Fanfiction of the Month (April): Midsummer Knights: DREAM
Prelude: Author's Note
There are a few things you need to know to fully understand this fanfiction.
1. There are two characters in the prologue. The "you" does not refer to "you, the audience" but instead to "you, my companion, the second character." The identity of the second character is implied but never stated.
2. The story is told in the objective first person. Though it seems like that's an oxymoron, it's simply that you're only told that it's a first-person narrative in the prologue. From here on out, Ariel will not be mentioned by name, nor will she refer to herself with the first person pronoun. (She does appear several times later on in the fic. You, as the reader, are supposed to be smart enough to figure out where from the clues I leave.)
2a. Yes, the story is told from her point of view, and if the thoughts of any other character are recorded it is not a mistake. It's actually more of a hint to where you'll see Ariel again in the fic. There are other hints hidden in what may seem like random information (the most infamous of them being the history of the Knights' meetinghouse).
If you understand both, it's time to begin with the prologue.
"Ladies and gentlemen, today marks the beginning of a new and brilliant future for Verona City and…!" There was a pause for emphasis that could have slain thousands in suspense. "…The beginning of a fantastic journey for those who will soon call themselves Midsummer Knights!"
With those words, my home – my dear Verona City – was changed forever.
My name is Ariel, and I am the History Keeper. It is my duty to record and retell the story of the place where I was born. Because of that, I know all there is to know about Verona City, and I would be happy to pass my knowledge unto you.
The day the Game (the Game, as it must be set apart from all the others) began was a dreary, snowy day in late December, between the glimmer of Christmas and the freshness of the new year. Weariness of the dismal gray between those wonderful days hung over the citizens like a heavy shroud. But this negative aura was punctured by a ray of excitement, the brainchild of a wealthy business tycoon: the great Midsummer Game.
But perhaps I am getting far too ahead of myself. Allow me to weave for you the very root of the story.
The year is far from what you know. The great Ash Ketchum – Pokémon master and league champion for many years, as you probably already know from your own basic history lessons – died many years before now and is nothing but a skeleton, if he should still be as blessed as many thought he was.
Time is good to the people now. Fantastic inventions of which the people of Ash's time only dreamed now exist in every home. The governments of the world now own computers and computer operators such as myself to record every last detail of the society under it. But we do not obey tyrants. We obey leaders who reach out to us with hands and gifts.
On the other hand, that bliss is not enjoyed everywhere. Here in Verona City – a spot between Saffron City and Lavender City which the government has forgotten – there has been for many, many years a tense ripple among the people. Whether or not the regular citizens and the indifferent city council have felt it too, I do not know.
Once, Verona City had flourished in the hands of two prosperous families of equal standing. Both were peaceful, generous families that shared the throne of control over all of us. Wealth spread throughout the city limits, and soon after their rise, the citizens experienced a golden age that made their fair city comparable to its majestic neighbors.
Unfortunately, like all beautiful times, even Verona City's had to come to an end. Disputes between the two families shattered the quiet of the city. Soon, everyone became polarized in business and politics, and the city became weak. Eventually, like in all dying empires, kings rose from either side in the fight for power.
The greed of humankind is a fascinating thing, as the creator of the Game observed in the midst of Verona City's self-destruction. Men and women would slaughter thousands if the right incentive was presented to them. So that solitary genius decided to see what would happen to Verona City if such an incentive was presented.
Thus came the Game. 386 keys were hidden within the walls of Verona City. One of them – any one of them – unlocked not only the sacred gate but also the vault hidden behind it. Within the vault lay the holy grail of the Game: the legendary Midsummer Treasure, an object whose value meant the possessor's wildest dreams would come true.
So to secure a key ensured one's position among the Midsummer Knights, a group whose purpose was to find the Midsummer Treasure. One person had a one in 386 chance of getting to the vault (theoretically, anyway), but even then, the number of Knights could decrease at any time for any reason – including murder. If a Knight played by the rules (which were only determined by other Knights), that lucky individual would find him or herself with favorable odds. Everyone knew that by the time the mayor gave his speech.
The Game was the reason why the mayor himself stood upon that platform on that snowy day in late December. Across his lips came the death sentence of thousands and the destinies of few. His speech curled eloquently from his lips as he revealed the game as it was. In the bitter-cold, snowy air, throngs of listened motionlessly to his every word as if it was a gospel from the Messiah Himself.
Verona City, not a day after the mayor himself made the announcement for the start of the Game, erupted into yet another bloody battle. This time, however, it was of the likes of which no one in Kanto has ever seen – all for the entertainment of one mysterious sadist.
That, unfortunately, became the stage for the story I want to share. It's a simple story that begins not with the mayor's speech but instead many weeks later, when the winter snow shrank in fear of the spring sun. It is a tragedy and a comedy. A drama and an adventure. Surreal, yet very real.
This is the story of the Knight of the Puzzle Box.
Chapter One: Open
Clock Street was not so much a street as it was a district. It ran through the western side of Verona City from its northern border to Gold River, the black ribbon of water that sliced the city in half. Within this district, which was sandwiched by warehouses to the west and ritzier shops to the east, was a row of friendly, neighborhood businesses. They were the original log in Verona City, and all of them were hardly intimidated by their wealthier neighbors. In fact, though their businesses were lucky to find customers outside those who lived in the apartments above each shop, they were still far happier than the suit-clad managers of the large stores one block over. That was all that mattered to them.
One of these shops, however, was owned by a pair of newcomers that quietly wedged themselves in the close circle of Clock Street. Their window was stocked with something different than the usual small gadgets or pastries or whatnot the others sold. Here, dolls sat on pink pillows and cotton fluff as they smiled to each passerby. Fantastic creatures posed in small costumes as they waited for a child's hands to bring them to life. Clefairy in pink dresses and Pikachu in baseball uniforms sat to each side of the window and looked out with their lifeless, glass eyes to the world beyond their safe seats. This – the shop and everything in it – was Moonlight Dolls, known to the other shopkeepers as the Shop of Dreams.
Beyond the glass door of the shop and within the warm, cinnamon-scented interior, shelves of dolls of every shape, size, and species filled the square room. The only place the shelves never touched was a row to the left side of the room where a counter with the cash register was. Just beyond where the counter stopped (halfway along the room) was a simple, green door that no one but two were allowed to enter.
In the back – just beyond a waist-high, maple wall that marked the end of the hardwood, customers-welcome floor and the linoleum, staff-only space – was a workshop. A counter lined the wall, and above it, metal cabinets were built into the pink wall itself. All sorts of doll parts littered the smooth, flat surface of the counter: a Jynx arm here, a computer chip there, wires lying in between small, black boxes, and far more mysterious things. It was a curious pile of assorted odds and ends, but the children were fascinated with it. Each day, at least two would enter the shop, skip past the shelves, and stand at the wall to watch magic happen on the other side. Slowly but surely, parts disappeared from the counter and inside the cabinets to give birth to a being that, after an hour or so of work, would sit at one of the ends of a counter, just waiting to be placed among its companions on the shelves.
The magician who created such masterpieces worked at that counter on a custom doll as a Haunter drifted around the room. Her concentration was devoted entirely to the orange-furred creature in her pale, slender hands, so it was understandable that she hardly realized that no child was watching her then. Dark blue eyes stared at the opening in the back of the doll carefully as a pair of thick-framed glasses threatened to slip off her sweaty nose. She pursed her thin lips and drew her right hand to her face to push aside stray strands of her short, wild, black hair. With that, she wiped it on the simple, heavy, green apron she wore over her gray slacks and wrinkled, white shirt.
Her name was Viola DiAngelo, but that was all anyone really knew about her before then. She arrived in Verona City as a child with her hand in her father's – a man whose real name has been long forgotten, except by the daughter who calls him simply "Papa." It was the little money and skills he had that opened Moonlight Dolls years ago, and from that, Viola found happiness. She lived as her father's protégé and learned to create the magic that he did. Little by little, the young girl learned to craft Pokémon dolls so lifelike that one could almost feel the warmth of the body they mimicked. And with that, Viola's heart filled with the warmth of being connected with her father.
However, five years prior to the day called the present, her father passed on. He was sick for many months before then, but it was always assumed he would recover. Then, one snowy, December day, Viola was left with nothing but her father's store, her father's four Pokémon, the skills her father had given her, and a dead body in her father's bed.
Luckily, however, Viola was not completely alone. She had Sebastian Cross, a young, ambitious man she had met by chance in the streets. His only story was that he was running away from home with six Pokémon and a certain amount of money he had received by selling things he had stolen from his parents' home.
Viola found out later that the "certain amount" was "a backpack's worth in five-hundred-yen bills," and the "things" mainly encompassed "expensive silverware." Needless to say, Sebastian's family happened to be a wealthy lot of Capulet-aligned conservatives embarrassed by their son's lack of responsibility or interest in the family business. Unable to handle the pressure put on by his family to conform to their ideas, Sebastian took whatever valuable things he could find and fled.
Though Viola was wary about accepting Sebastian into her home, her business was suffering at the time, and he promised he had the know-how to save it. Reluctantly, Viola bent, and Sebastian became her only family.
He kept his word, of course. With the money he had, he helped Viola renovate the store and buy methods of advertising to draw customers to Moonlight Dolls. In exchange for his help and friendship, Viola gave him her loyalty as well as a place to hide from his family. Even as the months passed and the realization that the Cross family simply weren't looking for him set in, Sebastian remained at Viola's side to manage the business aspects of Moonlight Dolls as well as give her the happiness she hadn't felt since her father died.
Presently, Sebastian wasn't in the building, but she knew where he was: enticing more customers to shop at Viola's store. She didn't mind, however. It was toiling in the silence of her workshop that pleased her now and then.
The bell attached to the glass door of the shop rang as it creaked open on its hinges, but Viola never looked away from her work. She assumed that it was Sebastian on his return from wherever he was advertising and that if it wasn't, Haunter, a Pokémon she only recently succeeded in teaching the ways of the cash register to, could take care of anyone else. As if knowing her thoughts, Haunter floated toward the main portion of the shop. Moments later, Viola realized that her store fell into a cold silence.
She set her tools next to the half-finished Smoochum doll and turned to face the rest of the shop. There, just beyond the barrier between her workshop and the outside world, was an old, bald man in a wrinkled, gray suit leaning on a wooden cane with one hand and holding onto a strange, wooden box in his other. He was obviously poor, given the quality of his suit, yet Viola knew business was business. Besides, her Haunter, who hung in the air just above the stranger's right shoulder, gave her a distant look that could only mean that even the Pokémon felt sorry for him.
"Can I help you?" she inquired.
The man's dark eyes seemed to sparkle in the fluorescent lighting. His spotted hand reached up to stroke his white beard for a moment as he remembered what exactly he wanted.
"I want a doll… for my grandchild," he informed her.
Viola sighed inwardly as she walked to the parapet and jumped over it (rather than using the door). She adjusted her glasses as she gave a sideways look at her potential customer.
"Alright," she said. "What kind of doll are you looking for?"
Carefully, the old man balanced himself on his own two feet as he began using both of his hands to describe the size and shape of the doll. "A wind-up doll. A small one with gears that walks when you turn its crank."
Viola raised an eyebrow in confusion. It wasn't every day that someone came in to request an old-fashioned clockwork doll, and most of the dolls in the shop used computer chips to move and speak anyway.
"I don't think I have one of those for sale, but I guess I can make you one. It will take a long time to make, though," she finally told him.
"Oh, I was hoping I could get it today," the old man murmured. "You see, in a few days, my granddaughter will be a year older, and she would love to have a doll like that."
Viola leaned against the small wall behind her and took a deep breath. Though she felt like arguing, she just couldn't bring the words to her mouth. Instead, she jumped back over the parapet and walked to one of the cupboards. It only felt natural.
"I can get it done in a couple of days," she explained in her calmest voice, "and I can box and gift wrap it in no time. However, no one sells the parts around here anymore, so it'll cost you extra just to—"
Here, Viola opened one of the cupboard doors to find a Raichu doll filling its bottom half. She didn't remember putting it there, and it almost felt eerie that it was there, right where her storage of cogs should have been. Yet there it was, sitting in its dusty, orange glory with a stitched smile across its face. She took it down from its dusty spot and turned it over to find what else but the key to turn a system of gears inside. A strange shiver ran down her spine as she wondered where the doll came from but pushed the thought aside. She straightened her back as she assured herself that it was probably one of her father's old works, stored among the cogs to be sold later.
Slowly, Viola turned around as she began debating on whether or not she should sell the thing. If it was her father's, then it had sentimental value to it. On the other hand, her father would have wanted to have all of his dolls sold to children who could appreciate them. Yet a certain pain filled her heart as she thought about giving away something done by her father's hands.
"Miss?" the old man addressed.
Viola looked up as the voice snapped her out of her thoughts. With that, she inched closer to the parapet as she looked the doll over one last time. It was only right that it would be given to a child. The doll was useless just sitting in the cog cupboard.
"I have this," Viola told him with a soft voice and a gaze glued to the doll. "It's a Raichu doll – clockwork, like you said. I've got to warn you, though. It's a bit dusty."
The man smiled. "No matter. I can clean it at home."
Viola cringed as she looked into the man's eyes. "The price for a clockwork doll of this size would be well over two thousand yen. That makes this one far more expensive than the other dolls in the store."
The old man didn't say a word. Viola knew that he wanted no other doll in the shop except the one she held in her arms. She felt a bit guilty that she was selling one doll for such a price, but with the rarity of its parts, it could sell for no less.
However, the man didn't seem to be troubled by such a statement. Instead, he lifted the wooden box in the hand opposite to the one holding the cane and presented it to Viola. It was indeed large, roughly eight inches long by six wide and deep. All over its faces were intricate designs done in fading brown, gold, and red paint. Each line curled beautifully in on one another to give the box a mystical, oriental look.
"I have no money, but I will trade you my secret for your doll," the man offered.
Immediately, Viola was wary. She knew of the possible consequences, namely, the thought that she could be giving her father's work away for absolutely nothing.
"It is a puzzle box, dear," the elder informed her. "Inside is a treasure you can get nowhere else. Or, if you don't believe me, you could sell it if you choose. I tell you, though, that something is inside. Listen."
He brought the box close to Viola's ear and shook it. A strange, clunking noise filtered through the box's thin, wooden walls to the outside, but Viola had no way of knowing what it was.
"So, are you interested?" the old man asked.
Viola took her eyes off the box once more to glance at the man. She couldn't help but feel a certain sadness when her eyes fell upon the pathetic expression on his face. With a dash of frustration, she felt herself bend as she thought about the little girl who would get the doll.
What use was the doll going to be to her, anyway? If someone else could get to love it, that was all that mattered, right? That was the entire purpose behind Moonlight Dolls, right?
With a shaky, uncertain hand, she held out the Raichu doll to the old man. The old man grinned and passed the box to Viola's free hand before taking the Raichu doll in his arms.
"Thank you," he muttered. "My granddaughter will be very happy, as will you."
Viola could hardly say a word before he turned and hobbled out of the shop with the doll resting in the crook of his elbow. When he was at last gone, Viola looked at the box, then at her Haunter, who began flying in circles above the shelves.
