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Old March 23rd, 2008, 09:44 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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Act Ten: Frame

The spotlight continued to shine on the figure on the stage. Viola couldn't move. She couldn't speak. Part of her was even certain she couldn't breathe. All she could do was stand there in eternity as she stared at her mirror image.

Then, the spotlight went off, and the house plunged into darkness. Viola heard a scream, and it took her several moments, long after the echo of the piercing voice faded, to realize that it came from her own throat. She crouched in the darkness, eyes frantically searching the stage for a sign or a shadow that would reveal her target's location.

She didn't have to search for long. Somewhere behind her, she heard his voice booming throughout the dark hall.

"I wanted you to follow me, Knight Illusion," he said. "I wanted you to see something."

It took awhile for Viola to find her voice. When she forced it from her throat, it sounded quiet and hoarse. "Who are you?"

The spirit chuckled. "A fellow Knight. Sit. Enjoy the movie."

"Movie?"

She heard a click behind her which gave way into a flutter. A light cast from a hole in the back wall towards a white screen hung over the stage. The first note of an energetic score blared through the theatre, and on the screen, Viola saw the first word of a film. Phoenix.

Looking away from the screen, Viola tried to find her host, but once again, he refused to reveal himself, save for the voice that seemingly came from above her.

"About sixty years ago," he said, "cinema experienced a silent film revival. Verona City was fascinated by the old, and for that, although the budgets were bigger and the effects were flashier, they tried to maintain as much authenticity as possible. The soundtrack, of course, was integrated into the film itself, but other than that missing fragment of magic, in all ways, the films made during this era replicated every last detail that the real silent movies of the advent of cinema itself possessed. Patrons flocked to theaters like this – one-screen, majestic temples to the gods of cinema – to watch the beautiful and the extraordinary. Have you ever seen a silent film, Knight Illusion?"

Viola opened her mouth, but before she could respond, she heard Haunter's sharp cry. Turning her eyes to a spot above her, she spotted her companion struggling against the purple hands of the other ghost. Sucking in a breath, she furrowed her eyebrows and mentally prepared a counterattack.

"Haunter, Night Shade!"

Taking in her order, the ghost narrowed his eyes, which quickly took on a purple glow. He gathered the darkness in his body as he focused on his target. With a crack, a bolt of black energy surged from a point between his eyes towards the body of the ghost in the shadows. Another bolt, however, met his attack, and with a bang, dark energy rippled through the shadows and faded with neither pokémon remotely harmed.

"It would be unwise to attempt to attack again," her opponent said. "My own Pokémon will only return fire with equal force. I come to you under a temporary truce, Knight Illusion. Come sit by me. You'll find me a few more rows back."

Cautiously, Viola began to creep backwards at his advice. As the opening credits faded into one another, her hand passed over the rough upholstery of each seat until she hit the fifth row.

"That's it," the spirit said. "A few more back should be enough."

Her eyes remained on the screen as she backed herself to the ninth row. Then, she sidestepped, navigating in front of the folded seats until a hand reached up to grab her wrist. She gasped and looked down to see her double… except now, his glasses and coat were off. It was clear to her then that this man was real, not a doppelganger bent on stealing her identity. That seemed to comfort her slightly as she sat down next to him, but she couldn't think of why it was a relief to her.

Noting that she was staring at him, the man smiled. "Eyes on the screen, Knight Illusion. I want you to see this."

Turning her eyes towards the screen, she noticed that the first scene – the one that would have told her the setting of the story – faded into the black-and-white image of a city. Something about it looked familiar to her, yet at the same time, the boxy buildings seemed very generic. The camera zoomed in, past walls and softly-lit street lamps to the image of a clock tower with black hands edging closer to midnight.

"Aren't we supposed to be fighting or something?" Viola quietly asked, although her voice contained a nervous tone.

Her fellow Knight lifted a finger to his lips. "Shh. You needn't worry about that, my dear. My charge was made to believe that we would and that I was setting you up to be defeated at the hands of the enemies I've made for you."

