morgana, for some reason, had won this round as she had directed her students firmly but nicely. She had help them create a masterpiece in the dessert department: une pièce montée, a cake made from puffs that have have been mounted in a tower with chocolate and toffee butter cream. In between some of the puffs, Morgana had instructed them to add in some meringues.

In reverse, Brianna Ward's meal was a bit too complex for her students to be able to put in place in such a limited amount of time. Brianna had misjudged her students' capabilities, since she was a nice person. It was a bit sad to see such a bubbly chef leave their little group, especially since Brianna was one of the youngest of them and had held her own with her own impressive strength. One thing was for sure, if Brianna had joined the competition a couple years later, then she would have definitely been in the top three.

Let's go back to that little hotel room where Arthur and Merlin were enjoying that nice breakfast between them. Glancing at the clock, they realized that they would have to hurry up, otherwise, they would miss the Eurostar for Paris, in France. The City of Love and Light was one of the best places for the couple, romantically speaking of course.

What Arthur hadn't told Merlin was that he had reserved lunch for two at a good restaurant, La fontaine de Mars [Mars' Fountain] at Champs de Mars not far from La Tour Eiffel or the Eiffel Tower for the English translation. He wanted to create a nice romantic atmosphere amidst a tense atmosphere. That specific lunch was for tomorrow, as the train will arrive for three in the afternoon.

The date was perfect as they wandered down the alley, not far from the big iron tower, one of France's main symbols. All of the sudden, Merlin kissed Arthur, his heart so full of love at the golden-haired man he thought was a prat. For a whirlwind romance, it was one of the fastest ones Merlin had ever witnessed, minus Ivan's and Gwaine's.

At first, Merlin didn't expect to fall in love with such a person. How could he with that wonderful first impression? Despite all that, after some previous meets and one drunken night, Merlin found himself in bed with the other chef and couldn't stop loving him non-stop.

The couple garnered some cat-calls and whistles from the passerby around them. That didn't stop them from continuing to kiss in such a public place. It would be the last time they would see each other for the next three days to prepare for the next round. They had both agreed on it, otherwise they wouldn't be able to concentrate. It was difficult enough when they were competing against each other while dating, so it was even harder to prepare something specific for the final rounds. They needed to be in their A-Game and they needed to separate from each other.

They didn't even want to think about what would happen if they were both in the finals. If, they were both in the finals.

— Chicken soup: a thin broth that one would usually take when one is sick. Generally, we associate chicken soup with comfort, home and warmth. That is why this is a dish that many try to recreate for it's soothing qualities. —

Two months later. Kitchen Stadium, Los Angeles, California.

The last two tasks that have passed are:

- Seventh Task: The Missing Ingredient.

- Eighth Task: Story time.

The last two months had been some tough rounds for the four remaining chefs. The round in Paris was interesting enough. For two hours, Morgana, Will, Merlin and Arthur had to go to the Chairman's favorite places in Paris to buy ingredients for a three-course meal. They were explicitly told to not buy the same ingredients as in London and that they only had two hours.

After their two hours were up, the chefs had to put on display every single one of their ingredients. One at a time, a chef would leave the room while the three left would confer. Then, the three chefs would then take away one ingredient that the forth chef would not be allowed to use in his cooking. This process was repeated until all of the chefs had one missing ingredient that they could not use.

Will lost by a mile due to the fact that his pig had been taken — in London, Will had used three different fishes: code, tuna and salmon. — which was also the main ingredient that Will needed for all three of his dishes. He tried to scrap something up, since he couldn't buy anything else. It didn't work that well, especially since Morgause Delanoé, one of the three main judges, seemed to be in a very bad mood and was taking it out on all of the chefs.

Morgana won by a landslide as her French Cuisine was a major bonus for this round. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and all that tripe, which was what Morgana had done elegantly. Her Bouillabaisse or French fish soup had been one of the greatest hit's among the judges, not bad for a fishmonger soup, now a rare delicacy. Merlin came a close second with his layered pain perdu cake. With fresh whip cream, strawberry syrup as well as many red fruits, such as raspberries, cherries, strawberries and other sort of fruits of the same genre, on top of this.

Their next destination was Tokyo at a restaurant called Nobu where famed Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto had worked as Head Chef before joining the Iron Chef series. There, the three chefs were faced with a very difficult task as it needed both an iron grip on their calm, some quick wit and a natural charm. Their task? Recount one fairy tale, of their choice, through a series of dishes. They had one hour to prepare any amount of dishes they so desired. Another crux was that they could use only what there was in the kitchen.

