After the cow plant escapade, each girl went to her respective room to decompress.
Well, all except for one.
London had collapsed on a firm couch in the hallway, feeling her stomach turn. Watching Shirley get gobbled up so quickly by that cow plant…it made her sick just thinking about it. She hadn’t spoken to Shirley much, but she knew her well enough to feel an intense amount of grief for what the poor girl had went through. The image of the plant’s snapping jaws and sharp teeth flashed over and over in her mind. She barely noticed the tears sliding down her cheeks, darkening the upholstery.
Stellan was shaken up by the ordeal too, but he hid it well. The idea of putting any of these women in danger pained him – he knew would be hurting feelings and maybe even breaking hearts, but the fact that Shirley could have died was just too much.
As Stellan rounded the corner, he saw London with her head curled into her lap. Her shoulders shook and she was sniffling lightly.
“London?” Stellan asked softly.
London lifted her head slightly, peering up at Stellan through lashes heavy with tears.
“It’s nothing,” London said, leaning back into the couch.
“Hey,” Stellan said, grasping London’s elbow and coaxing her to stand. “Talk to me.”
London sighed. “It’s the whole Shirley thing,” She sniffled. “It must have been terrifying for her, being digested by that…creature!”
Stellan shook his head. “I wasn’t happy with the challenge either. If I had known that’s what they’d planned, I would’ve put a stop to it.” He paused. “I should have done something about it.”
“Is she okay?”
Stellan sat down on the couch and rested his elbows on his knees.
“I checked on her – she’s fine. More then fine, actually. She said she kind of enjoyed it.”
London laughed softly. That sounded like Shirley.
“It was such a disturbing sight,” London said. “I didn’t even want to consider the fact that it might have eaten her.”
“I can imagine,” Stellan replied. “We’ll have to get rid of that plant as soon as possible. I don’t want anyone getting seriously hurt.”
London smiled. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
Simultaneously, London and Stellan leaned into one another.
“If you pinch me, I’m sure I’ll wake up,” London whispered. “This is like something out of my romance novels.”
Stellan laughed softly before leaning in. As naturally as breathing, the first kiss of the season occurred.
After some more time talking, London felt well enough to go join the other girls where they had gathered in the library. She kept the kiss to herself, keeping it as her own little secret she could always revisit.
Deep in the catacombs of the palace, Stellan joined Simcess on the couch, staring into the small room. Shirley stood in the center, looking from side to side at the cramped space. A table stood in front of her with three types of fruit: A cherry, a pear, and a UFO.
“We figured since Shirley is a bit of a wild card, we’d do a random challenge for her.” Simcess explained. “The three fruits on the table each represent a position – the UFO means she’ll stay in the redemption room and undergo another challenge. The cherry means she’s back in the competition. If she eats the pear, she leaves immediately.”
Stellan nodded. “Sounds perfect for Shirley.”
Simcess smiled. “Why do you think we chose it?” Leaning forward, Simcess pressed a button, connecting to the intercom system in the other room. “Okay, Shirley!” She called. Shirley jumped, glaring at the ceiling in distrust. “There are three fruits in front of you – pick one! Simple as that.”
And with that, Simcess went quiet.
Shirley looked around once more. As the minutes passed, she became more and more on edge with her surroundings. She didn’t trust the floors. She didn’t trust the walls. Or the door. Or the table.
And especially, she didn’t trust the fruit.
So she devised a plan.
She was not going to eat.
Hours passed, and Shirley’s stomach began to grumble audibly. But she would not give in. She would not eat.
More hours passed. If Shirley could see her hunger as a bar, it would be in the red. She was incredibly uncomfortable, and would clutch her stomach and wave in the air to get someone – anyone’s – attention.
Stellan grew more concerned as the time passed. It was bad enough Shirley was gobbled up by a cow plant – it would be worse to actually starve to death.
Stellan leaned over and whispered to Simcess. She rolled her eyes but complied, and leaned into the intercom again.
“Alright, Shirls. This is getting ridiculous,” She said, a hard edge to her voice. “So we asked the Sim Gods to send us a randomized list of the fruit. The one I tell you is the one you eat.”
Shirley let out a low growl as Simcess called out a fruit to eat. She walked forward to the table and reached for it…
As slowly as possible, Shirley lifted the cherries to her mouth and ate them. Stellan let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding as Shirley finished eating.
He leaned over to the intercom and pressed a button. “Congratulations, Shirley! You’re back in the competition!”
Shirley let out a sigh of relief as the doors clicked open and she walked free.
Upstairs, Lyric spent hours upon hours playing the high-end violin she had discovered in the music room. It was her favourite pastime – the days passed by as her skill increased tenfold.
“For the love of plum, Lyric!” Ming said, sneaking up on the unsuspecting musician. “STOP PLAYING THAT STUPID INSTRUMENT!”
