Although this story is part of a larger series, I'm submitting this as an introduction to an OC. Essentially, I'm giving her a test run to get some feedback. I've had trouble with Mary Sues in the past, so any suggestions to avoid that kind of problem would be helpful. Of course, this is just the first glimpse of her, and she definitely undergoes more development later in life. Still, it'd be nice to know if she catches anyone's interest.
And plus, I just really want to publish something else here in the Trinity Blood universe. So . . . yeah.
Oh, and I haven't read any of the novels featuring the Neumanns or Helga, so if they seem OOC, feel free to say so. I haven't seen much fiction about them anyway, so I can't be wholly blamed for not having sufficient exposure to them. ;) What I could gather about their personalities mostly came from the Wiki article on the TB characters.
Enjoy, and leave feedback, please!
She held her breath as her face and hands met the floor. Porcelain shattered all around her. Someone sighed. "Nice work, you klutzy thing."
"Page, what do you think you're doing?" screeched another higher voice. "You've ruined an entire set of china!"
"You've just made another mess for yourself," the first voice added, seemingly unaffected by the ruckus. "You certainly have a talent for that, don't you?"
Meike stood slowly, checking for any shards that might have found their way into her palms and cheeks. No, no cuts. Just throbbing. Her hands were rough and red, but they were that way already. She brushed her bangs out of her eyes as she stepped away from the disaster zone. Balthasar was right: she had a way of making a mess of everything.
"You idiot," grumbled another man adjacent to the site of the spill, sipping at a cup that had been served before the accident. "Your shoelace is undone. Have you no common sense?"
"She has no sense, nor eyes or ears or anything useful!" the woman shrieked again. "Now get that cleaned up and get out of here, or all you'll ever be good for is cooling beverages!"
"Now, now," cut in the auburn-haired man who first spoke, "no need to throw a fit, Helga. Page, sweep that up and go take a nap in your quarters. You've caused enough trouble."
"Yes, sir," Meike sighed. She turned on a tired heel and started for the kitchen.
"Why does that creature only answer to you?" Helga snapped, purple-blue ringlets bouncing as she shook her head. "I can't get one 'yes, madam' or anything, and yet it acts like your lapdog."
"Now, Helga, just because Meike is a servant does not mean we must refer to her as 'it.'"
"Well, why not?" asked the tea-sipping man coolly. "It's not as if the brat is anything to us, including a useful servant."
Balthasar leaned back in his chair, relishing the delightful warmth of the fire at his feet. "She can build a good fire, at least."
"If that's all she can do," Helga remarked with a sneer, "then she's better off as an 'it.' She ought to be in the street."
"She'll be there soon enough," said the other man.
"You and Helga have no hearts, do you, Melchior?" remarked Balthasar, chuckling.
"You should talk."
"Oh, quite the contrary. I have a heart. I reserve it for things like reading and winter nights when I may sit close by a roaring hearth and enjoy the dialogues of Plato and Cicero."
"Well, you can have your hearth and books," Helga rejoined as she turned her gaze to the blustery scene of branches and snowflakes right outside the large white-paned window. "It's getting too dry in here for me."
"Will you not stay the night, then?" Melchior asked, betraying an emotion that was something differing from cold disdain.
"No, no. Our lord has an assignment for me that should be dealt with promptly. I'll catch the eleven o'clock train tonight and be in Antwerp by eight tomorrow."
"Then you'd better hurry." Balthasar extracted a pocket watch from inside his silk-lined dining jacket. "It's already nine-thirty."
Helga looked back at him with an unfriendly smirk. "Then I shall depart, maestro. Good evening, gentlemen."
Both men rose gracefully and bowed. "Good evening, Fraulein Vogelweide," said Balthasar.
"And a safe voyage," added Melchior while still attempting to sound detached.
"Thank you," Helga answered with a nod. She casually let herself out, throwing on her heavy fur coat herself despite Sieglinde's swift arrival, and trekked into the blizzard.
"I hope she's satisfied now," Balthasar grumbled, nearly but not quite flopping into his seat.
"I'm sure she is," Melchior remarked while picking up his cup. "She's happiest when in her element."
"Indeed." Balthasar looked at the window askance. "Let's just hope she doesn't get carried away."
