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||You are on Week 304
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Three Hundred Four Ends January 5
Gemma walked out on stage, the long train of her gown glimmering behind her. The Acara nodded gracefully in acknowledgement of the crowd's polite applause, then lifted her violin to her chin. The polished mahogany wood reflected the stage lights of the Concert Hall back at her as she lifted her bow with a flourish. The audience was silent now, holding their collective breath in anticipation.
With a wide arc of her arm, Gemma brought the bow down, and a burst of beautiful music emerged from the instrument. Lovely vibrato, delicate pizzicato… grand chords danced over the hall; she could feel the audience following every note.
And then with a final cadence, she was done. There was a moment of breathless silence, and then the audience leapt to their feet, the crowd’s roar of approval lifting her up from the stage...
"Gemma. Hey, kid!"
The Acara shook herself from her daydream to find that she was holding a broom to her chin. An old Techo stood over her, scowling. "I don't pay you to sit around and daydream!" he scolded, shaking a long bony finger at her. "Now get cleaning, or we'll never open in time for the concert tonight!"
Gemma sighed. "Yes, Mr. Derrick," she mumbled, shuffling off backstage. It had all seemed so real for a minute.
Now where had she put the cleaning fluid? Groaning to herself, the Acara threw her broom aside and began to rummage through one of the old storage closets in the back...
Date: Dec 22nd
Gemma reached into the corner of a dark shelf and felt her paw clench around something cold and smooth. It must be the cleaning fluid bottle, she thought to herself. When she tried to pull it out, however, it seemed to be jammed against something.
That's strange, she thought.
With new urgency, the Acara struggled to free the cleaning fluid. It didn't budge, but a low, strangled sound seemed to ring through it, causing it to tremble in her paws.
"Please be patient, Mr. Derrick," Gemma called nervously. That old Techo was famous for his short temper, and tonight he seemed to be in a particularly foul mood. Asking him to be patient was like poking a sleeping Draik in the eye.
Pushing the fear from her mind, Gemma continued to root in the back of the cupboard, retrieving unimportant objects with her one free paw and scattering them behind her in her haste.
"I said 'hurry up!'" A low, ponderous scraping sound, followed by the hollow tap of wood on wood, signalled the approach of an angry Mr. Derrick. Please don't let this be for nothing, Gemma thought.
Finally, the thing she was holding came free. Gemma felt her jaw drop and her eyes widen. In her paw, she held a finely painted violin -- obviously brand new, but just as obviously disused, as evidenced by the thick coat of grey-brown dust that covered it.
"Got it," Gemma muttered, hastily stuffing the instrument into her backpack. It was a poor fit, and the violin might get damaged... but Gemma didn't care. This could be her only chance.
All her life, the young Acara had been part of a poor family. They could barely afford food, let alone such luxuries as instruments! But Gemma had held onto her dreams, even taking a job in the hope that she would one day be able to afford a violin of her very own. Now one had seemingly found her. She couldn't bring herself to give up this chance.
The tapping stopped and a low, impatient cough replaced it. A bony hand gripped her shoulder. Gemma felt her green ears droop with fear and disappointment. Surely she had been discovered...
Date: Dec 26th
“Good. Now, for the last time, hurry up and get cleaning!” Mr. Derrick yelled in Gemma’s ear.
Her ear was ringing, but she didn’t pay much notice. She wasn’t in trouble! Quickly Gemma nodded and went off somewhere where Mr. Derrick couldn’t pester her while she was ‘cleaning’: the girl’s bathroom.
Once she was inside, she got out her cleaning materials, just in case someone walked in and got suspicious. Then Gemma double-checked to make sure no one was in the bathroom, and took out the violin. It hadn’t been damaged in any way by her backpack’s shifting. She couldn’t admire it very well on account of the dust, though. She took some dusting cloths from her backpack and began to polish the violin.
There was so much dust that Gemma had to use three cloths to wipe it all away. But it was worth it. The violin was extremely beautiful, obviously unused for its perfect condition. Gemma took a pluck at one of the strings, and the sound was clear and marvelous.
“Why would anyone want to leave this violin under a pile of junk?” Gemma wondered. “It’s most likely never been used before…” Gemma looked at the violin more closely. She couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. Suddenly, something caught her eye. There were words carved into it! Gemma leaned closer to get a better look...
“GEMMA!” There was someone pounding on the door, startling Gemma from her study of the violin. “GEMMA! GET OUT HERE NOW! DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN IN THERE? HALF AN HOUR! ARE YOU TRYING TO RUIN THIS CONCERT! I HAVE A REPUTATION TO MAINTAIN! GET OUT HERE!”
So much for going undisturbed… Gemma thought. Then her eyes widened. Wait! Did he say half an hour? Oh no! If I don’t hurry up, I’ll miss dinner! I haven’t eaten anything since last night, and I’m starving!
“I’m sorry, Mr. Derrick! I’m really not feeling well,” Gemma responded weakly, as if she were sick.
“I don’t care! Finish the bathroom and make sure you get rid of all your germs!” Mr. Derrick yelled. “The concert starts in an hour, we don’t have time for dilly-dallying!” He walked away, but Gemma heard him mutter, “Stupid concert, stupid violins… This was all caused by stupid violins…”
Gemma was curious about what he meant. But quickly, before Mr. Derrick came back, she looked to see what the words on the violin were. She had to squint because the words were hard to read, but finally she saw what they said. ‘Property of: Charles Derrick, violin master.’ Gemma’s eyes widened. She nearly cried out in surprise and a sort of fear, but managed to hold it in. She could only think one thought, “That’s Mr. Derrick’s name!” …
Date: Dec 26th
Gemma polished the name two times over before finally believing that the violin had indeed once belonged to Mr. Derrick. But that wasn't what bothered her so much. It was the two words that followed: violin master.
