Author Topic: Bad Kelsey: The Challenge (read this first!)  (Read 3860 times)

Offline Bons

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Bad Kelsey: The Challenge (read this first!)
« on: June 13, 2005, 01:05:27 AM »
Initially, I was simply attempting to write a story where Kelsey does something bad. I tried, I really, really tried, but when I reached the point of tackling the conclusion, I realized there were many different possible endings to choose from.  Enter THE CHALLENGE!

The following is the setup of the story of Bad Kelsey. It's up to whoever decides to take the challenge to add your own version of how the story ends.

**********************

Kylia would not be swayed.

“Nooooo! I don’t want to!!” The girl gasped for breath, a hiccup escaping through a crack in her sobs.

“But you are very, very tired, sweetheart.” Merena tried to sound logical and calm, as if she was discussing crop rotation with her daughter, or restocking the river, or cross-pollination, but it was hard to be firm.

By the gods, she’d rather face Irenicus or the Five again than swallow the sorrow of a little girl betrayed by naptime. But swallow, she must. “Mommy is very, very tired. Can’t we close our eyes together? I wager I can stay still and quiet longer than you can.”

“NOOO!!” Palpable heartbreak. “No, you cah-han’t!!”

Merena watched as her daughter squeezed her eyelids shut, swamped in angry defiance, and fought back a sigh. It hadn’t been so long since she’d had the luxury of curling up next to a gurgling angel. Then Kylia had discovered the word “no,” unleashing it with all the fury and willful vigor of a warrior two year-old.

As she settled next to her daughter’s stiff little form on the pallet, Merena swore to herself that she hadn’t been this way with Gorion. Surely she’d been more patient with him? Merena hoped so, yet found she could not remember much before her fifth birthday. Chagrined, she offered up a silent prayer of apology, just in case.

With relief, Merena noticed that Kylia’s limbs had grown languid as she lay still. They would nap, after all. Everything would be much brighter when they awoke.

“Boss?” Her daughter’s lids fluttered, struggling for a last moment of liberty. It had been amusing initially, when Kylia had been learning her first words, hilarious to hear the infant mimic her father’s use of the pet name. Now it hurt. I’m not in charge here. I’m your mother.

“Yes, Kylia?” Merlena whispered.

Her daughter whispered back. “If Daddy told me a nap story,” Kylia confessed somberly, “I would be okay.”

Merena’s heart twisted. She hugged her daughter tightly, and Kylia seemed to share the need for a moment, clinging to her mother’s neck for dear life. They lay there silently, neither quite crying, neither quite at peace.

Another whisper. “I miss him.”

“Me, too.”

*************************

They were outside catching the fireflies of dusk when Merena heard the footfall. She could pick three unique treads, and though she experienced a twinge of familiarity, Merena could sense instinctively that none of the arrivals were men coming home. They were visitors. She kept one watchful eye on the shadows of the wood, the other on her daughter, just in case it was trouble approaching.

When Kylia recognized the sound of company, her face lit up like one of the bobbing insects. She ran toward the woods with determined certainty. “Daddy!”

But her father did not appear. Instead, a pink-tinted head emerged from the green canvas of shrubbery and branches. Kylia’s run stumbled to a halt and the toddler’s shoulders slumped as her disappointment swelled. Then, after a heartbeat, she rebounded with childish enthusiasm and leapt joyously at their guest. “Aunt Immy!”

Imoen caught her niece with a chuckle. “Heya, monkey! Got any tickles hidden on ya?”

Kylia chuckled, too. “No!” It was her favorite word, after all.

Imoen feigned incredulity. “No? No?! I don’t believe it. A kidlet like you must be a tickle emporium. You’ve gotta have a few stashed here.” She wiggled her fingertips underneath Kylia’s chin, causing a spate of giggling. “I thought so. You’re holding out on me. I’ll get your tickles, I will.” With that, Imoen flipped her niece upside down, dangling her so her red curls almost brushed the soft grass. “Tickle, tickle, tickle.” Kylia whooped in gleeful abandon.

Merena crossed her arms, hugging herself, trying to give the appearance of beaming delight, not jealousy. Nalia stepped into the clearing and gingerly begin to disengage burrs from the hem of her robe, until Keto wavered along behind and bumped into her. There was a momentary battle for balance, a few scowls of accusation, then both redheads turned their attention to Merena.

Merena fixed a smile and waved. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes? How long has it been?”

