"Ysmaine dear come here now." The Professor wandered the rooms of his laboratory. His living Doll had a habit of vanishing for hours at a time. She was a triumph of magic and science. Unstable, he mused to himself, but a triumph none the less. "Ysmaine where have you gone?"
"Here Professor." Her sweet, innocent voice came from behind him, making him jump. He whirled to be met with her multihued eyes and somewhat disturbing smile.
"Have I not told you before don't do that?" He said in irritation. She shrugged, tilting her head to the side as she peered up at him.
"Then why did you do it again? We must get these things clear for you dear." He shook his head.
Ysmaine puckered her brows. "Because I like doing it."
The Professor sighed and patted her on the head. "Come along, Ysmaine. We must have a few more tests I think." She followed behind him as he led the way. He looked into various rooms as they passed. "Where is B'jorn? He is supposed to be keeping an eye on you."
"B'jorn stopped working." Ysmaine said simply with a small smile.
"Quit did he?" The professor shook his head. "Just like the others. Ah well, good help and all that. Here we are dear." He pushed open the door at the end of the hall, ushering her in. "Now up on the table with you."
"I don't want to." She said and surprised him. "I'm not a toy. I'm real."
"Now, now, we've been over this." He tutted at her and went about setting out his tools. "You're not a real person Ysmaine."
"I feel real."
"Yes but you are not." He turned to see her head tilted to the side again and sighed.
"What makes you more real than me?" She asked, innocent smile in place.
"I am a man. You are a doll." He smiled to take the sting out of it. "A very special doll, but just a doll."
"But I feel real."
He groaned. She could be incredibly stubborn in these moods, determined to understand something and unwilling to cooperate until she did. "Yes but you are only a toy, held together and made to move and think by magic."
"We look the same."
"Ah but I am a man."
"So..." She puckered her brows again, tilting her head further as she peered at him. "It is something on the inside that makes us different?"
"Yes dear. That will do I suppose. We are different on the inside." He set out the last of his tools and turned, jumping with a small squeek to find her mere inches from him now.
"I want to see." Ysmaine said simply and smiled at him. "A test, like you do."
"Oh, oh well." He stumbled for words for a moment, nervous in her presence for the first time. "That would not work. You can't open me up as I do you. I would die." He inched to the left and she followed.
"You would stop working?" Ysmaine asked, taking another step until he was pressed against his examining table.
"In a manner of speaking Ysmaine, what has got into...." Shock robbed him of speech. "Stop working." He gasped. "You said...B'jorn...stopped working." His mind reeled as he stared into her irridescant, inhuman eyes. "And...and...the other assistants. They didn't...quit did they? The Nine preserve me."
"They stopped working." Ysmaine said simply and smiled her secret smile again. "I have tried and tried to find what makes you different from me but there's nothing. They just stopped working." She stepped forward again until she was almost against her creator as sweat began to run down his face. "Will you stop working if I look? I am curious you see. You made me curious." She grinned. "I think I shall find out."
Ysmaine wandered the Imperial City for days after finding her way out of the Professor's laboratory. Once again she had not found the thing that made them different though she had diligently looked and shown each piece to his wide, glassy eyes. In the end, she had decided he was wrong and left him with his bits and pieces since he too, like the others, had stopped working.
She found herself now in Green Emperor Way, slipping among the headstones as she watched people coming and going on the paths above. Those in armor made her curious for she had never seen armor before. Her multi-hued eyes followed them as they paced about the tower, a gentle breeze shifting the blonde locks resting on her forehead. A sound behind her drew her head about. She searched the lengthening shadows and was rewarded when she spotted a figure slinking from the base of the great wall. Ysmaine crept forward, toward the figure, watching as it bent behind a stone. It did not see her. She came to the other side of its hiding place and heard its breathing. She and the professor had sometimes played hide and seek in his laboratory. He had called it a lesson in logic. She had simply enjoyed the game.
Ysmaine leaned out around the stone, head tilted to the side and startled her quarry into a cry. It was a man. His face was lined with age and he fell backwards from her in surprise. "Silly man." Ysmaine tsked at him. "You have to hide better than this or the game is no fun." She watched as he found his feet again, yet stayed behind the stone. He glanced beyond her to the walkway and then back, staring at her strange eyes.
