No matter how much changes, I still remember the people I met in the Prendergast mansion.
Once, Masteria and the places within had only recently been opened to the public. New Leaf City became the hottest new place for an Explorer to see. After all, back then no one could access Leafre, and the Nautilus hadn't come back. One change would attract everyone.
Around October of that year, I heard of some very strange rumors. The gates to an old, abandoned mansion had opened. No one was stopping people from getting in, save an old man who bitterly warned passersby that it was a cursed place.
Old Man Tom, as many people called him, called out to me as I approached the gates. "You don't really intend to go in there, do you?"
I answered just like any Explorer worth their salt would do: "Of course I do!"
He scoffed at me. "You'd better reconsider. That place can only bring you trouble! You do know who owns it, don't you?"
"...The king of ghosts, come to kidnap my sibling and make me confront him in one night or else?"
On hindsight, sarcasm was probably a bad thing to reply with, as Tom flew into a rage. "You wouldn't be saying that if you had seen the horrors in there! This used to belong to the famed Jonas Prendergast! He used to create all sorts of wonderful toys, and his later works could even move! Sing, dance, play! Children everywhere loved them!"
I had never heard of this Prendergast before, but I could easily believe that there were living toys, having visited Ludibrium. However, I've also seen horror movies. "So, what, now the toys are possessed by vengeful spirits?"
"/Exactly!/ Jonas disappeared one day without warning, and his toy line was discontinued. However, you can still hear the roaring of his toy-making machine from in there sometimes, and people who look inside say they see those same toys running wild, attacking anyone that sets foot in there."
"Interesting." Unfortunately for him, an Explorer is the type to charge right into danger. I pushed the gate open and, ignoring his protests, went through the larger doors and into the manor.
The first thing to greet me were the dolls floating and flitting about, just like the toys in Ludibrium would do. Sometimes, I could swear I could see strings attached to their wrists and heads, leading up briefly before they faded into the ether.
They tried to surround me, but I had already faced Jr. Wraiths and Zombie Mushrooms -- I did not fear the supernatural. Without flinching, I set flame to the dolls, watching them burn for a few seconds before walking away.
It was then that I spotted a butler at the top of the stairwell in the lobby. He introduced himself as Edmunds, and mentioned that the pantry was being raided by the twisted toys; the daughter of the toymaker who owned this mansion was hungry for candy, but the cupboards were devoid of anything. And who would let a little girl go without candy during the Halloween season?
It took maybe only an hour to wrestle the candy away from the spirits that roamed the halls. They came in all sorts of shapes: jacks-in-the-boxes, jesters, babylike dolls with rattlers, and of course the marionettes that always seemed to stalk me. Still, they all fell just like the creatures I hunted, and I took back what they had stolen easily.
With a variety of candy in my bag, it was time to seek out that young girl. The manor's halls twisted and turned, and sometimes I felt like I was going in circles, but eventually I found her bedroom. Almost immediately, I could see that she was probably the most spoiled thing in the whole world, with a frilly canopy on her queen-sized bed and a huge portrait of her taking up one wall. The girl herself was kneeling on the ground, surrounded by toys, and she seemed to have been crying.
What struck me the most was how much she resembled the dolls I kept seeing. She had the same strawberry-blonde hair, the same blue dress, and even the same red ribbon. The marionettes had failed to capture her innocent radiance, however, although that could have been attributed to the fact that they kept trying to attack me.
She looked up and, instead of being shocked to see me, just kept crying, her lip trembling. "Annabelia... My doll, she..."
I was able to calm her down a little by giving her the gummy candies, and she related her tale to me. Her name was Sophilia, and she had been looking for her favorite doll, which looked like her. She had searched the hallways and everything, but was scared away by the marionettes. Obviously, those hadn't been the ones she was looking for.
The only real clue I had to this was that her step-mother had a history of taking away her toys as punishments, often for things she didn't really do. When she asked her if she had taken the doll, she was angrily rebuffed and shooed away. I'm no stranger to hostile parents -- Chief Stan, Mr. Wetbottom -- so I decided to try and speak to her.
The hallways still weren't familiar to me - I could have sworn I was walking on the ceiling at times, with how twisted they were - but a room heavily-scented with powder and perfume led me right to her step-mother's bedroom. Almost immediately, I was greeted by a very beautiful but very upset lady in an elegant blue dress. She complained that her husband was still ignoring her and wouldn't come out of his factory, and that the "little brat" stole her jewelry. I mentioned that I suspected she had taken Sophilia's doll, and she told me in no uncertain terms that how she dealt with her daughter was none of my business, and that she'd be keeping it until she got her earrings back.