Mr. Derrick, the grumpy old Techo who hated violin was once a violin MASTER? Gemma's head was spinning. Now she really didn't feel well.
Gemma began to carefully place the violin in her backpack, but another thought hit her. Was it right to take the violin if she knew it belonged to her boss? Well, I don't think he really wants it... Gemma thought. Why else would it be stuffed in the back of the storage closet, coated with dust?
Gemma felt a little lump in her chest as she zipped her backpack shut and swung it onto her back. Maybe I'll just ask him... Gemma imagined the Techo turning red with anger as she explained that she had just stolen his violin from the closet. I don't want to get fired...
"GET OUT OF THERE AND FINISH MOPPING OUT HERE! IF YOU KEEP THIS UP, YOU WILL GET FIRED! ARE YOU LISTENING, GEMMA?!?" shouted Mr. Derrick through the bathroom door.
Gemma jumped, gathered her supplies, and rushed out of the bathroom. "Sorry, Mr. Derrick! It won't happen again, sir!"
The Techo shot a look of disbelief and turned quickly on his heel, leaving the Acara feeling quite shaken. Gemma softly laid her backpack in a safe corner and picked up her mop.
"Mr. Derrick...? I'm done cleaning the entrance hall."
"About time," the Techo grunted, examining a wobbly door knob. He looked over his shoulder. The Acara was still standing here, staring at him with round eyes. "What?" He snapped.
"Oh!" Gemma almost jumped. "I-I-I was just wondering if, um, you ever, er, played the violin...?" Gemma stammered.
A suspicious glance made Gemma shudder, but it was soon replaced with a mournful one. "No."
Gemma opened her mouth in protest, but quickly shut it. As soon as she was outside of the Concert Hall doors, Gemma opened her backpack. She carefully removed the violin, carrying it in her paws and admiring its perfect beauty.
So deep in thought was she that Gemma failed to see the stone that lay in her path. So far lost in the violin's shiny reflection was Gemma that she didn't even know she was tripping until the ground rudely bumped into her, releasing the violin from her grip...
Date: Dec 27th
...Gemma heard a cry of surprise and pain burst from her lips as the gorgeous instrument flew from her paws. Swiftly, she scrambled across the ground to retrieve it. Suddenly, it rose as she abruptly collided with a pair of brown paws.
"Oof!" Looking up, she saw a young Xweetok carrying Mr. Derrick's violin, examining it with interest and mild surprise.
"H-Hey! That's mine!" The Xweetok looked down at her with cold eyes, seeming not to hear.
"Where did you get this?" His icy voice sent a shiver up Gemma's spine.
"I-I... well... that is..." Gemma's mind raced. What if he knew it belonged to Mr. Derrick? Would he tell him she'd taken it? What would happen to her then?
Suddenly, the Xweetok turned around and gestured for Gemma to follow with a flick of his tail.
"Come with me. We have a lot to discuss."
Reluctantly, Gemma stood and ran after the departing Xweetok, who still clutched the violin. To Gemma's surprise, they went back to the recital hall. The Xweetok skirted the building to the back, Gemma following quickly.
"Sit down." Gemma obliged, shivering though it was still very warm. The Xweetok held out the violin. "Do you know who this belongs to?"
"I do... Mr. Derrick, right? But I, um, found it in the back of a closet, and so I thought maybe he didn't want it. And I've always wanted a violin, so..." For what reason she was telling him all this, Gemma didn't know. But it seemed necessary if she had any hope of ever keeping the violin.
The Xweetok sighed and handed it to her. "You must bring it to the violin recital," he said, jerking his head at the building where the show was about to take place. "Everything will make sense there." He stood and started to leave.
"Wait! Who are you? How do you know Mr. Derrick?"
He stopped, slowly turned toward Gemma, and said...
Date: Dec 27th
...The Xweetok's brown eyes looked distant as he answered, as if he were seeing straight into years long past. "I am Roy, one of Mr. Derrick's old students." With that, he abruptly turned to leave.
Half-running after him, Genna's throat tickled with a plethora of questions. Mr. Derrick had once taught violin? Why had he stopped? And why would everything 'make sense' at the Concert Hall? It surely didn't make much now!
Part of her sensed, though, that Roy wasn't interested in answering questions at the moment. Glancing at the tall figure beside her, she saw that his lips were drawn up tight, and his paws were clenched into fists. His eyes had not lost their vague quality -- he was agitated by that same vision of years ago.
They came up short inside the Concert Hall. Though he was not a member of the stage crew (at least Gemma had not seen him before), Roy darted backstage without so much as a hesitation in his step and headed back toward the rehearsal rooms. Opening a door for the Acara, he patiently waited for her to slip inside, following right after.
"Now, then," he said resolutely, "it shall become clear. I could tell you, but you might not believe me. Therefore, I can only ask you to show yourself. Play."
Gemma's forehead crumpled into wrinkles. "I... don't..."
"I know," interrupted Roy, discarding her uncertainty with a wave of his paw. "You don't know how to play. That is exactly my point."
Throwing the strange Xweetok an uneasy glance, Gemma raised the instrument to her chin. If he was insane, at least the door was nearby. She was sure she could make it if she had to dart out suddenly.
Nevertheless, she brought the long bow sweeping across the strings, wincing in anticipation of the terrible squeaky sound that beginners always made. She'd heard it a hundred times from this same rehearsal room, and it wasn't very pleasant.
As the violin emitted its noise, though, Gemma gasped in amazement. Why, the sound was lovely! Gorgeous! Her fingers swept along the string as if with practiced ease, and beautiful ballads that she had never learned burst to life within the lonely walls of the room, resonating spectacularly.
Breathless, Gemma lowered her bow. "This violin is magic!" she cried with excitement. "It has to be!"
