Disclaimer: Not mine.
This is a charm, my love, a magic spell for you to cast
When no longer can you stand fast
Ivy, sweetpea, and daisies and cherry blossom clusters
With this recipe of flowers
-Said mother to her son.
He rammed the leister through the doll's useless mouth and the ceramic face collapsed into itself. The music blurred into a crescendo, rising like a tidal wave.
It crashed, the music; and the ground rumbled in answer, shaking the very foundations the house was built on. Mukuro felt the floor beneath him move in drunken sways and he flung the doll away from him as he stumbled to his knees. The air vibrated around him as the piano notes warped in pitch. He heard the grind of stone against stone and the crash of glass and ceramic breaking and metallic needles scattering. And the house twisted in on itself painfully.
Then it stopped.
Mukuro stood up from his crouch and stared coldly around him.
So, this was the next puzzle…
They had brutalized his house, bending and contorting and sliding parts like a Chinese wood knot, an interlocking puzzle. The sunroom's walls had moved far back, expanding the space inside to accommodate the puzzle pieces: rooms and platforms and open corridors that had slid in. These interweaving puzzle parts were arranged in an erratic pattern in front of him, some hanging from the ceiling, some attached to the walls without any other visible supports, and some in giant cavities in the floor. Staircases, spiral and straight, criss-crossed the space in between, going up and down and left and right and sideways and several other impossible directions to walk on, like layers of cat's cradle forms. Windows and arched doorways and balconies littered the area: ceiling, ground and wall.
The house had become a maze and the point of mazes was to reach the center.
He stood on the precipice of one of the parts, previously the sunroom. Tables and chairs had toppled over as well as the dolls and dishes on them. Currently, there were six directions to go from here. There were two windows on the ground, a staircase to the right wall, a lower platform near the edge of this puzzle piece, and two doors a foot off the ground on the back wall. He sat down for a bit, working out calculations.
While the house had been rearranged, it looked as if nothing new had been added. It limited the choices he would make for which he was relieved. Then as the case may be, he was starting out with a certain set number of rooms and corridors that he was already familiar with but merely reshuffled in a different pattern. And he knew already what the center was. Those dolls had given him a clue, talking and chattering as they were. That room in the attic…
Mukuro would have to break down the door when he got there. He'd lost the key years ago.
He would have to do this by trial and error, path by path. But…he could still do something to further decrease the number of routes he would take. He stared hard what he could see, from the view of the sunroom puzzle part. He memorized the arrangement of rooms in front him, taking visual clues from the design and decoration of the windows and doors and balconies on them. And he formed a mental map in his head from this, with the sunroom as the beginning point of the labyrinth. The kitchen which had square simple windows was near the left major wall; a few feet to the right of his study that had those seven austere windows; which was above the third parlor room from the east wing that had the finely detailed baroque door and…
Hopefully the maze would not move while he was in it.
After a few minutes of study, he went over what he learned to reinforce the information in his head.
He was unable to identify the attic room as it had no windows, nor any other outlying clues to help him. It only had one door, coarsely hewn and its walls were the very bare framework of the house, all wooden beams and brick. And from where he was standing, there had been no puzzle pieces similar to that. He would have to travel to several of the pieces that he'd been unable to identify due to obscurity made by the distance from his vantage point. He had however managed to recognize about sixty five percent of the layout of the maze and their surrounding pathways. And so resolved, the doll-maker walked to the staircase to his right, dragging one of the surviving chairs behind him.
It was dark in here.
He felt helpless—it was hard to breathe, as if a vise was cinching his neck.
The stairs winded to the very top, onto a small dais in the air. There was a room hanging above it, with a cellar door Mukuro could reach only with the aid of the chair. He adjusted the chair right beneath the cellar door. He stood on it and pushed at the door. It creaked open and he had to jump to grasp the edges of the door. As he hauled himself up, the chair tripped and fell down the winding staircase, banging against its handrail.
He paid it no mind as he checked over the kitchen he was in.
Eight exits as he'd predicted.
He followed the low-ceilinged corridor in front of him. He came out into one of the open pathways, crossing the empty space to the other side of the maze. He followed along, ignoring the piano attached to the side of one of the hanging rooms. It was playing by itself, its keys dipping in a slurry method, its song now decreasing and increasing in tempo in an auditory illusion. Because space was distorted here, it wasn't unreasonable that music would also bend according to the rules and laws of the space it travelled in.
It was dark here and hard to breathe.
They stood in a neat little row behind the patriarch of the Estraneo family, his personal collection in their little house. He was a hawk-nosed man, imposing in build and posture. He crooked a finger and the eldest stepped forward to sit on the stool in front of the piano. Mukuro spread elegant fingers and began playing mechanically to the sickeningly sweet coos and praises of the guests
It was dark here and hard to breathe with someone's hand wrapped around their necks.
Mukuro found himself in the guestroom that was in styled in beige colors, the fifth one that used to be in the west wing. Five exits again. He jumped from the window to a lower platform that was connected to one of the unlabeled rooms in his mental map. He walked across the side of this lower platform, edging along the puzzle piece's fringe. He came nearer to a row of balconies on an overhanging puzzle piece nearby. He vaulted himself to the nearest one, scraping his elbow on the wall.
He'd already covered about half of the unknown territory but he still hadn't found the attic. He was nearer though.
Mukuro tapped at the door underneath his feet. It opened and he dropped into a carpeted hallway that was placed sideways in the maze. He walked across a few closed doors and came up to a deep blue one. He opened it and tumbled into the guestroom below.
