"Tonight's the night, Yen!" Yoto announced, his voice bursting at the seams with excitement. He was actually wearing a suit as he struggled to brush his hair to an acceptable state of detanglement. His loyal (and loud) Parrybo, Potato, was perched on top of Yoto's mirror and occasionally letting out a squawk of encouragement.

Yen sat on Yoto's bed, his knees drawn up to his chest and his feet bare. Yen hadn't even bothered to begin dressing up yet…considering this evening's P-Factor wasn't for another eight hours. "Did you…hit your head or something?" Yen drawled as Yoto's joyful humming became strained as he tried to tug a particularly stubborn knot out of his hair. "You washed your hair, you're wearing a suit…you're actually getting ready in advance…" One of the dark brows of Yen's mask arched. "You aren't my brother. What did you do with him?"

"You don't know why tonight is so special?" Yoto gasped and whirled to face his brother. He took his hands off the brush and it remained hanging off the side of his head, still clinging to the stubborn knot.

"Yen is stupid! Yen is stupid!" Potato sing-songed and earned himself a look of immense annoyance from Yen.

"Yen is not stupid," Yen glared even harder at the bird. "Yen is confused."

Potato looked at Yen for a long, long time, slowly cocked his head to the side, opened his mouth, and squawked:

"Yen is stupid!"

Yoto laughed uproariously and patted his Parrybo on the head.

Yen buried his mask in his knees in frustration. "Mind clearing this up, Yoto?" he murmured.

"Tonight is the night where I'm going to be judging a P-Factor round…with Storkos in the seat next to me!" Yoto swooned and folded his hands over his heart. "If she sees me all dressed up, she'll probably become even more interested!"

"She's interested in you?" Yen's head snapped up and he looked at Yoto in slack-jawed disbelief. "Are you deluding yourself again? Remember when we were kids and you were so deluded you thought you could fly? You jumped off of Uncle Bart's caravan and landed on your stomach and broke-"

"Oh, come on, the scar I got is pretty neato! Chicks dig scars," Yoto posed smugly. He really didn't look too extraordinary with a gigantic brush hanging off the side of his head. "And she was pretty dang impressed when she learned I was a Tinker, and she called me 'sweet!'" Yoto sighed. "Not to mention she had nothing but praise for me when she heard about the alternate universe incident…"

"I still can't believe you did that," Yen shook his head.

"I'm going to go for it, Yen," Yoto finally grabbed onto the brush and pulled as hard as he could. "Damn it, it's stuck…!"

Yen smirked. "Would Storkos really like a guy who can't even get a brush out of his own hair? You'll probably wind up having to go to P-Factor with that."
A look of complete, utter horror overcame Yoto's face. "UNCLE BAAAAART!" he yelled as he rushed out of the room like a Cluckles away from a hungry Pretztail.

Yen shook his head and sprawled onto his back. "Good luck, Yoto…" Yen murmured, even though he knew very well that Yoto couldn't hear. "You're gonna need it.'


"I swear, boy," Bart huffed as he placed the recently yanked out, hair-wadded brush on the coffee table. "Sometimes I can't decide if you're nineteen or nine."

"That was an emergency," Yoto pouted and crossed his arms, further confusing his uncle about his true age. "I can't go to the P-Factor with a brush stuck to my head! I'd look stupid!"

"Since when do you care about how foolish you look?" Bart narrowed his eyes.

Yoto simply blushed, looked down, and shuffled his feet.

"Oh. OH," Bart barked a laugh. "Storkos is in this round, isn't she? You want to look good for her!"

"Not just in it, she's judging…in the seat next to me!" Yoto actually bit a squeal in two and jammed his fingers into his mouth.

"Oh, your affections for that poor young lady are so sickening…" Bart shook his head. "You barely spoke to her. How are you sure you're right for each other?"
"I can just feel it!" Yoto hugged himself. "Whenever I look at her, I feel an explosion bursting inside of me, like a hot jet of lava, only it's not lava, it's love!"

Bart gave Yoto a flat look. "Boy, just because a woman gives you an erection upon sight doesn't mean she's the right girl for you. I learned that the hard way."

"HAHA, 'HARD' way! Good one, Uncle Bart!" Yoto smacked his uncle on the shoulder and Bart couldn't help letting a chuckle slip.

