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Author's Note: The following is the second version of this fanfiction (which is still there for the sake of comparison). Quite a number of things have changed. Quite a number of other things have stayed the same. Characters have been dropped, added, put in the spotlight, et cetera. Also, it now has an actual intentional theme, and it's told in the straight third person, rather than the objective first that's vaguely touched upon in the prologue. Names have been changed, passages have been changed, others have stayed the same. Anyway, you get the idea.
One chapter will be up every week until I finish the chapter I'm working on now. Then we can be back to the schedule of "I'll post one when I feel like it."
A spotlight shines on an empty stage, in upstage center. For a long moment, the air is chill and silent. Then, quietly at first, the sound of shoes falling on wood floors breaks the stillness. A young man, dressed in black over his pallid skin, emerges from behind the red velvet curtains on the left edge of the stage. His dark eyes scans the audience, a sea of empty, red chairs and nearly as empty aisles. Smiling to the single viewer standing next to the front row, he takes his position directly beneath the spotlight.
His eyes remain on that single viewer as he inhales a deep breath and begins.
"All the world's a stage."
In a similar fashion, months earlier, when the snow still collected at the edges of each street in masses of gray and brown, a dark-skinned man in a suit mounted a platform just beyond the steps of a city hall. He approached the podium as his near-black eyes fell on the crowds and cameras staring in an anxious hush. As soon as he stopped just behind the podium, he curled his gloved hands around its edges, cleared his throat, and leaned towards the microphone attached to the corner.
"Ladies and gentlemen, people of Verona City," he said in a low, booming voice, "I am pleased to announce a momentous occasion: one that I hope will unite our citizens in a celebration of sportsmanship. I present to you the Midsummer Game!"
"And all the men and women, its players."
Months later, a young woman cautiously entered a dilapidated warehouse. She looks at the ceiling tiles (or, in some spots, the lack thereof) as she moves forward. Her small feet navigated around the broken pieces that have already fallen on piles of scrap metal and wire.
"They have their entrances…"
Stopping at a particular pile, the woman pulled a device out of her pocket and quickly examined the glowing screen. Satisfied, she put the device back into her pocket and knelt on the dirty tiled floor to dig through the pile of debris.
Behind her, a shadow moved.
"…And their exits…"
The woman's fingers pulled from the rubble a silver key. Before she could properly examine it, however, a white needle pierced the back of her skull, penetrated the slippery membrane surrounding her brain, and firmly planted itself in a fleshy lobe. With eyes that were wide but unseeing, she pitched forward. Her face buried itself in the garbage heap in front of her as blood spurted from the blood vessels lacing her head and into the cold, open air. She failed to feel it.
A spider and another woman approached her body. The human knelt, her black hair falling to form a curtain hiding her childlike smile as she picked the key out of the corpse's still-warm hand.
"…And one man in his time plays many parts."
The actor stops and gazes into the nearly empty seating area. His coy smirk lingers as he stares at the woman in the aisle.
"How many parts will you play in this act, I wonder?" he says.
The house lights flash on, and at last, he can see the face of a woman who could be his twin. Her blue eyes stare blankly at him. Gradually, her lips part, and her skin pales.
His smile grows.
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.
Oh my God! I can't believe my perfect timing! :D Let me just say that I am SUCH a huge fan of this fic, I can barely put it into words! ^o^
I'm so glad it's back...and that you're back...even if I don't really know you. xD I know your fic and it's awesome! Hehe...sorry, me rants when nervous. xD
Anywho...yay, Shakespearean names! ^o^ Viola is one of my FAVOURITE characters ever! Will she be dressing up as a boy somewhere along the lines? Will Sebastian turn out to be her long lost identical twin brother??? Er...okay, that's going overboard. ^.^'Erm...what other extremely fan-girlish question could I ask...Oh! Will there be comedy of errors? xD
Keep it up, I can't wait to see more of this! xD *cheers for you*
Haven't you heard? Love isn't just for perfect things...
And now, the purple fic - but not pruple prose -> I can't believe I'm doing this...
In the next chapter:
Whoa! Thanks for the review! I'm glad to be back, and I'm certainly happy that you like it so much.
In answer to your questions...
Technically, Viola likes dressing up in men's clothing already, but I don't think she's been mistaken as a man yet (mostly because she certainly doesn't act like one). I plan to do something with that later, however. ^_-
Although Sebastian isn't her brother, I'm right now thinking about that, and that's an awesome thought. XD Alas, I don't think it'd be plausible if I decided to put it in, if only for amusement.
As for the comedy of errors, there definitely will be, but unfortunately, I can't and shouldn't say anything more about that.
Act Two: Entrance
"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 had hastily put on before departing.
"Again?" she said. "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 said 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 said 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 light and the scent of fresh roses. She looked up to find herself not on the set of a horror movie (as she had 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, which bore 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 after 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 Wisteria 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 said. "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 woman said. "You're technically already inducted, but each month we like to formally introduce you to the other players. Attendance is optional but highly recommended."
"But I don't—"
"The PDA is yours to keep. Check it frequently. Every so often, you will be given a task to complete. If you succeed, you'll rise in rank, and you'll gain points which can be used to buy products at all complying stores throughout Verona City. If you fail, you won't have points taken away, but you'll drop in rank. Drop below Rank Z, and your position within the Midsummer Knights will be revoked. That means you can't play the game anymore after that."
"Each rank has its own set of privileges, but the higher your rank, the more you receive. For example, Rank Z only has one ride-all-day pass for the Verona City Transit System, but Rank A has a permanent pass for as many rides as you'd like as long as you maintain your rank. So, you'll have to work hard, keep climbing, and avoid dropping in rank. 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 into a fit of laughter.
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 had almost forgotten the night before ever happened.
Lying to Sebastian took a lot of her will. She had never really defied him before that night (mainly because his advice was usually the best kind in her opinion), and she still felt oddly guilty. Yet, he hadn't wanted her to be a Knight, and there was no way out for her. She had given 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 had told him she hadn't joined. She had told him his plan went perfectly, so he had taken 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, for that matter, she still was still barely getting by.) 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 Wisteria 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 Wisteria 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 said 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 had 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 said. "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 Wisteria District 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 Wisteria Street, however, was actually several streets over, on the edge between the Wisteria and Tulip Districts. 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 had already forbidden him from doing so. As a result, he had to content himself with 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 before she joined the Game 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 the stranger's scarlet, Chinese-style dress with gold trim. The stranger's 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 said. "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.
KewL** Maybe I Should Learn From You Fan Fic Writers
Superb Keep Up The Good Work!!!
And DO CoNTINUE tHIS wAitin For The Upcoming Chapters.
Whanna Help Me With My Hack??
Join Me Here
Un, freakin', believable. I've read through this fic twice now, once on the prowl for unscrupulous typos and grammatical mistakes, and the only thing I came up with is this:
Other than that, I really can't find anything to pick on. Dang your impeccable writing. >.<
Seriously, this fic is awesome. I meant to read the original one, but it ended up being like one of those 'must read' novels for me. You know, the ones everyone says you should read, you know you should read, and know that you'd probably enjoy reading but that somehow end up sitting untouched in your bookshelf anyway? No? Well, it was like that, which is why I'm glad to catch it at the beginning this time around. Can't really offer much in the way of advice since your writing already beats mine. I'll give you particular credit for the very detailed setting description and the characters. The prologue and first two chapters have been a very enjoyable read, so please keep them coming. Pretty please? I really do want to find out what happens next...and you re-reader people had better not spoil it for me. >O
Featured Theme: Patchouli Knowledge (Touhou Project)
Provided by and jointed with: Phani
Best viewed together, profile customization still in progress
Scandalous Maido Love Affair and Pair: Phani
Estranged Ex: The RP Section Rules
Sworn Rival For All Eternity and about five minutes beyond: Chibi
Illegitimate Lovechild: Mika
Card-gaming Beta on a Leash: Scarlet
Thanks for the review as well. ^_^
@ Alter Ego: Thanks for pointing that out! I'll try to keep that in mind (and, well, go back through the other revised chapters to see if I did it again, as I sometimes have the tendency to do that). I must admit, though, that the absence of grammatical errors is mostly thanks to the reviewers of the original, particularly Negrek and Dragonfree. (I should really actually use a beta. ^_^;)
Thank you for the compliments as well, and I'll certainly continue this. The next chapter will be coming in one week. ^_^
Act Three: Conflict
The train clacked along the track as the passengers aboard its third car rearranged themselves. Most of the passengers crammed themselves into one end of the car, just behind a trembling Viola. They had their wits with them; it was most likely going to be Viola who would be at fault for any stray attacks. Rosaline, who was just moments before a mere stranger, strutted confidently to the other end of the car with her poké ball still in hand. She turned, and her light brown eyes fixed themselves on Viola.
The latter felt her knees go weak. Doubts settled in her. She knew there were bound to be some fights because she was a Knight, but she still felt reluctant to do anything. Was it right for her to use her father's pokémon this way? Granted, he gave them to her in his will, but wouldn't it be treading on his memory to put them in danger?
Rosaline, however, didn't waste any time. With a flick of her wrist, the ball was sent spiraling to a spot just in front of her. The ball tapped the gray floor of the train and cracked open to send brilliant, white light flowing in an arc to a point just in front of it. Light illuminated the walls of the car and sent trembling shadows where there normally wouldn't be, almost like the shadows cast by a flashlight in a room lit with candles.
As soon as it appeared, however, it faded away to reveal a slender, plant-like creature standing on two pointed feet. Its thin arms – each tipped with a different-colored rose – were crossed in front of it as its head bowed in the same way that ballet dancers sometimes bow their heads just before the curtain rises.
The ball, meanwhile, snapped back together and floated gracefully into Rosaline's hand. She grinned as she watched Viola's actions.
"Well, child?" she said after a moment's pause. "Aren't you going to send out a little playmate for my Roselia? She could certainly use some exercise."
Again, Viola hesitated. She wanted to be a Knight, but was she ready for what it meant?
Maybe I should just go back, she thought. It's not too late. Go back home.
With that, she turned and walked a few paces as a sign of retreat. No sooner had she done so, however, than her pocket began to beep. Startled, she reached into it and drew out the PDA. On its face, bold words appeared.
"Knight Illusion, you are ignoring orders. Therefore, your rank has been decreased to Rank R."
She stared at the words. What did they mean?
"Got a reprimand, Knight Illusion?" Rosaline asked.
Viola looked over her shoulder in confusion. Rosaline's eyes narrowed at her as the rest of the woman's body leaned forward. A harsh smirk remained etched into the Asian's face.
"Didn't anyone tell you?" she said. "Weren't you paying attention? The more you defy orders, the more you'll drop in rank. That means you can be expelled from the Knights just by failing to do something as simple as this." She paused to straighten herself. "Of course, I'd hardly say it's fair at all that the Controller would send a new Knight out to battle someone as talented as me, so I don't blame you if you don't want to finish your task."
At those words, Viola turned completely around. Her eyes were wide, and she shot her opponent a perplexed look.
"The Controller?" she said.
Rosaline smirked again as she reached into the folds of her dress and drew out her own PDA. "Someone has to send these orders off to our Masters. You really are new if you didn't know that."
"Who is he then? That someone, I mean."
After a brief moment of laughter, Rosaline hid her PDA – or Master, as she called it – in the folds of her dress.
"No one knows," she said, "and no one cares. And that's neither here nor there. After all, look at your Master."
Viola glanced down. To her dismay, her rank had been dropping even while they spoke. By then, she was at Rank U. She had to act fast, but she didn't know what to do. All she knew was that she couldn't bring herself to hurt Haunter.
The unique thing about pokémon training is that the longer a pokémon spends with a human being, the stronger the bond between them grows until they become so close to one another that no word needs to be spoken between them to express their feelings. Even in the world of high technology and the need for human superiority, the ancient bond between human beings and pokémon still lingered. Such was the case with Haunter. Many years had passed since the demise of his former master, and since then, he had been the guardian of his master's daughter. At first, she had been scared of him and had constantly kept her distance. Then, little by little, as the years passed, they had built a relationship together to the point where Haunter was closer to Viola than any human being on the planet. He was the essence of her father, the guardian against harm, and the best friend she ever had.
At that moment on the train, he stopped floating about the car and playing with the energy of the passengers. Instead, he lifted his eyes towards Viola and studied her carefully from his perch just above a napping man's head. He could see it from that point: the fear and the hesitation and the need for someone else to give her a push in the right direction. Whether he knew it or not, Haunter was about to make one move that would change Viola's life.
He moved between Viola and Roselia.
Then, there was a pause. Viola tried to call him back, but she seemed frozen in place with her body defying every order her brain sent to it. She watched as he floated there, prepared to fight for his master. Rosaline, however, barely acknowledged how touching the moment was.
"Roselia, begin the match with Leech Seed!"
Without any hesitation, Roselia gracefully swirled her arms out of their crossed position and pointed her red rose straight at the floating specter. In the center of the blossom, a small, brown tip poked between the petals and remained there for a brief period of time. With a smirk just as dirty as her owner's, Roselia tensed the muscles in her blossom hand and pushed forward to shoot the seed straight out of the center of the flower. The brown bullet soared through the air towards Haunter. Air space closed between the object and its target. Time slowed.
Then, just as quickly as the bullet was moving, Haunter's body drifted towards the floor. His hands stayed in the same place, but the rest of him slid smoothly downward to let the seed project cleanly over his head and land at Viola's feet with a tap. As soon as it was gone, he snapped back into place and merely laughed as Roselia stared dumbfounded at the insolent beast.
Rosaline was none too happy with this outcome. "Roselia! Strike with Leech Seed again!"
The rose didn't need to be told twice. She quickly lifted her red-tipped arm as another seed poked between her petals. With another push, the seed went flying at the specter, but again, the ghost slid out of the way. Suddenly, the train filled with a strange, scratchy laughter as Haunter bounced about the cabin in delight. Naturally, his egotism was met with disgust on his opponent's side.
"Fine," Rosaline said. "Roselia, use Stun Spore to stop Haunter in his tracks!"
Obediently, Roselia raised her rose-tipped arms again and aimed directly at Haunter. She was sure she wouldn't miss this time as she tensed her muscles to prepare for an attack. Within moments, a fine cloud of gold dust sprayed from the centers of her blossoms and towards the waiting ghost.
Then, he disappeared completely.
Roselia looked like she had inhaled her own noxious cloud as the gold dust passed completely through the space Haunter had formerly occupied. As seconds passed, the dust drifted to the side and coated a plastic seat not too far away with a fine layer of gold. In the meantime, Roselia and Rosaline looked around to spot the ghost, but neither could see a speck of purple. Frustrated, Rosaline turned to Viola, who stood still throughout the whole moment.
"Where is it?!"
Viola shrugged. "****ed if I knew."
"You're its trainer!" Rosaline's face began to turn as red as the silk of her dress. "And you're supposed to be dueling me!"
At that, Viola only grinned and gave Rosaline a dark look. The Chinese woman took a step back. She couldn't remember seeing such intensity and confidence in the other's eyes. In fact, her eyes widened at the realization that she couldn't remember Viola's eyes being sapphire blue – deep and near black.
With a sudden crack, a bolt of black lightning struck Roselia from the side. Viola didn't move. She only watched Rosaline tear her gaze away from her and notice for the first time that Haunter had appeared on the left. Rosaline cursed, knowing full well that she allowed herself to be distracted long enough for Haunter to reappear.
"You!" Rosaline's eyes turned back to Viola. "You did that on purpose!"
"All I did was look at you," Viola explained calmly. "The rest was your own fault for letting your guard down… just like you are again."
Rosaline's eyes turned back to the Haunter just in time to see him slide a pin of pure light into his ghostly body. His lips moved without sound, but Rosaline didn't need to hear him to know what was happening. The sacrifice, the spell… Her eyes looked downward at her own roselia, only to see her doubling over as a black aura suddenly began to surround her body. The rose's spindly arms were wrapped around her shivering frame. The damage had been done.
Knowing she had to act fast, Rosaline went through all the possible strategies in her head.
"Roselia, Leech Seed!"
Viola smirked. "Again? A tired strategy, my dear."
Rosaline smiled. "But we're not aiming at Haunter."
Quickly, Roselia lifted her red arm as the tip of a brown seed emerged from it. Every muscle in the cabin tensed as the grass-type smiled at her target: Viola herself. With a small phut, the seed went completely airborne.
The next instant went by in hours. Viola watched as Haunter glided between the seed and her to protect her, and the next thing she knew, green tendrils snapped around to the back of his head to bind his face. A red aura began to surround the tendrils as small, red energy bubbles pulled from the tip of the seed in the center of Haunter's face back to Roselia. Haunter lowered himself slightly as his ghostly hands, though struggling to tear the tendrils off, began to work sluggishly.
At that point, Viola's sudden burst of confidence faltered. It wasn't so much because she was hesitant to hurt her father's pokémon. It was because of something else. The fear of a cornered animal lingered in her eyes, and the darkness of the realization of what Haunter had done pulled at the corners of her mouth. Her fingers fumbled in her coat pocket for a moment before bringing out a single poké ball. With a press of a button, it enlarged in her hand. Quietly, she aimed the same button at the back of her pokémon.
Quickly, Rosaline flung her hand in an outward gesture. "Roselia, Magical Leaf!"
With swift and graceful movements, Roselia stretched out her arms and twirled. Each quick, violent turn shook free a razor-edged blur of green and pink that flew through the air like a boomerang and sliced across Viola's wrist. With a sharp shriek, Viola dropped her poké ball and stepped away. The ball landed on the floor with a muffled tap, and Viola's free hand fluttered to her open wrist. Even with her hand encircling it, blood trickled from the ripped skin and dripped onto the floor. Viola clenched her teeth as the pain still bit her nerves.
"Sorry, girl, but a duel is what it sounds like," Rosaline said with a soft giggle. "It's a fight between only two pokémon. Unless, of course, you were surrendering, at which point I'll have to apologize and accept it. Oh, where are my manners? No need to force the new Knight into battling me!"
Viola growled and turned back to her haunter. "Haunter, hang on! We can get them! Do your worst!"
With narrowed eyes between the tendrils, Haunter acknowledged, and a ball of pure, black energy formed between his open hands. Roselia stared at it, purely stunned by the power being put into one of the most infamous ghost-type attacks. Her trainer, meanwhile, only watched quietly. In moments, the ball was almost as large as Haunter's head, and that could only mean that it could possibly rip a hole in the train's floor. Rosaline's fists tightened. Her mind drew a blank, unable to concoct a possible counter, and Roselia wasn't nimble enough to evade even the powerful shock waves of the move.
In seconds, she didn't even have to. Haunter gave one last push, and the ball careened towards Roselia. The rose didn't dodge. She instead allowed herself to take the full brunt of the hit. No scream filled the cabin. She simply vanished into the shadow for several moments before reappearing at her master's feet. Her body was bruised and battered, but she still didn't look any worse than the haunter that was still struggling with the tendrils on his face. With a small kick from her master (an action which earned a flicker of disgust across Viola's face), the roselia rose to her stubby legs and walked forward. Her back was straight, and a glint shone in her eyes. The bruises meant nothing to her, and Haunter's movements were becoming more sluggish by the minute.
"You call that your worst?" Rosaline said. "Pathetic. Let me show you true power. Roselia, it's time. Hidden Power!"
With a cry, Roselia crossed her arms in front of her and closed her eyes. Viola watched in wonder as the rose gathered her energy. White orbs danced in rings around her as she pooled all of her energy into her arms and hummed quietly to herself. In a low voice, Viola leaned forward and whispered something to her own pokémon. Rosaline didn't notice. She was too intent on watching her Roselia finish charging. By that time, the orbs threw a white glow around the yellow-lit cabin.
Then, all at once, a battle scream rose from Roselia's throat as her arms snapped forward. The white orbs surrounding her pooled into a larger ball just beyond her blossom-hands, and from that ball shot a large beam of light. Viola quickly dove out of the way before Haunter took the hit and was blasted backwards several feet. When the beam finally released him, he fell to the floor of the car and didn't stir.
However, just as Rosaline opened her mouth to gloat, her own roselia fell flat on her face as well. So, instead, her mouth hung open as an expression of shock, rather than pride.
"A draw," Viola said calmly as she stepped forward to pick up her poké ball.
"How dare you!" Rosaline's voice alone revealed how livid she was. "How dare you do that when I was clearly winning! How dare you cheat like that!"
"Cheat?" Viola smirked. "Haunter learns Destiny Bond naturally. It's a nasty move, yes, but it's completely legal according to Pokémon League rules that have existed for centuries. You can't deny them, nor can you deny this."
To prove her point, Viola reached into her pocket and pulled out her Master. On it, bold words proclaiming the completion of her task were displayed. As if to verify the truth, Rosaline produced her own Master and examined it to see the same message.
"You don't deserve anything but a complete loss," Rosaline hissed.
"Maybe not," Viola said, "but I knew I wouldn't have gotten so much as a draw if I had played completely fairly. Apparently, neither did you, judging by your treatment of a downed roselia."
With that, Viola turned and recalled Haunter with only a few inaudible words left to say.
"What was that?" Rosaline demanded.
As the train came to a halt, Viola looked over her shoulder and gave Rosaline an emotionless stare, as if the woman had only just noticed Rosaline even existed.
"I'm warning you, Knight Illusion," Rosaline said. "I know many powerful Knights, and I will see to it that they know you exist. You may have been my match in wits now, but there will be a time when you make a mistake."
