Klavdiya dabbed powder on her cheeks, preparing for her date with Stellan. She pursed her lips in the mirror and smiled at the reflection. She knew she looked good – Stellan would agree.
Ming had walked in on her roommate and took a seat on her bed, watching as Klavdiya meticulously applied more lipstick. Ming and Klavdiya had formed a somewhat unexpected bond, but neither bothered to examine it too closely. Friends were important in the palace; they built you up and stood beside you when the enemies you’ve made try to take you down.
“I can’t believe you won that obstacle course. I’m not much of a painter myself, but thank plum there wasn’t any violin challenge. I hate that instrument so much. Lyric was playing it this afternoon and I kind of wanted to smash it on the floor,” Ming laughed. “Anyways, you ready for tonight?”
Klavdiya tended to be a woman of few words, but it somehow balanced the chatterbox that was Ming.
“Do you know what you’re doing? So far none of the girls have left the palace yet. Just tea, drinks, dinner, that kind of stuff. I hope there’s some crazy date like cliff diving or something.”
“I would hope not!” Klavdiya quipped, her Russian accent strong with the words. “I want to look good – not go jumping of of cliffs.”
Ming shrugged and leaned back on the heels of her hands. “Suit yourself!”
Another hour later, Klavdiya was ready for her date. Stellan knocked politely on her door before escorting her to a cozy study with a roaring fireplace, large bookshelves, and soft sconces adorning the walls.
“I’m sorry we haven’t got to talk much,” Stellan said earnestly. “There’s so many of you. I guess that’s a pretty horrible excuse, huh?”
“Kind of,” Klavdiya shrugged. “If you didn’t have as many crazy challenges, maybe you’d have the time to get to know us a little bit better. Or at least get to know me.” She winked.
“I’ll have to consider that,” Stellan smiled. “But we’re here together now, so why don’t you tell me more about yourself?”
“What do you want to know?”
“What about your past?” Stellan asked. “Willow Creek is nothing like Russia, I’m sure.”
Klavdiya shrank into herself. She wasn’t particularly proud of her past, especially the rough childhood she’d been subjected to. She looked down at her perfectly manicured hands and pictured them as small as a child’s, with chipped edges and cuticles raw with teeth marks. Playing with her nails had been a nervous tick when she was a kid, and fortunately she had outgrown the habit the older she got. Now, Klavdiya treated herself weekly to a manicure as an apology to herself and the nervous little girl she once was.
“Russia’s nothing like here,” She said softly. “I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, but the older I got, the more I realized it was just silver-plated. Pretty on the outside, but worthless within. My father was a…gangster, I guess you’d say. He brought home thousands of dollars worth of jewels, gold, silk – everything you could possibly imagine. I don’t remember him at all, though. He died when I was five.”
Stellan’s eyebrows furrowed. “How did you know he stole all of it, then?”
Klavdiya smiled without any warmth. “One time my mother brought home one of her many men and kicked me out for the evening. I took a walk in hopes of finding somewhere to go, but everything was closed save for the library. I’ve never cared much for books – they’re so worthless compared to everything else. But the newspaper archives always caught my eye. Something about history has always gripped me. Anyway, I checked the archives of the week of my father’s death and found all of his crimes recorded like a grocery list. I recognized the descriptions of everything he stole – my mother had pawned off most of it to make ends meet when she didn’t have a man to mooch off of.”
“Is your mother still alive?” Stellan asked, concern lacing his features.
Klavdiya turned to him, staring intensely. “Honestly? I don’t know.”
“I moved to Willow Creek as soon as I turned eighteen with barely a penny to my name. I had some jewelry that my father had left for me specifically, but I had no idea how to trade it for simoleons without alerting anybody to the fact that they were stolen artifacts. I took some…odd jobs, and here I am now.”
“I’m so sorry,” Stellan apologized. “Sometimes I forget that other people have lived different lives than me. Thank you for trusting me with this – it means a lot you were willing to tell me.”
“If you would’ve given me more time to enjoy this drink, I would have been more than willing to tell you.”
The two laughed together, letting the heavy air dissipate into lightness. Stellan marveled at the woman sitting across from him. Klavdiya had been through so much and came out stronger than before. Sure, she had a tendency to eye expensive artifacts around the palace and scoff at bits of dirt against the baseboards, but Stellan was willing to look past all that at who he thought Klavdiya truly was.