Imoen had shown mercy to her niece and set her down on the bed of grass with only a kiss on the forehead as forfeit. Kylia sat up at her mother’s question, answering matter-of-factly, “You know, Boss,” she said. “It was before Daddy left.”

***************************

“This is awkward,” Nalia muttered under her breath. “I knew it might be uncomfortable, of course, but this...”

“Quit mincing, Nalia,” Keto countered, as she topped off her wine glass. “You don’t have to say anything. I have to say it. I’m the talker. I talk.” She gulped half of the glass’s contents with gusto. “Some would say professionally. Let the professional handle it. You just sit there and look earnest and concerned, eh?”

“Earnest and concerned.” Nalia nodded. “I think I can handle that.” She worried her upper lip. “But won’t it be awkward…?”

“Not among friends.” Merena hovered in the bedroom doorway. “Not if you’re earnest and concerned,” she said, closing the gap between the bedroom and the table.

“Gaagh,” Keto groaned. “You and your formerly godlike hearing.”

“I’m the tracker. I track.” Merena shrugged as she took a seat across from the other two women. “Some would say professionally.” She gave Nalia a measuring stare, then Keto. “Kylia decided that her Aunt Immy must put her to sleep. I guess that makes me odd girl out.”

A hard, silent minute passed before Nalia shifted in her chair. “I knew it! This is uncomfortable. I told you, Keto!”

“Yeah, we all hear you, Nalia. Thanks a muffin basket,” Keto said sarcastically.

“If you have something to say to me,” Merena said quietly as she usurped Keto’s wine cup and took a deep draught, “please, get the concern and earnestness over with.”

“Well…” Keto hemmed. “It’s kind of a personal… thing. Uhm, it’s just that… I heard… not to be nosy, or anything, but… uhh…”

“Keto heard talk of Kelsey in Trademeet,” Nalia announced. “He arrived there from the east with a party of adventurers. Female adventurers.

“I know,” Merena said, tilting her chin with pride. “He wrote of it. They were tracking a cadre of Talassans who wreaked destruction on several villages between here and the Trade Way. Kelsey offered what help he could.”

“Of course he did,” Nalia said smoothly. “And any talk of familiarity and shared rooms in their wake could simply be restless gossip.”

“Yes,” Merena bit out. “It could.”

Keto raised her index finger. “But… heh… not to push the issue… heh… but, err, there was this… uh, other, uhm… thing. Yeah… a thing…”

“You know that Imoen returned to Candlekeep after we saw you last?” Nalia asked.

Merena nodded reluctantly.

“She heard tales as well,” Nalia continued briskly. “Of sirines south of the keep’s walls, and of the redheaded sorcerer who dallied with them. Did Kelsey write any word of that?”

Merena focused her gaze on the bottom of Keto’s glass. “No,” she mumbled. “Not specifically. I’m sure there’s a reasonable…”

“Explanation! Of course there is!” Keto laughed nervously. “Gods, I love explanations! I could make them all the live-long day! Like… uh, how the skunk got his stripes! And… err, why weasels can’t be trusted! And, yeah, uh… the fable of the sorcerer and the jiggling nymphs! It’s a natural pair! Err… ”

“How long has Kelsey been gone, Merena?” Nalia asked gently.

“Seven months,” Merena answered faintly. “I only expected three.”

“And when did he last write?”

“Not since he crossed the Amnish border. It was as if he ceased to exist.” Merena frowned and scratched at an imaginary spot on the table top with her thumbnail. “I’ve sent messengers. I’ve written every week. So he won’t worry about how we are doing.”

Nalia’s mouth twisted. “I am sure he is thinking about you constantly.”

“Kelsey didn’t want to go to the trade negotiations in Baldur’s Gate,” Merena protested. “Not without us, but I thought Kylia was too young for the travel. It’s a dangerous road, but I insisted that he go because they needed him in the North. I told him we would be fine on our own. I swore we would be fine.” Her voice cracked, and Merena clenched her jaw, banishing the encroaching emotion. “We… are… fine.”

Nalia shook her head sadly and sighed. “If you say you’re fine…”

Keto boggled. “You’re fine?”

Imoen tip-toed out of the bedroom, made a ‘shhh’ gesture, moved a few stealthy paces, then clapped her hands. “So! When are we hiking up to Baldur’s Gate so you can wring ol’ Coltrane’s robes ‘round his quadruple-timing neck?”