Viola turned away from Rosaline and walked through the open doors of the train. She didn't really feel like responding to the threat.
With the return of PC comes the latest chapter. We can just pretend it's Sunday.
Act Four: Ascension
Verona City can be best described as a square-shaped bull's eye. The very center of the city is the smallest of the squares straddling both banks of the Gold River. Within it are the basic government-related buildings: City Hall, the police headquarters, and the courthouse. The square framing this district is composed of two streets housing the chambers of commerce, namely the most exclusive corporate headquarters in the city. Beyond that, each district – the next containing buildings that are very literally shadier than those in the ring before them – houses one or two streets until they fade into the last rings of more than sixty, beyond which are the badlands that separates Verona City from its neighbors, Celadon and Saffron.
Illyria was located in the Orchid District, ring fifty-six.
To put it simply, Illyria was a nightclub. It must be spoken of in the past tense, as it no longer stands, and it doesn't with good reason. The outside of the building was a façade of black brick (although the bricks were red when the building was first erected) with a simple neon sign above the black, metal doors. Lines of lost souls usually stood beneath the sign's pink glow while being denied entrance by a dark-skinned mountain in a black suit and the machoke beside him. Even knowing their fate, they still stood in line, hands in their deep, black pockets, metal through their noses and other absurd body parts, and hair in gravity-defying styles and hardly natural shades of the rainbow. Each had the hope of being admitted into an equally dark world filled with pink and blue beams of light and a beat that shook the walls from the inside out.
Inside, it was literally impossible to hear. The speakers – large beasts roughly as tall as a pair of nidoking, one standing on the other's shoulders – trembled at their own power as they emitted a blast of noise and incoherent voices. Dancers, similar to those still outside, threw themselves at each other in a wild, tribal mating dance as the beams of light played briefly on their faces. Then, one by one, they would peel from the mass of black and slump into one of the chairs at the round, metal tables to the side with their minds drunk on a combination of adrenaline, alcohol, and possibly a narcotic. To the back was not only the DJ but also the bar, at which stood two bartenders, including a girl who looked far more normal than anyone else in the club with her straight, dark hair and piercings only in her nose and ears. Her dark eyes glared at the men as she served them glasses of brightly colored liquid; they thanked her by attempting to look down her red tube top.
For a brief moment, she stopped to push strands of her long hair behind her ear to reveal the set of silver, and her eyes glanced towards the door. She stopped immediately as she eyed the red figure stepping over the threshold and around the pit of Illyria. A smile grew across her face. She recognized the newcomer. How could she not, what with the absurd regality of the figure's stance? Immediately, she leaned towards the other bartender – the newbie in black – and whispered a single message to him before sauntering away from the bar and towards the back door on the other side of the DJ's post.
The door swung open easily at her command, and she stepped forward into a dark and somewhat more organized office. The shouts of the riot in the pit became increasingly muffled until they were barely audible when she clicked the door shut. At a desk against the far wall sat a man with his face framed by a dark ponytail on top and a fringe of dark hair on his chin. A single lamp illuminated his tanned face and the collar of his black blazer as he pored over paperwork on a mahogany desk while a Persian rubbed against his legs. His green eyes lifted slightly towards the girl, and he stood and rushed around the desk to seize her. She laughed as he twirled her in his arms and dipped her.
"Well, Olivia!" he said with his smooth, deep voice. "What brings you to the Unseen Hell? Shouldn't you be bartending for the perverted urchins of the world?"
Olivia snickered. "Oh, Orsino, you know I prefer a quieter setting. Besides, I came to warn you that a danger might be coming for you."
Orsino brought Olivia back to her feet and backed away until he leaned against his desk. A playful smile still played across his face as the Persian silently padded to his master's side.
"Oh?" Orsino finally said. "What sort of danger?"
With a broad smile, Olivia put her hands behind her back and rocked on the balls of her feet.
"What's got a black mane, red silk, and all the illusion of blue blood?" she asked.
At that, Orsino's face fell. "Oh God. I thought I told her never to set foot in this club again."
Olivia chuckled. "Dear Orsino, you know all too well that she believes a 'no' from a man is just a simple and brutish way of saying, 'Please, my dear goddess on Earth, follow my every footstep until the day when I am fully ready for you to take me between your--!'"
Almost on cue, the door swung open, and Olivia was immediately silenced. She looked over her shoulder as Rosaline stepped into the room.
"Ah, Knight Rose!" Orsino said through clenched teeth. "It's so very good to see you! What brings you to our humble establishment?"
"As much as I would like to revel in the fact that I'm welcome here," Rosaline said (while ignoring Olivia's smirk), "I have come to talk to you about a new Knight among us."
Orsino chuckled. "Ah, fresh sacrifice, I see. How long has he lasted?"
"Oh, this one is still very much alive."
At that, Orsino grinned. "Then why should I be interested? Unless dead from a gruesome end, then there should be no reason to pay attention to them, I think."
"You should be interested because this one nearly defeated me in a battle!"
"Hardly surprising," another voice said.
Rosaline turned her head sharply to the left to see the silhouette of a young man on a couch. Although she had an idea of who that silhouette was, the ditto creeping along the couch's back confirmed her every suspicion. With that image in her mind, Rosaline shuddered.
"Hardly surprising that you should be here too, Cesario," she said. "Have the sewers and gutters been unkind to you, child?"
"No more than mirrors to you, Rosaline," Cesario said with an unseen grin.
Rosaline burst into laughter as she sauntered to the couch and leaned down. She smiled sweetly at Cesario as she placed her lips near his ear.
"I'll have my roselia slit your throat in your sleep," she whispered.
"As much as I would adore knowing that I am to die by your delicate hands, my lady, I am far more interested in hearing more about this Knight of yours," Cesario said calmly. "Tell me, Rosaline, what do you want us to do with him?"
With that thought, Rosaline laughed and stepped back to her original spot. "What? Why, Cesario, what are you thinking?"
"Oh, be honest with us!" Cesario said. "Rosaline Wu does not grace us with her presence without an ulterior motive."
Rosaline frowned and crossed her arms. "All right then. I wish to hire you. All of you."
"Are you certain?" Orsino said. "The services of the Trio hardly come cheap."
"A couple million yen just to tie your shoes," Olivia added with a grin as she sauntered to Orsino's side and hung limply with her arms around his neck. "A couple more to inflict a bruise. Ooh… Can Olivia rhyme!"
Rosaline bared her teeth in a disgusted frown as she continued. "I am willing to pay anything you wish to see to it that my reputation is not ruined by this new Knight. She walked away once, and she can come back and walk away again with my Key in hand. I want you three to see that such a catastrophe never occurs."
"Oh, because it would be so dreadful," Cesario said with heavy sarcasm.
Orsino, luckily, ignored him. "Four million for the first try. We'll reduce the cost by half for each failure. That means after the third try, the next one is on the house. Four million, two million, one million, zero."
"And by then, we'll resort to… more drastic measures," Olivia said with a cat-like hiss.
Rosaline smiled. "What an offer! You are far too kind. Consider yourselves hired."
Orsino extended his hand to seal the deal. For a moment, Rosaline simply stared at it before she finally took it. A firm handshake later, and her hand was back at her side with a tingling sensation like the end result of a deal with the devil.
"All right," Orsino said. "Tell us, Boss. Who is this Knight of yours, and how do you want to make her suffer?"
"Her name is Viola DiAngelo, Knight Illusion," Rosaline said, "and your first assignment will be two days from now."
Olivia pulled away from Orsino. She ran through a mental calculation in the silence between the four of them.
"Induction Night," she whispered.
"Precisely," Rosaline said with a wide grin.
Viola's eyes rose to study the façade of the Dumont mansion. The time between her last mission and Induction Night passed quickly, and she only received a few easy assignments. Deliver a package to one place, pick up and mail a letter from another… it wasn't a particularly exciting few days, but it did boost her rank to Rank Q and her points to eight hundred. Besides, deep inside, she wished that she would only receive easy assignments. It was far easier to get a simple task done and be home before Sebastian knew than it was to struggle to complete a task or defeat a Knight and rush home. The fight against Rosaline ended with only a close shave itself: Sebastian entered the shop just a half an hour after a breathless Viola ran back to her station.
For the umpteenth time, she ran her hands over her attire: pressed shirt, slacks, and her least-worn black jacket. With a deep sigh, she approached the familiar mahogany doors. She knocked cautiously and waited on the doorstep. Then, the door slowly opened, and inside stood a girl in a black suit. Her snow-white hair was smoothed down, framing her face in a pageboy cut. Red eyes stared at the visitor from behind wire-rimmed spectacles.
"May I help you?" she asked.
With a quick shake of her head to snap herself back into attention, Viola bowed and said, "I'm Viola DiAngelo, one of the new Knights. I was told there was a ceremony tonight."
The albino butler drew a gray PDA from her pocket and watched as words flashed across its screen. When it finally stopped on an entry, she grinned.
"Ah! Knight Illusion. Please follow me. We've been expecting you."
The butler stepped aside, allowing Viola to enter the ornate lobby. She heard the door creak shut behind her before the butler touched her shoulder and motioned for her to follow. As she walked, the butler began her explanation.
"The ceremony will begin in fifteen minutes. In the meantime, please feel free to mingle with the other players. Make allies. You may need them later in the game. When the time comes for your induction, I will come to get you. During the ceremony, all you need to do is sit where you need to, stand to receive your induction, and sit again. You won't be the first in line, so if you're confused, you can simply watch the others. Really, though, the entire induction is very simple and goes very fast, so most of the night may be spent socializing, though you're free to leave if you wish. Any questions?"
"Yeah," Viola said, "who are you, and what's the point?"
The butler smiled as she mounted the top of the steps and threw open the doors. Viola was immediately silenced as she saw the Great Hall.
Somehow, the room seemed brighter than the foyer, although just as many light fixtures hung from the ceiling. The walls were pure white, and the chandeliers threw light in all directions. Half of the room was crowded with white-covered tables, but beyond that was a smooth dance floor and, even further away, a stage. A string band played in the far left corner, but their music was nearly completely drowned by the chattering of a couple hundred well-dressed men and women and the waiters that mingled around them. Few people noticed that Viola stepped down to the second highest stair. She turned back to the butler, but she was startled to see that behind her was only empty space. With a deep breath, Viola turned back to the crowd – the vast sea of unknown souls – and descended.
To say that Viola was just a little uncomfortable at that moment was a heavy understatement. Her palms became soaked in sweat, her wide eyes darted from face to face, and her breath came in short gasps. She trembled in nervousness as she wormed her way through the crowd. "Claustrophobia" echoed in her head as the edges of her field of vision darkened.
Then, a hand reached up to grab her shoulder.
The chattering of everyone else was abruptly silenced by Viola's scream, and the awkward hush continued for a few brief seconds before the voices resumed with a certain caution.
Viola, red in embarrassment, swung around to see a rather startled young woman. Her wide, black eyes were fixed on Viola as her thin, dark-skinned hand fell to the purple satin on the front of her dress. She brought her smooth lips together and bent her head downward slightly. Her fingers drifted to one of her black dreadlocks draped over her bony shoulder, and she played with it nervously.
"Sorry," she said, her voice drawling with a Jamaican accent. "I should have said something first. My name is Imogen, by the way. Imogen Spencer. I don't think we've met yet."
"We haven't," Viola said. "You aren't going to fight me, are you?"
"What?" Imogen blinked and raised her empty hands. "No!"
"No gimmicks? No tricks? Nothing like that?"
"No, nothing like that!"
Viola raised an eyebrow. "What's your deal then?"
Imogen shrugged. "No deal. I'm here to meet new players, just like you."
"I don't have a choice for being here," Viola retorted.
"Oh, child, we all have a choice," Imogen said. "We can either come or not come, even if our Master tells us what to do."
With that, she smiled. Viola stared at her for a moment in an attempt to analyze her. The smile was broad, but the eyes were relaxed. It wasn't the smile of a cat or a con artist. It was… different.
Imogen blinked as Viola extended her hand. "What?"
"My name," Viola said, "is Viola DiAngelo. Nice to meet you, Imogen."
With that, Imogen drew in a breath and enthusiastically shook Viola's hand. Then, with a giggle, she wrapped her other arm around Viola's shoulders and led her around the room.
"Great! Great!" she said. "Come meet the others!"
Viola could barely protest as Imogen walked her around the Great Hall. When someone of note appeared, Imogen waved an arm towards them with zeal. Viola regarded each face carefully while attempting to figure out which was going to be a problem for her in the future. Many never noticed her and went on chatting with fellow Knights excitedly, but a few threw coy glances at her that made her nervous beyond all words.
"Over there is Antonio Cortez, Knight Ox," Imogen said during the tour. "Stay away from him. He's a dead stupid egotist. Over there is his sister, Maria, Knight Bubble. She's very nice, but she isn't the brightest Knight in the game. Knight Tragedy over there is Hamlet Swartz, an heir to a brewing company, but he's far too depressing to waste time on. They say his mother married his uncle. There's Tybalt Capulet, Knight Tiger and the nephew of the head of the Capulet party. You'll meet celebrities like that in the Game, but I wouldn't recommend trying with Tiger. His temper goes off at the smallest thing. Then there's Daniel Trent, better known as Puck to many of us. He's Knight Comedy, and he lives up to his Key's namesake. Very funny man, but he may trick you out of all your money. That happened to Knight Faith once. I don't see her here, though, but you'll know her when you see her. She likes to make herself known. Oh! There's one of my closest allies in this game. I never would have made it this far without him. Knight Tide!"
Viola's eyes rose as a young man walked forward. Their eyes met and widened as the recognition dawned on the both of them.
"Sebastian," Viola whispered.
Nothing more was said as Sebastian's features distorted into an expression of anger. Luckily, in the next instant, she felt a soft tap on her shoulder. Viola looked back to see the smiling face of the butler.
"It's time, Miss DiAngelo," she said. "Come with me for the last preparations before the induction ceremony."
With that, the butler turned on her heel and walked through the crowd with Viola behind her. For a brief moment, Viola looked over her shoulder to catch the gaze of Sebastian again, but he offered no warmth before turning back to Imogen. A cold, tight sensation spread through the bottom of Viola's stomach, and she briefly thought she was going to throw up. She even tasted the acidic bile in the back of her throat as she walked through a set of doors.
Viola snapped into attention to notice the butler looking over her shoulder.
"What?" Viola said.
A moment of silence lingered between them as the butler eyed Viola carefully. Then, she turned again and walked down the hall and into another room. Shaking off the dazed state, Viola jogged after her.
Inside the room, three other Knights waited, chatting with one another on a sofa against one wall. Viola, completely uninterested in mingling now, isolated herself by leaning against the white wall on the other side of the room, just between two paintings. The butler, meanwhile, walked to the door at the far side of the room and opened it. The sounds of the party filtered into the room.
"This way leads to the corner of the room just near the stage," the butler said. "Each of you is to walk through this door when they call your name, go onto the stage, and kneel before Knight Root, who will be performing your knighting tonight. When he completes the ritual and tells you to rise, stand at the front of the stage, facing the rest of the party. Any questions?"
Viola raised her hand slightly. "So is Knight Root the Controller?"
For a brief moment, the butler stared at her blankly, but this awkwardness dissolved into laughter.
"No, Miss DiAngelo," she said. "Each Induction Night, one of the elder Knights – the first twenty Knights to obtain their Keys and be inducted into the Game – is chosen to knight newcomers. They haven't even met the Controller before. They're just told by their Masters to perform the ceremony. Now, if you don't mind, the ceremony is about to begin."
With that, she leaned back to poke her head out the door. Sure enough, in the next moment, Viola heard the chattering die down as the sound of shoes on wood rose above the dying conversations. Before long, the voice of an old man echoed through the Grand Hall and the small room behind it.
Viola, however, wasn't listening. Instead, her mind wandered back to Sebastian. How could he be a Knight when he didn't want her to be one either? How could he keep that sort of secret? With those questions in mind, Viola's emotions went from shocked to angry. She bent her head down, tearing her gaze away from the butler and the three other Knights on the couch. They didn't matter to her. What mattered was that Sebastian kept something from her. Did he really not trust her enough? Of course, it was logical now: she had been sneaking from the shop behind his back to work on missions. Nevertheless, is that really what their relationship came down to?
Startled by the interruption, Viola tore her gaze from the floor to notice that the three other Knights were missing from the couch. The last one stepped through the threshold, and the butler was now by Viola's side.
"Miss DiAngelo, prepare yourself," she said. "You're up next."
With a nod and a deep breath, Viola stepped forward until she stood within the threshold itself. There she was: on the line between the Great Hall filled with her future and the empty but safe past behind her. She asked herself silently which was the better choice.
At once, her name was called, and she stepped forward.
In the Great Hall, the Knights applauded as the new inductees took the stage and went through the all-too-familiar motions of kneeling before the elder Knight. In the middle of the dance floor, Imogen stood among the crowd with her eyes watching Viola. A grin spread across her face; she knew there was something promising in her relationship with that girl, even then.
Suddenly, however, she felt someone brush against her. She turned her head abruptly to see Sebastian push through the crowd, and at once, she remembered the look on his face when he saw Viola. Curious, Imogen cast one last look at the stage before turning and pushing through to follow Sebastian.
Sebastian had other things on his mind. A million other things in little, hot shards stabbing his brain. How could she do that to him? After he told her not to, no less. She wasn't supposed to be there. She was going to get hurt… or worse. She wasn't meant to be a Knight.
No, there was no way out for her after that except to fail her missions, and she would. Sebastian would see to it, even if it meant he would have his own title revoked. No, she couldn't play.
No, she wouldn't play. But then, she had already defied Sebastian's orders. What made him think she wouldn't do it again?
"Sebastian, I'm talking to you!"
Impatiently, Imogen grabbed him by the shoulder. He whirled around in surprise, flinging his arm with a thud into a table.
"What is wrong with you?" Imogen asked. "What's stirred your temper this time?"
Sebastian frowned. "You really want to know? That's what's stirred my temper."
He pointed towards the stage, and Imogen followed his motion. She gazed for a brief moment at the new Knights, but nothing clicked.
"What? That girl I introduced you to? She doesn't seem too bad."
"You don't know her," Sebastian said. "I do."
"Oh really?" Imogen said as she flashed a wide grin at Sebastian. "How?"
"She's a friend. One of the closest ones I have."
Only then did it dawn on Imogen. Her smile faded just as quickly as it came.
"Oh. She's…? Oh, I'm sorry, Sebastian."
Sebastian pulled away from her grip, turned one of the chairs at the table towards the stage, and sat down with a heavy flop. His eyes continued to stare at the stage as the elder Knight helped the new inductees through the rest of the ceremony.
"Don't be," Sebastian finally said. "I should've told her before now what it's really like to be a Knight."
"It's not your fault, you know," Imogen said.
She was going to continue as she sat down in one of the chairs, but as she did, her heel hit something under it. Instead of continuing with her thought, she looked under the chair to find a plain, black box with a red rose sitting neatly on its lid. Sebastian leaned forward to see what she was doing as she pulled the box up and into her lap and carefully lifted the lid.
Immediately, a roselia doll with its arms spread wide popped up into a standing position. Underneath, a strange clock clicked to life, its green numbers starting from 5:00:00 and clicking down in a rapid countdown in the last two groups. Beneath that and above a silver keypad, five boxes flicked to life, each eventually displaying a different number of dots.
Then came a long, ear-piercing whistle. The other Knights erupted into startled screams as the induction ceremony came to a halt. All eyes turned towards its source in the back of the room.
Finally, the explanation came from a recording somewhere in the box, just after the thing cackled. "Hello, dear Knight. Now is the time to test your cleverness with a little game. Already want to quit? You can't! You see, this box is a trap!"
At that moment, Sebastian and Imogen realized that the entire hall was watching the two of them. Out of the corner of his eye, Sebastian saw a shadow move past the doors of the Great Hall. Knowing that everyone stared cautiously at him as well, he still took a chance and went after it to leave Imogen trembling and alone.
"Have I gotten your attention, Knight?" the box asked. "Good. Listen carefully. There is only one answer. One answer is all you need to punch into that keypad there to stop the timer and disarm the trap. That's it. Simple, right?
"Now, for the game. The game is called Petals Around the Rose. That's important because the only two things I can tell you about the game itself is its name and the fact that the answer will be either zero or an even number. That's it! No more hints!
"Oh, just one more thing, though. If you press down on the arms of my doll up there, you'll instantly add thirty more minutes to the timer. That's thirty more minutes to figure out the puzzle before it and the rest of the Great Hall goes up! But you can't let go because it's pressure-sensitive. Let go, and the trap will spring anyway! By the way you'll probably need those minutes… because I've already wasted two of the minutes you've already got!"
At that, the entire hall erupted into chaos as people ran towards the exit all at once. Imogen sat, stunned by the box's words. She could barely make out a "good luck" as she watched the remaining three minutes tick away slowly. To her horror, she realized she couldn't move. The entire shock of the game stirred her thoughts and turned her muscles to pure ice. She couldn't think. She couldn't tell her body to act. She couldn't do anything.
Then, she heard Viola.
"Imogen! Grab the doll! You can do it! Please!"
With a blank expression, Imogen looked up as Viola fought her way through the crowd and towards Imogen. The older Knight realized then that she wasn't going to be alone after all. Somehow, that morbid thought of rushing off to meet death with someone by her side comforted her.
