A Midsummer Knight's Dream (R)
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October 15th, 2007 (7:16 PM).
Your aquatic overlord
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
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
good to see you! What brings you to our
"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
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
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
"Oh, be honest with us!" Cesario said. "Rosaline Wu does
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
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?
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!"
Professional ninja. May or may not actually be back. Here for the snark and banter at most.
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Anima Ex Machina
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