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Old June 26th, 2006, 09:24 AM
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JX Valentine
Your aquatic overlord
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Harassing Bill
Age: 26
Gender: Female
Nature: Bold
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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.

"Yes, Viola?"

"I'm sorry."

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."

"Viola…"

"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."

"Viola…"

"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."

"Viola!"

"What?!"

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."

"Why?"

"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."

"And Haunter?"

"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!"

"Marowak, dodge!"

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."

"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.
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