A Piratical Legacy Chapter 39 - Masquerade


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A Piratical Legacy Chapter 39 - Masquerade

  1. 1. Chapter 39 – MasqueradeA Piratical LegacyChapter 39Masquerade
  2. 2. "Okay, so how do I work this thing? What do the buttons do?""Whatever you want them to, child...Balthier Buccaneer dreamed.
  3. 3. He was the only one not wearing a mask. mask. He felt somehow... familiar, as did his partner. She preened, the delicate tracings of her mask concealing tantalizingly familiarAll around him, couples swayed in time to music only they could features. He knew who she was... he could feel it.hear. Above, the lights sparkled effervescently, their light strangelymuted. All of the dancers were similarly garbed, their faces hidden and their outfits ostentatious. None of them were the one he sought.He stepped forward, not noticing the cold mist swirling about hislegs--or perhaps simply not caring. He was looking for something, or And then the dancers separated, swirling to the sides of the ... room?someone. chamber? He stared beyond them, straining to catch sight of she whom he sought.With measured strides, he approached the first couple. The manstared at him, features expressionless behind an ornately feathered And then she was there.
  4. 4. As in all dreams, thought became reality and suddenly he stood before her."May I have this dance?"She smiled wordlessly and gestured for him to lead her into the midst of the swirling couples.
  5. 5. Theres such a sad love Deep in your eyes. A kind of pale jewel Open and closed Within your eyes. Ill place the sky Within your eyes.
  6. 6. Theres such a fooled heart Beatin so fast In search of new dreams. A love that will last Within your heart. Ill place the moon Within your heart.
  7. 7. As the pain sweeps through, Makes no sense for you. Every thrill is gone.Wasnt too much fun at all, But Ill be there for you As the world falls down.
  8. 8. Falling. Falling down. Falling in love. As the world falls down. ________________________________- As the World Falls Down, David Bowie
  9. 9. Balthier sat bolt upright in bed with a gasp."Wh-what was that?"
  10. 10. Tentatively, he touched his fingers to his chest--he was almost surprised not to feel blood. It had seemed so real... the mysteriously beautifulwoman in his arms, the intense kiss... and the pain.Never had he imagined such searing pain to be possible.With a sigh, he looked outside at the rising sun. There was no point in going back to sleep now.
  11. 11. When Balthier wandered downstairs he found his mother sittingoutside on the balcony, enjoying the fresh summer morning. He "Know exactly why I wanted to talk to you?"hesitated in the doorway for a moment before joining her. The heiress laughed deprecatingly. "Just lucky, I guess. I take it you"Sleep well, son of mine?" Ching Shih asked with a gentle smile. didnt sleep very well?"Balthier stared at her. "How do you do that, mom?" "Not really," her eldest son admitted. "I mean... Im not tired. But I had the absolutely strangest dream Ive ever had in my life.""Do what?"
  12. 12. Ching Shih nodded silently, absently rubbing her swollen belly as she gestured with her other hand for Balthier to continue."It was just... strange," Balthier said at last, after the silence threatened to become overwhelming. "I was... in some strange place. And there wereall these people there. People I was sure I recognized...""Like who?" Ching Shih prompted when her son fell silent again."Thats just it," Balthier shrugged. "I dont know who. They wore masks. And I think who they were, and what they were wearing might have beenimportant, but not as important as the rest of the dream.""What happened next?"
  13. 13. "I stared at them for a moment," Balthier said. "And I walked up to a few of them but they werent the person I was looking for. And then they allstepped aside or I moved or something. And I saw her. Her face was hidden behind a mask too, but I knew... she was the one. My destiny.""It sounds terribly romantic," Ching Shih smiled."It was at first," Balthier agreed. "We danced, and I kissed her--" here he blushed furiously "--and thats when it happened.""What happened?""She ran me through with a sword... and I was dying... and then I woke up." Balthier shivered a little at the memory. "It felt so... so real. Do youknow... does the legacy bloodline go in for prophetic dreaming or anything like that?"
  14. 14. Ching Shih pursed her lips. "Not as far as I can recall. I mean, I can "Sure," Balthier said, standing up and walking back towards thecheck with Great Uncle Jack, but I know almost as much about the house. He paused at the threshold for a moment. "Mom?"family history as he does and Ive never heard anything aboutprophecy, or any sort of supernatural behaviour other than the family "Yes, dear?"Curse. And thats long since broken." "Thanks.""Thats kind of a relief," Balthier said. "I mean, it was the mostdisturbing dream Ive ever had... but..." "For what?""It was just a dream," Ching Shih finished for him. "Ill check with He smiled shyly. "For listening. For being my mom."Jack, but I think you shouldnt put too much stock in it, son of mine.Now, why dont you get dressed for school and grab some breakfast. Ching Shih stood up and waddled awkwardly to her son. "ThatThatll have you feeling more yourself in no time." definitely deserves a hug. Now, scoot."
