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Negotiations and Love Songs: Part 6
The Betting Window Is Now Closed
“Ebreth!” Vas made a lopsided grin around his hand, clamped over his bleeding nose. “Didn’t see you there, man. I take it I should put your chip on yourself?”
“I put it on Not Your Business,” said Ebreth. “Did it fall off? Do you need me to put it back?”
“You need to lighten up a little,” Vas pointed out.
“You need to be hit again!” Khyrisse shouted at the bleeding archer.
“Whatever for?” Vas said, bewildered. “The first time was--OW!” he winced, wiggling his nose slightly, “--quite sufficient!”
Khyrisse pulled her hair in aggravation. “Vas, you just told my entire social circle that I slept with and possibly got knocked up by Ebreth and Schneider and Asinus!”
“Well, actually, to be honest, I don’t think anyone believes the Asinus one.” He flashed her a grin from the ground. “Except Tila, of course, and well... that’s just Tila.”
Khyrisse blinked at him for a second, and then covered her eyes. Ebreth shook his head and whistled low, probably at the sheer stupidity of this. “You told Tila... that I slept with Asinus... and she believes it. It’s probably all over the Seven Princehoods by now,” she murmured, shaking with rage. “I should kill you.” She snatched up the paper. “There are twenty-one people on this list. Two of them were in the Mansion when the Oyster Totem went off. Which means you just told nineteen people who didn’t have any way of knowing what happened that I had sex with Schneider.”
“Uh... well... yes, I guess that’s true,” Vas said sheepishly, thinking about it.
“And,” hissed Khyrisse, “you’ve been telling people I slept with Asinus, which is NOT true.”
Vas waved a finger at her. “Ah, ah! No, I did not! I told everyone the odds on Asinus, and every single one of them but Tila was certain he’d just bet on himself as a joke.”
Khyrisse shrieked in frustration and flung the paper aside.
“You’re not helping your case, here, Vas,” Ebreth said, arms folded. He clearly had no intention of restraining the archmage.
Khyrisse stomped over to the wall of her study and yanked a dictionary off the shelf. She walked back and shoved it at her bodyguard. “Go ahead, Vas. Look up the words ‘libel’ and ‘slander’.”
Vas sighed. “No, I know what they mean,” he said sadly. “At your word, I will return everyone’s bets to them and tell them the pool is closed and it is no longer an open subject of discussion.”
“It’s a little late for that, Vas!”
“Well, what else can I do, Khyrisse?” he demanded, half-angrily, half-plaintively.
Khyrisse thumped the book down onto the floor. “I’ll tell you what you can do! You can go use that wagging tongue of yours and tell every single person you spread this dirty little tale to that it wasn’t on purpose! I had sex once with Schneider, completely by accident, under the influence of an aphrodisiac artifact strong enough to bypass a mind blank--several times with Ebreth, and I plan to keep doing so as often as possible, thank you very much--and NO, I did not sleep with ASINUS!” She yanked Vas up off the floor, ignoring the muffled laugh from Ebreth. “If I have to have my reputation destroyed--and I don’t see any way to avoid that now--at least you can do it with the truth, and not leave everyone thinking I’m some sort of moronic slut with the attention span of a five year old!”
Vas fled her wrath with appropriate contrition.
Script for a Jester’s Tear
Schneider woke embracing a pillow where the night before had been a contortionist. Okay, no mystery there.
The real mystery was why the envelope with his name on it was pinned to the pillow.
The jester sat up and opened it. A pile of coins fell out of it. Thirty silver pieces.
“It’s been fun,” the note read. It was unsigned, but in a familiar hand.
“Fuck,” Schneider muttered. He had almost convinced himself that this wasn’t going to happen.
He looked at the thirty pieces of silver and knew that he wasn’t going to see the lady Roxana de la Metrie ever again.
He flipped the note over.
“Put the money on you for the win,” it said.
“Good you ged de doow?” Vastarin asked Flicker. He was sitting in a chair in the Rat Trap, head cocked back, holding a once-white kerchief to his nose. The Viking answered the door and signed for the package. It was for Vas. “Good you blea oben id?”
It contained silver coins, and a note that read Roxy said put this on me, Vas. And thanks a lot.
Flicker studied the handwriting, reread the message, put his experience as a member of the opposite sex to work, then counted the coins. His heart sank as understanding seeped into his mind.
“Thank you for your help,” the policeman said to the cleric. “How is she?”
“Shaken, of course,” she replied. “But I think she’s going to be all right, thank Tal.”
“Thanks to whoever it was who stopped our perp, too. There’s not much uglier than rape.”
“And... his condition?”
“Probably never walk again. Our vigilante really went to work on him.” The cop shrugged. “Don’t look so distressed, Sister. This guy had a previous record for rape. He’s no loss. We oughta thank whoever cripped him.”
“I have to disagree, Officer. I share your revulsion at the crime that was almost committed. Everyone feels anger, righteous indignation, even vengefulness when we’re confronted with this sort of thing. But to act out those emotions with such violence... that’s a sign of someone with a troubled soul. People like that can easily turn their pain and good intentions into dangerous insanity. Believe me, I’ve had experience with this kind of person.”