"Yes." Roy's reply sounded oddly resentful. "It is a magical violin, enchanted long ago by Mr. Derrick himself..."
Date: Dec 28th
"...and it must be destroyed."
"What?!" Gemma asked, shocked. "But why? It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen! And its music is wonderful. I would never destroy it."
"It must be destroyed," Roy said firmly. "Don't you understand? You have never played before, and yet you play this violin as if you've been playing your whole life. No one should have to suffer from that," he said.
"What? That makes no sense! I am playing like a master!" Gemma said happily. Elation had flooded her body when she heard the beautiful melodies flowing from the enchanted violin.
Roy sighed, eyes still vacant of emotion. "But it is not you playing," he said. "What would happen if you were presented with a different violin? You would not know how to play it. This violin is a hindrance, not a gift. Giving anyone the power to play perfectly without practice gives them the idea that they can do anything without practice. And that is why it must be destroyed. Playing the violin, like any talent, is something you work at, not something that comes immediately. It is the journey that makes you stronger, not the destination. Do you understand?"
Gemma tried to believe what Roy had said, but it was hard when just a few moments before, a miracle had occurred. The music still floated through her head, and she smiled as she remembered that it was she who had produced those sounds. Her smile faded and was subsequently replaced with a frown.
"No," she said, tightening her grasp on the ornate violin. "I won't let you destroy it. It's too beautiful a creation to destroy."
And with that, she darted out of the rehearsal room, violin tightly tucked under her arm. Roy shouted after her, but she was already across the stage, only a few yards from the door.
"Gemma?" a voice said to her right, and she hesitated only slightly. Glancing to the side, she saw her boss, Mr. Derrick, staring at her in awe. "Where are you going with that violin?"
For a split second, she contemplated whether or not she dare stop. If she stopped, she would surely be in trouble with her boss, and Roy would catch up with her. He would most likely tell the whole story to Mr. Derrick.
So she continued running...
Date: Dec 28th
Her flight was short-lived.
Something hard, solid, and considerably larger than her struck her ankle; the Acara's legs tangled together, and she had a brief glimpse of the violin -- her violin -- flying through the air for the second time that day. Then the ground came up to meet her. New bruises were added to the mottled collection that already coloured the flesh beneath her green fur.
She blinked and took a moment to regain what little of her composure remained. In that moment, she made three important observations, despite the fact that her brain felt as though it were filled with thickly churned butter. The first was that Mr. Derrick had been the cause of her fall, a realisation which was accompanied by a lingering twinge of irritation. The second was the sound of footsteps and a ringing voice -- what was he saying? -- that announced the arrival of Roy. The third observation gripped her terribly as it sank in -- she saw that the enchanted violin lay a few feet away from her, its dark wood gleaming beautifully.
With a strangled cry, she lunged forward, using all of her limbs in a desperate motion to propel herself. She did not have the advantage of speed that Roy did, and he swept up the instrument just as her fingertips brushed its polished sides.
"Gemma," he said gently, though he held the violin firmly away from her. The Acara wondered briefly how he knew her name, then remembered that Mr. Derrick had called out to her.
As if summoned by her thoughts, the old Techo stepped into her field of vision (limited as it was by her position on the floor), his hands stretched in a silent request for the instrument. Roy consented.
Gemma was struck by how little she knew about Mr. Derrick; he had always seemed to her one-dimensional, callous, and condescending, and never had she considered examining his character for any other depths. The tender and sorrowful expression that filled the Techo's eyes as he held his creation, however, would never have been a part of her former perception of him.
"She found this?" he asked, gruffly. Roy nodded.
But then desire and white-hot anger stirred again in Gemma, perhaps called from slumber by the reminder of her discovery.
"Give it back!" she demanded sharply in a voice that was somehow unlike her own.
"You know why that cannot happen," Roy responded, though not cruelly. Sincere regret lined his face, but it was lost to Gemma's passions.
"You don't understand!" she cried, now eager to make them do so. This violin was a gift, a compensation for all of the days spent scrubbing floors, the nights of empty dreams -- but they weren't empty, not anymore. They sat gingerly in Mr. Derrick's arms, bound in wood and oiled strings. "This is my only chance to have music, to be great."
Mr. Derrick shook his head, indicating the violin. "This is not greatness, only its semblance. To truly learn, you must be taught. I could teach you." The offer was short, almost casual. But Gemma knew by the way the Techo's eyes flicked to her uncertainly how much his words were worth.
The two looked at each other for a good length of time.
"How do we destroy it?" she asked, finally.
Mr. Derrick's eyes glinted. "It won't be easy..."
Date: Dec 29th
...“That’s why we didn’t destroy it years ago,” Roy explained with a shrug. “We tried, but then gave up and just stashed it where we thought no one would ever find it.”
“It’s wood,” Gemma pointed out. “Wouldn’t it burn?” Her skin crawled even as she suggested the idea. It felt almost like plotting murder, to destroy such a beautiful thing.
Mr. Derrick made a wry face. “I planned a little too well. You see, I knew when I created the violin that many people wouldn’t like it, so I made it as indestructible as I could. If fire could hurt it, it isn’t a cooking fire. It would require an inferno.” He held up the beautiful violin, the well polished wood glimmering in the light. “Even after thirty years, there isn’t a single scratch or mar on its oiled surface.”
Gemma bit her lip, remembering her tumble with the violin, how it had skittered across the floor and bounced before spinning to a stop. Such a fall should have nicked and scratched the delicate wood -- but he was right, the violin was unmarred. No wonder it looked new after being stuffed in the back of that shelf for so many years, she realized. Except, Gemma blinked, there was a mark on it. A name scratched into the back. “Wait a minute, if you can’t scratch it, how did you get your name on it?” she demanded.
Roy’s eyebrow arched, obviously he’d never thought of how the name had come to be engraved on the back of the violin.