I decided that Wetbottom looked like a wonderful, loving parent in comparison.
As I wondered just why step-mothers always seemed to be horrible, she made a demand of me: go deliver a pie she bought to her husband and see if it'd draw him out. She mentioned that she had gotten it the last time she had visited Olde Sapp Village, but that it was still fresh. Olde Sapp Village?, I thought. Didn't that place not exist anymore?
At least she was kind enough to tell me that, behind a bookcase at the top of the library, there was a hidden passage into the equally-hidden factory, where the famed Jonas Prendergast worked. The way up was treacherous, and the toy horses that charged about weren't helping any. To be truthful, I'm not very good at climbing and jumping, and I almost fell down many times.
Still, at the very end, I found him. Prendergast was working away, his machine churning out toy after toy, each of which fell into a hole that led to who-knows-where.
Just like his wife, he gave me a very cold greeting, pushing away the cherry pie I offered him and not even trying to introduce himself or acknowledge my existence. I almost gave up then, and turned my back to try and go back down, when I suddenly heard a shout. "It is done! You, with the staff!" He pointed at me. "You're going back out, aren't you!?"
"Maybe." My patience with these people was beginning to wane at this point, but I don't think any of them noticed at the time.
"I crafted this for my daughter." He showed me what he had in his hands: a porcelain doll that, while not moving, had obviously been worked on for a long time.
In spite of that, the toy just looked...odd. It was too lifelike, barring those blank and unseeing eyes. It looked a little too much like Sophilia. It was better than the marionettes, but still not something I would have been overjoyed to be given.
"Bring it to her. I can't be bothered to leave my factory." Prendergast patted his machine, as if walking away from it for just a second would bring ruin to him. "There is a door over there. It'll lead you out."
I was used to people making demands of me without so much as a please or a thank you, so I took the doll in my arms and left through the wooden door.
I didn't expect to take a sudden fall, landing right in the middle of a hallway. It wasn't a very large drop, but I didn't get a good chance to brace myself and just sat there stunned for a minute, before finally being able to stumble away.
I was still chugging down healing potions when I realized that I wasn't where I had been earlier. It was still the Prendergast Mansion, of course, but now it was...different. All the lights had dimmed, and a cold chill blew down those twisted hallways. For the first time there, I felt truly lost.
Spirits -- or was it the toys themselves that were the monsters? -- came for me, as usual, but this time I couldn't fight back. The marionettes closed in, and I had my staff gripped in my hand, but... Well, I simply froze up. They too looked a little too much like Sophilia, and now that I had met the real girl, fighting them was growing difficult.
One of them tried to pull off my bag, and another was grabbing my arm. I could feel the icy feeling fading away into searing pain, and I realized that I couldn't just ignore them. I reacted mostly on instinct, conjuring fire all around me, just like I always did as a fighter.
As always, the dolls collapsed and were destroyed. The difference was that I didn't walk away. I stayed, I watched, I /listened/.
They twisted and flailed as they were burned into cinders. The strings broke apart, and the dolls went limp suddenly, now just normal, Sophilia-esque objects turning black and charred. As it happened, though, I could hear something: a sob, just like a little girl's, just like Sophilia's.
I fell to my knees. Looking back, I guess the spirits were attacking my emotional defenses that time. All I could see was the orange glow of fire, and all I could hear was that sobbing dissolving into a hysterical scream, which stopped abruptly as something snapped and shattered, and then there was nothing but silence.
I don't know how long I stayed there like that, but when I returned to my senses, I could see the butler standing in front of me. He held a handful of earrings, still dusted with ash from the dolls I incinerated.
"Please, follow me to Lady Ludmilla's quarters."
Edmunds explained some of what was going on as we walked. Jonas had married and remarried many times in his life, sometimes losing a wife to divorce, sometimes losing her to death. He never really did grow attached to any of them, and it didn't help that some like Ludmilla weren't ashamed of the fact that they married him for his money. The only person he truly cared for was his daughter Sophilia; her mother, Annabelia, died when she was very young. He only married again because he thought someone could fill in Annebelia's shoes, but we both could see how well that was going.
