~x~

STOP ME IF
[ you've heard this ]

~x~

FIVE
[ Let's Poke Out the Eye of the Beholder ]

~x~

"C'mon Roderich," Gilbert tried to placate, raising his arms and offering some entirely manly version of the hug.

No response.

"Roderich!" Gilbert whined, resisting the urge to stomp his foot and huff. And then he thought about it, because here they were, stranded miles and miles away from any source of civilization, and who was going to care if he acted a little immature? So he stomped his foot.

The other continued staring straight ahead, piano-playing fingers gripping tightly onto the steering wheel.

"You know..." Gilbert started, casting a wayward glance at wha was left of their vehicle (it had been a wonderfully-refurbished 1947 Benz as well!), "It hardly does any good to be holding onto a steering wheel when the car's got no wheels."

Roderich steadfastedly ignored the other, choosing to tighten his grip on said useless device.

"There seems to be a fire coming from the east," Ludwig - who had been out charting the barren land - reported. "The guide books that... burnt up with the back seat of the car..." he allowed a moment of mourning for said manuals, "The guide books said that it would be best to seek shelter and safety before the storm clouds came."

"What storm clouds?" Gilbert demanded, right as the droplets began to fall.

"Damnit!" He grumbled, grabbing a third of what meager belongings they managed to scavenge from the wreck of the Benz. Ludwig hoisted the other two-thirds onto his back, assuming that Roderich would be in no position to move anything.

Apparently, this 'anything' included himself.

"...Roderich?" Ludwig asked, as his brother made it to the deeply-forested area. "There's a fire up ahead. You're going to get drenched quickly, and getting wet heads to horrible affliction, such as pneumonia and hypothermia and... and cancer!" Well, maybe not the last one, but it was supposed to be motivating.

The other did not give any signal that he had heard Ludwig's words, choosing to stare deeply at the steering wheel, as if it would provide all the answers to his current predicament.

"Yo, Ludwig!" Gilbert called, from even further in the forest than before, "Are you and pansy-pianist boy coming or not?"

"He's not listening!" Ludwig called back, setting down said pack of items. "You go up ahead - I'll catch up with you!"

"You're kidding, right?" Gilbert snorted, having jogged back to their crash point. "Like I'd leave the two of you in this huge forest by yourselves! What would you guys do when a bear or tiger attacked? Scream for help and run away?"

Ludwig wanted to point out that that would be the most logical (and guidebook-approved!) course of action when dealing with ravenous forest animals, but Gilbert just brushed off his start of a retort, going over to their quasi-comatose friend. Ludwig stifled a sigh before following; Roderich did not bother to look up - and his fingers still had yet to loosen their grip on the steering wheel!

"Hey, Roderich," Gilbert started, only to be cut off with a crisp, clear -

"Silence, Gilbert."

"Psh!" He scoffed, not at all put off, "Look, my little brother has found us some possible shelter, and the rain is getting pretty damnably bad. I understand that it was my fault for turning left -"

"Seventeen times, and then off a cliff," Roderich felt it necessary to add.

"Seventeen frikkin' times, yes," Gilbert repeated - exasperated (and couldn't these people understand that he was born to fight battles and win them and not sit around reading maps?) - before continuing, "But the point being is that we'll never be able to retrieve those works of Wagner. Or Chopin. Or Beethoven."

"Who was German," Ludwig ever-so-helpfully added.

For once, Gilbert was the brother to shoot a glare, hissing, "Do you want him out of the car or not?"

"I refuse to leave this vehicle without my books," Roderich primly stated, keeping his grip steady.

"Well I don't care about your first edition copies," Gilbert snappishly retorted. And then sighed, running a hand through his almost-drenched locks, "I didn't want to retort to this, because it makes me sound like a pansy but... you do know that sitting out in the rain will cause moist bones. And moist bones will lead to inflammed joints and inflammed joints always, always, always lead to arthritis."

Roderich was out of the car and into the foliage before Gilbert had a chance to finish.

"How did you - ?" Ludwig felt utterly justified in asking.

"He's a grade-A moron, that's for certain," Gilbert grumbled, picking up half of Ludwig's pack of items and following after a still-somewhat-angry Roderich, "Cares more about his fingers than his own life!"

Somehow or another, the three of them managed to locate where Ludwig had seen the smoke clouds, despite the fact that said fire had now been clearly extinguished, namely due to the downpour. The source of said blaze was, apparently, a huge manor, situated smack-dab in the clearing of the forest. The manor was tall and grand, with gray-eyed gargoyles overlooking the edges of the roofs, all while the thunderclouds churned in the background.

Ludwig swallowed, because something from his guidebooks and manuals had told him that going into said manor would be a bad idea.

"Maybe we shouldn't - " he tried to warn, but Gilbert was already racing up the steps, and Roderich had already rung the doorbell.