Then, suddenly, an important thought came to her.
"Sebastian's going to kill me for this," she gasped as her eyes fell on the box again.
In the apartment just above the shop, Viola sat in a chair and toyed with the box. Her partner – the thin, lanky boy still in his street clothes of a white, high-collared long coat over a gray turtleneck and jeans – paced the hardwood floor of the simple room as he ran his fingers through his strawberry-blonde hair. His brown eyes cast a wild glance back to the girl in the chair as he tried to find sense in her attempts to move the faces of the block she held.
"So let me get this straight," he growled. "You traded one of our dolls – one that would have been twenty hundred yen – for that?"
Viola knew all too well that at those times, there was no use in arguing with Sebastian. Instead, her eyes fixed themselves on the wooden box as she propped her feet next to her PokéBalls on the wooden table in front of her. As Sebastian continued to pace angrily, her thumb slid a small panel of wood on one of the faces to the side and out of a notch. Curious, she slid the entire face downward until the two-inch panel above the one she slid hit the wood barrier that kept the entire thing from sliding downward before the other panel slid out. Then, Viola placed the box in her lap with the moved panels hanging over the edge of her leg and the adjacent solid side pressed against her stomach. Her fingers slowly pushed the top panel to the side until it slid over the others side she had changed just moments before. There, under it, was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Luckily, Sebastian didn't see it. He was already on a rant of his own.
"Have I taught you nothing?" he cried. "This isn't the ancient past where everyone traded beads for Ursaring skins! Money for dolls, Viola! Money for dolls!"
She, of course, wasn't listening. Instead, her mind dwelled on the box. There had to have been something more that she hadn't found. The puzzle was far too easy, with too few moves. And besides, there was no way the rattling could have been from the loose panels. There was something more that she wasn't seeing.
With that, her fingers felt inside to rub the rough wood. There really wasn't anything inside that space. Nothing.
"Then why…?" Viola mumbled in a tone so low Sebastian couldn't hear it over his own voice. "Maybe… It seems smaller than it should be for a reason."
Viola tried to move the other sides of the box. The bottom hardly moved, and the front and back were firm in place. Then, her hand came to the side opposite the one at which she made her first move. Slowly, she moved it upward and felt under it to find a small knob. Realizing it had to have been a drawer, she pulled it outward to see a white knob first, then a rectangular compartment move outward with it. Another panel, one decorated with brown and white squares, greeted her eyes. Her fingers drifted on top of it to feel the smooth finish of the protected wood before slowly, she pushed it outward. There, inside, she found what she was looking for.
Sebastian was in mid-sentence when Viola interrupted him.
"Hey," she said, "got any idea what this could be?"
With a surprised gasp (mainly because he didn't expect her to speak while he did), Sebastian whirled around to see what Viola was talking about. His companion, meanwhile, held up a silver key by its stem.
It was a small thing – slightly larger than a regular house key and far fancier. Its stem was rounded and ended at the bottom with simple-looking, metal tabs coming out of one of its sides. On the top, its head curled outward like the leaves of a clover but turned back inward to touch a glass ball fixed into the center by a combination of the silver curls and small, silver claws coming from the neck of the key.
Though Sebastian wasn't entirely sure what the key was for, he had a pretty good guess.
"Oh crap," he whispered as it slowly dawned on him.
Chapter Two: Key
"Okay, okay," Sebastian said with a sigh. "Let's go over this again."
Viola shoved her hands in the pockets of her long, grey coat as the wind played with the tie she hastily put on before departing.
"Again?" she inquired. "Sebastian, I get the point."
Sebastian sent a glare her way before continuing. "We go in, and we ask nonchalantly if the key's theirs. If it isn't, then that's good. We won't have to do anything. If it is, then you're going to tell them you don't want to be inducted."
"Well, what if I do?" Viola asked.
She was met with an even harsher glare before Sebastian turned and walked ahead. He disappeared out of the spotlight of a streetlamp before he even dared to speak.
"You will not be joining," he said. "You do not want to join. Trust me. I've heard stories."
Viola's hands balled into fists within her pockets. She couldn't stand moments like this, when Sebastian ordered her to do something. Her boots rapped against the concrete to add loud clunks to the taps of Sebastian's black dress shoes. Even by taking a brisk walk with her down a familiar street, Sebastian found ways to subconsciously make his friend feel inferior.
He didn't mean to make her feel inferior, but he had a good enough reason to give her orders the way he did. The simple truth was that Sebastian cared about Viola. She was, after all, his surrogate sister. The problem was in the fact that he simply didn't know how to act any other way. Every effort he made only came off haughty.
There were solutions to that. He just didn't think to take them.
At last, Viola broke the silence by asking, "What's got you worked up about this anyway?"
Sebastian stopped in the light of a streetlamp to look into Viola's eyes. She was annoyed, and he could tell. Yet even though he knew Viola wasn't one to cross (especially since she was the one who gave him a place to stay), he still risked her anger.
"You don't want to know," he replied flatly. "Now, come on. It's not too far from here."
Viola hesitated. She didn't like it when Sebastian was like this – demanding things be done his way or trying to control her every move. However, in Viola's mind, he always seemed to know what was best, so she didn't argue. Instead, she followed him like a pet on a leash.
Sebastian wasn't kidding when he said the place was near. With a quick, confident stride, he turned the corner and presented Viola with their destination – a large, dark mansion behind a set of iron gates. Viola's eyes widened as she put her bare hands around the rusted bars and looked inward, past the fountain with its stone Milotic in the heart of the cobblestone courtyard and toward the large, oak doors set against the building's stone walls. She knew the place – its balconies and gables and tall windows. Everyone in Verona City did. It was the home of the late Ophelia Dumont, the beautiful actress from several decades in the past – the one who, in her unrequited passion for an unknown god she called her "beloved light of the east," went insane and hanged herself with the cord of one of the chandeliers in the front hall. Rumor had it that her wailing ghost still drifted near the high ceiling.
"Why are we here?" Viola inquired as she finally turned her head to Sebastian.
Her partner didn't answer her question. Instead, he pushed open the gate next to the one Viola held. It screamed as it swung in, sending shivers down Viola's spine as she likened it to the bawling of Ophelia's spirit. Without a word, Sebastian walked through the threshold. It was apparent that he wasn't thinking of the same thing.
"Come on," he muttered upon noticing Viola's hesitation. "This is the place."
Viola could feel her hands chill as she let her fingers slip off the bars. She didn't like going into a potentially haunted place, but Sebastian was determined to enter. With pursed lips, Viola stuffed her hands into her pockets and reluctantly walked behind her male companion. Her gaze was fixed on her feet, so she didn't notice they had approached the door until Sebastian shoved it open, causing its old hinges to groan deeply like an old man just awakening from a long slumber.
Immediately, Viola was startled by the light and the scent of fresh roses. She looked up to find herself not on the set of a horror movie (as she expected) but instead in the lobby of a fancy hotel. Most of the floor was marble, save for the red carpeting that ran up the steps straight ahead or in the common area just to the right. Rich, velvet, red-and-gold couches and chairs were already occupied by several people enjoying a quiet discussion by the roaring fireplace. Red and yellow roses stood like huddled soldiers in painted vases set on mahogany tables at the ends of the couches and in the center of the common area. The mahogany walls, decorated with all sorts of paintings, rose to the vaulted ceiling bearing two chandeliers. (There was room for a third, but it was understandably missing.) To the left, meanwhile, there was a marble-top counter, behind which was a black computer and a brunette in a white shirt, red vest, and black bow tie.
Viola felt dirty just standing there.
It was Sebastian who brought her out of her daze with a nudge. He pointed to the counter to let Viola know what to do next before pushing back outside. With a jolt, Viola knew he wasn't going to hold her hand for what happened next, though she wished he would. After a deep breath and a half-hearted attempt to straighten her shirt and coat, she strutted up to the desk as confidently as she could, as if to impress the people in the common area (who weren't paying attention to her anyway). Behind the counter, the attendant's green eyes fell on Viola, and for a brief moment, the newcomer forgot why she was there.
"May I help you?" the employee asked.
With a quick nod (more to snap herself back into reality than anything else), Viola drew the mystery key out of her pocket.
"I found this," she said. "Is this yours?"
The attendant regarded the key with a curious glance as she took it from Viola's hands and inserted its stem into a device that looked, to Viola's eyes, much like an electric pencil sharpener hooked up to the computer. With a hum, the device began to scan the key as the attendant quickly opened a drawer, pulled a white PDA from its depths, and used its wire to connect it to a port on the computer next to the one the scanner's wire occupied. Dainty hands slipped to the keyboard before a chorus of clacks rose into the room.
"Name?" the woman inquired.
"Uh…" Viola blinked a few times before responding, "Viola DiAngelo."
Almost unconsciously, the attendant repeated the name as she typed it into a search bar and hit the enter key. Viola shifted uncomfortably with a guess at what the attendant might be browsing: the Verona City Data Bank.
The Data Bank, should anyone need to comprehend how vast and incredible it was, could only be described as one word: God. Or a likeness, at least. No one could ever remember exactly who created it or when it actually launched; the government kept it secret for many years until rumors leaked into the public about its existence. From the loins of Rumor came the deadly beast of Misconception, which was, twenty years beforehand, exactly what led to the paranoia that gripped the millions of people within the limits of Verona City. It was only until the witch hunts began that government officials finally produced the truth.
Unfortunately, the truth was exactly as the public feared. The Data Bank was an index of information on every single creature that lived within the city limits. Everything they did had its own line of text. Every Pokémon that hatched had several bytes dedicated to it. Every dark secret was known to the government and the government only. They were watching, and the citizens knew that but said nothing. While Verona City officials claimed that the Data Bank was nothing to worry about and that no changes to the way the city was run were being made, people who voiced their discomfort over the presence of the Data Bank mysteriously vanished without a trace.
So, naturally, it scared the citizens even more than the Midsummer Game that somehow sprouted under the government's watch. Everyone became uneasy about the world around them.
Viola was one of those people who feared for her life, and there, in front of her, was one of the reasons why. She knew her every detail was appearing right then in front of the attendant's eyes, and at that thought, she suddenly felt naked and cold.
"According to city records, there's a Viola DiAngelo of 326 Clock Street," the young woman said. "Is that you?"
Unaware of where the conversation was going, Viola nodded as she wrapped her arms around her body in an attempt to shake off her bare feeling. The attendant continued hitting keys for a few moments more until she finally disconnected the PDA and drew the key from the scanner. Her fingers took a card from a pile under the counter and handed all three items to Viola.
"Okay! You're all registered!" the attendant announced. "Welcome to the Midsummer Knights. You've found Key 151, the Illusion Key, so from now on, you'll be referred to officially by the codename Knight Illusion."
Viola, of course, was startled. "But… But I—"
"This month's induction ceremony is in three days," the other informed her. "You're technically already inducted, but each month we like to formally introduce you to the other players. Attendance is optional but highly recommended."
"But I don't—"
"The PDA is yours to keep. Check it frequently. Every so often, you will be given a task to complete. If you succeed, you'll rise in rank, and you'll gain points which can be used to buy products at all complying stores throughout Verona City. If you fail, you won't have points taken away, but you'll drop in rank. Drop below Rank Z, and your position within the Midsummer Knights will be revoked. That means you can't play the game anymore after that."
"Each rank has its own set of privileges, so to keep your rewards, you'll have to work hard to get more. Got all that?"
There was a silence before Viola finally replied.
"What if I really don't want to be a Knight?"
The attendant burst out laughing.
When the sun rose, a pair of blue eyes opened to a blurry world. Viola squinted at a square of sunlight on the yellow-tiled ceiling before a hand reached from under her bed sheets and quilt to feel for her glasses on the shaky, wooden nightstand just to the side of the bed. Her fingers closed on something smooth and flat. Curious, she pulled it to her face, only to see it as a fuzzy rectangle of white and green. She sat up and reached over to the table for her glasses. It took her a moment, but at last, her skin met plastic. After hastily snatching the object from the table and slipping it on, Viola's world came into focus, and in her lap was the PDA. She almost forgot the night before ever happened.
Lying to Sebastian took a lot of her will. She never really defied him before (mainly because his advice was usually the best kind in her opinion), and she still felt oddly guilty. Yet he didn't want her to be a Knight, and there was no way out for her. She gave her word that she would play a decent game, and she certainly couldn't break her own contract. On the other hand, she was afraid of what he would say – of the possibility that he would think she joined for selfish reasons. So, she told him she didn't join. She told him his plan went perfectly, so he took her home with a smug look on his face and no idea of the truth in his mind.
She winced. Viola didn't like that smug expression he had. What did he know, anyway? He was born to wealth; Viola had to struggle for it. (And she still wasn't rich.) Sebastian had everything he could ever want, but he refused it all. Viola didn't even have a living blood relative, much less a wealthy estate to fall back on.
Of course Viola was jealous. She wanted the thrill of being a Knight and the opportunity to see what was beyond Clock Street. Sebastian could have that whenever he wanted, but Viola was tied to her shop just to live, let alone to earn the rare extra money she could set aside for the day when she would finally leave Verona City.
Viola shook her head vigorously. She couldn't think ill of her partner. After all, he got her where she was. If it wasn't for his money and charisma, Viola wouldn't have anything. Still, she didn't care about the stories Sebastian heard. She was going to be a Knight, and that was that.
Calmly, she turned on the PDA and used the thin, white stylus to look through the features.
"Starting rank… Q," she murmured. "I wonder what privileges I get for that."
She prodded the "Privileges" link next to her rank with her stylus. Immediately, a box appeared with a disappointingly short list.
"Free train passes for up to two people," she read aloud. "Five hundred yen off any item at Deirdre's Fine Boutique, the Attic Trainers' Outfitters, and Yoshimura's Outfitters For Weapons and Defense. Free box lunches at Clock Street Deli."
There was a long period of silence as the fact of the matter sank into Viola's mind and settled at the base of her brain.
"That's it?" she questioned with a heavy tone. "That's all I get?"
With her last ounce of hope toward the subject, Viola prodded the screen to find more, but there was nothing. With a sigh, she tossed the PDA at the foot of her bed and leaned back. She only closed her eyes for a moment when the device started beeping wildly. Startled, she jumped for it and seized it in both hands. In bright, red letters across the screen, the words "MESSAGE RECEIVED" blinked. Quickly, Viola grabbed the stylus sitting within the folds of her quilt and used it to jab the screen. The beeping abruptly stopped, and the words were replaced with different, easier-to-read text.
"Knight Illusion: Assignment #001," it read. "Take the 12:35 train to the Camilla District. Be sure to board car three. There, you will find another Knight. Meet her and wait for further instructions. Award for completion: 100 points. Assignment type: Very easy. No rank changes."
"I thought the girl said I'd get a rank change for each success," Viola grumbled. "Whatever. I'll do it."
With that, she slipped out of bed and began to ready herself for the trip. By then, it was nine o' clock.