A creak suddenly sounded, and both brothers flashed their gazes at the door to the kitchen. It was open slightly with one dark eye showing through the crack.
Balthsar sighed. "Get in here. You still have not finished cleaning up."
There was brief hesitation, then the door opened the rest of the way and revealed Meike's slightly shivering figure carrying a broom and pan. Her clothes were old, torn, and covered with soot and grime. Her trousers had holes that exposed chapped kneecaps; her shirt was clearly too big and was badly stained with an unbelievable range of colors and sizes. The stains were mostly coated with black smudges by now, but without them one would have the impression that the shirt had once belonged to a painter. Her dirty black hair was cropped short, and her twelve-year-old body gave no indication that she was a girl. Black eyes like a mouse's were wide and wary, gauging every word and gesture to calculate the possibility of receiving or avoiding punishment. This was the child whose first name was Meike, but whom the members of the household called "Schattenpage", or simply "Page."
"Has Fraulein Vogelweide departed for the evening?" she asked cautiously as she crept toward the mess of broken dishware that had somehow been forgotten by the gentlemen. That is, until her return reminded them.
Melchior seemed nearly insulted at having forgotten their young servant's clumsiness. "Don't try distracting us with such questions, Page. Don't think that you will not receive reprisal for your carelessness."
"If you don't mind, brother," interrupted Balthasar with an imperious grin, "I would prefer to see Page perform her duties before discussing the matter of punishment. She may yet redeem herself." The older brother winked, but Melchior was not amused.
"Thank you, sir," Meike responded in a low, rushed whisper. She went to her knees and swept as quickly as possible. Neither man knew that every line of conversation since her 'departure' to get the broom rang in her head.
It. That's what Fraulein Vogelweide called her. It did not surprise her, really. Such a woman with the codename "Eis Hexe" could not be expected to have a gentle and sympathetic personality. The thought still cut the girl to the heart, though. Everything in the world seemed determined to reduce her heart to shreds.
"Faster," growled Melchior as he gave her a rough shove in the side with the toe of his shoe.
"Melchior," came Balthasar's warning tone. Meike did not desist from her task.
"She should just be grateful that Kaspar felt ill today. He would have had so much fun with her." Melchior took another sip from his cup, then looked at the bottom of it with dissatisfaction. "She's so bothersome I cannot even dare to ask for another cup. This demands some type of punishment." Then his usually narrow eyes widened and glistened just a touch. "Perhaps the Auto-Dolls . . ."
"No," said Balthasar. "How many times must I tell you? I will think of something to satisfy the order, all right?"
Melchior harrumphed and stood with his cup. "I'll just take care of this myself, then, and go down to the lab. Just looking at her gives me a headache."
Meike observed with furtive glances as the second-oldest Neumann left the parlor, his blue hair and glasses reflecting the firelight in such an alien and menacing way that made her shudder. She did not know whether to fear him or Kaspar, the youngest brother, more.
When the door to the kitchen shut loudly, she spared a glance at Balthasar. He had returned to his book and was swishing some burgundy-colored wine in his glass. That was the strange thing about these vampires: they preferred to work by night and sleep by day, yet no other bodily routine seemed to adhere to this habit. It was almost 10 p.m. now – mid-morning for a Methuselah – but Melchior had been taking tea and Balthasar wine at the same hour. Did the hour of the day not affect the type of food or drink they chose to consume? Would their stomachs not be upset if they had salmon now and pancakes in the morning? Or perhaps it felt normal because those were the foods that humans consumed at those times? This string of questions should have been too much of a bother for her, but she could not help being just a little curious.
When Balthasar's eyes left the pages of his book and met hers, Meike looked back down at her work and realized she had been staring at him for who knew how long.
"What's wrong, Page?" His voice was soft and smooth; it rose and sank in a soothing rhythm, and it stirred each word in a broth of honey. "Did my reading distract you?"
"No, sir," she muttered. It was easy to hear how hoarse her voice must have sounded. She tried to keep her head low, but somehow a long, agile finger found its way beneath her chin, and raised her gaze to that of her master.