  15. 15. Though she was curious about the import of her sons dream--if any--Ching Shih forced herself to put it out of her mind for now. She was spendingmost of the hours of her pregnancy working on her contribution to the family histories.Sim Spade in The Corsairs of the Lost Ship"Hmm... I guess the titles okay. Could use a little work, but I can come back to that later. I think Ill write it in the first person... from Simsperspective. Hell get a kick out of that when he reads it."Ching Shih often talked to herself while she wrote."Friend Sim. Again it is revealed that there is no archaic article you are capable of obtaining that I am unable to repossess..."
  16. 16. By the time Balthier and his younger brother Kennit returned from school, Ching Shih was finished writing for the day."Balthier, why were you yelling in your sleep this morning?" Kennit asked, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor across from his brother."I was yelling?" Balthier blinked."Yeah, and before that you were making kinda slurping noises," Kennit said, wrinkling his nose. "Were you having a kissing dream?""Um," Balthier blushed. "No?""Haha, you were!" Kennit crowed gleefully. "I knew it!"
  17. 17. "Okay, maybe there was some kissing," Balthier conceded. "But it wasnt a good dream. There was stabbing and death and all kinds of nastiness."Kennit looked at him narrowly. "Thats not a good dream? Sounds cool!""Not cool," Balthier insisted. "I was the one getting stabbed! And the death!"
  18. 18. "Thats really weird," Kennit said."I dreamed somebody stabbed me and all you can say is its weird?" Balthier complained in an aggrieved tone."No, the stabby bits arent weird," Kennit said. "The dream bit is weird. I had a dream last night too."Balthier blinked. "You did?""Yeah... it was real hazy and I dont remember very much, but I do remember... dancing."
  19. 19. Balthier stared at his brother. "Quick, who were you dancing with? Do you "I think the kissing was the worse fate."remember?" "Just wait til youre a teenager," Balthier smirked. "I think youll beKennit yawned. "Nope. It was a girl, thats all I know. And the more I try to changing your tune mighty quick, Ken."remember, the more I forget." "I hate it when youre all patronizing because of my age.""I think we had the same dream," Balthier said significantly. "I think thiscould be important. Legacy-shattering, even." "Hey, whered you learn a fancy word like that?""Um, I kinda think youre making a big deal out of a stupid dream," Kennit "I listen reeeeaaal close-like when Andrew reads me stories."said. "I dont even like dancing. And there werent even any swords inmine." "Smart-aleck.""Youre not the one who got stabbed!" "And proud of it!"
  20. 20. "What are you doing with Grandpa Jack, Jim?" Ching Shih asked her "But... youre a bear. Shouldnt you be surfing something like Boydshusband, gesturing to the plush ancestor Jim was carrying down the Collectibles?"hall. "Now yer just bein silly.""I caught it sitting in front of the computer again with the browserwindow opened to a questionable website." "He was pricing out vintage rum from back when he was head of the family," Jim said with a disgusted sigh. "Those are expensive. I"Can it even do that?" recommend we hide the credit cards.""Arr, ye know I can, lass." "Bah, yer no fun anymore."
  21. 21. "So what did you do with the bear?" Shih asked her husband a few minutes later when he returned to the kitchen, sans plushie."Stalking the wild Bacardi under the couch."
  22. 22. "Ack! Andrew, put me down!" Jim laughed, trying--and failing--to keep his voice quiet. "You dont want to wake up Kennit!""Young Master Kennit should really be waking up now anyway," Andrew Bigfoot shrugged. "Otherwise he will sleep through supper and wake upin the middle of the night and then be tired at school."
  23. 23. "So instead he should play video games?" Jim chuckled once he was on his feet again. Kennit had indeed woken up and was reaching for thecontroller."Perhaps he would like to hear a story," Andrew suggested, pitching his voice loud enough that Kennit looked over at them."A story about your savage days in the wilderness of Canada when you used to eat people?" he asked excitedly. "Cool!""Master Kennit, Andrew was never in the habit of eating people. Too stringy.""Ill... just leave you too that." Jim hastily made an exit.
  24. 24. "Okay, if youre not going to come clean about the blood and gore, how about telling me a pirate story?" Kennit asked."A tale of pirates for the young pirate-apparent?""Yeah! With swashbuckling and rum and--""You are far too young to be concerned with such things as rum. Andrew thinks you have been spending too much time with that bear-entity.""I dont want to drink the rum," Kennit smirked. "Grampa Jack says it tastes like burnt sugar. Waste of good sugar. I just wanna hear about it!"