Though Viola wanted to be a Knight, the thought of lying to Sebastian again was far too much for her, so she opted for not telling him she'd leave at all. So, she waited patiently for ten o' clock to come. That was when Sebastian usually left the shop to comb Clock Street for potential customers. If she hurried, Viola could complete her entire task before Sebastian returned at five in the afternoon.
The closest train station to Clock Street, however, was actually several streets over, on the wealthier edge of the Tulip-Clock District. Viola rushed along as quickly as she could through that part of town, but the crowd filled with suited businessmen and women hindered her. Her Haunter bobbed about her head like a demented balloon. Though he wanted to suck the energy from the well-groomed souls around his master, Viola already forbade him from doing so. As a result, he had to content himself from simply sampling a taste of energy here and there as he floated along behind Viola.
Just after noon, the building appeared, nestled between several skyscrapers. The station, contrary to its surroundings, wasn't at all pretty. While the other buildings were covered with polished steel, the station was, for the most part, painted concrete blocks. Its red, metal roof bent as melted snow dripped from its rusted corners. Ticket machines, gray and obviously heavily used, stood against one gray wall near the entrance. On the inside – or rather, the other side of the station wall, benches and train tracks lined both sides of a concrete platform.
The station itself was relatively empty, as it was the middle of the work day. Still, a large number of people stood about the platform, many of whom were either in suits or, in the case of the women especially, held the hands of small children.
Viola dashed to one of the ticket booths and hastily dug through her pockets for money. (It had, by then, slipped her mind that she could have simply used her free train pass that came with her rank.) She jammed slips of paper into the slots on the bulky face of the machine and (nearly literally) punched buttons on the keypad just above the slot. In the moments that followed – which were filled by the whirring of the machine and the hum of the activity of the city around her, Viola rocked impatiently on the balls of her feet as Haunter bobbed in midair near her shoulders. He wanted action and excitement; he had been yearning for it since the day his former owner settled in the city. Yet Viola wasn't sure she wanted to satisfy that craving.
For a brief flash of a moment, Viola began to doubt herself. What was she hoping to get out of being a Knight anyway? Glory? Excitement?
But then, on the other hand, the risks were both equal and opposite. She wasn't blind to the news reports that detailed the gruesome murders of other Knights, such as the one who was found the week prior with the claw of his equally dead Scizor (for any Scizor can logically be dead if its head was on the ground five feet away from its body) through his stomach.
With a click, the ticket slid out of another slot in the machine. Viola stared at it for a long while as she thought. She didn't have to take it. She could refuse the job and go home safely knowing that she was one step closer to being kicked out of the game.
Then, from out of nowhere, the image of Sebastian flashed through her mind. Was that what she wanted? Refuse the game, and she would live under him for the rest of her life. She never imagined that she would be taking orders from a complete stranger. Was she really that weak?
The more she thought about it, the more she wondered if Sebastian's "good advice" really was as good as she thought it was.
It was 12:24, and her heart beat in time with the seconds that passed her. As the rest of the world seemed to pass in a slow haze around her, Viola's calloused fingers reached up and took the ticket out of the machine. With a snap, the ticket slid perfectly out of the slot.
Viola couldn't remember ever rushing into the train station, but apparently she did. Anyone on the platforms that day could swear they saw the ghost of a girl drifting through the clusters of businessmen and mothers and children as if they weren't even there. The Haunter that followed her only added to her eeriness – the train to the corpse bride.
She was simply going over her reasons again. Each thought swirled in conflict within her mind. On the one hand, she wanted the excitement of being a Knight. On the other, it was putting her life in safety to an end. The conflict in her mind escalated as she struggled to figure out a solution. Excitement or safety? Which would she choose?
The doors of the train hissed behind her, and she looked up with a startled glance. She never even realized she had stepped onto the train; she must have done it unconsciously while her mind was debating with itself. Quickly, she stepped away from the closing doors while Haunter simply phased through them as if they weren't there. She didn't even have time to look around as the train lurched into motion. Caught off-guard, Viola nearly fell to the gray floor, but instead, she reached up and grabbed one of the metal bars framing the door. She regained her balance and swung herself onto one of the orange, plastic seats. Haunter merely floated near the ceiling; he was apparently more amused by the moving scenery outside the windows than the fact that his trainer nearly fell onto her face.
For the first time, Viola's eyes rose to take in the entirety of the car. Her fingers flew to the sides of her glasses to adjust them as she observed the people. Most of them were primly dressed in black business suits or something of that nature. None of them looked remarkable to her. None had the battle scars she was expecting for a Knight, but then again, neither did she.
Her mind recited the message she had practically memorized on the way there. She was to get on the third car of the 12:35 train. Though she wasn't exactly paying attention to even which train she boarded, she assumed this was the right one. How would she know if she failed her mission anyway?
A pang of panic hit her heart as her hands jammed themselves into her coat pockets in search of her PDA. It didn't take long for her skin to come in contact with smooth plastic, and with that bit of reassurance, Viola pulled her PDA out to examine it.
Unsure of what to do, she used the stylus to prod random options in an attempt to find her quests. Before she could, however, the screen went blank for a few moments before the familiar "MESSAGE RECEIVED" line appeared. Cautiously, Viola prodded it and watched as the screen filled with text.
"Knight Illusion: Assignment #001 complete. Award: 100 points."
With a sigh of relief, Viola leaned her head back and closed her eyes. The moment of serenity didn't last long, however, before her PDA started beeping wildly. Heads swiveled around in confusion as Viola's eyes shot open and down to the device in her lap. A third notice appeared on its screen which she dutifully prodded. Then came something that rekindled her feeling of panic, nervousness, and dread.
"Knight Illusion: Assignment #002. Duel with Knight Rose. Award for completion: 500 points and a promotion to the next rank. Bonus: Victor receives an additional 50 points and the option to take the opposing party's key. Possession of key merits 50 additional points. Opposition receives no points upon losing the duel. Assignment type: Medium."
Viola blinked in confusion as the beeping on the train finally died down. "Knight Rose…?"
Someone nearby cleared her throat, causing Viola to snap into attention toward her surroundings. She looked up to find herself staring into light brown eyes set into a pallid face. Black locks were pulled back into a tight bun tied with a red bow that matched her scarlet, Chinese-style dress with gold trim. Her long fingers were wrapped around a single sphere as she grinned impishly at Viola from where she stood just in front of her.
"Knight Illusion, I presume," the stranger drawled. "I believe we're meant to do something together."
"Oh?" Viola frowned at the stranger.
"Yes," she said. "You see, I'm Rosaline Wu – the honorable Knight Rose, Rank D."
At that, two words stumbled out of Viola's mouth.
Chapter Three: Duel
The train clacked along the track as the passengers aboard its third car rearranged themselves. Most of the passengers crammed themselves into one end of the car, just behind a trembling Viola. They had their wits with them; it was most likely going to be Viola who would be at fault for any stray attacks. Rosaline, who was just moments before a mere stranger, strutted confidently to the other end of the car with her Poké Ball still in hand. She turned, and her light brown eyes fixed themselves on Viola.
The latter felt her knees go weak. Doubts settled in her. She knew there was bound to be some fights because she was a Knight, but she still felt reluctant to do anything. Was it right for her to use her father's Pokémon this way? Granted, he gave them to her in his will, but wouldn't it be treading on his memory to put them in danger?
Rosaline, however, didn't waste any time. With a flick of her wrist, the ball was sent spiraling to a spot just in front of her. The ball tapped the gray floor of the train and cracked open to send brilliant, white light flowing in an arc to a point just in front of it. Light illuminated the walls of the car and sent trembling shadows where there normally wouldn't be, almost like the shadows cast by a flashlight in a room lit with candles.
As soon as it appeared, however, it faded away to reveal a slender, plant-like creature standing on two pointed feet. Its thin arms – both tipped with a different-colored rose – were crossed in front of it as its head bowed in the same way that ballet dancers sometimes bow their heads just before the curtain rises.
The ball, meanwhile, snapped back together and floated gracefully into Rosaline's hand. She grinned as she watched Viola's actions.
"Well, child?" she said after a moment's pause. "Aren't you going to send out a little playmate for my Roselia? She could certainly use some exercise."
Again, Viola hesitated. She wanted to be a Knight, but was she ready for what it meant?
Maybe I should just go back, she thought. It's not too late. Go back home.
With that, she turned and walked a few paces as a sign of retreat. No sooner had she done so, however, than her pocket began to beep. Startled, she reached into it and drew out the PDA. On its face, bold words appeared.
"Knight Illusion, you are ignoring orders. Therefore, your rank has been decreased to Rank R."
She stared at the words. What did they mean?
"Got a reprimand, girl?" Rosaline questioned.
Viola looked over her shoulder in confusion. Rosaline's eyes narrowed at her as the rest of the woman's body leaned forward. A harsh smirk remained etched into the Asian's face.
"Didn't anyone tell you, girl?" she said. "Weren't you paying attention? The more you defy orders, the more you'll drop in rank. That means you can get kicked out of the Knights just by failing to do something as simple as this." She paused to straighten up. "Of course, I'd hardly say it's fair at all that the Controller would send a new Knight out to battle someone as talented as me, so I don't blame you if you don't want to finish your task."
At those words, Viola turned completely around. Her eyes were wide, and she shot her opponent a perplexed look.
"The Controller?" she whispered.
Rosaline smirked again as she reached into the folds of her dress and drew out her own PDA. "Someone has to send these orders off to our Masters, girl. You really are a newbie if you didn't know that."
"Who is he then? That someone, I mean."
After a brief moment of laughter, Rosaline hid her PDA – or Master, as she called it – somewhere in her dress.
"No one knows," she said, "and no one cares. And that's neither here nor there. After all, look at your Master."
Viola glanced down. To her dismay, her rank was dropping even as they spoke. By then, she was at Rank U. She had to act fast, but she didn't know what to do. All she knew was that she couldn't bring herself to hurt Haunter.
The unique thing about Pokémon training is that the longer a Pokémon spends with a human being, the stronger the bond between them grows until they become so close to one another that no word needs to be spoken between them to express their feelings. Even in the world of high technology and the need for individuality over unity, the ancient bond between human beings and Pokémon still lingered. Such is the case with Haunter. Many years had passed since the demise of his former master, and since then, he had been the guardian of his master's daughter. At first, she was scared of him and constantly kept her distance. Then, little by little, as the years passed, they built a relationship together to the point where Haunter was closer to Viola than any human being on the planet. He was the essence of her father, the guardian against harm, and the best friend she ever had.
At that moment on the train, he stopped floating about the car and playing with the energy of the passengers. Instead, he lifted his eyes towards Viola and studied her carefully from his perch just above a napping man's head. He could see it from that point: the fear and the hesitation and the need for someone else to give her a push in the right direction. Whether he knew it or not, Haunter was about to make one move that would change Viola's life.
He moved between Viola and Roselia.
Then, there was a pause. Viola tried to call him back, but she seemed frozen in place with her body defying every order her brain sent to it. She watched as he floated there, prepared to fight for his master. Rosaline, however, barely acknowledged how touching the moment was.
"Roselia, begin the match with Leech Seed!"
Without any hesitation, Roselia gracefully swirled her arms out of their crossed position and pointed her red rose straight at the floating specter. In the center of the blossom, a small, brown tip poked between the petals and remained there for a brief period of time. With a smirk just as dirty as her owner's, Roselia tensed the muscles in her blossom hand and pushed forward to shoot the seed straight out of the flower. The brown bullet soared through the air towards Haunter. Air space closed between the object and its target. Time slowed.
Then, just as quickly as the bullet was moving, Haunter's body drifted towards the floor. His hands stayed in the same place, but the rest of him slid smoothly downward to let the seed project cleanly over his head and land at Viola's feet with a tap. As soon as it was gone, he snapped back into place and merely laughed as Roselia stared dumbfounded at the insolent beast.
Rosaline was none too happy with this outcome. "Roselia! Strike with Leech Seed again!"
The rose didn't need to be told twice. She quickly lifted her red-tipped arm as another seed poked between her petals. With another push, the seed went flying at the specter, but again, the ghost slid out of the way. Suddenly, the train filled with a strange, scratchy noise as Haunter bounced about the cabin in delight. Naturally, his egotism was met with disgust on his opponent's side.
"Fine," Rosaline said. "Roselia, use Stun Spore to stop Haunter in his tracks!"
Obediently, Roselia raised her rose-tipped arms again and aimed directly at Haunter. She was sure she wouldn't miss this time as she tensed her muscles to prepare for an attack. Soon, a fine cloud of gold dust sprayed from the centers of her blossoms and towards the waiting ghost.
Then, he disappeared completely.
Roselia looked like she had inhaled her own noxious cloud as the gold dust passed completely through the space Haunter had formerly occupied. It drifted to the side and coated a plastic seat not too far away with a fine layer of gold. In the meantime, Roselia and Rosaline looked around to spot the ghost, but neither could see a speck of purple. Frustrated, Rosaline turned to Viola, who stood still throughout the whole thing.
"Where is it?!"
Viola shrugged. "****ed if I knew."
"You're its trainer!" Rosaline's face began to turn as red as the silk of her dress. "And you're supposed to be dueling me!"
At that, Viola only grinned and gave Rosaline a dark look. The Chinese woman took a step back. She couldn't remember seeing such intensity and confidence in the other's eyes. In fact, her eyes widened at the realization that she couldn't remember Viola's eyes being sapphire blue – deep and near black.
All of a sudden, a bolt of black lightning struck Roselia from the side. Viola didn't move; she only watched Rosaline tear her gaze away from her and notice for the first time that Haunter had appeared on the left. Rosaline cursed, knowing full well that she allowed herself to be distracted long enough for Haunter to reappear.
"You!" Rosaline's eyes turned back to Viola. "You did that on purpose!"
"All I did was look at you," Viola explained calmly. "The rest was your own fault for letting your guard down… just like you are again."
Rosaline's eyes turned back to the Haunter just in time to see him slide a pin of pure light into his ghostly body. His lips moved without sound, but Rosaline didn't need to hear him to know what was happening. The sacrifice, the spell… Her eyes looked downward at her own Roselia, only to see her doubling over as a black aura suddenly began to surround her body. The rose's spindly arms were wrapped around her shivering frame. The damage had been done.
Knowing she had to act fast, Rosaline went through all the possible strategies in her head.
"Roselia, Leech Seed!"
Viola smirked. "Again? A tired strategy, my dear."
Rosaline smiled. "But we're not aiming at Haunter."
Quickly, Roselia lifted her red arm as the tip of a brown seed emerged from it. Every muscle in the cabin tensed as the Grass-type smiled at her target: Viola herself. With a small "phut," the seed went completely airborne.
The next instant went by in hours. Viola watched as Haunter glided between the seed and her to protect her, and the next thing she knew, green tendrils snapped around to the back of his head to bind his face. A red, eerie aura began to surround the tendrils as small, red energy bubbles pulled from the tip of the seed in the center of Haunter's face back to Roselia. Haunter lowered himself slightly as his ghostly hands, though struggling to tear the tendrils off, began to work sluggishly.
