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Chapter 2: Belle of the Ball

by Andrew Theisen

Day 4

Mad Creeg

Richard held a crude bow stave in his hand. It was sturdy, notched at both ends to receive a string. Several half-carved arrows lay on the ground beside him. Damn them, Richard thought. He couldn't believe the rest of his idiot tribemates had voted out the most capable survivalist in the entire family. And damn him, too, for not siding with me like I asked! If only Andre-David had thrown his vote against Marie-Helene, he would still be in the game, and she would be out.

The dark haired warrior fumed silently away from the rest of the group. His powerful muscles strained to string the bow with a cord his brother-in-law had twined. Working with the weapon- rudimentary though it was- made him feel somehow more secure.

"That won't be very useful without arrows, will it?" A familiar voice rang softly in the air.

Richard grunted. "What do you want, Catharine?" He really wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone.

She picked up one of the only completed arrow shafts, examining it as she knelt next to her brother-in-law. "I didn't realise you two were so close," she observed.

"What do you mean, woman?"

"Andre-David's dismissal? You seem rather upset by it."

"Damned fool thing to do." Richard finished stringing the bow, tested its pull. The man did some good work in the three days he'd been here. Imagine what he could have done if he'd stayed longer.

"Oh, I completely agree," she replied. Her brow furrowed and she closed her eyes, muttering some sort of wizardly mumbo-jumbo.

Wizards. Richard couldn't stand their ilk. He'd been raised in warrior tradition by his father, his uncle, and his older half-brother. He'd fought in several wars against the upstarts across the channel back on his original homeworld. By force of arms he'd kept the family together when his father, Michel, had died. He'd be the head of the household yet, save for his damned brother...

"Here. Will these do?"

Catharine's voice brought Richard out of his internal tirade. "Eh?" The woman was holding a handful of arrow shafts, all identical to the one she'd been examining a moment before. He accepted them warily. "What is that old expression, about gift horses?"

His brother's wife smiled demurely. "Simply trying to make myself useful, Richard."

Black Toes

Absolutely useless, that's what they all thought. Isabelle could care less, though. She planned to coast through this game, flying under the radar. They'd be too busy picking off one another, ignoring the 'useless' Isabelle. Then she'd surprise them all by stealing the whole thing right out from under their noses. Besides, she wasn't going to risk ruining her manicure.

Isabelle regarded herself in the vanity mirror she'd brought to the island, fussing with her hair. In the reflection she could see Magdalene and Jean-Louis arguing about something. Doubtless something very important, like who was going to fetch water for the camp. Isidore was taking her sister-in-law's side in the matter. Isabelle had seen the two women sneaking away from camp in the middle of the night. Though they tried to leave separately, she was certain their midnight forays were actually plotting sessions. Isabelle would not let those two overpriveleged grandees take control of this game.

A bright glint caught the corner of her eye. Turning to find the source, she saw Charles, uncharacteristically in the daylight. He was fiddling with something- one of those firestones they'd received at the challenge yesterday.

Charles. Her husband. The man who'd taken her out of a peasant's life, working in her father's brewing business. Who'd introduced her to the glamorous life of the Averoigne nobility, a world she'd only dreamed of. She loved him once upon a time, or she thought she had. She'd taken up the study of the arcane arts, like he had; she'd followed him and his family to this world, leaving behind her own home and family. Now, though the very sight of him made her absolutely livid, she thought she saw an opportunity in the making.

"And what rare opportunity brings you out among the living?" The rebuke came forth as a reflex, and she regretted it instantly.

"The undead, at least, are smart enough to hold their tongues." Her husband didn't even raise his glance her way.

"So what happens when you actually make it work? Move on to another experiment, like always?"

Charles sighed. "It is to my gravest regret that not all of my experiments turn out successful."

It took a great degree of restraint to stifle Isabelle's retort. "Enough. I did not come over here with the intent to start an argument."

"You have a curious way of demonstrating that intent."

"Fine. I apologise." Isabelle held her skirt away from the sandy ground as she knelt next to Charles. "This... isn't easy for me."

"Odd. 'Easy' is a word I often hear associated with you."

"Charles!" The man was so infuriating! "I've come to discuss an alliance, not banter with you."

