a silver filigree music stand inset with azure sapphires:
As your voice resonates through the filigree music stand, you become immediately aware of lingering emotions within the stand. You detect both pain and loss, as well as a feeling of dismayed resignation.
As your voice touches the stand, your senses are swept 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 filigree music stand in your hand among them before the workshop fades away and the vision ends.
As you sing again to the stand, you are presented with another vision. In contrast to the first vision, this is blurry and vague. From the vibrations, you understand that the filigree 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 vision ends, an aching sorrow surrounding you.
You sing to the filigree music stand, and you finish your verse. You sense some kind of hesitation, but then the next vision slowly appears. 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.
As you sing to the filigree music stand, it shows 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, you feel pulled backwards, into a state where you 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.
As you sing, the vision is slow to come.
Many of the music stands that were piled alongside your filigree music stand are no longer present, as if someone or something has whisked them away. In fact, the entire area seems abandoned and lifeless, the wood around you filled with the broken and charred husks of trees, the snow covered in a grey blanket of ash.
A stooped man in black lopes down the trail, his cloak dangling fox tails. As he comes to a stop in front of the pile of leftover music stands, his face breaks into an alarmingly wide smile. With quick, efficient movements, he stoops to touch each of the music stands, and as his fingers graze over their surfaces, the very life seems to diminish from them.
Finally, his hand comes to rest on you. His skin is smooth and velvety and warm, his caress gentle and loving. But then the warmth suddenly dissipates into an ice cold chill, and an intense searing pain, as if your senses are being sucked from your person, slices through you. You grow numb, and then dizzy, your awareness growing dim. Without warning, the vision abruptly vanishes.
You hear the faint strains of music, and then a complete and lonely silence.