Disclaimer: See last four chapters. I've gotten lazy.
A/N: This chapter was originally part of Chapter 4, but then I decided it was way too long. And since it was twice the length of most of my chapters, I decided to cut it in half in the most logical place: the end of the challenge. So have fun reading Chapter 5, and don't be expecting another update for a little while. I have two other fics going and an original fiction, and I haven't written for them for a while, either. Check out my other stories, 'Bit of a Freak' (Thir13en Ghosts section) and 'Ghost Ship II: Second Chances' (Miscellaneous Movies section) for updates coming soon. And now, back to Dark Castle Survivor…
Chapter 5: Tribal Council
Back at the black tribe's camp, Epps threw her spare clothing down in a heap inside the shelter and flung herself down on the sand near the water. She pulled her knees up to her chest and sunk her head between them, disappointment and dread mixing inside her.
They had been so close to winning, so close to beating the other tribe. Maureen pictured once again in her mind the look Ferriman had given her as he took the immunity idol from Hekasha. He had smirked at her and then glanced at Dodge and Murphy, as if to tell her that, once again, there was nothing she could do for them if he decided he wanted them gone. Frustration worked its way out of her in a snarl. How dare that evil son of a bitch threaten not just Epps, but her crew? Again! Why had they been separated? Why? WHY?
Taking deep breaths, Epps fought back the tears. She would win this game no matter what, and when she got her wish it would be for her crew back. Not just Murphy and Dodge but all of them. She had spoken to Dennis earlier after he had theorized about the advantages and disadvantages of her tribemates having been removed, and had realized that he was right. Hekasha could bring people back from the dead. It was possible. Now if Epps could only stick it out to the end…and somehow find the heart to betray her allies: Watson, the poor man, Arthur, who wanted to return to his children, Dennis, who had a second chance at a better life, and Katie, who had never really had a first chance at life. Could Epps condemn them all to death for her own selfishness? And would they hesitate to do the same…?
"I hope we don't have to do that too often," Katie sighed as she stirred the pot of rice over the fire. Arthur sat a few feet away on a piece of driftwood, halfheartedly hacking coconuts in half for bowls. There was a pile of coconut meat beside him on a rock, which Watson was chopping up into fine bits with one of the tribe's large knives. Dennis was wandering around some nearby rocks with the survival booklet, scavenging for small edible shellfish.
Epps had disappeared, claiming to 'need some space'. Katie knew that the woman was disappointed that they had lost the challenge, and that she blamed herself somehow. Even though, Katie thought with a headshake, Epps had been the strongest among them. It was the fault of those lazy old bags Francesca and Evelyn, and that old coot Cyrus, that they had lost.
"So who goes tonight?" Watson asked into the silence after glancing around to see nobody was listening in. Francesca and Evelyn had gone up the beach somewhere, and Cyrus as usual was nowhere to be found.
"Cyrus," Arthur replied immediately at the same time as Katie said "Francesca".
"Hmmm, I was thinking Evelyn," Watson said with the hint of a grin.
"I guess we all have our personal grudges," Arthur rationalized as the coconut he was working on broke in half with a satisfying crack, "so I guess we have to decide who's the worst for the tribe."
Katie thought about that for a few minutes. Who WAS the worst for the tribe? Both of the women had been utterly useless at the challenge today, but they both seemed to have keen minds when they wanted to. Cyrus, on the other hand, was obviously a complete lunatic. And judging from the look in Dennis and Arthur's eyes at the challenge, Katie was willing to bet the man wouldn't live long once he was marked for execution.
"I say Cyrus," she said quietly.
"I have to say I agree," Watson said with a nod, "The guy's a nutcase."
"I knew that." Arthur agreed, "I'm pretty sure Dennis will say the same thing, but I'll ask him when he gets back, and Epps too."
Katie nodded and went back to stirring the rice, trying not to think about what would happen if any of these people were lying to her. She was small and rather weak. Would that be enough to get her voted out and thus marked for death? If her alliance wasn't what they said it was, then what was she to do…?
Evelyn couldn't remember a time when she had been more miserable. She hadn't bothered to change after the challenge, and had drying salt all over her body. There was sand between her toes and she smelled like seaweed. And the swimsuit that she had been provided had only one piece! What a tragedy! And to top it all off, her manicure had started to wear off.