This guestroom had a ceiling door but as it was also placed on its side, the ceiling door could now be found on his right. He pushed at it and climbed through.
He'd found the servants' corridors. It was a tight squeeze as this place was practically in the framework of the house. He could already see the supporting beams here. He walked sideways, past drafty air and crumbling brick walls facing thin wooden walls. Finally, he came to a steep set of stairs that went left and right and right and left. After several turns, he came to a ladder that went up vertically. He crawled up after it. He could hear voices.
He entered one of the storage rooms, filled with boxes and sheet-covered furniture. Three exits. He went out the smallest door onto a balcony. He was in one of the puzzle pieces hanging from the ceiling. He could already see the network of stone arches of the roof above him. He looked to his left and found a row of mezzanines hidden in the shadows of the rafters. He jumped over one, and over another, till he came to a particularly small door. He opened it and saw an airshaft, small enough for a child but an even tighter squeeze for an adult his size.
He could hear the voice a bit clearer now. It was pleading in broken whispers.
Accordingly, they moved to the whims and strings of their father under his blank empty eyes, their constant sentinel. And Mukuro had always felt boxed in, caged in, trapped in, closed in, confined in this small dark place they called home.
This dark feeling of swamped shadows and murky breathes—they called it being helpless.
Like a doll in a sleek black box.
Creeping on all fours, he slid through the airshaft and at the end found a smaller door, rough-hewn with the bark lines gnarled and carved by age. He felt tiny mortar gravel hit his face as feet shuffled in the room above him. He reached forward and his fingers closed around the knob and he felt the whole house shift back to position with a dizzying motion.
He'd found the center. Game, set, and match.
He opened the door.
Inside the attic room flooded with shadows, he saw that hawk-nosed Estraneo doll sitting on a chair in front of the half-finished brick wall.
Mukuro shattered the doll's empty face with a swing of the trident. He swung over and over again, hitting the doll again and again and again.
A voice whimpered in the darkness and Mukuro stopped. He turned towards the unfinished brick wall. He stepped forwards and looked into the alcove the wall was hiding. There was a childish form crumpled in on itself in the shadows. He hammered at the wall with the end of the leister's handle, muttering nonstop: get out get out get out get out—
The wall broke, crumbling and collapsing from the combination of old age and the force of Mukuro's blows—
It was dark in here.
Dark and gloomy and dusty—so much so that it was hard to breathe here. He had to keep his mouth wide open, chest gasping and shrinking in itself to accommodate his wildly beating heart—like an asthmatic, his father often scorned—but he was getting dizzy and his hands throbbed with pain.
His father loomed above him, face empty. He brushed the mortar on with a scraper and then positioned the brick block into place with a decisive click.
When it was dark, no one would know and no one would see.
Click, click, click!
Inside the oubliette was a skeleton holding onto a motionless ragdoll.
Mukuro sighed and picked up Tsuna, "I found you."
There was a fleshy thud and his father collapsed onto the ground.
His mother panted, wheezing and crying broken-heartedly, holding a trident. She picked up her son from behind the brick wall, whispering, "I found you."
Mukuro shoved the remains of the Estraneo doll into the alcove with the skeleton.
"I lay my father, Giocare Estraneo, to sleep, and may whatever god there is—"
And he bricked in both doll and skeleton of his father and he was smiling the whole while through.
His mother checked his father's pulse. Then she hauled the man's remains into the alcove while smiling the whole while through.
Mukuro woke up the next day and stitched back Tsuna's button eye. Then he cleaned the mess in the room of eyes and the scattered dolls in the sunroom. And then he fixed up breakfast, pancakes for himself and cherry blossoms for Tsuna, ensconced in his vest' front pocket. When Tsuna had not moved, he'd assumed that the doll was being finicky. So he'd gone outside and found some ivy, sweetpea, and daisies. He mixed them in with the cherry flowers and pushed the bowl towards the ragdoll.
Tsuna still didn't move.
Then the doorbell rang and he hurried towards the main foyer, leaving the doll beside his bowl of flowers
He found Chikusa waiting impatiently outside with a young brunette fidgeting behind him. And he smiled as Chikusa introduced him to his new assistant, one Tsuna Sawada who'd blushed like a young virgin when he'd grinned wolfishly. And Chikusa smiled as well, happy to see that expression on Mukuro's face and glad that he'd brought Tsuna along.
Later on, Mukuro would make another ragdoll with black yarn hair and blue button eyes. And its name would be Mukuro and it would stay by Tsuna ragdoll's side forever, in sickness and in health and in richness and in poverty.
The world opened up and light streamed in and it was easier to breathe now.
"Oh, Mr. Mukuro, you handsome devil, you. I want you to xxx me and xxx me some more on that table and on the wall and—" Mukuro made smoochy noises as he squished both Mukuro ragdoll and Tsuna ragdoll's faces against each other.
The real Tsuna stared behind the squealing doll-maker in shock, numbed. He was wearing a black apron and a black suit, carrying a tray of muffins, tea, and flowers. Damn it. He'd picked another weirdo again.
And so Tsuna was forced into the role of Mr. Mukuro's housewife, cooking and cleaning and wearing female clothes and pampering said handsome devil. And don't forget 'sexy'. Sexy handsome devil. Mr. Mukuro demanded it.
Mukuro nodded the pineapple-haired doll at the actual Tsuna standing a few feet away.
"Not to worry, my little Tsuna. Mr. Mukuro is very rich and could take very good care of you. Now if only you'd wear this custom-made French maid outfit…"