"I am serious, though, boy," Bart's laughter faded as quickly as it had come. "Get to know her before you make any moves. I know how you are, you'll see an opportunity and you'll jump on her faster than I can transmogrify an apple…and whatever you do…" Bart grabbed his nephew's shoulders and leaned in so close that the tip of his hat overshadowed Yoto's head. "Don't. Read. Her. Your. Abysmal. Poetry."

"Aww, man," Yoto huffed. "How will she know I like her then?"

"Be patient, boy," Bart leaned away and brushed himself off. Yoto might have taken a shower, but Bart always considered his nephew to be terribly unclean. "I rushed into four marriages and left all of those poor women at the altar. Don't you dare break Storkos' heart like that. I'm still ashamed of what I did to those women…not to mention that I still think that Luciana's father is after my blood…" Bart shuddered audibly at the thought of that imposing old man. When he had caught the two of them in bed together, his head nearly exploded and he demanded that Bart marry his daughter or he would import a gun and shoot him.

Bart hadn't seen hide nor hair of that old man since the wedding's sudden "cancellation", especially since he took his Tinkering business to the other side of the Island. Thank goodness.

"I wouldn't leave Storkos at the altar, are you crazy?" Yoto leapt up off the couch. "There's something there; I KNOW it! She's perfect for me, and I'm perfect for her!"
"Your confidence is…" Bart sighed. "Equal parts frightening and inspiring. Just promise me you won't rush into this?"
"I'm going to impress her and she is going to think I'm the coolest guy ever!" Yoto tugged the collar of his suit jacket. "I'll be the best judge tonight; on my best behavior, charming the crowds!" Yoto smoothed his recently washed hair and gave his best impression of Eddie's million-dollar smile.

"Oh, yes, yes…" Bart resisted the urge to bury his mask in his hands. "Good luck with that, boy."

"Thank you!" Yoto misinterpreted Bart's tone of voice and beamed like a Galagoogoo who found a garden full of tulips. "Well, I'm off!" Yoto darted for the door.

"What? The P-Factor isn't for another-" Bart protested as he rose from the couch himself.

"It's nice to arrive fashionably early! Storkos will think I'm responsible!" And with a giggle and a spring in his step, Yoto was gone.

Bart shook his head, ambled to the kitchen, and uncorked a bottle of wine.


Eddie had had it up to here with Yoto.

Not only did he arrive five hours early, but he also followed Eddie around like a baby Barkbark, drooling in excitement over the upcoming P-Factor round.

"You're supposed to examine the piñatas, Yoto," Eddie sighed as he draped himself over one of the sofas in the P-Factor lounge, exhausted after putting up with Yoto's yammering for four and a half hours. "Not your fellow judges, no matter how much affection you have for that poor woman, we can't afford distractions. We'll lose our credibility if the judges can't focus on doing their jobs!"

"Oh, Eddie, I'm gonna do AWESOME!" Yoto grinned like a fool and bounced up and down. "I wanna impress Storkos, remember? I'm going to be on my best behavior for her!"

Eddie slammed a palm into his forehead and slowly brought it down his face, squishing his nose in the process. "I'll believe it when I see it, Yoa…"

"Oh, you'll see it, all right!" Yoto giggled and sat down in another lounge chair.

"If you're telling the truth, I'll make sure you two are in more rounds together," Eddie gave Yoto a thin smile. "How's that for motivation?"

"AMAZING!" Yoto jumped out of the chair and hugged Eddie around his neck. "I love you, man!" Yoto kissed the top of Eddie's head and leapt back into his former seat.

The patrons finally began to trickle in after Eddie returned from washing and blow-drying his hair in the bathroom. First to arrive was Seedos, who had a Shellybean on his shoulder and a grim look on his face.

"Nice to see you, Seedos," Eddie smiled at him and marked his name down on the clipboard. "And you actually dressed up! Why do you look so down, though? Stage fright?" Eddie's tone was sympathetic, but he received nothing but a grumpy grunt in response.

The fact was Seedos wasn't too big on the suit that Storkos had bought for him, nor the fact that he had to wear shoes. Not going barefoot always felt so…unnatural to him. He cast aside the dress shoes Storkos recommended and instead opted to wear flip-flops. He didn't care how ridiculous he looked; the less his feet were covered, the better.

