This was my Phsecretsanta2018 gift for tumblr user endoreon (or kowareon on Ao3! Where you can also read this fic !)
Ada placed an old compass on the shelf, between an antique sextant and a dull crystal.
She turned to face the rest of the shop, smiling and putting her hands on her hips, proud of her work; she had just finished tidying up the place, putting everything in order, and could finally have a moment to relax, and admire the way everything gleamed.
Outside the sun always shone bright, reflecting off the white sand, sending green shadows onto the ground as it sifted through the palm leaves. Inside, the low light that filled the shop, emanating from candles, lanterns, as well as a few crystals hanging from nets, (and the occasional mysterious object), bouncing off the wooden walls, creating an atmosphere of dormant animation in the darkened place. Almost like the shop itself was lying in wait for something to happen, like if you broke a single object, all the spirits would come spilling out, and the place would live.
Ada knelt down to scratch her cats' ears.
She had had this shop for a few years now; for a long time, she had tried to learn about the occult, in attempts to bring her brother back from the Abyss, and in the midst of her research, had become a bit of an enthusiast, and had collected too many occult artifacts for the spare Vessalius house to hold. She didn't use all of them, so she decided to start selling them to interested parties. From there she started collecting things just to sell. When she was at school, or otherwise couldn't man the shop, she had servants watch over the place, (she warned them not to tell her uncle, or anyone who might not approve, or start spreading rumors). She had also hired someone to find more artifacts—(at sea, buried beneath the sand, anything)—both for her own fascination, as well as the shop.
Those who knew of her knew that she wasn't just some collector, she was very knowledgeable in the ways of the occult, and novice practitioners, or fanatics, would come to her for advice on spells, or the authenticity of the objects they had found on their own. Some of them genuinely shared her interests—(she could talk to them for hours if she didn't curb her excitement)—but sometimes people came in who were more…creepy than anything. Of course, by the nature of her hobby, often she herself couldn't tell the difference.
"Now, now, you'll have to wait outside. You're not old enough to take part in the ceremony yet."
Ada gasped, spinning around wildly. "Who's there?!"
"Mew!" Snowdrop responded.
She petted her cat once more, looking around.
No one. Wooden walls and a breeze.
She breathed out. It wasn't exactly unheard of that objects such as these could give off strange visions, or spill voices into one's ears, and she was no stranger to the dark and the dangerous. It was surely just a particularly powerful object, which was simply doing its job, and someone would buy it soon enough.
Despite her mind's attempts to reassure her, she probably should have been listening more carefully.
For the next few weeks, intermittently when she was in her shop, whispers would tread the air around her. Simple words, cries, accusations, voices that—dare she admit it?—she recognized.
Her brother's, her uncle's, her father's, and—somehow worst of all—her own.
Her own voice, sounding so pitiful, so lost, and tiny.
Did she still sound like that?
After a while, it wasn't hard to recognize what they were: memories. Memories of a past calling back to her. A sad and empty past that she had tried to forget. A past in which the Baskervilles threw her brother into the Abyss, and that place kept him from her for ten years.
Was this just her mind playing tricks on her? Was it all in her head? Nothing real?
But, of course, these memories were real. She just didn't think of them too often, because she didn't quite like that fact.
What kind of an object could do this? Why would someone create such an object in the first place? What should she even be looking for?
She tried to block them, to find something else that would drown them out, to cover her ears, but the whispers seeped in through the boards she nailed over her mind's doors, and the cracks between her fingers.
The murmurs followed her. They pooled in her brain when she left the shop, and didn't drain away. They grew louder. There came a point when she tore apart her neatly polished shop in search of the offender, and found…nothing.
But as she turned to leave one day, she saw her reflection in the door window, and behind herself, the curtain to the back…She turned, and did something dangerous:
She started thinking.
Hidden away, back there, like a caged beast, was in an old chest, and within it, something she had been warned about, but whose purpose had never quite been explained to her.
Her hand shaking ever so slightly, she fingered the necklace she was wearing, pulling it from beneath her shirt, holding the end up before her eyes, twinkling in the low light; a tiny, old silver key.
Ada walked out into the darkened school grounds. There was something about the cool night air that made everything seem less inviting, less pure. The person waiting for her, during the day, would—(if a little odd)—have been an ordinary student, but in the dark he was a figure, a mystery, harbinger of more mystic nights to come.
They weren't supposed to be out after dark—and she was one of those adamant rule-followers—but there had been something about the plea to his voice earlier…
"Good evening, Leo-kun." Her small, but strong, voice broke the silence.
Leo turned to her, half moonlight reflecting off his glasses, and bowed.
"Yes, Good evening, Miss Vessalius." He smiled, though there was a twitch in the corner of his mouth that betrayed its reality.