  25. 25. "Well," Andrew said, paging through the volume, "would you like me to read you the story of your namesake?""Eww," Kennit shuddered. "Hes all angsty and stuff. I want a fun pirate, like Grandpa Jack!""Would you settle for your illustrious ancestress, Mary Buccaneer?""I suppose," Kennit said. "I never knew she did anything piratical, though. She didnt have a Pirate ship! Not like us. Weve got the Pearl. When Igrow up, Im going to be her Captain.""Do you wish Andrew to read to you or would you rather talk, Master Kennit?""Ill be quiet!"
  26. 26. As Gertie drifted across the landscape of her last home on Pirate Island, she couldnt help but smile at the sounds of laughter emanating from thehouse up the hill.She didnt linger long, but shed been hankering to see the family again. Grace would be glad to know they were all well--if Gertie could pull hersister away from sandcastles long enough to tell her.
  27. 27. "Dad... I need some advice.""What else is a father for, save to dispense wisdom to adolescent sons?" Jim grinned."Aww, dont go all Great Uncle Jack on me, dad," Balthier said, making a face. "I was being serious.""I know you were," Jim chuckled, then assumed a more serious expression. "What is on your mind, Balthier?""Its... its this dance coming up," Balthier said. "Youre a romance sim so maybe you can help me figure some stuff out."
  28. 28. "Ah, my area of expertise," Jim grinned. "Just ask the girl, Balthier. dance which means she has to ask me instead of either of us beingShe will say yes--how could she not?" able to do the asking.""Thats... not the problem," Balthier said, wincing. "Well, it is kinda, "Well, you could tell the other girls that you are going with someonebut not the main one. The real problem is I keep getting asked by too else," Jim suggested.many girls. And I think Im no good at letting them down gently." "And then when they see that Ive gone stag?""Why not go with one of them?" "You say it didnt work out.""That relates back to your interesting assumption," Balthier blushed."Theres someone I really want to go with, but its a Sadie Hawkins "Dad... I dont like lying," Balthier said in a frustrated voice.
  29. 29. "Commendable, to be sure," Jim said reassuringly. "But sometimes relationships until I met your mother."white lies are useful for preserving social harmony." "Dad!""Now youre talking like Jack again." "What? It was only a suggestion.""Ive got to stop playing Bridge with him. There is another solution." Jims laughter was cut off by a loud shriek from down the hall."Whats that?" Balthier asked hopefully. "JIIIIIM! GET YOUR NICELY-SHAPED REAR END OVER"When I was your age, I would have simply said yes to all of them, HERE RIGHT NOW!"and then taken them out on the dance floor in turns," Jim flashed adazzling array of white teeth. "Lest you forget, Balthier, I am a Jim and his father-in-law locked eyes. "The baby!"Romance sim--and I certainly did not believe in monogamous
  30. 30. In the bathroom down the hall, Ching Shih was clutching her abdomen and writhing in pain. "I swear this is the last one! Jim! Get in here rightnow!"
  31. 31. "Youve locked the door!" Lee chimed in. His son-in-law was too busy jumping up and down in a panic to answer. "We cant get in, sweetie!""Aaah!"
  32. 32. In short order, Ching Shih found herself holding a squirming baby girl with surprisingly red eyebrows and pale blue eyes.She staggered over to the door, being careful not to drop her daughter, and unlocked it.
  33. 33. Lee and Jim barged in as soon as they heard the lock click open. "A girl?" Jim peered in closer to look, utterly entranced. "We have a baby girl!""Whats happened? Is everything okay?" Lee asked frantically. "What do you think about the name Arabella?"Ching Shih smiled tiredly and drew the attention of her father and herhusband to the squirming infant in her arms. "I think its perfect.""Isnt she beautiful?" Shih whispered. ***
  34. 34. "Dont you think you should get dressed at some point today, Cate?" Will Pseudo asked his granddaughter, gesturing to her pajama-clad form."The day is still young, Grandpa," Cate insisted. "And pajamas are comfy.""Arent you usually Miss Neat-and-Tidy?""Even a neat freak like me is entitled to slack off once in a while. Besides, Billys hogging my shower.""You know, there are four showers in this house," Grandma Orikes said, looking over from where she was playing with Cates younger brother,Dominic."Yeah, but my shampoo and stuff are in the one Billys hogging!"
  35. 35. "Shes just grumpy cause she doesnt have a date for that dance thing all the older kids are talking about," Dominic said."And how do you know so much about that?" Orikes chuckled."Cause I listened in on the other phone when she was talking to Callie about it," Dominic grinned. "Ooh! Rock beats scissors!""Thats it, Im so getting a cell phone.""Aww, dont be mad at me, Catie," Dominic pouted, turning to his sister. "I could be your date to the dance."