Her only consolation was that at least her hair was still dry. Poor Francesca had gotten splashed with salt water during the challenge, and her silky brown hair had frizzed out to an unattractive degree. But at least Francesca had been given a decently tasteful two-piece swimsuit.
The rest of the clothing the women had been provided with was barely satisfactory, but it would have to do. Evelyn couldn't remember ever having to make do with anything in her life. She had always been given the best things money could buy, and then she had married into money. The idea that she had to put up with something that was not to her liking was uncomfortable and quite frustrating, but what choice did she have? The only way off this stupid island, it seemed, was death!
She and Fran had spent the last hour talking it over, and had decided that that little brat Katie had to go tonight. Fran had assured her that though the child looked harmless, she was resourceful and cunning in an innocent sort of way. Therefore Katie was a threat. Now to convince enough people to make it a majority…
Evelyn, well-versed at scheming, was fairly sure that Cyrus would side with them if they approached him. That meant that they had to win over just one more person to make it four votes against Katie, and that may prove difficult. Those other five had become very close, and probably already had an alliance. But how strong was that alliance, and who would be the easiest to turn?
The answer to that was simple. Epps was a softhearted fool, and would maintain her 'honour' to the last. That little worm Watson Pritchett might be convinced to trade information for 'favours', but Evelyn doubted that he would ever defy his alliance openly when the time came to vote; the man was a coward. Arthur was another softhearted idiot, and seemed rather attached to his little alliance. He seemed to think that by sticking with those losers he would live to return to his kids, not realizing that there could be only one winner and that his precious friends would turn on him in the end. That left only one option: Dennis Rafkin.
Neither Fran nor Evelyn had had much experience with Dennis, but it was fairly easy to see that the young man was afraid of his own shadow. This meant that if Evelyn was correct he would already doubt his alliance, paranoid that they were stringing him on. But according to Cyrus, with whom Evelyn had spoken earlier, the gangly psychic had been pathetically easy to convince of his friendship. All one had to do was put on an understanding air and console him when his 'visions' were too much for him.
But Fran had overheard Dennis and Epps talking earlier, and had learned that Dennis no longer even had his visions. That would make it either much easier or much harder to gain the boy's trust, but he was the best option. And if something was to be done, it had to be done now.
Dennis squinted at the pages of the little wilderness survival handbook, wishing he had his reading glasses with him. They had been forgotten somewhere in the glass house in exchange for spectral viewers, and even those had fallen off when…
Finally deciding that the picture in the handbook didn't match the hermit crap he had in his other hand, he put the little guy back on the rocks and headed back up to the fire with the few edible shellfish he had managed to find. Just as he approached the rest of his group, Dennis saw Evelyn Price beckoning to him from the edge of the woods.
Raising his eyebrows in curiosity, Dennis followed her into the bushes.
She put a finger to her lips and led him farther back in the underbrush, where Francesca was waiting with hands on hips.
"Dennis," Evelyn purred with a bright smile. Dennis recognized it as the kind of smile that might mesmerize other men, but to Dennis, who had never been able to appreciate female companionship for obvious reasons, it just looked cheap.
It took a split second for Dennis to figure out what was going on here, and another for him to decide not to let on to them that he knew what they were up to. He plastered an answering smile on his face.
"Hey," he replied.
"We couldn't help but notice you were off by yourself a lot since we got back," Evelyn said with mocking concern. Did she really think she sounded sincere? "Have you had some sort of falling out with your 'friends'?"
She said the word as if she was doubtful of whether or not he considered the others friends. Deciding to play up the idiot act, Dennis answered, "Well, kinda, yeah."
"Ooh, poor boy," Francesca put in, batting her lashes. Dennis suddenly had the urge to laugh at her, but stifled it. "Is there anything we can do?"
"Uhhh, well…it's just that they don't appreciate how much work I'm doing," Dennis answered, getting into it now, "I mean, at the challenge today it was me keeping the platform going. But they won't admit it. It's kinda demoralizing."
He blinked benignly, afraid that even these two bimbos would never fall for that. But they did, to Dennis' surprise and amusement.
"Oh, but Dennis," Evelyn cooed, "We were just talking about how much you do for the tribe. How could anyone suggest otherwise?"