She grabbed the doll's arms as the last Knight passed through the door. The timer struck the last second but was immediately launched back up to thirty minutes and one second. Imogen let the image sink in. Thirty minutes, a Roselia doll with its arms forced into a crossed position in front of its body, five boxes, ten silver buttons, and two Knights right about to commit suicide.
With that all fresh in her mind, she looked up at Viola with a smile.
Olivia and her ariados stared out the window of one of the upstairs bedrooms. The room once belonged to Ophelia Dumont herself, and as such, it was perfectly preserved: guarded by a velvet rope and relatively untouched until now. Ophelia's brushes and mirrors were still in place on the wooden bureau. No speck of dust gathered on the red, velvet sheets covering her untouched bed. The curtains around the bed were drawn perfectly, as if they were lacquered in place.
"I'm bored with waiting," Olivia said to her Ariados. "Let's go."
"You're not going anywhere."
A smile crossed Olivia's lips as she slowly turned away from the window and towards the figure behind her. Sebastian stood at the doorway with a Poké Ball in hand and a scowl on his face.
"Well, Knight Tide," Olivia said with a bow, "I was wondering how long it would take for you to arrive."
"You planted that thing," Sebastian said.
Olivia straightened and giggled. "Perhaps I did."
"What's the Trio up to now?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out. Ariados!"
Olivia didn't need to say anything more. Ariados sharply tilted his head upwards and quickly narrowed his eyes. Suddenly, black bolts of lightning tore from his pupils and cut through the air towards Sebastian. Without hesitation, he dodged just before the black lightning struck the floor to leave an unsightly, jagged spot on the crimson carpeting.
Sebastian had yet to lose composure as he calmly landed not far away and flicked his poké ball outward. It tapped the floor just a few feet to the side before cracking open to release dazzling, white light that quickly morphed into the form of a lizard twirling a bone in its paw. The rest of the ball snapped shut and floated back to its owner just as the marowak finished his baton show.
"You're not leaving here without a fight," Sebastian said.
"Ah, dear Knight, but the timer is clicking down," said the other Knight, "and do you really trust Knight Butterfly to have snapped out of her cowardly act and set the timer for another thirty minutes? And do you trust Knight Illusion to know what to do from there?"
"That other girl, my dear. She's such a pretty thing. Looks like she might snap like a little twig in a breeze."
At once, Sebastian knew who Knight Illusion was. His hands instantly balled into fists.
"You leave Viola out of this!" he said.
Olivia chuckled. "But, dear Tide, for whom else could that present be? But if you insist on going down with all of your friends, I wouldn't mind escorting you. Ariados, dispatch these pests with Night Shade!"
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.
Act Five: Boom
The Great Hall was silent except for the steady beep of the black box in Imogen's lap. Her hands shook, but she didn't dare release the roselia doll from her grip. Across the table from her sat Viola, who propped her elbow on the white cloth and supported her chin on the palm of that hand. Her eyes stared through her glasses but saw seemingly nothing. Haunter floated nearby, more as a comfort than anything else.
"Imogen?" Viola finally said.
There was a short silence as Imogen looked up and studied Viola carefully. The new Knight continued to stare at nothing in particular.
At last, Imogen said, "For what?"
With a sigh, Viola lowered her head until her fingers slipped over the bridge of her nose. Gently, she started rubbing it as a headache set in.
"For everything," she said. "For dragging you into this mess. I should've taken that box from you."
"Listen, girl, you're not the one who opened the box," Imogen said gently, "and you wouldn't have had enough time to take it off me with everyone rushing all over the place. It's okay. We just need to figure out this problem."
"But what if we can't?" Viola said as she removed her hands and shot Imogen a cold look. "What if time runs out or we choose the wrong code? We're going to die, Imogen."
"There's a one in I don't know how many chance of getting the code right," Viola said. "We can't just guess in this situation. We need to have a certain answer before we try anything, but I can't figure out how to find that out."
"Even then, I don't have a margin that would allow me to make mistakes. If I make a mistake, that thing is going to go off. On the other hand, it might be a bluff, but I don't think we can take that chance."
There was a pause. Imogen stared blankly at Viola but was rewarded with a cold glance again. Haunter watched them both cautiously as he drifted past, but otherwise, everything was still. At last, Imogen pointed at Haunter.
"How did you get your Haunter?"
Viola raised an eyebrow.
"Imogen, I'm not in the mood for non sequiturs," she said.
"Just tell me."
"Because—" Imogen paused to look down at the box. "—you need to stop."
Viola's eyes widened as Imogen's words sank into her skull. Slowly, with heavy uncertainty weighing down on her chest, Viola relaxed, allowing her back to drop against the back of the chair. Her chin was against her chest briefly, but soon, she lifted her gaze to look towards the corner that had previously fascinated her.
"He was my father's," she said. "My father had him as long as I can remember. He had all of the pokémon for as long as I can remember, actually. He gave Haunter and the others to me."
Viola suddenly stopped. She closed her eyes as she drifted in her own world. Her head felt light, as if the slightest lean would cause it to roll off her shoulders and float into the air like a balloon. The memory of her father surfaced in her mind. She saw him clearly, as if she saw him that very day. She saw his narrow, blue eyes and his teeth – white like the wisps of snowy hair among his gray mane. Her lower lip curled under her teeth as she remembered how his strong arms hugged her, even in his final days. Above all, she heard his voice, cracked with age and soft with the early grip of illness.
"My little bambina," he whispered, "let me teach you something. Let's play a game."
Her eyes glazed slightly as she dwelled on the memory.
Suddenly, Viola realized Imogen had asked her a question.
"I'm sorry. What did you say?" she asked.
"I said, 'What are the others?'" Imogen tilted her head. "Are you okay?"
Viola hastily nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay. Ah, the others… Well, there's Poliwhirl, Meowth, and Venomoth. I just prefer Haunter's company a bit more than theirs."
"If you say so," Imogen said as she gave Viola a skeptical look. "Anyway, that's a little cruel towards the others, don't you think?"
Viola shook her head. "Not at all. They don't mind, actually. They accept the fact that we have our differences."
"We can relate to one another. Besides, he makes me laugh."
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?"
"Had to. 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 in this kind of place."
"You're not often called an optimist, are you, Viola?"
Viola smiled bitterly. "Optimism is an easy way to avoid reality."
With a crack, the black bolt of lightning surged from the ariados's eyes and straight towards Sebastian and his marowak. Each let loose a separate yelp as they dove out of the way in separate directions. Within seconds, the dark rush of energy struck the carpet behind where they once stood and left a black mark against the deep red of the floor.
Sebastian tilted his head upwards as he heard Olivia's light, slow applause.
"Not bad, Knight Tide," she said. "Not bad at all. It's your move then."
She was met with a wary, brown-eyed gaze. As Sebastian rose to his feet, he surveyed his opponent carefully. She was up to something, and he knew it.
"Marowak, keep your distance," he said. "Focus Energy!"
With that command, Marowak held out his bone and tensed every muscle in his body. His eyes were fixed on the spider as he meditated to prepare himself for the rest of the match.
"My move," Olivia said, "and I choose to move my pawn closer to your bishop. Ariados, Spider Web!"
Quickly, Ariados jerked his head upwards and parted his pincers just enough to reveal his tiny mouth. From somewhere under his exoskeleton, a gurgling noise bubbled into his mouth just before a stream of a strange, white substance shot towards the guardian pokémon. Marowak, however, watched with calm eyes as the substance rushed towards him. Then, at the last moment, he jumped to the side, allowing the white liquid to fly past him and connect with the carpeting. Instantly, the chemicals solidified into a net on the floor. Ariados snapped his pedipalps in disappointment, cutting the string at his mouth.
"How fair is it for you to make a move while mine barely finished!" Olivia said with heavy sarcasm. "Where, pray tell, is the honor in that?"
"Funny you should be talking about honor, Knight Spider," Sebastian retorted. "Marowak, strike with Bonemerang!"
With that, Marowak pulled his arm back and threw his bone with as much vigor as he could muster. The bone twirled through the air at a rapid pace towards its target. Ariados had no time to dodge as the bone closed in on him. With a loud crack, the femur drove itself across Ariados's cheek. The spider's head jerked to the side as the bone curved back towards its owner's outstretched paw. A small crack laced across the site of impact as the spider slowly turned a vicious gaze back towards Marowak. Olivia, meanwhile, grinned, despite the condition of her pokémon.
"My turn," she said. "Ariados, use Disable!"
Ariados's eyes immediately began to take on an eerie, blue glow as the spider concentrated on imagining the guardian pokémon frozen where he stood. Marowak, in the meantime, made the unfortunate mistake of looking directly into Ariados's eyes in a state of cautious curiosity. The ariados's eyes narrowed; his target exposed himself. With the speed of a hunter snatching his prey, Ariados mentally plunged into the marowak's mind. Marowak froze as he felt pressure clamping onto his brain from all sides. A blue aura began to ebb around him, and in his moment of weakness, he found he couldn't move. His trusty bone slipped from his paw and landed on the floor next to him with a muffled thud as the word "Bonemerang" became something unfamiliar to him, covered by the psychic patch Ariados sewed onto his mind.
Sebastian clenched his teeth and his fists at the sight of his disabled pokémon. He didn't want to admit defeat, especially to one of the Trio, but his mind was struggling to find another way around his present problem. Upon seeing the frustration etched on her opponent's hands and face, Olivia took up her feline grin.
"Are you ready to give up?" she asked.
Sebastian ignored her. "Marowak, break out of Ariados's hold with Thrash!"
Upon receiving the command, Marowak's body jerked violently. The blue light surrounding him quickly faded as Ariados twitched as a reflex. Although the spider knew what was about to happen, he had no time to dodge as the lizard lunged at him with as much power as he could muster. At first, Ariados saw Marowak as not much more than an orange and white blur zigzagging around the room, but within a minute, the blur came at and, not long after, was on top of the spider. Marowak slammed into Ariados and pushed him into the floor with a sickening crunch. Ariados squealed as one of his thin legs became trapped under the rest of his body and as cracks began to creep across the rest of his exoskeleton. Shocked by the strike, Ariados couldn't do much more than endure a flurry of kicks, punches, and slams from Marowak's lightning-fast body.
Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. Marowak backed away with a slow, shaking step. His breath came in gasps as he struggled to keep the balance his heavy body threatened to lose. Sebastian looked from his own pokémon to Ariados and finally to Olivia herself with a smirk of satisfaction. He was surprised to see, however, that despite the condition of Olivia's spider, she was still smiling that feline smile.
"What?" Sebastian asked.
With a grin, Olivia said, "Flash."
Immediately, Ariados rose to five of his six legs, the sixth being the one that had been damaged under his weight. His eyes took on a strange, white glow this time as he concentrated. A white aura engulfed him as he visualized pushing his energy outward in all directions.
Then, it happened. The spider released his light.
For a split second, Sebastian saw nothing but white. He stumbled backwards in confusion: he no longer knew which way was up. Somewhere in the field of white, he could hear his Marowak crying out in pain before a loud thump signaled that he had fallen. Soon, Sebastian joined him as his heel caught on something under him. A sharp pain jolted through his back as the hard floor slammed against it. He winced and shut his eyes, but it felt like the light entered his body and was ripping his eyeballs apart from the inside out. His vision turned from white to pink and purple behind his eyelids, and he knew then that he would receive no relief from the assault.
Somewhere beyond his reach, glass shattered. Knowing he had to act quickly before Olivia made her next move, Sebastian struggled to his hands and knees as his eyes slowly opened. All he could see was a hazy parody of Ophelia Dumont's bedchamber. Sebastian cursed as he realized it would take some time for his eyesight to fully recover. He shut his eyes again as a searing pain ripped through his head, emanating from the cores of his eyeballs. Gingerly, he put his hand to his forehead and tried to shake the feeling off, but he knew it was no use.
"You won't get away," he whispered to Olivia.
What he couldn't see at that very moment was a fine thread of spider's silk trailing from the corner of the sole broken window.
If it wasn't for the fact that 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 she had managed to shove onto the table – 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 became 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.' Big deal."
Again, the two lapsed into silence. Viola frowned as she careened down the path of sheer pessimism. Her eyes closed again.
"If my father was here, he'd be able to solve this."
Imogen looked at her with a strange glance. "What?"
"My father," Viola said. "He had an answer to everything. No matter what the problem, no matter what the game, he could solve it. Every night, he would try to teach me the things he knew – logic, games, common sense – but no matter how eager I was to live by his example, I just couldn't possibly be on his level."
Imogen frowned. "Stop that. Don't be so hard on yourself."
Viola sharply shifted her gaze towards Imogen. Her eyes widened in surprise. She hadn't expected that reaction.
"Look, I don't know you that well," Imogen said, "but I can tell you're a better person than you think. Your problem is your ruddy outlook. You go into everything thinking it's going to turn out for the worse, but you know what? You're not going to get anywhere like that. The Game will eat you alive if you don't shape up. Heck, life will eat you alive."
At her words, Viola bristled. "I don't know about you, but I'm doing just fine, thank you. Who do you think you are, anyway?"
"I think," Imogen said, "that if I didn't have an ounce of goddamn faith in you, I wouldn't be holding this stupid poppet."
That single sentence stopped Viola completely. Her eyes widened, and a hint of redness crossed her cheeks. She felt her hands tremble slightly.
"What?" she whispered.
"I said," Imogen said with a smirk, "that if I didn't have faith in you, I wouldn't be holding this stupid doll."
Viola pulled a few black strands away from her face.
"Do… Do you really mean that?" she asked.
"Imogen doesn't lie, girl."
Viola frowned slightly. "But why? You don't know me. I could disappoint you so easily."
"But you won't," Imogen said, "because you don't want to die either."
Although Viola wanted to ask about Imogen's reasoning, she found that she could only stare into her eyes. Imogen smiled as her gaze penetrated Viola's glasses and possibly her flesh to reach her soul. Viola's heartbeat quickened. Her veins pumped something warm through her body.
"So, go on," Imogen said as she nodded towards the box. "What did your father teach you?"
With a sigh, Viola reclined in her chair and closed her eyes. She summoned her memories of her father, the first of which was the one that had entered her mind a few moments ago.
"My little bambina," she muttered with a small smile. "When I was little, he taught me how to play a game."
"What game?" Imogen asked.
"It was a dice game," Viola said.
She paused. Slowly, she opened her eyes and leaned towards the table, still set and waiting for Knights to come and sit at each place. Even the ice in the glasses of water were still waiting, as if time and temperature had no effect on them. The cold bit her skin, but she still held them – five of them – as if they were dice.
"He had five dice," Viola said, "and he would roll them—"
Briefly, Viola closed her hand into a fist and shook her arm as if she was shaking dice. Then, she flicked open her hand, and the cubes fell onto one of the plates, only to slide onto the tablecloth just beyond its white edge.
"And?" Imogen asked.
"And then he'd ask me," she said, "'Little bambina, how many swinub are around the ice hole?'"
As Viola's eyes continued to stare at the ice cubes, her smile faded, and her expression turned from nostalgic to distant. She watched, seemingly unaware of anything but the shrinking ice cubes on the tablecloth and the growing, gray spots of dampness beneath them. Imogen looked from the ice cubes to Viola with a raised eyebrow.
"What is it?" she said.
"The same game," Viola whispered. "Dice. That's what those spots are."
Imogen's own eyes widened as she looked at the boxes on the face of the device.
"How can you tell?" she asked.
"I don't know, but it looks like they're arranged the same," Viola said. "We have nothing else to go by except for that guess."
Imogen nodded. "I trust you. What now?"
Viola closed her eyes and thought back to her father. She put as much effort as she could on returning to that very moment when her father taught her the game. He saw his dice clearly: little wooden blocks with bright, black spots on each face. They spilled over the empty space on his work bench. When they stopped, Viola stood on the stool, and her father leaned next to her and motioned to the dice with one large, callused hand.
"Look, my little bambina," he said. "Look at the dice and tell me how many swinub there are around the ice hole."
At that point, Viola remembered that she looked into her father's eyes.
"How, Papa?" she asked.
"Ah! Good question," he said. "Two things are important in solving this puzzle. The first is that the name of the game is important, and the second is that the answer will always be even or zero. Always."
"Always," Viola repeated.
Her eyes looked at the dice for a long time. Each face was different: one, six, four, two, and three. She knew that it couldn't be adding, as the sum of the faces produced seventeen. With a furrowed brow, she added up the sum of the even dice.
"Twelve?" she asked.
"No, bambina," her father said gently. "Try again."
Viola tried to add the odd numbers together. "Four?"
"No, bambina. Would you like another hint?"
She nodded eagerly.
"What," he said, "could the ice hole be?"
Viola looked at each dice before shaking her head.
"Look carefully," he said. "The odd faces have ice holes with swinub around them. The even faces don't."
She stared at the dice. Her gaze fell on each die, and soon, she began to see the small differences between each. Specifically, a very small difference at the center. Carefully, she picked up one of the dice and turned it to see the five side. The difference was still there, glaring in black ink.
"The middle dot?" she asked. "The even sides don't have one, but the odd sides all do."
Her father's smile broadened.
"You're on the right track, bambina," he said. "What's the next step?"
Viola turned the die she held on its original side and placed it back on the work bench.
"So, if there's no ice hole in the middle of the dice," she said, "does that mean they don't count?"
"That's right," her father said with a nod.
"And one doesn't count either, since there's no dots around the one in the middle, right?"
"So, if I count the dots around the ice hole…" Viola looked at her father. "The answer is two?"
Her father burst into laughter and scooped her into a hug. She closed her eyes as she felt his strength and warmth. It was her reward, her prize for a job well done.
In the present, Viola opened her eyes and looked at Imogen and the box.
"How much more time have we got?" she asked.
Imogen shook her head. "Only a few more minutes."
"Fine," Viola said as she leaned towards her. "I think I might have it."
She gazed at the dotted boxes like a fortune teller into a crystal ball.
"The rose is the same as the ice hole," she said. "It's the dot in the middle. So…"
Her fingers reached out to touch the faces of the boxes. She pursed her lips as she looked carefully at what numbers with which she had to work: four, one, four, five, and three. A new number flicked through her mind.
"Six," she said. "Five and three. Four petals around the rose with five, and two on three."
"That's it?" Imogen asked.
"There's only one way to find out," Viola replied.
Her fingers hovered over the keypad. Something cold suddenly crept into her heart as she began to hesitate. A tremor shook her hand, and she found she couldn't press the button. She bit her lip as doubt entered her mind.
She looked at Imogen. Once more, her expression was soft, yet she still smiled as she nodded to her hands. Viola glanced at the device again to see not only her hand but Imogen's. The cold slowly faded into warmth.
"Thanks, Imogen," she murmured.
Then, her index finger fell on the six, followed soon after by the enter key. The latter clicked beneath her fingertip, and time froze. The timer stopped. The beeping stopped. Everything stopped.
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 darted around the table and nearly knocked out of her what wind was left in her lungs by diving onto her in an awkward 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 shirt. 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. A sigh heaved from his lungs, and he tilted his head back 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.
Hmmm...a mideval Pokemo fanfic. Super-duper! I like how you described the relatioship between Viola and her Haunter. I'm eager to find out the mysterious idetity of the Trio.
Keep writing you must!
JB IZ THE OVERLORD!
Here's the link to my PMD fanfic!
...and its short story spin-off!
And...the sequel's beginning!
Name: Baby Charmander
Adopt one yourself! @Pokémon Orphanage
Uhh...jb...we've already established loudspeakers, trains, piercings, pokéballs, abuse of narcotica, headache-inducing music and shady night clubs; to my mind that's not a medieval setting (Whether it's completely modern is anyone's guess, but it's certainly not medieval). The knight thing is just a theme for the big game. =O
Anyways, I would have commented earlier, but RPs and real life issues just swallowed me up. It's all good, though, seeing as how these two chapters pretty much belong together anyway. I must say, Imogen is an interesting addition to the cast (Looking forward to see the character development that comes out of this particular friendship :3). Sebastian being a knight wasn't completely unexpected, but it certainly cast some additional light on the relationship between him and Viola. (Both sneaking out on missions behind the other's back, go figure.) The whole puzzle thing was pretty sneaky, but I've got to wonder: with two millions on the line, why did they set up such an elaborate scheme instead of just having it blow up in Viola's face? (Or why didn't they rig it to detonate regardless of what combination you put in?) I take it, this is a personal quirk of Knight Spider's or some kind of rule in this game they're playing? I should hate to think that it was there for the sole purpose of keeping the main character alive. x3
Anyway, just a minor thing I noticed
Oh, and since I thought I had commented on the third chapter but actually hadn't: excellent call on making the battle between Viola and Rosaline a draw. It's a refreshing change from the usual routine of the main protagonist winning their first battle against all odds and makes a lot more sense too. Same goes for her initial hesitance over battling. Imogen has a point: Viola does have a crummy outlook on things. xD
Looking forward to future chapters as usual. ^.^
Featured Theme: Patchouli Knowledge (Touhou Project)
Provided by and jointed with: Phani
Best viewed together, profile customization still in progress
Scandalous Maido Love Affair and Pair: Phani
Estranged Ex: The RP Section Rules
Sworn Rival For All Eternity and about five minutes beyond: Chibi
Illegitimate Lovechild: Mika
Card-gaming Beta on a Leash: Scarlet
Sorry for the late response. I wanted to couple it with the release of the next chapter. ;
@ jb: What Alter Ego said is right. The fic doesn't actually take place in a medieval time period. It's actually in the distant future (although I do a terrible job at actually portraying this). The knights theme to the Game is pretty much just a theme.