Merena looked up from the table and met her sister’s eyes. “After breakfast.”

********

Merena plucked a dandelion and blew softly. The blossoms scattered, a few misfits tickling the nose of the sleeping woman she stood near. Merena waited, watching as the stranger’s face twitched, and tried to consider her prey objectively. Was she prettier? What would her voice sound like? Had Kelsey truly found her attractive? Had he loved her? Merena shifted, leaning closer.

Nalia cleared her throat and called, “You said you just wanted to talk, Merena.”

“That’s right,” Merena agreed. “To clarify a few things.”

“I see. Does this ‘clarifying’ really demand your hunting knife at her throat?”

“It was a thought,” Merena said. “I’m new at this angry wife business. I’m experimenting.”

“Lay off, Nally,” Imoen called. “Sis is just getting warmed up. She’s saving the good stuff for Kelsey.”

“Kelsey?” The stranger trilled awake with a smile, then flinched as she realized her predicament. “ALARM!” she yelped.

Nalia, Imoen and Keto moved to defend Merena’s back as the camp scrambled awake.

“Your alarm call is ‘Alarm’?!” Keto sputtered. “How lame is that?”

“If you leave, we have no need for violence,” the leader said brashly. “Find some other targets for your thievery, and we shall be merciful.”

“Mind her words!” one of the companions called. “You do not know who you are trifling with!”

“Oh, don’t I?” Merena mused. “Keto?”

“Aye, Merena?”

“Who am I trifling with?”

“For starters,” Keto said, “the halfling is a thief from the Purple Hills, who goes by the handle “Paragon.” Her real name is Myrtle Blacktoes, and she’s not really good at her job as far as I can tell, considering we just waltzed right into camp without a wiggle of awareness, and the only reason I know her identity is because I just lifted her diary. Interesting reading…”

“Hey! That was locked!” Myrtle yelped.

“What’s the third rule of adventuring, Imoen?” Keto asked, scratching her head. “I really should have that bit memorized by now.”

Imoen helped herself to the diary and began flipping intently through the pages. “Finders keepers, and losers are horribly embarrassed?”

Keto snapped her fingers. “That’s the one!”

“Who else am I trifling with, Keto?” Merena asked. “This is most informative.” She flexed her fingers about the knife hilt, giving her prisoner a cold smile. “I’m hanging on edge with the suspense.”

“The half-elf is Ffrella, a priestess of Chauntea.” Keto paused for a dainty sip from her wine bottle. “That’s not her real hair.”

Ffrella shrieked.

“I heard the story from her wigmaker back in Trademeet. She’s a secret pyromaniac. Singed herself bald in a field fire. Wow. Talk about your professional irony.”

The half-elf snarled with rage. “Lies!”

Imoen tsked. “Not according to Myrtle’s diary. Shame on you.”

Ffrella reared her flail, a furnace in her eyes, but Nalia held her with a swift incantation. “Who’s next?”

“Just the one at the mercy of Merena’s grip on that snazzy bone knife,” Keto replied. “She would be Talice Dysart, of the Esmeltaran Dysarts. The family made their fortune in construction, pretty easy when there’s a boon in lakefront villa building. Talice, the eldest daughter, while adept at swinging a hammer, proved a disappointment to the family when she chose to seek her own fortune as an adventurer. Pickings have been slim, as evidenced by the monthly allowance the family sends by courier to keep her from starving.”

“Slim until lately, that is,” Keto continued, “what with routing the scourge of Keczulla and all. How many rubies does killing Talassans merit nowadays?”

“More than you’re worth!” Talice spat defiantly.

“Whatever the bounty, I am sure Kelsey made an accurate ledger of it,” Nalia observed.

Talice’s expression softened again. “Kelsey? You know Kelsey? Have you seen him? He left so quickly…” Her gaze grew haughty. “What would a hero like Kelsey have to do with a crew of scurrilous wenches like you?”

Merena’s mouth twisted. “Keto?”

“Aye, Merena?”

“Would you like to inform Talice with whom she trifles?”

“The lovely lady at your throat,” Keto began, “would be Merena: Legend of the Sword Coast, Protector of the Umar Hills, Savior of Suldenessar…”

“I recognize you now,” Talice said in awe. “You were a hero of Trademeet! Kelsey showed me the statues. That was so brilliant! I always wanted a statue…”

“…Destroyer of Bhaal’s Essence, Mother of a Two Year-Old…” Keto paused for the money shot. “And Wife of Kelsey Coltrane.”