"Game?" He whispered. "Who...what are you?"
Ysmaine stepped to his side of the stone and squatted as he did, mimicking him. "I'm real." She said simply and smiled her secret smile. The man's eyes widened and finally he nodded.
"Yes you are." He replied and Ysmaine's smile grew wider.
"Thank you." She said with a cheerful smile. "You are very smart."
"I'm Vincenzo Peruggia." He said and took a deep breath. He had the oddest feeling he had just neatly avoided some great peril. He was a master thief and his senses were finely tuned for that sort of thing. He shrugged it off as he looked at the strange girl. "Are you out here alone? You really shouldn't be."
"Why?" Ysmaine asked and he smiled.
"There are unsavory sorts in the city at night. What is your name? I have told you mine."
"Ysmaine." She tilted her head again. "Are you unsavory?"
Peruggia laughed. "I suppose I am. Ysmaine?" He thought for a moment. "I shall call you Izzie. Is that alright?"
Ysmaine thought on it a moment and then smiled. "For you I am Izzie. What are you doing?"
"You do ask a lot of questions girl." He shook his head. "Well, that's not important. You are alone aren't you?" He glanced up at the tower again and then smiled. "Bad night for it anyway. Come on then. You can't stay out here. Guards will find you for sure." He stayed in a crouch as he went back toward the wall and Izzie followed him easily. He led her behind a copse of bushes and to a cleverly hidden sewer grate.
"You live in the sewers?" Izzie asked and he chuckled.
"Not exactly. I'll show you." He slid the hatch aside and dropped inside, calling softly for her to follow. Izzie did, enjoying herself immensely in her new found freedom and, for the moment, not at all interested in seeing if she and Peruggia were the same.
"Izzie!" Peruggia called as he slid the cover from his sewer passage back into place and set his heavy bag on the polished marble floors of their hide-a-way. "Come help an old man." He looked up and smirked to find her standing mere feet away. "You don't startle me no more girl, not after these months." He chuckled. "I expect it."
Izzie shrugged, bent, and took up his sack, lifting it as though it weighed nothing. "Have you brought me something new?" She asked and he patted her shoulder, stepping around her and heading for the treasure room.
"Could be I have." He winked over his shoulder at her and pushed the gate open. Izzie followed and set the sack on a table. Peruggia looked about the sumptuous vault, taking an extra moment to gaze on his prize posession, a painting, and then cocked his head at Izzie. "Been using some of the weapons again while I was gone eh?"
Izzie smiled her special smile and ducked her head. "I get bored you know."
He laughed, the lines in his face crinkling. "I don't mind, Izzie. Means less goblins for me to avoid on the way home. Now!" he bent to the sack and pulled the top open. "About time you got out of that doll's dress girl. Something more fitting a pretty lady I think." He pulled a bundle of fabric from the bag and held it out. "These are dresses. Should fit you I suppose." He laughed. "Never had much call for picking dress sizes and this..." He reached back into the bag and came out with something bright red. "This well, I saw it and just knew you had to have it."
Izzie held up the dresses, one black and beautiful and another in shades of yellow and smiled, then smiled wider. "I like them." She said and then took the red thing from him. She stared at it for a moment and he reached over to help her. It opened into a vibrant red umbrella like she had seen ladies in the Imperial City carrying on rainy days. "Oh." She said softly.
"Thought that color would catch your fancy." He chuckled and sat on the nearby couch. "Come sit with me Izzie." She did, dropping happily onto the seat beside him, twirling her new blood, red umbrella. "Now, I have to leave again for a while." He tapped the bag. "There's plenty of food in there."
"You are going out to be unsavory again?" Izzie said, tilting her head at him. "Already?"
He nodded, smiling. "I am. Been offered a job by...well...he don't really have a name but it's a once in a lifetime sort of deal. It's dangerous."
"Dangerous." She pondered that for a moment. "Danger means...you might stop working?"
Peruggia chuckled. He understood completely her meaning, having had her story in bits and pieces from her. "It does. If I do stop working, this place is yours. Everything in it." He tapped her head. "But you don't stay in here and hide from the world you hear me? You go out in it and live. You're real. You remember that."