Thanks for your review, though.
@ Alter Ego: I've thought about what you've said (and what we've discussed via PMs), and I'm trying a bit of a combination in this chapter. If it's any better, I'll try to keep it with the next chapters.
With the comment about the box, I can assure you, there is an in-story reason for that. XD I know I can do some lame cop-outs when I'm particularly tired, but you won't have to worry about this being one of them. It's also tied in with the reason why the Trio is intentionally failing, but that's a secret that won't be revealed for a few more chapters.
Thank you for your review as well.
That said, the latest chapter -- which, interestingly enough, is the last chapter of the original series. (Yay! New stuff coming soon!)
Act Six: Rules
Encyclopedia of World Knowledge
Entry: Methysergide Acid Diethylmide
A user typically calls it "angel fire," "angel ball," "spore," "honey," or simply the acronym – M.A.D. About twenty years ago, Dr. David Puck had managed to accidentally discover it as he had tampered with naturally occurring chemicals found in Breloom caps. Hypothesizing that the drug, based on the chemicals found in pores known to produce Spore, would temporarily soothe an insomniac into a safe slumber, he synthesized several capsules and tested the new drug on lab Rattata. The result: twenty rattata lying peacefully at the bottom of a cage for a period of twelve hours. A few years later, M.A.D. had gone out on the market as a miracle sleeping pill.
As soon as night fell on Illyria, the club, for lack of a better phrase, came to life. Its beat resonated into the street as the lost children in their dark clothing shuffled their feet into the dark, humid space. Inside the shady interior, a young man in a red sweatshirt sat down at a table. He bowed his head and pulled his red hood further over his forehead as he kept an eye on the crowds.
Less than a year later, the government had discovered that drowsiness was merely a possible side effect on human subjects. If taken by a patient who had normal sleeping patterns, for example, the drug merely triggered hallucinations and false senses of euphoria – a trip. When the government received this news, M.A.D. was pulled off the market immediately.
Something large blocked the flashing light from above the center of the dance floor. The man looked up to see a dark-haired woman standing over him.
"Knight Hook?" she asked.
He looked up. "Knight Spider. Didn't think you'd show. Have you got the goods?"
However, those two decades had provided enough time for people to discover what it did and how to make it. M.A.D. was a semi synthetic: a drug that could easily be derived from a combination of breloom spores and everyday household cleaners. Manufacturers would spend hours toiling over bathroom tubs and sinks until they managed to obtain the viscous liquid known to be M.A.D. in its purest form. From there, M.A.D. left standing in glasses would dry and evaporate slowly, leaving the salt form known as "spore." M.A.D. soaked into blotters or on the sides of pokéblocks were known as "angel fire" and "honey," respectively. However, the most alluring form of all was a form made when drops of the drug were rolled into round caps of colored gelatin and chilled until the gelatin formed a rubbery, semisolid exterior around a liquid M.A.D. center – "angel ball."
He slid a brown envelope from beneath his sweatshirt and placed it on the table. Olivia's eyes narrowed as she looked at it.
"It was hard to get it, let me tell you," he said. "The girl doesn't get out much, so it's hard to tail something I couldn't find."
Olivia said nothing as she picked up the envelope and opened it. Slowly, she tipped it until its contents slid out a few inches. In the dim light of the club, she could make out a storefront.
Because angel balls are essentially droplets of concentrated M.A.D. the size of the head of a thumbtack, angel balls have gained a street reputation as being the most powerful form of M.A.D. on the market. Even if a user would snort three lines of spore or consume two pokéblocks or blotters painted with honey or angel fire, that person simply would never reach the same high as someone who downed one or two angel balls. In addition, as a result of this reputation, the angel ball was the most sought-after form. A user would have paid millions of yen just for a single ball. Dealers, of course, knew this fact all too well.
"You did well," Olivia said.
At that moment, a woman in black sauntered over to the table with a tray balanced on her shoulder. Olivia sat across from Knight Hook with a grin as the woman reached onto the tray and plucked two glasses from it.
"What's this?" the man asked as a glass of dark liquid was placed in front of him.
"A drink," Olivia said, "to our deal. It's on the house."
The woman walked away as the man looked at the glass skeptically.
"What is it?" he asked. "And what about my end of the deal?"
"Just beer." Olivia looked at the table. "As for your second question, you're quite right."
Olivia reached into her pocket until her fingers clasped something smooth. She pulled it from her pocket and placed it in the middle of the table. Knight Hook's eyes fell on her hand as he licked his lips in excitement. Noticing her business partner's enthusiasm, Olivia smirked as she drew her hand away to reveal a folded piece of white paper with a small lump in its middle.
The effects of M.A.D. in any form were akin to a combination of L.S.D. and ecstasy. Users would, in a few moments after ingestion, experience temporary euphoria – a love for life and everything that moved – accompanied by visual and, in some cases, auditory hallucinations. These effects tended to last for anywhere from two to twelve hours, depending on the dose and physical attributes of the user. Soon after, the user would enter a "downer" period for about ten hours, in which he or she experienced extreme forms of depression or apathy as well as a temporary deprivation of depth perception. In addition, its long-term risks tended to include permanent neurological damage, resulting in permanent depression, psychosis, brain damage, or even death. Nevertheless, users who encountered none of these long-term risks would most likely become dependent on the drug to avoid the downer period.
Knight Hook used one hand to draw the paper close to him. Slowly, he pulled its corners until it unfolded like a blossom in spring. In the center of the paper lay a small, blue ball about the size of the head of a thumbtack. Knight Hook's tongue flicked into the open again to run across his chapped lips.
He plucked the ball from the paper with his thumb and index finger. Carefully, he drew it upwards to examine it carefully.
"Very nice," he said. "Looks home-made."
"It is," Olivia responded dryly before she took a sip of her own drink.
Step one. Ingestion. Most forms of M.A.D. were usually taken orally except in the case of spore, which was either inhaled nasally in powder form or melted on a metal spoon and injected directly into the bloodstream with a hypodermic needle, depending on the preference of the user. In the case of angel balls, it was customary to take the angel ball between the tongue, roll it until the gelatin cap melted slightly, and swallow it. The ball would break on its way down the esophagus, so a drink of water or an alcoholic beverage was usually taken with the capsule to wash the contents down the throat.
Knight Hook pushed the ball into his mouth. His tongue played with its slippery coat for a moment before pushing it into his throat. He followed with the drink, which he didn't bother to really taste. If he had, he would have noticed that it tasted oddly acidic for beer.
Step two. Digestion. The body absorbs M.A.D. rather quickly, so the effects tend to come just as swiftly. M.A.D. molecules travel through the bloodstream and towards the brain. There, it acts as a catalyst to increase production of serotonin, the chemical responsible for positive emotions, by tenfold while acting as a mild neurotoxin to induce hallucinations. The result is a sudden, quick rush of positive emotions coupled with the experience of an acid trip.
Only a few minutes later, Knight Hook's pupils dilated. Olivia watched in amusement as his head tilted back, foam dripped from the corners of his mouth, and his body convulsed in his chair.
It is important to know that an overdose or repeated use will result in a destruction of brain tissue. Survivors are typically rendered brain dead, but such people are incredibly rare. Most of the unlucky souls experience a complete system shutdown: the brain is so damaged that even all unconscious processes such as breathing ceases.
Knight Hook's head slammed into the table. Olivia hesitated a few moments before placing a hand near his open mouth. No breath caressed her palm. With a smile, she stood, envelop in hand. Then, she walked a few steps, towards the back office. She stopped when she stood beside the body of Knight Hook. Her eyes narrowed as she glanced towards him. Without a word, she slipped a hand towards him and patted his pockets. Briefly, she paused as a smile grew across her lips. Her hand dipped into the pocket she just touched, and a few moments later, she pulled out a key. She inspected it quickly before placing it in her pocket.
Knight Spider: Acquisition of Key 171 – Hook. Processing… Processing… Processing… Complete. Acquisition successful. Have a nice day.
"Haunter! Finish it with Shadow Ball!"
Obediently, the specter slid beneath the light of the streetlamp. His eyes narrowed as his disembodied hands moved around a ball of pure blackness that seemed completely untouched by the yellow light above him. Instead, it seemed to feed off the light as it pulsated between the ghost's palms. Finally, the ghost lurched forward, and the ball shot towards the green bird as it struggled to stand.
The bird didn't even bother to dodge. It waited for its fate until the ball consumed it and the ground around it. When it passed into the ground, becoming one with the natural shadows of the night world again, the bird lay unmoving amidst cracked pavement. Its owner, a tubby male, dropped to his knees.
Entry: Midsummer Game
Midsummer Game rules, rule two: There are three objects of the game. First and most obvious, to reach the Midsummer Vault before any other player; second, to survive by fulfilling all tasks given to you; and third – which is more of a strategy than an actual goal – to collect the other players' Midsummer Keys.
Viola blinked. Her opponent bowed over his limp pokémon. She saw his body shake, and she swear she could hear a whimper. Beside him was her goal: the package.
Rule three: Just as there are three objectives, there are also three ways to acquire the other Midsummer Keys. The first possibility is that a player acquires the key by chance – that is, by finding one. Although it is possible to do the same for the other keys to limit the number of players that initially join the game, most players will only find one key through luck alone, and that key is their first.
She stepped forward with Haunter following closely behind her. When she was close enough, she knelt and reached over the unconscious bird to take the package.
The second is through the death of another player. Players may "inherit" a key (along with all others that the dying player has acquired) if the original owner willingly gives it to them just before death. It is also possible and fair to take keys from the dead, even if they were not willed to the living player. Taking just one key from another player in this fashion would automatically transfer all others that the deceased held to the player's collection.
Before she could take the package, however, the other Knight reached into his pocket and held his key in front of Viola's face.
"Take it!" he said.
The third is simply by waiting until another player is defeated (but not necessarily dead) and then taking it when the player either willingly or forcibly surrenders his or her key. One of the customary prizes when a player is defeated is their own key, especially if the defeated wishes to forfeit the Midsummer Game. Alternatively, if a player drops in rank until the title of Midsummer Knight is revoked, the closest Knight is free to relieve the former Knight of his or her Midsummer Key. Likewise, a Knight who has yet to be inducted has a chance of having his or her key stolen prior to beginning the Midsummer Game. The most likely scenario is usually the first, given the nature of the Game itself.
Viola blinked again. "What?"
"Take my key!" her opponent said. "Please!"
"But… I don't want your key. I just want the package. My Master said I need to just get—"
He shook his head. "I don't care! Take it!"
Viola frowned. "I don't want your key."
"I can't stand it anymore!" He stopped to sob. "I've been playing the Game for months, and it's been driving me crazy! I can't do anything without having to think about my Master, and all these people keep on trying to kill me! I can't do this anymore! Just take the key and leave me alone!"
He threw the key at Viola and stood. With a quick motion, he pulled a poké ball from his pocket and recalled Xatu. Then, before Viola could protest, he turned and ran.
For the next few moments, Viola stared blankly at the back of the man. When she could no longer see him, she blinked for a third time and looked down at the key on the ground just in front of her. Cautiously, as if the white metal would burn her fingertips, she touched it and then withdrew her hand slightly. Finally, she plucked it off the ground and put it in her pocket. With a bit less hesitation, she grabbed the package, stood, and walked back the way she came.
Knight Illusion: Acquisition of Key 178 – Gate. Processing… Processing… Processing… Complete. Acquisition successful. Have a nice day.
Entry: Verona City
Voices shouted. The smell of sulfur and gun smoke lingered in the air. Not one soul remained on the street except Viola, now on her way home. Everyone else knew they were coming just by the wind.
Verona City, Kanto, has the unique social system of being an isolated city state. That is, while Japan's federal laws apply there, technically, the laws of Verona City override them in most cases. The city government itself is ruled by an elected official that serves for roughly four years, although it is possible for such a leader to be elected for an unlimited number of terms. As the mayor and his council hold complete power over the city, the political turmoil within the area is particularly significant. Specifically, as of current, two particular political parties fight for the coveted position of power, and these parties are known by the names of their most prominent leaders, the Capulets and the Montagues.
Viola looked over her shoulder. The voices were getting closer, and she could swear she could see the red glow of fire dancing on one of the walls. Somewhere beyond it, a blood-chilling scream echoed off the brick façades.
Local legend states the parties began as a single force of political might, but they diverged centuries ago over business differences (specifically, within their primary trade of shipping) just before the autonomous government of Verona City was established.
Although Viola knew she needed to keep walking, she remained where she was, in the shadows just beyond the yellow light of a streetlamp. Once more, the red glow of the hellhound's fire flared against the brick walls. Feet pounded against the cement.
"They're almost here," she said to herself. "You should move."
No one is perfectly certain what each party's ideals are, but it is generally thought that Capulets are conservatives whereas Montagues are more likely to take liberal sides of an issue. Within each party, however, its members merely state the difference between good and evil.
She saw shadows approach. Quickly, she stepped to the side until her back met the brick façade of a shop. Soon, she saw five figures in black with the shapes of a houndoom and a sandslash trailing behind them. A jet of water arced into the spot over which the two pokémon dashed just a moment ago. When the attack stopped, what was left was an indentation in the street with cracks lacing in an intricate spider web away from its center.
For this reason, the younger generations, who are typically born into their respective parties, see only the allure of fighting and eliminating evil – that is, the members of the other party.
Seconds after the jet of water came, an arbok and a golduck landed. Behind them, six other figures in black approached. Of the first five, only one stopped and turned, a redhead with his green eyes on the poison and water-types and a hand on his belt.
"Keep going!" he yelled to his companions. "I'll hold them back!"
He unclipped a ball from his belt. A finger pressed the button on its face, causing it to enlarge in his hand. Quickly, he tossed it in the air and watched as it split open and spewed white light towards the ground. In seconds, a creature crowned with a giant blossom appeared.
"A vileplume?" a woman's voice muttered.
Viola squinted, but she saw nothing but the woman's silhouette. She could tell her arms were crossed but not much else.
"I've got it, Merc," one of the others – a man – said. "Golduck, Ice Beam!"
The redhead retaliated. "Vileplume, Sleep Powder!"
The flowered twirled, but the duck was already in motion with its beak wide open and bright, blue light blasting forward. Before so much as a single blue speck of dust could emerge from the stamens of the plant, a bolt of blue lightning struck him squarely in the center of his blossom. With a startled shriek, Vileplume was knocked back, ice crystals forming on his petals and a cold pain ripping through his body.
Immediately, the duck spread her arms. The jewel in the center of her forehead took on a red glow as a blue light surrounded her body and entered her eyes. Vileplume struggled to stand, but as a blue aura ebbed on his skin, he felt something – an electric pulse – run through his muscles. Suddenly unable to move on his own, Vileplume could do nothing except stare helplessly at Golduck as he rose into the air. Golduck focused only on tossing the flower around, and with each thought, Vileplume tumbled through the air. His flower head smashed into the concrete, occasionally leaving cracks and green blood in the cement wherever Golduck chose to have him land.
Obediently, the duck tossed Vileplume at his master's feet. By then, Vileplume was beaten, bruised, and most of all, unconscious, with trickles of blood running down his face. His trainer shook as he stared wide-eyed at his Pokémon. The woman stepped forward, uncrossing her arms as she gazed at the man.
"That was too short of a battle," she said. "This one's a little weak. Did you evolve it into a vileplume as soon as you got it or something?"
The defeated trainer clenched his teeth. "A week ago."
At that, the woman put a hand on her head. "Je-sus! You're not worth our time, kid, but I'll tell you what. We'll leave you and your friends alone for now if you just hand over your key to my friend here, okay?"
Golduck's trainer stepped forward. "Hey, that sounds fair."
"Don't knock it," she said. "You're the one who's getting it."
The vileplume trainer hesitated, staring at his six human opponents first before looking at the golduck and the arbok. With a shaking hand, he unclipped Vileplume's poké ball from his belt and recalled the injured pokémon. As soon as the vileplume vanished, the trainer pushed the button on the ball's face to shrink it before clipping it back onto his belt. With a quick movement, his hand plunged into his pocket and drew from it a key, which he held between his fingertips. The golduck trainer approached and accepted it.
Knight Horse: Acquisition of Key 045 – Garden. Processing… Processing… Processing… Complete. Acquisition successful. Have a nice day.
"Grazie," he said. "Now get out of here."
Without another word, the vileplume trainer fled. For a long moment, his opponents simply watched until finally, the woman turned towards Viola.
"All right," she said. "Get out here so we can see you."
Whew, finally got Philosophy off my back. That means I have some room to breathe again. Didn't want to review this until I had the time to do it properly. :3
As usual, there isn't much here that I could call an 'error'. I really like the way you narrated this chapter with the encyclopedia entries. Reading it sort of gave the mental image of watching an anime (Midsummer Knights anime? That's one cool mental image if I ever saw one. xD). Very realistic take on the drug thing too; those nicknames sounded just like the ones really druggies use. That's also a nice way to provide additional information on background and setting without resorting to a lecture on the subject. One thing, though: the way in which the encyclopedia entries are written seems to suggest that - in the encyclopedia's present day - M.A.D. is no longer being consumed. (E.g. "Most forms of M.A.D. were usually taken orally"). Unless this is intentional, then edits are in order.
As for the new style...personally, I like it. It works with the whole intonation thing I mentioned in the PM but it's still leaving the interpretation of meaning largely to the actual words and body language. I re-read this with special attention to the area of change, and no 'said's struck me as inappropriate. :3
Overall, a captivating read as always. It's weird how more people aren't commenting. O=
Featured Theme: Patchouli Knowledge (Touhou Project)
Provided by and jointed with: Phani
Best viewed together, profile customization still in progress
Scandalous Maido Love Affair and Pair: Phani
Estranged Ex: The RP Section Rules
Sworn Rival For All Eternity and about five minutes beyond: Chibi
Illegitimate Lovechild: Mika
Card-gaming Beta on a Leash: Scarlet
On commas, I'm sorry, but I'll have to be difficult again. ; If the dialogue tag occurs in the middle of a sentence, yes, a full stop should be after it. Otherwise, if it occurs between two different sentences, the full stop indicates that you're not attempting to create a run-on. (As in, if you removed the quotation marks, the comma after the former sentence would change into a period. So, for example, one piece would read: Very nice. Looks home-made. As opposed to: Very nice, Looks home-made. Although it could probably be either way, though I intended on it being the former.)
On the usage errors (e.g. "swear" instead of "could swear"/"swore"): I think I might've been high while actually writing and/or proofreading the thing. O_o I'm not sure how I missed all those, and I'd like to say thanks for pointing those out.
On "as of current": I tend to say it all the time, but I'm also known for saying weird things that most people don't actually say. XD So, I'll have to correct that.
On the tenses of the encyclopedia articles: Definitely an error. Thanks for pointing that out. ;
In general: Thanks for your comment. I was a bit worried that I was smacking the reader over the head with information with this chapter, but general consensus (i.e. along with reviews from other boards) is that I'm not. I think. O_o
In any case, the lack of reviews could possibly be because I don't PM people to ask for reviews, and this fic so far is pretty effing long. XD I mean, when I talk about my fic with friends, they usually end up apologizing and saying they just don't have time to sit down and read it, and the only reason why I have time to actually write it is because I take my computer with me to class and pretend that I'm paying attention.
Anyway, thanks for the review and for sticking with me for so long.
The following is the latest chapter and the first new chapter for this version of the story.
As a note, while I encourage you to keep reviewing throughout this month, I'll be taking a hiatus for NaNoWriMo. Sorry!
Act Seven: Characters
The six black-clad strangers stared into the shadows at Viola, who realized at once that she had been caught. Cautiously, she stepped into the light of the nearest streetlamp. The woman, dark skinned and eyed, leaned towards Viola with her hands on her hips. Light glinted off her eyes and silver bindi, almost creating a third eye in the center of her forehead.
"Hm." She leaned closer to examine Viola's face. "What's your name?"
Viola remained silent. Her dark eyes stared blankly at the woman. In return, the stranger's eyelids fell to half-mast as she straightened.
"Gentlemen," she said, "I think she might ride the short bus to a special school."
At the insult, Viola blinked. "What? No! I, um... who are you?"
"Ah!" The woman straightened. "That's easy! I'm—"
One of the men clamped his hand over her mouth. "What are you doing? She might be a Capulet!"
"A what?" Viola asked.
Ignoring her, the woman pulled free. "Oh, come on. You're an idiot if you don't know who I am anyway." Then, hastily, she added, "No offense, dear."
"None taken," Viola said, though a blush of an embarrassed red color crossed her cheeks.
The young man backed away, into the shadows. He was awarded with a smug smirk from his female companion.
"Anyway," the woman said as she turned to Viola, "I'm Mercury Prince. Surely you've heard of me."
Viola quirked an eyebrow. "Not really."
The woman's face faulted as the youth who had fought the vileplume burst into laughter. She glared at him.
"Um," she said, "sister of Jupiter Prince?"
Viola's blank stare turned to one of worry.
"Oh." Viola nodded.
Mercury's eyes narrowed. "You don't get out much, do you?"
Again, Viola blushed. "Um."