"If I may, can I ask how you found out about my shop?"
He scratched his chin, looking around as if the courtyard had suddenly become more interesting. "I simply heard about it from some of our fellow students. You know how they can be prone to gossiping."
Who knew about her? And why they wouldn't say anything about it to her? How did they find out? How many people knew by now? Or, what if he was lying? If so, why didn't he want her to know how he knew?
"Ah, I see." She didn't press the issue, but wasn't completely satisfied with the explanation either.
She was surprised that Leo would even come to her in the first place; he only ever spoke to her through Elliot—and was always with Elliot in general—so she didn't want to scare him off with extra, unnecessary questions. This was already the longest conversation they ever had. Though the question of who knew about her shop, and how, troubled her, what was important was this object he was giving to her. It was the reason for their meeting, after all. If she badgered him too much, he might decide not give it to her at all. Nevertheless, the simple fact that he had arranged this late-night meeting, alone with her—without Elliot—in the first place, meant that whatever he was trying to give to her was affecting him deeply.
Or maybe it was affecting Elliot.
"So…you have something for me?"
"Right." He seemed relieved she wasn't going to ask any more questions. He set his bag on the ground, and knelt down to fish something from it.
But once he retrieved it, the cloth-covered object gave her few more answers than questions.
She cocked her head to the side, leaning forward, puzzled, but intrigued, trying to keep her excitement from bubbling over.
Leo breathed out the answer to her unasked question. "It's a music box."
"Oh! I've heard of enchanted music boxes before!" her obsession started to peak through, "What's this one called?"
She reached out her hand towards it, but he jerked it away from her.
He seemed to realize the suddenness of the action, and relaxed a little. "I…Sorry, I just…" the veiled agitation bled out from behind the curtain.
What was it that made him so jumpy? Usually he was quiet, but confident. Was it this object? Or could it be her? He didn't seem very comfortable around most people who weren't Elliot, so maybe her sudden movement just startled him a little? Although…if it was the object itself… should she be scared too?
She decided not to let it bother her. Once again, this wasn't exactly the first time someone had acted strangely when trying to get an occult object off their hands.
"So…might I ask what its purpose is?"
He rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm…afraid I'd rather not say."
"Eh? It's going to be rather hard for me to sell if I don't know what it does, you know."
"Sell it?" fear came to the surface. "No, no, no, no, you can't sell this! You can't even open it!"
"So…you're giving me something; you wouldn't like to tell me what it does, and you…don't want me to sell or use it? Forgive my rudeness, but why don't you simply hide it yourself? Or destroy it?"
"I've," he cleared his throat, "tried both." He looked at the ground, rubbing the back of his neck, and she often wished she could see the look in his eyes behind those glasses.
He stayed silent, but it was obvious both had failed.
"But you're used to dealing with these sorts of things, right?" he spoke up again, "So I thought you might have methods of keeping it from…activating. Or be better be able to," he mumbled the next few words, "tune it out."
"I'm sure I can handle it!" She smiled, though she was losing confidence the more they spoke.
The same phenomenon seemed to be happening to him.
"Please listen to me, Miss Vessalius;" he placed a hand on her shoulder—and how afraid, how insistent, would the look in his eyes have been, if she could have seen it?—"I can't force you to accept this, or teach you how to stop it. All I can do is give you a warning; do not open this. For whatever reason, if you start to hear things, cover your ears, if you see anything, cover your eyes."
"Huh? But why?"
What exactly did all that mean? What sorts of things would she hear or see? Just how powerful was this thing?
He rubbed his temple as if that would keep his aggravation from spilling out.
"This is…dangerous. Maybe the most dangerous thing you've ever handled."
"Well, I have handled—"
His expression shut her up.
"So…" She cleared her throat, trying to keep from getting annoyed herself. "Why do you have it in the first place?"
He shook his head, looking at the veiled box. "Just a mistake."
He proceeded to pull on a chain around his neck, which ended in a small silver key. He pulled it over his head, pooling it in his hand, holding it out to her his head bowed (out of respect, or a desire not to look at it, she didn't know)—though he did so as if it were a gun—"Please keep this with you at all times."
This was more than she bargained for, or guessed the care of this object would entail. Usually if she got a call, even if it was something dangerous, they wouldn't be so cryptic, and they often just wanted to get rid of it, they didn't bother with warnings and precautions.
Still, nothing she couldn't handle.
She nodded, taking it and slipping it around her neck.
He bit his lip, his grip tight around the box, his hands shaking a little.
"Please hide this in the most secure location you can find."
He thrust the box towards her, though his death grip made it clear he didn't really want entrust it to her. She wrapped her fingers around it, looking curiously at him as she felt his resistance, before tugging it away from him.