The Shellybean on his shoulder was Taru, one that was born in the swamp a few years after Seedos ran off into it. He was a yellow variant and the healthiest out of Seedos' Shellybeans, so he figured he would be the best bet for this show. Seedos didn't get the chance to compete much, but when he did, he loved to win. A bit of prize money would make him happy; he could actually eat decent meals for a few weeks!

Next to arrive was Lottie, who was completely decked out in glittery jewelry and an even glitterier blue gown with a slit up the side that went up a bit too high for comfort. She had a completely accessory-free purple Lickatoad in her enormous handbag, God forbid she dress it up with accessories sold by her greatest competitor!

"Oh, Eddie, you look so cute, I could just eat you up!" The bangles on Lottie's arm clangled as she reached out and pinched Eddie's cheek much too hard. "Who will be judging this evening? Hopefully they're all of fantastic taste!"

Eddie blinked away a tear and showed her the list. Lottie screwed up her nose.

"A bunch of children? Ugh, they better know a good piñata when they see one; I could always use more Chocolate Coins!" She giggled much too loudly as she made her way over to a particularly lavish couch.

Avalon was next, with a gigantic, imposing Crowla resting on her shoulder. Eddie knew Cid very well; he was a Crowla that was ancient in age, impressive in size, and enormous in attitude. Avalon always managed to keep the remarkable bird under control, which Eddie found extremely admirable. Cid wasn't the only impressive thing about this new arrival, though.

"Wow, you look gorgeous!" Eddie couldn't stop his jaw from dropping. He didn't usually like earthy tones, but they worked well for Avalon. Avalon was in a brown, patterned dress that went down to the middle of her calves and she wore gigantic high heeled boots. She looked even taller and more intimidating than usual. With her status, height, and build, she tended to render newbie gardeners quaking in their boots when she was in her normal clothes. The added height really added to the intimidation factor…but Eddie simply thought that made her look all the more stunning.

"Gardening's a dirty job," Avalon tossed a bit of her inky hair over her shoulder. "I think I deserve to look nice once in a while."

"No complaints from me, ma'am!" Eddie winked at her. "Good luck!"

"Thanks, Eddie," Avalon gave him a smile and a firm handshake that left Eddie's delicate hand just a little bit sore.

A few minutes later, someone covered Eddie's eyes.

"Guess who, Eddiekins~?" an unmistakable, purring voice cooed.

"Dastardos?" Eddie narrowed his eyes behind the gloved hands covering them.

"NO, I can't believe you'd be so mean!" Eddie's eyes were uncovered and he was whirled around to see the pouting face of Petula. "I was, like, going to go to a party in the city, but I came here to judge, just for you, and you mistake me for…for an ugly dead guy?"

"No, no, Petula!" Eddie waved his free hand around as he did his best to backpedal. He hated offending women; he really should have thought that comment through more. "That comment was in jest; I knew it was you, and you look absolutely lovely." For good measure, Eddie took Petula's hand and placed a quick kiss on it. She had obviously dressed in hopes of catching his eye; the neckline of her fluffy pastel pink and yellow dress went all the way down to her belly button. Was it even legal for a seventeen year old girl to walk around wearing that? Eddie hoped Petula's parents wouldn't be in the audience…

Petula giggled girlishly and Eddie breathed a mental sigh of relief. "Make sure you give me a good introduction, sweetie!" Petula winked lewdly at him. "It's going to be hard to focus on the piñatas with such a sexy emcee!" With that, she flounced off to gossip with Fannie, who would be spectating this P-Factor round.

Storkos flew into the room grandly, her long skirt flapping behind her. She smoothed her dress and grinned at Eddie. "Told ya I'd make it in time."

"Good for you!" Eddie beamed. "Langston is giving you time off?"
"No one really breeds their piñatas during P-Factor rounds," Storkos dismissed Eddie with a flick of her hand. "Most gardeners are competing or spectating! Langston's actually watching this round."

Yoto watched Storkos chat with Eddie from a distance. He felt the bones in his legs slowly turning to jelly and a lovesick smile overtook his face. He was glad his pants were fairly loose; he would embarrass himself when he stood up to judge the piñatas otherwise! That dress did an amazing job highlighting Storkos' thick curves. Now that was a woman!

Yoto was too caught up in Storkos to notice his twin brother arrive with Leena in tow. She was a bit scared to be walking around alone when it was getting dark, so Yen had agreed to escort her there. She refused to listen to his assurances that the Island's population of murderers and rapists was pretty much nonexistent.

