Simcess trotted down the basement stairs, desperately trying to ignore the trepidation coursing through her. The results had come in, and they were anything but decisive.
57% to 43%.
Close, but not close enough for one unlucky girl.
Laughter burst out of the Redemption Room. At least London and Natalia were getting along. Simcess shuddered at the idea of Alexandria and Raina in the room together, or Kara and, well…anyone.
Simcess knocked on the door lightly before pushing it open. Natalia and London were seated on the bed, smiling and laughing at each other. Simcess shut the door and pressed her back against it, letting the cool metal handles press into her back.
“The results are in.”
The words had a sobering effect on both girls. For one of them, this was the end of the road. She would return to her normal life, thinking back to her time in Knight Palace as if it were a dream she was woken up from too soon.
Simcess gestured to the raven-haired girl. “Come with me. Stellan’s waiting for you in the foyer.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she embraced her friend one last time.
Stellan’s face dropped as Natalia stepped into his view.
“Natalia,” He whispered.
Natalia’s eyes were glossed over as she came to stand in front of the prince. Stellan reached his hand up and gently brushed her tears away before grabbing her hands in his own.
“I’m so sorry,” He said, voice cracking with emotion.
Natalia smiled sadly. “I’m going to miss you.”
Stellan felt a wave of sadness wash over him, for he shared the sentiment. Silently, he pulled her into a long embrace.
“And Stellan?” Natalia said, placing her lips next to his ear. Her roommate’s face flashed in her mind.
“Lyric’s a special girl. Don’t hurt her, okay?”
Stellan finally pulled away, hating the fact that he had to do so.
“I promise I won’t.” He said solemnly.
With that, Natalia walked out without looking back.
When London came up the stairs, she ran to Stellan and practically leaped into his arms.
She was safe.
After sending Natalia home and talking for some time to London, Stellan rubbed a hand over his forehead to ward off an oncoming headache. He made his way through the castle, meandering in and out of rooms aimlessly. It was getting harder and harder to send the women home, and he was dreading how much more difficult it would get.
Without realizing it, he walked into the competition room, where Alex stood before an easel, pondering what to create.
“Hey there, champ.” He called, coming to stand next to her.
Alex chuckled. “My arms hurt from all that swimming.”
Alex passed over a palette filled with different types of paint to Stellan. He hooked it over his left hand and picked up a brush with the other.
“What’s wrong?” Alex asked, peering at him from the corner of her eye. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you frown.”
Stellan sighed. “It’s getting harder people home.”
Alexandria’s eyes widened. “Who left?”
“Oh no,” Alex mused. “I love her. She’s wonderful girl.”
“Don’t I know it,” Stellan sighed.
“Hey,” Alex said, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I know it’s tough, but think about it this way: You’ve got more time to focus on the women that are still here. That’s a real gift. Don’t you remember how hard it was balancing twelve girls?”
Stellan chuckled lightly. “I remember you getting sick the very first day.”
“Not my greatest moment.” Alex admitted.
“Well you’re still here, aren’t you?” Stellan smiled, wrapping Alex in his arms.
“I guess so.”
Another day passed before the girls were called to the third floor of the palace. In front of them stood eight individual bars complete with different types of juice, fruit, and garnishes. Shirley clapped as she stuck a tiny umbrella in her hair.
“Welcome to another challenge!” Simcess called out. “Today, we’re seeing who can craft the best drink! After all, when you run a country, you’ll be needing some juice to get through the day.”
Kara snorted as London’s brows furrowed.
“What does she mean?” London asked, learning towards Lyric.
Lyric laughed and shook her head, not answering.
“You’ll all be asked to make a Wrench – the girl who makes the highest quality drink will win, and the two who make the lowest quality will head to the Redemption Room. Again, you’ll face a vote from our audience to determine whether you stay or go. With all that being said, begin!”
The girls began mixing their first drink of the challenge. Juice was flying everywhere as girls flipped bottles onto the ground and smashed glass all over the floor. Kara rolled her eyes at the amateurs as she balanced three bottles on top of each other and juggled them.
By the end of the first round, Kara had made an excellent drink. Everyone else had a normal one, except for Klavdiya. Before the quality of her drink could be checked, she drank the entire thing. When she was told to go to the Redemption Room, she took the glass and slammed it on the ground, splattering juice all over Raina’s toes.
“I was thirsty!” She screamed, storming out.
Simcess watched her go before shrugging. “Next round – go!”
After making four drinks, the girls were at a stalemate. Each of them had been creating normal drinks, no matter how much their skill improved. They continued to mix and garnish as discarded drinks piled behind them.
Eventually, Ming veered off the tracks and made her own drink, a green monstrosity that randomly showed up in her drink list. Amazingly, it was excellent quality, and she could finally stop mixing, leaving five girls to compete.
The girls continued until one by one, their drinks improved. Raina cheered before pressing her knees together and desperately walking to the bathroom.
Eventually, the sun rose over the horizon. Two girls were left.
Shirley and Alexandria.
Shirley’s eyelids grew heavy. She had been up all night mixing the same drink over and over, and she was ready to be done. Alex bounced from side to side, sure that her bladder would explode.
Drink after drink appeared on the bar countertop. All poor quality, stinky, and served in a red solo cup. Simcess ran her hands down her face, frustrated with the lack of progress. The drinks behind Alex and Shirley began to spoil, adding to the discomfort on the balcony. Even the maid loathed to clean everything up, waving a hand over his nose in disgust.
After at least four more drinks being made, Shirley slapped down a Wrench that was blissfully normal quality. Alexandria was not so lucky – again, hers was in a solo cup. She threw her hands up in the air.
“At this point, I don’t care!” She shouted. “I just have to pee!”
As the girls mixed drinks, Kara had made her way inside. She thought after all that bar-tending, she needed a drink. The bar inside was much nicer, and she took it upon herself to use as many expensive drinks as possible.
“I’ll take a salty llama,” A voice said.
Kara’s head jerked up. A man stood in front of her, tapping a fingertip on the bar.
“What?” She asked.
“Did I stutter?” He asked. “A salty llama, stat.”
Kara shrugged. It had been weeks since someone had met someone genuinely mean like her. She grinned as she mixed the drink. The mystery man continued to chat with her as he took a seat at the dining table as if he owned it.
Kara was infatuated.
Finally, a man with a spine.
“All ladies report to the sitting room. I repeat, all ladies report to the sitting room!” Simcess said over the intercom.
Kara rolled her eyes as she placed the salty llama on the table and waved goodbye to the man.
All the girls – except for Alex and Klavdiya, of course – sat down in the chairs facing Stellan and Simcess.
“I know this is a little unconventional,” Simcess said. “But we have a special guest who will be joining us for the next couple weeks.”
“He’s a very good friend of mine, and also the King of the neighboring Kingdom. Please welcome my friend, King Luke Lockwood.”
The girls clapped as one of the most attractive men they’d ever seen walked in. He was the complete opposite of Stellan – tall and dark, with a sultry look. Stellan and Luke hugged. When they hung out, they weren’t royalty. Instead, they were two young boys who used to climb trees and prank the maids. Childhood best friends.
Kara gasped, ignoring the stares she got from the other girls.
She had a flashback to moments ago.
“Did I stutter? A salty llama, stat.”
Pity Klavdiya and Alexandria couldn’t meet him.
Who do you want to see stay in the competition?
Alex or Klavdiya?