The image on the wide screen switched to the scene of a young, dark-haired man working diligently on a metal beast. His comrades watched in anticipation, each one commenting (according to the accompanying cards of text) that the machine needs to be ready by the next election. Something about that struck a chord in Viola, but again, she failed to place her finger on why the movie seemed so familiar.

She shook her head. "I don't understand. Who are you? Why would you imitate me? What charge? What is it that you want with me?"

Her companion couldn't help but grin. "Allow me to answer these one at a time."

He reached over, and one of the haunter floated towards him. As it drifted closer to his arm, the purple of its skin shifted to a bright, bubblegum pink, as if pink dye had been added to water. Then, the hands retracted into the body, which itself began to take on a more liquefied appearance. Finally, the creature dropped onto the Knight's arm and worked its way to his shoulder with small squeaks. Examining his ditto, the Knight smiled and patted it.

"My name is Cesario," he said, "Knight Mirror and a member of the Trio. I trust you've heard of us. We have been watching you carefully ever since we learned you were in the Game."

Viola nodded slightly, her eyes darting from the screen to Cesario rapidly.

"As for your second question," Cesario continued, "my charge is a young woman you've met fairly early in your Knighthood who seems intent on eliminating you on the basis of pride. I must apologize, but I cannot reveal her name as a policy. While I hardly fear Her Majesty—" He frowned slightly as he spat the word out in a tone of heavy sarcasm. "—I'm afraid my colleagues wouldn't find it the least bit amusing if I defied one of the few rules the members of the Trio have created for ourselves."

He paused slightly and checked the screen. The movie shifted into a daytime scene, where men in suits stood staring from metal platforms at workers on an assembly line far below. Sitting back, he chose his next words carefully.

"As for imitating you, that, Knight Illusion, is also part of our façade. I know you have already experienced both Knight Spider and Knight King's individual specialties: explosives and chemicals, respectively. Mine, meanwhile, is deception. I gather as much information as possible with the help of both of my colleagues and build an enemy's list for our target. Presumably, my pawns throughout the city – the gullible fools who are tricked into believing that I am my target – will take care of the job for me, and if the pawn gathers any Keys for us, then we can deal with that later. Better to have one enemy with several Keys than several enemies with one Key. I only get involved directly if the target is particularly difficult and interesting, and even then, my aim is to deceive, not kill, unlike my comrades."

Viola tore her eyes away from the screen just as a single worker stepped away from the assembly line to take a breath. Immediately, men in uniforms descended upon him with their hands grabbing his clothing and punching his defenseless body.

"So you are challenging me, then," she murmured.

With a broad smile, Cesario shook his head. "No, my dear. The Trio is just about to finish doing business with Knight Rose. We've had a more alluring offer from another party to keep you safe. While the Trio generally believes that we should not abandon any job we start, we will if the opposing offer would prove to be more beneficial to us."

At that, Viola raised her eyebrows. "Another offer? From who?"

Cesario shook his head. "Ha! Knight Illusion, I just told you I absolutely cannot reveal our clients!" He waved a hand, as if to dispel the matter. "Enough talking. Look!"

Viola turned her head to see the screen as the music swelled into a chorus of violins. Across the white fabric, a face appeared.

She was, according to Viola, possibly the most beautiful woman to have walked the earth. Her face was in black and white, but Viola could practically see her rose-red lips, the soft china skin, and the sparkling blue eyes. The woman, dressed in a jumpsuit, descended a flight of metal stairs with her eyes towards the sky. With each step, her shoulder-length black hair bounced and caressed her pallid cheeks. Viola herself stopped, her breath catching in her throat.

"Ah," Knight Mirror said. "I see you've fallen for the same trap as many men. You've heard the call of the siren."

Viola found she couldn't speak. Instead, she sat and stared at the screen as she watched the woman's lips move. Her words flashed across the screen on a background of black, a thirty-second interruption that Viola couldn't stand.