Yen just wore a simple, pattern-free black suit. Where on Earth did he find such a thing on Piñata Island? Such awful taste…and he called himself a born-and-raised Islander!

Eddie resisted making a snooty comment about Yen's fashion sense. Yen had been a last-minute slot fill for the show, and Eddie was grateful that he had the correct amount of judges.

Leena looked cute, at least. She had on a fluffy little green and white dress. Did she choose that for herself? She didn't seem the type to have much of a fashion sense, either…

Oh well, no complaints. Eddie greeted them both warmly.

"I…I hope I don't mess up…" Leena fiddled with her hands and Eddie placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Just be honest, and you'll do fine," Eddie gave her his million dollar smile and Leena nearly fainted.

Yen shook his head. He never approved of Eddie's charming lies. Eddie had told Leena the exact same thing a few months ago, and Leena still wound up getting so nervous that she threw up all over the judging table. Oh well, hopefully tonight would be vomit-free…

"When are we starting?" Yen drawled, his eyes scanning over the crowd. Quite a few people were here; he was sure the rest of the stars of the show were in there somewhere.

"There's…there's one person left…" Eddie swallowed as he looked at the list and tugged at his collar. "I…don't think people will be too happy with his company."

"Oh, God…" Yen buried his mask in his hands.

"I-it's not Pester, is it?" Leena began to violently gnaw on her nails.

"Not quite that bad…" Eddie smiled goobaaishly.

As if on cue, the front doors of the P-Factor Hall burst open with a bang! as they hit the walls.

"That better not have dented!" Eddie shrieked and tore at his hair.

"Sorry I'm late, I was getting dressed."

Dastardos' voice was as smirky as his face. He was obviously joking; he was wearing the same tattered sweater, jeans, and scarf that he always wore. A Vulchurro that was almost as big as he was perched on top of his head, glaring at every other piñata in the room.

"Nice to see all of you," Dastardos' good eye scanned over the silent room, lingering a moment longer on Seedos and Avalon. "No need to stare, people; we can just get down to business. Victor here wants a win under his wing."

The Vulchurro on Dastardos' head let out a loud call in agreement.

"I agree with the creepy dude for once!" Yoto jostled Eddie's shoulder. "C'mon, Eddie, let's get to factoring P's!"

Eddie let out a long sigh. He had a bad feeling about this round, but he couldn't quite place why. He still managed to put on a fake grin for the crowd.

"Let's all enter the stage in an orderly fashion. It's time for the P-Factor!"


The four competitors stood (or floated, in Dastardos' case) proudly onstage. Dastardos seemed a bit distracted, his hands behind his back and absent-mindedly swaying back and forth, his Vulchurro at his feet.

The crowd clapped politely for Seedos (apart from Storkos, who applauded thunderously), barely clapped at all when Lottie was introduced, much to her chagrin, and erupted into loud cheers for Avalon. No wonder; Avalon was quite a prolific gardener!

When Eddie introduced Dastardos, the crowd devolved into a torrent of boos, particularly loud ones coming from Doc Patchingo. That broke Dastardos out of his trance and he blew the crowd a mocking kiss.

"Look at those piñatas! We have quite an impressive display today, especially those avian marvels!" Eddie gushed in an attempt to calm the booing crowd. "I'm not a judge this round, but that Vulchurro of Dastardos looks…much healthier than I expected!" He gave Dastardos a polite smile.

"I keep Victor on a strict diet of damned souls," Dastardos drawled with a straight expression. Seedos rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"That's…very unique." Eddie's smile visibly faltered. "Anyway, I'm not the one to pass judgment, so let me turn it over to our wonderful judges! Miss Leena Collins, you're up first!"

"Eep!" Leena jumped out of her chair like a startled Robean and flitted up to the stage.

"Leena Collins is an up-and-coming gardener," Eddie talked to the crowd as Leena leaned over to examine Seedos' Shellybean, patting him on the head with a smile on her face. "She might be new at this, but she knows a good piñata when she sees one! Do you have a verdict, Leena?" Eddie turned to face her and gave her his million dollar smile.

"Um…" Leena was grateful that the many spotlights made the audience nigh-impossible to see. She blushed and fiddled with her hands. "I think he's really cute…and he seems smart…I like him a lot."