He went quiet as I entered the step-mother's room, as if he didn't trust himself to keep talking without saying something nasty about her. Ludmilla still seemed annoyed that her husband hadn't shown up, but she reluctantly took back her jewelry and gave me the doll. I didn't trust myself to say anything, either, so I wordlessly nodded my thanks and rejoined the butler.
At first, things were too awkward to continue our conversation. On the way back to Sophilia's room, however, Edmunds stopped me. We were back in the lobby, and he seemed to be struggling for words.
"...One night," he finally began, "everyone was asleep after another day of work, barring one person. Sophilia knew about the secret passages in the mansion, but had always been forbidden to use them herself, as they were often tricky to move around in. No one was awake to watch her, and..."
He forced a smile for a moment, still trying to find the right words to say. "She was a lot like you Explorers, you know. She would always want to investigate everything, no matter what the risk was. Sophilia... She got into an unlit fireplace and began to climb up the chimney. Perhaps she wanted to see if there was another way into her father's factory? It was never a secret to her that some of the fireplaces were entryways. It doesn't matter anymore. All that mattered was... Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. The young mistress...lost her footing. I found her body at the bottom of the fireplace the next day."
Edmunds looked away, trying not to show how he was beginning to cry. I understood then what that last noise I heard was. I had heard Sophilia fall to her death. Perhaps that was why the ghosts chose to possess the dolls in her likeness; what better to torment people than by taking advantage of a tragedy?
The loyal butler summoned enough nerve to keep talking. "My master was completely destroyed by this. He locked himself in his factory. No one could convince him to come out. Soon, I... I managed to find another way into his factory, through his library. And, of course, of course something else had happened!" Edmunds lost his composure briefly, head in his hands. "...Master Prendergast was dead. He had wasted away, all alone in there."
Given that I had spoken to him and his daughter, I came to one conclusion. "...Is everyone here a--"
"Fifty years ago. We all lived then. His death was not the end, however, for as soon as we found him, the machine he used to create toys began to churn again. However, instead of the joyous things he used to make, all that came out were dead, frigid monstrosities. And then the spirits came in..." Edmunds sighed. "We even saw Sophilia running around in the halls, completely unaware of her own death. Most of the staff fled, and I believe Lady Ludmilla died around this time. Of what, I do not know. However, I stayed for Sophilia, and as long as she and my master are here, I will serve them. But, please..." Although he had calmed down, he seemed desperate for a permanent release from this pitiful existence. "Please, you must save my master. He is the one most affected by this, creating mockeries of his work. You've been brave so far, and I believe you are our best hope."
I'm an Explorer, not an exorcist. My answer to the undead is to shoot a flaming arrow right through them. And yet, there was no way I could refuse them. It was a family torn apart by tragedy, and all that were left were spirits, both melancholy and vengeful, some aware of their fates, others completely clueless. If I turned my back then, what would have happened? Would they have continued that illusion of being alive, with only specters as their friends?
I promised Edmunds that I would do everything I could. He nodded, still lost in his painful memories, and I chose to leave him at the top of the stairs. My first priority was to seek out Sophilia. This time, I wasn't confused at all by the hallways. They were perfectly straight, and I knew exactly which door to open.
The doll I had gotten from Ludmilla, which had been named after the girl's late mother, looked just like Sophilia, but otherwise shared little in common with the dolls I had been attacked by. It was made of cloth and stuffing, and while it was far from amateur work, I could see a few stitches done incorrectly here and there. It was dirty, having been played with often and well-loved. In spite of, or perhaps because of that, it brought back my own memories of a happy childhood, of handmade crafts and loving family. I could see why this was Sophilia's favorite.
She squealed happily as she laid eyes upon it, swiftly but tenderly taking it off my hands. "Annabelia, where've you been!? I'm so glad you're back!" She hugged it tight, grinning for the first time in what seemed like forever. "Thank you for bringing her back!" she said to me. "She gives her thanks, too!"
It had almost slipped my mind that I had been given another doll. "Your father has a present for you."
"Really!?" Sophilia was happy as a lark now, as if all her birthdays had come at once.
I removed the doll Prendergast had created from my bag, and to my despair, Sophilia's expression grew into that of sadness and confusion.
"Ah... It's really nice." She smiled, but it seemed more like she was only doing so because it was from her father.
"Is something wrong?" I asked. "He said he had been working on it for you for a long time." Years and decades, maybe, for all I knew.