Knight Mirror smiled. "That, my dear, is Ophelia Dumont, better known as the Queen of the Neo-Silent Movement. You may have heard of her. It was her, after all, who had our headquarters built. The one who hanged herself from the rafters. The namesake of Dumont Mansion."

For a long time, Viola could only watch as Ophelia – there, Anya – spoke to the workers and consoled them. The inventor Viola had seen earlier watched her from the shadows with an expression Viola shared when she gazed at Ophelia's face. One scene faded into another, day into night, when the man, Frederick, gathered the courage to speak with Anya on the dark corners outside of the tower in which they worked. She gave him a wide-eyed glance, but he motioned wildly towards the shadows.

White words flashed onto the screen. I mean no harm I just want to talk to you. You want hope. So do I.

It was then when Viola finally found her voice. "I don't understand. Why do you want me to see this?"

Knight Mirror tilted his head. "Do you realize what this is, Knight Illusion?"

Viola slowly shook her head, keeping her eyes trained on the screen.

At that point, her companion leaned back. "This is Phoenix, a movie that doesn't exist."

His audience continued to stare at him with a blank gaze.

Noticing her expression, Cesario smiled weakly. "You have no idea about the world around you, do you? My dear, did you know that you have far more dangerous enemies than the Trio and any of our clients?"

Viola shrugged. "You're the only people I've met so far in the Game."

"Oh, my dear," Cesario said with a heavy sigh as he gazed at his lap. "No, this goes beyond the Game."

At that, Viola tilted her head. "How so?"

Cesario leaned back, his eyes rising to watch the scene on the screen for awhile. Already, Anya and Frederick stood by a giant, metal bird head. Frederick threw himself against the head, his lips moving in a whisper to a grave Anya.

I've been forging war, the black-and-white figure murmured, without even realizing it. But you… He lifted his head towards Anya. You can forge peace and love.

Anya's own lips moved, accompanied soon after by her own dialogue card. Don't give me that rubbish. You know as well as I do that they won't listen to just me if I stand by and sing to the people. We need to do what we can to end this. Now. You have the power to do it. What about the machine you've created? The Phoenix?

"The Montagues and the Capulets," Cesario finally said, his voice low and distracted.

Viola shook her head. "What?"

Cesario glanced at her from the corner of his eye. "Have you noticed the party in this movie? How the city consumes itself in violence? The reason why this movie doesn't exist is because it reflects our own state far too eerily. The city government felt uneasy about releasing a film that speaks out against our condition under a two-party system at constant war with itself. So, instead, they banned the movie, ordered the destruction of the original prints, and vowed that its entire production staff would never work in film again. It was only a miracle – and the work of Miss Dumont – that this print survived. Ophelia herself, however, dangled from her ceiling soon after."

On the screen, the scene changed to the tower in which the citizens of the city worked. One of the workers, in his misery, began singing a melody that Anya had sung earlier in the film. Numbly, Viola realized that she'd heard the phrases that appeared on the screen, but she couldn't quite recall when she had heard them.

"I don't suppose, then, you know who made this movie," Cesario said.

Viola shook her head. "Does it matter?"

With a nod, Cesario responded, "More than you even know. How many political parties are in Verona City?"

In response to the question, Viola shrugged.

Cesario eyed her carefully and sighed. "Oh, this will be difficult. My dear, most people would answer that question with 'two': the liberal Montague House and the conservative Capulet House. However, this is not true. There were, in fact, many different houses in the recent past, some of which are still active. For example, there was the Macbeth House, whose drive towards a monarchy eventually led to its own self-destruction, with the last few members being slaughtered in the Game as we speak. Then, there is the Falstaff House, whose pacifist, hedonistic beliefs render them less of a political threat and more of a political joke." At that point, Cesario's voice dropped as he gazed at the screen once more. "And then… you have the people who made this movie. The Prospero House."

Viola glanced at him. "Prospero? I've never heard of that one."