Arthur won that round with his Little Red Riding Hood, using a tomato as the main character through four dishes. It was original and interesting that made the judges love what he did. Merlin survived the round by using a typical japanese tale: Kaguya-hime. [Princess Kaguya]

Morgana lost as she tried to do something with her Three Little Pigs story. Her pigs in a blanket dish was good, but the rest of her dishes were not that good. It was a good try, barely loosing to Merlin since he had a creativity on his side. At least the woman wasn't a sore looser, much to Merlin's relief who was aware as to how vicious she could be.

Since that round, a month ago, the two of them had separated for the finals. They had been given a list of five possible secret ingredients, with a budget of five hundred dollars for any additional ingredients that they would need. Both chefs started to plan with their sous-chefs for this round.

Merlin had knew right away who his sous-chefs would be. Galahad, while tempting, was still un-experienced with his cooking methods, furthermore the boy was still a student. No, Merlin's sous-chef were Percy Hammer, his head sous-chef in the kitchen, and Gwaine Lott, his manager and other sous-chef in the kitchen. Gwaine usually didn't participate in restaurant business, mostly because he was occupied with his role as a manager, although before Merlin hired Galahad, Gwaine helped out a lot. That was why Gwaine was qualified to help Merlin.

Arthur's choice was also easy to decide. Despite his array of choices in Camelot, Arthur only trusted two people working under him. The first person was Lancelot Du Lac, his best friend and head sous-chef. The other person working with him was another of his few friends: Leon Ironhart. All three of them had met in culinary school, in different courses. They had joined the local rugby team to keep up their physical shape. A couple of years later, when Arthur wanted to re-open Camelot, he had asked them to join him.

Both teams were ready for the Final Battle, and they were going to win.

— Finale: the last part of a piece of music, a performance, or a public event, esp. when particularly dramatic or exciting. —

Last Task: Final Battle.

Dramatic music filled Kitchen Stadium as both contestants entered, escorted by white smoke. Kitchen Stadium was larger in person instead on a tv screen. Already on scene were the respective sous-chefs for Merlin and Arthur. In the background, Alton Brown was commenting on each chef for the cameras, as they were filming live.

Coming towards them was the Chairman, still as nimble and cheerful as in the videos he had filmed for them. "Greetings Chef Emrys. It has been awhile since you came here."

The Chairman bowed slightly towards Merlin who returned that bow with his own greeting. "It sure has, sir."

"Greetings Chef Pendragon. I hope that your journey here will be fruitful." The Chairman repeated his bow that Arthur returned.

"I sure hope so, sir." Arthur's grin was roguish and handsome.

"Chefs, you are both finalists to become an Iron Chef." The last two words were emphasized with reverence. "In this very stadium, you will be competing against each other like true Iron Chefs that you may become. The winner will join the illustrious ranks of the greatest chefs of America." He waived his hand towards the platform holding the pedestals where the Iron Chefs stood. On the wall were the portraits of the chefs Merlin and Arthur were striving to reach that rank.

They followed the Chairman towards the Secret Ingredient. The list of possible ingredients, when Merlin and Arthur had been briefed, were: Shitake mushrooms, ricotta, sausages, licorice and roses.

"Chefs, as you know, there is one more ingredient to this battle … our secret ingredient." The Chairman's eyes were trying to restrain their mirth as to what was this secret ingredient. As always, he couldn't resist a bit of theatrical display. "The theme on which you will offer your succulent variations. Today's secret ingredient is …, " the lid of the metallic coffin rose in the air as if by magic, revealing … "roses!"

Once the smoke cleared up a bit, Arthur and Merlin were treated to the sight of roses, varying in sizes and colors, not to mention in how they were presented. There were fresh roses, rosebuds, crushed powder, dried flowers, pink jam-jars with their yellow and white counterparts. It was an amazing display.

Now, all that was left was for the Chairman to start what will be known as Battle Rose.

"So now America, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of my uncle …" The Chairman lifted his arm, his eyes flittering between the two chefs. Said chefs were ready to run for it, with their flowery haul, to their stations and begin the battle.

"AAAAAAALLLLLLLLLEZ CUUUUUUUUISINE!" [Lllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeet's cook] The man shouted, rolling the "l" sound of the word.