Mr. Derrick, on the other hand, was shaking his head. “I put my name there before I enchanted the violin.”
“Even the master part?” Roy said, giving him a penetrating look.
The Techo made a wry face. “I knew I’d be declared a master. I’m afraid though, that I’m a much better enchanter than musician.”
“Can’t you just...” Gemma floundered, trying to think of a way to express her idea. “Enchant it away?”
“Make it disappear you mean?” Mr Derrick shook his head. “No, you can’t unmake something. You can’t make something out of nothing, and you can’t turn something into nothing. It’s all got to go somewhere.”
“Here,” Roy offered. “I’ll show you what we’re dealing with.” Reaching out, he took the delicate violin from the Techo. Holding it by its neck, he held the violin high, and then with a savage gesture smashed it down onto the ground. Gemma screamed, her arms flying up to protect her face from the wood shards that were sure to come flying, but nothing happened.
Giving the violin several more violent impacts with the floor, Roy than paused and held it up to the light. Not a single scratch or dent marred the instrument. Not even a dulling of its brilliant shine. “That,” Roy grunted, “is the problem. Even the strings are enchanted; remember we didn’t need to tune them before you played. Last time I beat on the E string peg for over an hour and a half with a hammer and didn’t manage to even make it budge.”
“It’s impossible then,” Gemma said, secretly elated at her conclusion, “to destroy it.”
“There’s always a way.” Mr. Derrick said, firmly. Gemma wasn’t sure if his certainty came from any knowledge he may have, or if it was just what he had to keep telling himself.
Roy stopped, his eyes widening slightly as an idea struck him. “What if we didn’t destroy it, what if we changed it into something else?...”
Date: Jan 2nd
...Mr. Derrick paused, as if considering, but Gemma saw a strikingly familiar look in his eyes -- her boss' expression represented exactly what she felt: a terrible reluctance for the violin to be anything other than exactly as it was. Mr. Derrick may have been the one to enchant the instrument, but he was just as under its spell as was the Acara.
Nevertheless, his face tightened as he composed himself. "I suppose it would be worth trying," he admitted at last, and his eyes darted straight to Gemma. "Apparently hiding it is not a suitable solution."
The Acara felt herself blush. "I'm sorry," she muttered. Even as she said it, though, part of her wasn't sorry at all. Part of her knew that finding the violin may have been the single most exciting and magical thing of her entire life. And now they wanted to change it? To take this divine vessel of perfection in music and mutute it into some sort of mockery of its former glory? Gemma's very soul cried out in anguish at such a suggestion; even though she could recognize similar feelings in Mr. Derrick, it seemed he was resolved in his decision.
Her boss had offered her lessons, it was true, but what could compare with such instant results? She could be a master in a minute's time, and even after a lifetime of lessons, would she ever be as good? Besides, that violin was so beautiful... It was as if her deepest aspirations had materialized before her in the instant she'd reached into that old storage cabinet. Would she allow them to be vaporized so easily?
Roy was already making suggestions for the violin's transformation. "A coat rack, perhaps, for the costumes," he said. "Or a new lighting board? One that can never be destroyed or damaged? That could save the Concert Hall a fortune."
Mr. Derrick nodded thoughtfully. "Not bad," he muttered, "but I have a better idea. We can't do the enchantment inside, however -- things of magic need nature's touch. You'll have to come with me."
Gemma realized she was right on his heels, even before the words had come from his mouth. No matter what he was planning, or where he was going, one thing was for sure: she had to save that violin...
Date: Jan 2nd
* * * * *
Gemma took a reluctant step away from the violin, still keeping her eyes fixed on it. Mr. Derrick had placed himself under a tree in the grounds surrounding the concert hall, as close to nature as he could get in this high-class district of the city. Roy was standing at a safe distance of several feet away, his arms crossed. There was a look of almost satisfaction on his face. Gemma gritted her teeth. How could he actually want to see the violin ruined? She hovered protectively around the instrument.
Mr. Derrick glared at her. “Far back. Go stand with Roy.”
Gemma scowled and retreated over to the Xweetok, taking care not to look at his contented expression. She stared at the violin, her heart twisting in fear for it.
The bony Techo raised his hands over the violin, closed his eyes, and began to murmur some words. Gemma’s grumpy old boss seemed almost at peace, looking like some elder magician casting a favorite spell he’d practiced for years. Gemma’s stomach knotted. She knew nothing about enchantment; when would the changes take effect? In other words, when would it be too late to save the precious violin?
The Acara clenched her fists. She had to stop him. This was no time for fancy strategies. She’d just run at him and make off with the violin, and run away as fast as she could. She’d hide somewhere. She’d lose her job with him, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything as long as she could have that violin and make such beautiful music.
Before she could execute her plan, the doors to the concert hall suddenly burst open, and a harried-looking rotund Bruce in a suit came tumbling out the doors. “Mr. Derrick!”
Roy looked up. “I’m afraid he’s busy right now, sir.”
The Bruce pushed past him and hurried over to the Techo, who was chanting over the violin. “What do you think you’re doing?” he cried. “We’ve got a crisis! The concert’s starting in just a couple of hours, and the doctor’s just called to say that our lead soloist in the violin concerto had some sort of gardening mishap and can’t come tonight. The audience is expecting him to play! Where can we find a replacement who can play as well as he can?”
Mr. Derrick frowned and opened his eyes. “Now what on Neopia was that boy doing in the garden just before his big night on stage?” he growled irritably.
Off to the side, Gemma breathed a sigh of relief. The enchantment process had been interrupted. She inched back to the violin’s side and gazed lovingly at its shining wood, glad she was still looking at a violin and not, say, an indestructible mop handle or whatever Mr. Derrick’s plan for it was.