"So, now that you know me," Mercury said with a shrug. "How about you?"
"I, um..." Viola cast her gaze to the side.
With a weary sigh, the man who covered Mercury's mouth earlier pulled his Master from his pocket. He kept it raised, pointing a black lens at Viola as a red light beside it blinked. Just as she looked at him, the red light turned to a brilliant, white flash. She stumbled back, nearly toppling over as she tried to blink away the purple spots. In the meantime, the young man prodded the screen with the stylus. His expression changed as he slowed.
The fighter looked over his shoulder. "What's up, Ben?"
"I just looked her up in the Data Bank," he said. "I've managed to narrow it down to fifteen profiles who fit the general description. Let's see... which one fits it perfectly?"
Viola rubbed her eyes and blinked. The spots finally cleared, giving way to the sight of the sandy-haired man whose square face was illuminated by the blue glow of the device in his hands.
"Here we go." He lifted the stylus to read off her name. "Viola DiAngelo. Is that you?"
He glanced at her to see her nod numbly.
"Good," he said as he looked at the screen again. "Viola DiAngelo. No birth certificate registered with the city, current claim of residence in the Wisteria District. Apolitical, unregistered voter. Entrepreneur and sole owner of Allegro Dolls. Daughter of an outsider from Saffron City known as Michele DiAngelo—" He ignored the fact that Viola curled her hands into fists at that point. "—though Saffron City officials claim to have never possessed records under that name in their database. Problems with the government system, apparently. He arrived almost two decades ago but died less than a decade later. Cause of death w—"
All six strangers looked at Viola, who shook as her mouth curled into a frown. The fighter broke away from the others and approached her, resting a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off and stepped back.
"I'm sorry," he said. "You'll have to excuse my cousin. Benvolio... sometimes forgets his place. He's a nice kid, though. Believe me."
Benvolio, as the fighter called him, glared icily at his cousin. Unaware of his expression, Viola shook his head and backed away.
"I don't even know you people, and you already..." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I should go."
With that, she turned and started walking briskly down the street. Mercury started after her before two of the other men grabbed her and held her back. In the meantime, for a long moment, the fighter watched Viola until she disappeared around a corner. Then, he turned and punched Benvolio on the shoulder. Benvolio, biting his lip, merely held his Master with the hand of his injured arm while wrapping the opposite hand around his wound. The icy glare returned and continued to fix itself on his cousin.
"Romeo," he said.
His cousin pointed a finger in his face. "You'd better watch your mouth, Ben. You could say something you'll regret later."
Mercury nodded. "He's right."
Then, she swept down and grabbed Benvolio's Master before he could react. With a cry, he attempted to grab it back, but Mercury dangled it out of his reach with a triumphant smirk across her face. Keeping her back to him, she glanced at its screen.
"So, let's see," she said. "What other dirt can we dig up about that girl?" Suddenly, her smile faded as she read the last line of text. "Holy..."
"What is it?" one of the other three men asked.
"She's a..." Mercury blinked and stared at the line again. "She's a Knight. Not just any Knight, either. Take a look."
Romeo snatched Benvolio's Master from Mercury as Benvolio himself gave another frustrated cry. His cousin took one look at the last line before his face paled.
"What the hell?!" he asked.
By the time Viola returned to her familiar neighborhood, it was already well past midnight. She sighed wearily as she readjusted for the umpteenth time the position of the package tucked under her shoulder. For a brief moment, she regretted recalling Haunter, but at the same time, she knew that he needed a rest more than she did. Thus, she shuffled silently the last few blocks to the front door of her home. Her entire body ached, and her eyelids felt heavy.
"I really need a bicycle for this," she muttered as she pushed open the door.
Then, a barrage of white needles drove into the floor at her feet. She jumped back with a cry, slamming into the glass door as the tiles just by her toes shattered and sprayed linoleum across her black shoes. Somehow, she managed to not drop the package, but at the same time, her arms and back were pressed flat against the glass. Cautiously, her eyes trailed upward to find herself face-to-face with a nidoking. Behind him, she saw a man, somewhere in his late twenties, standing with a hand in his trouser pocket. The other manicured hand hung by his side as his thin lips curled into a smirk above his black goatee.
"Bonsoir, Mademoiselle DiAngelo," he said. "How are you this fine evening?"
"Um..." As she stared at the giant, poisonous rabbit that was between them, she found that she could barely find the words to respond to his question or ask a less polite series of her own.
As soon as he realized what was silencing Viola, the man laughed and patted the nidoking. "There's nothing to worry about, ma chéri. Nidoking is perfectly harmless... unless I tell him otherwise."
The man straightened, placing both of his hands on his suited hips. "Ah! How rude of me! I never introduced myself, have I? Orsino Chevalier, at your service."
He bowed and flashed a wide, white grin at Viola. She, meanwhile, stared at him with her eyebrows knitting. A worried frown crossed her lips.
"Um...!" she said.
Orsino stood, his own frown curling his lips. "Oh, honestly, Mademoiselle DiAngelo. Can't you say anything else? One may mistake your behavior for ill-breeding, you know." He tugged his blazer. "You must be wondering why I'm here."
Viola blinked. "Um... Just a bit."
"Well, then," he said, "I've come to kill you."
"Oh." Viola nodded. Then, she paused for a beat. "What?!"
Orsino smiled. "Well, Mademoiselle DiAngelo, I'd hate to say this, but as charming as you seem, someone is offering a rather handsome price for your Midsummer Key. Though I surely don't need the price she offers, one can never turn down a generous gift. So, I'm afraid that your time as a Knight must be cut short. I hope you do find it in your heart to forgive me."
"Well, ah..." Viola laughed nervously for a moment. "I-if you, um, if you put it that way, then..." Her eyes widened, and she pointed frantically to something over Orsino's shoulder. "Oh my God!"
Orsino, naturally, turned. His eyebrow quirked when he saw nothing but Viola's workshop behind him. With that, he turned back around to find the place where Viola stood just a moment ago completely devoid of a person. A sharp gasp and a grunt filtered into his ear from his side, and with that, he turned to see his nidoking holding Viola by the back of her coat collar so that her feet dangled several inches from the floor with the package just a few inches from her shadow. He narrowed her eyes at her as she laughed nervously again and held out her hands in a shrug.
"Silly me. Must've been seeing things again," she said.
Her response only made Orsino frown.
On Tulip Street, a small restaurant sat between a florist and a boutique. The windows of the restaurant let light filter onto the street, but by then, the light was dim. No patrons were in the establishment except a young man sitting at a booth by the window with one hand on an empty white cup and the other on a Master. Imogen, dressed in a white chef's coat and black slacks, approached the table with a full coffee pot in one hand and her own cup in the other. Sitting across from Sebastian, she poured fresh coffee into first his cup and then into hers before putting the pot to the side. In the ensuing silence, she picked up her cup, inhaled the scent, and looked over the rim at Sebastian.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
After a beat of pause, Sebastian said, "How's your brother?"
Imogen winced and placed her cup on the table. "Better. The doctor says he might… well." She looked into her coffee. "Thanks."
Sebastian frowned. "Sorry. I guess I just haven't been thinking lately."
"I'd say." Imogen gave him a stern glare. "What's with you lately?"
Sebastian remained silent, his eyes on a point across the street. Noticing this hesitation, Imogen sighed.
"It's Viola, isn't it?"
At that, Sebastian shot her a wide-eyed look. Realizing his expression, he quickly picked up his Master and began playing with it.
With a smile, Imogen leaned back. "Imogen knows you well. I wouldn't worry about her, though. She's smart."
"Sheltered. She hasn't been out of Wisteria District until now."
"She's smart." Imogen tapped one of her temples. "She solved that box at the Induction Ceremony."
Sebastian placed his Master on the table and gave her a solemn glance. "Do you know who left that box?"
"The Trio." Sebastian tapped the table with the fingertips of one of his hands as he stared at the glowing screen of his Master. "I confronted Knight Spider as she was getting away after she made sure the box was triggered."
Imogen's eyes widened. "The Trio? What could they want with her?"
"What else? You know their reputation. Someone's hired them. I don't know who, and I don't know why. But…" He exhaled slowly. "If the Trio is involved, it's serious. However, what I want to know—" Sebastian looked up. "—is why they're toying with her."
Imogen's hands trembled slightly. "What?"
"Think about it, Imogen," he said. "The Trio are brutal. They kill and they do it as messily as possible. You heard about Knight Stealth, right? How they put his scizor's claw right through his stomach? They don't just commit an attempted murder by making an explosive puzzle box so easy their target can solve it and get away. That's not their style. They're definitely up to something, but what?"
For a moment, Imogen stared at her cup of coffee in thought. Then, finally, she furrowed her eyebrows. "Do you think it's bec—"
Sebastian's Master cut off Imogen's comment with a sudden, loud beep. Jumping at the surprise, he picked up the device and examined the text that played across the screen carefully. Seconds later, his face paled, and he stood abruptly.
"We have to go," he said as he stuffed the Master in his pocket. "You and me. Get your things and come on."
Imogen rose to her feet. "What? What is it? What did the Controller say?"
"We have a mission," Sebastian told her, "and it's at my place."
In the apartment just a floor above Allegro Dolls, a nidoking carrying a young woman slung over his shoulder moved into the kitchen. With a grunt and a careful pull, he tugged Viola off his shoulder and plopped her onto one of the chairs as she stared wide-eyed at the beast. Orsino, with a smooth grin at Viola, sauntered past her and began searching through the cupboards along the walls for a pair of glasses. After a few moments, he plucked two glasses from the back of the third cupboard he looked through and examined them carefully as he stepped to the side to the sink. By then, he was behind Viola, and the latter stared at the door and swallowed hard.
"What do you want with me?" she asked.
Orsino filled the glasses with water. "We're going to play a game."
Viola turned to face him, but he spoke before she could object.
"No peeking," he said as he pulled something from his pocket. "It's cheating."
A cold feeling settled into Viola's chest as she obeyed and turned away. She heard a pair of pops, followed a few moments later by an opening of drawers and the tinker of something hitting glass. A few seconds passed, and Orsino tapped the spoon on the edge of the second glass and set it aside. Then, taking a glass and an empty vial in each hand, he walked to the table and placed the glasses in front of Viola. She blinked at both.
"My client and my sister say you're clever," Orsino said as he sat down across from Viola. "So, let's prove it. As you can see, both glasses contain apparently just water. However, one contains sugar water, and the other contains Poison Sting crushed into a fine powder. When small amounts of either are dissolved in water, both become odorless and virtually invisible. The only difference between them is taste – and, of course, the fact that one of them will burn away the closest layers of your tongue and esophagus on the way down, enter your bloodstream, and ultimately lead to a slow and painful death. I brought them here in these vials. Take a good look at them."
He rolled the glass vials across the table towards Viola, who stopped them with her hand. Carefully, she picked them up to examine them. Her eyes narrowed.
"As you can see, these vials are perfectly identical. Even I can't tell which one held poison and which held sugar. So, clearly, when I brought the vials from my pocket, I couldn't tell which vial was the one that poisoned one of the glasses."
Viola placed the two vials on the table. "So?"
"So, let's play Russian Roulette." Orsino leaned back and crossed his legs. "Choose a glass and take a drink from it. If it's sugar water, you win, and I'll drink the other glass. If it's poison, then you get the consolation prize of never having to play such a dreadful game as Midsummer."
"What if I walk away?" she asked.
Orsino shrugged. "Then you forfeit to a Knight. According to the Game, that entitles me to your Key."
"So, I lose either way," Viola said with a frown.
"If you choose to see it that way. One would see escaping with her life as more of a victory than escaping without."
Viola frowned and sat in thought. Then, she asked, "May I ask you questions?"
Orsino smiled. "Any except which glass is which. At most, I can allow you to ask three questions. Choose your words wisely."
Viola straightened. Her eyes fixed on Orsino, who found himself gazing at a dark, midnight-blue color, rather than the medium blue he could have sworn her eyes had been a moment ago. For a reason he couldn't define, it sent a shiver down his back.
"First question," she said. "What do you do?"
Caught off-guard by her question, Orsino raised his eyebrows for a moment before a smile played across his face again. "I'm a proprietor like yourself, Mademoiselle DiAngelo. My dealings, however, are more with the entertainment industry. That is, I own a nighttime establishment of dance and the distribution of alcohol."
"In other words, a nightclub."
"Yes, you could say that."
Viola exhaled and closed her eyes. As she digested the information, Orsino relaxed slightly in the absence of her stare. Finally, she opened her eyes again, to which Orsino struggled to keep himself from tensing. Oblivious to his attempts to resist her stare, Viola tried to find his eyes once more.
"Second question. What do you get out of winning the Game?"
Orsino chuckled. "What would anyone get out of the Game? Do you know what the prize is, mon ami? Your wildest dreams. If you can eliminate the competition, you have a chance to find the Midsummer Treasure."
Viola bit her tongue. She didn't want to waste her last question by asking about the treasure, although it was the first time she heard about it. Luckily, Orsino could see that her face was faltering slightly, that the intensity in her eyes faded as the corners of her mouth drooped.
"Don't tell me you've never heard of the Midsummer Treasure," Orsino said.
His opponent lowered her eyes to stare at the glasses. The reaction was enough to break Orsino's momentary intimidation over her into laughter. He leaned back in his chair as he wiped at the corners of his eyes with his thumb.
"Oh, Knight Illusion, you certainly are a funny girl." He took a deep breath to calm himself. "The Midsummer Treasure is the prize given to the winner of the Midsummer Game. Rumor has it that it has the power to give a person anything he wanted. Anything. Money, women, a home… anything you can think of, it can give you. Unfortunately, no one knows where it may be located. Just that certain Keys can lead us to where it is. That is why we need to collect every Key we can find. If only certain Keys out of hundreds can find the Treasure, then it would only benefit a treasure hunter if he had all the Keys at once. That way, the possibility of someone else having a Key that will lead him to the Treasure would be zero. Understand?"
Viola nodded slowly. "So, you're a Knight because you want the Treasure."
"Naturally." Orsino spread his hands on the table and examined his fingernails. "Of course, I could possibly get whatever I wanted myself, but taking this shortcut is easier… and, for that matter, more interesting."
A smirk drew across Viola's lips. "And you're absolutely certain that you would be the one to get that far."
Orsino shrugged. "Why wouldn't I be? I possess intelligence, cunning, courage, and resources superior to any other Knight in the Game, all of which are the most essential tools one could have in the Game. My methods are completely efficient. I always kill my victim before he kills me." He tapped his temple. "The Midsummer Game is a chess match with higher stakes, Mademoiselle. You must always think one step ahead if you wish to survive."
Viola looked at the ceiling and nodded. She turned the problem and his answers over in his mind carefully as the silence between them grew longer. Orsino leaned back, hanging one of his arms off the back of the chair as he watched Viola intently. He had no idea what had made him feel so uncomfortable about her eyes, and the feeling was already fading into confidence.
"The clock is ticking, Knight Illusion," he said. "You still have one more question and the option to leave the table. Wouldn't you like to ask me something about the challenge? Perhaps something about the powder itself that would give you a hint as to which glass it may be in?"
At his words, Viola laced her fingers together and placed her hands on the table. "All right. My third and final question…"
Orsino made a small motion with his hand to indicate that he wanted her to hurry. "Go on."
She looked at him with a small smile. "Why did you make this challenge easy for me?"
The question was punctuated with a long silence as Orsino stared at her. His eyebrows went up, and the confident smirk on his face vanished.
"What?" he asked. Then, he ventured to chuckle a little. "What are you talking about? Of course it's not easy!"
Viola shook her head. "It is. Let me explain why. At first, I thought it would be possible that you would have poisoned one of the glasses, considering the fact that you appear to be eccentric, not to mention you broke into my shop. Besides, if I drink one of the glasses, and it turns out to be poisoned, then you can do whatever you want to me."
Orsino nodded. "Of course."
"On the other hand," Viola said, "I thought that it might be possible that you poisoned both of the glasses under the same principle. That is, if I drank one of the glasses and died, then there's nothing stopping you from not fulfilling your part of the challenge and failing to drink the other glass unless you were ordered to by your Master, which is ridiculous because you would have won the challenge."
"That seems reasona—"
"But then..." Viola lifted her chin to smile at him. "You told me the answer."
A nervous chuckle bubbled from Orsino's throat. "What? I didn't say a word about it."
"Perhaps not directly." Viola shrugged. "But you said something. When you told me why you wanted to be a Knight, you revealed to me two things about your character. The first is that you're incredibly arrogant. You even said it yourself that you believe yourself to be more skilled and better equipped to handle challenges than any other Knight in the Game. The fact that all Knights are by default stupid enough to play the Game in the first place is proof enough that we all are on an equal playing field, and even then, you're daring to compare yourself to hundreds of other Knights. There will always be someone who has the ability to outperform you."
Orsino clenched his jaw as he listened to her words. Already, he was feeling a little light-headed from a combination of faltering confidence and irritation at the insult. In the meantime, he tried his best not to show much emotion to let her know that she may have been winning.
"And what," he said, "is the second fact I revealed to you?"
Viola lowered her eyes and grinned. "That you're also self-centered."
A flicker of anger crossed Orsino's face as he parted his lips slightly. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you wouldn't sacrifice yourself." Viola lifted her chin a little to look at Orsino again. "When I first looked into your eyes, I saw you shiver. It was as if you thought I might have a chance of walking away with both my Key and my life. Then, you told me that you wanted to survive in the Game. I can't imagine what you want with the Treasure, but quite obviously, you care enough about it to tell me your strategy. 'You must always think one step ahead in order to survive'? Just another way of saying you're always looking for ways to stay alive – as in, you always create a strategy that would put you in the least amount of danger."
As soon as Viola finished speaking, Orsino smiled, but this time, the corners of his mouth were twisted into a vicious grin. "Ah, but that doesn't tell you if I poisoned the glasses or not."
"This is true," Viola said with a shrug. "By itself, my reasoning only tells me that you could have either poisoned both glasses or poisoned neither glass. That is, to ensure a victory, you could have poisoned both glasses so that I would never choose the right glass, which would then leave you to take my Key and leave after I'm dead, or you could have intimidated me enough with the challenge itself to make me leave the table, even if neither glass is poisoned. On the other hand…" She picked up one of the glasses. "By not poisoning both glasses, you would also avoid the possibility of a counter challenge."
Orsino lifted an eyebrow. "Counter challenge?"
Viola smiled and brought the glass to her lips. "Pick up the other glass. We'll drink it together."
At that, Orsino straightened. "Absolutely not."
"Well, then," Viola said, "you would technically forfeit to a Knight if you turn down my challenge, which means I win both your challenge and your Key. I've left you with only one glass. If it's poisoned, I'd know because you would refuse to pick it up in order to preserve yourself, which means I've already won. If it's not poisoned, I'd know because you would accept my challenge with the knowledge that you would win either way but could at least get away without giving me the opportunity of claiming your Key first for the refusal of my challenge."
Orsino growled. "That doesn't make any sense."
Viola held the glass up and shook her head. "Actually, it makes more sense than you think. If you refuse my challenge, I can take your Key before I fulfill your challenge. That means you're automatically out of the Game, which means that your goal of claiming my Key no longer has any meaning, even if both glasses turned out to be poisoned. If, however, you accept my challenge, you still keep your Key, and you have at most a fifty percent chance of getting mine."
The details of her challenge struck Orsino silent. He sat in thought for a moment as he stared at the remaining glass. One hand inched closer to it, although the uncertainty still lingered.
"You have the option to walk away," Viola reminded him. "Just leave your Key on the table before you go."
Orsino glared at her. "I do not deny a challenge."
With that, he grabbed the glass and brought it to his lips. Viola smiled at him one more time and lifted her glass in a mock toast.
"At the count of three," she said. "One. Two…" She brought the glass to her lips. "Three."
Both Knights tilted back their glasses and drained their contents. For a split second, Viola felt the pang of panic as she doubted her reasoning – which was, in itself, completely pulled out of nowhere best mentioned. Then, self-doubt gave way to physical sensation, and she realized the water was sweet. She closed her eyes and finished off her drink as a small flicker of pride began to grow in her chest. When the last drop was gone, she placed her glass on the table, next to Orsino's empty glass.
"Well, then," she said. "We both won."
Orsino sat in silence for a moment before bursting into laughter. Viola jumped in surprise as she watched him rise to his feet. The scowling monster she had seen a moment ago faded back into the handsome man with a bright smile as he bowed to her.
"Perhaps we have. For this challenge." He straightened and signaled to his nidoking to follow him. "I must thank you for the exciting battle of wits, Mademoiselle DiAngelo. It was a fascinating match. Wasn't it, Knight Horse?"
With an awkward gasp, Romeo tumbled into view from where he hid just to the side of the door. Viola abruptly stood, smacking the table with both of her hands as she stared in wide-eyed surprise at her other guest. Regarding this reaction with a laugh, Orsino gave her a half wave and began walking to the door.
"See you again soon, Knight Illusion. May you remain ever-entertaining."
With that, he passed Romeo and walked down the hall. Romeo watched him for a second before turning slowly back to Viola, who was silently fuming at him.
"I can explain," he said as he held up his hands.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I, um…" He straightened, rubbing the back of his neck. "Oh yeah. I never introduced myself, have I?" He tried his best to form a serious expression as he bowed. "Romeo Montague, heir to the Montague House, at your service." As he straightened, he regarded Viola with a solemn glance. "Apparently, Benvolio found a bit more regarding you in the Data Bank. According to the rumors circulating around the other Knights, Knight Spider has been searching for information about you."