Jane Sinclair sighed and said a prayer.
He’d been wandering. Not going anywhere. Happened across the dirtbag assaulting the woman in the alley, taken care of him. The violence hadn’t been cathartic. He’d felt nothing after rescuing the woman, nothing for punishing the scumbag. He’d walked away afterwards. Not to anywhere.
No need for much analysis or retrospection. He’d tried to do right by Roxy, tried to do right by Khyri. Failed on both counts. Not for lack of effort or desire, but that hardly mattered now.
They’d both told him to get lost, and he was willing to accede to their wishes.
He was... somewhere. Quiet and deserted, far away from anyone. That was all that mattered now.
He took out the flask and watched the night pass by.
Schneider was huddled in the shadow of a dumpster with a nearly empty bottle. Flicker sat in the garbage next to him and put his arm around him. The jester barely reacted. He was in the bleary, drowsy stage. Flicker had grown up in Riklandir and was no stranger to drunkenness. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s all right, Schneider.”
“Lemme ‘lone,” he half-mumbled, half-moaned.
“I can’t do that, my friend. Come on. This is no place to spend the night.”
“For nothing.” He hiccuped mournfully. “For nothing.”
“For something,” said Flicker, “you just don’t know what it is yet.” He lifted the taller, thinner man up under the armpit. Flicker had supported larger men then Schneider home dead drunk. “Let’s go sleep this off, and you can tell me all about it in the morning.”
Flicker had already turned him, gently, to throw up in the other direction. “It’s all right, Schneider,” he said, again. “You just come on with me. The sun will rise tomorrow.”
Interlude: Assaulted On All Sides
Vastarin was packing in his room, sighing miserably, when he was suddenly fetched a stinging slap up the side of the head.
“Vastarin Windbourne!” Valende yelled, her hands propped angrily on her hips, glaring. “I don’t believe you! I can’t leave you alone for three weeks without you causing trouble!”
“OW!” Vas groaned. “Val, not now, please?”
She blinked at him. “Corellon, what happened to you...?”
“Ebreth happened to me.”
“Ah. Well, it serves you right,” she said.
“Your sororal support is ever a comfort in my hour of need,” sniffed Vas.
“Oh, stop whining.” She leaned over and healed his broken nose. “If what I heard in Dyved is your doing, I’m surprised Khyrisse didn’t murder you.”
“No, she geased me instead,” he sighed. “I don’t understand all this fuss over a simple joke, Valende. Everyone would have found out about this when the child was born anyway...!”
“That’s true, Vas, but...” Val made an aggravated noise. “You really don’t understand why a lady might be a bit put out when you spread rumors far and wide that she sleeps with donkeys?” Vas looked a little guilty. “Or, for that matter, why a man might be ever so slightly annoyed when you tell everyone in Corellon’s green creation that someone other than he got his amirante pregnant?”
“I wouldn’t be,” Vas offered humbly.
Val made an aggravated sigh, but there was no arguing with that. “What were you planning to do with all that money, you flutterhead? Blow it on some drunken party?”
“No!” he replied indignantly, wounded. “I was going to use it to buy the baby a present!”
Valende stared at him for a moment, startled, and then began laughing affectionately. “Oh, Vas, that’s just like you... Foolish but well-meaning...”
“I wouldn’t talk,” he replied tartly, and shoved another tunic in his satchel.
A Shoulder to Lean On
“A funny thing happened on the way to New Trade,” Schneider said.
He looked out past the footlights, into the club. It was familiar. Lying across the floor, slumped in chairs, across the bar, and on tables, were dead bodies. He didn’t have to count to know there were fifty-six of them. Several live people sat amidst the carnage, oblivious to it.
“How many times do I have to tell you?” Rhynwa said angrily. “Just shut the fuck up. No one wants to hear your inane blather.”
“I thought you said you were going to honor Dad by making the world a happier place?” Pencleus said. “Pardon me, but you don’t seem to be doing a very good job of it.”
“Au contraire!” called out Vastarin. He was sitting in a large chair, goblet of wine in one hand, a half-naked woman in his lap. “I’ve found his recent miscapades to be most comedic!”
“Still, after recent calculations,” said Jack Paris, examining a notebook through his green accountant’s eyeshade, “it would seem that his life comes out to a negative number.”
“‘Fraid you are operating at a deficit,” Carson Delaney added, apologetically.
“Of course!” Randall Thrayn said, seated alone in a throne at the far side of the room. He was even wearing a little crown. “You have attempted to live your life for the sake of others, and expected them to do the same for you.” He pointed his scepter accusingly. “That is why you fail.”
Khyrisse was dressed in a terrycloth bathrobe, and was toweling off her wet hair. “I can’t believe I ever liked you! Let alone slept with you!” She shivered in horror.
“Don’t worry, schmoopie,” said Ebreth Tor. He was naked to the waist and incredibly muscled. In his arms he gently held an infant, a beautiful, dark skinned little girl. “I won’t let that weirdo anywhere near our darling child.”