Talice tiled her head to the left. “He was married? Huh.”

Merena squinted dangerously. “Did you think the letters were for his accountant?”

“I thought he was writing his sister!”

“You’re not that bright, are you?” Merena grimaced at her thoughts. “You needed Kelsey’s help something awful, didn’t you? There’s no way your ragtag adventure groupies could take on a real Talassan threat and survive. I bet he did all the dangerous bits, and you just gobbled it up with a spoon.”

“I’m not that dumb. Pretty savvy, is more like it. You’ve gotta know. You’re the old ball-and-chain,” Talice drawled. “What magic that man could do with his hands! And then there were the spells…”

Merena choked off the woman’s reminiscing, tightening one hand around Talice’s windpipe. “You aren’t that bright. All that sweet, careless exposition, and the only one who made a break at us was the bald pyromaniac. You’re not adventurers. You’re half-hearted thugs.”

She traced a path with her knife in the air above Talice’s throat. “Once upon a time, I would have peeled you like a grape without batting an eyelash. Murder was in my blood.” She shrugged abruptly. “Sure, I would have lamented the deed, maybe cried a little, prayed for calm and wisdom in the future, but, deep inside, it would have thrilled me to choke the life out of you, to tear you apart. Like my heart…”

Nalia moved forward. “Merena, this isn’t…”

“You needn’t worry, Nalia,” Merena said derisively as she pushed Talice into the ground and took a pace back. “Killing them won’t help. I’ve figured that out. Besides, the screaming would wake Kylia. She’s not going to nap on my back forever.” Merena moved away another step, but paused. “Just… tell me. Why did he leave you?”

Talice sat up and brushed the leaves from her cleavage. “It was a silly argument. He didn’t like how we split the loot. Do you know where to find him?” she called after the departing women. “I mean, we can work it out!”

“Gods,” Myrtle said. “You are dumb.”

“Oh, shut it. Help me thaw Ffrella.”

« Last Edit: June 13, 2005, 07:21:19 PM by jcompton »
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Offline Bons

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Re: Bad Kelsey: The Challenge
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2005, 01:06:49 AM »
***************************

Merena glanced ahead, where Keto allowed Kylia to chase her in haphazard circles. “Am I doing the right thing?”

“You wanted to bring Kylia along,” Nalia reminded her. “I would have happily remained at the cabin with her.”

“I know, and I appreciate that you offered, but…” Merena’s brow furrowed. “It troubles Kylia that her father has been gone so long. Sometimes I think she’s more difficult because she doesn’t understand why he hasn’t been at home. Sometimes, I think she’s angry with me for being the one who’s left behind.”

“That can’t be true,” Nalia argued. “She’s only two. She couldn’t reason so much into Kelsey’s absence.” She placed a hand on Merena’s arm and offered a comforting smile. “She loves you.”

“Yes, but I’m the boss. Always ‘Boss,’ never ‘Mommy.’” Merena gave a small, sad nod. “But I’m the one she trusts. That’s why I couldn’t leave her behind, even though it’s dangerous, even though I don’t know what I’m going to say or do…” She rolled her shoulders in a circle, closing her eyes, as if she could will the tension away. “I didn’t think before. I didn’t consider how an absent father might affect my child. Now that I understand, I couldn’t do that to her knowingly. Not again.”

“Does that mean you’re not planning on, well, when we locate Kelsey…” Nalia said carefully.

“I don’t know!” Merena wailed. “I meant what I said yesterday. Violence… violence doesn’t fill me like it used to. The bloodlust is gone, and I… I almost… miss it. It came with a fierce certainty that fed me. Not that I’m not furious with him. I am. I want to scream. I want to cry…”

“I wanna kill ‘im!” Imoen announced, lifting her attention from reading Myrtle’s diary. “I know it hurts, Sis, but I gotta say it: you married a tramp.” Imoen wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Sure, he flirted with everything in the party that wore a skirt and Keto, too, but this!“

“What?! You never mentioned that to me!” Merena said accusingly.

Imoen shrugged. “You were too busy mooning over the guy to care.”

Merena turned to Nalia. “You knew?”

“Well… he wanted to discuss pointers in using magic once… over dinner.” Nalia flushed. “I thought he was being friendly!” she added insistently. “But the next time we spoke, it was, ‘you have nice hands, Nalia,” and ‘you have lovely eyes, Nalia” -- I just didn’t know what to think!”

