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Old March 27th, 2006, 06:38 PM
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JX Valentine
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Join Date: May 2004
Location: Harassing Bill
Age: 27
Gender: Female
Nature: Bold
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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."

"But—"

"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.

"Oh crap."
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Professional ninja. May or may not actually be back. Here for the snark and banter at most.

Need some light reading?
Anima Ex Machina (Chapter 20 now available)
The Leaf Green Incident (SWC 2012 winner)
Braid (Creepypasta apparently)
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