The timer started on either side of the stadium. The audience was treated to the sight of Merlin and Arthur gathering on a tray as many ingredients as possible from the Secret Ingredient shelf Gwaine and Leon had joined their friend to retrieve the first haul of ingredients that they needed, since the trays didn't have enough space for one person to carry everything they needed.

"And there's the Chairman's famous Allez cuisine, the French phrase for Let's cook that calls the contestants to culinary battle. And what a wonderful battle has begun as each chef gather the rosy ingredients that they will need for Battle Rose." Alton Brown's voice rang through the stadium. "Not only does Chef Emrys and Chef Pendragon have to face each other, but they must reach their final goal using an unusual ingredient."

Merlin called for a gathering, to explain the battle plan to Gwaine and Percival. Even if it was only a brief re-cap of what they had discussed, they still needed a slight refresher.

Arthur and his sous-chefs just jumped right in the fray, knowing what they had to do. Chop, chop, chop! Time was against them if they wanted to win something good.

"Let me explain the rules of the game." Continued Alton Brown, as Arthur and Merlin bustled about with their sous-chefs. "In one hour, each chef must cook five-dishes using the secret ingredient in each of them. So far, we can see one sous-chef plucking away some roses. On Chef Emrys' side, sous-chef Gwaine Lott seems to be searching for some peculiar shaped rosebuds, already having in very distinct piles petals, whole flowers and even some of the dried flowers that he may be ready to crushed into a thin powder. On Chef Pendragon's side, it is sous-chef Leon Ivanhart who seems to be covering some of the dishes with red and white petals. He also seems to be dying some of the white roses with some blue ink. Our floor reporter, Kevin Brauch, will now go see what will happen. Kevin, go get us some answers please."

"Of course Alton." Kevin Brauch called from across the room. "Hi everyone. It seems that over here, on Chef Pendragon's side, we have sous-chef Ivanhart who seems to be plucking some of the blue petals that have been already formed, before putting them on a porcelain plate where red and white petals are already on. It would seem that the decorations are to mimic our national colors. Judging from that, we can, somewhat, deduce that one of the dishes will be all american. Now, I don't know about you, Alton, but I certainly don't know any american dishes that have roses in it."

"No Kevin, we can only guess what Chef Pendragon will prepare. So far, only three minutes have passed since the rallying cry from our beloved Chairman. While we wait for some more information to appear in both stations, let's take a small look on the screen for both chefs information."

On a Tv screen, not far from the audience, an image of the two chefs appeared with the following information: the names of the chef (Emrys and Pendragon), the experience that each chef had in the job (approximately twenty years for both, with Arthur only having one extra year than Merlin), the cooking style of the chefs (majorly american with a more New Yorker twist for Arthur) and if any of the chefs had done an Iron Battle (a draw for Merlin while there was none for Arthur).

All of the information was given a more in-detailed description from Alton. Meanwhile, Kevin was roaming the stadium to see what else was cooking (no pun intended). He suddenly pointed out that sous-chef Du Lac was preparing some lamb chops, dipping them in a sauce with various spices: nutmeg, clove, rosemary, lemon grass, black pepper, white pepper, cinnamon, cardamon, turmeric and cumin. Lancelot then left them in the bowl while he prepared a mixture for some sort of crust, mixing dried roses that have been powdered thinly, breadcrumbs from a quickly dried bread (he had put the sliced bread in the food dehydrator before popping it in the oven at high temperature) and egg yolks.

Sous-chef Leon Ivanhart, after finishing his rose-petaled decorations, was now working on grinding some meat before mixing some spices in an aluminum bowl, as asparaguses, both green and white, were being steamed. Next to it, in a more smaller pot, was some hot water boiling with some white sugar and sugar canes, mixed with white cloves, black ones and rose petals. When Kevin described what was in the later pot, Alton came up with the explication.

"That would be a simple honey recipe, clove and rose flavor it would seem from what is in there." Alton's voice was simple and sweet, barely looking the recipe up. "Kevin, what can you tell us on the other side of Kitchen Stadium?"

"So far, Chef Emrys lives up to his nickname as the Crafty Wizard. After preparing what would seem to be mango chutney?" The question was only for confirmation.

"Yes, that is correct Kevin." Merlin laughed as he continued with his current task.

"Right then, after finishing his mango chutney, Chef Emrys has swiftly carved out some rose-shaped vegetables such as this artichoke," he put up a delicately carved artichoke that formed the green bud and leaves around a red radish, "and carrots. What will you be doing with all of this?"

