A Midsummer Knight's Dream (R)
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September 23rd, 2007 (3:24 PM).
Your aquatic overlord
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Harassing Bill
Act One: Backdrop
Wisteria Street, the most prominent avenue of the group that formed the Wisteria District, nestled comfortably between the dingy edge of Verona City to the west and the relatively safer city center to the east. Like most of the prominent streets of each individual district in the city, Wisteria Street ran from north to south, starting from the city's northwestern border to Gold River, the black ribbon of water that sliced the city in half from east to west. Along the street, a row of friendly, neighborhood businesses existed, visited almost exclusively by the residents of Wisteria District and the edges of the areas that touched its borders. Those businesses were the original sources of money in Verona City, and because of the age of each of them, all of them were hardly intimidated by their wealthier neighbors. In fact, though their businesses were lucky to find customers outside the crowds 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 into the close circle of Wisteria 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 Allegro Dolls.
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 (except two people) was 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 stubby 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 pink-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 her hand 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 the Game. 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 girl who called him "Papa." It was the little money and skills he had that opened Allegro 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. 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 for very long. 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 discovered 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 knowledge 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 Allegro 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 Allegro 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 the door 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 to whom she only recently succeeded in teaching the ways of the cash register, 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 had fallen 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. Eyeing the faded, fraying suit that he wore, Viola assumed the man was poor, yet she knew she could turn away no potential customer. Even beyond her obligation as a shopkeeper, 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.
"May I help you?" she asked.
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 said.
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.
"All right," she said. "What kind of doll are you looking for?"
Carefully, the old man carefully balanced himself without his cane 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 some time to make, though." She shrugged. "Three days, at least. A day just to find the parts. They're not something I usually have in my workshop, but I think someone else in this district can sell them to me."
"Oh, I was hoping I could get it today," the old man said in a lower murmur. "You see, in two days, my granddaughter will turn six years old, 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.
In the calmest voice she could muster, she told him, "I can get it done in a couple of days if I don't stop for a break, 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 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 she 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 electronic parts 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 said.
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 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. As I've said, parts like these are hard to come by nowadays, so a doll like this is extremely rare."
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 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 haven't got that much money, but I will trade you my secret for your doll," the man said.
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 explained. "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 Allegro 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 doll in his arms.
"Thank you," he said. "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 muttered 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 said. "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 on the wooden table next to her poké balls. 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 slipped the rest of the face downward until it hit the box's wood frame. Then, Viola placed the box in her lap with the moved panel 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 passed over the other side she had changed just moments ago. There, under the top panel, 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 said. "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 a smooth and round cylinder and ended at the bottom with simple-looking, metal tabs coming from 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 said.
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)
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