Izzie studied his aging face, wrinkled smile and fading blue eyes and felt a touch of something she couldn't quite define only knowing she hoped he didn't stop working. Peruggia impulsively hugged her and then stood. "I have to leave now. No time to dally or see you in your new fripperies. I'll be back...soon as I may. I hope."
Izzie nodded. "Try not to stop working please." She ordered and he saluted her smartly.
"This shouldn't take me more than a few days. Take care of yourself Izzie." He smiled his crinkly smile at her one last time and left.
Izzie waited days for him. She read every book in the passages. She wandered the tunnels, played with the gems, spent hours studying his favorite painting as he did. Weeks later he had still not returned and she finally admitted to herself that he must have stopped working. The strange feeling she had felt before came over her again. Izzie picked up the blood red umbrella he had brought her, popping it open and twirled it slowly. She quickly took off her old dress and put on the new black he had brought and left the passages.
She scaled the ladder down into the sewer and back up another. Inching the cover to the side she checked, as he had taught her, making sure no one was nearby to see her emerge and finally she did, pushing it back into place. The day was nearly done, the sun lowering over the walls of Green Emperor Way as she strode out into the graveyard. She popped open her red umbrella, holding it over her shoulder as she'd seen the ladies do and walked among the markers of those who had stopped working. In her own way, saying goodbye to Peruggia.
"Boooored now." Ysmaine said to herself in a sing song voice. She missed Peruggia and while she had been content to wander his passages while he was still there, with him gone they no longer kept her attention. She stood from where she had flopped on the couch and eyed Peruggia's lady on the wall, studying her smile. "I'm going out now. Into the city." The lady, of course, said nothing and Izzie grinned. She danced over to the sewer entrance and clambered down into the darkness.
The long climb to the bottom was her favorite part, down, down, down into the dark and the damp and she giggled when she reached the bottom and the meager torch light. Izzie stopped still, tilting her head to the side. A new sound came to her, echoing in the vast underground dome. Above the drips of water drops into the pool below and the gentle rush of the runoff from the streets above, there was a scraping sound. She turned, peering into the murk with her multi-hued eyes and saw movement down on the channel. She skipped down the ramp, fearless, and out onto the channel walk and found herself face to face with two creatures. A Scamp and a Skeleton peered at her as she stood in the lone beam of light from the world above.
"You're in my home." She said to them. "Why are you in my home? Explain." The Scamp hissed at her but made no move. It tilted it's overlarge head forward until it could see itself reflected in her eyes and gave a toothy grin. Izzie turned her gaze to the Skeleton as it began to raise a sword and, meeting her eyes with its vacant orbs, lowered its sword, letting it clatter into the water. She smiled at them. "We will go play." She said simply. Izzie stepped between them, taking an arm of each and led them around the cistern to the exit to the sewers proper.
Where Izzie walked, they walked. She skipped on the slick stones and they skipped with her. She led them up a ladder and out into the Arboretum, into the moonlight. As they emerged into the evening air, a lone woman nearby squeeled in fright and vanished, sprinting away with her skirts in the air. Izzie took her new friends hands with a giggle and they danced round and round in the streets. She felt happy and free and laughed as their unlikely trio spun about.
"There! There they are!" A cry came from behind them. Izzie stopped in surprise and turned to see the woman on the arm of a Legion Soldier, pointing at them with terror on her face before she fled once more. The soldier drew his sword with a commanding roar and charged at Izzie's friends.
"Stand back girl!" He yelled at her as he swept past and into the skeleton. His sword scythed through the brittle spine and he exploded in a hail of bones, clattering across the stones. Izzie cried out to her Scamp friend who bobbed his head once and fled back into the sewers, safe. "What's wrong with you girl?" The soldier sheathed his sword, taking up his fallen torch and stepped to her. "Those creatures could have killed you."
Izzie turned to him, feeling something she could not define. She tilted her head far to the side peering into his eyes beneath the helmet and smiled when he flinched at her odd gaze. "I like your eyes," Izzie said quietly. "You scared my friends."
"Friends!? Those were monsters!" He retorted angrily but Izzie saw the beginnings of fear crawl into his face.
"Do yours come out?" She asked.
"Your eyes. Mine do. Do yours?" Izzie took a step closer to him. Then another. He backed up a single step and froze, realizing suddenly how alone he was in the dark, in the night, with a strange girl who had been dancing with the monsters.