At that point, Viola's sudden burst of confidence faltered. It wasn't so much because she was hesitant to hurt her father's Pokémon. It was because of something else. The fear of a cornered animal lingered in her eyes, and the darkness of the realization of what Haunter had done pulled at the corners of her mouth. Her fingers fumbled in her coat pocket for a moment before bringing out a single Poké Ball. With a press of a button, it enlarged in her hand. Quietly, she aimed the same button at the back of her Pokémon.
Quickly, Rosaline flung her hand in an outward gesture. "Roselia, Magical Leaf!"
With swift and graceful movements, Roselia stretched out her arms and twirled. Each quick, violent turn shook free a razor-edged blur of green and pink that flew through the air like a boomerang and sliced across Viola's wrist. With a sharp shriek, Viola dropped her Poké Ball and stepped away. The ball landed on the floor with a muffled tap, and Viola's free hand fluttered to her open wrist. Even with her hand encircling it, blood trickled from the ripped skin and dripped onto the floor. Viola clenched her teeth as the pain still bit the severed nerves.
"Sorry, baby, but a duel is what it sounds like," Rosaline said with a soft giggle. "It's a fight between only two Pokémon. Unless, of course, you were surrendering, at which point I'll have to apologize and accept it. Oh, where are my manners? No need to force the newbie into battling me!"
Viola growled and turned back to her Haunter. "Haunter, hang on! We can get them! Do your worst!"
With narrowed eyes between the tendrils, Haunter acknowledged, and a ball of pure, black energy formed between his open hands. Roselia stared at it, purely stunned by the power being put into one of the most infamous Ghost-type attacks. Her trainer, meanwhile, only watched quietly. In moments, the ball was almost as large as Haunter's head, and that could only mean that it could possibly rip a hole in the train's floor. Rosaline's fists tightened. Her mind drew a blank, unable to concoct a possible counter, and Roselia wasn't nimble enough to evade even the powerful shockwaves.
In seconds, she didn't even have to. Haunter gave one last push, and the ball careened towards Roselia. The rose didn't dodge; she instead allowed herself to take the full brunt of the hit. No scream filled the cabin. She just vanished into shadow for several moments before reappearing at her master's feet. She was bruised and battered, but she still didn't look any worse than the Haunter that was still struggling with the tendrils on his face. With a small boot from her master (an action which earned a flicker of disgust across Viola's face), the Roselia rose to her stubby legs and walked forward. Her back was straight, and a glint shone in her eyes. The bruises meant nothing to her, and Haunter's movements were becoming more sluggish by the minute.
"You call that your worst?" Rosaline taunted. "Pathetic. Let me show you true power. Roselia, it's time. Hidden Power!"
With a cry, Roselia crossed her arms in front of her and closed her eyes. Viola watched in wonder as the rose gathered her energy. White orbs danced in rings around her as she pooled all of her energy into her arms and hummed quietly to herself. In a low voice, Viola leaned forward and whispered something to her own Pokémon. Rosaline didn't notice; she was too intent on watching her Roselia finish charging. By that time, the orbs threw a white glow around the yellow-lit cabin.
Then, all at once, a battle scream rose from Roselia's throat as her arms snapped forward. The white orbs surrounding her pooled into a larger ball just beyond her blossom-hands, and from that ball shot a large beam of light. Viola quickly dove out of the way before Haunter took the hit and was blasted backwards several feet. When the beam finally released him, he fell to the floor of the car and didn't stir.
However, just as Rosaline opened her mouth to gloat, her own Roselia fell flat on her face as well.
"A draw," Viola said calmly as she stepped forward to pick up her Poké Ball.
"How dare you!" Rosaline's voice alone revealed how livid she was. "How dare you do that when I was clearly winning! How dare you cheat like that!"
"Cheat?" Viola smirked. "Haunter learns Destiny Bond naturally. It's a nasty move, yes, but it's completely legal according to Pokémon League rules that have existed for centuries. You can't deny them, nor can you deny this."
To prove her point, Viola reached into her pocket and pulled out her PDA. On it, bold words proclaiming the completion of her task were displayed. As if to verify the truth, Rosaline produced her own PDA and examined it to see the same message.
"You didn't deserve that win," Rosaline hissed.
"Maybe not," Viola said, "but I knew I wouldn't have won if I had played completely fairly. Apparently, neither did you, judging by your treatment of a downed Roselia."
With that, Viola turned and recalled Haunter with only a few inaudible words left to say.
"What was that?" Rosaline demanded.
As the train came to a halt, Viola looked over her shoulder and gave Rosaline an emotionless stare, as if the woman had only just noticed Rosaline even existed.
"I'm warning you, Knight Illusion," Rosaline said. "I know many powerful Knights, and I will see to it that they know you exist. You may have been my match in wits now, but there will be a time when you make a mistake."
Viola turned away from Rosaline and walked through the open doors of the train. She didn't really feel like responding to the threat.
That was .. awesome. o.o Pure originality (allusions to Shakespeare?). I was really impressed by the way you imposed transitions, from one event to another. Who knew a simply doll exchange could lead to that...I'm wondering if Viola will ever see the grandfather/raichu again, and if Sebastian will play a bigger role in the future, as Viola is completing the tasks without him knowing. You executed the suspense well~
FFotM. <3 Really, really nice job. I'm curious about the next chapter. XD
You know, I've been trying to think of what to say right now, but the only things that are coming to mind are:
- "Whoa. I'll admit I didn't expect that."
- "Thank you for the compliments."
And, of course, my favorite response:
- "Chapter three is halfway done. =D"
Seriously, though, I can't answer your questions (about the grandfather and Sebastian, respectively) right now, though the answer to one of them is coming up soon. I just wonder if it's too soon, but writer's doubt is normal, right? *shrug*
Chapter Four: Induction
Verona City can be best described as a square-shaped bull's eye. The very center of the city is the smallest of the squares straddling both banks of the Gold River. Within it are the basic government-related buildings: City Hall, the police headquarters, and the courthouse. The square framing this district is composed of two streets housing the chambers of commerce, namely the most exclusive corporate headquarters in the city. Beyond that, each district – the next containing buildings that are very literally shadier than those in the ring before them – houses one or two streets until they fade into the last rings of more than sixty, beyond which are the badlands that separates Verona City from its neighbors, Celadon and Saffron.
Illyria was located in the Orchid District, ring fifty-six.
To put it simply, Illyria was a nightclub. It must be spoken of in the past tense, as it no longer stands, and it doesn't with good reason. The outside of the building was a façade of black brick (although the bricks were red when the building was first erected) with a simple neon sign above the black, metal doors. Lines of lost souls usually stood beneath the sign's pink glow while being denied entrance by a dark-skinned mountain in a black suit and the Machoke beside him. Even knowing their fate, they still stood in line, hands in their deep, black pockets, metal through their noses and other absurd body parts, and hair in gravity-defying styles and hardly natural shades of the rainbow. Each had the hope of being admitted into an equally dark world filled with pink and blue beams of light and a beat that shook the walls from the inside out.
Inside, it was literally impossible to hear. The speakers – large beasts roughly as tall as a pair of Nidoking, one standing on the other's shoulders – trembled at their own power as they emitted a blast of noise and incoherent voices. Dancers, similar to those still outside, threw themselves at each other in a wild, tribal mating dance as the beams of light played briefly on their faces. Then, one by one, they would peel from the mass of black and slump into one of the chairs at the round, metal tables to the side with their minds drunk on a combination of adrenaline, alcohol, and possibly a narcotic. To the back was not only the DJ but also the bar, at which stood two bartenders, including a girl who looked far more normal than anyone else in the club with her straight, dark hair and piercings only in her nose and ears. Her dark eyes glared at the men as she served them glasses of brightly colored liquid; they thanked her by attempting to look down her red tube top.
For a brief moment, she stopped to push strands of her long hair behind her ear to reveal the set of silver, and her eyes glanced towards the door. She stopped immediately as she eyed the red figure stepping over the threshold and around the pit of Illyria. A smile grew across her face. She recognized the newcomer. How could she not, what with the absurd regality of the figure's stance? Immediately, she leaned towards the other bartender – the newbie in black – and whispered a single message to him before sauntering away from the bar and towards the back door on the other side of the DJ's post.
The door swung open at her command easily, and she stepped forward into a dark and somewhat more organized office. The shouts of the riot in the pit became increasingly muffled until it was barely audible when she clicked the door shut. At a desk against the far wall sat a man with his face framed with a dark ponytail on top and a fringe of dark hair on his chin. A single lamp illuminated his tanned face and the collar of his black blazer as he poured over paperwork on a mahogany desk while a Persian rubbed against his legs. His green eyes lifted slightly towards the girl, and he stood and rushed around the desk to seize her. She laughed as he twirled her in his arms and dipped her.
"Well, Olivia!" he said with his smooth, deep voice. "What brings you to the Unseen Hell? Shouldn't you be bartending for the perverted urchins of the world?"
Olivia snickered. "Oh, Orsino, you know I prefer a quieter setting. Besides, I came to warn you that a danger might be coming for you."
Orsino brought Olivia back to her feet and backed away until he leaned against his desk. A playful smile still played across his face as the Persian silently padded to his master's side.
"Oh?" Orsino finally said. "What sort of danger?"
With a broad smile, Olivia put her hands behind her back and rocked on the balls of her feet.
"What's got a black mane, red silk, and all the illusion of blue blood?" she asked.
At that, Orsino's face fell. "Oh God. I thought I told her never to set foot in this club again."
Olivia chuckled. "Dear Orsino, you know all too well that she believes a 'no' from a man is just a simple and brutish way of saying, 'Please, my dear goddess on Earth, follow my every footstep until the day when I am fully ready for you to take me between your--!'"
Almost on cue, the door swung open, and Olivia was immediately silenced. She looked over her shoulder as Rosaline stepped into the room.
"Ah, Knight Rose!" Orsino said through clenched teeth. "It's so very good to see you! What brings you to our humble establishment?"
"As much as I would like to revel in the fact that I'm welcome here," Rosaline said (while ignoring Olivia's smirk), "I have come to talk to you about a new Knight among us."
Orsino chuckled. "Ah, fresh sacrifice, I see. How long has he lasted?"
"Oh, this one is still very much alive."
At that, Orsino grinned. "Then why should I be interested? Unless dead from a gruesome end, then there should be no reason to pay attention to them, I think."
"You should be interested because this one nearly defeated me in a battle!"
"Hardly surprising," another voice said.
Rosaline turned her head sharply to the left to see the silhouette of a young man on a couch. Although she had an idea of who that silhouette was, the Ditto creeping along the couch's back confirmed her every suspicion. With that image in her mind, Rosaline shuddered.
"Hardly surprising that you should be here too, Cesario," she said. "Have the sewers and gutters been unkind to you, child?"
"No more than mirrors to you, Rosaline," Cesario said with an unseen grin.
Rosaline burst into laughter as she sauntered to the couch and leaned down. She smiled sweetly at Cesario as she placed her lips near his ear.
"I'll have my Roselia slit your throat in your sleep," she whispered.
"As much as I would adore knowing that I am to die by your delicate hands, my lady, I am far more interested in hearing more about this Knight of yours," Cesario said calmly. "Tell me, Rosaline, what do you want us to do with him?"
With that thought, Rosaline laughed and stepped back to her original spot. "What? Why, Cesario, what are you thinking?"
"Oh, be honest with us!" Cesario said. "Rosaline Wu does not grace us with her presence without an ulterior motive."
Rosaline frowned and crossed her arms. "Alright then. I wish to hire you. All of you."
"Are you certain?" Orsino said. "The services of the Trio hardly come cheap."
"A couple million yen just to tie your shoes," Olivia added with a grin as she sauntered to Orsino's side and hung limply with her arms around his neck. "A couple more to inflict a bruise. Ooh… Can Olivia rhyme!"
Rosaline bared her teeth in a disgusted frown as she continued. "I am willing to pay anything you wish to see to it that my reputation is not ruined by this new Knight. She walked away once, and she can come back and walk away again with my Key in hand. I want you three to see that such a catastrophe never occurs."
"Oh, because it would be so dreadful," Cesario said with heavy sarcasm.
Orsino, luckily, ignored him. "Four million for the first try. We'll reduce the cost by half a million for each failure. That means after the third try, the next one is on the house."
"And by then, we'll resort to… more drastic measures," Olivia offered with a cat-like hiss.
Rosaline smiled. "What an offer! You are far too kind. Consider yourselves hired."
Orsino extended his hand to seal the deal. For a moment, Rosaline simply stared at it before she finally took it. A firm handshake later, and her hand was back at her side with a tingling sensation like the end result of a deal with the devil.
"Alright," Orsino said. "Tell us, Boss. Who is this Knight of yours, and how do you want to make her suffer?"
"Her name is Viola DiAngelo, Knight Illusion," Rosaline said, "and your first assignment will be two days from now."
Olivia pulled away from Orsino. She ran through a mental calculation in the silence between the four of them.
"Induction Night," she whispered.
"Precisely," Rosaline said with a wide grin.
Viola's eyes rose to study the façade of the Dumont mansion. The time between her last mission and Induction Night passed quickly, and she only received a few easy assignments. Deliver a package to one place, pick up and mail a letter from another… it wasn't a particularly exciting few days, but it did boost her rank to Rank Q and her points to eight hundred. Besides, deep inside, she wished that she would only receive easy assignments. It was far easier to get a simple task done and be home before Sebastian knew than it was to struggle to complete a task or defeat a Knight and rush home. The fight against Rosaline ended with only a close shave itself: Sebastian entered the shop just a half an hour after a breathless Viola ran back to her station.
For the umpteenth time, she ran her hands over her attire: pressed shirt, slacks, and her least-worn black jacket. With a deep sigh, she approached the familiar mahogany doors. She knocked cautiously and waited on the doorstep. Then, the door slowly opened, and inside stood a girl in a black suit. Her snow-white hair was smoothed down, though it was otherwise the length of Viola's. Red eyes sparkled at the visitor from behind wire-rimmed spectacles.
"May I help you?" she asked.
With a quick shake of her head to snap herself back into attention, Viola bowed and said, "I'm Viola DiAngelo, one of the new Knights. I was told there was a ceremony tonight."
The albino butler drew a gray PDA from her pocket and watched as words flashed across its screen. When it finally stopped on an entry, she grinned.
"Ah! Knight Illusion. Please follow me. We've been expecting you."
The butler stepped aside, allowing Viola to enter the ornate lobby. She heard the door creak shut behind her before the butler touched her shoulder and motioned for her to follow. As she walked, the butler began her explanation.
"The ceremony will begin in fifteen minutes. In the meantime, please feel free to mingle with the other players. Make allies. You may need them later in the game. When the time comes for your induction, I will come to get you. During the ceremony, all you need to do is sit where you need to, stand to receive your induction, and sit again. You won't be the first in line, so if you're confused, you can simply watch the others. Really, though, the entire induction is very simple and goes very fast, so most of the night may be spent socializing, though you're free to leave if you wish. Any questions?"
"Yeah," Viola said, "who are you, and what's the point?"
The butler smiled as she mounted the top of the steps and threw open the doors. Viola was immediately silenced as she saw the Great Hall.