  36. 36. "Come here, you," Cate grinned, grabbing her little brothers hands and pulling him over on to her feet."Wheee!" Dominic giggled."There, youve had your dance," Cate grinned. "Now Im going inside to see if your brother is finally finished in the darned bathroom!""Probably not!" Dominic said. "Billy likes to tub-pirate.""Yeah, well Ill make him walk the plank..." And, still muttering under her breath, Cate stalked off back into the house.
  37. 37. "Hmm, maybe we should head inside too," Will said, looking up at the sky apprehensively. "I think its going to rain.""Not until after I show you my fabulous cartwheel!" Dominic insisted. "Ive been practicing, you know."
  38. 38. As Will and Orikes obediently lined up to watch, Dominic sprang into the cartwheel with an elaborate flourish.
  39. 39. "Woo!" Orikes cheered loudly. "That was great, Dominic!""You werent really watching," Dominic pouted. "Youre looking over there.""I thought I saw a flash of lightning is all," Orikes said. "I was watching when you did the cartwheel.""Oh, okay," Dominic said, mollified. "So how good was it?"
  40. 40. "It was very well done," Will said with a smile. "But I think your grandmother is right about that lightning. Lets head inside before we get fried,okay?"
  41. 41. "Yarr! Is that a ship I spy on the horizon, mate? Heave to starboard! Well catch er, lads!""Billy! Get out of the bathroom! Youve been in there for an hour!""Sounds like a storm be brewin. Batten down the hatches, lads, were in for a rough ride!"
  42. 42. Hugo couldnt help but chuckle as he walked past the bathroom. Billy was clearly audible even in the hallway."Okay, kiddo, time to get out of there!" Hugo called, rapping on the door as he walked past. "Cates about to break down the door if you dont hurryup."
  43. 43. "Arr, thar be land," Billy said happily. "Heave to, boys--were goin ashore!"And with that he hopped out of the bath tub and sauntered into the hall, smirking impudently at the fuming Cate.
  44. 44. "I thought you were waiting for the shower," Sarah said to her twin sister, sitting down next to her at the poker table."I am," Cate said in an aggrieved voice. "Billy used up all the hot water, though.""What say we keelhaul him?""Sarah, thats mean!""And you have a problem with that because...""Well I dont, really. Except for the mess. Keelhaulings messy."
  45. 45. "So what are we playing for?" Sarah asked. "Money? Chores? Blackmailable truth-or-dare secrets?""Lets just stick to chores," Cate said dryly. "Im not giving up any of my hard-earned cash to you--""Birthday money is hard-earned?""Hush. And I dont have any secrets worthy of being the stake in a game of poker. You already know who I like, who Ive kissed, and who I hate."
  46. 46. "Thats the benefit of being a twin and a best friend," Sarah smirked. "Someone really doesnt want to lose," Cate smirked. "Maybe"Fine, chores it is. Loser of this hand has to babysit Billy and someone has a ... crush?"Dominic the next time mom and dad are looking for a volunteer." "Ill have you know that Arjuna is going to say yes when I ask him to"Sure," Cate said. "Thats fair. I know for a fact theyre planning on go with me."going out the night of the dance--" "Mmhmm. So youll take that bet, then? No exemptions?""Hey, I think the dance is an exemption," Sarah said quickly."Grandma and Grandpa were going to stay home." "Oh, youre going down sis..."
  47. 47. "So youll be over in a bit? Great!"Orlando put down the phone and danced around the room gleefully. This afternoon was going to be great.
  48. 48. "Hey Arta," Orlando said, giving his friend and classmate a big hug. "Im glad you could come over! Do you want to start working on our historyproject right away? Or do you just want to hang out for a bit?""Im cool with hanging out for a bit," Arta shrugged. "Projects mostly done--we just have to type it up and were good.""Im glad we got partnered together on the project," Orlando said, stealing a sideways smile at Arta as they walked towards the porch.
  49. 49. "Yeah, I guess its been fun," Arta said, settling on to the fabric-cushioned bench. "I always thought you were some sort of stuck-up ladies man,Lando, but you havent tried to put the moves on me once.""Arta, Im hurt," Orlando pouted. "Whatever gave you that idea?"Arta blushed. "Just some things a few of the girls have said in the locker room. How you go on about how youre Deitys gift and all.""Nah," Orlando chuckled. "That wouldnt be nearly as interesting, would it?" He scooted a little closer.
