PREVIOUSLY: We announced the winners of the Love Challenge! What will be the 3rd and final one to send the game show off with a bang?
Onyx: We will now proceed to the –
Wildfire: Third challenge, right. The physical one. Finally, it’s time to break a sweat and have some fun. So, pick one of your chumps to take it on.
Arsenik: You’ll be embarking on a grand adventure to rescue a princess from a tower.
Wildfire: Hah, it won’t be a real princess. What you callin’ her that for?
Arsenik: I believe it falls in line with stories they’ve read or heard before. Fables where knights in shining armor are commissioned to rescue a beautiful princess.
Wildfire: And? That doesn’t mean we have to do what everyone else is doing.
Chase: So! Let us know when all of you are ready.
Ambrosia: Sir Banality Man, I do hope you’re feeling up to it…
Banality Man: I was born up to it! I feel spiffy, I feel fast, I feel energetic! I had a moment of weakness during that last challenge, but now I’m ready to go. I dedicate this next challenge to the memory of Mr. Abraham “Honest Abe” Lincoln.
Ambrosia: I wish you the best of luck, Sir Banality Man.
Onyx: Follow me.
[The three contestants looked blankly at each other. Prince Shun, in particular, seemed to balk at the mention of it being a “physical challenge”.]
Zheng: …Well, are you up for this challenge, Princeling? We’ve both had our chance to shine so far.
Princess Yanyu: That’s true. Do your best!
Prince Shun: A rescue mission? I suppose I could come up with a suitable strategy…
[He turns towards the judges.]
Prince Shun: How does this challenge work? Is there any information you might be able to give us prior to selecting who is to undertake it?
[While he addresses the judges, Zheng and Princess Yanyu seem to be discussing something behind his back.]
Zheng: (I was kind of joking about that… He’s much more the languishing in a tower, poring over books type, than the rescuing, heroic type of prince, isn’t he? You sure he’s going to be alright? After all, royals hardly do any physical labor…)
Princess Yanyu: (You think too little of royals. Prince Shun at least has some martial training, as is required of a properly educated Nantu prince.)
[Though she spoke with conviction, a nervous look played out on her face when she finished her sentence. Straightening up again, she, too, turned towards the judges.]
Princess Yanyu: I’d also like to ask something… Are we only to send one member of our team for this challenge? Or would it be possible to have two contestants? They could switch in and out throughout the challenge, so they would not be able to have a physical advantage in numbers at any point.
[For an instance, Ambrosia and Arsenik exchange a glance.]
Arsenik: Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be possible, Your Highness. While you wouldn’t have an advantage in numbers, you would in stamina. You would be allowing one member of your team to rest and regain their strength before tackling the challenge again.
Night: Hmm…what more can we tell them, Onyx?
Onyx: Nothing more than what’s already been explained.
Wildfire: Well, I can tell you that you’re all dead meat.
Ambrosia: Oh, Lady Wildfire, please don’t scare them! Rest assured, your lives will be at no risk throughout this challenge.
Wildfire: But you should definitely see Ambrosia afterwards. Let her kiss your boo-boos away.
Ambrosia: I’m a healer, but I’m sure you will choose such a wonderful champion that you’ll scarcely need my services!
Arsenik: I should warn you, though…you won’t be able to bring any weapons or items other than the clothes on your backs. You may have the opportunity to equip yourself during the challenge but not before.
Princess Yanyu: Ah, I see. Thank you very much for your clarification.
[She turned back to her teammates, who didn’t look pleased at the news at all.]
Zheng: …I knew I should’ve brought Ah Niu along instead.
Princess Yanyu: Well, too bad! You’re stuck with us, and our royal ineptitude!
Prince Shun: I will go.
Zheng: What, really?
Prince Shun: You have already had your chance to shine, is that not correct?
[He gave Zheng a slight smirk before continuing.]
Prince Shun: I am not without my own merits. You forget that I once was first in line to the throne of Nantu. A king must know how to lead, not just from the comforts of his palace, but from the frontlines of a war, if necessary.
Zheng: Well, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you trip over your robe because you were trying to walk and read a book at the same ti-
[Yanyu nudged Zheng roughly, silently urging them to stop. They shot her a sharp look in return, clutching their side.]
Zheng: Er, what I meant to say was… This is hardly a war! It’s just a rescue mission, isn’t it?
Prince Shun: Then you need not worry so much.
Zheng: …Fine, go on then.
Prince Shun: I am so pleased to have your blessing.
[Princess Charming eyes those around her carefully, a strange glint in her eyes.]
Princess Charming: So, are any of you princes interested in endangering yourselves to rescue a princess?
[While soft and genial as always, her words are tinged with a sort of palpable determination as though she has already decided the answers for the men around her. Prince Zel titters nervously, Prince Mer raises his brows, and Prince Snow breaks into a jovial laughter after a brief moment of hesitation.]
Prince Zel: W-well, we all know I can’t fight to save my life. I’m afraid I’ll have to pass this time.
Princess Charming: That’s no problem at all. Again, you really saved our hides in the cooking challenge, and you deserve a good, long break.
[Princess Charming turns her head slightly to look directly at the other two princes.]
Princess Charming: What about you two? Would either of you like to participate?
[Prince Mer shakes his head and lifts his arms, his palms facing away from him.]
Mer’s Illusion: That’s quite alright, but thanks for asking. I’ve never been very good with swords, and I’m afraid what few tools I have for self-defense may not even work here.
Princess Charming: Is that so? It’s great we’re unlikely to be surprised with an attack here, then, and even better that I am here to protect us all. While my lack of access to magic is certainly a burden, I’m quite passable at fighting, if I do say so myself. But what about you, Prince Snow? You haven’t spoken yet. Would you like to volunteer?