"I…I dunno." He said, not trusting himself to talk much lest he laugh and give everything away.
"Well, we could help you get back at them," Fran put in, "By voting one of them out tonight."
"Katie," Evelyn added, "She really is a weak little thing, but she's got a brain in her head. She could become a bit of a problem, but that can be fixed if we take action right now."
The conversation went on this way for a few more minutes before Dennis could get away. By the time he got back to the fire, Epps was back from her walk. In a low voice, he replayed everything he had just been told to the others. Katie paled, which for her should have been impossible, and then blushed when he got to the part about her being a threat.
When he had finished, the alliance had made up their minds: Cyrus had to go this time, then next would be Evelyn.
As night started to descend on the Dark Isle, the black tribe took their map and headed out toward tribal council.
Hekasha waited breathlessly as the shadows of the island stretched and deepened in preparation for full night. The torches that she would hand out tonight stood in their stands behind the rows of logs positioned opposite the lectern where she stood, her black cape blowing in the early evening breeze.
Loud, disturbing noises sounded in the underbrush around her, probably the hunting cries of the various nocturnal – and very poisonous – predators that inhabited the island.
A large bonfire burned in the center of the tribal council area, illuminating the circular platform raised slightly above the forest floor. To her left, a wooden walkway led to the voting station. To the right, another walkway led to the beach. That was the way the contestants would be entering.
As if her gaze had conjured them, Hekasha instantly heard voices on the walkway. Straightening her cape and adjusting her skirts slightly, Hekasha turned to face her charges as they approached.
Watson came into sight first, closely followed by Arthur and Dennis. Then came Epps and Katie, with Cyrus dredging after them. Last, Francesca and Evelyn sauntered in.
Hekasha motioned for the tribe to take seats and once they had all chosen a stump to sit on she cleared her throat in a commanding fashion. They had all fallen silent when they had entered the council area, and they all now turned to look at her. She beamed around at them all, unwilling to believe how smoothly things had gone so far.
"Welcome, black tribe, to your very first tribal council. As you know, every tribal council you will attend from now on will result in one of you being banished from the tribe. Once you are banished, you are a marked man – or woman," she added, "and will have to survive on your own for as long as you can. Meanwhile, your former tribemates and the members of the red tribe will be offered a reward for killing you."
Grim looks and shifty glances accompanied this announcement. They had all heard the rules before but, as Hekasha had predicted, they hadn't really sunk in. She waited a few minutes for them to think about what was about to be decided, then she went on:
"As you will come to understand, fire is highly symbolic of life, on the island and in the game. If you look behind you, you will all find a torch with your name on it. Once you light your torch, it will not go out until you are dead. If you are banned from your tribe, I will take possession of your torch, and it will be kept here at the tribal council area until it goes out. Will each of you find your torch and light it from the bonfire now, if you please."
The tribe members all did this rather efficiently, and when they were seated Hekasha continued her speech:
"Now, when I call your name, you are to stand and proceed down that walkway, where your words will not be heard by the rest of the tribe. You will write the name of the tribe member you wish to banish clearly on a piece of parchment, then hold it up so it's visible and state why you are banishing this tribe member, or any other comments you wish to make. You are then to fold it in half and drop it into this ballot jar."
A human skull appeared in her hands, the top of the head loosened to make a lid. It vanished again and reappeared, out of sight, on the voting table.
"After that, you may return to your seat. Once everyone has gone, the votes will be tabulated and read."
"Maureen, you may go first."
Without so much as a word or a glance for the rest of her tribemates, Epps stood up and made her way to the voting station. Once there, she grabbed the black pen from where it rested next to the skull-shaped ballot box and wrote a name in big letters on one of the provided sheets of parchment. She held it up, feeing silly because, as far as she could tell, there was nobody out there. She said her piece, folded the parchment, and slipped it inside the skull.
When she returned and took her seat, Evelyn was called to the vote. She stood, gave Dennis an almost-imperceptible wink, and proceeded to the voting box.
"Sorry, Katie," she said, holding up the parchment with the girl's name on it, "But in life only the strong survive. I hate to do this to a child, but…"
With a cruel, self-satisfied smirk, Evelyn also folded her parchment and put it in the skull.