This prompted one of the man's rare and damningly charming smiles. "I don't quite believe what I am hearing. Are you proposing to me?"

"Don't sound so shocked. You know that it's the last thing they'd expect."

"Probably because they know I'd have to be crazy to agree to it." Charles turned once more to his firemaking. "As I recall, you're not so good at keeping to your vows."

Isabelle stood, rattling off the completion phrase to her telekinesis spell. With an angry wave, the firestone leapt from Charles' hand and plunged into the ocean depths. "Fine. Just know that this is a one time offer." She stormed off, thinking, was our marriage always like this?

Day 5

Mad Creeg

There is something familiar about this, Janette thought to herself, as she wandered through the jungle. Not being on an island, specifically- though she couldn't even be sure of that- but she found an odd comfort in the outdoors. The encroaching trees all around, the rustling of animals unseen, of sunlight peeking through the dense canopy. It called out to something inside her, something primitive. She felt a nearly overpowering urge to tear off her dress and lose herself in the heart of the jungle.

She smiled as she hadn't since... she couldn't recall how long. Which was the problem, of course. She' never been quite the same since returning from the Land of Grey Mists. Even after two decades, the thought of the place sent shudders down her spine.

To be sure, all of the family had been affected by the... well, Rad knew how long they'd spent there- years, centuries? But Janette had returned more broken than most. Nearly all of her memories had been lost, only the vaguest sense of who she was remained. Her life as Janette Toorden d'Ambreville- and something else. Almost as if there were two of her, another identity buried deep within, one which longed for the wilderness of this island, or something quite like it. Longed to run free, and wild, and...

"Janette? Dear?" Guillaume's concern brought her back to herself. Her dear, sweet husband. Who'd cared for her so lovingly after he'd discovered her condition when Etienne had resurrected them all. He'd done all that he could to help her recover, but he'd reluctantly had to send her away, to that asylum in Boldavia. Through experimental surgeries and procedures, she'd had most of her memories restored. Regrettably, her knowledge of arcane magicks had not returned quite so well. Today, it was all she could do to cast simple cantrips...

"You shouldn't wander too far from camp." Guillaume was close, now, and she let herself be folded into his embrace. "I shouldn't like to see anything happen to you."

"I am sorry, love," she inhaled his musky odour. Squeezed him a little bit tighter. "I just felt an urge to get away from camp for a while."

"You should have let me know. I'd have come with you." For some reason, out here, Janette found his regard more overprotective than usual. "Besides, with Andre-David gone you have no reason to feel ill at ease."

Her nostrils flared slightly at the mention of the hunter. She'd hated the way he'd glance at her on occasion, as if she were somehow less than human. As if she were one of those beasts he stalked in the woodlands. She was glad to be rid of him. "Of course, you are right, dear Guillaume. I won't worry you any more."

She allowed him to lead her back to the camp, locking away that inner voice that longed to run wild.

Black Toes

Free. When he won this competition, he would at last be free of the geas that his brother had placed on him. Not that Henri blamed Etienne- in his position, he'd have done the same to keep the rest of the family from conspiring against him. Of course, had he been in Etienne's position, he'd never have resurrected the family after their return from the Land of Grey Mists in the first place. That had been his brother's first mistake; his last would be agreeing to emancipate the winner of this game. Henri smiled broadly at the possibilities.

His smile quickly faded, though, as he looked around him. To be free, he'd first have to endure this trial. Stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere, eating rice and what fruits they had managed to find inland. Drinking water, of all things. What he wouldn't give for a nice heady vintage of Vyonnese wine.

It hadn't rained yet, for which he was grateful. He doubted very highly that their makeshift shelter would hold up under any inclement weather. He suspected that some of his relatives could have improved on it through magical means, but that they were holding out on the rest of the tribe. Why wouldn't they? After all, that's what he was doing.

As he walked down the beach, Henri considered his position in the tribe. He knew that the others didn't trust him, and would want to get rid of him as soon as they could. Honestly, commit a little bit of fratricide and suddenly everyone is against you- not that they wouldn't have done the same had the opportunity arisen. Henri knew for a fact that Charles had set plans in motion on more than one occasion to displace Etienne from the head of the family. He had suspicions about the others as well.