Viola crossed her arms. "Why is that a problem? So have you."
Romeo shook his head. "You don't understand. Knight Spider and Knight King – the man who just walked out of this building – are part of the Trio."
Furrowing her eyebrows, Viola stared blankly at her guest. It was then that he realized the names had absolutely no significance to her.
"The Trio," he said with a sigh, "is a group of three Knights who are notorious within the Game as being hired hands. If someone needs something stolen, killed, or sabotaged, they go to the Trio to get it done. So, if Knight Spider wants to know more about you, it can only mean you're in deep trouble one way or another."
At that, Viola lowered her gaze to the table. Slowly, she sat down as she let the words replay in her mind. Her skin paled a little as reality began to get to her.
Then, her voice crossed her lips in a small whisper. "Oh."
Sighing again, Romeo crossed the room to kneel by her side. "Listen. I know we don't know each other that well, but you can trust my friends and me. Mercury's the sister of the mayor. She can arrange for someone to keep an eye out for you. But the only safe way to go is to get out of the Game. If you just give up, then—"
Romeo jumped at the force of the word. His mouth hung slightly open as he found himself staring into her face. She offered him a fiery glare in return.
"I can't accept that," she said. "I need to stay in the Game. I can't back out now. Please understand."
For a moment, Romeo only stared at her. Then, slowly, his expression softened. He lifted a hand and almost patted her knee before deciding against it. Instead, he curled his fingers and stood.
"Of course." He shoved his hands into his pockets. "In that case, I can at least offer you a place in my group. Safety in numbers. We can help you, too, what with our resources put together."
Viola nodded. "Thank you… but why would you want to help me?"
He shrugged. "Don't take this the wrong way, but even the best players would be killed if they didn't get help. You might be clever, but the fact that you look like you're innocent will make the other Knights think you're fresh meat." He looked at her with a smile. "In any case, we're meeting up tomorrow at noon. I'll have one of our people come pick you up around then. Is that all right?"
She lowered her head and nodded. "Noon."
"Right." He waved at her and turned towards the door. "Oh, and by the way, that entire complicated logic thing you did back there? Complete bull****. So, how did you know he didn't poison either glass?"
Viola smiled sheepishly. "Two reasons. The first is that both of the vials contain crystals on the sides if you look carefully enough. Sugar in its most common form is a crystal, and he claimed that the poison was a powder. If he was carrying the poison, not only would one of the vials be coated with a colored dust, but also, most likely, I wouldn't be able to see through the remnants of it at the bottom of the vial."
Romeo nodded. "Okay, fair enough. What's the other reason?"
"Any idiot would know that Poison Sting instantly disintegrates into a nearly invisible dust upon impact with a solid object. There's no way he'd get a powder out of it."
Outside Allegro Dolls and across the street, Orsino leaned against a lamp post as he watched Sebastian and Imogen rush into the building. He narrowed his eyes slightly and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Then, he stopped, feeling something with his fingertips for a moment before bringing it out. In the palm of his hand, the cell phone buzzed with vibration until he finally flipped it open and took the call.
"Cesario," Orsino said. "Good of you to call."
The voice on the other end purred. "I couldn't bear to spend another hour without hearing your angelic voice, my lord." After a beat of pause, Cesario's voice gained a note of solemnity. "Were you successful?"
"Mmm." Orsino cast another glance towards the shop's façade. "Yes, I believe so. She thinks she has an advantage over us."
Orsino tilted his head. "Cesario, if I may ask, what exactly are you planning?"
On the other end, Cesario chuckled. "You know I can't say, my lord. It'll ruin the surprise. However, I can assure you that it will all be clear soon."
Ehh...totally my bad about the commas. (I swear, it's always the commas that get me. >.<) Must have been having a grammatical blonde moment when I wrote that. xD
Anyways, I can't fault any of your English in this chapter so on to the subjective stuff.
A bit of a lighter chapter this time around. (or is that just my imagination?) There's a lot of fun stuff here Viola's escape attempt really made me laugh in front of my screen (quite a rare occurrence) and the little episode with the master was fun too, as was her first encounter with Orsino. xD That and I love the way Viola is so smart but so ignorant about things others take for granted at the same time; a very interesting combination of traits that definitely makes her my favourite character in this fic, though I'll have to admit to being partial to Orsino as well. (His remark about Viola's way of speaking was priceless)
Aaaand I've got to admit that Viola's improvised analysis looked very convincing, bull**** or no. xD Good job on that one.
Overall, I enjoyed the chapter (Now there's something I've never said before, huh? *Shot*) and the plot just seems to be getting thicker. Also, as noted in some fashion above, there are plenty of great lines here.
Yeah, I think that's about it for now. 'Til the next chapter, then. Good luck with NaNoWriMo.
Provided by and jointed with: Phani
Best viewed together, profile customization still in progress
Scandalous Maido Love Affair and Pair: Phani
Estranged Ex: The RP Section Rules
Sworn Rival For All Eternity and about five minutes beyond: Chibi
Illegitimate Lovechild: Mika
Card-gaming Beta on a Leash: Scarlet
Yeah, I probably should've used a beta for that part, as I haven't had a serious French class for about seven years and didn't know that anyway. XD
Anyway, thanks for the review, especially for pointing out those bits about French nouns, and thank you for the compliment about Orsino and Viola. (It always helps to read a lot of Lewis Carroll when coming up with characters. You always come up with the most psychotic characters ever.)
As for NaNo, thank you, but I'm right now failing at it. Three days behind already! *flail*
Author's Side Note: I'd like to say that before anyone goes through the grammar part of this fic, there is a point where a character speaks a bit of Italian, some of which looks like English. If a word looks like it's misspelled, try looking it up in an Italian dictionary before attempting to correct it.
Act Eight: Foil
With Orsino long gone, Romeo descended the stairs with his hands in his pockets. His eyes cast a glance at his feet as he reached the linoleum landing. Not a thought but his desire for sleep dwelled in his mind.
Then, a surge of water blasted him to the side and into the linoleum floor. Only moments later, something heavy dropped onto him, and a hand pressed against his head. A pair of black-clad feet came into his view.
His rasp was cut off as the man on top of him pressed his head into the shop's tiles.
"Be gentle with him, Sebastian," a voice with a smooth, Jamaican accent drawled.
"You know what the Controller told us," Sebastian said. "Protect Knight Illusion. This is the only thing we've got to protect her against."
"Get off me!" Romeo growled into the floor. "I didn't do anything!"
"We'll see about that." Sebastian looked towards his companion. "Imogen, go upstairs and check on Viola."
The Jamaican with a package in her white-clad arms nodded and walked towards the stairs. Sebastian waited until she ascended before grabbing Romeo by the hair and pulling him to his feet. Romeo let a painful cry rip from his throat as he was forced to turn to face a glaring lapras.
"If I find out she's hurt," Sebastian said, his voice achieving a tone of quiet, controlled anger, "if I find out that a single bruise is on her body, I swear to all things good and holy that I'll have Lapras freeze your body in a block of ice that I'll throw into the Gold River myself. Do you understand? A block of solid ice."
"**** you," Romeo hissed. "I didn't do anything. I was protecting her from a ****ing member of the Trio!"
Quick footsteps pounded on the wooden stairs. Sebastian turned his head to see two figures emerging from the door: Imogen followed soon after by Viola. The latter looked horrified, her eyes wide and her face pale. Her coat and tie were missing, and the disheveled state of her shirt told Sebastian that she was in the process of her nightly routine. He looked away with a blush, but he couldn't keep his gaze away for long. Viola approached him quickly and pulled at his hands to get him to let go of Romeo. When he did, he stared at her with wide, brown eyes.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I…" Sebastian furrowed his eyebrows and pulled his hands away. "I was protecting you from this intruder. He could have killed you."
"But he didn't," Viola said. "He came to make sure I was all right! Some guy came in earlier and—"
Sebastian stepped forward, his hands reaching towards Viola to grab her by the shoulders. "What guy? Did he do anything to you? Did he hurt you?"
Viola knocked his hands away and stepped back. "Just some Knight, Orsino something-or-other. And he didn't do anything to me, Sebastian. He challenged me. I won. We both walked away with nothing. Romeo came up to make sure I was okay and to offer to keep an eye on me. End of story, okay? Orsino was the intruder. Romeo was just there to protect me. Now, knock it off and leave him alone!"
Romeo opened his mouth to say something, but very obviously, neither Viola nor Sebastian wanted him to be a part of their argument.
"Leave him—" Sebastian said as he reeled back. "Viola, do you have any idea who this man is?"
"Do you really think I care?" she asked.
At that point, Imogen pulled Romeo to the side. He blinked at her as she held up her hand. At first, she walked her index and middle finger along in front of her to tell him to move, but then her gesture changed to point towards the glass door. Romeo immediately understood and nodded. Then, mouthing "sorry" to Imogen, he started creeping towards the door. She shrugged in response to his apology.
Sebastian, meanwhile, continued the conversation. "Viola, that's Romeo Montague! He's the heir to the Montague House! He can only mean trouble!"
Viola scowled at him and crossed her arms. "So?"
"So, if you're being watched over by the Montague House, that means you're a target for the Capulet House!" Sebastian exclaimed. "I don't want you associating with either of them!"
Neither of them noticed that the bell tied to the door rang as Romeo slipped into the night.
"Montague House, Capulet House…" Viola threw her hands in the air. "I don't care, Sebastian! I know you're only looking out for me, but when will you learn that I've been just fine looking after myself on my own? I'm a grown woman."
"You're a Knight," Sebastian snapped. "When are you going to learn that the Midsummer Game is dangerous, Viola? You're putting your life on the line to play. Maybe you didn't risk much before you joined, but now, it's a different story. You're being targeted already! Do you really want to get more people to want to kill you?"
"That didn't seem to stop you from becoming a Knight," Viola said. "Are you trying to tell me that there's a difference between you and me?"
Sebastian covered his eyes with a hand. "No! No, that's not what I'm saying! I'm saying that it's not something you should involve yourself with!"
"Isn't death enough of a reason for you?!" Sebastian uncovered his eyes. "What is wrong with you?! What does it have to take, Viola?! For you to be as dead as your father?!"
He barely got the last word out of his mouth before the sting of a hand striking his cheek snapped his head to the side. Slowly, he turned his head and stared at Viola. Her eyes were already glistening with tears, and her body was visibly shaking as she rubbed her hand gingerly. Yet, even though she looked like she was on the brink of crying, she still managed to send Sebastian an angry glare, with her brows furrowed and her mouth in a sharp scowl. Carefully, Sebastian straightened, placing a cold hand over his sore, red cheek.
"Viola… I… I didn't mean…" Sebastian's voice trailed into silence.
"Idiota," she whispered. "Figlio di…"
She didn't bother to complete the thought. Instead, she turned abruptly and stomped towards the stairwell door. Without a word to either of them, she disappeared through the open threshold and slammed the door shut behind her. Several dolls fell from their shelves and hit the linoleum floor with a chorus of thumps. Sebastian, meanwhile, stared after her for a long moment before raising Lapras' poké ball. The water-type disappeared into it with a flash, leaving the two humans to stand in momentary silence.
"Well," Imogen said, "that went great."
Sebastian shook his head. "I'd better stay at your place tonight. I don't think it's right if I go up there now."
Imogen sighed. "At least you still have some sense in you, boy."
Nighttime in Verona City bears little change from the daytime. Although the lack of sun produces more shadow for cover, many of the areas drenched in darkness were the already dark alleys lacing across the city, and the main streets were bathed with neon lights like an iridescent noon. So, should something happen during the night, it came as little surprise to the citizens who already expected the same incidents to happen during the day.
For that reason, few people took notice of the battle taking place beneath the giant television screen in the commercial strip known as Poppy District, save to walk quickly around it.
A young man jumped back, narrowly missing the dark ball of pure energy that arced over the head of his howling growlithe. His blond hair fell across his hazel eyes, and for that brief moment, his vision was obscured as the fire puppy rose to its paws and came face-to-face with a purple specter. A crooked grin crossed the face of the haunter just before his large, pink tongue snaked from between his lips and smacked against the canine's face. Shivers ran down the growlithe's spine, and muscles seized as his opponent glided back to his original place several feet away.
Frantically, the young man struggled to pull blond locks from his line of sight as a portly, short man darted to his side.
"Andrew!" he snapped. "Concentrate, or you're going to lose this battle!"
The blond looked towards his companion with his mouth open and ready for a retort. However, before he could say a word, the ghost brought its hands before its body. A dark ball began to form between his palms, as if he pooled the few shadows surrounding him into a tangible form in front of him. The dog stared at this ball with terrified eyes. His body struggled to move, but not a single muscle cooperated. Instead, he merely shivered in his place as the ball grew to the size of the haunter's own head. Then, with two swift motions, the haunter snapped his hands back and forward again to launch the ball of darkness towards the dog. Unable to escape its path, the growlithe had no choice but to allow himself to be consumed by the darkness. His eyes widened, and his jaws parted in a silent parody of a scream for a few short seconds.
Then, as the darkness dissipated, the puppy lay on the cracked concrete with his eyes closed and his tongue draped limply across the jaws of his open mouth. Andrew stood slack-jawed at the sudden defeat of his pokémon. Only after his companion nudged him in the side with an elbow did he finally lift his arm to raise the poké ball in his hand towards his growlithe.
As the dog vanished in a flash of red light, the haunter floated back towards his trainer. Black shoes rapped against the concrete. The tail of a gray long coat swayed behind a pair of thin, gray-clad legs as the opponent approached Andrew. Shaking, the latter took a step back, his hazel eyes wide as he tried to determine whether or not his opponent's approach would be a threat. However, when the trainer was within arm's reach of the blond, a hand drew from a pocket and extended towards him, palm up. Andrew stared at the pale, thin hand for a moment before glancing towards his companion.
"You know the terms of the battle," he said with a shake of his head. "I can't help you out here."
"Toby!" Andrew hissed.
His head shook again, and he stepped to the side. "Sorry, mate. I can't."
Reluctantly, Andrew turned his head back towards the trainer. From under a fringe of wild, black hair and behind a pair of thick glasses, he could see his opponent's blue eyes – dark and glittering with an intense glare. Andrew's hand thrust into his pocket and fumbled through its contents until quickly, he produced a key and slapped it into the opponent's hand. As soon as it was out of his possession, he took several steps back, his hands up with his palms towards the opponent.
"There. You've got what you want." His voice came across cracked and high-pitched. "I don't want any trouble now, okay? We're good?"
The opponent's hand curled around the key and moved into one of the pockets of the long coat. Without a word, the figure turned away.
At that point, Toby started forward. "I might've been ordered to stay out of this, but next time, I swear, you won't be so lucky! I'll get my pal's key back – along with yours!"
The opponent stopped and threw a blue-eyed glance over a shoulder. A smug grin crossed the thin lips as the head turned back and the feet began carrying the victor away. The haunter, meanwhile, cackled at the two Knights before pursuing his trainer.
Naturally, this only served to provoke one of them.
"Hey!" Toby brandished a fist. "You'd better not show your face around here again, Knight Illusion!"
As the morning light filtered into the room, a steady beeping broke the peace of Viola's sleep. Slowly, she stirred, first turning over while her body wormed deeper under the covers. Then, when the beeping refused to stop, she grabbed the pillow and curled it around her head to cover both her ears. Even then, the sound filtered through to her ears, and upon realizing that, she let the pillow go and stared at the ceiling. A sigh heaved from her lungs as she reached to her nightstand to grab her Master. Holding it above her, she saw the glowing, green screen indicating an incoming call. Pressing the screen with her thumb, the green light gave way to the message "CALL IN PROGRESS."
"It's about time you picked up," Mercury said on the other line.
Viola groaned and sat up, placing the Master in her lap. A hand reached to her face to rub her eyes.
"Good morning to you too," Mercury said.
"What time is it?" Viola mumbled.
"7:46 in the morning. C'mon. Get up so we can do breakfast."
Viola reached for her glasses on the nightstand. "We?"
"Yeah. The usual gang."
Ignoring the lack of visuals, Viola nodded and put her glasses on.
"So, I can count on you to get your butt down here in about fifteen minutes?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Good girl. We'll be out front. Hurry up!"
Before Viola could respond, the message on the screen disappeared, replaced by a second message over the Master's desktop. Blinking, Viola pressed the message with her thumb again, only to have it replaced by the full text she received in the middle of the night.
"Key 58, Dog… Transferred to Knight Illusion at 3:14 in the morning?" Viola pulled the stylus from its slot and tapped the screen in search of more to the message. "From who?"
Finding nothing, she sighed and set the Master on the bed while she pulled herself off the bed. Yawning, she started on her search for proper clothing. Standing in her closet, she pulled a shirt and trousers from hangers while her eyes trailed back to the bed.
"That's the sixth time this week," she mumbled.
By the time she was undressed, her thoughts wandered away from her task and to the message again. It had been almost a week since she had encountered Orsino, and for that period, she felt as if nothing of note happened except those strange messages. One every morning, each message told her of a new Key or two transferred to her account. In the meantime, she found herself performing tasks sent to her from the Controller, but never did they result in a new Key. As she pulled on her trousers over the tail of her buttoned, white shirt, she contemplated talking to someone about it.
At first, she thought of Sebastian with the assumption that he would know something about it. On the other hand, she remembered his behavior nearly a week ago, and her mind burned with anger as she dropped the thought. With a sharp frown, she wondered what might have been on his mind. She compared him in her head to the way he had been when they first met, and as soon as she recalled the way he had been, her mind wandered into a memory.
May. The sun shone brightly from the clear, blue sky, but it was the first time in nearly a decade that Viola saw it with no window between herself and the outside world. Since her father's death, the people on Tulip Street noticed that Viola withdrew from them, transforming from a sweet and friendly girl to a quiet recluse. People knew she had to go to an orphanage, but the haunter her father left her – the only companion she had and the one who would be the only one to enter and exit the apartment, only for supplies – had another opinion of her upbringing. Except in the case of customers, anyone who entered the shop were immediately chased away by the ghost, spectral balls of black energy sailing towards their heels. Eventually, people stopped bothering her, the haunter serving as her guardian and the books her father gave her before his death being her teachers.
That is, until that day.
She found she couldn't explain why she chose to leave the safety of her home. Regardless of what the reason may have been, she stood on the sidewalk with the ghost floating by her head and her eyes towards the blue sky. She shielded her eyes and peered at the pale blue as the warm air worked its way into her body to warm her bones.
Then, someone tackled her.
With a sharp gasp, she found herself sprawling on the cement. The young man on top of her yelped and forced himself to stand. His brown eyes fell on Viola with a wide, startled expression. Above them, Haunter scowled at the man, but Viola raised a hand to motion to Haunter. Immediately, the ghost relaxed, waiting for further instructions.
"Oh God!" the stranger said. "I'm sorry! I wasn't watching where I was going! Here, let me help you up."
He reached out a hand while the other wrapped around the strap of a satchel slung over his shoulder. Viola blinked at it before finally accepting his help and placing her hand in his. In the next moment, she found herself being pulled up by the young man, who promptly looked over his shoulder. From somewhere down the street, the sound of a chorus of shouts rose to reach their ears.
"Hey, I know it's a bit much to ask, but do you know anywhere I can get a place to stay?" he asked. "I really need someplace safe right now. There's these two guys—"
Without waiting for a further explanation, Viola grabbed his hand and pulled him into the shop with Haunter following close behind. At first, he protested, but eventually, he allowed himself to trust the stranger under the assumption that it was better than the men that were pursuing him. She, meanwhile, gave him no explanation as she led him through the shop and pulled open the door to the side to reveal a staircase. With her hand still circling his wrist, she guided him up the steps and down a hall with only three doors. Her free hand pulled from her pocket a set of keys, one of which she used to unlock the second door. Stepping inside, the newcomer found himself in an empty apartment. Viola, meanwhile, walked into the room and closed the door carefully behind her as soon as they both crossed the threshold. Slowly, the stranger walked to the dirty window and peered through it to the street below. With a small frown, Viola walked to his side and gazed downward to watch for whatever might have been stalking her guest. For a long moment, neither of them spoke or moved, just stood at a dirty window to watch the street through the haze of dust. Finally, a pair of men in black rushed past without stopping, pursuing a target they had just lost.
The stranger sighed and turned away from the window. "Thanks. I don't know what to do to repay you."
Viola turned her head an stared at him blankly.
Noticing her expression, he shifted nervously and rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess the only thing I can give you is what I have in my pack. Here."
He slipped the satchel off his shoulder. It fell to the wooden floor with a loud thump, and he quickly knelt to undo the straps to open it. Inside, the sack carried several pieces of pure silver: candlesticks, utensils, jewelry… all of them glittered as if they were newly polished. Viola regarded them with only mild interest.
The stranger tilted his head. "Not interested? It's pure silver. Take the candlesticks. Anything. You can pawn it for good money. Trust me."
Viola continued to stare at the bag blankly. With a frown, the stranger stooped to pick one of the pieces from the bag and hold it up.
"It's yours. Go on."
Even after a moment's pause, he received no response. With a shrug, he put the piece back in his bag and redid the straps. Then, he stood, hands on his hips and eyes on the leather satchel.
"There must be something I can do for you," he said. "Hey, do you own the shop downstairs?"