Next went Cyrus, then Watson, then Francesca. After that went Katie, who had to stand on tiptoe to be visible over the voting lectern while she made her speech. Next went Dennis, who came back with a look of grim satisfaction on his face.
Finally, it was Arthur's turn. He scribbled on his parchment and then held it up, revealing the name 'CYRUS' written in big letters.
"You demented old coot," he spat at the supposedly empty jungle, "You're not welcome anywhere near me after what you did. I will win this game and get back to my kids, and you'll rot forever in the jungle. Who's the pathetic one now?"
Once Arthur had returned to his seat, Hekasha roused herself from what looked to be a deep reverie.
"Right," she chirped, "I'll go tabulate the votes."
There was a few moments of tense waiting after Hekasha had disappeared to the voting station, none of the tribe members speaking or looking at one another.
Finally, Hekasha reappeared, seeming to spring forth from the shadows in her dark cloak.
"You must understand," she began, "That once the votes are read the decision is final. If a majority vote is certain before all the ballots are read, I will not read the remaining votes. The votes will not necessarily be read in order of who voted first, to help keep them a secret. Once a decision is apparent, I will call up the banished tribe member and confiscate their torch. From that moment, it is in effect open season on that person, so I suggest they leave the tribal council area immediately. Is that all clear?"
There were some nods and grunts, but nobody voiced any confusion, so Hekasha reached into the skull and extracted the first ballot. She held it up for the tribe to see and read the name out loud.
The old man's expression did not change as the next vote was pulled out.
The reaction was immediate. Katie gasped in horror while Epps put a supporting hand on the girl's shoulder and Arthur patted her hand.
"It's okay," he whispered as the next vote was held up.
"Cyrus. That's two for Cyrus, one for Katie."
"Katie. That's two for Cyrus, two for Katie."
Katie now had tears of horror in her eyes, and Evelyn and Francesca wore identical smirks. Dennis wrapped his arms around Katie, who was starting to shake.
The old man remained emotionless, certain that the two women he had allied with had succeeded in winning Dennis to their cause. He was sitting in front of the psychic and obviously didn't see the way the young man was comforting Katie.
"Katie. That means three votes each for Cyrus and Katie."
Epps' nails dug into Katie's shoulder. Dennis wouldn't have betrayed them, would he…?
"Cyrus. That's four for Cyrus, three for Katie. Now, in case of a tie, there will be a tiebreaker in the form of drawing straws. And it looks like I'll have to read the last vote…"
Hekasha's hand scrabbled inside the skull jar for a moment before pulling out the last vote. She opened the parchment dramatically and took forever, it seemed, to read it.
"And the first person banned from Dark Castle Survivor is Cyrus Kriticos."
At that, she turned the sheet of paper so the tribe could read the name of the old sorcerer written clearly on it.
Cyrus appeared to be in shock. He was yelling furiously at Francesca and Evelyn, who were ignoring him to turn, scandalized, to stare at Dennis. Dennis still had his arms around Katie, who was weeping with relief. The psychic flashed a nasty smile at Evelyn before turning to talk nonchalantly with Watson.
"Cyrus," demanded Hekasha, "If you will please give me your torch…"
"No!" shouted Cyrus, "I demand a recount! I…"
But at that moment, all protest was silenced by a wave of Hekasha's hand. Cyrus appeared to be frozen solid, all except his eyes, which whirled around furiously in their sockets.
With a look of slight disgust, Hekasha crossed to the seating area and, reaching with a smile over Katie's still-weeping form, grabbed Cyrus's torch. She swept back to where she had been standing and slipped the torch into a stand behind her. Turning to face the tribe, she announced, "Cyrus Kriticos, you are hereby marked for execution. The first to catch and kill him after he leaves the tribal council area tonight will receive a reward to be specified at the time it is given. This reward will also be offered to the red tribe. Cyrus, the tribe has spoken. You may now run for your life."
And with another wave of her hand, Cyrus was again mobile. This time, he did not shout, but picked himself up and ran, followed by Hekasha's mocking laughter. After a few moments, her laughter spread to all the members of the black tribe, except Francesca and Evelyn, who were looking very, very nervous.
"You may now take your torches and return to your camp," Hekasha said once she had calmed herself down, "Goodnight and good fortune."
And just like that, Hekasha spun around once and disappeared.