"Oh, no, I like it enough!" she reassured. "It's just that... Daddy always used to make such nice dolls, like Annabelia. I didn't even care if they moved or not, because I always felt happy with his toys. But lately, they've all been...cold. Unfeeling."
So, even she wasn't completely oblivious. At least I knew then that almost everyone could agree with me that these dolls just weren't right.
Sophilia looked away, feeling guilt for what she said. Finally, she turned back to me. "Give me that one, and I'll give you Annabelia."
She made the switch as she kept talking. "I just want him to... Maybe it'll make Daddy feel better. She always makes me happier when I'm down." Sophilia smiled once more, this time genuinely. "You're a nice person. Please, just one last favor!" She even gave me puppy-dog eyes, as if I needed more convincing.
I made sure to give her a hug before I left. I didn't know when was the last time Sophilia had ever been hugged, and in that moment, she felt completely real, and I forgot that she was a ghost.
To be honest, at the time I didn't understand exactly what she was hoping to accomplish, but I needed to confront Prendergast at some point. Thankfully, making my way up to his factory was so much easier that time around, and the toys didn't seem to even notice me. I wonder if Edmunds or Sophilia were looking out for me then?
It seemed that Prendergast had expected me to come. "Ah, you're back. How did she like it?" To his left, I could see the plate of pie, completely untouched. To his right, there was a hammer that looked small enough to be used for the horse-sized toys, if he ever chose to make any by hand.
"Not much, to be blunt."
His brow furrowed in annoyance for a second, and then he turned back to his machine to hide his expression. "It's the life of a toymaker. Don't worry, I'll make a new one for her! A better one! So, what was wrong with it? Face cracked somewhere? Dress the wrong shade of blue?"
"No, it's too accurate!" I raised my voice, hoping to drown out the noise of the machine. Out of the corner of my eye, toy horses with blank eyes dropped into the hole. "It's uncanny and kinda creepy! She likes her old dolls better!"
"Nonsense!" Prendergast tried to laugh it off like it was a silly idea, but instead sounded far too angry at what I was saying. "I've been perfecting my work for years! Everyone wants a Prendergast toy! They come to life now, I'll have you know!"
"And have you noticed that lately no one has been buying them!? Look at what you're making!" A jack-in-the-box chortled as it fell. "What good is a toy that comes to life if it's not a friendly and inviting toy at all!?"
"Business is /slow/!" he snapped, turning to me. "There's just... There are just a couple bugs to work out! If I can make them better, and make them /faster/," he pressed a few buttons on the panel, and the machine whined in response, "then maybe people will--"
"Maybe you should see your daughter's present!" I yelled right back, before presenting Annabelia to him.
"/That/ thing?" he asked, as if he couldn't believe such a doll had ever existed. "/That/ old piece of work?"
"/This/ old piece of work was the first doll you ever gave your daughter. It's her favorite toy. She named it after her mother."
Having reached the end of my rope, I shoved the doll into his hands, forcing him to at least pay some attention to it. For a moment, I thought he was going to lash out at me, or even try and sic his toys on me.
Prendergast's anger melted away as he looked over the doll. For the first time in decades, it looked like sanity was returning to him.
His grip on the doll tightened, and he looked back at the machine. I could see that it was now producing more marionettes, in her likeness.
Without warning, Prendergast took his hammer and slammed it into the panel repeatedly. His screams of anger and remorse mingled with the crashing sound of metal against metal. However, there was no use in it; the infernal machine continued to run, completely unharmed. The dolls giggled mockingly at us as they disappeared from sight.
Prendergast collapsed to all fours, picking up the doll once more. "Sophilia, I... Oh, God, what have I done? I... I created those? Those things? I don't even remember when I started that!"
I approached him carefully, still unsure if he'd swing into another violent mood.
"...No, I-I do remember. When she died, I just couldn't believe I had lost her, my reason for living, and my work reflected that... Except I still wanted to create happiness for the world! I thought that maybe I could be happy once more if I did! But I was just... It was all just denial. All I was making were monsters. I'm not a toymaker. I'm a mad man."
I wasn't sure exactly how to reply. A mere minute ago, I had been in a screaming match with him, and he seemed too far gone to save. Now he was finally realizing what he had become.