Mr. Derrick and the frantic Bruce moved away, both looking unhappy and discussing what to do. Roy hovered near them, listening. Occasionally the Bruce’s upset voice would rise above the Techo’s, but Gemma was no longer listening to either of them.
The violin lay alone beside her. She would never get a better chance than this.
Gemma grabbed the violin in both hands and fled. Without realizing it, as she carried the violin, her fingers moved to the strings and began softly plucking them. The violin responded with a quiet pizzicato melody.
Gemma cringed at the Bruce’s voice. Caught.
Mr. Derrick was glaring at her, but the Bruce was looking at her in wonder. “Was that the first bar of Moosart’s Violin Concerto in G Major -- the piece we’ll be showing at the concert tonight? Play that again!” He grabbed the violin bow, which was lying at the base of the tree, and handed it to the Acara.
“I don’t think you understand,” Mr. Derrick said stiffly. But Gemma had already lifted the violin to her chin and picked up the bow. She set it to the magic strings, and a dancing rhythm came singing from them. She found herself counting to a beat she had never heard, and a delicious thrill ran up her spine as she listened to the sounds she could almost believe she was creating, though she knew that in truth only the violin could ever be its own player.
“Fantastic!” cried the Bruce, beaming at Gemma as she finished. “You play that piece even more beautifully than the violinist we’d expected to do it! I can’t believe our luck. Mr. Derrick, I think we’ve found our replacement for tonight’s concert, don’t you?”
“She has no skill whatsoever,” the Techo growled, looking positively furious. “I could take that violin on stage tonight and play that piece just as well.”
The Bruce looked incredulous. “No skill! Are you deaf, Mr. Derrick? You heard her playing! No offense, Mr. Derrick, but you couldn’t match that. You’re a great violinist, but there’s no chance you could learn that piece so well in the time left before the concert, and besides, you’ll be busy managing the whole thing. She’s hired, at least for tonight.”
The Techo scowled and tried to protest, but the Bruce was already hurrying Gemma into the concert hall. The Acara felt she was walking on clouds; her head was spinning in delight. She would get to be on stage! She couldn’t believe her luck. She, a lowly cleaner of bathrooms, was going to be on stage, leading the concert! So what if she hadn’t earned her right to be there? Her dream was coming true.
* * * * *
“She probably thinks her music career’s made,” Mr. Derrick growled, looking contemptuously at the back of the dressing room door behind which Gemma was being fitted out with a suit for the concert. “I’m certainly not going to pay her for this night.”
“This deal might not be so bad, though,” Roy said. “You did need a replacement for that soloist. She’ll have her fun, the audience will love the concert, and after tonight is over you can deal with her and finish re-enchanting the violin.”
Mr. Derrick shook his head sourly. “I’ve already enchanted it enough. I was interrupted before I could finish off the spell by making it immediately effective, but the violin has already begun slowly changing...”
Date: Jan 3rd
..."Well, then there's no problem," Roy said, relieved. "You won't even have to work to get it back from her." He paused. "Wait a minute. How slowly?"
Mr. Derrick smiled grimly. "It should be complete in a few hours."
* * * * *
Gemma paced in her new and beautiful suit, feeling as if her feet weren't even touching the floor. She held the violin, caressing it at every step; she couldn't bear to put it down. This was her passport to her dream. And she wouldn't quite put it past Roy and Mr. Derrick to swoop in and snatch it up if she took her hands off it.
Her part was at the end, the violin solo the final part of the concert. She would go on stage in less than two hours now; the concert itself, that Mr. Derrick had been rushing her for, was just beginning. She could hear music from the concert hall, and though it should have swept her up in its beauty, she compared it to the sounds from the violin she held (in hands still rough from scrubbing) and found it wanting.
* * * * *
"A few hours," Roy repeated. "So... it would be changing... during the concert."
Mr. Derrick nodded.
"Into what?" the young Xweetok asked, his tail and ears twitching. "I mean... is it going to be a lighting board, or something? I know she's acting like a bit of a brat, but that seems a little cruel."
The old Techo sighed. "Teach her a lesson, wouldn't it? But no, nothing like that." He looked sad. "I couldn't bear to destroy the music in it," he confessed. "It'll still be a violin. I didn't change the shape."
Roy raised his paws, exasperated. "Then what good--"
He broke off as the Bruce approached, giving them both a disapproving look before knocking on Gemma's door. She came out, looking heartbreakingly radiant, and dashed off to make sure she was in place well before her time came.
"You'll see," Mr. Derrick said, pushing himself away from the wall with a sigh. "Go on and find yourself a place somewhere. I've got a concert to manage."
Roy let his paws drop and stared after his old teacher, then grumbled his way to a place in the shadows to watch and listen.
* * * * *
Gemma waited, enthralled and breathless, until it came time for her to step onstage. She could feel the violin humming in her hands with the music; she could barely restrain herself from playing along with the first several musicians (or playing over them; she knew beyond a doubt that the beauty of this violin's tones would overwhelm the rest, fade their richness to the tinkling of a cheap bell.
But at last it was her time. She moved as if in a dream, stepping slowly and carefully to the center of the stage, the wood warm under her feat with the heat of the spotlight.
She raised her bow.
And she began to play.
* * * * *
"There you are," Roy hissed as he found Mr. Derrick again at last. "What's going on? The violin doesn't seem to have changed a bit."
Gemma was still playing, up in the spotlight. She did look beautiful, they had to admit that, with the light shining hot on her fur; and the violin's music was by turns ecstatic and heartbreaking, brilliant and ominous, a child's voice and the music of the spheres.
"The transformation is complete," Mr. Derrick whispered, his voice harsh as a Crokabek's under the glorious music. "I felt it take."
"But what did you do?"
"I left it all intact but one thing," Mr. Derrick said, gazing up with something almost like pity at his janitor trainee. "It'll still play itself as fine as ever for anybody who takes it up... but only once."