“You shouldn’t have thought,” Merena countered. “You should have told me.”

“Ha!” Imoen snorted. “It wouldn’t have done any good, what with you so intent on playing ‘search and rescue’ with his tonsils.”

“I… I…” Merena scowled. “You’re such a brat. What does the diary say?”

“Kelsey is a very, very bad man. And a cheaper date than you. And, boy, it’s a wonder he got any sleep!”

“You’re not helping, Imoen,” Nalia lectured. “She doesn’t need a blow by blow… *ahem*… of Kelsey’s perfidy.”

“Maybe I do,” Merena countered. “To scour the wound, or make me really livid, or make me anything than this… this… emotional ooze!” She held out one hand, and Imoen passed her the journal. Slowly flipping the pages as they walked, she broke the silence with intermittent sounds of shock and sadness. “Kelsey…” she moaned softly. “Oh, Kelsey…” Merena pressed the open pages to her breast, her features stark with discovery. “You’re absolutely right, Imoen. I married a slut!”

She began ticking through the diary’s confessions again. “He even fooled around with Myrtle. He told her she was the perfect height.” Merena let out a small cry. “This is horrible. I can still see how it happened...”

“You can see how it happened?! No. No, you can’t.” Nalia shook her head in protest. “Merena, I just don’t think it will help anyone, especially you, to wallow in that… that filth! Kelsey is a despicable bounder. Can’t we leave it at that and move on?”

Merena stubbornly tapped the page she was perusing. “No, Nalia. There’s an interesting bit here about Kelsey leaving their group. He seems to have grown critical of them for not being very heroic. Just like I told Talice.” She hugged a tiny satisfied smile to herself. “My husband may be easy, but he’s not dumb. It sounds like the final straw was the loot divvying. Kelsey wanted to give a lion’s share to the villagers and townspeople who’d lost their homes in the Talassans’ rampage, and the greedy gals were having none of it.” Merena winked conspiratorially at Nalia. “What do you make of that?”

“Even despicable bounders get it right once in a while,” Nalia said primly.

“Uh, guys?” Keto called back to them. “I think you’d better see this!”

Merena broke into a sprint, jogged over the rise, then promptly tripped over her own feet at the view.

Kylia padded over to her mother and sternly rubbed Merena’s forehead clean of a smear of grass. “Boss,” she whispered, pointing. “Did you see the naked ladies?”

Merena shook off the swirling dizzy lights dancing before her eyes. “Hard to miss them, my lovely.” She eased to her feet and took her daughter’s hand. “Let’s go say ‘hello,’ shall we?”

The trio of sirines stood in a semi-circle, their skin moist and shimmering as if they’d just emerged from the sea. Their hair rippled in waves about their shoulders, decorated with tiny seashells and flowers. Otherwise, they were unerringly, unequivocally, and spellbindingly starkers.

“Hi.” Merena struggled for a moment to retain her train of thought. She had difficulty keeping her eyes trained on their faces: their piquant noses, their delicate cheekbones, their mesmerizing eyes, their succulent lips… “Right. Hi. Sil, isn’t it?”

“Greetings, godchild.” Sil dipped her chin demurely, and the other nymphs shifted, one trailing lazy glyphs around her own navel, the other stretching her arms over her head with a happy sigh as she pushed her chest forward in prominent display. “My sisters and I welcome you.”

“Oh, I’m not a godchild anymore.” Merena laughed nervously. “That was just a phase.”

The sirines tilted their heads curiously.

“Teenage kind of phase,” Merena chattered. “I got over it.” She tousled Kylia’s hair. “This is my daughter, Kylia. Kylia, this is Sil. Mommy helped Sil chase naughty pirates away from her home many years ago.”

“You’re not wearing clothes.” Kylia nodded sagely.

“Dryads do not wear any clothes anymore,” Sil announced. “We have returned to the old ways. It was the suggestion of Kelsey, the sorcerer.”

The sirine to her left jiggled and repeated in a dreamy voice, “Kelsey.”

“Kelsey,” the one on the right echoed.

“Kelsey,” Merena sighed.

“Oh, yeah,” Imoen observed. “I can totally see how that happened.”

The sirine on the left slinked forward and gently caressed Kylia’s cheek. “I am Ven. What a scrumptious child. Have you brought her as a gift? She could be our handmaiden.”