"Welcome to the Bonnefoy Manor," a smartly-dressed butler said, bowing politely. Roderich, entirely used to such speech and mannerisms, easily shrugged off his soaked overcoat and waist-jacket. Gilbert did the same, albeit in a less practiced manner. Ludwig sighed, wondering if they needed introductions at all.

"So sorry to interrupt," he said, handing the butler his own jacket, "Our car... overturned... in the nearby woods, and we were unable to find any sight or sound of civilization, save for your manor."

"Unexpected guests...?" A cheerful voice interrupted from above. The three of them were entirely unprepared to see a blond man leap gracefully from one of the upper balconies. "Ah, well, what's three more or less in a party of easily a hundred, correct?" He laughed gaily, shaking their hands and pulling them towards the ballroom, "There's plenty to eat and drink, so be merry, as the English would say!"

"And who might you be?" Roderich - of course - and without batting an eye at the festivities or... food.

"I am the host of this ball - and the owner of the mansion! Francis Bonnefoy, at your service tonight!" And here, he did a mock bow, before straightening and sweeping a hand through the masses of ladies and gentlemen. "Enjoy yourself to the fullest - eat, drink, and partake in a couple dances; there is only one rule for tonight's game."

"One rule?" Ludwig echoed.

"What's this about a game?" Gilbert asked at the same time, immediately smelling something suspicious.

"Yes, one rule," Francis repeated with a smile, "Do you see the assortment of flowered tiles on the floor? Notice how my guests of the evening are all mingling in circles - circles that make certain that they will not touch any of the rose-patterned tiles. That, mes amis, is the sole rule of tonight - you are not allowed to walk on any of the rose-patterned tiles."

"What if we do?" Gilbert immediately asked.

"Well..." Francis smiled again, "You'll just have to find out, now won't you?" And with a cheerful laugh and wave, he was off to the balcony of the manor once more.

"Don't step on the rose-patterned tiles, don't step on the rose-patterned tiles," Ludwig repeated for good measure.

It was Roderich of all people that scoffed in response.

"Absolutely ridiculous, if you ask me - this music is Liszt, hardly to the waltz's taste at all," he muttered, carelessly walking forward. Ludwig pointed, and Gilbert watched with something approaching horror as their friend's foot just stepped on the closes rose-patterned tile.

"My dear fellow, so early in the game and already at a loss?" An entirely different butler appeared out of nowhere - taking a good five years off of Gilbert's life, if his heart had anything to say about it. "Well, here is your dancing partner for the evening," he pulled out an entirely hideous young lady, cuffing the two of them together.

Roderich didn't even have the time to protest as the butler strong-armed him (and his new 'dancing partner') towards the center of the ballroom floor - he was simply too speechless at the fact that her voice sounded like the death of a thousand cats.

"Poor Roderich," Ludwig managed to choke out, scooting farther from the dreaded tiles, "That man Bonnefoy wasn't joking about the consequences!"

"Oh My God," Gilbert stared on, "Was that - her face - those legs - that voice - was that even a woman?"

Needless to say, the two of them proceeded for the next hour and a half, sepping carefully away from any loud and noisy crowds, and as far away as possible from the rose-patterned tiles. But 'far away' meant four tiles at the most, seeing as how the manor's floor layout had been so carefully structured and precisely ordered.

All the same, one slip was all it took. It was Gilbert that had pitched forward, because of a banana peel left carelessly on the floor. His feet slipped - fell right out in front of him, actually - and Ludwig instinctively grabbed his brother back. By the nature of physics, and equal and opposite reaction occurred, namely Ludwig being the person to fall forward - and then, for a second -

His foot landed on the rose-patterned tile.

"Har har har~" another girl - even uglier than the one before (because at least the one before had a nose and all her fingers), to Gilbert's surprised (and Ludwig's rising horror) was brought by the butler that had let them in. She was laughing while being cuffed to Ludwig; laughing still as the two of them were dragged off in the same direction as Roderich.

"Gotta stay alive, gotta stay alive," Gilbert muttered to himself, glancing at the tiles all the way through. "Otherwise Ludwig's sacrifice would have been all in vain; gotta keep off the tiles... who knows?" And here, he shuddered, "The girl I'm chained to might not even have hair - or legs - or teeth!" He would have all but screamed at at the terrifying image, save for the fact that he was now approached by yet another butler.

A quick glance at his feet showed him that no, he actually was not standing on a rose-patterned tile.

"...And here is your dancing partner for the evening," the butler concluded, clicking on the cuffs to possibly the most beautiful woman Giulbert had ever seen. She was a brunette - green eyes, pink lips, and a perfectly complimentary dress.

"Is this what I get for playing by the rules?" He choked out as they were led to the floor.

"I don't know about you," the lady started with a huff, "But I'm here because I stepped on a rose-patterned tile!"

~x~

The jokes that appeared last chapter - in order - are "Really Hard Sobriety Test," "Lady Speeds to the Restroom," and "Policeman Versus Man Who Slept With His Wife." Sorry for taking a bit to update; I hope you don't mind the shortness of the chapters too much...