  50. 50. "See, thats what Im talking about, Lando," Arta complained. "There you go trying to turn up the charm. Youre much nicer and cuter when yourejust being yourself.""That might explain why I havent had a girlfriend since freshman year," Orlando said wryly, sliding back to the far end of the bench. "Im kind ofpathetic, arent I.""Maybe just a little," Arta said. She fell silent for a moment. "Lando?""Yuh-huh?""Got a date for the dance?""Didnt my posturing and strutting give that away?" Orlando said. "Im dying for someone to ask me. Well, someone in particular."
  51. 51. "Wanna go together?" Arta asked, not looking at him."Do I ever!" Orlando beamed. "Youll see, Arta. This is going to be the best date ever. Ill pick you up with a limo and get you a corsage, andmaybe we can go out for a fancy dinner first, and--"Arta burst out laughing. "Youre cute, Lando. Maybe this wont be a total disaster. How about I pick up you--we can figure out the rest of thedetails a little closer to the dance.""That works for me," Orlando said, unable to keep an enormous grin off of his face."So we should probably get to work on that history project."
  52. 52. "Arjuna.""Sarah."
  53. 53. "Fancy seeing you strolling past my house for the fifth time today.""Yeah, well... if I said it was for my health, would you believe me?"
  54. 54. "I think you were hoping to run into me.""Is that so?" Arjuna purred."In fact... I think you want me to ask you to the Sadie Hawkins Dance.""Are you going to?""Well, yeah. You going to say yes?""Well, yeah."
  55. 55. And to seal the deal, Sarah grabbed Arjuna Ramaswami under her arm and gave him a fierce noogie. "Thats for being such a dork about the wholething, Arjuna! You couldve just called and come over like a normal person instead of going all stalker on me.""Thought youd think it was sweet.""That sort of thing only works for really hot bleached blond vampires. And youre way too comfortable in sunlight to be one of those."
  56. 56. "You want me to bleach my hair now?""Dont be ridiculous, Arjuna. Now, are you going to finally kiss me or what?"
  57. 57. The next day after school, it was an eclectic group gathered in "Sounds like someone isnt getting nearly enough kissing," SarahOrlandos room. smirked, cuddling her head on Arjunas shoulder. She turned to Balthier. "Do you have a date yet? You could take Cate.""So, does everyone have a date for the dance now?" Orlando asked.He was still beaming. "Eww," Cate said, shuddering."Yes, we know you have a date," Cate said in exasperation. "You "Hey!"havent talked about anything else since Arta left yesterday. Yay!You might get kissed! Go you!" "No offense, Balthier, but were practically related," Cate said.
  58. 58. "Well, who do you actually want to ask?" Orlando asked helpfully. "Maybe I could put in a good word, nose around for information... see if theguys even interested in your troll-like appearance...""Hush, Lando," Cate said. "Theres a bookcase behind me and I know how to use it as a lethal weapon."
  59. 59. "Anyway, theres someone I want to go with," Balthier said, blushing. "Only I dont think shes interested in me that way. So Im probably justgoing by myself. My dad says I should call up all of the girls who Ive already turned down and just go with all of them, but I dont think thatsreally my style.""Well, even if you dont find someone to take you to the dance, you might meet the right girl there," Arjuna said. "Although your dads advice isnttoo bad either.""Arjuna!" Sarah scolded, whapping him.
  60. 60. "What?" Arjuna grinned. "Im a Romance sim... youre a Romance sim... its not like either of us is ever going to want to settle down with just oneperson.""Balthiers dad has," Sarah pointed out."Some do, yeah... but I dont think Im one of those. Do you really think you are?"Sarah smirked. "Maybe not so much.""This is way too much info for a protective older brother to hear," Orlando said loudly. "So... how about that local sports team?"***
  61. 61. "Hello fishies! Are you feeling better now? Its no fun having a ghost float through your tank, is it? Well, the waters turned up and you should allbe fine. Too bad about Stripeyhead, but thems the breaks being a tropical fish in a haunted house, I guess."Liv Pseudo sprinkled a few flakes of fish food in the tank and closed the lid. "Mialee, where did you get to?"
  62. 62. "Fithie go down the hole..." "No.""Mialee!" Livs voice was filled with half amusement, halfexasperation. "What have I said about playing in the toilet?" "Well then, come on out of there," Liv said, scooping her daughter up into her arms. "Lets get you dressed and then you can watch the fish"Ony right after you or Mithter Remington cleanth it." for a few minutes, okay?""And did you see us clean it just now?" "Yay!"
  63. 63. "Thilly fithies. Thouldnt play with ghothtth. They give you a cold, ah-choo!"
  64. 64. Liv and Mialee were surprised the next day by the birthday of Riches, oldest of the current family pets. He poofed into an elderly pooch in themiddle of the living room, while Mialee clapped gleefully.