As the time drew closer to curfew, Stellan kissed Klavdiya goodnight.
Everyone had retired to their rooms before ten o’clock, more than willing to obey the rules.
Well, almost everyone.
Kara looked across her bedroom. She had forgotten that Raina was in the Redemption Room, but it would only make her mission easier. She crossed the room and pulled open the heavy door, peaking down the corridor to make sure no one was around. When she was satisfied by the emptiness, she crept down the hall, making sure to stick close to the wall and stay in the shadows.
Kara slinked down the stairs and into the kitchen. It was blissfully empty, and so she quickly got to work. So as not to alert anyone, she stole a few pieces of lettuce and carefully picked vegetables from the bottom crisper. Grabbing a bowl that had yet to be washed, Kara got to work mixing all her ingredients together before dividing them all into separate bowls. She put them all in her inventory and used her superior mixology skills to whip up two different drinks. Afterwards, Kara made her way to the baking machine and cranked out a random pastry plate that she couldn’t name. Her final stop was the globe bar where she poured random liquid from different decanters into glasses.
As she shoved the drinks in her inventory, a throat cleared behind her.
Kara jumped and turned around. The last person she was expecting was Prince Stellan, who stood in the doorway with dark circles under his eyes.
“Can’t sleep?” He asked.
Kara latched on to the question, using it as her excuse. “Oh, yeah. I’ve never been a good sleeper. The night calls me.”
“My reasoning isn’t as deep as that, I’m afraid. There’s just so much going on in my life that overwhelms me. Sometimes I find myself randomly meandering the halls.” He admitted.
Kara smiled. Perhaps this was a good opportunity for her to get to know Stellan better – she could kill two birds with one night sky stone.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” Stellan asked, making his way to the brewer. “I find chamomile to be the most comforting.”
“Sure,” Kara replied, following him with her eyes.
The two took their cups and went into the dining room, taking a seat opposite one another.
“How much sleep do you normally get?” Kara started, sipping from her mug. Stellan was right – the chamomile instantly soothed her, releasing tension she didn’t know she was carrying.
Stellan stared into his mug for a moment. “Maybe six or seven hours lately. I guess I do a lot of worrying about all of you.”
“What do you mean?”
Stellan shrugged. “I guess it always bugs me when someone is in the Redemption Room. I know it’s a nice place and all, but there’s just something about one of you being all alone down there that bugs me. It’s got to be nerve-wracking. And the cowplant. I still worry about Shirley and her general state after being eaten by it.”
Kara set her mug on the table and smiled. “I would bet you a thousand simoleons she enjoyed it.”
Stellan tilted his head back and laughed. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Don’t worry too much about us,” Kara said, placing a reassuring hand on Stellan’s. “Every girl in this palace is as tough as nails, and maybe even stronger.” Except London, of course.
Stellan relaxed under Kara’s unexpected kindness. “Thank you for that, Kara.”
“Um, Your Highness?’ The butler walked into the dining room with a mop in hand. “It’s past curfew and I need to clean the dining room. I can come back later if you-”
“No, no.” Stellan said, standing up quickly. “We’ll leave you to your cleaning.”
Kara stood up as well. “Talk more tomorrow?” She asked sweetly.
“It would be my pleasure.”
Early the next morning, Stellan found Kara relaxing in the parlor.
“Did you sleep well?” She asked, patting the seat next to her.
“Very well thanks to a certain night hawk,” He smiled, taking her up on the offer to sit.
Kara and Stellan picked up where they left off, chatting as if they had known each other their entire lives.
London had softly padded her way downstairs when she came upon Kara and Stellan cuddling. Her heart sank.
What does he see in her?
Kara looked up at London and flashed a bright smile at her. London flinched, expecting fangs to form on her teeth and blood to drip on the carpet.
“Hey, London!” She called, gesturing her over.
“Uh, hi.” She said, trying to be as polite as possible. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“You’re not interrupting at all!” Kara said, upping the wattage of her smile. “In fact, I was just about to go take a shower, so why don’t you take my spot?”
Deciding that perhaps Kara had chosen to reinvent herself, London nodded and sat down. Kara waved goodbye to Stellan before heading up the stairs, a mischievous grin spreading on her face.