Somehow, the room seemed brighter. The walls were pure white, and the chandeliers threw light in all directions. Half of the room was crowded with white-covered tables, but beyond that was a smooth dance floor and, even further away, a stage. A string band played in the far left corner, but their music was nearly completely drowned by the chattering of a couple hundred well-dressed men and women and the waiters that mingled around them. Few people noticed that Viola stepped down to the second highest stair. She turned back to the butler, but she was startled to see that behind her was only empty space. With a deep breath, Viola turned back to the crowd – the vast sea of unknown souls – and descended.
To say that Viola was just a little uncomfortable at that moment is a heavy understatement. Her palms became soaked in sweat, her wide eyes darted from face to face, and her breath came in short gasps. She trembled in nervousness as she wormed her way through the crowd. "Claustrophobia" echoed in her head as the edges of her field of vision darkened.
Then, a hand reached up to grab her shoulder.
The chattering of everyone else was abruptly silenced by Viola's scream, and the awkward hush continued for a few brief seconds before resuming with a certain caution.
Viola, red in embarrassment, swung around to see a rather startled young woman. Her wide, black eyes were fixed on Viola as her thin, dark-skinned hand fell to the purple satin on the front of her dress. She brought her smooth lips together and bent her head downward slightly. Her fingers drifted to one of her black dreadlocks draped over her bony shoulder; she played with it nervously.
"Sorry," she said in a Jamaican accent. "I should have said something first. My name is Imogen, by the way. Imogen Spencer. I don't think we've met yet."
"We haven't," Viola said. "You aren't going to fight me, are you?"
"What?" Imogen blinked and raised her empty hands. "No!"
"No gimmicks? No tricks? No knives?"
Viola raised an eyebrow. "What's your deal then?"
Imogen shrugged. "No deal. I'm here to meet new players, just like you."
"I don't have a choice for being here," Viola retorted.
"Oh, child, we all have a choice," Imogen said. "We can either come or not come, even if our Master tells us what to do."
With that, she smiled. Viola stared at her for a moment in an attempt to analyze her. The smile was broad, but the eyes were relaxed. It wasn't the smile of a cat or a con artist. It was… different.
Imogen blinked as Viola extended her hand.
"My name," Viola said, "is Viola DiAngelo. Nice to meet you, Imogen."
With that, Imogen drew in a breath and enthusiastically shook Viola's hand. Then, with a giggle, she wrapped her other arm around Viola's shoulders and led her around the room.
"Great! Great!" she said. "Come meet the others!"
Viola could barely protest as Imogen walked her around the Great Hall. When someone of note appeared, Imogen waved an arm towards them with zeal. Viola regarded each face carefully while attempting to figure out which was going to be a problem for her in the future. Many never noticed her and went on chatting with fellow Knights excitedly, but a few threw coy glances at her that made her nervous beyond all words.
"Over there is Antonio Cortez, Knight Ox," Imogen said during the tour. "Stay away from him. He's an arrogant twit. Over there is his sister, Maria, Knight Bubble. She's very nice, but she isn't the brightest bulb in the bunch. Knight Tragedy over there is Hamlet Swartz, an heir to a brewing company, but he's far too depressing to waste time on. They say his mother married his uncle. Then there's Daniel Trent, better known as Puck to many of us. He's Knight Comedy, and he lives up to his Key's namesake. Very funny man, but he may trick you out of all your money. That happened to Knight Faith once. I don't see her here, though, but you'll know her when you see her. She likes to make herself known. Oh! There's one of my closest allies in this game. I never would have made it this far without him. Knight Tide!"
Viola's eyes rose as a young man walked forward. Their eyes met and widened as the recognition dawned on the both of them.
"Sebastian," Viola whispered.
Nothing more was said as Sebastian's features distorted into an expression of rage. Luckily, in the next instant, she felt a soft tap on her shoulder. Viola looked back to see the smiling face of the butler.
"It's time, Miss DiAngelo," she said. "Come with me for the last preparations before the induction ceremony."
With that, the butler turned on her heel and walked through the crowd with Viola behind her. For a brief moment, Viola looked over her shoulder to catch the gaze of Sebastian again, but he offered no warmth before turning back to Imogen. A cold, tight sensation spread through the bottom of Viola's stomach, and she briefly thought she was going to throw up. She even tasted the acidic bitterness in the back of her throat as she walked through a set of doors.
Viola snapped into attention to notice the butler looking over her shoulder.
"What?" Viola said.
A moment of silence lingered between them as the butler eyed Viola carefully. Then, she turned again and walked down the hall and into another room. Shaking off the dazed state, Viola jogged after her.
Inside the room, three other Knights waited, chatting with one another on a sofa against one wall. Viola, completely uninterested in mingling now, isolated herself by leaning against the white wall on the other side of the room, just between two paintings. The butler, meanwhile, walked to the door at the far side of the room and opened it. The sounds of the party filtered into the room.
"This way leads to the corner of the room just near the stage," the butler said. "Each of you is to walk through this door when they call your name, go onto the stage, and kneel before Knight Root, who will be performing your knighting tonight. When he completes the ritual and tells you to rise, stand at the front of the stage, facing the rest of the party. Any questions?"
Viola raised her hand slightly. "So is Knight Root the Controller?"
For a brief moment, the butler stared at her blankly, but this awkwardness dissolved into laughter.
"No, Miss DiAngelo," she said. "Each Induction Night, one of the elder Knights – the first twenty Knights to obtain their Keys and be inducted into the Game – is chosen to knight newcomers. They haven't even met the Controller before. They're just told by their Masters to perform the ceremony. Now, if you don't mind, the ceremony is about to begin."
With that, she leaned back to poke her head out the door. Sure enough, in the next moment, Viola heard the chattering die down as the sound of shoes on wood rose above the dying conversations. Before long, the voice of an old man echoed through the Grand Hall and the small room behind it.
Viola, however, wasn't listening. Instead, her mind wandered back to Sebastian. How could he be a Knight when he didn't want her to be one either? How could he keep that sort of secret? With those questions in mind, Viola's emotions went from shocked to angry. She bent her head down, tearing her gaze away from the butler and the three other Knights on the couch. They didn't matter to her. What mattered was that Sebastian kept something from her. Did he really not trust her enough? Of course, it was logical now: she had been sneaking from the shop behind his back to work on missions. Nevertheless, is that really what their relationship came down to?
Startled by the interruption, Viola tore her gaze from the floor to notice that the three other Knights were missing from the couch. The last one stepped through the threshold, and the butler was now by Viola's side.
"Miss DiAngelo, prepare yourself," she said. "You're up next."
With a nod and a deep breath, Viola stepped forward until she stood within the threshold itself. There she was: on the line between the Great Hall filled with her future and the empty but safe past behind her. She asked herself silently which was the better choice.
At once, her name was called, and she stepped forward.
In the Great Hall, the Knights applauded as the new inductees took the stage and went through the all-too-familiar motions of kneeling before the elder Knight. In the middle of the dance floor, Imogen stood among the crowd with her eyes watching Viola. A grin spread across her face; she knew there was something promising in her relationship with that girl, even then.
Suddenly, however, she felt someone brush against her. She turned her head abruptly to see Sebastian push through the crowd, and at once, she remembered the look on his face when he saw Viola. Curious, Imogen cast one last look at the stage before turning and pushing through to follow Sebastian.
Sebastian had other things on his mind. A million other things in little, hot shards stabbing his brain. How could she do that to him? After he told her not to, no less. She wasn't supposed to be there. She was going to get hurt… or worse. She wasn't meant to be a Knight.
No, there was no way out for her after that except to fail her missions, and she would. Sebastian would see to it, even if it meant he would have his own title revoked. No, she couldn't play.
No, she wouldn't play. But then, she had already defied Sebastian's orders already. What made him think she wouldn't do it again?
"Sebastian, I'm talking to you!"
Impatiently, Imogen grabbed him by the shoulder. He whirled around in surprise, flinging his arm with a thud into a table.
"What is wrong with you?" Imogen asked. "What's stirred your temper this time?"
Sebastian frowned. "You really want to know? That's what's stirred my temper."
He pointed towards the stage, and Imogen followed his motion. She gazed for a brief moment at the new Knights, but nothing clicked.
"What? That girl I introduced you to? She doesn't seem too bad."
"You don't know her," Sebastian said. "I do."
"Oh really?" Imogen said as she flashed a wide grin at Sebastian. "How?"
"She's a friend. One of the closest ones I have."
Only then did it dawn on Imogen. Her smile faded just as quickly as it came.
"Oh. Oh, I'm sorry, Sebastian."
Sebastian pulled away from her grip, turned one of the chairs at the table towards the stage, and sat down with a heavy flop. His eyes continued to stare at the stage as the elder Knight helped the new inductees through the rest of the ceremony.
"Don't be," Sebastian finally said. "I should've told her before now what it's really like to be a Knight."
"It's not your fault, you know," Imogen said.
She was going to continue as she sat down in one of the chairs, but as she did, her heel hit something under it. Instead of continuing with her thought, she looked under the chair to find a plain, black box with a red rose sitting neatly on its lid. Sebastian leaned forward to see what she was doing as she pulled the box up and into her lap and carefully lifted the lid.
Immediately, a Roselia doll with its arms spread wide popped up into a standing position. Underneath, a strange clock clicked to life, its green numbers starting from 5:00:00 and clicking down in a rapid countdown in the last two groups. Beneath that and above a silver keypad, five boxes flicked to life, each eventually displaying a different number of dots.
Then came a long, ear-piercing whistle. The other Knights erupted into startled screams as the induction ceremony came to a halt. All eyes turned towards its source in the back of the room.
Finally, the explanation came from a recording somewhere in the box.
"Eee hee hee hee!" the thing roared. "Hello, dear Knight. Now is the time to test your cleverness with a little game. Already want to quit? You can't! You see, this box is a trap!"
At that moment, Sebastian and Imogen realized that the entire hall was watching the two of them. Out of the corner of his eye, Sebastian saw a shadow move past the doors of the Great Hall. Knowing that everyone stared cautiously at him as well, he still took a chance and went after it to leave Imogen trembling and alone.
"Have I gotten your attention, Knight?" the box asked. "Good. Listen carefully. There is only one answer. One answer is all you need to punch into that keypad there to stop the timer and disarm the trap. That's it. Simple, right?
"Now, for the game. The game is called Petals Around the Rose. That's important because the only two things I can tell you about the game itself is its name and the fact that the answer will be either zero or an even number. That's it! No more hints!
"Oh, just one more thing, though. If you press down on the arms of my doll up there, you'll instantly add thirty more minutes to the timer. That's thirty more minutes to figure out the puzzle before it and the rest of the Great Hall goes up! But you can't let go because it's pressure-sensitive. Let go, and the trap will spring anyway! By the way you'll probably need those minutes… because I've already wasted two of the minutes you've already got!"
At that, the entire hall erupted into chaos as people ran towards the exit all at once. Imogen sat, stunned by the box's words. She could barely make out a "good luck" as she watched the remaining three minutes tick away slowly. To her horror, she realized she couldn't move. The entire shock of the game stirred her thoughts and turned her muscles to pure ice. She couldn't think. She couldn't tell her body to act. She couldn't do anything.
Then, she heard Viola.
"Imogen! Grab the doll! You can do it! Please!"
With a blank expression, Imogen looked up as Viola fought her way through the crowd and towards Imogen. The older Knight realized then that she wasn't going to be alone after all. Somehow, that morbid thought of rushing off to meet death with someone by her side comforted her.
She grabbed the doll's arms as the last Knight passed through the door. The timer struck the last second but was immediately launched back up to thirty minutes and one second. Imogen let the image sink in. Thirty minutes, a Roselia doll with its arms forced into a crossed position in front of its body, five boxes, ten silver buttons, and two Knights right about to commit suicide.
With that all fresh in her mind, she looked up at Viola with a smile.
Olivia and her Ariados stared out the window of one of the upstairs bedrooms. The room once belonged to Ophelia Dumont herself, and as such, it was perfectly preserved: guarded by a velvet rope and relatively untouched until now. Ophelia's brushes and mirrors were still in place on the wooden bureau. No speck of dust gathered on the red, velvet sheets covering her untouched bed. The curtains around the bed were drawn perfectly, as if they were lacquered in place.
"I'm bored with waiting," Olivia said to her Ariados. "Let's go."
"You're not going anywhere."
A smile crossed Olivia's lips as she slowly turned away from the window and towards the figure behind her. Sebastian stood at the doorway with a Poké Ball in hand and a scowl on his face.
"Well, Knight Tide," Olivia said with a bow, "I was wondering how long it would take for you to arrive."
"You planted that thing," Sebastian said.
Olivia straightened and giggled. "Perhaps I did."
"What's the Trio up to now?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out. Ariados!"
Olivia didn't need to say anything more. Ariados sharply tilted his head up and quickly narrowed his eyes. Suddenly, black bolts of lightning tore from his pupils and cut through the air towards Sebastian. Without hesitation, he dodged just before the black lightning struck the floor to leave an unsightly, jagged spot on the crimson carpeting.
Sebastian had yet to lose composure as he calmly landed not far away and flicked his Poké Ball outward. It tapped the floor just a few feet to the side before cracking open to release dazzling, white light that quickly morphed into the form of a lizard twirling a bone in its paw. The rest of the ball snapped shut and floated back to its owner just as the Marowak finished his baton show.
"You're not leaving here without a fight," Sebastian said.
"Ah, dear Knight, but the timer is clicking down," said the other Knight, "and do you really trust Knight Butterfly to have snapped out of her cowardly act and set the timer for another thirty minutes? And do you trust Knight Illusion to know what to do from there?"
"That other girl, my dear. She's such a pretty thing. Looks like she might snap like a little twig in a breeze."
At once, Sebastian knew who Knight Illusion was. His hands instantly balled into fists.
"You leave Viola out of this!" he said.
Olivia chuckled. "But, dear Tide, for who else could that present be? But if you insist on going down with all of your friends, I wouldn't mind escorting you. Ariados, dispatch these pests with Night Shade!"
As usual, impressive storyline + your style of slowly building things up. The game scared the heck out of me (as well as Rosaline)..x.x What I tend not to get are the new things you introduce; I'm terrible with names when they're first shown, especially in stories, so that's a personal qualm. ;~; I'm glad Sebastian finally came into play, and really, I didn't expect him at all to be portrayed this way...maybe slightly, but.. Oh, wow. Continue, please. I've never really read a fanfic involving an ongoing game of some sort. It's so addicting. >w<
Cool, I didn't know you were part of PC too =) I just read Chapter 4, and it definetly meets the standard of the first 3. Great job, hope to see more installments soon.
Ms Kazeto Tamachii's story is really enjoyable for Naminé. The Game is like an improvement with rpg-like additions to the existing Pokemon battle system within the Pokemon World, which is simply addicting for a rpg addict like Naminé. Why, the story has its own set of unique and mysterious elements to make it interesting and worthwhile to read. The "trap" from the Trio of knights is slightly confusing on what it means, but Naminé doubts that she needs to know anything about the trap except "it is dangerous" anyway.
Naminé cannot help but ask Ms. Kazeto Tamachii: what is the intention for the allusion to Shakespeare's play?