  65. 65. A little while later, Orikes stopped by to visit her daughter and granddaughter."How are you?" she asked, giving her daughter a warm hug."Great," Liv smiled. "Come in for some lunch?"
  66. 66. A short while later, they were settled around Livs kitchen table with a plate of fresh fish from the pond."I worry about you and Mialee, living here all by yourselves," Orikes said, pausing before she took a bite."Were fine, mom," Liv said with fond exasperation."You dont find it lonely, being so far from town?"
  67. 67. "Not really," Liv shrugged. "We have each other, and the maid stops by most days, and theres Mialees nanny. And of course there are the pets,and the ghosts... and Randy.""Count Randy still stops by?""Of course he does! Did you think hed just up and leave me after we had a child together?" The normally mellow Liv had a hint of anger in hervoice."Well, you never talk about him," Orikes said defensively. "And hes never here when we visit."
  68. 68. "That would be because hes a vampire and youre usually over during the day," Liv pointed out.Orikes blinked. "You know, that explains a good many things. Well, Im glad to hear things are still going well between the two of you. I knowhow happy hes made you.""Thanks mom," Liv smiled. "And youre right. Randy does make me happy. Things are good between us.""No chance of him making an honest woman of you, though?""Neither of us are the marrying type," Liv shrugged. "Besides... theres no room for a crypt here, and I dont want to move. You know?"
  69. 69. While Liv bustled about the house cleaning up, Orikes set off in search of her granddaughter, who had just woken up from her nap."Whos my Mialee?""Me! Me!""Thats my girl!""Grandma, can we play airplaneth?"Orikes turned to Liv. "She hasnt just eaten, has she?""Youre safe!"
  70. 70. "Wheeeeeeee!" The little girls laughter was infectious, and soon Orikes and Liv joined in her mirth. "I wanna touth the thky, Grandma!"
  71. 71. "When Im big, can I fly up in the thky, Grandma?" Mialee asked."If you put your mind to it," Orikes nodded. "If you try hard enough, Mialee, you can do anything you want. But it might not be easy. It might takelots of hard work.""Whatth work?""It means sometimes doing things you dont want to do so that one day you can do the things you really want to do.""I can do that, Grandma. I can!""I know you can, moppet."
  72. 72. That night, Count Randy stopped by to visit as usual."How is our little Mialee?" he asked in his silkily smooth voice."Growing quickly," Liv said. "I cant believe how fast shes growing up. Youll be here for her birthday tomorrow, right?""I would not miss it for the world," Randy declared."Good," Liv said. "My family is eager to see you again. They were starting to think wed split up because its been so long since theyve seen you.""Ah, we cannot have them thinking that," Randy said softly. "But let us not talk of them right now. It is you I am here to see tonight, my love."
  73. 73. Later, Liv was sleeping and Randy was watching her contentedly when Mialee toddled into the room."Daddy!" the little girl crowed when she caught sight of them. "What are you doing here?""Came to visit you, pet," the count said, scooping his daughter up into his arms. "Happy to see me, are you?""Yeah!" Mialee giggled."Not so loud, sweetling," Randy said in a quiet voice. "Your mama is sleeping and we mustnt wake her. Shes been very tired, and it isnt fair forus to take away one moment of her rest. Now, why dont you tell me about everything youve done since last I saw you."
  74. 74. Mialee quieted her voice obediently as she chattered about the events of the day. "And then Grandma thaid that I could do anything I want,Daddy!""Shes right, little one. Youre my daughter, and that means you can be anything you like.""Do I have to know right now, Daddy?"He laughed. "Youre still young yet, love. You have all the time in the world to decide who... or what... you want to be.""Thatth good. Right now I jutht want to be a little girl, okay Daddy?""Thats fine by me."
  75. 75. The next evening, a crowd of friends and relatives flocked to the house to celebrate Mialees child birthday.
  76. 76. Everyone important to Liv and her little girl were there to celebrate such a momentous occasion... both the living, and the dead."Okay, Mialee... remember what we talked about? Blow out the candles and make a wish!"
  77. 77. "When I thaid I wanted to be a fairy printheth, thith wathnt quite what I had in mind," Mialee said with some disgust as she examined her newform. "And why do I thtill have a lithp? Thith wathnt part of the agreement about growing up.""Youll outgrow it," Liv promised. "Now, why dont you try on the new clothes I bought you for your birthday present. You can keep that outfit toplay in, if you like.""I gueth," Mialee said dubiously. "It doethnt look like a very practical play outfit. Itll get all methy very quickly."
  78. 78. "Thith ith way more like it," she said a few minutes later once shed changed and brushed her hair. "Now Im ready to play!"