He nodded. "Followers of Montague and Capulet mistake us for anarchists. The truth, however, is that we believe in the overthrow of both houses for the sake of peace. We see the destruction both parties have done to this city, and we believe that because of that, they must be removed from any form of power by any means necessary. Phoenix was, on a level, our propaganda film. It stated our beliefs with the hopes that others from both parties would agree with us and join our cause to bring down the political system and replace it with something new and beautiful."

"We?" Viola blinked. "You're a Prospero?"

Cesario smiled. "Of course. The Prospero House still exists and thrives to this day – barely. Granted, we possess half the power that we did over twenty years ago, when we worked in the open. Ever since the exile of our party leaders then, we have worked underground, hoping each day that the heir of Prospero House will return to Verona City and lead us to a revolution." He shook his head. "You will never hear our history in the books. Even according to the Data Bank, we don't exist. The Montagues and the Capulets made certain that we were erased. It was, amusingly enough, the only thing that they agreed upon since their division early in Verona City's history. To this day, the higher officials would see to it in a heartbeat that the rest of us are eradicated or exiled if we showed our faces now without any sort of unification among us."

Viola leaned back, taking in as much of what her former opponent was telling her as she could. A question still lingered in her mind.

"This all is great, but what does it have to do with me?" Viola asked. "Why would the Montagues and the Capulets hate me for a party I'm not even a member of?"

At that, Cesario bared his teeth. "You have more to do with it than you think. Tell me about your father."

Immediately, Viola's face paled, and an angry flicker passed through her eyes. "That is none of your business. What does my father have to do with anything, anyway?"

Cesario laughed. The sound sent a vibration down Viola's spine, but she realized quickly that her companion's laugh wasn't sinister. It was, instead, simply a laugh of amusement, and that made Viola uneasy.

"My dear," Cesario said, "I know more about your father than you do. All of Prospero knows about your father."

Viola clutched the armrests of her chair until her knuckles turned ghost white. "Why? He was a toymaker from Saffron City. He didn't have anything to do with you."

Cesario smiled the way a kindergarten teacher smiled at a student who just told him two plus two equaled five. "After the first revolution, many Prospero members ran to Saffron and Celadon after being forced from the city. Many of those exiled were incredibly important to our cause."

At that explanation, Viola gazed at him warily. "And my father was one of them?"

"Michele DiAngelo," Cesario said with a nod. "He said so many things during his time that inspired and shaped our philosophy. He was a brilliant man, you know. I wish I could have known him, but I was just a child when he was last seen in public here."

She narrowed her eyes. "If my father was famous, then why didn't I know about it? Why didn't he lead your party when he came back?"

The sympathetic smile returned on Cesario's face. "I'd imagine he was protecting you. My dear, I've already told you that the Montagues and the Capulets would kill the members of our party in an instant if we revealed ourselves in the state we are in now. Our party is too broken, too scattered to work in the open against the Montague and Capulet forces. Your father is a legend to us. If he emerged, then you would have lost him by now."

There was a beat of silence as Viola's fingers curled tighter around the armrests. "I lost him anyway."

As soon as the words left her mouth, Viola's jaw clenched, and her throat tightened around what felt like a painful lump. Her eyes burned with tears, but she refused to cry in front of the man she felt was still her enemy. He, meanwhile, tilted his head, his smile having faded as soon as she spoke that last line. His fingers curled into fists that rested on his knees. On the screen, the movie paraded on during the long silence between them, from a scene of Anya singing to the images of the workers gathering around her, reaching towards her in desperation.

"Every last Prospero in the city who knew your father was in the city mourned for him," Cesario finally said.

Viola pursed her lips. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

Cesario shook his head. "No."

At that, Viola bit her lip. "Then why tell me all this? My father is dead, and I don't think you can expect me to take his place."

"I don't," Cesario said. "Nonetheless, you are your father's daughter. The Montagues and the Capulets will not stand to have you exist. You should be prepared."

Viola shook her head. "But I already know Romeo Montague and his friends, and they don't care that I'm a DiAngelo. They didn't even say a word about Prospero when I told them who I was."

Cesario gave her a grave look. "The younger generations do not know your father. Neither does the Data Bank. If you wish to remain alive, do not remind them. Don't give out your surname to anyone else."