Outside London and Yasmine’s room, Kara could hear water running. Silently, she pushed open the door and saw the bathroom door closed. Soft singing was coming from the opposite side of the door. Kara recognized the song – Lyric insisted on playing it on the piano while simultaneously singing along. It was an ear worm, and clearly Yasmine had picked it up quickly.
Kara had no idea how long Yasmine had been in the bathroom, and so she got working right away. First, she started with the salad. Kara took bowls and placed them in conspicuous places at first before getting really creative. She placed the salad on the seats of London’s desk and vanity while also hiding the spoiled drinks under the bed and in the tray on the desk. For the finale, Kara clamored onto the bed and placed salad bowls in the sconces on either side of the bed. She took a moment to stand back and enjoy her handiwork, but it didn’t last long. The water shut off and Yasmine’s singing became louder, so Kara scurried out of the door and out of the hallway.
Downstairs, London and Stellan were conversing, sticking to lighter topics such as the weather and last nights dinner.
Kara approached again and smiled down at the pair. “Do you mind if I borrow London for a bit?”
London’s eyes widened as Stellan shrugged. “If you’d like.”
Seeing no way out, London brushed off her shorts and followed Kara into the tea room. They took their respective seats before Kara set out a tray of the dessert she had baked last night as well as the two specialty drinks she prepared.
“This is my peace offering,” Kara said solemnly. “I know we haven’t exactly…gotten along,”
“That’s an understatement.” London grinned.
Kara conceded. “So I thought we’d just enjoy a little brunch together. Maybe we’re not as different as we seem.”
Kara reached for a pastry and took a bite out of it, prompting London to do the same. London figured that if Kara ate it, it must be safe to eat.
The two spent their time exchanging stories and laughing. There was a forced cheerfulness to the air, and London was still dubious of Kara’s intentions, but she shrugged it off and tried to enjoy the moment. She had to admit the pastries were good. The simsmapolitan beckoned her, and she took a sip. She rarely drank alcohol, but figured a glass couldn’t hurt. It was supposed to taste a little off, right?
Meanwhile, Simcess and Stellan gathered in the viewing room again.
“What torture are we inflicting on the girl today?” Stellan asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Oh, you exaggerate.” Simcess said, waving him off. “We’ve got a great challenge for Raina today.”
As if by magic, Stellan looked forward and saw an object appear within the room.
“Alright Raina! Come on in,” Simcess called through the intercom.
Raina’s steps were unsure as she walked into the room, wincing as the door slammed shut behind her. However, her trepidation melted away when she looked in front of her.
A bonsai tree.
“Since we know how much you love shaping weird indoor trees, we thought we’d let you do it as your challenge!” Simcess said. “If you create an actual shape, you can come back into the competition. If you butcher it like you did in the labyrinth,” Simcess stopped to laugh. “Then you go home!”
Raina nodded. She was born for this. And if she wasn’t born for this, she had become ready for this.
Time ticked away as Raina pruned the tree. She lost herself in the design of it, cutting random limbs and doing her best to create a real piece of art from the leaves.
After a few hours, Raina stepped back and smiled at her handiwork. It wasn’t amazing by any means, but it was a shape!
“Congratulations, Raina! You’re back in the competition!”
Still reeling from the whirlwind of the Redemption Room, Raina blissfully made her way down the corridor. As she passed London and Yasmine’s room, a putrid smell surrounded the air. She gagged before forcing the door open, covering her nose with her sweater.
“Oh my plumb” She cried. “Yasmine, what is that smell?”
“I have no idea!” Yasmine’s face was green, and she looked like she would puke at any moment. “The maid found some old salad on London’s chair, but he cleaned that up hours ago. I don’t know what else could possibly smell this bad!”
“Come on,” Raina said, grabbing Yasmine’s hand. “We can wait it out in the library.”
Kara remained in the tea room while London decided to take a walk in the gardens. Again, Kara examined the walls. Something was off with the bookshelf on one wall. She made her way over to examine it. Grabbing at the Book of Life, she tugged hard. The book wouldn’t budge, but the shelf did. It revealed a hidden room with a one-way mirror looking out into the garden.
Kara could see London perfectly. She was waltzing around the grass, smiling at the gurgling fountain and fresh flowers.
It didn’t last long. Kara chuckled darkly as London gripped her stomach, looking grim. Kara’s laugh grew even wilder as London scrambled out of the room, clutching her mouth with both hands.
Revenge is sweet.