In any case, his prior known crimes against the family would make it difficult to win allies in this game, and he would need allies in order to succeed- for a time. He knew better than to waste his time with Isidore, but the others might be persuaded to support him, if he could make it worth their while.

He noticed that his wanderings had taken him to a sandy bar several yards from the lean-to shelter. Here, his cousin Gaston sat alone, contemplating the distant horizon. Several shells were filled with dyes the artist had made from berries he'd gathered in the woods. The sight gave Henri an idea.

"Enjoying yourself, cousin?"

Gaston smiled at Henri, then turned back to his musings. He was painting on a large palm frond, a picture of a sunset. "It is still a few hours too early for that, no?" Henri asked.

"I am painting what the sky longs to become."

Henri shrugged. At least it was more pleasant than the usual nightmarish landscapes he painted. "What if I could arrange it so that you had more time for your painting, Gaston?"

The dark haired dreamer looked up, intrigued. "How do you mean?"

"I'll take on your share of the chores at camp."

Gaston laughed. "I am mad, Henri, not stupid. What do you want from me in exchange? A vote?"

"Nothing so inelegant, cousin. All I require from you is that you paint a portrait for me. One of those family portraits you do so well?"

There was a long pause as Gaston considered, but Henri could sense that he was going to make the deal. "Very well," he said at last, prompting a broad smile from Henri.

Neither of them could see the porcelain masked figure standing nearby.

Day 6: Reward and Immunity Challenge

"Come on in everyone," Bargle called to the tribes as they emerged onto the beach. "Have a look at the new Mad Creeg tribe."

The Black Toes tribe was silent as they noted the absence of Andre-David de Foret, voted out at the Tribal Council. His sister, Isidore, exchanged glances with her husband Richard on the Mad Creeg tribe. Richard shrugged.

"Once more, I begin with a bit of a history lesson." Bargle smiled as he noticed several family members roll their eyes. He was finding it enjoyable drawing out their displeasure. "These islands were originally settled by the Makai, who still make up a large part of the population of Ierendi today. Though they are primarily fishers and gatherers, the Makai also indulge in a- well, it's a combination of a trade and a sport. They call it pearl diving, and the name says it all. They will swim to the depths of the sea and gather pearls from the oysters that sit on the seabed.

"That's what you will be doing in today's challenge. Each team will take turns sending one of their tribe down to a series of giant oysters we have flagged, and get the pearl that is inside it. First team to get all their pearls wins. Want to know what you'll be playing for?"

"Ooh! Can we? Please?" Maurice Belon was jumping up and down enthusiastically... and quite sarcastically. Bargle frowned- he hated being shown up.

"The winning tribe- aside from getting immunity- will receive blankets and pillows made from the feathers of the famous Fletcher Island birds. The losers will be meeting with me tonight at Tribal Council. Black Toes, since you have one more person, someone will be sitting out. Who will it be?" Isabelle held up her hand. "Very good, then get in your positions."

Bargle gave the signal to begin, and the tribes sprang into action. Richard went first for the Black Toes, facing off against the Countess. Seraphine, whose current residence was in a port town, was slightly faster than Richard when she emerged with her pearl. Even as Marie-Helene began to swim for the Mad Creeg tribe, Guillaume was busy chanting some arcane ritual under his breath. Henri, second to go for the Black Toes tribe, barely kept his lead over Marie-Helene. The next competitors up were Charles and Camille, and the Black Toes tribe could barely stifle their jeers. Much to their consternation, however, Camille was able to retrieve her pearl quicker than the gasping Charles- her own ability to hold her breath enhanced by the [I]bear's endurance[/I] spell Guillaume had cast upon her. The Mad Creeg tribe was slightly ahead now, as Janette swam after her own pearl. She squared off against Gaston, who got confused under the water and began panicking. After that, even a bit of floundering by Catharine didn't allow the Black Toes tribe to catch up. Richard proudly claimed the immunity idol for his tribe, while their competitors sullenly and suddenly marched back to their camp to prepare for tribal council.