Narrowing her eyes, Viola inched towards the far edge of her seat, away from Cesario. "Why do you care about me?"

"My client."

"What would your client want with me?" Viola asked. "I don't know what my father said or did for you, and whatever it was, I… I can't handle politics. You can't expect me to be a leader."

Cesario shrugged once more. "My dear Knight Illusion, you give yourself too little credit. Besides, my client simply wants you alive for another purpose. I couldn't tell you what it is if I knew, but apparently, even the DiAngelo name itself is important to us, regardless of who bears it."

At that, Viola stared numbly at the images on the screen. In the silence that lapsed between them, the movie progressed to the image of a riot breaking through the streets of the city. Well-dressed officials pushed against the crowds in desperate attempts to keep them at bay as guards in a large square led Anya by the arms from a court towards a large, glass building. Her mouth never moved, but she cast a glance towards Frederick, hidden in the crowd silently. Eventually, she disappeared through the door, and he made a silent vow to free her.

The scene transitioned then, from the chaos of the streets to a white room. Anya sat, strapped to a chair with a crown of diodes circling her dark head. She stared across a metal table to a bald man in a second chair in front of a box of controls. Two guards stood by him as he reclined and gazed at the prisoner.

His lips finally moved.

Tell me. Who are the leaders of the rebel movement? Tell me, and I will set you free.

Anya shook her head.

Do what you want. No matter what you do to me, I will never surrender, and neither will they.

The bald man's mouth stretched into a thin line. His fingers reached to the box and pressed a button. Anya seized in the chair as the music swelled in a horrifying crescendo. Her back arched, and her mouth opened in a silent scream for several moments before she finally slumped in her chair, breathless and weak. Watching her with a neutral gaze, the bald man waited until she slumped, at which point, he opened his mouth.

Well?

Once again, Anya shook her head, and the bald man's fingers drifted towards the button again.

Viola flinched. Her fingers gripped the arm rests as she watched Anya convulse on the screen in an exaggeration of electrocution. She inhaled, turning her blue eyes towards Cesario, who watched in incredible interest.

"Cesario," Viola said, "do you know anything about my mother?"

Her fellow Knight grinned. "Not enough. I know she was incredibly beautiful, an inspiration to your father. That's all, however."

She nodded with slow, slight movements. "So… What did they do? I mean, were they on the mayor's council or something?"

At that, Cesario pulled his eyes away from the screen and gave her a strange look. Viola shifted uncomfortably as she saw his eyes stare into her, burrow beneath her skin and pierce right through the other side. Finally, he grinned again.

"Do you recall the package that you obtained the night you met my colleague, Knight King?" he asked.

Viola nodded. "Yes."

"Do you still have it?"

"Yes. I think so."

Cesario turned his eyes back towards the screen. "Open it."

---

The truce came about over two hours ago. Thirty minutes later, both Sebastian and Toby realized that Viola was nowhere to be found. Toby felt he possessed the wisdom and maturity (and, for that matter, a staravia) to go looking for her, so in the meantime, Sebastian sat in the dark store, partly watching the merchandise and partly waiting for the possibility that Viola would return on her own. He sat alone with his Master in his lap and Marowak's poké ball in his hands. Briefly, he thought about company, either calling Imogen or releasing one of his pokémon, but he felt as if he wanted solitude – or, at least, only a certain voice to break the silence. For a long time, he got only that: quiet in which he meditated on a set of questions over and over again.

It was well into the night when the sound of the bell on the front door finally broke his thoughts. Sebastian lifted his head to see Viola and Haunter storming inside with only a distracted greeting from the human. Sebastian jolted to his feet and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say a word, Viola disappeared through the door to the stairwell.

"Hey!" he called. "Hey! Wait!"

His eyes frantically glanced from the merchandise to the broken window to Haunter, who was just about to disappear into the stairwell. Stumbling away from his chair, Sebastian held out a hand and smacked into the counter. That action stopped Haunter immediately, and the ghost turned his eyes towards Sebastian and chuckled.

