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Old December 9th, 2007 (4:44 PM). Edited December 9th, 2007 by JX Valentine.
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JX Valentine JX Valentine is offline
Your aquatic overlord
    Join Date: May 2004
    Location: Harassing Bill
    Age: 30
    Gender: Female
    Nature: Bold
    Posts: 3,280
    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.

    "What the—"

    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!"

    "Why not?"

    "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.

    "Growlithe, return."

    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.

    "Viola! Viola!"

    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.

    "…It's nothing."
    Professional ninja. May or may not actually be back. Here for the snark and banter at most.

    Need some light reading?
    Anima Ex Machina (Chapter 20 now available)
    The Leaf Green Incident (SWC 2012 winner)
    Braid (Creepypasta apparently)
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