Roy frowned. "But she's played it several times by now."
"No," Mr. Derrick said, shaking his head, "since the enchantment changed... only once."
* * * * *
Indeed, aside from her tiny strumming with her fingers outdoors when the Bruce had caught her, Gemma had only put bow to strings once -- and, caught up in the delight of her performance, she had not ceased playing since she came on stage. She had plunged onward from one piece to the next, not knowing even what was scheduled until the violin began to play it. The violin pulled and pleaded, demanded and sang; the audience was transported and exhausted, but Gemma couldn't stop. The helpful Tonu turning the pages of her sheet music could barely keep up the transitions, but it didn't matter.
Until, that is, the end. The last page turned, and Gemma let the last note die and brought her bow down to her side. She curtsied into the silence...
...And pandemonium broke loose. The audience screamed and cried and applauded, losing the decorum that should have marked those attending a classical concert. All for her. Gemma listened with tears in her eyes; this was the best day of her life. And at last, from among the cries, one gained prominence and followers and emerged clearly:
"Encore! Encore! ENCORE!"
"Can you play another piece?" the Bruce whispered, and she turned to see him standing at her elbow and looking anxious.
Gemma nodded with shining eyes. She didn't know what she would play, but she knew it would be beautiful. The violin would tell her.
The Bruce stepped back offstage, smiling. Gemma bowed and put the violin under her chin again, raising her bow.
She caught Mr. Derrick's eyes, not in the audience but off to the side, and gave him a triumphant smile.
She drew the bow across the strings, and they let out the most awful screech...
Date: Jan 3rd
...Gemma felt her whole body turn to ice. The violin... what was wrong with the violin? Silence fell across the audience, and the small Acara wanted desperately to run away, only her feet had somehow been nailed to the floor.
“She played so hard she frayed the bowstrings!” a voice called out from the audience. A murmur ran around the theater, and then they began clapping again, softly at first, then growing into thunderous applause.
Silently thanking every star in the sky and faeries named and unnamed for the excuse the unknown savior, Gemma curtsied deeply to the crowd, then demurely slipped behind the curtain backstage.
* * * * *
“Frayed the bowstrings,” Mr. Derrick spat, “what kind of lousy excuse was that?”
“Hey,” Roy defended, “it could happen. We needed something to explain why she went from a miraculous player to a total incompetent in less than a minute. Otherwise people would start asking questions.”
The Techo seethed for a moment, and then muttered, “At the very least, warn me next time before you yell like that.”
“I’ll do my best.”
As the audience began to file out of the theater, the Xweetok and the Techo worked their way backstage. “We need to find her,” Mr. Derrick said, “before anymore trouble starts.”
Roy hesitated as he saw Gemma and her tear streaked face bearing down on them from across the backstage. “Somehow I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
“You!” she screamed, hate and fury whirling in her tone. “What did you do?”
“I enchanted it,” Mr. Derrick said calmly to the furious Gemma. “Just like you knew I was going to.”
“But it’s still a violin! It told me the song!”
She faltered, uncertainty and confusion sweeping across her face.
“I enchanted it so it would only play magically for a person once. After that,” he said firmly, “it is an ordinary violin for them. Any more music from it will have to come from the musician.”
“I hate you!” she screamed. “You give me impossible hours to work, with no time for myself, not even to eat, and then you give me my one dream and then snatch it away! Because you say I haven’t worked for it. I have worked, all I do is work! I work until my fingers won’t bend to keep this concert hall so other people can enjoy music, but you won’t let me have any music for me...”
Date: Jan 4th
..."The music that violin makes isn't yours, you stupid girl," Mr. Derrick growled. "I offered to teach you!"
"You didn't mean it!" Her voice was still high and shrill. "You never, ever said anything about it before, you only said it because I'd found this and you didn't want me to get in the way of destroying it. You wouldn't have done it, you'd have said I had to find time around the hours we both already work and there isn't any! Just because you hate everything beautiful, you didn't have to take it away from me!"
Mr. Derrick's face twisted, and he seized her by both shoulders and shook her, his long fingers digging in painfully. "If I hated it, girl, you would have found yourself playing a toilet brush!" Spittle flew into her face.
She flinched and tore away from him, and his fingers flexed emptily in the air once before his hands fell.
Gemma stared at him with wide, frightened eyes. His temper had always been fierce, but he'd never laid hands on her before, though more than once she'd expected it.
"Stop it. She doesn't know," Roy murmured, and to her bewilderment the fury went out of Mr. Derrick and he seemed only tired.
"I don't know what?" she asked... no, demanded. She was tired of this. "I know I never had money, I never had time, you yell at me if I even take a minute to dream and glare at me if I listen from outside the walls, and I got my dream just -- just once and if it hadn't been for whoever said I f-frayed the b-bowstrings--" She was going to break down in tears, and she hated herself for it.
The old Techo jerked his head toward Roy. "That was him."
Gemma gathered herself up as much as she could and nodded at the Xweetok. "Th-thank you."
Roy looked at her thoughtfully. "Will you listen to me, then?"
The Acara gave him a wary look. "I guess so...."
"I made the same mistake you did," Roy began.
Gemma blinked at him in surprise. She still resented the idea that it was a mistake -- she wanted that violin, and she wanted it the way it used to be, so it made the same music, so she could make music. But she hadn't expected Roy to say he'd once thought the way she did. Guardedly, she said, "Go on...."
"I told you I used to be Mr. Derrick's student," Roy explained. His voice, quiet and oddly melodious, sounded strange after Gemma's teary raw screaming and Mr. Derrick's harsh snarls. "What I didn't mention was that I was his student when he made that violin. I'd had some lessons; I wasn't quite in your position now -- but I was only a child. I couldn't play like that. He let me try it." Roy lowered his head. "I wasn't his only student. But I was the first to suggest that if he could give the ability to play like that to others, without practice, without learning, there should be no need to teach anymore."