Exhaling, Sebastian rubbed his side and maneuvered around the counter as he addressed his partner's pokémon. "Haunter, what happened tonight? Is Viola all right?"

Haunter nodded, bobbing his purple body in mid air with a laugh.

Sebastian heaved a sigh of relief. "Who was that other person? Was she a Knight?"

The ghost nodded again, then held up his large hands. Sebastian gazed at them carefully.

"She won, didn't she?"

After a moment's pause, Haunter lifted his hands, palms towards the ceiling, in a gesture of indifference.

Frowning, Sebastian shook his head. "Thanks, Haunter. You're a big help here. Listen, guard the store while I go talk to Viola, okay? I don't want anyone coming in here."

Haunter nodded once more and proceeded to float towards the broken window. Sebastian watched for awhile before shaking his head. He didn't say a word as he pushed open the door and started up the stairs. With his hands on the banister and his eyes towards the darkness, he frowned.

"Never did like that thing," Sebastian mumbled. "I don't know why she insists on keeping it."

Exhaling another sigh, Sebastian reached the top of the stairs and looked out towards the small hallway above the shop. The door to Viola's apartment was wide open, and a yellow light filtered from the foyer into the hallway. Cautiously, Sebastian made his way into the apartment, nearly tripping over Viola's shoes and coat in the process. Stooping down, he picked up the coat and placed the shoes neatly next to the door.

"That's weird," he muttered. "She doesn't normally leave her things lying around like this." He glanced towards the dark hallway. "She doesn't leave her apartment door open, either."

Sebastian pursed his lips and shut the door quietly behind him, and with careful steps, he made his way into the apartment. His eyes swept over every detail of her living space in search of her as he entered the hall towards the bathroom and bedrooms. Tearing his eyes away from the living room, he peered down the hall and towards another yellow light, this time filtering into the hallway courtesy of a bedroom door that was only left open a crack. Creeping forward, Sebastian slung Viola's coat over his shoulder as he tilted his head. When he approached the door, he placed one hand gingerly on the brass knob and the other on the edge of the wooden door. Squinting, he opened the door a little wider and peered inside.

"Viola?" he whispered.

Inside, she sat on the bed with crumpled brown paper in a ball next to her hip. In her lap, she held a hardcover book. Her hands smoothed a photograph over its cover as her eyes stared at it with a distant expression. He noted with a strange fascination that she wasn't wearing her usual thick-framed glasses. Those were on the nightstand on the far side of the bed.

Sebastian took her lack of response as a sign and stepped into the room. "Viola?"

She looked up, startled by his presence. He stopped, finding himself staring into her eyes with uncertainty.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

Viola forced herself to smile and nod. "Uh, yeah. I, um… I just opened this package. You remember the one I got not too long ago, right?"

Sebastian nodded and started making his way towards the bed. She moved aside a little, giving him enough space to sit down next to her. He took the invitation, cautiously moving to keep himself comfortably on the bed without being too close to her. His eyes tore away from her face and fell instead on the photograph she was holding.

There, he saw two men sitting at two places at a wooden table. The one on the left was a hefty, smiling gentleman with snow-white hair and sparkling, gray eyes. Sebastian could tell at a glance that the man was someone of importance. His black suit seemed pristine, even considering the fading of the photograph, and several of his large fingers sported gleaming rings.

Next to him, half leaning over the man, was a considerably younger figure, not much older than twenty-five. His dark hair was slicked back, and those same eyes stared through Sebastian from where they were set in a thin, pale face behind a familiar pair of thick, black-framed glasses.

Sebastian turned his head towards Viola. His mouth opened in search of a question. She seemed to sense it and turned the photograph over to reveal something written in pencil on the back.

"Salvatore Prospero. '76," she read. Then, she turned the photograph back over. "Salvatore Prospero. Of the Prospero House. I only learned about them tonight, you know. I don't know how my father got involved with them." She pointed to the younger man. "I guess… we do look a little alike, don't we?"