"I'm making a rose salad, using rose petals as the main base with rose decorations from a variety of vegetables." Merlin moved his vegetables on a plate, replacing on the cutting board a fresh piece of salmon that he started to slice before creating triangles from those thick slices. Gluing them with some sort of natural, edible, glue to create another sort of flower. "Are you done with the cupcake batter, Percival?"

Merlin Emrys called out all of a sudden, wanting to see how everyone was doing.

"All done, chef." Perceval replied happily. "I'm on vegetable part for the couscous and the angel hair is already in the dryer."

"DAMN IT!" Arthur's voice rang out from the other side of the room. Coming out of the ice-cream machine was some sort of glop and not at all the thing he so desired. Only thirty minutes left and Arthur knew that his machine was fried for another try, if he wanted to try again.

"Arthur," Merlin caught his secret lover's attention. "Prepare two batches of the ice-cream and try again, one for your side and one for mine. I won't be using the ice-cream machine, so don't hesitate."

"Thanks Merlin." And Arthur was grateful for the opportunity to fulfill his quota of dishes. With the aid of Lancelot, they quickly prepared two batches of ice-cream mix before putting them in both machines. It would double the chance of getting an ice-cream out of the mix.

Leon was poaching some eggs, using a mixture of water and vinegar to do so. On a rose salt cube were some tuna pieces cooking slightly. Just before they went from slightly raw to cooked, Leon would take the pieces off, before adding some new pieces on top. A powerful kitchen robot was churning blue cheese with pieces of white and yellow rose petals, wanting to soften it a bit as well for the cordon bleu that Arthur wanted to do.

— Iron Chef: a TV series that first originated from Asia under the name "Ironmen of Cooking". A couple of years later, it was introduced in America. Pretty soon, it became an international program, popular and tailored for each country. —

"There is only ten minutes left in the final round and both chefs are starting to plate. Not everything is completely clear. Anyway, we know so far that Chef Pendragon is preparing an assorted of dishes, all of them originating from around the world. Kevin has deduced that we have an All-American dish, an Asian and a European ones. There is some theories as to where else the last two dishes are from, … but nothing concrete yet." For someone not allowed to taste the dishes, Alton Brown was sure cheerful in describing what he would see.

"Chef Emrys, on the other hand, has decided to focus more on the decorative sides of things as well as the tasty bit too, if the information we are gathering from Kevin Brauch's scouting isn't too misleading. Ever since we hit the ten minute mark, Chef Emrys has been concentrating on the plating, letting his sous-chefs bring what all the things that were finished, while tiding up little things here and there. What sort of example can you give us, Kevin?"

The cameras were now focused on Kevin Brauch, as he approached Gwaine to illustrate his points. "As you can see, Alton, sous-chef Lott is now frying some rose-flavored angel hair, which is weird to say but now as weird to taste."

"And you couldn't bring a bit for me?" Alton playfully whined. "Never mind that, I will just hope that there will be some left-overs for me after the show. Another thing we should observe is that for the last twenty minutes, the Chairman has been prowling about at the fringe of the stadium, watching like a hawk both chefs. Now, normally, the Chairman is more of a passive observer, so there must be something of interest for him to try to take a closer look with bothering any of the cooks."

"FIFTEEN SECONDS AND COUNTING." The female computer voice called out. "TEN, … NINE, … EIGHT, … SEVEN, … SIX, … FIVE, … FOUR, … THREE, … TWO, … ONE, …" The horn's shrill call was the ending signal with Alton Brown's call for "TIME!"

During those last ten seconds, both chefs were preparing to take a drink that their sous-chefs, that is to say Gwaine and Lancelot respectively, had prepared for their teammates. Once the horn rang out, all six of them toasted in the air, before gulping the small glass quickly. They didn't need Alton's reminder to step away from the plates, as they had already done that.

Clapping to congratulate each other, both teams moved to the center of the stadium to shake hands. Even if one team was to loose, they would still be happy as they did there best.

Now, it was all up to the judges to decide who will become an Iron Chef.

— The Next Iron Chef: a TV program where a group of chefs compete against each other in a knock-out style to obtain the legendary rank of Iron Chef. After finishing all of the tasks, few can say that the winner didn't deserve such a position. —

Chef Arthur Pendragon's meal:

- First dish (American style): An American breakfast style breakfast. The meatball having some rosebuds in it and a poached egg, both linked by a beautiful yellow rose. On top is a pistachio, almond and rose sauce, while the plate is covered in the tri-colored rose petals.