  79. 79. Mialees cousins were scheduled to come over and play the next morning but Livs abrupt dash to the bathroom meant those plans got cancelled."Maybe when Im feeling better," a thoroughly green Liv groaned to her daughter that morning as Mialee pouted about the lack of playing andhaving fun.
  80. 80. By that evening, however, the cause of Livs sickness was readily apparent."Another one?" she mused speculatively. A smile spread over her features. "I cant wait to tell Randy."
  81. 81. The next morning she called up Lainey and arranged for Mialees cousins to come over and spend time with her.
  82. 82. "Im way bigger n you," Billy said with an air of superiority."Tho? Im way cuter," Mialee grinned."Thats just because youre a girl," Billy said dismissively. "Everybody knows girls are cuter. Plus, youre littler, and the youngest is always thecutest. Back before you were born, I was the youngest and the cutest.""How come Dominic wathnt?""Because I have naturally curly hair. The one with curly hair is always the cutest.""I dont think youre telling the truth, Billy. Im gonna athk Orlando."
  83. 83. While Billy spluttered on about being the cutest, Mialee cornered hisolder brother. "Billys a good kid but he doesnt know as much as he thinks he does," he said. "Does it really matter who the cutest kid is as long as"Wath Billy telling the truth?" she demanded. your family and friends love you?""Probably not," Orlando said. "Whats up, kiddo?" "I gueth not," Mialee said doubtfully. "Promithe youll tell me if I ever wind up not cute, Lando?""Wath he telling the truth about the youngetht and the curlietht hairedkid being the cutetht?" "I promise," Orlando said, ruffling Mialees hair through the toque. "Now, what do you say to a giant waterballoon fight?"Orlando took one look at the serious expression on Mialees face andbit back his laughter. He adored his cousin and didnt want her to "Yeah! Billy ith tho going down!"think he was making fun of her.
  84. 84. "Mom, Im having cookieth for thupper!" Mialee called. "Ith that okay?""Mm, thats fine, honey," Livs voice came down the stairs. "Just make sure you have one of the ones with green sprinkles too. You need yourvegetables. Your dad and I will be right downstairs.""Yeah, right," Mialee said to herself, rolling her eyes as she obediently added a green-frosted cookie to her plate. "Not if youre kithing again. Idont know why grownupth inthitht on kithing for hourth and hourth like that. Thereth thpit and thtuff."
  85. 85. A few minutes later, Liv and Randy joined their daughter downstairs, their clothing and hair only slightly dishevelled. Randy had taken news ofLivs pregnancy very well indeed."Come over here, Randy," Liv said happily. "Hes kicking!""Are you so sure this one is a boy?" Randy asked in a low voice, walking over and placing a possessive hand over Livs undulating abdomen."No," Liv said. "But it would be nice. If its a boy, I want to call him Regdar. Or maybe Tordek."
  86. 86. "The name of the child really doesnt matter so long as he or she is a product of our love," Randy said, pulling Liv close and dancing her about theroom with him."Now youre going all dramatic again," Liv giggled."You guyth are going to make me gag again over here!" Mialee called from the table, her mouth full of cookie."Once youre finished eating you should get ready for bed," Liv said over her shoulder.
  87. 87. The next night, Randy was over again as usual--with the birth of the baby so near, he didnt want to risk missing it."Hey, I thought you were here for me!" Liv said, half jokingly as Randy devoured some web site or other. "Not..." she peered over his shoulder."Basketweaving? Youre a member of a basketweaving club?""What? At least Im not addicted to soap operas.""I only watch them when Im preg--ow!""Preg-ow?"
  88. 88. "Ow!" Liv said again. "Randy! Baby! Now!"
  89. 89. Randy leaped to his feet. "What do I do? Should I boil water? Get sheets? Should you be lying down?""Hand me a pair of pruning shears!" Liv said through clenched teeth. "That would be a good start!"
  90. 90. A few minutes later, though, it was all over and Liv was cradling a little girl with red hair and pale blue eyes in her arms."Randy," she said ecstatically. "Shes here! Our second daughter is here!""What are we going to call her?" Randy asked, slumping into the computer chair with a sigh of relief."How about... Lidda.""Lidda? I like it."***
  91. 91. "We arent going to get much homework done, are we," Balthier said gaily to Brittany Parker, one of his best friends."Hard to work on the project with Chandler not here," Brittany shrugged, leaning back against the sun-warmed grass and breathing deeply. "Its sobeautiful here, Balthier. Youre lucky, living in such a fantastic house with such a fantastic yard.""I guess," Balthier shrugged, shredding the grass between his fingers. "Its okay."
  92. 92. "More than okay," Brittany insisted. "Have you looked around lately? This is the nicest place on the entire island. You legacy kids are entirelyspoiled."