“Aye,” Keto said bemusedly, “naked pulls the short straw for carrying. You need somebody with pockets.”

“No ‘aye,’” Merena protested, tearing her senses away from the salty perfume of Ven’s hair to glower crossly at Keto. “We’re not giving away my daughter! We’re just passing through. We stopped for a chat!”

The sirine on the right fiddled with a lock of her hair, twirling it above one jutting nipple. “Ven! Sil! She is upset! I sense conflict!”

“Calm yourself, Bes. All will be well. It is just the angry talk of clothed mortals, as Kelsey explained.” Sil opened her arms in regal command. “We will only speak with the naked. It is the new Dryad Law.”

“Yes,” Bes echoed. “Disrobe yourselves!”

“What?” Merena gaped.

“Talking is for the naked!” Ven repeated.

“I really think that is an improper suggestion,” Nalia complained. “Even for dryads. Surely sheer gossamer would be more tasteful.”

“Silence, clothed one!”

Merena dropped her pack to the ground and began to untie the hide lacings on her jerkin. “Maybe you’d like to take Kylia on ahead to pick flowers, Nalia, while we… uh, talk to the dryads?”

“Most definitely.”

“I’ll go with them,” Keto added. “There’s probably not enough nudity in Faerûn to justify my chatterbox.”

“What say you, Imoen?” Merena asked.

“Naked-schmaked. I’m staying,” Imoen replied as she pulled off her boots. “Heya, wouldn’t it have been fun if Sir Keldorn was here? I’ve really gotta make a map of this place…”

“So…” Merena said as she shimmied out of her leggings. “Here we are. All sisters, all nude. Tell me more about this Kelsey person and the angry talk of clothed mortals.”

“Oh, yes!” Bes bounced. “Let us tell her, sisters!”

“Yes!” Ven clapped. “It’s a delicious tale!”

“Come,” Sil commanded. “We shall lounge and communicate at leisure.”

The sirines led them to a grotto lined with kelp that was surprisingly soft. Imoen dropped to her knees, picking up one leaf and flipping it over to study the striation pattern. Ven settled beside her and offered her chest as a pillow. Imoen waved the leaf at her, shooing the nymph away. “Nope, I’m fine. Two breasts, all I need for the moment.” Imoen smirked at Merena. “Hey, ask her if ‘talking must be lying down’ was another Coltrane brainstorm.”

“Cut it out, brat. I’ll smack you, naked or not.”

“When last we met,” Sil began, arching her back as she reposed on the bed of kelp, “you witnessed our troubles with the seafaring mortals. You gave us assistance, but the methods resulted in fighting and death.” She shuddered prettily. “Such an unpleasant affair.”

“That did not cease the discord, understand,” Bes continued as she idly stroked Merena’s calf. “Other men took their place, abusing our coastline with their pollution and criminal trade.”

“What were we to do?” Ven fluttered her fingertips anxiously and began to knead Imoen’s shoulders for comfort. “It was a vicious time. The violence never ended. There was only anger and bitterness as we battled over territory!”

“We were transforming into creatures of destruction,” Sil said languidly. She flexed her hips and stretched a second time. “We lived in fear that they would challenge our power. We came close to hating mortal men.”

“We didn’t want to hate men,” Bes assured them. “They are such fragile creatures, so aggressive, so prone to the tide and sways of their urges. How easily they wander into conflict…”

“Yes, men are upsetting creatures, but it would be unfair to persecute them,” Ven said. “They cannot help it that they were born flawed and vulnerable.”

“But to become like them,” Sil finished, “when we are capable of such beauty, strength and generosity… that would be our unforgivable crime.”

“Kelsey reminded us of that. He saved us!” Bes chirped.

“Oh, yes!” Ven gushed. “He saved us!”

Merena nodded knowingly. “By suggesting you take your clothes off.”

“Exactly!” Sil rolled to one side, propping herself on one elbow as her hair tumbled delightfully about her shoulders. “Kelsey was extraordinary for a mortal man. He truly seemed to empathize with how we felt.”

“By suggesting you take your clothes off,” Merena repeated.

“Don’t you see?” Sil said plaintively. “We had forgotten the old ways. Nymphs used to enjoy frolicking naked across the countryside, luring mortals into carnal delights!”