Seedos beamed at Leena's verdict, but his smile quickly fell when Petula called out:

"Um, Leena?" she chortled. "You're supposed to, like, judge the piñatas, not the people!"

The audience burst into hysterical laughter and Seedos tugged on his collar so hard that he nearly ripped it, his eyes on the floor. Yoto had to put his hands over his mouth to keep from bursting into laughter in front of Storkos. She surely wouldn't approve, she was glaring daggers at Petula!

"I…I was…" Leena's cheeks turned so red that she would put a Ruffian to shame. "Um…theotherpiñatasarenicetoo bye!" Leena ran back to the judging table and began scribbling on her judging card like crazy, her face turning even redder. Once she was done scribbling, she used the card to cover her burning face. Avalon gave poor Leena a look of sympathy and Dastardos gave Seedos a patronizing wink. Seedos glared right back at him.

"Okay, okay, that's enough!" Eddie scolded the still hysterical crowd. "You should be ashamed of yourselves!"


That got the audience laughing again. Storkos slammed her fists into the judging table, rose to her feet, and yelled "KNOCK IT OFF!"

Everyone went completely and utterly silent, apart from Seedos, who gave a small sigh of relief, and Yoto, who gave an ENORMOUS sigh of adoration.

"Sorry," Storkos cleared her throat and smoothed her dress. "Please move on, Eddie."

"Gladly," Eddie smiled. "Next up is Yen Yoa, he's…um…" Dang, Eddie really didn't know much about Yen, did he? Um…hmm…he knew he was Yoto's brother, but he acted nothing like him (thank God), he had a tendency to disappear for long periods of time, and…hmm…that really was all he knew. Eddie would have to do some digging later or that would bug him. For now, the best intro he could come up with was: "Yen is Yoto's twin brother and he's really quite a man of mystery!"

"I didn't know you had a brother…" Storkos blinked at Yoto. Yoto spluttered like a lawnmower in response. Dang it, why couldn't he talk to her tonight? Must be the exposed cleavage. It was really hard to focus all of his brain power on not staring and talk at the same time.

Yen snorted at Eddie's comment and he made his way through the piñatas. He was completely silent as he sized them up, until he made his way to Dastardos and his Vulchurro.

"…do you really feed him damned souls?" Yen asked, making eye contact with the reaper. His voice was full of honest curiosity and his blue eyes looked genuinely inquisitive.

"What if I do?" Dastardos folded his arms and smirked.

Yen gave Dastardos a thin smile. "…that's neat. I didn't know piñatas could sustain themselves on a spiritual concept," Yen's comment baffled Victor enough for Yen to give the papery feathers on his head a quick ruffle.

Yen returned to the judging table and took full interest in his score card. Yoto shook his head.

"He's a little…" he whispered to Storkos and made the cuckoo sign. At her raised brow, he quickly added "I love 'em, though. Good brother."

"Glad you do. You're lucky you can live with such a good family," Storkos smiled in approval and Yoto's heart very nearly exploded. If only she knew how crazy his family could be…it would probably be better if she didn't.

"Next up is the ever-so-lovely Paper Pets store owner, Miss Petula!" Eddie gestured to her with a flourish and she giggled with glee. As she walked up to the stage, Eddie prayed that she wouldn't stage a "wardrobe malfunction" for attention.

She didn't, thankfully, and her final verdict was "They're all gross, ugh! I don't like any of them! This round sucks," Petula pouted all the way back to the judge table and stared at her card as if that would help her magically make a decision. She closed her eyes and picked one and wound up with Avalon's Crowla. Good enough. She gave him the most amount of points.

"Next up is Yoto Yoa!" Eddie gestured to Yoto with a flourish and the spotlight followed Yoto as he made his way to the stage. He felt a glow inside when he heard Storkos let out a "WOO, go for it!"

"Yoto is Bart the Tinker's apprentice. Apparently, he has great potential, so there's a good possibility he'll inherit his uncle's business!" Eddie shrugged with a smile.

In the third row of the audience, Bart shook his head. He would be tinkering until the day he died, and when he did die, he'd do his darn best to rise from the dead and pry his precious business away from his nephew's fumbly hands.

"Seedos, I still can't look at Shellybeans right since one of your baby ones crawled into my pants," Yoto shuddered profusely. "He's definitely not the worst in show, though!" Yoto backpedaled and gave Seedos a big old grin. "He's a nice color. I like the yellow. Just keep him away from my pants."