Black Toes Camp

Isabelle was vainly attempting to wipe a blotch out of her dress when Isidore approached. She jealously took note of how Isabelle still managed to look glamorous, even after several days out here on the island. "A moment, dear?" she asked.

The strawberry blonde harlot huffed. "No need to be polite, dear," was her response. "You never have been before."

Isidore hesitated just a moment, almost regretting approaching the tramp. But no, keeping her in the game was a small price to pay for now. "If that's the way you want to be, then." She looked Isabelle squarely in the eye. "You'll vote against Henri if you have any desire to remain in this game any longer."

Charles' wife stared back, taken off guard by Isidore's straightforwardness. "Fine." She turned her attention back to her dress.

Isidore smiled inwardly, and started walking away, eager to leave the other woman's company. "Oh, by the way," she called over her shoulder, "You missed a spot." She left Isabelle frantically searching for more stains in her expensive gown.

Tribal Council

Everyone took a [I]continual flame[/I] torch and seated themselves before their oily host. "Welcome to your first tribal council, Black Toes," he smiled, enjoying himself too much. "Isabelle, how have the last six days been for you?"

"Do they actually recompense you to ask such ignorant questions, toad?" She sniffed haughtily as she tugged at a tangle in her hair.

Bargle stiffened. "Well... Seraphine. Are you finding that alliances are beginning to form in your tribe?"

The voice from behind the dull mask was sultry and deeply feminine. "Some play the game in far more earnest than others, but alliances?" She clacked a fingernail against her cheek. "Surprisingly, not that many. Oh, and do call me Countess."

"Ah, certainly. Uh, 'Countess'." Crazy d'Ambrevilles. "And Gaston? How will you decide who to vote out this evening?"

The artistic d'Ambreville smiled dreamily. "I will find my inspiration in the heavens above, and on the whispers of the waves 'pon the sea. The winds in the koa shall guide my hand to select they who shall be eliminated this moonlit eve."

"Err... yes. Well put." Bargle rubbed his eyes wearily. "And on that note, shall we begin the 'eve's elimination'? Jean-Louis, you're up first."

The first vote is for Isabelle. This vote is from Jean-Louis, who can't abide her weakness and uselessness.
The second vote is for Henri. This vote is from Isidore, who sees him as her biggest threat in the game.
The third vote is for Isabelle. This is from Charles, who knows Isabelle is no real competition, but simply can't stand to be around her any longer.
The fourth vote is for Isidore. This vote is from Gaston, who picked a name at random to vote off.
The fifth vote is for Isabelle. This vote is from Henri, who has agreed to pool his votes with Charles this time, in exchange for his brother's support at a later date.
The sixth vote is for Henri. This is from Seraphine, who senses that it would be best to remove her nephew as soon as possible.
The seventh vote is for Henri. This is from Isabelle, who had thought about voting against the condescending Isidore, but changed her mind hoping to remain in the game longer.
The eighth vote is for Isabelle. This vote is from Magdalene, who cannot stand Isabelle's attitude.

"And the second person voted out of Survivor is Isabelle. Bring me your torch." Isabelle curled her lip and stood, primly brushing herself off. She made a show of sashaying over to Bargle, who put out her torch. "Isabelle, the tribe has spoken. Leave the tribal council immediately."

"I don't suppose there's any chance they might all get eaten by wild animals on the island?" Bargle shook his head. "Pity." With that, Isabelle took her leave.

Bargle turned back to the rest of the group. "Pleasant woman. You can take your things and head back to camp."

So much for posting these on time! I was busy working on my application for the "real" Survivor all weekend, so I'm getting this up a bit too late. Just as well- the extra time allowed me to get an insight into one of the key characters in this episode that I was lacking coming into things (Isabelle, for anyone who is curious).

So another episode comes to a conclusion. Hopefully things are starting to warm up- I think so, anyway.

Well, by random selection, the Mad Creeg tribe loses next week's immunity challenge once more, so you can vote for any of the following characters to go home:

Richard d'Ambreville
Catharine d'Ambreville
Maurice "Petit-Singe" Belon
Camille d'Ambreville
Marie-Helene d'Ambreville
Janette d'Ambreville
Guillaume d'Ambreville

Looking forward to seeing who goes. Hope you all stay tuned! :)