  93. 93. Balthier shrugged. "Its just stuff. Fun things to play with, comfortable beds to sleep in. But that sort of thing isnt entirely important, you know?Being the legacy heir--or spare, since mom hasnt decided yet wholl be taking over next--doesnt come with automatic friends... or dates to theSadie Hawkins dance.""Youve had lots of girls ask you," Brittany said. "Youre not going with any of them?"
  94. 94. "See, thats the downside of being rich, popular, and attractive," Balthier said in a mournful voice. "People only want to go out with you because ofthose things. They dont care about what kind of person you might be or who you really are. They just see the outside... the superficial stuff.""Geez, conceited much?""Okay, maybe not so attractive. But still, I know they just want to go out with me because of the stuff my family has. Ive never even spoken tomost of them."
  95. 95. "Nah, youre pretty much a hottie, Balthier," Brittany said finally. "Thats the reason most of them want to go with you. And youve got a reputationof being a nice guy around the school.""Stop," Balthier chuckled. "Youre gonna make me as conceited as you already think I am.""I just dont want you getting some sort of inferiority complex," Brittany said. "Youre definitely dateable."
  96. 96. "Maybe I should say yes to one of the girls, then," Balthier said pensively. "Maybe if I get to know one of them Ill find out theyre not so shallowafter all. I suppose its worth a try... better than nursing an infinite crush on someone unattainable myself.""Oh, theyre shallow," Brittany said quickly. "Im just saying... theyve got good reason for it.""Yeah?" Balthier asked, his heart beating a little faster."Yeah," Brittany smiled. She shifted so she was a little closer to Balthier on the grass. "In fact..."
  97. 97. "That was..." Balthier said breathlessly. "Wow.""Mmm," Brittany agreed. "So is this the real reason youve turned down everyone whos asked you?""Maybe," Balthier said shyly."Well..." Brittany paused. "I havent asked anyone yet. Go with me?""Ill be there."
  98. 98. "Okay, this months meeting of the Pirate Island Cabal is now calledto order," the blond woman at the head of the card table said in a "Im the chair because theyre my chairs. Were meeting at my place,"commanding tone. "First of all... new business." Fortune interrupted the bickering. "Remember? We agreed on that back when we first formed this conspiracy. Now, can we get back to"How come Fortune is chair of the meeting again?" one of the more the business at hand?"masculine figures said in an aggrieved tone. "I agree with Fortune," another obviously male voice chimed in."Hush, Romance," a petite figure said. "Thank you, Knowledge.""Its not your turn to chair either, Gr-- Pleasure," Romance retorted.
  99. 99. "I apologize for the ... unusual ... design of the table this month," "We have to do things properly, dont we?" Fortune insisted.Fortune said. "A new council table has been ordered and should be in "Everyone, Id like to introduce our newest conspirators... Pleasure--"place by next month. In the meantime, I have graciously taken a seatat the kiddie table with our two new members." "Pleasures old," Popularity interjected. "Used to be Grow Up.""And speaking of new members," the woman known as Family said, "Yes, but the title is new," Fortune said smoothly. "And of course,"shouldnt we have some introductions?" we have New Grow Up--""Is this strictly necessary?" Pleasure said in an irritated voice. "This is boring," New Grow Up said in childish tones. "Can I go play yet?"
  100. 100. "Hush," Pleasure said in a commanding voice. "Playtime is later."Grow Up stuck out a pouty lip and fell silent."As I was saying," Fortune continued, sounding more irritated by the moment. "Introductions. Our other new person is Grilled Cheese.""Tell me," Knowledge said. "Why did we decide to expand our numbers again?"
  101. 101. "Because," Pleasure said in an icy voice, "my plan to take out the Buccaneer family wouldnt work otherwise.""I still dont like this plan," Grilled Cheese complained. "I wasnt consulted ahead of time.""You werent a member of the conspiracy ahead of time," Romance said. "Hence not having any input. Besides, its the best plan weve had in along time.""That brings us to the next part of the meeting," Fortune said. "Progress report. How goes the plan, Pleasure?""Stage one is complete," Pleasure said in a satisfied voice.
  102. 102. "And how long before we move to Stage two?" Popularity asked. keep you all in the loop okay? Meeting adjourned.""Another generation? Two?" "Hey, thats my--""Just a few years," Pleasure said. "Trust me. This is going to work.Everything is going exactly as I predicted so far." "I said, meeting adjourned," Pleasure said in a low tone. "Go. Now.""And do you have contingency plans in place in case something goes ***wrong?" Knowledge asked. "What if the target--" To be continued..."Nothing is going to go wrong," Pleasure said quickly. "Listen, Ill