"I don't think anything ever should go near your pants," Seedos mumbled, and, much to Yoto's chagrin, Seedos' lapel mic picked it up. Petula burst into loud, snorting laughter. Storkos just shook her head with a smirk.

Yoto felt his heart drop at that comment. Oh God, Storkos is going to think Seedos hates me…gotta make this look good…gotta make this look good…

"G-good one, buddy!" Yoto hopped on the stage for a moment to give Seedos a good natured punch on the arm, and then jumped back off and headed over to Lottie.

"That's a…Lickatoad," Yoto squinted at the little purple frog piñata, leaning forward so they were at eye level.

"Yes it is, Captain Obvious," Lottie harrumphed. "Just tell me what you think of her!"

Yoto straightened up, looked Lottie in the eye, and his voice became very, very serious. "I hate Lickatoads."

Somewhere in the audience, a single tear rolled down Langston's papery face.

"There, there, it's okay…" Leafos patted him on the head and began to sob harder.

"I'll feel better…if…if…" Langston sniffled. "You let me…sit in your lap…?"

"Not gonna happen, Langston, sorry," Leafos immediately withdrew her hand and Langston slumped so much he became a green, papery blob of misery.

"Well, I never!" Lottie stomped a foot and Yoto shrugged.

"Hey, our opinions are supposed to be honest!" Yoto gave Lottie a dapper smile and tugged on his suit jacket. "Just doing my job, ma'am."

Avalon smiled as Yoto strolled in front of her. She was pleased to see that he wasn't lying about being on his best behavior in front of Storkos. If only they could be in the same room all the time, it would save the Island a whole lot of headache!

"Oh, Avalon, you know I think Cid is an awesome bird!" Yoto grinned at Cid and Cid let out a mighty caw. Yoto took a reflexive step back. "…a scary bird, but still, a really, really awesome bird! How much is he worth now?"

Avalon named a chocolate coin price that made everyone in the audience suck in a collective gasp. Lottie began to eye Cid like he was a tantalizing piece of candy. Cid glowered back at the pushy shopkeeper.

"Whoa-ho-ho!" Yoto made a big show of reeling back. "Is Avalon awesome, or is she awesome?" Yoto waved his arms at the audience until they erupted into applause.

"Oh, stop it, Yoto," Avalon half-smiled and flicked her hand at him.

"I mean every word, Avvie," Yoto grinned at her before shuffling over to Dastardos. He squinted at Victor and frowned. "This bird is scary in a different way…"

"I'd tell him to eat your soul," Dastardos yawned. "…but you're a ginger and you don't have one. Victor's going to starve tonight and it's your fault."

"Why do you even come here?" Yoto straightened up and gave Dastardos what he hoped was an intimidating glare. "Just to mess with people and ruin everyone's day?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Dastardos laughed with a shrug. Storkos buried her mask in her hands and Seedos shook his head.

"We're not judging the people, Mr. Yoa," Eddie chastised with a wiggle of his index finger and a click of his tongue. "My father believes in second chances, and Dastardos has been just fine, apart from a little harmless ribbing. Please return to your seat at the judging table."

Dastardos put his hands behind his back and grinned as innocently as his disgustingly twisted mask would allow. Yoto complied and headed back to the judge's table, but not before giving Dastardos a quick "I've-got-my-eye-on-you" gesture.

Yoto gave Avalon all of the points he possibly could. Bias or not, her Crowla was quite a sight to behold!

Storkos took all of Yoto's attention when she went up to judge. She embarrassed Seedos by gushing over how good he looked in his suit, and Yoto noticed Leena blushing in agreement out of the corner of his eye. Storkos suggested to Seedos that he should get a few flying piñatas to help him search for seeds, but Seedos shook his head rapidly. His Shellybeans worked just fine, thank you!

Storkos gave Lottie's Lickatoad nothing more than a "meh," which made the old woman plant her hands on her hips and huff in irritation. Looks like the prize money wouldn't be hers! Damn it!

Storkos wasn't a fan of Lickatoads. When you have a sentient, talking one bossing you around every day, you get sick of them quick.

"Avalon, can I see Cid's wingspan?" Storkos asked; her eyes wide with wonder. Cid hopped on Avalon's head and spread his wings out as far as they could go. The audience oooohed, and so did Storkos.