"...You." He grabbed the leg of my pants. "Next to the door, there is a key. Take it, and leave this place. Give the key to somebody you can trust, and lock the front door. Lock the gate if you have to. This machine... I created and perfected it so that it would be indestructible, and the only thing I can do is trap these toys-- no, these monsters in here."
"What about you, then?"
He gave a bitter smile. "As long as I can be assured nothing will ever escape the mansion, I will be okay from now on. It's long overdue for me and Sophilia to move on from here. Now, please, hurry and get out."
As I left, I heard him quietly call out his 'thank you' to me.
Edmunds was no longer in the lobby when I returned; looking back, I wish I could have taken the time to tell him and Sophilia goodbye. However, I wanted to bring peace to the family as soon as I could, and walked out the massive doors. I had forgotten what the outside was like, and the smell of the forest nearly made me sneeze.
"You!" Old Man Tom was still there, and he still seemed to be quite angry. "I told you, didn't I!? That mansion is cursed!"
"It won't be for long," I replied in a dismissive manner, turning back to the doors and starting to lock them. "I'm gonna calm the spirits and shut away the toys, once and for all."
"Really, now?" His tone was questioning, as if he didn't believe I could do anything for them. "And what's that you're doing over there?"
"Prendergast gave this to me." I came through the gates, showing the key. I would have just kept locking up and ignoring Tom, had he not walked to me then.
"Wait... That's the key!"
"And this is a lock," I muttered, not really paying attention. "Here's a gate, and we're on some grass, and--"
"No... How did you get it!? I left it in that place, and...
"I just said, Prendergast gave it to me." I thought of something then. "...You had this key?"
"I dropped it a long time ago, but that's not the point! Jonas... My brother has been dead for over fifty years!"
I had been treating him with contempt because of his nagging, but this piece of info changed everything. "Your /brother/!?"
Tom sighed. "...I am Thomlin Prendergast, the younger sibling. I wanted nothing to do with the toymaking scene, but I respected him enough. When I heard that my niece was dead and that he had gone mad, I and a search party tried to go in and talk some sense into him. However, that's when people began to say they saw Sophilia's ghost. The housekeeping staff left, one by one, and soon even my allies were abandoning what seemed to be a lost cause; Jonas was in his factory and wouldn't come out, no matter how much anyone pleaded."
I leaned back against the gates, listening. I had thought I had heard the full story from Edmunds, but it seemed not to be the case.
"Eventually, all that was left was me, the butler, and Ludmilla. That shrew couldn't stand the idea of leaving her life of luxury, and she was starting to lock herself in her room for days at a time as well; never saw her again. The butler finally found another passageway into the factory...where I found Jonas, starved and slumped over the machine." Tom sighed, reflecting on that moment. "The machine came back to life shortly after, creating those mockeries of this toys. I guess his spirit was running the thing, if what you say is true."
"It can't be destroyed, but I can seal it away." I held up the key. "Prendergast... I mean, Jonas says he'll be okay if I can do that. Him, Sophilia, everyone."
Tom just stared at me for a bit, before responding. "I want that key."
Wordlessly, I handed it over. He had spent who-knows-how-long warning away travelers from this place, so it would be fitting for him to be the protector of the key.
However, after Tom pocketed it, he took out something else, showing it to me. It was a necklace, with a large purple gem in a golden chain. It glowed a tiny bit in the darkness, and I felt comforted just looking at it. "This was Jonas' gift for Sophilia. He wanted me to hold onto it so she wouldn't stumble upon it, and it was supposed to be for her sixteenth birthday. It's a protective pendant that will keep its wearer safe. You've done so much for her and for Jonas...and for me. I'm giving it in return for the key."
"You...really mean that?" I glanced back at the mansion. I didn't really want to take something meant for Sophilia, but then again, I had already locked away everything.
"It's my way of thanking you, and of wishing you nothing but the best."
I clasped the necklace in my hands. "...Thank you, Thomlin. Please take care."
There wasn't much more to be said after that, and we parted ways that night.
It's been over three years since I showed up in that forest. The world continues to change, but it's still mostly oblivious to what happened to Jonas Prendergast. The tales of a haunted mansion overrun by ghosts and evil toys have mostly died, though, and I've come to believe that the spirits are finally resting.
People ask me where I get the purple pendant I wear all the time, as it's not like other talismans people wear. I just say that I'm holding onto it for a friend of mine, since she can't have it right now. I too have changed and continue to change, but I still remember the night I met that family.