@ Lily: Thanks for the compliment. I'm so glad to hear that I've made an impact on a reader, even if it's only to scare the crap out of them. (^_^;) As for the names, many of them (aside from the Trio and Imogen, of course) aren't actually important. I just threw them in there to give the other Knights faces. (Although I'm so very tempted to make a few cracks about Hamlet later on.)
@ Paradise: Yep. I didn't know you were here either. XD Thanks for the compliment. ^_^
@ Naminé: Thanks. I've worked hard to make this story unique in the Pokemon fandom. ^_^
As for the trap, if it clears up any confusion, it's supposed to be rigged with an explosive. I'm just a bit reluctant to actually write that, seeing as politics has made me paranoid for Big Brother. (Why it had to be an explosive, I really don't know. Too much Spiral: Suiri no Kizuna, I suppose.)
Also, to answer your question about the Shakespeare allusions, there's actually two reasons for that:
1. The story and the RPG it was based on (i.e. I had created an RPG a year before writing the story of the same name and concept, although there have been a lot of changes to the world and Game since then.) were both always named Midsummer Knights Dream (or something like it). There's no reason for that except that it sounded good at the time. So, when I sat down to write the fic, I thought it would be fitting to change the names of my characters (from the RPG) and places to fit a Shakespeare theme implied by the title. (There's going to be more than just names later on, but I won't get into that.)
2. To see if anyone got the running Easter egg. ^_-
Nice. Nothing much I can comment on about your work seeing as it is nearly perfect. Um, great story! I want to see what happens next. Especially with Sebestain as he is turning out to be the ungrateful runt. And a major hypocrite too.
Pre-chapter warning: This chapter contains spoilers for the online/dice game Petals Around the Rose. If you've never figured out the answer yourself but would like to try, then attempt the game first and then come back. I can wait.
Otherwise, feel free to read on, but please do not post flames or comments that I've spoiled the game. I know I did, and I'm shameless about it.
Chapter Five: Petals
The Great Hall was silent except for the steady beep of the black box in Imogen's lap. Her hands shook, but she didn't dare release the Roselia doll from her grip. Across the table from her sat Viola, who propped her elbow on the white cloth and supported her chin on the palm of that hand. Her eyes stared through her glasses but saw seemingly nothing. Haunter floated nearby, more as a comfort than anything else.
"Imogen?" Viola finally said.
There was a short silence as Imogen looked up and studied Viola carefully. The new Knight continued to stare at nothing in particular.
At last, Imogen said, "For what?"
With a sigh, Viola lowered her head until her fingers slipped over the bridge of her nose. Gently, she started rubbing it as a headache set in.
"For everything," she said. "For dragging you into this mess. I should've taken that box from you."
"Listen, girl, you're not the one who opened the box," Imogen said gently, "and you wouldn't have had enough time to take it off me with everyone rushing all over the place. It's okay. We just need to figure out this problem."
"But what if we can't?" Viola said as she removed her hands and shot Imogen a cold look. "What if time runs out or we choose the wrong code? We're going to die, Imogen."
"There's a one in I don't know how many chance of getting the code right," Viola said. "We can't just guess in this situation. We need to have a certain answer before we try anything, but I can't figure out how to find that out."
"Even then, I don't have a margin that would allow me to make mistakes. If I make a mistake, that thing is going to go off. On the other hand, it might be a bluff, but I don't think we can take that chance."
There was a pause. Imogen stared blankly at Viola but was rewarded with a cold glance again. Haunter watched them both cautiously as he drifted past, but otherwise, everything was still. At last, Imogen pointed at Haunter.
"How did you get your Haunter?"
Viola raised an eyebrow.
"Imogen, I'm not in the mood for non sequiturs," she said.
"Just tell me."
"Because—" Imogen paused to look down at the box. "—you need to stop."
Viola's eyes widened as Imogen's words sank into her skull. Slowly, with heavy uncertainty weighing down on her chest, Viola relaxed, allowing her back to drop against the back of the chair. Her chin was against her chest briefly, but soon, she lifted her gaze to look towards the corner that had previously fascinated her.
"He was my father's," she said. "My father had him as long as I can remember. He had all of the Pokémon for as long as I can remember, actually. He gave Haunter and the others to me."
"What are the others?"
"Poliwhirl, Meowth, and Venomoth. I just prefer Haunter's company a bit more than theirs."
"That's a little cruel towards the others, don't you think?"
Viola shook her head. "Not at all. They don't mind, actually. They accept the fact that we have our differences."
"We can relate to one another. Besides, he amuses me."
There was a brief pause. The only thing that spoke was the box as it continued its rhythmic beeps.
"So why did your father give you his Pokémon?" Imogen finally said. "Did he give up training or something?"
"In a way. He's dead."
Imogen drew in a sharp gasp. "Oh! I'm sorry."
"Why?" Viola shrugged listlessly at the word. "You weren't the one who killed him. It was a long time ago, anyway, and it's better that he's dead, rather than alive and suffering."
"You're not often called an optimist, are you, Viola?"
Viola smiled. "Optimism is for the idiots who are in denial of everything around them."
With a crack, the black bolt of lightning surged from the Ariados's eyes and straight towards Sebastian and his Marowak. Each let loose a separate yelp as they dove out of the way in separate directions. Within seconds, the dark rush of energy struck the carpet behind where they once stood and left a black mark against the deep red of the floor.
Sebastian tilted his head upwards as he heard Olivia's light, slow applause.
"Not bad, Knight Tide," she said. "Not bad at all. It's your move then."
She was met with a wary, brown-eyed gaze. As Sebastian rose to his feet, he surveyed his opponent carefully. She was up to something, and he knew it.
"Marowak, keep your distance," he said. "Focus Energy!"
With that command, Marowak held out his bone and tensed every muscle in his body. His eyes were fixed on the spider as he meditated to prepare himself for the rest of the match.
"My move," Olivia said, "and I choose to move my pawn closer to your bishop. Ariados, Spider Web!"
Quickly, Ariados jerked his head upwards and parted his pincers just enough to reveal his tiny mouth. From somewhere under his exoskeleton, a gurgling noise bubbled into his mouth just before a stream of a strange, white substance shot towards the guardian Pokémon. Marowak, however, watched with calm eyes as the substance rushed towards him. Then, at the last moment, he jumped to the side, allowing the white liquid to fly past him and connect with the carpeting. Instantly, the chemicals solidified into a net on the floor. Ariados snapped his pedipalps in disappointment, cutting the string at his mouth.
"How fair is it for you to make a move while mine barely finished!" Olivia said with heavy sarcasm. "Where, pray tell, is the honor in that?"
"Funny you should be talking about honor, Knight Spider," Sebastian retorted. "Marowak, strike with Bonemerang!"
With that, Marowak pulled his arm back and threw his bone with as much vigor as he could muster. The bone twirled through the air at a rapid pace towards its target. Ariados had no time to dodge as the bone closed in on him. With a loud crack, the femur drove itself across Ariados's cheek. The spider's head jerked to the side as the bone curved back towards its owner's outstretched paw. A small crack laced across the site of impact as the spider slowly turned a vicious gaze back towards Marowak. Olivia, meanwhile, grinned, despite the condition of her Pokémon.
"My turn," she said. "Ariados, use Disable!"
Ariados's eyes immediately began to take on an eerie, blue glow as the spider concentrated on imagining the guardian Pokémon frozen where he stood. Marowak, in the meantime, made the unfortunate mistake of looking directly into Ariados's eyes in a state of cautious curiosity. The Ariados's eyes narrowed; his target exposed himself. With the speed of a hunter snatching his prey, Ariados mentally plunged into the Marowak's mind. Marowak froze as he felt pressure clamping onto his brain from all sides. A blue aura began to ebb around him, and in his moment of weakness, he found he couldn't move. His trusty bone slipped from his paw and landed on the floor next to him with a muffled thud as the word "Bonemerang" became something unfamiliar to him, covered by the psychic patch Ariados sewed onto his mind.
Sebastian clenched his teeth and his fists at the sight of his disabled Pokémon. He didn't want to admit defeat, especially to one of the Trio, but his mind was struggling to find another way around his present problem. Upon seeing the frustration etched on her opponent's hands and face, Olivia took up her feline grin.
"Are you ready to give up?" she asked.
Sebastian ignored her. "Marowak, break out of Ariados's hold with Thrash!"
Upon receiving the command, Marowak's body jerked violently. The blue light surrounding him quickly faded as Ariados twitched as a reflex. Although the spider knew what was about to happen, he had no time to dodge as the lizard lunged at him with as much power as he could muster. At first, Ariados saw Marowak as not much more than an orange and white blur zigzagging around the room, but within a minute, the blur came at and, not long after, was on top of the spider. Marowak slammed into Ariados and pushed him into the floor with a sickening crunch. Ariados squealed as one of his thin legs became trapped under the rest of his body and as cracks began to creep across the rest of his exoskeleton. Shocked by the strike, Ariados couldn't do much more than endure a flurry of kicks, punches, and slams from Marowak's lightning-fast body.
Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. Marowak backed away with a slow, shaking step. His breath came in gasps as he struggled to keep the balance his heavy body threatened to lose. Sebastian looked from his own Pokémon to Ariados and finally to Olivia herself with a smirk of satisfaction. He was surprised to see, however, that despite the condition of Olivia's spider, she was still smiling that feline smile.
"What?" Sebastian asked.
With a grin, Olivia said, "Flash."
Immediately, Ariados rose to five of his six legs, the sixth being the one that had been damaged under his weight. His eyes took on a strange, white glow this time as he concentrated. A white aura engulfed him as he visualized pushing his energy outward in all directions.
Then, it happened. The spider released his light.
For a split second, Sebastian saw nothing but white. He stumbled backwards in confusion: he no longer knew which way was up. Somewhere in the field of white, he could hear his Marowak crying out in pain before a loud thump signaled that he had fallen. Soon, Sebastian joined him as his heel caught on something under him. A sharp pain jolted through his back as the hard floor slammed against it. He winced and shut his eyes, but it felt like the light entered his body and was ripping his eyeballs apart from the inside out. His vision turned from white to pink and purple behind his eyelids, and he knew then that he would receive no relief from the assault.
Somewhere beyond his reach, glass shattered. Knowing he had to act quickly before Olivia made her next move, Sebastian struggled to his hands and knees as his eyes slowly opened. All he could see was a hazy parody of Ophelia Dumont's bedchamber. Sebastian cursed as he realized it would take some time for his eyesight to fully recover. He shut his eyes again as a searing pain ripped through his head, emanating from the cores of his eyeballs. Gingerly, he put his hand to his forehead and tried to shake the feeling off, but he knew it was no use.
"You won't get away," he whispered to Olivia.
What he couldn't see at that very moment was a fine thread of spider's silk trailing from the corner of the sole broken window.
If she didn't want to die in the first place, Viola would have stabbed herself with one of the butter knives on the table to get relief from the incessant beeping of the black box. As it stood, her eyes remained fixed on a random point in the corner of the room. Her mind wove around possibilities, but in actuality, she was only making a feeble attempt at solving the puzzle. She was already set on the idea that she was doomed.
Imogen, meanwhile, gave her a concerned look.
"Maybe we're thinking about it all wrong," she said.
Viola simply gave her a look. It was a look of quiet frustration – the sort that told someone to sit down and shut up or face painful consequences. Unfortunately for Viola, Imogen's attention had just been turned back to the box in her lap – not that she was fluent in death glares anyway.
"Think about it. What did the recording say about the game?" she asked.
Viola raised an eyebrow. "About the game?"
Imogen nodded. "The only two things it could tell us about the game."
Briefly, Viola closed her eyes and tried to remember. Already, the events of twenty minutes ago were fading.
"The name of the game is 'Petals Around the Rose,'" Viola said slowly, "and the answer will either be zero or an even number."
Imogen bobbed her head. "So, therefore…"
"So, therefore, we don't have enough to work with," Viola said. "Think rationally, Imogen. How many different possibilities are there for an answer that's an even number? And add in the possibility that the answer's actually zero…"
"Okay," Imogen said. "I get it."
In the lull in the conversation, Imogen looked down at the box. She looked at the Roselia in her hands, the keypad, the timer, and everything else about it.
"Maybe these dots have something to do with it," she said.
Viola asked, "What dots?"
"Below the timer," Imogen said.
At that point, Viola looked. She was astounded that she hadn't noticed them before, but she carefully kept her stoic expression. Her blue eyes took in all five in order: one box with four dots, one with one, another with four, a fourth with five, and the last with three.
"What do we do with them?" she asked.
Imogen shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe we add them."
Viola mentally added all five numbers before she shook her head and said, "That equals seventeen. An odd number."
"How about multiply?"
"Even if we could, there's no way to verify that we've gotten the correct answer. We can't take that risk until we figure out this game."
Imogen pursed her lips. The game was beginning to become a headache for her, and she almost envied Viola for at least knowing enough to know what couldn't be the answer. On the other hand, Imogen was holding back her criticisms of the girl's brand of inconveniently timed pessimism.
"There must be something we're not looking at," she muttered, mostly to herself.
"What?" Viola said. "The box? The buttons? The title of the stupid game?"
Imogen sighed in frustration. "I don't know! What did the recording say?"
Viola rolled her eyes. "The answer will be either a zero or an even number, and the name of the game is 'Petals Around the Rose.' The first part doesn't help us much, and the second has absolutely nothing to do with—"
She stopped. Imogen raised an eyebrow, tilted her head, and let her gaze rest on Viola. The latter, meanwhile, stared at her corner with wide, blue eyes as a hand covered her mouth. At the same time, Imogen's mind scrambled to find some meaning in this action, but so far, nothing came to her.
"What?" Imogen asked.
"Imogen," Viola said as her fingers slipped to her chin, "what does the name of the game have to do with anything?"
The woman shrugged. "I don't know."
"It's everything," Viola answered for her. "It's the question."
For the first time, Viola smiled, although she did so as she looked at her lap. "How many petals are around the rose?"
Imogen looked down at the Roselia doll in her hands. With a level of uncertainty, her eyes looked at the box around the Roselia. There was nothing.
"There are no petals," Imogen said.
Viola shook her head. "No, there are. You're just not looking for the right kind."
Upon hearing that answer, Imogen blinked and said, "What other petals are there?"
"I don't know for sure," Viola said with a shrug, "but my guess is they're right here."
With her last word, Viola pointed at the dotted squares. Imogen followed her motions but shook her head soon after.
"I don't get it," she said.
"Then consider this," Viola said with a softer tone than she had before. "Maybe – just maybe – the petals the question's asking about are the little dots on the edges of the squares, and the dot in the middle is supposed to be the rose."
"How do you know?"
Viola shrugged. "To be frank with you, I don't. But I know that no other possibility for what the question might mean would make sense. The dots must be the petals because we have nothing else to count, assuming this device isn't feeding us more information than we need. As for the rose, while there could be a possibility that the third box could represent a rose, which would have been my second guess, that would make the total number of petals on all of the other boxes thirteen, an odd number. Therefore, the rose must be something else surrounded by petals, leaving the only other possibility being the dot in the center of each individual box."
