Even from a meter away she could hear liveliness spilling out of the ballroom, light filling every corner of the large palace. The area glittered, as though it had been decorated with the very stars that lit up the sky. A single step into the room and she was brought into a world different from the one she had known all her life. She radiated opulence, a tiara sitting daintily on her neatly put-up hair her fringe sweeping across her forehead and draping at the sides of her face, framing it. Her gown was midnight blue, ruffles coming down the middle stopping at the belt on her waist. Long, bell sleeves stopped right at her elbow, making her arms look delicate. Her petticoat skirt had ruffles going from the top descending like the spiral staircases of a palace, stones adorning it so that it looked like the night sky; its length reached the floor, covering her ankles that she had grown to be so insecure about. She wore a black choker with a glass pendant that rested right at the hollow of her collarbone, matching with slippers so delicate it could shatter under the slightest pressure; yet she strode firmly. A night so lavish that she could normally never experience, but at what cost?
Nene Yashiro, stuck in her dusty, quiet home, had nothing but dreams of meeting her Prince Charming who would save her. Minutes and hours of desolation slowly melted into months and eventually years of an endless cycle. Her already tear-stained sheets had been soaked further from the thought of one more day like this.
“Please,” she cried out “if anyone can hear my plea—save me from this nightmare!”
She jolted, sitting up when she heard a feminine chuckle. “You wish to meet your prince, is that right?”
Looking in every direction, she found no one around; yet the voice continued, whispering. “I can give you what you want, but only for tonight.”
What seemed to be a woman around her age appeared in front of her, light brown hair in shaggy braids that contrasted her haunting blue eyes,the only upper part of her face that could be seen. She hid herself with a cloak, its color blending into the wooden walls of Nene’s home. With a swift motion of her hands, she traced a pattern into the air with a wand.
“W-what are you…?” Nene’s voice trembled, ruby eyes blown wide open. Just at that moment, a dress materialized into the woman’s hands. She approached the cowering girl, who only backed up into the wall in response.
“You’ve read fairytales sometime in your life, haven’t you? Think of me as your fairy godmother.” A sickly sweet smile graced her features, “Only I won’t be as giving.”
The pale-haired girl glanced at the dress in front of her, admiring the craftsmanship and handiwork put into it. It gave a stark contrast to the tattered rags she called ‘clothes’. “What do you mean?” She glowered.
“I mean,” Settling the dress into the girl’s lap she began to trace into the air once more, “there’s something you will have to do for me in return.” She finished, pulling out a weapon from thin air. Its blade glimmered in the dark room. The already-frightened girl recoiled, feeling her heart drop to her stomach as she began to understand what the lady in front of her was asking for.
“N-no… I can’t…! I can’t possibly do that!” She felt her heart pace quicken, hands turning clammy at the thought of her task. The mask-clad figure sighed as she noticed tears welling up in the girl’s eyes. “That simply won’t do.” Though disappointment was evident in her tone, she kept a smile plastered on her face.
She held out the weapon with both hands, giving a better view of the instrument. “It’s the perfect length, you see. Very easy to conceal.” She received no response but continued nonetheless, knowing that the other was listening. “Nobody knows who you are, Nene. You could very easily get away with it.” Something glimmered in her eyes that the girl couldn’t quite identify, yet it sent shivers down her spine. “I can guarantee that no one will even notice it. I can even guarantee you your prince.” Finally, she took one last step closer, the weapon directly in reach. “Tell me, aren’t you tired of living this life?”
Her last words rang in Nene’s head, clouding all rational thought. Every waking second of her life up to this moment had been nothing but pain. Could she handle this emptiness any longer? If she passed up this opportunity, what would happen to her then?
With a shaky hand, she slowly reached for the hilt, feeling cold steel on her palm as she gripped it loosely. Holding it with both hands in front of her, she could see her reflection on its blade. Had she always looked this miserable? Dark circles under her red, puffy eyes with her silvery locks sticking out and tangling everywhere. She never wanted to see it again.
“Tell me what I have to do…”
Her ‘fairy godmother’ smiled.
A wave of insecurity hit her once she entered the room, she didn’t belong here. Surrounding her were aristocrats and members of the bourgeoisie, clad in gold and garments made out of the finest silk. Some dancing to the melodious symphonies being played by the live orchestra, something she only ever got to hear from afar if she was lucky. Others stood in groups, glasses of alcoholic beverages in their hands. Mindless chatter and laughter filled the air and suddenly turned into static noise when something caught her eye.
Bright eyes that reminded her of honey with specks of hazel pierced right through her cold façade, leaving her feeling vulnerable until they turned away. It was only then after she noticed that she had been holding her breath.
‘What was that just then?’ She thought, furrowing her eyebrows as she felt a tinge of warmness spread through her. Though subconsciously she knew that she wanted to see those eyes once more. Looking around the ballroom, she couldn’t deny that there were many men who she would consider a sight for sore eyes. Despite this, none of them entirely stood out. Keeping her eyes on the ground she toyed with the strands of hair left out to frame her face, biting her lip at the strange feeling that bubbled up within her and made her heart jump. She felt as though she was waiting, anticipating something.