With a glance towards his host, he saw the response. She bobbed her head in a slow, cautious nod. Seeing this motion, his lips broke into a smile.
"Then how about I get you more customers?" he asked. "I'm great at business. I can make some ads for you, circulate word, and even if you're selling prostitutes, I can get lines forming out the door and around the corner." He paused. "You aren't selling prostitutes, right?"
Viola exhaled into a chuckle and shook her head. Even though she didn't know this man at all, she could tell he was at least entertaining.
"Great," he said. "It's hard to market that sort of thing to children, you know? So, what do you—" He stopped for a moment as a thought passed through his mind. Then, he slapped his forehead as his gaze ascended to the ceiling. "I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? I'm sorry. I haven't even introduced myself yet."
He extended his hand. Viola stared at it the way she did the pieces of silver, with a certain caution.
"The name's Sebastian," he said. "Sebastian Cross."
Her eyes rose to gaze into his. An awkward flinch caused his features to distort into an expression of uncertainty.
"Um, here's the part where you shake my hand and tell me what your name is."
Nodding, Viola grasped his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Viola DiAngelo."
At this point, Sebastian stopped and stared at her the way that she stared at him a moment ago. Her hand slipped from his as she went back to the window.
"I'm a doll maker, and the shop downstairs is a toyshop," she said. "You can stay here, but I have an extra room in my apartment for now until you can make yourself comfortable here. I can't pay you until the end of next year so you can earn enough from your services to buy this apartment. If you agree, then you can start work tomorrow as my partner. I'll do whatever you want in order for you to do your work as long as you let me to create my dolls however I want." She looked over her shoulder. "Any questions?"
He lifted a finger to point to her. "You're a woman?"
At the question, her mouth broke into a real smile for what felt like the first time in an eternity.
Exiting the bathroom (after finishing her morning routine), Viola snapped out of her thoughts to check her watch. 8:03. She had a feeling Mercury and the others were already downstairs. Quickly, she went back to her room to retrieve her coat, her poké balls, and her Master before hurrying down the hall.
As she passed the kitchen, she noticed the smell of toast and bacon emanating from within the room. Cautiously, she peeked into the room to see Sebastian standing at the stove against one of the adjacent walls. At first, he failed to notice her, but after a moment, he looked up from the pan to her face. His own took on a wide-eyed expression.
"Viola," he murmured.
She turned to leave. Quickly, he took the pot off the heat, turned off the stove, and started towards her. By the time he was at the threshold, Viola was just a few feet away, at the door and putting on her shoes.
"Viola, wait! Where are you going?"
With her glare fixed on him, she stood and placed her hand on the doorknob.
He frowned. "I just want to talk to you."
Not bothering to wait a moment for him, she opened the door and slipped outside. Before she could close the door all the way, Sebastian grabbed the doorknob and yanked it open again. Viola, meanwhile, quickly made her way down the stairs. With his brows furrowing, Sebastian started after her.
Suddenly, a shadow emerged from one of the walls to block Sebastian's path. Stumbling, he grabbed the banister to avoid pitching forward as his eyes fixed on the ghost in front of him.
"Haunter!" he snapped. "Get out of my way!"
The ghost growled and glided towards Sebastian, who took a step back.
"Come on. I just want to talk to her."
Before Haunter could respond, the bell of the front door rang as Viola left the building. Flashing a wily grin at Sebastian, Haunter drifted down the stairs to follow his master. Knowing he had just lost his opportunity, Sebastian, in the shadowy stairwell, sat down on the steps and stared towards the square of light at the landing.
"Damn it," he muttered.
"Your Master is broken?" Romeo repeated.
Viola nodded. The other members of the group surrounded her, but she focused mainly on Romeo as he walked beside her. Mercury chattered incessantly to the man beside her, the one called Puck, as she led the pack of seven. Two of the other men, who Viola came to know as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, traded banter about their female leader as they walked at the rear of the group. Beside Viola, opposite to Romeo, Benvolio stalked silently with his hands deep in his pockets and his eyes on his feet.
Romeo rubbed his chin. "I've never heard of that before. Usually, Masters are pretty reliable. They have to be, or Knights can't get their assignments or register their Keys. Why do you say it's broken?"
"It's… It's not really too big of a deal. I can still get messages on it." She pulled her Master out of her pocket and stared at it. "It's just that for the past few days, it's been telling me that I've been getting Keys when I know I haven't collected them myself. It says they're being transferred to me, but I don't know who they're coming from."
At that, Romeo chuckled. "You're complaining about that? I wish people just handed their Keys over to me on a daily basis. It'd make the game a whole lot easier."
"So…" Viola held up her Master. "…It's something that usually happens in the Game?"
"Well, I wouldn't say usually," Romeo replied with a shrug. "More like sometimes. See, everyone has an feature on their Master called Key Options." He reached over to point at one of the icons on Viola's PDA. "In it, you can look at the collection of Keys that you've gotten so far as well as stats on the one you carry with you at all times. You know how every Key you obtain besides your primary one is automatically transferred the way pokémon can be? That's because for convenience, they're sent back to our base in the Dumont Mansion. There, they go into special storage facilities designated for each active Knight. So, when you take someone else's primary Key, it's automatically sent to your storage facility, but if they have Keys in their boxes, all of those Keys are transferred to yours, even if you didn't touch them yourself."
"But I didn't get anyone's primary Key in weeks," Viola said.
Romeo shrugged. "That's another part of Key Options. Some people get Keys they don't want, probably because they only collect Keys that share number designations with their favorite pokémon, because they don't like the look of the Key, or because of whatever other crazy reason they come up with. Whatever the reason, there's an option in your Master to transfer Keys from one box to someone else's if you don't want it. When that happens, you're basically erasing your name from the Key and writing in someone else's. It can even be a surprise. Makes a nice Christmas gift."
Viola tilted her head. "How do you know about this?"
Before Romeo could respond, Benvolio cut him off. "He wandered into the storage room after his initiation."
Romeo glared at his cousin but said nothing in response.
Viola, meanwhile, nodded. "Oh. Okay. So, um, I shouldn't be worried, then?"
Benvolio frowned. "I wouldn't say that."
As an uncertain expression crossed Viola's face, Romeo merely sighed and kept his eyes steady on his cousin.
"Benvolio…" he hissed with a warning tone.
"The truth of the matter is you don't know who's sending you Keys," Benvolio said. "It could be anyone. It could be one of us, a friend… one of the Trio…"
"Why would one of the Trio be sending her Keys?" Romeo asked. "That doesn't make sense at all. It'd be helping her."
"Or they could be setting her up," Benvolio said. "Think, Romeo. If their own target has a load of Keys under her name, what do you think will happen when they take her primary Key?"
For a long moment, both Romeo and Viola were silent. The only sounds from the group came from the rear and the front, both of whom seemed to be ignored the conversation entirely. In between the chatter of merriment, Romeo sent Benvolio a scowl while Viola paled slightly.
Then, after that brief moment, Romeo burst into laughter. At that, Benvolio and Viola turned to him, their eyebrows raised into expressions of curiosity.
"You think way too much, Ben," he said. "Vi, I really don't think it's anything to worry about, and even if it was, you've got us looking out for you." He slapped a hand on her shoulder, causing her to reel forward. "So don't worry about it."
By then, the group had stopped in front of the door to a diner. Mercury put her hands on her hips and stared at the sign with squinted eyes as the others congregated behind her. Just as soon as Romeo got in his last word, she spun around to face them with a broad smile across her face. Viola opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Mercury promptly interrupted.
"This is it!" Mercury said. "Best coffee in Verona City."
Puck frowned as he narrowed his own dark eyes at the sign. "You kidding me? This looks like a dump."
She frowned and elbowed him in the ribs. "Shut up, Puck. You should be one to talk, what with having eaten pokémon kibble and all."
Glaring at her, Puck rubbed his ribs. "On a dare, remember?"
As soon as he said it, Mercury's expression dropped into a mischievous grin. "Yeah, I do."
With an impatient groan, Romeo stepped forward and put his arms around the shoulders of both Mercury and Puck. He glanced from one and then the other with a slight frown.
"So, are we ever going to go in, or are we just going to stare at the place until lunchtime?" he asked.
Mercury pointed her elbow back and shoved Romeo away from herself. Then, with a smile towards him, she leaned against the door.
"Keep your pants on," she said. "We're going in."
With that, she pulled open the door and stepped aside with a flourish to motion her comrades into the establishment. The others herded in with a chatter between them, with Viola at the end of the line. As soon as she stepped into the building, Mercury let go of the door and followed, placing her arm around the girl's shoulders. Instantly, Viola's cheeks reddened slightly as she cast a short glance towards the other woman. Then, quickly, she looked away with her eyes falling on the seemingly random posters covering the walls, the false plants on the counters, and the people sitting at orange-and-silver booths by the windows. To her right, as the group moved like a wave towards a corner booth, she passed by the long, faux granite countertop with round, metal-and-rubber seats set at intervals in front of it. She barely registered much about the people who sat there in front of their plates and cups of coffee, but as she passed, the heads of two men – one portly and the other lanky with straw-colored hair – turned to study her carefully.
The group sat down without incident, and before Viola could look at the laminated menu, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ordered pots of coffee. Seconds later, the poor waitress was practically chased away by the same two men while Mercury leaned back and chattered incessantly about subjects to which Viola only paid partial attention. Instead, she tried to concentrate on the names of whatever the place had to offer, but she couldn't help but lower the menu bit by bit to stare at Benvolio, whose face was buried in his own menu as he sat calmly across the table. Unable to gaze into his eyes, she transferred her attention back to the pictures of plates of eggs and bacon.
Eventually, Viola realized that the group had gone oddly quiet. Slowly, she lowered her menu to see someone standing beside her out the corner of her eye. Her head turned, and she found herself staring upwards towards a pair of men. The bulkier man, the balding one with a slightly more menacing sneer, addressed Viola.
"Are you Knight Illusion?" he asked.
Benvolio lowered his menu to send Viola a warning glare. She, unfortunately, failed to see it.
"Um… Yeah," she said.
The stranger closed his eyes. "I thought you looked familiar."
Then, with quick hands, the man grabbed Viola by the collar and pulled her up. A startled yelp tore from her throat as she found herself being pulled to her feet (despite the fact that the man was slightly shorter than she was). Benvolio sighed and picked up his menu again, but Romeo, naturally, took a more active role. As soon as Viola was pulled from the booth, he launched over Benvolio's lap and shoved the stranger away. With an awkward tumble, the short man smacked his back against a table, startling the elderly couple who were enjoying an otherwise peaceful breakfast.
"What the hell are you doing?" Romeo asked.
"That bastard," the stranger replied as he pointed a fat finger towards Viola, "took my friend's Key last night."
Romeo cast a strange glance towards Viola. She, meanwhile, tried to remember what she did the night prior to right then, but all she could recall was finishing a new doll and going upstairs to sleep. With the knowledge that she hadn't been outside at all that evening, she merely shrugged and shook her head. Romeo nodded and turned back to his two opponents.
"Listen," Romeo said, "I'm really sorry, but Knight Illusion wouldn't do that. Besides, that's one of the risks you have with playing the Game. You should already know that, and you should be lucky you walked away alive."
The fat man snorted. "My friend might not be able to do anything about it, but I'm not about to let him get away with this." He cast a glance towards Viola. "For the sake of Knight Dog, I challenge Knight Illusion to a—"
Romeo crossed his arms and glared at him. "You do that, and I kick your ass and take your Key myself."
Immediately, both Toby and Andrew fell silent. As if to reinforce the threat that was already taking hold of the two men, Mercury stood.
"Don't think you'll be facing just him," she said. "I'll be taking you down if Knight Horse isn't enough for you."
Toby glanced cautiously from first Romeo then Mercury and back again. His mouth opened in preparation for a comeback as his body inched backwards. Then, the sound of a throat clearing snapped the atmosphere of the psychological showdown. All heads turned towards the waitress, who stood with a coffeepot in one hand and her other hand on her hip.
"What's going on here?" she asked. "Am I gonna have to get the manager?"
Romeo glanced at her for a moment before smiling. "Oh, no. Things have just gotten resolved."
With that, Mercury and Romeo sat back down. Andrew and Toby, meanwhile, glanced at the entire group before turning and stalking out of the dining area. In the meantime, Viola watched them leave, her face oddly pale. Mercury was the one to notice she wasn't sitting down.
"Hey, Viola," she said. "You okay?"
Viola, meanwhile, parted her lips just slightly to whisper something to herself. "Knight Dog… Key 58… What does this mean…?"
Mercury furrowed her eyebrows. "Viola?"
With a shake of her head, Viola glanced blankly at Mercury. Her gesture was answered with a curious glance.
"You okay?" Mercury repeated.
Forcing herself to smile, Viola nodded. "Uh, yeah. I'm fine. It's…"
She glanced at the door as her mind tried to comprehend the puzzle churning through her brain. The pieces were there, but she had no idea what message they were trying to tell her. For a moment, she tried to work out the solution – the strategy her opponent, whoever that might be, was using right then. Nothing came to mind. So, slowly, she shook her head again and sat next to Mercury.
Yeah, that's about all I could find, and it's mostly things that I can't back up with a clear-cut rule. *Shot for bad reviewing practice* Just thought I'd point out what stuck out to me. Sorry it took so long to get this posted, I've been terribly lazy with my reviews lately. xP
Anyways, good points...erm, everything else won't do, will it? xD Well, I like the mystery of the whole handing over keys thing and how you left it completely open whether there's an impostor loose or if it's Viola experiencing some sort freaky split-personality disorder. Well, odds are that it's an impostor, but you never know. x3 I also enjoyed the little trip down memory lane, especially the ending there. xD It's always nice to see a character's earlier self. ^^
Overall, the plot seems to be thickening further. It's going to be interesting to see what's coming out of this at the end. :3
Aaargh! It's still so short! *Flail* You need to make some mistakes so I can pick up on them and pad my review. >O
Provided by and jointed with: Phani
Best viewed together, profile customization still in progress
Scandalous Maido Love Affair and Pair: Phani
Estranged Ex: The RP Section Rules
Sworn Rival For All Eternity and about five minutes beyond: Chibi
Illegitimate Lovechild: Mika
Card-gaming Beta on a Leash: Scarlet
Ooh. Thanks for the corrections. I'm not sure how I managed to miss some of them, particularly the last one. You're right. It does sound awkward. O_o
Also, thanks for the review in general. I'm a little tempted to use the freaky split-personality idea (because, really, that sounds so cool), but alas, I've already got a plan for this.
And as a couple of side notes...
I mean, uh, it's okay! We all get lazy sometimes! >.> <.<
"lol im viola and im here 2 take ur key!"
Author's Note: Because I've been so busy lately, I unfortunately do not have a chapter ready. Instead, I've opted to try inserting an intermission that I've been playing with for the past several days. Intermissions for A Midsummer Knight's Dream are basically chapters that take place between acts. They're usually side stories, either to explain things that wouldn't be touched in the normal flow of the story (such as, for example, the missions that Viola goes on between arcs, a day at Imogen's restaurant, et cetera). This intermission, meanwhile, just sort of came out of nowhere.
And for that, I apologize for both the rape of the poem itself and the poetry format.
Intermission One: Christmas
'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city
Not a creature was stirring, not even a skitty.
Well, actually, more accurately, this was more like a lie
For one little Knight knew that trouble was nigh.
"The Trio is nestled, all snug in their beds
While visions of sugarplums dance in their heads,"
Viola repeated as she lay awake in the dark
While her sense of inner reason responded with snark:
No, they're dreaming of you painting walls with a splatter.
Then, somewhere below she heard such a clatter.
Away to the window she lunged like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The streetlights below continued to blaze
Allowing Viola to spy in a daze.
How could her brain explain it to her—
The sleigh far below pulled by eight skinny stantler?
Then, there was the driver, decked in red and white,
For the life of her, Viola couldn't explain such a sight.
Haunter, below, naturally had no clue
So, as he watched the intruder, he knew what to do.
The stantler and sleigh flew straight to the sky
Through no logical means that Viola could spy
Instead, she fled to the door to awaken Sebastian
With the hope he could interpret the driver's intention
While Haunter slid to the den through the wall
His hands, both cupped to prepare a dark ball.
Between them, an orb which he would soon fling
While he listened to footsteps across the ceiling.
Viola and Haunter heard on the roof
The pawing and prancing of each stantler hoof.
Curious, thought Viola as she entered the room
To stand by her haunter, all prepared for doom.
Down the chimney, which wasn't there before,
Came a wave of soot across the wooden floor,
And following after was an old man with a pack
Of toys and presents slung on his large back.
Before Viola could act, Haunter's ball he threw out
While a pokémon's threat from his mouth he did shout.
When the old man saw where the ball would go,
His eyes twinkled like starlight on fresh-fallen snow.
The ball veered off course and into the soot,
With the old man unharmed, save for a sootier foot.
Surprised, Haunter stared at the old man's white beard.
This may be a godly opponent, the ghost-type feared.
But Viola examined this rosy-cheeked face
Framed with hair whiter than fine, high-class lace.
And that smile – joyful, ancient, and impossibly wide,
Seeing it made her feel oddly warm inside.
He was chubby and plump, like some jolly old elf,
And when Viola saw him, she laughed in spite of herself.
And a wink of the elder's eye and a twist of his head
Soon let her pokémon know he had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word but went straight to his work
Placing gifts beside the hearth before he turned with a jerk.
With a smile, he placed a finger to the side of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
Frantically dashing to the bedroom window,
Viola and Haunter gazed out to the snow.
Though they heard him speak, he was out of sight,
Crying, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
Apologies for how long this chapter took to get out.
Act Nine: Anti-Hero
Sometime in the afternoon, the door to Viola's apartment opened. She walked inside, her feet shuffling against the hardwood floor. Her motions were slow and uncertain when she took off her shoes and straightened, as if she was afraid of making a sound. As she turned towards the hall, she nearly ran into the dark purple specter that was her closest companion. She inhaled a sharp gasp while Haunter floated around her head with a warm expression on his face. A smile crossed her own face as she reached up to touch the ghost, and he floated in front of her with his eyes happily closed to receive her touch.
"Where did you head off to, Haunter?" she asked. "You didn't follow me, and it would've been nice if you were there too."
He crooned and rubbed against her affectionately. Her warm smile lingered on her face for a few moments before she let her hand rest on the top of his head. Opening his eyes slowly, Haunter peered into Viola's face as her smile faded slightly. She closed her own eyes and tried to pass around her companion. Regarding her with a sympathetic glance, he floated behind her and pushed his disconnected hands forward to rest on her shoulders. She, meanwhile, merely touched one of his hands as she passed the den on the way to her bedroom. However, she no sooner passed the den as she attracted the attention of its sole occupant.
Immediately, she froze. Behind her, she heard the sound of feet thumping against the wooden floor. Sebastian appeared in the doorway, his dark eyes fixed on Viola's back. With a frown straight ahead, she started walking towards her room again without so much as a syllable uttered towards her roommate. Not wanting to forgo another opportunity, Sebastian pushed himself forward and reached to grab Viola's wrist, much to the annoyance of the ghost, whose body floated towards the side to make room for him. Viola gasped slightly and turned her head towards Sebastian to cast a cold glance his way.
"Listen," he said. "Please, just five minutes."
She hesitated for the first few seconds, the corners of her mouth pulling down again a bit more. However, reluctantly, she nodded slowly. Sebastian exhaled out of relief.
"Right," he said as he looked at his feet. "I know I was crossing the line a few nights ago, and for that, I apologize. I shouldn't have said that. I acknowledge that I was wrong."
Viola turned her head back towards her front but focused her glance on her feet. Noticing her silence, Sebastian lifted his head towards her with a small frown.
"I know I seem harsh towards you, but it's only because I know how dangerous being a Knight can be."
"So, are you acting this way because you think I can't handle it?" she asked softly.
Sebastian straightened and shook his head. "No! Of course not! I mean… Viola, even for the most street-smart player, dying is more likely than winning the Game. It scares me that you would ever think about taking the risk."
Viola scoffed. "But you would?"
Lowering his head, Sebastian muttered, "That's different."
"How can that be different?" Viola half-turned to look at him. "What makes you think you can win if you know that you're more likely to die?"
"It's better me than you!" Sebastian said as he looked away.
Viola shook her head and narrowed her eyes. "Why? Do you really put such little value in your life, or are you patronizing me?"
"You don't understand, Viola." Sebastian tried to stare into her eyes. "I'm doing this for a reason."
Another scoff heaved from Viola's lungs. "Is that so? What are your reasons, Sebastian?"
Silence descended in the hallway. Haunter floated between the two humans, glancing from his master to her companion. Viola's eyes fixed on Sebastian with a blank stare, while Sebastian's cheeks took on a slightly pink hue.
"That came out wrong," he said as he rubbed his forehead. "What I mean to say is that… Do you remember how we met?"
Viola nodded. "Of course."
Sebastian removed the hand from his forehead to motion towards her. "I…" He took a deep breath. "I want to pay you back for what you did."
Raising an eyebrow, Viola stared at Sebastian for awhile. Minutes passed, and a sinking feeling began to develop in Sebastian's chest. He closed his eyes, fully expecting her to kick him out in the next instant. However, she merely cracked a smile and chuckled.
"Sei un'idiota," she said.