"WOW!" Storkos bounced with joy and nearly caused Yoto to fall out of his chair. "What a piñata! He's wonderful!"

Cid seemed flattered by the praise. He hopped back onto Avalon's shoulder and offered Storkos a wing and a beaky smile.

Storkos gave the wing a quick, affectionate squeeze. "Think you just might have my vote, big guy," she whispered to Cid. Avalon heard that little comment, and couldn't help a proud smile from crossing her face.

Storkos took a deep breath before walking over to Dastardos and turning her attention to Victor. "Glad to see you're behaving," she said as much to Dastardos as to Victor. "Even if you do feed on a diet of damned souls, you're one awesome-looking bird!"

Victor let out a loud cry as if to say "DAMN RIGHT I AM!" Dastardos snickered.

Storkos straightened up and gave Dastardos a lingering suspicious squint before returning to her seat next to Yoto.

"The judges will now total up their scores!" Eddie laughed with glee. "I'll announce the winner of our wonderful 15,000 chocolate coin prize in just a few minutes!"

"G-good job out there…" Yoto managed to whisper to Storkos, his face hot.

"Thanks, you too," Storkos looked up from her score card to smile warmly at him. Dang it, they were so close! She smelled great; like vanilla. She had worn perfume and had even meticulously braided her hair. That was a really, REALLY nice outfit, too. Was she dressed to impress…?

No, no, no, Yoto, don't read into it too much, Yoto gave Storkos a goofy grin before returning his attention to his scorecard.


"I've got our wonderful winner's name right here in this envelope!" Eddie waved a sparkling purple and pink patterned envelope in the air.

Yoto barely resisted making a comment about that envelope being the gayest envelope he ever saw.

"I don't understand why he has to make the announcement such a big deal like that…" Yen rested his chin on the table and shut his eyes. "He could just count the votes and be done with it."
"It's called, like, showmanship," Petula huffed. "Plus we get to hear that sexy voice of his more! Everyone is happy!"

Yen snorted. "Says you."

"Shh, Yen," Yoto shushed him. "Eddie's opening the envelope!"

"Ahh, our winner is the lovely Avalon Pendragonache!" Eddie joined the audience in rousing applause. "Not a big surprise, with her gardening expertise, she's got quite a few wins under her belt already! Do you have anything to say to your fans, Avalon?"

The rest of the stage went dark and the spotlight settled on Avalon, who was smiling proudly with Cid perched at her feet.

"Thank you, Eddie. I just want to say that if yew work 'ard, yew can turn even the most impossible plot of land into an amazing garden," Avalon winked at Leena. "'Ard work is the key, and it always pays off in the end! If yew ask me-"


Avalon's eyes rolled back and she began to crumple to the ground. Before she could, Dastardos swept over and caught her. Her head lolled against his shoulder and her legs hung limply over his arms. She was knocked completely out cold.

"WHAT?" Seedos cried out in shock. Leena and Petula screamed so loudly that the overhead lights shook. Both of Yen's eyebrows shot up and his lips parted, which was his way of screaming hysterically.

Dastardos turned to grin at the audience and Avalon's head rolled off his shoulder and began to hang off of his other arm, her dark hair spilling everywhere. "Love to stick around, but I've got a delivery to make!" With that, he began floating off as fast as he could, kicking Lottie off the stage as he passed her. She fell to the ground with a loud CRASH and she moaned dramatically in pain.

Lottie was ignored in all of the pandemonium, though. Half of the audience screamed and began to scramble around, having absolutely no clue what to do. The other half just sat frozen in their seats, their jaws on the floor.

"GOD DAMN IT, DASTARDOS!" Yoto and Storkos yelled in unison and leapt to their feet. They rushed around the table and began to give chase, but they froze in their tracks when the gigantic TV screen over the stage crackled to life and an enormous red face took it over.

"Hello, particularly putrid populace!" Professor Pester's giant head cracked up laughing. His laughter echoed terrifyingly around the theater.

"PESTER!" Storkos' voice was filled with raw hatred. She spat his name like it was poison. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Ahahaha!" Pester laughed horrifically again and grinned, happy to be showing off his exceptionally sharp teeth on an enormous TV screen. "I want to…discuss some terms with all of you!" His smile widened and Yoto and Storkos exchanged a weary glance.

They had a feeling this was going to be one long night.