“The world spun, years fled, and everything had changed,” Bes explained with such sorrow, her eyes sparkled. “Suddenly, being captured by a wizard and forced to become his concubine was branded a bad thing. Suddenly, we were expected to protest incarcerations, fight our enemies, and, worst of all, cover our bodies with gossamer for the sake of some madness they call ‘decency’! We were supposed to feel guilty that mortal men desired us. We were supposed to rail against it!”

“But Kelsey fixed all that!” Imoen pointed out cheerfully.

“By suggesting you take your clothes off,” Merena repeated.

“Oh, yes,” Bes said. “We needed help identifying a peaceful method to coexist with mortal men again, and Kelsey showed us the way. He confessed he found it impossible to argue with a beautiful naked goddess.”

Merena grunted. “Yes, I’ve heard that rumor before.”

“And he was correct!” Sil said jubilantly. “The pirates grew infinitely more docile and open to persuasion when we threw aside our garments. The company of mortal men became pleasurable again!”

“As peace and earthly delights returned to our lives,” Ven continued, trailing her hands along Imoen’s bare arms before descending to tickle her stomach, “we decided upon the Rule of Talking. Mortals cover themselves in barriers of cloth and metal and don their weapons… it makes them harsh and fierce. Their personalities change when they unclothe.”

“That does it,” Imoen giggled. “I’m definitely tricking Keldorn into a visit.”

“So Kelsey remained here a while,” Merena concluded. “To help you… talk… more effectively.”

“Oh, yes,” Bes nodded. “We talked a great deal with Kelsey. It was most pleasurable.”

“Sis.” Imoen leaned over to whisper a warning in Merena’s ear. “If we talk to them much more, I’m gonna to have to make Ven pancakes for breakfast.”

“Mmm…I hear you,” Merena replied in a quivery voice. “Bes is doing something to my knees that implies a preponderance of vowels in our future.”

“So… what are we gonna do?”

“Yes…” Sil’s lament broke into the sisters’ muddled deliberation. “Kelsey might still be with us if it hadn’t been for the arrival of the heiress.”

Imoen and Merena straightened, cold-water focused, and chorused, “What heiress?!

“Oh, she was terribly abused,” Sil recalled. “In her heart, you see. She traveled with a man, a most displeasing, disrespectful bard…”

“Even when he was naked,” Ven qualified.

“Kelsey decided that she needed his help more than we did,” Sil explained. “We did not blame him for leaving; we understood. For all that Eldoth would talk, he did not have much of value to say. He went through the motions of the talking. We were not fooled. He had to be subdued in one way or another.”

“The heiress traveled with Eldoth?!” Merena scrambled to her feet, gathering clothes to her chest as she padded out of the grotto. “I hate her, hate her, hate her!” Merena cursed as she stubbed a toe. “Dammit!” Hopping out of the grotto commenced. “Stupid… naked… feet!”

Imoen gathered her leathers as well, pausing to shake each nymph’s hand in farewell. “Don’t mind her. She’s just having a fit of manly urges. It’ll pass.”

“Return when you can,” Sil said graciously. “We will finish our conversation.”

“Bring your friends!” Ven and Bes called.

*******************************

“Cook!” Skie Silvershield called down the palatial stairs. “Where are my cloudberries?! I am famished!” She pouted at the continued lack of reply, tapping one slipper-clad foot impatiently as she tightened the feather-trimmed belt of her robe around her slender waist. “Lazy servants! Why do I put up with them? They just don’t care about my needs!”

With an aggravated huff, Skie bustled down the stairs. As she turned on the landing, Skie noticed four figures waiting at the foot of the stairs. “Ugh, Merena. What are you doing here?” Her sulking expression resurfaced. “I know we are acquaintances, but my guards should have turned you away, fleas and all. I am otherwise occupied today. Hmph!”

“Occupied with what, may I ask?” Merena asked smoothly.

“What an impertinent question! You… you… gatecrashers!” Skie stomped two steps lower and shook a dainty fist. “If you must know,” she declared in a supercilious tone, “I am studying Amnish trade markets.”

“In Calimshite silks?” Nalia said, giving Skie’s haughty air a run for the gold. “Really.

“Look,” Skie huffed. “I don’t know half of you, but you all strike me as rough trade. I’m very busy, and if you tarry, you are going to give me frown lines. Begone!” At that moment, Skie caught a glimpse of Kylia peering around her mother’s leg. “Eek! Who brought a child in here? They are cesspools of stains and disease, you know. Don’t let it near me!”

“Sweetie,” Merena confided to her daughter. “Daddy’s upstairs. Why don’t you hunt him down? Aunt Immy and I will help, okay?”