Her voice was starting to break up. She bit her lip and looked away, a hand reaching towards her face. Sebastian's own hand started drifting towards the one left on her lap, but for reasons he couldn't define, it stopped before he touched her. Instead, it retreated to his lap.

"Um…" Viola shook her head and lifted the photograph. "I think his son or relative or someone wrote this book. I found the photograph in it but nothing about how it's related."

She passed the book over to Sebastian. With curious eyes and cautious hands, he looked at the cover, at the silhouette of a rapidash rearing, superimposed over a white flower. Although he knew that no one had seen the image plastered on the city for over twenty years, he knew right away what it meant.

"Gabriele Prospero," Viola said. "I wonder if he's in the city anymore…"

Sebastian looked up, inhaling sharply as if someone had punched him in the chest. He quickly handed Viola the book, prompting her to glance at him with curiosity.

"Viola," he said, "I know I say this a lot, but you do not want to get involved with this. Prospero…" He closed his eyes and began again. "I've told you a long time ago that the Cross family is a high-standing Capulet name. I've… I've never really believed in any of my family's philosophies, especially what they had to say about politics, but…" He opened his eyes. "My mother once told me as a child about the Prospero House. She said that every political party in Verona City – even the Capulets – shared the same basic qualities. That's how she lost her brother."

He paused slightly to take his breath. Glancing towards his companion, he noticed that Viola's eyes were still riveted on him. Upon observing how much she was paying attention, he offered her a smile.

"I remember my mother crying when she told me the story, even years after it happened. My uncle was on the defense forces twenty years ago for the Capulets. He was there when the riots broke out, when the last Prospero struggle happened. It was their ideal right then, Viola. They incited the crowds, told them to torch the buildings in the Sunflower District. The Sunflower District, Viola. That's the heart and soul of our city, and they told thousands of people to destroy it.

"He was killed trying to stop it. They – the police – eventually did, but by that time, there were so many bodies in that district. Capulets, Montagues, Prospero… Both pokémon and human… It was an actual battle." He shrugged. "After that, the Prospero House disappeared from the city. It's too difficult to find out any more about them. Even the Data Bank has nothing to say about them. It's as if every trace of them mysteriously disappears, no matter what you do to look." He paused slightly. "They don't even have an obituary for my uncle."

Finally, Viola managed to open her mouth and speak. "Sebastian… you never told me."

In response, he shrugged. "I never thought you knew anything about the Prosperos." He looked towards her with another grim smile. "If I were you, Viola, I wouldn't open that book again. I don't want you disappearing on me the way the Prosperos did." He started walking towards the door. "Besides, if you disappear on me…"

At that, his voice trailed off, and he stopped at the threshold to the room. He wanted to finish that sentence with a single question, but he just couldn't bring himself to ask it. Viola stared at his back and blinked.

"What?" she asked.

He grinned. "If you disappear on me, then who will help me run the shop?"

With that, Sebastian closed the door behind him and walked down the hall, quietly and slowly. When he reached the living room, he stopped altogether, then looked over his shoulder to see if Viola was following him. Upon seeing that she hadn't even opened the door, he turned swiftly, placed his hands on the wall, and smacked his forehead against the plaster surface.

Meanwhile, in the bedroom, Viola let Sebastian's words sink in as she stared at the photograph. With pursed lips, she flipped it over and read the text on the back again before turning it back to look at her father's face one more time. She'd almost forgotten what he looked like. Her fingers traced over his image, and she felt the hot tears forming at the corners of her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she placed the photograph carefully beside the thick-framed glasses and ran her hands over the cover of the book again.

Then, she flipped to the first page and began to read.

---

The literal heart of the city – its very center – was a large square known as the Sunflower District, named for the street that ran directly down the center of Verona City and along the square's western edge. On both sides, closer to the center of the city, skyscrapers rose, standing proudly on Verona's skyline as the chambers of commerce, justice, and government.