Before Lyric could retort, Simcess’ voice boomed from the intercom. She called all the girls deep into the catacombs once again. Once they had all taken their seats,they stared at the ominous wooden door, waiting for instructions on what horror they’d endure again.
“Welcome back, ladies,” Simcess greeted. “As you can tell, we are unfortunately missing a girl.”
“Natalia has gone into a state of extreme shock, and for the present time, can no longer talk, walk, or move whatsoever. We’ve sent for doctors from the Cut ‘n Gut hospital to assist her. For the time being, she will be exempted from this challenge.”
“We wish her a speedy recovery,” Simcess said earnestly. “But for now, we have to move on.”
“Today, you’ll be facing another maze of sorts. It’s definitely not the labyrinth again. It’s more of an…obstacle course.”
The girls groaned again.
“Alright, alright, that’s enough,” Simcess chastised them. “Don’t forget you all signed up for this.”
Raina shrugged. “Actually, I was created just for this – I never signed myself up.”
London nodded in agreement. “I already existed before this challenge, but I was signed up anyways.”
“Hey!” Simcess called, quieting the girls. “There will be no self-awareness here!”
After everyone had calmed down, Simcess started again. “First, you will go through a one-person maze in the dark. Then, a shorter mirror-maze. At the end of the final maze, there are four different doors. Only one leads to the opposite side.”
“When you all arrive, you’ll go head to head in a painting competition. Your order has been selected randomly. If you win, you move on against four other girls to compete to win a date with Stellan. If you lose, you’ll go through another painting competition. But here’s the twist…we’re eliminating one of you on the spot.”
The girls paused, looking at one another for reassurance but finding none.
“Let’s get started!”
One by one, the girls shifted nervously into the beginning of the maze. Instantly, they were enveloped in darkness. One girl refused to let it bother her – London.
She didn’t want to repeat her poor performance in the labyrinth, so she marched forward into the darkness, running smack into a wall. The sound echoed off the walls, making some of the girls yelp.
“Uh, London?” Yasmine called into the darkness. “Are you alright?”
“Fine!” London called back, placing her hands out in front of her to prevent any future mishaps. All the girls slowly made their way through the winding halls, sometimes getting caught in dead ends or bumping into each other.
Eventually they entered the mirror maze. Klavdiya smiled and observed herself in the mirror while Katya narrowed her eyes and marched through, determined to beat everyone else.
Once all the girls had gotten into the painting room, they found a plaque with all their names on it.
Here is where you go head to head in a painting competition. A randomizing site has chosen your order, as well as who you will go against. Each of you will paint a small, classic painting with a design of your choice.
Lyric v Klavdiya
Ming v London
Katya v Alex
Kara v Yasmine
Raina v Shirley
Klavdiya shrugged before stepping up to the easel. Painting wasn’t her strong suit, but she could certainly beat the songbird beside her. She had heard the violin music floating on the air and knew it was coming from Lyric. Klavdiya had been strategically studying in the library, preparing for anything that might come her way. Both girls began the process of painting a basic flower.
Lyric had her own strategy, of course. She knew painting wasn’t her strong suit, but thought that by choosing a basic design and working her hardest to add small details to it would be the best approach. Lyric surreptitiously looked down at her dress, trying to emulate the soft floral.
Up next was Ming and London. While they were waiting to take their turn, London had ventured back into the maze, leaving Ming to finish her painting quietly. As Ming painted, the easel beside her remained suspiciously empty. Ming knew not to look a gift horse in the mouth, so she decided to focus on her own work instead.
By the time Ming had put the finishing touches on her painting of the fruit she had seen on the dining room table that morning, London had returned. There was no time limit, so London slowly began her own painting. The other girls tapped their feet and shifted their weight from side to side, waiting for their turn. London’s unexplained absence in the maze had put them on edge – six other girls still had to paint, and they were losing precious time along with the green on all their needs.
Once London had finished her painting, she stepped back to allow the next girls up. Ming decided she’d had enough of painting and headed into the maze again.
Katya and Alex stepped up to their respective places and whipped out paintbrushes, ready to compete against the other. Katya and Alex hadn’t interacted much, and each felt no bad blood towards the other. Instead, they respected their differences and focused on their own project. Katya was stumped, and eventually gave up on trying to create a masterpiece. She knew Alex was quite the masterful painter, so decided to just create a llama and be done with it. Her inner perfectionist screamed at the brown monstrosity.
On the other hand, Alex stood back and observed the blank canvas. So many opportunities awaited her, each one more appealing than the next. Everything else seemed to fade away as she dipped her paintbrush into the swirling paint before delicately swiping it on the blank slate. A small smile unconsciously slipped onto her face as she grew more and more entranced by the artwork she was creating.