"That violin destroyed most of a generation of musicians around these parts," Mr. Derrick said gruffly. "Went a bit mad over the whole idea, clamoring for enchanted violins, even instruments that could compose -- though how that'd work I can't even imagine. A lot of them just... just quit, when they'd practiced for months and couldn't match the music I'd put years of work into, without that violin in hand." He grimaced and glanced at the Xweetok. "Roy blames himself too much. At least he came back. I thought it was a fine thing myself at first, that anybody could play like that. But it's not them playing; it might feel like it, but it's like a recording. No better than a music box."
"It wasn't like a music box," Gemma protested. "It wasn't just making the music by itself. I had to move the right ways, even if it made me. I couldn't do it again all by itself, but I know what it feels like." Her eyes narrowed as a thought struck her. "You said Roy came back," she said abruptly. "Where did you go? You said you'd practiced for years. You put that music into the violin. You said you were a better enchanter than musician. But I've never seen you play a note, or cast a spell before today!"
Mr. Derrick didn't answer her. It was Roy who said, "The... musical community forgave me for being an idiot. It wouldn't forgive him, not after losing that many students. Most won't even talk about the fact that he used to play; you noticed that Bruce didn't believe he could do it."
"If he did believe it," Mr. Derrick muttered, "he'd probably have me fired."
Gemma's eyes widened. "Why do you work here if... well...."
The old Techo shrugged. "I s'pose you're right that I hate it a little now. The violins worst of all. But I couldn't let them go entirely."
Gemma stared at him, almost (but only almost) forgetting her anger and resentment. He was still the vicious, grouchy boss who threatened to fire her every other day. But he was also, apparently, someone who had loved music and had it taken away from him and taken a job where he'd be close to it even if he was tormented by it.
Abruptly, she thrust the violin into his hands. It wouldn't do her any good any more, anyway. "Play something," she said, and then added, her eyes glittering with ferocity and unshed tears and just the tiniest hint of sobbing humor, "twice."
Mr. Derrick raised his eyebrows, and looked around at the emptied concert hall, and then tucked the violin under his chin and raised the bow. Deliberately, he played one delicate strand of notes, the same that had started her performance tonight, and they sounded identical. And then he lowered the bow and let the strings fall silent, and Gemma counted three hot, heaving breaths of her own and two very slow ones of his, more than enough surely to make sure the enchantment would no longer work for him.
And then he began to play it again.
The notes faltered at first; if he hadn't played since the violin was hidden years ago, he must be terribly out of practice. But they were true, still, and it was not very long before he was playing skillfully and sure, and Gemma sank into the nearest seat and covered her eyes as the music wrung out the tears. After some minutes she felt soft fur and looked up to find that Roy had slipped by to sit next to her, and that Mr. Derrick was still playing, there at the edge of the concert hall, an expression of intense concentration on his face, as if spellbound.
The piece ended at last; the reverberations fell away and the hall was silent. Mr. Derrick looked down at the violin for a long moment, then looked over at Gemma and opened his mouth to speak.
But the bellow that rattled the concert hall came from another direction entirely. "YOU!"
All three jumped; Gemma gasped, and looked around to see the Bruce who had led her onstage charging down the aisle with one fist flailing in the air.
"Charles Derrick," the Bruce said in a voice filled with loathing, "I should have known!..."
Date: Jan 4th
...Mr. Derrick looked up in shock, almost dropping the violin. "How dare you show your face here?" demanded the Bruce.
"I work here," said Mr. Derrick, and Gemma could see that he was back to his cold, grumpy self. It made her sad to see the happy look that had been in his eyes as he had played the violin melt into an icy stare.
"You've been here all along, haven't you?" said the Bruce, taking a few steps toward Mr. Derrick. "You took that janitorial job as a disguise to stay in the music business!"
"So what if I did?" asked Mr. Derrick. "I have a right to work here."
"A right?" repeated the Bruce. "Charles Derrick, you were banned from this Concert Hall years ago."
Gemma gasped. "I wasn't banned," said Mr. Derrick quietly. "Not by law, anyway. You were the one who told me to leave, Mr. Sanders, and as I recall, you are not in charge of the Concert Hall."
Roy looked quickly at the Bruce, and Gemma wondered what was going on. "That's a lie," spat Mr. Sanders, but he hung back.
Mr. Derrick shook his head. "I have hurt a lot of young magicians," he said slowly. "I ruined nearly an entire generation of violinists with my foolishness. But that was long ago, and the spell has at last been removed." He held out the violin that he had been clutching the entire time. Mr. Sanders glared at it.
"You almost killed the Concert Hall," said the Bruce. "You almost put it out of business. I was the one who saved it. I stepped up and hired new musicians to come play. I ran you and your magic out of here, and you should have stayed out! The Concert Hall belongs to ME!"
"No," said Mr. Derrick. "I am still the president."
Gemma gasped. Mr. Derrick, the president of the Concert Hall? The Mr. Derrick who mopped the floors and swept the stage? The one who hadn't played the violin in years? The one who nearly destroyed the beauty of the violin?
As if in answer to Gemma's silent questions, Mr. Derrick nodded. "I never relinquished my title," he said. "You may have taken over, but the Concert Hall still belongs to me. Why do you think I stayed here all these years? It has only caused me pain, but it was my duty."
"Don't be ridiculous!" cried Mr. Sanders. "Your duty was to teach young musicians, and you poisoned them."
"I have changed," said Mr. Derrick. "I am ready to take over again. I am ready to help the Concert Hall become the musical icon that it should be."
"Without me," said the Bruce, "it would not even exist. You, Charles Derrick, are never welcome at the Concert Hall! You must leave now!"