[Prince Snow stifles yet another laugh that attempts to flee his lips.]
Prince Snow: No, no, that’s quite alright. I can certainly defend myself, but I’ve never been the type to voluntarily embark on adventures. Besides, you seem quite eager yourself, Princess Charming, and I’d hate to rain on your parade.
[Princess Charming feigns a huff at the suggestion, but the sparkle in her eyes has yet to leave.]
Princess Charming: Eager? Well, of course! The sooner we decide our challenger and complete this round, the better! We’ll need as much time to recuperate as we can get, since I do believe we have one final challenge afterwards.
[Prince Snow shrugs, his expression a cordial grin.]
Prince Snow: Yes, you’re right. Do you volunteer, then? Or…
[Princess Charming beams, and her expression reminds the princes of a toddler receiving toys that they’ve begged their parents for months.]
Princess Charming: Well, as long as you guys genuinely aren’t interested, I don’t see why not! I’m a sucker for adventures.
Prince Zel: Just… don’t hurt yourself, Princess Charming.
Princess Charming: Thanks for worrying about me, but I’ll be fine. I can defend myself just fine, and I doubt the hosts want us injured for real.
[Princess Charming turns to the judges, her expression softening.]
Princess Charming: Will this adventure be in the room of illusions again? Oh, and will you guys grant me any tools to help me in my journey?
[At her seeming curiosity, Arsenik can’t help but smile.]
Arsenik: You may be allowed to equip yourself during the adventure but not before. If you have any weapons present, please take this moment to disarm yourself.
[Princess Charming pouts as she pauses to ponder, ignoring the concerned looks on the faces of those around her.]
Princess Charming: Well, I certainly don’t have any weapons on me. I’ve always relied on magic alone — magic I currently lack.
Prince Zel: H-h-how will you defend yourself without weapons? W-what if there are beasts guarding the princess? Beasts not even the best of fighters can fight with their hands alone?
[Princess Charming tilts her head and winks at him. ]
Princess Charming: I’m sure I can charm them into releasing the princess.
[Her words are met with incredulous stares and awkward titters. She searches the audience for the reassuring face of her best friend Nicholl, but no matter how much her eyes wander, he is nowhere to be found. Perhaps that’s inevitable. There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of people in front of her, their faces a blur of colors. She sighs before returning her gaze to the princes and judges.]
Princess Charming: Arsenik did just tell us I’m free to snatch any weapons I find. It shouldn’t be too hard a journey.
[Paige has rejoined the team after her blow up at the end of the previous round. However, Blake and her stand as far away from each other as possible, still not speaking to one another.]
Colt: I’m not really into anymore fighting. I’m going to be sore for weeks after the last round.
Blake: Relax, you wimp. No one was planning on asking you. You couldn’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag.
Colt: Why don’t we send you in then? If we’re lucky you’ll open a trapdoor and fall into a pit of spikes.
Blake: Like I would be that stupid.
Jordan: Actually, you do tend to run into situations without thinking things through. It’s not that farfetched.
Blake: At least I won’t be scared away before I walk in the front door. Are you suggesting you would be any better?
Jordan: Well, I’d probably be able to figure out what the layout inside would be like. I’ve rescued dozens of princesses in video games…
[Jordan looks like he’s momentarily considering it before shrugging and shaking his head]
Jordan: But I’m probably worse at defending myself than Colt, and it also seems like a lot of work. Makes me tired just thinking about it.
Blake: No one here is a perfect candidate. You want someone who adapts and plans well under pressure, is tough and knows how to defend themself, and enjoys playing video games so they are decently familiar with the environment. Who the heck would that be?
[Blake was trying to demonstrate how ridiculous their standards were, but Colt and Jordan both realized the same thing and turned towards the strangely quiet Paige]
Paige: M-Me? No way, I’m not a good planner. You’re thinking of my brother.
Colt: That’s not true. You’re amazing at analyzing people and figuring out how to stop them no matter who they are. And you are the only person I know who was able to adapt to Blake as a defensive partner.
Blake: Why does everyone act like that’s such a huge accomplishment?
Jordan: Because you’re impossible to work with and people regularly quit our team to get away from you?
[Blake opens his mouth to argue but decides not to. He manages to show some restraint, knowing he’s already on thin ice with Paige.]
Paige: Ok, so I’ve played a few video games? I’m no expert.
Jordan: You always talk to me about Skyrim.
Paige: Well, yeah, I’ve dabbled a little.
Jordan: You said you bought all the DLC.
[Paige sighs, her shoulders drooping as she was running out of excuses]
Colt: You really don’t want to do it? It seems right up your alley.
Paige: Well, the thing is… it sounds kinda boring.
Colt: Climbing a likely monster and trap infested tower sounds boring to you?
Paige: Not that part. Look, let me put it this way. I’ve never finished a game of Mario in my life. I can’t get motivated to complete games like that. Who cares about rescuing some princess I’ve never even met?
[Paige throws up her hands in exasperation and gestures as she continues.]
Paige: I mean, even if it is a game, I’m supposed to be invested enough to risk my life? If it was someone I knew up there, I would kick all the butt in the world to rescue them. I just think maybe we’re better off sending someone in there that would be fully committed to the ‘rescuing the damsel in distress’ thing.
[Prince Shun turned to the judges.]
Prince Shun: I shall be the one to undertake this challenge.
[Charming takes a deep breath or two to steady herself before smiling at the judges.]
Princess Charming: I’m ready.
[By this time, Onyx has returned. He turns and faces the two royal contestants.]
Onyx: Follow me.
Who will be the victor and the runner-up? Who will the hockey team choose? What is the cast of Between the Lines thinking?