Further along the street, where Sunflower Street crossed the Gold River to the southern part of the city, sat the mansions of the houses. At the south end sat the manor of the Prince family, its old façade overlooking the Gold River the way it had been for countless years. Several streets to the west, the Montague family mansion sprawled along the riverbank, with the black waters of the river shimmering in the yellow light cast by the building's windows. To the east of the Prince mansion, Capulet Manor sat, surrounded on all sides by high, stone fences and carefully guarded gates. Each guard stood vigilant with guns at their hips, growlithe by their sides, and their eyes staring straight ahead, towards the darkness of the street.

So Romeo went around back and flew over the wall.

He knew he had a high chance of getting caught, and he knew just as well that the Capulets would hardly offer any sort of mercy for him, despite the fact that he was the heir of the ruling party at the time. Nonetheless, he took the first chance he got to climb break away from his friends – from Benvolio – to release a swellow that would carry him by the shoulders over the wall and safely into the garden.

His feet tapped quietly onto the stone walkway, at which point he patted the legs of his bird gently. Her red claws released his shoulders, and her blue and white wings flapped as her beak opened to chirp. Quickly, he whirled around and held a finger to his mouth, then pointed to a nearby tree. Obediently, the bird extended her wings and flew gracefully and quietly into the branches of an apple tree, causing its leaves to rustle slightly as she perched and eyed her master carefully. Pursing his lips, he turned and walked quickly down the walkway, between the patches and bushes of flowers.

The garden, he noted, looked a lot like the one in his family's courtyard. It sprawled across several yards, with walkways lacing between large patches of color (although that color was dulled by the dark of the night). At the center of it was a square several feet wide with a floor of pure marble. At its heart was a white fountain crowned with the party's symbol: a luxray of white stone standing on its hind paws with its forepaws extended in the air in front of it. Its jaws were open, with each pearl tooth sharpened to a point. The luxray, Romeo knew, symbolized the ferocity and the regality that the Capulet House believed they had: they were, in their minds, the lions within the city.

At the other side of the fountain, he saw her back. She was a young woman whose dark, chocolate-colored skin contrasted sharply to her white, loose dress. The back of the dress dipped low, exposing the smooth back of her slender, graceful body. Between the bony shoulder blades, her black, course hair hung low, bunched in a low ponytail by a golden clip. As he cautiously rounded the fountain, he saw her bare, slender arms move, with a thin hand petting a large luxray that sat on the ground near her bare feet. He detected Romeo first, turning to bare his teeth in a menacing growl, but she immediately wrapped her arms around her friend's neck and held him back.

"It's okay," she whispered. "He won't harm us."

Listening to his mistress's words carefully, the luxray relaxed, slipping from her hold to lie down at her feet. She smiled as she reached down to pat the electric-type. Eventually, she looked up, turning her dark eyes onto Romeo.

"I thought you wouldn't come," she said quietly. "You shouldn't be here."

Romeo chuckled and stepped forward. "Yet, you waited for me."

The woman stood. She appeared to be much shorter and younger than Romeo, yet he never attempted to wonder if there was an age difference between them. Instead, as she stepped closer to him, his mind completely blanked.

"Of course I did," she said. "Romeo…"

Slowly, she reached up to caress his cheek. He took a shuddering breath as his face blushed slightly at her touch. His heart began to beat rapidly, and he felt a strange warmth flowing into his fingers. Carefully, he reached towards her hand and held it against the skin of his face.

"I know we've only met tonight," he said, "but I want you to know something. I don't care who you are. You are the most beautiful creature I have ever met. I would sell my name and let your family kill me if it meant that for one night, I got to be with you. But… do you care that I'm a Montague?"

The woman smiled and leaned closer. "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. If you expected me to be disgusted by you because of your name, then I'm sorry, Romeo. I've disappointed you."

"Juliet," he whispered.

Before he could say anything else, Juliet ventured close enough to connect her lips to his. He closed his eyes, opting to let the words in his mind fade into oblivion as he wrapped his arms tightly around her small frame.

In the shadows of the garden, someone turned and walked away.
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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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