"Pardon me," said a new voice, and every head in the room turned toward the door, "but I don't think you have the right to give that command." A slender Wocky stepped into the room. She walked up to Mr. Derrick and put her hand on his shoulder. "It's about time you came back, Charles."
"Who is that?" asked Mr. Sanders.
"Obviously, you don't deserve to be president of the Concert Hall, if you don't even know who this lady is," said Roy, who had been silent for some time.
"My name is Willa Maxina, and I am the head of the Neopian Art Department," said the Wocky. "The Concert Hall has been in a bit of a slump lately, but as soon as I heard news of tonight's performance, I knew that someone had returned." She smiled at Mr. Derrick. "I'm glad you're back Charles," she said.
"So you've been the president of the Concert Hall this whole time?" asked Gemma. The events of the day had overwhelmed her, and she wasn't sure what was happening.
"Yes," said Mr. Derrick. "And now I'm ready to take over once more."
Mr. Sanders had been fuming silently off to the side, but at this comment he spat, "Wait just a minute, Mr. Derrick, and you too Miss Maximum, or whatever. There's one thing that you have both forgotten"...
Date: Jan 5th
..."An entire audience left tonight, feeling cheated out of an encore! How am I supposed to tell them that the person who was playing was a fraud?!"
Gemma winced, feeling as if she had been physically slapped. A fraud! No, she wasn't -- was she? She HAD been participating, she had been making the motions... but had it really been her? She desperately wanted to believe that it had been.
But if it had been her, then the ears of every person in the concert hall wouldn't have been torn by the hideous screech that had assailed the air.
Sanders was still glaring at them expectantly. "Well? What are we going to tell our customers when they start making complaints? If you ARE going to be president, Derrick-" he spat the name as if it were an obscenity- "then you'd better start thinking!"
"It's a very expensive violin," Roy said quietly, once again providing the alibi, "and the musician wishes to oversee its careful and time-consuming repairs in person. She could not be back in time to perform again tonight."
"And what about some other night?" Mr. Sanders snarled. "Do you think people will simply forget about what happened tonight?"
"No," Mr. Derrick said with a small smile, his eyes turning toward Gemma and twinkling softly with an expression he had never used on her before, "but someday, after a lot of honest practise, I think they might get what they seek."
Gemma met his gaze nervously. "I don't think I'll ever be able to play again like I did in there," she said quietly.
"No," Derrick admitted, "you probably won't. But whatever you believe, I DO intend to teach you. You may not have the patience -- yet -- but you have the passion and the love for music; and while you won't play as you did on the enchanted instrument, someday, I believe you will come close."
* * * * *
Strands of woven emeralds flowed in a waterfall of fur across the Acara's body, strikingly contrasted by the glittering sapphire dress whose silken train poured shimmering across the floor behind her. The lights of the Concert Hall, whose floors she had finished scrubbing only hours earlier, sprang exultantly off of the polished mahogany wood of the violin that was clutched in her trembling paw. The hushed whisper of her feet and gown caressing the spotless floor mingled with the murmurs of the crowd as Gemma paused in the middle of the stage, and then all fell silent as she turned to face her audience. Facial expressions ranging from boredom to sparkling anticipation filled the rows of seats that filled the hall, and Gemma took a moment to locate a special pair of them before taking a deep breath and lifting the violin to her chin. A bow, long stripped of its magic, rose into the air with a flourish, and strings that refused to age or weaken seemed to tense in anticipation.
And then the moment came, when like starlight drifting out of the sky the bow alighted on the waiting strings, and a soft, pure, haunting wail emerged from the instrument. The first few notes were faintly hesitant, and Gemma could feel the more discerning members of the audience lean toward disapproval; but pressing on, taking refuge in the song she had slowly and carefully created herself in the first mournful nights since the instrument that had created songs for her had been disenchanted, the Acara began to wrap herself in the music, weaving a fabric of notes that swirled like a cape between herself and her doubts, isolating her in a wonderworld where all was music, where the paws that made the music and the heart from which the music flowed became one, and were at peace. The song rose a few notes, dipped an octave, then rose again, an eerie and beautiful song of days full of hardship and nights spent racked by longing, of dreams brought close and shattered, of hope rising and falling, of beauty shining and fading away, and of triumph finally coming to tower joyfully over all, in a leaping crescendo that cascaded among the stars in an ecstasy of music, only to fade to a whisper of moonlight dancing fluidly among the silent listeners, and then springing up again in a final breathtaking cadence that hovered in the air like crystal, seeming never to fade away, but to linger there forever, to remain suspended in the silence and to stay there long after the concert was over and even the hall and the earth that supported it were wiped out of sight and memory.
There was a long moment of utter silence, devoid of motion and sound as if the crowd's ability to move or speak had drifted away to join that last silver note. Even Gemma herself was unable to so much as breathe.
And then, slowly and steadily, a single sharp report was joined by another as a pair of grizzled hands met and sprang apart, only to meet again in a loud clapping rhythm that was joined by the small, delicate fur-clad paws of the Xweetok who stood beside the source of the first few claps joined in.
And then the entire audience burst into applause, a steady storm of thunder whose lightning was the light in a hundred pairs of eyes and whose rain was the tears that flowed freely down Gemma's cheeks.
Springing from the stage and disdaining all pretenses of aloofness, Gemma worked her way through the delighted crowd, finally coming to a stop before an old, crusty Techo and a Xweetok whose pearl teeth glimmered in a face-splitting grin.
"So," Mr. Derrick asked quietly, "do you still think you need a magical instrument to be great?"
Gemma grinned up at him, astonishing both of them by enfolding the Techo in a hug. "No," she said quietly, her soft voice somehow audible among the cheerful chatter of the crowd, "all I needed was a really good teacher... and the patience to listen to him."
Date: Jan 5th
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