- Second dish (European style): A grilled chicken Cordon Bleu. The chicken has been cooked in a rose infusion, while the crust and cheese have roses mixed in them. The cordon bleu is laying on top of a bed of green and white asparagus.

- Third dish (African style): Spicy lamb chops. Around and on top of the lamb chops are preserved rose petals, giving a candied, sweet, refreshing flavor. Rose lemonade is served with the dish.

- Four dish (Asian style): Clove-honey on top of a miso-cooked cod. Surrounding the center of the flower are the salty cooked tuna pieces, creating some sort of flower-shaped image.

- Fifth dish (Oriental style): A three-part dish: rose turkish delights with big pieces of preserved lemon, mint-meat pies with pine nuts on top and rose ice-cream. Moroccan mint tea, traditional style, is also served to finish things up.

Chef Merlin Emrys' meal:

- First dish: A rose petaled salad with flower-shaped vegetables and salmon. The vinaigrette was sweet and sour, made from plum rice-win, sugar and rice vinegar.

- Second dish: Grounded beef rolled up in banana vines with a mango chutney sauce, whole rosebuds are cooked inside. Surrounding the dish are some hardened sour-rose jelly that serve as a base for the arches of green bean that decorate the whole plate.

- Third dish: A simple apricot, pineapple and chicken couscous where the roses were in all three states inside: whole, crushed and pieces. With this is the rose-marmalade tea that Merlin used as a show when he added the hot water.

- Four dish: Three-part dish as well. The first one is a cucumber-rose soup, thickened with potato starch, served in a teacup. The soup bowl is next to the teacup with two halves of a potato and tomato stuffed with meat (rosebuds, mashed potatoes and butter), forming a square inside a circle. Besides that is flower shaped jelly that is lemon-orange flavor. On top of this, to create the illusion of the center of the flower was the rose-foam.

- Fifth dish: Rose Angel Cupcake, that had a heart of gold with the caramel-rose sauce in the middle. It is the center of a nest of pink angel hair, decorated with small, practically not-open, rosebuds. Merlin served, as a drink, a homemade tea by mixing gunpowder and rose powder.

Those were the dishes that Merlin and Arthur served for the Chairman and their three main judges: former model Morgause Delanoé, CEO of the food chain Anhora Rhoan and leader of a culinary mouvement Iseldir King.

Now, both chefs were waiting for the final results in front of the Chairman. The secretive smile was a bit unnerving, especially since it much at stake.

"Chef Emrys, Chef Pendragon." Both chefs' hearts were pounding in their chests. This was it! This was the moment they had been waiting for during those past four, grueling months. "Both of you had demonstrated a talent for creating fine dishes, practically the level of an Iron Chef."

Both chefs reddened slightly from the compliment. Nonetheless, they were sensing a big "but".

"But, only one of you can join the illustrious rank of Iron Chef. That is why, only one of you can win, while the other will have to go home."

"And the winner is…" the drum rolled as the lights turned down slightly. A beam of white only illuminating the two contestants. "… Chef Emrys." The Chairman was rolling his words as he dramatically gestured with both of his arms towards the right side where Merlin stood.

Said chef's knees practically buckled from the emotional surge after receiving the news. He couldn't believe that he had won, even if he hoped that was true. Arthur hugged Merlin happily, truly proud that his lover had done so well. Both of them knew that they would have given all of their best. Anything less and that would be disappointing.

There was a slight tinge of sadness though, after all, Arthur had come second place It was to be expected.

Later on, Arthur and Merlin would find out the results from the four judges.

Chef Pendragon's Score:

Taste: Thirty-two points.

Plating: Fifteen points.

Originality with use of secret ingredient: Seventeen points.


Chef Emrys' Score:

Taste: Thirty-two points.

Plating: Twenty points.

Originality with use of secret ingredient: Sixteen points.

Now that the competition was over, Merlin and Arthur had the whole time in the world to try to move on in their relationship, without worrying about the bad press. Something they were looking forward to with extreme anticipation. The biggest anticipation being when they would come out for their friends, accessorily letting the press know. Those noisy vaulters could sure find a secret faster than a blood-hound, especially for a person of interest. Merlin and Arthur didn't have the strength to try and hide the relationship.

But for now, they would just enjoy their win.


PS: Kilgharrah Nash's book, Knifing Hearts, did become a success. Mostly due to the fact that the two main characters were based on two well-known finalist. Sold all around the world, after only one month on the store shelves, rumors flew about the possible production of a movie. But, that is another story, for a different time.