Sebastian opened his eyes and gave her a strange glance. He literally wasn't fluent in her language, but he had a feeling this reaction was a good thing.
"Why," Viola continued, "would you do something so stupid for me?"
A blush crept across Sebastian's cheeks. "The Midsummer Treasure, Viola. Everyone knows about it. They say with it, you can have your wildest dreams. I'll use it to make us both rich so you don't have to worry about a thing anymore as a proper thanks." He motioned wildly behind him. "You can leave the Wisteria District and live someplace nicer. Think about it!"
Again, Viola shook her head. "I don't want that. I'm happy here."
Sebastian hesitated, the curious glance settling on Viola's face. "Then why are you in the Game?"
After a beat of thought, Viola shrugged. "I don't know." Without further explanation, she turned on her heel and began walking towards the shop. "I'm headed to my workshop. You want to come down with me?"
With a frown, Sebastian fell into step behind her. "Hey! You didn't answer my question!"
Again, Viola shrugged. "I really never thought about it. I don't really care about the Treasure, and you know me, Sebastian. I guess I just wanted a reason to get out of the house."
The response made Sebastian stop in his tracks. He stared at Viola's back for a long while as he puzzled over her reasoning, but he made no effort to ask her to elaborate.
"You! Get back here!"
Toby's feet pounded on the pavement. Next to him, a large, blue turtle pointed a pair of cannons on its back at the fleeing figure who pushed through the crowds. Upon sight of the blastoise, several bystanders screamed and attempted to dodge as water bubbled from the edges of the silver cannons. A roar ripped through the commotion of the street in the Tulip District as water blasted in jets from the turtle to gouge a trench in the cement. The target leapt out of the way at the last moment, the jets doing no more damage more than clipping part of the dark trousers the figure wore. The rest of the body went sprawling.
The corners of Toby's mouth drooped to form a sharp curve downward. His hand rose to beckon Blastoise forward, and with that, the turtle lumbered behind him. Bystanders kept out of the way, each one whispering in terror as they tried to define the parties as Montague or Capulet or fumbling for cell phones. For that reason, Toby hit no resistance in his journey forward until he loomed over the fallen, dark-haired figure he knew to be Knight Illusion. The frown slowly turned into a grin, and he reached forward to grab the collar of the downed Knight.
Suddenly, his Master beeped before he could lay a finger on his victim. With a quick movement, his other hand plunged into his pocket and pulled from it the slender PDA. His eyes narrowed as he read the words on its face, the order to retrieve an item across town. A snort heaved from his nostrils as he pushed the Master back into his pocket. As soon as he turned his eyes back to his quarry to finish what he started, however, he stopped. There, right beneath his hand, was empty air. His mouth opened slightly as he gaped at the disappearance of the figure for a moment before he lifted his head towards the sky. A great bellow ripped from his throat, rippling across the chatter of the street like waves traveling over water. It even echoed off the brick walls of the city before dying away without a response.
The turtle by his side grunted, lowering herself to all fours as her reptilian nostrils flared at something on the ground. Toby tore his eyes away from the sky to glance at what the blastoise was trying to show him. There, where his quarry had been, lay a small, white rectangle. Stooping slightly, he picked up the card and turned it over, examining it carefully. On its face, printed in the shining black of new ink, were the words "Allegro Dolls," followed by an address.
A huff heaved from Toby's lungs as he pocketed the card. Already, he was forming plans for that night.
Viola's hand reached towards the lamp near her head, the one that shone a spotlight on the metal-and-plush creature she was carefully shaping. It, so far, looked much like what a mouse would look like, should the mouse have lacked most of its skin (save for the purple swath that formed its ears, tail, and back) and possessed a metal skeleton and a little, black box for a heart. Her pale fingers stroked its back gently as she stared at its still formless face.
In her distraction, she failed to notice Sebastian leaning over the parapet separating the workshop from the shop floor. For a long time, he had been silent, watching her work as his thoughts wandered. Inevitably, they would meander back to the idea of the Trio, lurking somewhere nearby. By then, he knew that two of them had challenged Viola and failed, and it was, according to his calculations, only a matter of time before the third struck. As he closed his eyes during the last few minutes before Viola stopped, a silent vow had passed through his mind.
Now, when Viola put down her tools, he opened his eyes slowly, the clicking sound of a metal screwdriver on a metal countertop pulling him back to reality. Presently, he watched Viola stroke her latest creation, and in that moment, he forced himself to smile.
"Hey," he said. "That rattata looks good so far."
Viola raised her eyebrow and looked over her shoulder. "You never watch me work."
He shrugged. "I thought it would help if I learned how the magic is made."
Immediately, Viola's eyebrows went up. "Why?"
"In case a customer asks, of course." He reached over the wall and unlocked the gate. "Will you be coming up soon? I'll make us some dinner."
With a huff, Viola put her tools and the unfinished doll in the cupboard just above her workspace. "You're definitely not Sebastian Cross. Who are you, and where are you keeping him hostage?"
Sebastian shook his head. "I can't do anything nice for you?"
"You could, but I'd expect this sort of treatment if I was on my deathbed."
Viola took off her heavy apron and lay it on the counter. At that, she turned and walked across her workshop to push open the gate. Sebastian stepped aside and offered her a half grin.
"Come on," he said. "I thought you said you forgave me for how I treated you."
"No, I didn't," Viola replied with a shrug. "I just said you didn't have to risk your neck for me."
Sebastian frowned. "So, you don't forgive me?"
"I never said that either."
"Wait." He held up a hand. "I don't understand."
Viola flashed him a sympathetic smile. "Forgive you? For acting like a jerk to Romeo, I do, and for thinking that I can't handle being a Knight. But for acting like a jerk because you're looking out for me?" She shrugged again. "I just know you well enough to know that you're just like that. I can't forgive you if it's something you can't help."
An embarrassed blush colored Sebastian's cheeks. "Does that bother you? Do you want me to stop?"
At both questions, Viola sighed. "Sometimes, I think you are being overprotective for no reason, but… no. I don't want you to change. I just want you to realize that I'm not a little girl."
Sebastian straightened. His mouth opened slightly, and the blush on his cheeks reddened. One of his hands rose, inching towards Viola's shoulder as he tilted his head.
He hesitated, his mind grasping for the right words to say. The thoughts of another apology crossed his mind, some sort of reassurance that he was aware of what Viola was.
Before he could rest his fingers on the words, however, the window came in. A cry ripped from Viola's throat, and Sebastian could feel himself pulling her over the parapet and onto the linoleum floor. Pain jolted through his shoulder as he felt something cold – what he originally thought was glass – rain down upon him. Panting, he wiped the water away from his cheek as he stared at Viola's black hair. His hand reached for it, resting on the back of her head as she moved to gaze into his eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
Viola nodded and tried to sit up. "Yeah. Just surprised."
Sebastian grabbed her elbow as he sat up to keep her down. Blinking at him, Viola followed him as he moved to push his back against the parapet. With his free hand, he brought his finger to his lips in a signal to keep silent. She nodded again as she rested her own back against the wall and stared at the ceiling. For a long time, there was nothing but silence, but then, the quiet was broken by the sound of boots on shattered glass. Almost by instinct, Viola pressed herself a little more against the parapet while Sebastian's hand inched into his pocket in search of protection. Viola followed suit, praying that Haunter would come down before she summoned another pokémon.
From the other side of the parapet, a rough voice rose. "Hello? I'm here for Knight Illusion!"
Viola froze, her blood turning cold and heavy, like lead. Sebastian sent a sideways glance at her as he attempted to analyze her expression. Her hand wandered towards his wrist, circling it in search of support. His lips drew into a straight line, and he nodded. Pulling away from her, Sebastian slowly stood, his hands in his pocket and ready to draw.
Beyond the parapet was Toby, who turned away from a pile of wet dolls to face Sebastian.
"I'm Knight Tide," he announced. "Identify yourself and your motive."
Toby eyed his fellow Knight carefully. "Knight Azure, here for Knight Illusion."
Sebastian frowned. "Why? What did she do to offend you?"
"She," Toby said with a beat of uncertainty, "fought my friend a few nights ago and took his Key. I'm here to get it back."
At that, Sebastian narrowed his eyes. "I don't know if this is true, but if it is, then there's nothing you can do about it. You know as well as I do that if the battle was fought fairly and if Keys were wagered, then the Key is lost unless the winning Knight had cheated. It's clearly stated in the rulebook."
Toby sneered. "I know that. This is revenge."
"Is that so?" Sebastian pulled a ball from his pocket and clicked the button to enlarge it in his hand. "Then, I'm afraid you must fight me before you may fight Knight Illusion."
"What does this have to do with you?" Toby snapped. "I'm only here for Knight Illusion! Stay out of this, boy!"
Sebastian walked towards the door. "You break into my home, damage part of my livelihood, and threaten my friend. I have everything to do with this." He turned to face Toby while, with his free hand, he reached into his other pocket to pull out his Master. "To defend my honor and the honor of Knight Illusion, I, Knight Tide, challenge Knight Azure to a duel, wagering my Key against his."
Immediately, the Master in his hand beeped as it recorded his words. Seconds later, the one in Toby's pocket activated, and with a grumble, he pulled his own Master into the open and examined the command on its face.
Knight Tide: Duel with Knight Tide. Award for completion: 500 points, promotion to the next rank, and the enemy Midsummer Key. Penalty for denial: 500 points.
Turning on his heel, Sebastian walked towards the door. "We battle outside. I don't need you destroying more of my home."
Grudgingly, Toby thrust his Master in his pocket and followed. As soon as his back was turned, Viola peeked over the parapet, blinking in curiosity but knowing full well that it would be a bad idea to reveal herself at that particular moment.
Outside, the night air blew cool between the buildings. There were a few people milling past, but most people possessed enough sense to stay off the streets. While night in Verona City was no more violent than day in certain districts, it was the fear of the shadows between each building that kept people indoors, where the monsters in the darkness couldn't reach them.
Knights, however, eventually grew used to sharing the world with those monsters – sometimes, even being those monsters. Sebastian felt the night by that point – the cold, the shadows, the street itself. The only thing that he feared the most was the thought of losing the duel and surrendering his chances to accomplish the one goal he wanted most at that point. As he eyed his opponent, he took his position several yards away with a deep breath. He forced his mind to clear as he watched Toby beckon something in the shadows to come forward. Narrowing his eyes, Sebastian was careful not to react as he watched the thing beside the shop lumber forward, a literal monster pulling away from the darkness. It took awhile for Sebastian to make out the hulking figure of the blastoise, her eyes glinting in the meager light from the street lamps as her throat vibrated in a growl.
Sebastian grinned. "Blastoise? Fine. In that case, I'll choose Lapras!"
Flicking the poké ball outward, Sebastian watched as the ball cracked open and released a flash of white light. In seconds, the light morphed and twisted to form a finned creature with a spiked shell on her back. Lapras straightened her long, graceful neck to cast her gray eyes towards her opponent as she let loose a melodic cry.
"Water against water." Toby grinned. "Well, at least you'll go out on an interesting note. Blastoise, Rapid Spin!"
At once, Blastoise dropped to her smooth front. Her head, cannons, and forelegs tucked into her body while her back legs pushed hard on the pavement. The sharp shove sent Blastoise in a quick whirl towards her opponent, who had no time to dodge. Before Sebastian could give her a command, Lapras found herself being pushed backwards as pain laced through her front just after Blastoise collided with her. A startled cry ripped from Lapras' throat while the proud turtle drew her head and limbs from her shell and grinned smugly at her opponent.
The corners of Sebastian's mouth pulled downward in a sharp frown. "Lapras, recover and fight back with Body Slam!"
Shaking off the pain of the strike, Lapras glared at her opponent. Her flippers shoved her forward, launching her in a strange half-shuffle, half-hop towards the turtle. The blastoise grunted in mocking laughter at the sight of the awkward aquatic beast ambling towards him. It was clear to her that the creature was far more suited for a battle on water, rather than one on pavement and earth, and for that, the turtle let herself linger in one spot for far too long. However, when Lapras dragged herself a mere few feet from her target, her flippers pushed her off the ground with surprising force. The elegant creature flew through the air with a cry, throwing her entire body weight onto the turtle before she could recognize that the lapras was a threat. Blastoise's legs spread out from under her, and she shifted, attempting to block the attack with her hard shell. For that reason, although she felt the shock of the entire weight of the lapras come down on her, the shell took most of the attack.
What was worse, though, was that Lapras remained on Blastoise's back. The turtle pushed her limbs underneath her shell to try to force herself onto her hindquarters, but the weight of the pokémon on her back kept her pinned to the ground.
Toby balled his hands into fists. "Come on, Blastoise! Pull out of it with Rapid Spin!"
With a nod, Blastoise drew her head and forelimbs into her hard shell. Then, repeating her motions from moments ago, she used her back legs to propel her into a spin. At first, she moved slowly, her shell grinding against the rough pavement as she leaned towards the lapras' front. Lapras tried to keep her position on top of the turtle, but eventually, the turtle shot from beneath her and sent herself spinning like a top towards the shop.
Sensing where the blastoise was headed, Sebastian's eyes widened. "Lapras, stop her! Use Hydro Pump on the edge of her shell to send her spinning out of the way!"
As soon as she received her orders, Lapras lifted her head and crooned. She inhaled a deep breath, pointing her snout towards the edge of the brown blur headed towards the shop. Opening her mouth, a jet of water rushed forth, raging towards her target. However, at the last second, the blur moved, swerving in a curved path back towards the lapras and away from the stream of water. Lapras cut off her attack in her surprise – but not before gouging a deep trench in the sidewalk just outside of the shop. Meanwhile, Blastoise spun back towards her like a tornado, and before Lapras could realize that her target was close, the turtle slammed into her again and sent her skidding back. She winced and whimpered, feeling the burn of her scraped flippers. Her fore limbs flopped, revealing their rose-red undersides before they rested in front of her.
"That's it, Blastoise!" Toby called. "Keep using Rapid Spin! She can't hit you if you're too fast for her!"
Although Blastoise gave no confirmation, she seemed to hear the order. For that, she continued to spin around Lapras like a wild planet in orbit. Lapras yelped helplessly as she swiveled her graceful neck in order to keep track of the turtle. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried, the turtle slipped out of her line of sight frequently, and it was during those moments when her head was turned away that Blastoise darted forward to strike. Already, welts were beginning to develop on her body where Blastoise whipped her.
Sebastian bit his lips. He realized that Lapras lacked any formidable speed on land – at least, the sort of speed that could match Blastoise's. Casting his eyes around the battlefield, he tried to think of a way to stop the turtle… or at least slow it down. Eventually, his eyes fell on one of the lampposts that lined the street, and there, his glance lingered. After a few moments, his gaze trailed back to his lapras as an idea wormed its way into his mind.
"Lapras, Ice Beam the road. Coat as much as you can with ice!"
Raising her head again, Lapras flinched at Blastoise's latest strike. Taking another deep breath, she channeled the energy of her body into her mouth. A cold ball of pale, blue light began to develop above her throat, and the light shined through her cold lips. Her mouth eventually opened to reveal the glow just seconds before, with a crack, a jagged bolt shot from the heart of the ball to the pavement. The frigid energy cut through the air, freezing the water droplets around it as it went. Snow settled on the pavement around the beam's striking point. As the beam passed over the pavement, a slick, black coat of ice developed over the surface. Lapras turned, maintaining the beam to draw a circle of ice around her that slowly grew in all directions.
Not long afterwards, Blastoise hit one of the patches of ice as she went in to strike Lapras. She wobbled in her revolutions, the slick surface throwing her off. Unable to stop, she skidded into Lapras, who cried out at the sudden blow. Unfortunately, immediately, Blastoise ricocheted off Lapras and spun away from her, towards her owner. Toby gasped, watching his turtle roll rapidly towards him as she tried and failed to stop on the layer of ice. Her master knew that if he failed to move, he would be crushed by her attack, yet he, for some reason, found himself rooted to the spot.
Suddenly, a dark ball of energy shot from the side and struck the side of Blastoise's shell with a crack. The strike landed with enough force to change the course of the water-type, sending her spinning into a lamppost across the street, causing the light to bend over her like a flower with its stem bent in half. Upon the collision, Blastoise finally stopped, sticking her head and limbs out of her shell in a daze.
Gaping at his downed blastoise, Toby took a step to the side before turning to face the source of the strike. He found himself staring at a purple ghost floating in front of a familiar young figure.
"Are you okay?" Viola asked.
Slowly, Toby nodded. He opened his mouth, but he found he couldn't speak.
Sebastian sent a wary glance towards Viola. "You really shouldn't have done that."
Viola frowned. "I thought I had to. He could have been hurt."
Toby straightened. "You… you saved my life."
With a shrug, Viola repeated, "I thought I had to."
Toby stepped towards her, the look of surprise being replaced by one of confusion. A realization inched into his skull, but he found himself unable to speak about it. Viola backed away slightly, taking his expression to be something threatening.
A long moment of silence lapsed between the three humans. Sebastian's eyes wandered between Viola and Toby during this time until his eyes settled on something beyond them. Suddenly, his face paled, and he stumbled back in surprise. Viola tore her eyes away from Toby to stare at Sebastian.
"Viola," he said, "look!"
He extended a finger towards the figure past her. She turned her head to glance at what he was seeing, and as soon as she took in the sight herself, she stopped dead.
There, beyond her, was her mirror image. The figure looked, in every way, exactly like her, right down to the fraying of the coat sleeves. Beside the stranger, a ghost hovered – one that looked in every way like Viola's own companion. Viola took a step forward to examine the two carefully as Haunter drifted cautiously by her side.
Before anyone could react, the figure turned and bolted, followed closely by its own haunter. Without even thinking things through, Viola launched herself forward in a dash to follow her twin. Narrowing his eyes, Haunter flew forward, eager to battle the other specter as well as protect his master. As soon as he saw Haunter make his way forward, Sebastian started after Viola as well, but Toby raised an arm to bar his way. When Sebastian came close to it, Toby turned, pushing Sebastian back to grab him.
"Viola! Wait!" Sebastian cried before glaring at Toby. "What do you think you're doing?!"
"What does it look like?" Toby snapped. "Keeping you from running into something you shouldn't be."
A scowl crossed Sebastian's face. "Well, that's apt, coming from someone who burst into our home to exact revenge on an innocent woman, or was that not enough proof that you could have had the wrong person?!"
With a growl, Toby said, "Calm down, boy. Your Viola saved my life. Couldn't have been her, and we'll go to offer help in a moment."
"In a moment?!"
Toby nodded. "First, we have some business to take care of."
By then, Sebastian was ready to hit Toby if it meant getting away. "Oh? And what business might that be?"
Calmly, Toby reached into his pocket to present his Master to Sebastian. "Calling a tie before we both get kicked out of the Game."
That alone was enough to calm Sebastian.
Shadows crossed the opening of the run-down theater. Viola hesitated outside, staring at the chipping, red paint around the sign which formerly proudly announced plays starring once-famous names. The box office was abandoned, with the window broken and the glass scattered across the counter. In the window next to it, a poster hung, faded to the point where the name of the play it advertised had turned completely white. Her eyes fell on the door, half gone and half boarded up; it was the lower half that was missing. She had seen the figure disappear into the darkness of the building through this hole, but she was reluctant to follow.
With a glance towards Haunter, she drew a deep breath. She ducked and sidestepped, sliding beneath the boards to enter the theater. Immediately, her nostrils were assaulted by the smell of mildew as she squinted into the darkness. The lobby was no better than the outside. The counters and furniture were falling apart, with cushions ripped to expose mustard-yellow foam stuffing. Every surface was covered with a thick, gray film of dust. Cobwebs laced from the ceiling downward, and Viola was almost certain she spotted the legs of a spinarak scuttling out of sight behind a battered pillar.
Moving forward, Viola tried not to breathe in the dust and mold as she moved towards the door to the house. The door, once proud and red and manned by ushers in bright, red uniforms, hung awkwardly on its broken hinges with chipping paint on its surface. As soon as Viola lay a hand on it, it swung forward until its hinges snapped loudly, sending the door crashing to the floor. Viola flinched for a few moments before she shifted her eyes towards Haunter, who answered with a cautious stare.
Biting her lip, Viola wandered forward, her hand cautiously reaching for the chairs. As she dragged her fingertips across each arm rest she passed, she pushed away the gray dust into small clumps that fell to the grimy floor. Haunter floated in the darkness behind her, keeping his distance as he scanned the area for possible traps. For a long time, the house was silent, save for Viola's footsteps down the aisle. She struggled in the darkness to keep herself focused, alert to the smallest sound that may signal the presence of an attacker. Despite this vigilance, nothing happened as the minutes ticked away.
But then, she approached the front row. As soon as she drew next to it, her fingertips brushing the armrest, there was a bang, and a spotlight flashed onto center stage. Startled, she kept her eyes fixed on the spot as she heard footsteps fall on the stage from the wings. Her double walked into the open calmly, as if it was a spirit of the stage, a creature that haunted it since its birth. With a smile, it stepped into the spotlight and basked itself in the glory of the yellow glow.
Then, he spoke.
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women… its players. They have their entrances and their exits, and one man, in his time, plays many parts."
A shiver drove itself down Viola's spine as she stared at the man. He fixed his eyes on her, and his smile broadened as she felt his stare burrow into her soul heart and lay itself on her soul.
"How many parts will you play in this act, I wonder?" he asked.
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."
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?"
"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.
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.