Animated Music Stand
As your voice resonates through the malachite music stand, you become immediately aware of a presence within the stand. The stand is haunted-- but not by a trapped spirit. The spirit within remains voluntarily caged in the stand's physical framework. You detect both pleasure and interest in the spirit as it takes curious note of your song.
When your voice touches the spirit within the stand, it listens to your song for a moment before presenting you with a vision.
An elderly gnomish man works in a lantern-lit room. His brow is creased with concentration as he fits a screw into place on a gleaming music stand and tightens it with a small screwdriver. The screwdriver slips as he is suddenly distracted by a small yellow puppy pouncing on his foot. As if the first brave puppy's move were a single, he is suddenly surrounded by puppies, all sniffing, woofing, licking, and panting. His eyes almost vanish in delighted wrinkles as he laughs at his pets.
Four large dogs sit on the edges of the scene with their tongues lolling out in an amused fashion. Looking up at the largest, the gnome inquires, "Well, Tympani, is it past dinnertime again?" When the wolfhound thumps her tail in agreement, he rises to his feet, smiling all around as he pushes through the fuzzy horde. "Well, then, I'd best feed you, my friends, for there's nothing I love more than music, but there's nothing I love more than you."
He sets the music stand aside in a forest of similar stands on his way out of the room, and you briefly glimpse the very malachite music stand in your hand among them before the workshop fades away and the vision ends.
As you sing again to the stand, the spirit within it listens before giving you another vision. In contrast to the first vision, this is blurry and vague. From the vibrations, you understand that the malachite music stand was not physically present for these events, but they are part of its history all the same.
The gnome stands on stage, proud and straight, as a human kneels to hang a glimmering gold medal about his neck. In one hand, he holds a shining oak flute, and the other cradles a ruby and diamond bracelet of obvious value. Joy shines in his eyes, but the audience's mood is ugly, and the human competitors arrayed to the side glare at him with obvious malice.
The next moments flicker past like a bat swooping in and out of moonlight. As the gnome travels home, he is interrupted by a group of masked human stepping from a building's shadows. They smash his flute, steal the bracelet, score the medal's face into unrecognizability, and leave him face-down in a rubbish heap.
The sadness of the spirit within the music stand surrounds you for a long moment after the vision ends. The spirit aches with sorrow for the gnomish man, and you sense that the spirit innately does not understand why anyone would do such a terrible thing.
You sing to the malachite music stand, and you finish your verse. You sense the spirit's presence and awareness, but a long moment passes before the spirit delivers the next vision. This one is as intense as the last was blurry, and it grips you so powerfully that the sensations and emotions briefly seem like your own.
Brothers and sisters lie in sleepy piles about the floor. You are happy and sleepy, too, though the big ones are a bit restless. It is late for the man to come home, but why worry? He always comes home.
Crunch, crunch, the gravel sounds outside. The good man's feet are little and they don't make such a big sound. New friends! You wiggle, you bounce, you are excited--
WHAM! You cower backward. You are afraid! The four big ones are snarling and bristling-- you knock over some music stands as you scramble for cover. Huge men come inside. They are angry. The four big ones are angry! Suddenly one of the four big ones is down, screaming and writhing, and then another one has fallen, howling his pain. There are long shiny things that are terribly bad. Everything smells of anger and fear. A big hand reaches for you, and you can't escape....
The vision ends, leaving you reeling.
The spirit within the malachite music stand listens in a subdued way before showing you its next vision.
Battered and bruised, the old gnome hurries through the doorway, but his own pain is forgotten as he sinks to his knees in raw horror. Then he moves from one to another of his pets in a dazed fashion, stroking bloodied fur here, caressing a nose there, crying freely and without shame.
At last, he goes to a hidden drawer, and he takes out a carved wooden flute that looks almost as old as he is. He begins to play, and the music he produces is truly wonderous. At first, his song aches with sorrow, but then it slowly eases through regret toward a soft, tender melody that expresses his unconditional love. From there, the flute soars upward, dancing playfully through notes, and he almost smiles through his tears as he serenades his dead and remembers the good times.
One by one, ghostly forms shimmer into view around him. Some small, some large, the ghosts come and sit around him, surrounding him with their love and support, although he cannot see them.
The vision fades away.
When you finish singing, the spirit brings you back to continue the prior vision.
The old man stops playing, but he looks blindly through the spirits of the dogs and puppies, not able to perceive them. One of the big dogs goes and tries to rub up against him, whining softly, but he is unaware of the wolfhound's presence. The puppies are worried at first, but then grow curious about their new existence, and one of them pounces into the scattered music stands in a botched attempt to jump on another puppy.
The puppy's form dissolves into the music stand. When it jumps to its feet, the music stand jumps up as well, startling the poor gnome severely. Then, another puppy tries the same trick, and third, and a fourth, until he is gaping and amazed as the music stands crowd around him and try to cuddle up to him.
"Can it be?" he asks, in a dazed, wondering tone. "Can it truly be..." Then, he is laughing and patting the music stands and hugging them all, regardless of their metal bodies, as they dance around the room in delight. Only the four grown dogs remain apart, watching in loving pride.
The vision ends.
A cold shiver passes unbidden through your body as you enter this vision. The harmonics tell you distinctly that this is not a place within mortal ken.
Looking much older, now, the gnomish man walks down a path through a snowy wood. The four grown dogs range at his side, each looking as solid and physical as he, and the puppy-possessed music stands bounce along behind.
They come to a gate in the wood, and a black-robed woman bearing a staff of crystal stands before it. "I greet you, and your... entourage," she says. "This is your hour and your time." The gnome bows to her as she opens the gate.
When he starts to walk through the gate, the four older dogs follow willingly, but the music stands hesitate and fall back, jostling worriedly and turning this way and that. The old man hesitates as well, looking unhappy. "Lady," he says, "I've got a bit of a problem. You see, I love them more than music, and I know that they love me, but I don't think they're quite ready to go on through yet, and I know that I am...." Beneath her gaze, he fidgets nervously and falls silent.
The black-robed woman considers him for a moment and nods. "Other arrangements will be made. Their hour is not locked to this hour."
His thanks drifts away into the darkness as he passes through the gate, and the four grown dogs follow behind him, vanishing into the darkness. The music stands mill about uncertainly for a moment, but the woman says to them, "Wait here a moment. One will come for you, and then you will return." Obediently, they pile to the side of the path and settle down to wait.
The vision fades away.
When you finish this verse, the spirit does not present you with a vision. Instead, you sense that it is considering you carefully. Its reply comes not truly in words, but in emotion: "Do you like me? Can we be friends?" you sense it asking. If the answer is no, you need only to set the malachite music stand aside and sing no more, but if the answer is yes, you need to sing again.
When you finish singing, the spirit's giddy joy washes over you in waves. For a moment, you glimpse the outline of a roly-poly puppy wiggling in place of the malachite music stand in your hand, but then all you see is the stand. Still, you sense the connection, and you know that you are now the spirit's chosen person, to be followed, trusted, and loved.
You hear a faint spectral bark, and you feel something like a tongue slurping along the side of your cheek.