Imogen nodded. Viola's logic made sense, but there was something else that bothered her. She looked down at the small squares for a moment as she gathered her thoughts.
"But what about the boxes that just have one dot or the ones that have dots in the corners but not the middle?" she asked.
"In the case of a box – or, if you will, a die – with one dot," Viola said, "then there's only a rose and no petals, so the answer for that particular box is zero. But for a die with two or four dots, the petals are in the corners, but there's no rose. Therefore, since the question asks how many petals are around the rose, the answer for those boxes are zero too. By that logic, a five die would produce an answer of four petals around a single rose while a three die has two. The rest of the puzzle is simply a matter of counting how many threes and fives appear and adding up the answers for each to produce the final answer to the question."
Imogen smiled and nodded. "I get it. So, then, what's the answer to this one?"
Viola looked at each set of dots on the box. Her eyes quickly scanned each dot as her mind clicked and produced the final answer. When she was certain she had it, she began her explanation as she pointed to each respective box to which she referred.
"There are two dice with four petals but no roses, one box with one rose but no petals, and two with both roses and petals. Of the last kind, there's a five die and a three die: four petals and two petals. That means the final answer must be six."
Imogen's smile broadened at the thought of hope.
"Okay then," she said. "Come on and punch it in before this thing goes off."
Viola's eyes rose to meet Imogen's. The dark-skinned woman was surprised; a small, genuine grin softened the pessimist's features just a bit.
"Hey Imogen?" Viola said. "If it turns out that I'm wrong, then I just want to say thanks."
Imogen's expression fell into wide-eyed confusion once more as she said, "For what?"
Viola shrugged. "Never mind."
With that, Viola looked down at the keypad on the box. Her fingers drifted over the silver buttons as the timer continued to count down the last minute and a half the explosive had. For a moment, she hesitated, and self-doubt settled into her mind again. Her hand began to shake as she realized what would happen if she hit the wrong button.
Sensing her companion's dismay, Imogen softly said, "Come on, Viola."
Viola glanced at Imogen one last time. A smile stretched across the dark face, and for once, Viola felt something she used to feel with Sebastian. It was a twitch in her heart – the warmth of an invisible hand resting on her shoulder and the chime of unspoken words of reassurance.
She pressed the six. Immediately, the Great Hall plunged into silence. The timer stopped with six seconds remaining.
For Viola, silence was a being. It hummed in her ears and sang with the beat of her heart. It filled her mouth and nostrils, suffocating her by closing off her throat as it solidified into a painful lump. It froze the room in its own, three-dimensional portrait. Nothing moved, not even Haunter as he stared down at the two humans from one of the chandeliers. Even the individual atoms throughout the room seemed to pause with anticipation.
Then, Imogen removed her hands from the Roselia doll. Both women stared at it as it twitched back and forth on the spring in its base. It took what felt for the both of them several hours before it finally stopped. The silence continued for a while longer.
At last, Viola realized she was holding her breath. She didn't remember ever starting, but she knew she couldn't hold it much longer. With a whoosh, she exhaled as she watched Imogen gingerly place the box on the table. She didn't have time to inhale again before Imogen nearly knocked out of her what wind was left in her lungs by diving onto her in a cross between a tackle and a hug. Although Viola was thoroughly shaken by Imogen's actions, what happened next added surprise to shock. She felt the hot dampness of tears soak through her shoulder. Not another word between them was spoken as they remained like that: Viola slumped wearily in her chair and Imogen with her arms wrapped tightly around Viola and her face buried in the curve between Viola's neck and shoulder.
Neither of them saw Sebastian leaning in the threshold. He had been standing there for the past five minutes, yet even so, he couldn't bring himself to intrude on the scene. In the time that he watched Viola solve the puzzle, he struggled to figure out what to make of her. While she showed him that she had the brains of a Knight, he knew inside that there was far more to the Game than that.
At last, he shook his head and turned towards the main door. He said not a single word until he stepped outside into the cool night air. His eyes craned upwards to see the hazy moon and the velvet-black sky just beyond the aura thrown by the city lights. With his hands thrust in his pockets, he began the long walk home.
"Well, if she wants to be a Knight," he said to himself, "she'll have to deal with the Trio herself."
The words themselves left a sour aftertaste on his tongue.
Darn you. << You distracted me from work for like three hours because I couldn't stop trying to figure out "Petals Around the Rose".
But yeah, I've been reading this at work. I'm doing this uploading thing where basically I keep having to wait for a couple of minutes with nothing to do. So I went and decided to use that time to read one of all those fics I've been meaning to read for ages, and started with yours.
As you can tell from the first paragraph of this post, it definitely kept me occupied. The Game is a very twisted but great plot idea - it caught my interest instantly, at the very least. The thing with the two characters in the prologue is interesting to wonder about too.
Now... a couple of concerns.
Firstly, the story starts out like somebody could be telling it, sure, but later on (mainly in chapter five) it becomes more of an ordinary third person omniscient narrative and we don't feel Ariel behind the words anymore. I can't really tell you why exactly I feel that way, but unless it's intentional and you really have some good reason to it that I just can't figure out, it kinda hurts the style.
Secondly, this is minor, but this here part:
Thirdly, I'm finding it rather absurd that Viola could figure out Petals Around the Rose in just a few seconds, and completely without any examples to boot. She doesn't even know the full specifics of the game. At least make her have to think about it a little bit instead of just remembering the name of the game and suddenly knowing what the game must be about. =/
But other than that, it was a very enjoyable story and I'm looking forward to the next installment. Do continue.
So I'm what, three months behind in doing my reviews, here? -_-; Thank goodness for summertime...
All in all, a very effective prologue. I can't get over the inventiveness of the whole game thing--it's intriguing and seems to lend itself very well to a good story. It's a pity I wasn't around when the RP was up; I would have loved to have signed up, as this looks like it would be a fun story to play out, as well.
Anyway, I think that you nailed the tone for this part. It really does sound like somebody getting ready to tell a story, and an interesting one at that. This prologue is a great hook--it definitely made me want to read more, and it gave just enough information to set the scene but held enough back to cultivate the appropriate sense of mystery. My only sligth qualm is that I don't, at this point, entirely understand Ariel's description of how the game is supposed to work, but I'm notoriously slow on the uptake, here. Great job with this one.
Chapter One: Open
Again, fine chapter here. I love the description of the shop in particular; you managed to get the right sort of mystical, almost magical atmosphere down very nicely. In general, it just sounds like a real neat place. I also like the way the characters are looking thus far, though we haven't seen much of them yet, and I look forward to getting more information about haunter later. Haunter's an interesting pokémon, and I think it'll be interesting to see how you use him.
Not really much else to say at this point, except that I'm eager to continue and see how things play out.
Chapter Two: Key
- It's kind of odd that Sebastian refuses to tell Viola why he's worked up about the key thing, given that he's just claimed to have heard stories about the Knights. It seems he could have as easily substituted one of those, something about the horrible stuff that goes on in the organization, for his real reasons if he knew that not saying anything to Viola would only make her angry.
Once again, nice chapter. I liked the section about the mansion in particular; I find the stuff about the Data Bank very interesting, and I liked the description given for that place. Also, plenty of character development for Viola this chapter, and a bit for Sebastian as well. They both seem to be shaping up well, and the plot is progressing at a good clip, no problem with pacing there. The conflicts in Viola's character come through well, and you do a good job of balancing introspection with action. So I guess it's "good job" once again; not much else to say about this chapter.
Chapter Three: Duel
- Again, more of those "had + verb" things in this chapter, but I didn't feel like pointing them out because I figured you'd gotten the point by now.
Overall, I liked that chapter. Kinda all one big pokémon battle, but nevertheless a few more important things were revealed through it, such as Viola's (possible?) color-changing eyes trick, which goes back to one of the questions I asked earlier, but I'll wait until you answer that before I speculate further. My only gripe would be that the battle seemed a tad slowed down by all the interaction between attacks; it sort of robbed it of a real sense of urgency and intense action. Nothing major, though, nothing major. As I said earlier, I really like haunter, and I'm glad we got to see a lot more of him this chapter, even if most of what we saw was him getting wounded in one way or another.
On to chapter four, then...
Chapter Four: Induction
Funnily enough, it seemed like a little less actually happened in this chapter than in the others, despite the fact that Viola's life is now directly in danger, she's a full Knight, and we got to meet the Trio. Dunno, maybe it's just me. The twist involving Sebastian was very nice; while it would have been interesting to see how long Viola would be able to keep the fact that she was a Knight from him secret while running missions, I think it will be at least as interesting to see how their relationship works out now that they're both Knights. Imogen looks like a cool character as well, and a good pair for Viola. The Trio are sufficiently dastardly, and indeed, anyone who would make somebody play Petals Around the Rose for their life is unremittingly evil. -_-; Ohh, I dislike those kind of games...
Really, though, this chapter didn't disappoint in the slightest. I feel a little silly putting such short comments after each chapter, but aside from saying that I enjoyed it and didn't find anything wrong with it, really, is about all I've got...
Chapter Five: Petals
This chapter really brought out a lot about Viola's character. Her lack of confidence in times of crisis seems almost debilitating; I'm sure that won't server her well in the future. Nevertheless, I'm with Butterfree (dangit, I can't believe you got in a review one day before I was able to. Ngggh...) in that it took a lot of suspension of disbelief to buy that Viola could figure out Petals Around the Rose given only one set of dice, one chance, and under such pressure. Unless, of course, there's something more at work there--but I'm undoubtedly reading too far into things as usual. But yeah, speaking from experience with Petals Around the Rose (hatehatehate!), it doesn't seem all that realistic. The battle against ariados was cool, though; ariados is a realy nice pokémon that gets too little screen time IMO, and you showed some of its abilities off well in the battle there. It's somewhat interesting that a lot of the characters have personalities or pokémon that seem indicative of the key that they carry, some even having the pokémon that their key is supposed to represent, Knight Tide has thus far been seen using only a marowak and doesn't seem to have any outstanding personality traits that would link him to the name of his key.
And so, let's go to a review of the whole thing overall.
Probably what I love best about this story is the concept behind it. It's very intricate, and the amount of detail to the system is both admirable and much-appreciated; the whole world seems to fit together very naturally, and that makes it a very compelling and strangely believable concept to read about. On the whole, I find both the Game and Verona City itself fascinating. It's a pity the RP is currently dead, as I would have love to have joined and tried my hand at playing out the Game myself. Even though I'm not directly involved, I still feel a kind of excitement as Viola starts to progress through the game, as I want to see how it plays out as much as Viola (given her general reluctance, I'd feel safe in saying even more so). In general, this story creates a very large cliffhanger effect--no matter where you stop a chapter, people (well, me at least), are anxious for the next, if only because they want to find out more about the Game and about the world that it takes place in. Already this story raises several interesting questions for me, although I have a nasty habit of looking at other people's stories as though they were on and thinking in terms of what I would have crafted certain circumstances to mean and a tendency to see significance in innocent details. And you're taking the plot at just the right pace as well. You've gotten together a very nice blend of action and character development.
Speaking of characters, you certainly have no problem in that part. The Trio and Knight Rose seem a bit flat at this point, but other than that you've crafted characters that seem very real and interesting. Even relatively minor characters like the butler have plenty of attention lavished on them, so that they stand out in my mind despite their relative insignificance to the plot itself. Dialogue is more than fine as well. Even the pokémon, those that have been given significant screen time, are starting to shape up as real interesting people in themselves.
In general, your writing is just a pleasure to read. It reads very easily and shows fine attention to detail and to effect. The effort put into it is obvious, and of course the mechanical quality is very high. Indeed, the only problem that seems to plague you consistently throughout the piece is that issue with that tense thing, which I'll, uh, have to get back to you on.
So all in all, very nice work you have here, and more than deserving of Fanfiction of the Month.
By the way, any chance you could tell me what the name of the key for slugma is (#218)? And on a similarly unrelated note, wherever did you get that lovely avatar?
EDIT: I looked it up, and it is indeed the past perfect, or pluperfect, tense that's giving you trouble. I'm afraid that mistakes involving it appear throughout all chapters, and I stopped marking out examples in the last couple because I figured you'd catch on quickly and be able to identify and correct them yourself. Funny, I've seen a couple other people who've had problems with this tense before, but you used it right in some places and not in others.
Ah! Thanks to the both of you for your constructive criticism. I've been waiting for someone to nail me, and I've definitely learned a thing or two. I'll get to work on fixing up the chapters to incorperate your corrections.
I will reply to some concerns in the meantime, specifically...
@ Dragonfree: On the subject of the style, it's partly intentional. Ariel is supposed to continue fading out, so to speak, until the reader realizes who she actually is. I say it's "partly" intentional, however, because I really don't plan on how quickly I make that happen, and I probably did it a bit too quickly, to the point where it's actually noticable. ._. I'll see if I can work things out to make it a bit less blatant.
Yeah, I really don't know what I was thinking about the four million thing. I think what I meant to say was that Orsino would reduce the cost by half each time, with Rosaline paying at least a million yen each time.
On the subject of Viola figuring out the puzzle, she actually took a few minutes to do it, although she was making half-hearted attempts from the get-go. I'll probably have to change things to make that part clear as well.
@ Negrek: You've posed some interesting questions in your review (alongside some equally interesting notes that I'll try to keep in mind for the next chapter). Let me see if I can answer them. ^_^;
Outside of the fanfiction, yes, the numbers are supposed to correspond to Pokedex numbers.
Also, I found my avatar in the collection PC offers for those of us too uncreative and/or lazy to make our own.
Also, thanks to the both of you for the compliments. I appreciate them as much as I do your advice. ^_^
Thanks for answering my questions, and good luck on the next installment!
Um... hi /waves/ Ah... I just wanted to tell you that your fic is stunning! ^^; Seriously, I love it, and I love the character of Viola, you've built her personality so well, I can almost see her in front of me ^^; Congratulations, and not for the FFotM title, but on the Fic itself, it's really, really amazing ^^; Please keep writting, you have a devout fan in me ^^;
Chapter Six Notes: Two things to say. First, sorry about how late this chapter is. Second, I'm right now working on revamps of chapters zero through five. Expect that when chapter seven comes out, which I promise will be sooner than later.
Chapter Six: Rules
Encyclopedia of World Knowledge
Entry: Methysergide Acid Diethylmide
A user typically calls it "angel fire," "angel ball," "spore," "honey," or simply the acronym – M.A.D. About twenty years ago, Dr. David Puck had managed to accidentally discover it as he had tampered with naturally occurring chemicals found in Breloom caps. Hypothesizing that the drug, based on the chemicals found in pores known to produce Spore, would temporarily soothe an insomniac into a safe slumber, he synthesized several capsules and tested the new drug on lab Rattata. The result: twenty Rattata lying peacefully at the bottom of a cage for a period of twelve hours. A few years later, M.A.D. had gone out on the market as a miracle sleeping pill.
As soon as night fell on Illyria, the club, for lack of a better phrase, came to life. Its beat resonated into the street as the lost children in their dark clothing shuffled their feet into the dark, humid space. Inside the shady interior, a young man in a red sweatshirt sat down at a table. He bowed his head and pulled his red hood further over his forehead as he kept an eye on the crowds.