Once the two girls had finished, Kara and Yasmine took their places. Yasmine eyed Kara – she had seen the girl in action before, provoking the others and getting under their skin. She was quiet about it, but Yasmine knew she was behind the simmering tension threatening to break through.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kara saw Yasmine judge her. She checked herself, finding out she didn’t care one whit. Kara knew she was stirring things up in the palace – after all, it was great fun. She had no intention of stopping any time soon. She was the cat, and the other girls were the mice. Kara would taunt and tease them until one by one they cracked. A little girl in a baby blue dress wouldn’t change that.
Finally, Raina and Shirley stepped up to the plate. Both had been meandering through the maze, checking their hair in the mirrors and meeting up with other girls at the entrance. It took them both forever to finally get back to the painting room, but when they did, they gave it their all.
Raina peaked over at Shirley. She was certainly an eclectic mix of eccentric and outright insanity, but she had been surprised to learn that at her core, Shirley was a kind soul. Raina had trouble connecting with many of the girls so far, but was slowly learning the best way to approach possible friendships. She had stopped judging girls for what they looked like on the surface and instead did her best to get to know them.
Shirley paid no attention to Raina’s facial expressions that betrayed her thoughts, and decided to focus all her attention on the canvas instead. Shirley had a wonderful opportunity here to show what she was truly made of. Her time in the Redemption Room didn’t escape her – there was no way she was going back into that tiny room anytime soon. Finally, both girls hung their paintings on the walls and stepped back. The paintings were of various qualities and prices, some – most – very cheap.
The Final Results
Klavdiya, Ming, Alex, Yasmine, and Shirley all proceeded through the single door and into the next part of the maze. Instantaneously, the two easels disappeared and five others popped up in their place. The remaining girls stepped up to their own places.
“Your next test is to create a large painting,” Simcess said, her voice crackling over the intercom once more. “The girl who creates the lowest value painting will be eliminated on the spot.“
The five girls stared at each other nervously – everything, from the competition to the lights above their heads – became real.
“The girl with the second lowest value will go to the Redemption Room.”
They all began furiously painting, aggressively mixing colours and trying out new techniques.
Everyone except Katya had finished their painting, taking the final moments to look around and judge the competition. After another hour, Katya had finally finished.
This was it.
Someone would go.
Once the results were read out, Katya buried her head in her hands. She was totally disappointed in herself – here she was a self-proclaimed perfectionist, and yet she couldn’t even create a nice painting. Lyric painted a stupid bunny for plumb’s sake, and it was worth more than her own! She was escorted out of the palace immediately as Raina was led to the Redemption Room.
On the opposite wall, the five winners were distracted by their own conversation. The only one who kept the challenge in mind was Klavdiya. She prowled the hallways until she found the winning room, jumping up and down with joy when she did so. She had one, and she would be getting a date with the prince!
With Klavdiya the winner and Katya the ultimate loser, the girls were let out of the basement. They each took off to do their respective hobbies. The doctors from Cut ‘n Gut had arrived during the challenge and fought tooth and nail to get Natalia to come out of her shocked state. They operated on her, the building, and even went so far as to delete the floor beneath her to get her moving.
They gave up and had left the palace, Natalia still frozen. When Stellan heard of it, he chased after the doctors and brought them back, telling them once more to unfreeze the poor girl – he had made a promise not to harm any of them, and he would be doing just that if he let Natalia stay in one spot.
The doctors rolled their eyes but obliged. Giving it one more go, they performed a small operation. Natalia immediately began to move, and went so far as to run, screaming with freedom. She had changed into new clothes in an attempt to shrug off the painful memories of being stuck. Afterwards, she headed down to the courtyard to watch the water bubble and flow, just as she could now.
Natalia leaned over the railing, feeling the lull of the water soothe her pounding heart.
She didn’t hear the soft footsteps behind her, and so didn’t sense Stellan’s approach. He watched her for a moment, noting the calmness she exuded that he hadn’t noticed before.
“Hey there,” He called softly, coming to stand next to her.
Natalia jumped slightly before laughing at her own nervousness. “Stellan!” She smiled, turning to the prince.
“How are you feeling?”
Lyndsay paused, searching for the right answer before deciding to blurt out, “Mobile!”
Stellan laughed at the joke before confiding in Natalia about his intense concern for her well being.
“I’m fine, honestly.” Natalia reassured him, placing a warm hand on his shoulder. “Right as rain.”
“What’s that?” Stellan laughed. “I haven’t seen rain my entire life.”
Natalia laughed alongside him. “Me neither, but it sounds nice.”
Stellen took the moment to embrace the lady, surprised at the affection that rushed through him.
Meanwhile, drama was going down in the library. Kara had found London browsing the books, and took it upon herself to finally stir the pot she’d been watching for so long.
“London, your goodness really amazes me sometimes,” Kara said kindly.