From the bar, Luthien looked up in disgust. “Let’s get this over with. Some of us have families to raise and heroic adventures to have.”
“You’ve got it all wrong,” Roxy told the crowd. She was completely nude, one arm folded across her chest, a chair obscuring her sex. “Forget the comedy, the family, the heroics. All he really wanted was, get this, for people to love him.” She turned her icy gaze to him. “Guess what, Sideshow? That ain’t ever gonna happen.”
“Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“Yeah,” Schneider said. “This is one tough room!”
“It doesn’t have to be.” Schneider turned to see Curtis Lowe, the deranged psionic and self-styled Savior of Ataniel. Beside him, a swirling vortex opened a rift in the air, light shining from it. “I saved this world and I can save you. I offered you a second chance once, and I do so again.”
“W-what do you mean?”
“Come through here with me, to a better world. No Bane, no fifty-six, no failure and no being despised. A happier world. Give me your hand and come with me.” He extended his arm.
“Don’t do it, Schneider,” a voice said. It was Jane Sinclair. “It would be an immoral thing to abandon your life.”
“It’s not real,” Maxwell Silverhammer said. “Here, in the real world, people forgive each other.”
“There may be sadness, but not all the time. Life goes on,” Flicker said in Janther Moria’s voice. “Believe me on this one.”
Schneider looked back and forth, trembling and uncertain. Then, he reached out and took the hand of the elf with the mirrored eyes. “I can’t believe I’m sticking around,” he whispered, and as he felt the room fading around him he heard a voice that sounded like Duke Faraker’s say:
He awoke in a strange bed. His mouth felt like poison, and he closed his eyes tightly against the sunlight that was coming through the window. “Uhhh. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the head by a stone giant,” he muttered.
“Drink this. It even works on the storm giant hangovers.” The jester opened his eyes to see the unfamiliar new face of one of his oldest friends, smiling across at him. “Good morning, Schneider.”
“At least she didn’t have you assassinated,” Flicker said to Schneider, walking the latter’s hangover off in the crisp Dalencian morning.
“I almost wish she had.” Schneider kicked a rock, no sign of levity in the thin line of his mouth.
“Drink, water’s important after a lot of alcohol.”
“You sure know a lot about this stuff.”
“I’ve been a Viking, a pirate, and an Irishman. I should hope I do.”
Schneider drained the Sunfighter’s waterskin dully. “I tried to be there for her. Tried to make things work for us, but in the end I just screwed everything up. This is the story of my life. I don’t think I’m a bad person, so why does everything keep falling apart around me?”
“Baggage,” said Flicker. “Pain makes anyone clumsy. You’re doing fine, Schneider, you’re just working with a lot of pain. What you need to do is get yourself into a subplot where the other people aren’t also haunted by insecurity, pain, and terrible pasts.”
Schneider put his hands in his pockets. “You--may have something there, Red.”
“She always did.” Flicker put his arm around his friend as they walked. “Trouble me, Skneeder.”
They were sitting in a small café, sharing a quiet lunch. “She was the one, Flick. I tried so hard, and I couldn’t make it work. Now she doesn’t want to see me ever again. Khyri, either.”
“Now I know that’s not true,” said Flicker. She’s told me you’re important to her. She’s just under stress.”
“And I want to add to it? I want her and this baby to be happy more than anything in my life. But if I try to get involved I’ll just make that worse too. I’m not important enough to risk that.”
“You’re important to Tal. And to me, also.”
“Hi, Jane,” Schneider said, without expression. Flicker looked up to see a nun, in a conservative grey dress.
“Jane Sinclair,” she said. “Forgive me for interrupting. I just noticed you here, and... I’ve been worried about you, Schneider.”
“Are you two old friends?” asked the Viking.
“You might say that,” smiled Jane. “I’d count anyone who saves me from a serial killer a friend.”
“Sounds like you didn’t make that worse,” Flicker commented.
“This is Flicker,” Schneider introduced, with a sigh. “It’s a long story but we go way back. He’s the best guy in the world and I dunno what I did to make him like me so much.”
“You can think about that,” Flicker said, “just know that I do.”
“There’s this old joke,” said Schneider. “See, this guy goes to a doctor, says he can’t go on in life. Everything’s depressing and nothing makes sense. Says the woman he loves left him, his friends seem to be turning against him, total strangers think he’s Wyvern, Jr. or something. Says he can’t find anything in the world funny anymore. So the doctor says, no problem. Schneider, world’s greatest jester, is doing a show tonight. Check it out. You’ll feel better. Guy breaks down and sez, but doc! I... I am...”
“It’ll get better,” said Flicker.
“At the risk of summoning Bane by saying this,” said Schneider, “it couldn’t get much worse.”
Jane said a prayer for him before leaving that evening. Schneider got an eerie sense of deja vu, for when Jane prayed, he had the strange feeling that God really was listening.
“Get some sleep,” Flicker said, and as Schneider lay down, he began to play his recorder.
The jester had no dreams that night.
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