"You know you can be honest with me, Page. I certainly hope it was not my appearance that disturbed you. Reading I may be able to put off for a time, but my face cannot be adjusted for your sake. So tell me, Schattenpage, little urchin of the shadows, what is on your mind?"
"It is nothing of importance, sir," she quickly answered and tried to get back to work. Balthasar did not relinquish his gaze, but he did not speak again for a few moments. He began scrutinizing her, though which specific part Meike had no idea. He seemed particularly interested in her eyes, but it was hard to judge.
Meike was careful as she stared into his. There was something surprisingly congenial yet threatening about his amber irises. She could not say that he was kind to her, just as the others were not kind to her, but he did not make every effort to be cruel. She could not decide what he did that was different from Melchior and Kaspar's treatment of her, but she did not shiver so violently under his gaze. Only her hands shook a little.
"Page," he said suddenly, bringing her out of her thoughts, "do you think you are pretty?"
The question was nothing she expected, but she could guess the sort of answer that he wanted. "No, sir."
The corner of his mouth twitched a little. "Do you wish you were pretty?"
Meike needed an extra moment to consider this. Perhaps he did want an honest answer. But what did she truly think? It was hard to be honest when she was not sure what the result of truthfulness would be.
"I . . . I don't think so, sir."
There may have been some secret part of her that wanted to be more pretty. Enough, at least, so that her masters would not kick her as much. But, then, she was not wholly ignorant of the typical fate of a friendless, defenseless pretty girl.
Why not? Why did she not want to be pretty? Maybe it was better to be smacked for clumsiness than to be abused some other way for beauty.
"If I am not pretty and can never be pretty, I should not waste time wishing for something that I will never have. A servant cannot stay pretty, and a pretty girl cannot stay a servant."
"Well spoken," he master replied with a dark, rich chuckle. Her spine tingled. "You are quite right. So never forget that, Page: you are my little ugly servant, and you always will be."
Then he leaned down and whispered in her ear: "That is why I will not throw you in the street. A pretty girl may get by for a while; an ugly little thing like you would not last a week. You need to be here. You knew this when you first came to our doorstep. You have chosen your own fate."
Meike's breath shuddered as she inhaled. I chose this? she thought disbelievingly. Did I ask you to cut my hair and make me wear these clothes? I may never have been pretty, but I was still a girl before I came here.
"What are you thinking now, Mein Page?" His voice was still hushed, still warm despite the harsh words it had uttered seconds before.
Her shoulders rose as she breathed again. "I think I should finish cleaning the kitchen, sir."
His pale-pink lips stretched into a grin. "Then I suppose you must. After that, go to bed. We will need our coffee early in the morning." He leaned back in his stuffed chair and took up the book again. "Gute nacht, Mein Schattenpage."
As the hands on the grandfather clock in the foyer struck eleven-thirty, Meike crawled into the corner of the pantry where a ratty blanket and a few sacks of rice were awaiting her return. The pantry was always chilly in the winter, so she did the best she could with the old rag while curling up in as tight a ball as possible. There was no light, not even from a window. Meike had to wait for her weak human vision to adjust before maneuvering through the supply of liquor bottles, smoked ham, greenhouse-grown vegetables, and a set of silver plates and utensils that still needed polishing.
Meike snuggled into her nook and stuck her hands inside her shirt. Then she pulled from the inside of her trousers' waistband a folded piece of writing-desk paper. She took out a chunk of sharpened charcoal from one of her pockets and began to write in the darkness.
She would write one sentence. She made sure she wrote it every night in the tiniest print possible in order to save space. She needed it to survive each day, to not drown in the imposing ocean of self-disgust and despair. He and the others may have wanted her to forget it, but she would not. They might not have even known what they were trying to drive out of her, but she did, and she would hold fast to it for as long as she could.
Her hands still trembled, this time from the cold. She continued to write, and when she was done, she read it three times over, whispering it to herself and the vittles and silverware that kept her company.
I am Meike von Neumann.
Schattenpage = Shadow Page (a medieval servant of a knight or lord, a post usually allotted to a young boy)
I was tempted to make Balthasar somewhat the good guy, but since I don't really know enough about him yet to justify making him very sympathetic, I leaned toward a more devious interpretation. At least he still doesn't like crude violence. Feel free to criticize, though.