"I promise to take care of it." she tried to reassure him.
"Promise me you won't open it." His voice was the most serious she'd ever heard of it.
She smiled, giving a curt nod.
But what do people do when presented with a mystery, a curious object, and an unshakable warning about it's volatility?
They do the very thing they're commanded not to do.
It was a few days later still, when she gave in.
She knelt on the floorboards in her back room, a battered chest before her, its hinges rusty, its wood splintering. The rug was folded back, and the trap door the chest had been heaved out of propped open.
Did Leo know, then, about the whispers? About how they nagged and poked and prodded at one's mind? How they staked themselves there, laying claim to her heart? Did he know how powerful it would be? How much it would affect her life?
She told herself he didn't.
When she knew full well he did; otherwise he wouldn't have been so adamant, so tense.
The chest's maw, creaking as she lifted the lid, revealed the veiled oddity sitting at the bottom. Waiting, like a black bride, for her groom.
Surely it wasn't this object, so small and unassuming, that was capable of invading her thoughts so entirely?
It wasn't such a big deal. Just one peak. Listen to a few notes. Keep the whispers at bay.
"Come on, Ada!"
She drew in a breath, and lowered her hands into the depths, as if into murky waters, and gently took the dark bride's hand, pulling her from the waves.
It was light, as if she was holding the whispers themselves. Yet the longer the bride held her hand, the tighter her grip, the heavier the weight of their vows.
"Say, what's Abyss?"
The voice was louder this time.
It'll all be over soon.
She pulled the cloth, unveiling the wretched face she was destined to kiss.
"Well it's a sort of prison…"
The box was black, ornate silver designs, curls and borders on the sides and top. Other than that it was relatively plain. But holding it made her breath catch, and the room darker.
She told herself it was just her own fear.
Letting it sit in her hands for a moment, she weighed it, along with Leo's words. Part of her brain begged her to listen to him, screamed at her to return it to its place in the ground.
But it was too alive to bury.
"for bad guys…"
A lump grew in her throat as she tugged on the chord to the key around her neck.
As curiosity often bids us, she did the very thing he demanded she never do. For the simplest reason as a few whispers, and a rickety past.
"Please, let me in! My brother's in trouble!"
She gasped, reaching her fingers gently to her lips, as if not quite sure if she had said it herself. The shout had sounded so real, less ephemeral, less there, more here…
Shaking, her hands sweating, glancing around as if someone would see her breaking into something that belonged to her, she fit the key into the lock.
Though the weather was perfectly calm outside, she could hear rain beginning to pound.
"Oz Vessalius, your sin is…"
The pronunciation felt like it was coming down on her own head, like the past-born rain.
She was that little girl again, soaked through with water and fear, begging to be let in. The rain breathed; it was talking to her with the fluttery voices of those she loved, and those she had grown to hate. Some words broke through the crowd—brushing shoulders and pushing others down, louder, stronger—but the memories were so many by now that the whispers seemed like a mob.
Hands shivering, shutting her eyes tight, she turned the key,
Placed her fingers on the wood of the lid—
The rain was so loud….
And lifted it.
The action was like a conductor bringing down his baton; those whispers, the breath of the wind and rain, were all simultaneously silenced.
She glanced around, as if she would be able to see their smoke dissipating in the air.
The silence was almost worse…Almost.
Because silence is empty, and can be filled.
When she tipped it open, no tiny dancer twirled around. No frilly art or pretty words decorated the inside. She could see the cogs beneath, like if a ship's deck were glass, and you could see the rudders, all the working parts and windswept waves that kept it going.
Though the look of it was plain, and rather unexciting, the inside of the lid held a peculiar inscription:
To he who dares play this song
You may yet still know it wrong
If it's for redemption that you've asked
And the answer, you believe, in long awaited past
Without map, without wind, in the end, no sign of treasure
Too late, the hands of time will show you your own measure.
Upon seeing the words, questions boiled in her thoughts. What could this mean? What was she looking for in opening it? If she wasn't looking for redemption, did that mean it was safe to listen? What about the past? Why would she want to hear whispers of, look into, the past? But if she didn't…what was she doing here? Could this be more than simple attempts to shut the whispers up? Was there real temptation behind her current actions?
Then, without warning, or winding, the music began to play.
Though the notes were slow and few, they plucked at her heart. They tugged on her veins and sent vibrations through her, like she was their true instrument.
She slammed both the lid and her eyes shut, breath heavy.
She peeked open an eye.
Just a music box. Nothing strange. Nothing to tell her it was capable of great and terrible things. Just an ordinary music box. No notes fell out unannounced.
Taking up the key to lock it again, she felt another presence in the room.
She turned to see—