“Daddy?” Kylia considered this information seriously. “Okay, Boss.” She climbed up the stairs as fast as her little legs would toddle.

“Keep it away!” Skie shrieked, fleeing in the opposite direction and taking cover behind Keto. “What have you done!? I’ll have to have the place disinfected! Warded! Redecorated!” A pause. “Mmm!”

Kylia, meanwhile, rustled through the hallways of the Silvershield Estate, her mother and aunt not far behind. “Daddy!” She tiptoed into an ostentatious sitting room. Peeking through the curtains into the arched vestibule, she whispered an awed, “Daddy?”

“Daddy!” Giving a squeal of triumph, Kylia bounded into the boudoir with a surge of excitement. “You’re here! We found you! You’re found!” The little girl scurried onto the bed and smothered her father in an exuberant hug, which Kelsey returned with bemused and awkward surprise.

“I’m glad to see you, too, kiddo. Wow. You’ve grown faster than the import duties on flax.” He grinned and bundled her into a second enthusiastic hug. “I’ve missed you so… much.”

After a few patient moments, Kylia pushed at Kelsey’s arms and sat back on her heels. “I’m big now,” she declared as she studied her father critically. Her gaze narrowed on his bare chest. She gradually began to inch off the mattress, her round face creasing into a frown, then misery. Finally, the child wailed her pathos and jumped off the bed. “No!” She flung her small body at her mother, who watched surreptitiously from the doorway. “NOOO!!”

“Mommy!” Kylia sobbed. “Daddy’s been talking to a dryad!”

Kelsey shuffled uncomfortably, wrapped the bed sheet around his waist, and began a desperate search for his robe. “Oh, gosh. Where’d she find out about that?”

Merena gasped in wonder, squeezing her daughter tightly. “Who cares? She called me ‘Mommy’!” Merena laughed and swooped her daughter off the ground, twirling her in a circle. “She never calls me that!” They bobbed to a dizzy stop, and Merena pointed matter-of-factly at her disheveled husband. “Now you’re really in trouble! Ha!”

“Merena.” Kelsey paused, drank in the sight of his wife for a stunned minute, then cleared his throat, looking stoically penitent. “Honey, I know you’re probably very upset about now, and you’ve a right to be, believe me!” He grimaced. “That was probably the wrong way to say that, wasn’t it?”

Merena smiled enigmatically. “Imoen… why don’t you take Kylia downstairs? Let her play with Skie while I have a talk with my husband. I’m sure that will be fun for everyone.”

Imoen offered a snappy salute. “Gotcha, Sis!” She tacked on a murmured, “You want I should leave you anything sharp?”

“Thank you, Imoen, but I’ve got my own.”

Kelsey hunted under the chairs and behind the vanity in between aiming wary looks at his serenely smiling wife. He found his robes stuffed between a pair of suspiciously squashed cushions littering the rug. “Great. I’m surpassing myself this time,” he muttered, dragging the fabric roughly over his head.

“No, no, no!” Merena chided. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m getting dressed,” Kelsey said morosely, “so we can have it out.”

“Oh, no, you’re not.”

Kelsey waved one arm futilely. “We have to talk, argue, whatever! Merena,” he said slowly. “You must be angry, but I’m not going to come to blows over this. However we end, I won’t be a part of that. So, crush my skull if it will make you feel better. Cover me in honey and leave me on a hill of fire ants - I won’t defend myself.”

“Oh, Kelsey.” Merena shook her head and unsheathed her hunting knife. “You’re forgetting the rules.”

*******************

So what happens next?

I'll be adding links to the different endings posted on the board, starting with:


The End of Bons - Shut up and talk.

The End of Ghreyfain - 4 out of 5 cats and retired vaudevillians prefer it!

The End of jcompton - No, sorry, not what you were hoping for.

The End of alasafan (nevar!!1) - OMG!!!111 Cunning + charm!

The End of Eral - Never trust a salesman.

The End of Earnest Yetbadd -  Everyone should try Tutu. Really!

THE END OF CORVIS - Your daily dose of hate!

The Farcical End of jcompton - Too much of a good thing.

The End of Queen Akasha - Just a small prick...

The End of Celissa - The essence of an ending.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2005, 09:47:28 PM by Bons »
Newt had always suspected that people who regularly used the word "community" were using it in a very specific sense that excluded him and everyone he knew.

             --Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens"