The Missing Link 3

You held onto them tightly until suddenly, the ground vanished from under your feet, only to reappear a fraction of a second later. The area around you now smelled of lavender and vanilla and the floor beneath your sneakers felt softer, like carpet.

"Welcome to the Cygnus Archive." You heard a voice call out from behind you. "Lady Blanche will be here in a moment. Are any of you wounded?"

Oh no, not at all, just a blind person right over uh…here, someone with a sprain right here, and oh- oh look at that- I didn’t even notice that I broke my nose!” Lucien replied with a laugh.

The person before you took a stern tone. "Mind your manners. Lady Blanche isn't too fond of rude guests." You heard a few footsteps in your direction, the tone in his voice seemed to lighten up. "Masked Maidens, all five of you, I assume?"

You shook your head, almost violently. Immediately, you pulled away from the others. Masked Maidens? You thought. No. This is bad. Tristan told you how dangerous they were. God, no wonder they made you wear a mask, you idiot-

Our sincerest apologies, mister…?” Amanda spoke as she lightly grabbed your hand; a harsh tone laced her voice. You heard an “Ow!” come from Lucien.

"Oh, sorry, skipped over the introductions. Name's Tom, Tom Von Haderach. I'm Blanche's butler - for official purposes, that is. And you?"

Amanda, who had seemingly been so confident during the time you’ve witnessed her, began to stammer. “Oh, well- well um-

Lucien. Lucien Arquette, at your service.” Lucien spoke abruptly, imitating Tom's professional tone.

…Yeah. Him.” She spoke with slight disdain. “That’s Phoebe Chester, James Flicker, and me, Amanda Wright. I’m sure Miss Blanche will recognize me.

"Beneath that mask of yours, maybe."

From there came a sense of increasing excitement from Amanda as the pacing in her words quickened. “Even with the mask. I can assure you.

Right.” You hear more footsteps. "And what about you?"

You turned your head in Tom’s direction and muttered, “I shouldn’t even be here…” You quickly changed pace before he could ask; “Adeline McCaffery, rescue trainee. I’m from the M.E.G. Regiment, Quick Match.

"I see… a pleasure to meet you all. Now, as much as I'd love to stay and chat longer, it seems your host has arrived. Could you tell me your favorite types of tea? I'll get them ready by the time you arrive at the Tea Room."

Huh. You were right about the tea part.” James whispered, then began speaking more clearly. “Peach tea, please. Iced. And with 3 cubes of sugar. Is that too much? Nah, nah it's good, yeah 3."

"Black tea would be—would be wondrous, please." Amanda said as her speech staggered a little.

You heard Phoebe let out a small giggle, then speak in an exaggerated British accent; "Green tea would be most preferable, kind swain." A very unimpressed scoff left Tom, but he said nothing in response.

"I'm more of a coffee person… but I'll take some lemon tea, s'il vous plait." Lucien was the last to reply, besides you.

After a moment of silence, you realized they were waiting for you to answer. In a hushed, nervous tone, you muttered; "I'll just… have a water."

"Got it. See you guys in a bit."

In the distance, you heard the gentle voice of a woman, barely louder than a whisper. "Thank you for welcoming these guests for me, dear. Will you be joining us for tea?"

"I will, Madame. Seems you have an interesting bunch of guests this evening."

“Lovely! Would you kindly begin tea preparations?”

“Already on it, Blanche.”


Merely a moment later, surprised by the lack of the sound of footsteps, you heard the same voice; the volume had not risen, yet it was perfectly audible. You found it oddly calming.

“My apologies for not being able to welcome you to my library myself, I had some rather important matters to attend to… I have gone by many names, though you may call me Blanche. I am the keeper of this place, the Cygnus Archive.”

"We are most thankful to be upon your stage, Madame." James piped in as confidence clearly settled into his voice. "Our Madam apologizes for her lateness."

The Madam is mentioned once again. She was coming here? You felt panic rise within you. Wasn't Blanche supposed to be the M.E.G.'s ally? You wondered if they had taken control of her with a mask…

There was no time for that. While they were talking, you slipped away, quickly feeling your way around the library. It didn't matter where you went, as long as it was far away from them.

"Such apologies are unnecessary, dear. I can understand she is quite busy keeping you lot in check, so to speak."

Suddenly, you found yourself unable to move. Once again, that soft, whispering voice seemed to be right in your ear, despite the distance you had just walked.

"I can understand your eagerness for a drink, dear, but that is not the correct way to the Tea Room… come to notice it, you do seem quite tense. Is something the matter? I promise you I mean no harm to any guest of mine."

You felt a chill running down your spine, a pit in your throat rendering you unable to answer.

"Worry not, the rest of them won't hear you. From their perspective, it is as though time had stopped. I can tell something is troubling you, and I'd hate it for a guest of mine to be under such discomfort. What's wrong, dear? What is behind such a state of panic?"

The truth you wanted to speak had gone something along the lines of "You're an ally of those—wicked Maidens. Their leader killed their family, how couldn't I be tense? How couldn't I be afraid?" However, something else left your mouth.

"I can't… I can't see."

"The Level 153 effect… it leaves a very characteristic mark on the human mind. I'm afraid to tell you I cannot cure your blindness permanently, my dear, but at least in my domain, we can… bypass it. Allow me a moment…"

You felt a pair of cold hands on your cheeks, gently moving around, as if in search of some exact position. The tension in your chest slightly settled as you breathed a little slower. At some point, she found the position she wanted and stopped moving her hands, lightly pressing her fingers against your head.

"There. It should take a little while for your eyes to get used to the light… did it hurt? I haven't done such a procedure in ages…"

In a few seconds, a bright light filled your eyes. You cover them, taking a moment to adjust yourself. When you open your eyes, you gasp.

There had been many descriptions of Blanche, be it by rumor, personal accounts, or even on her own page. But it's nothing compared to seeing her in person. Her glossy, blonde hair was that of silk and her blue eyes were so bright, they threatened to outshine the glow of the pendant around her neck. Blanche also sported an elegant, victorian-era, cool white dress which paired great with the silk gloves she wore. She was rather tall—her posture and poise reminded you of the way queens would act. She gave you a light smile, which caused you to fluster and look away as you muttered a small "Thank you," before looking around.

The library itself was a sight to see, too. The floor was covered in a blue velvet carpet with golden accents. The shelves seemed to stretch towards infinity as they towered over you, filled to the brim with all sorts of old books and scrolls. The ceiling was ornamented with stained glass, punctuated by elaborate candelabra which lit up the whole library under warm candlelight. Even a few Light Guides hovered in place as their glow added to the ethereal, dream-like aura of the level. It felt as though time had stood still- maybe it was more than just a feeling. Caught up in the wonder, you didn't notice Blanche's eyes as she stared at you calmly, as if waiting for you to finish contemplating her home.

The feeling of amazement quickly vanished as soon as you saw the masks on the faces of the people who dragged you here. Much like the Light Guides, they stood frozen in place. Your instincts told you to run away from them, to flee to safety, to go back to your regiment, to-

"As I suspected… it seems the source of your discomfort is something other than vision." Blanche's voice felt like a snapback to reality, an interruption in your brain's spiraling train of thought. "You don't really trust any of them, do you? I wouldn't blame you. I had my reservations at first, too. However, their goal is a noble one, and I hope to ensure their means are equally so."

Your breathing hitched as disbelief poured over you. "Sir- Sir Tristan told me-"

"Tristan Petrovic, I assume?"

You stopped in surprise at her recognition and nodded.

"I've been told that man is behind some truly hideous acts, dear." Blanche sighed softly. "I don't blame you for not knowing; for trusting him for all he may have done for your career. But… well. That is a conversation for another time, for when your mind is a little clearer. Stay close to me, will you? I can assure you no harm will be headed your way."'

You were hesitant but gave in. After all, someone who restored your vision wouldn't take it away immediately… right?

You and Blanche began to walk together through the bookshelves. Quietly, you asked; "I've heard about you, but… I never knew you were in cahoots with them. Why—why are you with them? How could you say their goal- whatever their goal is- is noble when there's no way to assure that it really is what they want?"

Blanche smiled, almost as if she had anticipated the question. "An inquisitive one, aren't you dear? Well, how do I put this… I've heard some of my guests compare minds to books, and every book in this library is open for me to read."

"I'm… I'm not sure I follow."

"I'm capable of reading your thoughts, dear, just as easily as a book." As you two walk by the shelves, a few floating books passed your way. She took the books, flipped through them for a moment, and set them before her in the air. Suddenly, they swooped and flew past you both in different directions, just before they each found a spot in the bookshelves and set themselves in. "I do always ask for permission to read them beforehand; it'd be rude to delve into my guests' memories without permission. However, I still sometimes hear more recent thoughts… involuntarily. It is how I deduced you were distrustful of your newfound companions. It is also quite handy when it comes to detecting lies. And… well? They've yet to show that they lied."

Considering she had just stopped time and momentarily cured your blindness, you had no reason to not believe her. Even still, doubt and confusion lay within your mind, and you kept your eyes to the floor. "What… is their goal, anyway?"

Blanche stopped in her tracks and turned to look at you. "To stop the spread of corruption in all things good. The first of which… is one of the regiments in your organization. Not Quick Match, not to worry… but the team the very man you look up to oversees. The Masked Maidens believe that he is part of this corruption."

Was Tristan really lying to everyone? To you? The thought upset you more than anything. With all the good things he's done, how would he do that?

You turned to Blanche, who looked back with sympathy. Reluctantly, she gently placed her hand on your shoulder. Despite how cold her hands were before, you suddenly felt warm. "I understand if you aren't ready to believe it yet, dear. Everything takes time."

I want to believe you.

No- What? No, you don't. You took her hand off and huffed. "No. I don't believe you. I won't ever believe you… Tristan wouldn't- he wouldn't— he wouldn't lie to us like that!" You took a few steps away from her. "Evangeline is- she's a monster. She's a murderer, she's no respect for anyone! You're the fool for thinking otherwise!"

As you found it more difficult to breathe from the intense emotion, you watched her smile change into a strange expression. She didn't seem surprised, yet she still appeared to be shocked. There was a slight sign of hurt, which ached your heart. She clasped her hands together and nodded silently.

"Have I been gone too long?" You heard a voice say from behind you. It was gentle, like Blanche's, yet broader. While you yelped in surprise, Blanche didn't seem too phased about them being present.

You gasped. A gold feathered Colombina mask, rich brown eyes, and dark brown hair—it matched the description Tristan gave you—there was no mistaking it. This was Evangeline Holmes, you thought as a shiver ran down your spine and her footsteps grew ever closer. She didn't seem to pay you much attention as she took a minute to greet Blanche before she headed towards the other Maidens in the distance.

You let out a sigh of relief, which provoked a smile from Blanche. "I took the liberty of hiding you for a little while. It'd be wise to let your thoughts clear before meeting Madame Holmes in person, dear. Though… I would really recommend giving them a chance; They will surprise you. However, if you feel as though you need some time, I'll be more than glad to provide."

You tried to take a few deep breaths, without much success. Your hands shook almost violently and you felt the tears in the corner of your eyes. How did you get here? What went wrong for you to end up in the Maidens' clutches? Your thoughts kept racing, they were spiraling out of control, and then-

You felt something wrap around you.

"There, dear, there… it's okay to be afraid." Blanche's voice stood within the storm in your mind; A lighthouse, a safe port. Her embrace felt… warm. Comforting. Calming. Without noticing, you hugged back as the library stood still once more.

"Feeling any better, dear?"

You nodded in silence as you wiped your tears away. You felt your fear settle, and you soon enough calmed down. "We should greet them…" You looked toward the Maidens and tried to guess which voice belonged to whom.

You both pulled away from the hug. "Of course." Blanche walked towards the others and in a moment, time started once again.

The other Maidens bowed to the Madam, her curtseying in return as she turned to face Blanche. "Lady Blanche! May your truth be unmasked. My deepest apologies for my absence."

"No need for apologies, Madam, I'm sure you had your reasons," Blanche reassured her as she turned to face all of you. You noticed the Madam's eyes quickly dart to the side, at the door to the Tea Room. "I suppose you're here to take Addy with you?"

"Indeed. Though, I did want to speak to you about a few things, if you don't mind."

Blanche smiled. "Of course! Let's all have tea before such matters, I'm sure you're all tired after your journey."

At that moment, Tom had come out of the door - no longer in the butler attire from earlier, and instead was wearing a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt with some logo on it you couldn't recognize. His hair was no longer tied up, dangling off his shoulders. "My apologies for the delay," he said as he bowed before taking a seat by Evangeline's side. You noticed Lucien had zir eyes fixed on Tom, as if jealous of him. At the corner of your eye, you thought you saw the Madam smirk.

Blanche smiled at the sight of the main table being full of guests. With a mere snap of her fingers, the empty table was covered in a rich blue table cloth, with eight identical porcelain teacups and plates. At the center of the table was a delicious-looking lemon pie. "It's been quite some time since I last had this many guests," Blanche said, picking up her teacup and blowing on it a little. She looks toward Amanda. "Oh, I had meant to ask, how did you find your way here? Which one of my books did you use?"

Excitedly, Amanda pulled out her book again. You realize the bottom right corner had a small signature written in gold: "Isabella Parlington." Blanche seemed to recognize it immediately as she gasped, "Amanda Wright?"

Amanda's eyes glistened, nodding quickly. "Yes, Madame. It's me!"

A wide, pleasantly-surprised smile came upon Blanche's face as she set her teacup down. "Oh, it is ever-so wonderful to see you! It has been so long- how have you been?"

For the next half-hour, everyone had dived into conversations and food. Two Maidens, Lucien and James, took off their masks (which was strange… you were told they weren't able to), while the rest kept theirs on—those with a full-face covering moving it only to eat. You stayed silent most of the time, still distrusting of most of the Maidens. It was so strange, you thought, to be sitting next to those you previously thought were supposed to be your enemies. As much as you didn't want to do it, you couldn't help but listen in…

"You know, I was just thinking—" Tom began as he wiped lemon filling off his mouth. "Some of you are staying in the Dressing Rooms, yeah?" You raise a brow in curiosity. You've heard rumors of where the Maidens would hide… but in Dressing Rooms? What kind of level was that?

Phoebe nodded gleefully as she flipped and twirled her spoon around her fingers. "Ooh, yes, yes. It's quite a wonderful thing! My room's massive and filled with little trinkets that I could mess with to my heart's desires! Think of it as… a circus room. Oh, it's quite exciting, really!"

"Mine is smaller—far more comfortable for me." Amanda took a sip of her tea; Just then, you realized that she never opened her mouth when she spoke. Had that been who it was since even before you had your mask on? "Filled with parchment. I may have taken a liking for such writing materials from you, Lady Blanche." Blanche chuckles in response.

"Lucien and I don't stay there, actually—" James chipped in as he scarfed down a forkful of pie. "We actually room up in a complex down in the city."

"It's pretty great, besides all the rambling this guy does sometimes—I thought I was the talker, hehe," Lucien interrupts, earning a "Hey!" from his roommate. "Sure beats the heat over in the Limina- Ow!"

Phoebe lightly smacked Lucien in the back of the head and subtly nodded her head towards Evangeline, who had been sitting quietly the whole time. James quickly sparked up a conversation once more, and again the room is filled with chatter. You found your eyes locked onto Evangeline in strange curiosity…

"Awfully quiet, aren't you?" The voice startled you. Lost in thought, you failed to notice that Tom had gotten up from his seat and stood right next to you.

Across the table, you heard Phoebe poke fun at Lucien. "He's beating you at your own game, Lucy!"

Tom laughed with the others before continuing. "Anyway, you're with the M.E.G., right? Could you do me a favor? If you run into Axel Lowe from Team New Horizons, tell him he still owes me a bucket of chocolates. That out the way, you alright?"

You tried your best to smile, though you nodded rather too quickly. It was obvious that he hardly believed you.

He sighed a little and smiled sympathetically. "Alright. I can tell when something's up." He lowered himself and leaned in to ensure no one else would hear. "You don't trust them, do ya?"

You nodded again, slower. '"I don't.. I don't know. You and the Lady seem to. I-I just- I just don't understand—" You look around at the others, who were all deep in conversation and laughter. Even the Madam smiled a few times, pitching in with a comment every now and then. The Tea Room seemed to glow in enjoyment. "They're meant to be wicked— and yet—"

"Yet they feel like ordinary people, don't they? That's because, beneath those masks, that's all they are. Regular people like you and me, with their dreams, hopes, and fears." He turned his gaze over to Evangeline. "The key difference is they set themselves on eradicating corruption. A noble goal, yeah, but I've been keeping an eye on them and their methods, and so far I've got no complaints."

You noticed Evie and Tom catch each others' eyes. Both of them nod in acknowledgment, almost serious, though you couldn't help but feel like they were joking around and on the verge of laughing. You poked at your slice of pie and reluctantly took a bite. Deep within you felt some kind of… anger.

The more you spent time with them, the more confused you get. Their goals were true. But if that was so—that would mean that Tristan Petrovic—

"I want to go home." You said as you stood up. Everyone turned to look at you, worried.

"I'm not sure that's wise, dear, you've only just recovered." Blanche tried to refute, as she herself stood and walked towards you.

You kept yourself from yelling. "Please. I don't care if I'm blind. I won't even tell them about this, I promise you. Just let me go back to the M.E.G.."

You felt Tom's hand on your shoulder. "You sure that's what you really want?"

You nodded.

"…Alright then," he said. "I can take you to them." You saw him nod towards Blanche, who seemed a lot less concerned now. "I'll return shortly. You, come with me. You're losing your sight as soon as you leave this place, so I'm not letting you wander off alone. Understood?"

"Okay," You muttered as you knew you couldn't get out of at least that condition.

Blanche sighed and clapped her hands together. "I'll take you to the door then."

Blanche lead you and Tom to a nearby door, which was far closer than you expected it to be. She gave her goodbyes, then headed back to the Tea Room. Just as the two of you were about to leave, you were stopped by the Madam herself.

"Greetings, Adeline. Tom. I apologize for taking so long to speak to you." You shrugged it off, feigning apathy. "Right, well. I've a gift for you." She pulled out a cane of sorts—if you could even call it that—it seemed more like a grand scepter. It was silver, with small, metallic feathers running around it. "I understand that once you leave, your vision will be no more. So I prepared something, to aid you when no one else is around. Here, it even retracts when it's not in use."

"Thank you," You replied softly, almost embarrassed to receive it.

"Of course." Evangeline turned to leave. "Ah. If you ever need our help, look for the mask."

You nodded as she left, though you felt doubtful that you would, "How could she trust me that easily?"

Tom chuckled, smiling. "May be a bit of a shock, but that's part of the Maidens' foundation: trust."

The two of you walked out the door as the world around you, once again, faded to nothingness.

"Doing alright? We're on Level 1 right now. Base Alpha shouldn't be too far, I'll be dropping you there."

"Alright," you said as you thought about Evangeline's words. In a way, you were glad you were far, far away from her—yet her words echoed in your mind with a strange sense of comfort.

"I've got a gift for you too, of sorts. Blanche wanted me to give you one of her books. Signature's right on the cover, so if something happens, don't hesitate to use it. I've got a feeling Tristan won't be giving you any warm welcomes, especially with that mask still on you."

Shit. You didn't even realize you still had it on. You fumbled with the ribbon to get the mask off before Tom insisted to take it off for you. He then slipped it into your front pocket. It was strange how small it felt within your pocket, though you didn't mind much. "Thank you, Sir Tom."

You heard him chuckle in response. "Don't mention it." Tom sighed and stopped walking. "Well, here we are. We're just at the front. I'll knock for ya, but I won't be able to stick around. That alright for ya?"

You nodded and felt a bit jittery as you clutched your cane and book.

"Alrighty then. Hope we meet again." As Tom slipped from your range of hearing, you heard the rough stomps of guards running toward you; Somewhere, deep in the back of your mind—you thought you heard someone say something.

"See you soon, Adeline McCaffery."

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