However, less than a year later, the government had discovered that drowsiness was merely a possible side effect on human subjects. If taken by a patient who had normal sleeping patterns, for example, the drug merely triggered hallucinations and false senses of euphoria – a trip. When the government received this news, M.A.D. was pulled off the market immediately.
Something large blocked the flashing light from above the center of the dance floor. The man looked up to see a dark-haired woman standing over him.
"Knight Hook?" she asked.
He looked up. "Knight Spider. Didn't think you'd show. Have you got the goods?"
Those two decades had provided enough time for people to discover what it did and how to make it. M.A.D. was a semi synthetic: a drug that could easily be derived from a combination of Breloom spores and everyday household cleaners. Manufacturers would spend hours toiling over bathroom tubs and sinks until they managed to obtain the viscous liquid known to be M.A.D. in its purest form. From there, M.A.D. left standing in glasses would dry and evaporate slowly, leaving the salt form known as "spore." M.A.D. soaked into blotters or on the sides of Pokéblocks were known as "angel fire" and "honey," respectively. However, the most alluring form of all was a form made when drops of the drug were rolled into round caps of colored gelatin and chilled until the gelatin formed a rubbery, semisolid exterior around a liquid M.A.D. center – "angel ball."
"Yeah," Knight Hook said.
He slid a brown envelope from beneath his sweatshirt and placed it on the table. Olivia's eyes narrowed as she looked at it.
"It was hard to get it, let me tell you," he said. "The girl doesn't get out much, so it's hard to tail something I couldn't find."
Olivia said nothing as she picked up the envelope and opened it. Slowly, she tipped it until its contents slid out a few inches. In the dim light of the club, she could make out a storefront.
Because angel balls are essentially pure, liquid M.A.D. droplets the size of the head of a thumbtack, angel balls have gained a street reputation as being the most powerful form of M.A.D. on the market. Even if a user would snort three lines of spore or consume two Pokéblocks or blotters painted with honey or angel fire, that person simply would never reach the same high as someone who downed one or two angel balls. In addition, as a result of this reputation, the angel ball was the most sought-after form. A user would have paid millions of yen just for a single ball. Dealers, of course, knew this fact all too well.
"You did well," Olivia said.
At that moment, a woman in black sauntered over to the table with a tray balanced on her shoulder. Olivia sat across from Knight Hook with a grin as the woman reached onto the tray and plucked two glasses from it.
"What's this?" the man asked as a glass of dark liquid was placed in front of him.
"A drink," Olivia said, "to our deal. It's on the house."
The woman walked away as the man looked at the glass skeptically.
"What is it?" he asked. "And what about my end of the deal?"
"Just beer," Olivia said as she looked at the table. "As for your second question, you're quite right."
Olivia reached into her pocket until her fingers clasped something smooth. She pulled it from her pocket and placed it in the middle of the table. Knight Hook's eyes fell on her hand as he licked his lips in excitement. Noticing her business partner's enthusiasm, Olivia smirked as she drew her hand away to reveal a folded piece of white paper with a small lump in its middle.
The effects of M.A.D. in any form were akin to a combination of L.S.D. and ecstasy. Users would, in a few moments after ingestion, experience temporary euphoria – a love for life and everything that moved – accompanied by visual and, in some cases, auditory hallucinations. These effects tended to last for anywhere from two to twelve hours, depending on the dose and physical attributes of the user. Soon after, the user would enter a "downer" period for about ten hours, in which he or she experienced extreme forms of depression or apathy as well as a temporary deprivation of depth perception. In addition, its long-term risks tended to include permanent neurological damage, resulting in permanent depression, psychosis, brain damage, or even death. Nevertheless, users who encountered none of these long-term risks would most likely become dependent on the drug to avoid the downer period.
Knight Hook used one hand to draw the paper close to him. Slowly, he pulled its corners until it unfolded like a blossom in spring. In the center of the paper lay a small, blue ball about the size of the head of a thumbtack. Knight Hook's tongue flicked into the open again to run across his chapped lips.
He plucked the ball from the paper with his thumb and index finger. Carefully, he drew it upwards to examine it carefully.
"Very nice," he said. "Looks home-made."
"It is," Olivia responded dryly before she took a sip of her own drink.
Step one. Ingestion. Most forms of M.A.D. were usually taken orally except in the case of spore, which was either inhaled nasally in powder form or melted on a metal spoon and injected directly into the bloodstream with a hypodermic needle, depending on the preference of the user. In the case of angel balls, it was customary to take the angel ball between the tongue, roll it until the gelatin cap melted slightly, and swallow it. The ball would break on its way down the esophagus, so a drink of water or an alcoholic beverage was usually taken with the capsule.
Knight Hook pushed the ball into his mouth. His tongue played with its slippery coat for a moment before pushing it into his throat. He followed with the drink, which he didn't bother to really taste. If he had, he would have noticed that it tasted oddly acidic for beer.
Step two. Digestion. The body absorbs M.A.D. rather quickly, so the effects tend to come just as swiftly. M.A.D. molecules travel through the bloodstream and towards the brain. There, it acts as a catalyst to increase production of serotonin, the chemical responsible for positive emotions, by tenfold while acting as a mild neurotoxin to induce hallucinations. The result is a sudden, quick rush of positive emotions coupled with the experience of an acid trip.
Only a few minutes later, Knight Hook's pupils dilated. Olivia watched in amusement as his head tilted back, foam dripped from the corners of his mouth, and his body convulsed in his chair.
It is important to know that an overdose or repeated use will result in a destruction of brain tissue. Survivors are typically rendered brain dead, but such people are incredibly rare. Most of the unlucky souls experience a complete system shutdown: the brain is so damaged that even all unconscious processes such as breathing ceases.
Knight Hook's head slammed into the table. Olivia hesitated a few moments before placing a hand near his open mouth. No breath caressed her palm. With a smile, she stood, envelop in hand. Then, she walked a few steps, towards the back office. She stopped when she stood beside the body of Knight Hook. Her eyes narrowed as she glanced towards him. Without a word, she slipped a hand towards him and patted his pockets. Briefly, she paused as a smile grew across her lips. Her hand dipped into the pocket she just touched, and a few moments later, she pulled out a key. She inspected it quickly before placing it in her pocket.
Knight Spider: Acquisition of Key 171 – Hook. Processing… Processing… Processing… Complete. Acquisition successful. Have a nice day.
"Haunter! Finish it with Shadow Ball!"
Obediently, the specter slid beneath the light of the streetlamp. His eyes narrowed as his disembodied hands moved around a ball of pure blackness that seemed completely untouched by the yellow light above him. Instead, it seemed to feed off the light as it pulsated between the ghost's palms. Finally, the ghost lurched forward, and the ball shot towards the green bird as it struggled to stand.
The bird didn't even bother to dodge. It waited for its fate until the ball consumed it and the ground around it. When it passed into the ground, becoming one with the natural shadows of the night world again, the bird lay unmoving amidst cracked pavement. Its owner, a tubby male, dropped to his knees.
Entry: Midsummer Game
Midsummer Game rules, rule two: There are three objects of the game. First and most obvious, to reach the Midsummer Vault before any other player; second, to survive by fulfilling all tasks given to you; and third – which is more of a strategy than an actual goal – to collect the other players' Midsummer Keys.
Viola blinked. Her opponent bowed over his limp Pokémon. She saw his body shake, and she swear she could hear a whimper. Beside him was her goal: the package.
Rule three: Just as there are three objectives, there are also three ways to acquire the other Midsummer Keys. The first possibility is that a player acquires the key by chance – that is, by finding one. Although it is possible to do the same for the other keys to limit the number of players that initially join the game, most players will only find one key through luck alone, and that key is their first.
She stepped forward with Haunter following closely behind her. When she was close enough, she knelt and reached over the unconscious bird to take the package.
The second is through the death of another player. Players may "inherit" a key (along with all others that the dying player has acquired) if the original owner willingly gives it to them just before death. It is also possible and fair to take keys from the dead, even if they were not willed to the living player. Taking just one key from another player in this fashion would automatically transfer all others that the deceased held to the player's collection.
Before she could take the package, however, the other Knight reached into his pocket and held his key in front of Viola's face.
"Take it!" he said.
The third is simply by waiting until another player is defeated (but not necessarily dead) and then taking it when the player either willingly or forcibly surrenders his or her key. One of the customary prizes when a player is defeated is their own key, especially if the defeated wishes to forfeit the Midsummer Game. Alternatively, if a player drops in rank until the title of Midsummer Knight is revoked, the closest Knight is free to relieve the former Knight of his or her Midsummer Key. Likewise, a Knight who has yet to be inducted has a chance of having his or her key stolen prior to beginning the Midsummer Game. The most likely scenario is usually the first, given the nature of the Game itself.
Viola blinked again. "What?"
"Take my key!" her opponent said. "Please!"
"But… I don't want your key. I just want the package. My Master said I need to just get—"
He shook his head. "I don't care! Take it!"
Viola frowned. "I don't want your key."
"I can't stand it anymore!" He stopped to sob. "I've been playing the Game for months, and it's been driving me crazy! I can't do anything without having to think about my Master, and all these people keep on trying to kill me! I can't do this anymore! Just take the key and leave me alone!"
He threw the key at Viola and stood. With a quick motion, he pulled a Poké Ball from his pocket and recalled Xatu. Then, before Viola could protest, he turned and ran.
For the next few moments, Viola stared blankly at the back of the man. When she could no longer see him, she blinked for a third time and looked down at the key on the ground just in front of her. Cautiously, as if the white metal would burn her fingertips, she touched it and then withdrew her hand slightly. Finally, she plucked it off the ground and put it in her pocket. With a bit less hesitation, she grabbed the package, stood, and walked back the way she came.
Knight Illusion: Acquisition of Key 178 – Gate. Processing… Processing… Processing… Complete. Acquisition successful. Have a nice day.
Entry: Verona City
Voices shouted. The smell of sulfur and gun smoke lingered in the air. Not one soul remained on the street except Viola, now on her way home. Everyone else knew they were coming just by the wind.
Verona City, Kanto, has the unique social system of being an isolated city state. That is, while Japan's federal laws apply there, technically, the laws of Verona City override them in most cases. The city government itself is ruled by an elected official that serves for roughly four years, although it is possible for such a leader to be elected for an unlimited number of terms. As the mayor and his council hold complete power over the city, the political turmoil within the area is particularly significant. Specifically, as of current, two particular political parties fight for the coveted position of power, and these parties are known by the names of their most prominent leaders, the Capulets and the Montagues.
Viola looked over her shoulder. The voices were getting closer, and she could swear she could see the red glow of fire dancing on one of the walls. Somewhere beyond it, a blood-chilling scream echoed off the brick façades.
Local legend states the parties began as a single force of political might, but they diverged centuries ago over business differences (specifically, within their primary trade of shipping) just before the autonomous government of Verona City was established.
Although Viola knew she needed to keep walking, she remained where she was, in the shadows just beyond the yellow light of a streetlamp. Once more, the red glow of the hellhound's fire flared against the brick walls. Feet pounded against the cement.
"They're almost here," she said to herself. "You should move."
No one is perfectly certain what each party's ideals are, but it is generally thought that Capulets are conservatives whereas Montagues are more likely to take liberal sides of an issue. Within each party, however, its members merely state the difference between good and evil.
She saw shadows approach. Quickly, she stepped to the side until her back met the brick façade of a shop. Soon, she saw five figures in black with the shapes of a Houndoom and a Sandslash trailing behind them. A jet of water arced into the spot over which the two Pokémon dashed just a moment ago. When the attack stopped, what was left was an indentation in the street with cracks lacing in an intricate spider web away from its center.
For this reason, the younger generations, who are typically born into their respective parties, see only the allure of fighting and eliminating evil – that is, the members of the other party.
Seconds after the jet of water came, an Arbok and a Golduck landed. Behind them, six other figures in black approached. Of the first five, only one stopped and turned, a redhead with his green eyes on the Poison and Water-types and a hand on his belt.
"Keep going!" he yelled to his companions. "I'll hold them back!"
He unclipped a ball from his belt. A finger pressed the button on its face, causing it to enlarge in his hand. Quickly, he tossed it in the air and watched as it split open and spewed white light towards the ground. In seconds, a creature crowned with a giant blossom appeared.
"A Vileplume?" a woman's voice stated.
Viola squinted, but she saw nothing but the woman's silhouette. She could tell her arms were crossed but not much else.
"I've got it, Merc," one of the others – a man – said. "Golduck, Ice Beam!"
The redhead retaliated. "Vileplume, Sleep Powder!"
The flowered twirled, but the duck was already in motion with its beak wide open and bright, blue light blasting forward. Before so much as a single blue speck of dust could emerge from the stamens of the plant, a bolt of blue lightning struck him squarely in the center of his blossom. With a startled shriek, Vileplume was knocked back, ice crystals forming on his petals and a cold pain ripping through his body.
Immediately, the duck spread her arms. The jewel in the center of her forehead took on a red glow as a blue light surrounded her body and entered her eyes. Vileplume struggled to stand, but as a blue aura ebbed on his skin, he felt something – an electric pulse – run through his muscles. Suddenly unable to move on his own, Vileplume could do nothing except stare helplessly at Golduck as he rose into the air. Golduck focused only on tossing the flower around, and with each thought, Vileplume tumbled through the air. His flower head smashed into the concrete, occasionally leaving cracks and green blood in the cement wherever Golduck chose to have him land.
Obediently, the duck tossed Vileplume at his master's feet. By then, Vileplume was beaten, bruised, and most of all, unconscious, with trickles of blood running down his face. His trainer shook as he stared wide-eyed at his Pokémon. The woman stepped forward, uncrossing her arms as she gazed at the man.
"That was too short of a battle," she said. "This one's a little weak. Did you evolve it into a Vileplume as soon as you got it or something?"
The defeated trainer clenched his teeth. "A week ago."
At that, the woman put a hand on her head. "Je-sus! You're not worth our time, kid, but I'll tell you what. We'll leave you and your friends alone for now if you just hand over your key to my friend here, okay?"
Golduck's trainer stepped forward. "Hey, that sounds fair."
"Don't knock it," she said. "You're the one who's getting it."
The Vileplume trainer hesitated, staring at his six human opponents first before looking at the Golduck and the Arbok. With a shaking hand, he unclipped Vileplume's Poké Ball from his belt and recalled the injured Pokémon. As soon as the Vileplume vanished, the trainer pushed the button on the ball's face to shrink it before clipping it back onto his belt. With a quick movement, his hand plunged into his pocket and drew from it a key, which he held between his fingertips. The Golduck trainer approached and accepted it.
Knight Horse: Acquisition of Key 045 – Garden. Processing… Processing… Processing… Complete. Acquisition successful. Have a nice day.
"Grazie," he said. "Now get out of here."
Without another word, the Vileplume trainer fled. For a long moment, his opponents simply watched until finally, the woman turned towards Viola.
"All right," she said. "Get out here so we can see you."
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