“Oh, thanks!” London said, trying to keep the surprise out of her voice.
“I just find it incredible how one girl can be so…sweet all of the time. I remember this one time my friend ate so much sugar that she puked it all over herself,” Kara laughed manically, clutching her stomach and doubling over. “I kind of imagine that’ll be you one day, except all the sugar won’t be from food, it’ll just be the words you insist on spewing daily.”
London’s shoulders slumped. Here she thought Kara was giving her a sweet compliment, tying to form a new bond. But no.
Why was she surprised?
“You know what?” London asked, feeling her spine stiffen as her metaphorical one turned to steel. “If I throw up from all the sugar coming out of my mouth, the acid you speak would disintegrate your body entirely!”
“Is that the best you’ve got?” Kara mocked, doing her best impression of London. “If it is, we all know why London bridge fell down.”
London’s eyes widened in horror. Instead of coming up with another scathing remark, she grabbed a cup sitting on the table behind her and wound her arm up, getting ready to send the contents flying.
Kara leaned back in horror as London lobbed the drink at her face.
But nothing came out.
London stared into the cup, puzzled at what had just transpired. Kara laughed hysterically at the failure – so much for a lamb turning into a lion.
London turned the cup over completely and watched the slushy fall out in one big hunk, splattering her shoes and the floor. Kara pointed and continued to cackle.
“Nice attempt!” She smiled, straightening up. “I mean, you tried, and that’s what matters most.”
London covered her face in shame. So much for standing up for herself.
“You’re just as pathetic as your family,” Kara continued. “Katrina Caliente’s great-granddaughter, yes? Face it darling, you’ve got promiscuity in your blood. Dina, Nina…we all know them…and better yet, we know the stories of them. I’m surprised your last name isn’t Lothario.”
“That’s it!” London screamed, jumping on Kara. The two scuffled on the floor, kicking up dust and dirt. They clawed and cried, each one gaining the edge at different times.
Simcess had been reading in the corner quietly until the fight broke out.
“Enough!” She shouted into the cloud, trying to break the fight up. “This is so unladylike!”
The girls wouldn’t stop, though. They continued their brutal fight until London slammed Kara into the ground and stood up victoriously. She smiled triumphantly as Kara swayed from side to side.
That’ll teach her to insult my family.
“How dare you!” Simcess shouted. “There is no tolerance for violence here!”
London threw her hands up defensively. “Kara started it!”
“I don’t give one damn who started it!” Simcess continued, pointing an angry finger. “The prince will know about this, and he can decide what to do with both of you!”
Simcess stormed out as tears bloomed in London’s eyes. What had she done?
Kara turned to London with a smug smile on her face, despite the swollen eye and the fact that she was staring at two Londons. “Better pack your bags, Lothario.”
Natalia and Stellan were still hitting it off in the courtyard when London came charging down the stairs. Tears had dried on her face as she sought Stellan for the comfort she desperately needed. She recalled their kiss and the calmness that came with it, hoping to find that same feeling now.
“Stellan!” She purred, standing between the duo. “I haven’t seen you all day.”
London leaned in for the kiss as Stellan backed away. “Whoa, London.” He said, placing a placating hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” She cried, feeling the sting of his rejection. “I just wanted to see you.”
Stellan sighed. “Well, I’m talking with Natalia right now, but I’ll come find you later, okay?”
London glared at both Stellan and Natalia. Was she losing the lead she had just gained?
“Fine.” She ground out. “I’ll leave you two alone.”
As she turned to go, Natalia looked at Stellan for an explanation.
“Sorry,” He apologized.
“Don’t be,” Natalia smiled. “She seemed so upset. I won’t blame you if you want to go after her.”
Stellan grinned boyishly as he looked Natalia in the eyes. “Not right now – I’m too busy chatting with a beautiful girl in a white dress.”
“Oh? Who might that be?”
Stellan brought a hand to his chin, tapping his finger on the corner of his lips. “I’m not totally sure…I think her name is Normani? Nelly?”
“Not sure I know her…” Natalia teased.
“Oh!” He said, raising a hand in the air. “It’s Natalia, isn’t it?”
Natalia beamed at him. “You’ve got that right, Stellan.”
And with that, she leaned in for their first kiss.
London had paused on the stairs when she heard Stellan laughing. As she turned around, her heart sank at the sight of them kissing as if they’d done it a hundred times before.
Had they? London had no way to be sure. Fresh tears sprung in her eyes as she ran away as fast as she could.
Upstairs, Kara observed her injuries in the mirror. She was practically apoplectic at what had transpired.
She decided to try out a new look to balance out the darkness she felt stirring inside her. The more she worked, the angrier she got at the little London girl.
Satisfied with her look, she applied the finishing powder and took a final look.
“I’ll get you, Lothario.” She whispered, a wicked smile playing on her lips.