“You look lonely standing there alone don’t you?” She flinched, a question directed at her? Hesitantly, she looked up at the source of the voice, only to be met by the same amber eyes she had just been thinking about. A good look at him led her to believe that the young man was just about her age. Short, bluntly cut jet black hair framed his features that made his youth evident. He had a warm, welcoming smile; and though his eye color was as warm as the sun, his eyes themselves held a contrasting coldness to them. He sported a black frock coat with golden lining, sleeves ending at his cuffs; underneath it was a simple white shirt with ruffles. Breeches that matched his coat ended right below his knees, making his white stockings and sleek, black shoes evident. Nene could confirm that he was definitely, undeniably-
Not her type at all.
She could feel her heart thumping in her chest at the realization of what he had just asked. “Would you care to dance?” He smiled, holding his hand out to her. At this, her usual blazing fire of a personality wore down into a mere flicker of a flame. She felt the blood rising to her face, her ears warming up as she took his hand.
“I’m sorry, may I know your name?” Something about him enticed her, the way that his eyes held something entirely different from the expression on his face, the underlying tone of his otherwise cheerful voice that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She wanted to know more.
He led her to the dance floor, that same smile never fading. “Amane Yugi.” Upon reaching a spacious enough area he faced her, taking her other hand. “Just call me Amane.”
“Amane…” The name rolled off her tongue naturally, as if she had said it a thousand times before.
His smile grew at this. Though it was ever so subtle that Nene probably wouldn’t have noticed it had she not been paying close attention to every detail of the young man’s face. Now that they were face-to-face she realized that he was not much taller than her, given that her slippers had just an inch of a heel.
Definitely not her idea of a Prince Charming; she thought, in an attempt to convince herself to ignore her heartbeat drumming at her ears, as she couldn’t help but notice the way he held her hand, warmth blooming on her fingertips as his slender fingers delicately grasped hers.
“…And your name is?” An expectant voice pulled her out of her daze, making her flush at the realization that she had zoned off. “Ah… Nene Yashiro!” She sputtered out awkwardly, making her partner look down at her and grin smugly.
“Nene, huh?” If she wasn’t mistaken, she was sure she heard something playful in his tone. All her thoughts died down and her mind went blank as he brought his face inches from hers, sending her into a state of panic.
She was certain that her face had just bloomed like a rose in spring.
“You know... I asked you to dance because, frankly…” He avoided her gaze, his eyes shying away from crimson red boring right through him. “Frankly, you looked absolutely pitiful standing there all alone.” His eyes turned back to her, sparkling with mischief while his warm smile turned into a malicious grin.
She felt herself turn pale, all warmth stripping itself from her body at this statement. “Wh-wha…”
Amane let out a hearty laugh at the sight of his partner, flustered with her mouth gaping open and closed like a fish. And though the situation itself filled the one-night princess with dread, she couldn’t help but smile at the noise of joy that filled her ears and etched itself into her mind. Perhaps she wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t a dashing prince that she would spend the rest of her days with.
If only she had known that this magic wouldn’t last for long.
Pulled by strong yet elegant stallions that matched the glowing moon, the carriage was already en route to the palace—where a grand ball was being held. Every person of every background around the village had heard the news; some having the privilege to be invited, while most only dreaming to be able to attend. Yet trembling in the hard-wooden vehicle, contemplating the pact she had just agreed to, was a fair maiden.
‘Fair maiden.’ The thought made her let out a bitter chuckle. All her life she had known her place, and this wasn’t it. Knuckles turning white from gripping the cold seat beneath her, she winced, attempting to stomach the antsy feeling roaring in her gut. Was it fear? Anxiety? Perhaps maybe even excitement?
“I hope you’re not regretting this already.” The chipper female reached over to put her hand over the other’s reminding her to loosen her grip. A shiver ran down her spine.
Of course, her hand held no warmth. What human could possibly be so optimistic about robbing another one of life?
Noticing the lack of response, she drew her hand back and offered a pitying smile. “Trust me, you won’t regret this once you step inside that castle. I’ll guarantee you everything you’ve ever wanted.”
Nene looked up at this statement, giving the sorceress in front of her an unreadable expression. “So… How exactly will I know who my target is?”
Excitement filled the cloaked woman as her client finally took an interest. “I don’t doubt that you’ll know him when you see him. You know what to do, right?” She gave her a sick, twisted grin.
Unsure of how to respond, she smoothed her hands out on her lap, feeling a strap wrapped around her thigh under the soft fabric of her gown. At the side was a sheath, hiding the small yet efficient weapon until the moment she decides to strike. “…Yes.” She looked away from the blank eyes that stared at her expectantly, opting for a short response to dispel the conversation.
The air was dead silent, save for the trotting of the horses, up to the moment that the carriage pulled up in front of the castle.
“Then, I wish you the best of luck on your mission.” She shot the hesitant girl a knowing smile.
Nene hadn’t kept track of the time, nor did she exactly care to. The pairs dancing around them at the start of the night had long dispersed or switched partners. Her newly-found friend, who showed no signs of letting go of her anytime soon, didn’t seem to mind either. She had always dreamt of this, whatever it was—whether it was the comfort of having someone, a friend, which she could confide in or the way her heart sang to the melody of his voice. It made time feel as though it had stopped and it made the dazzling ballroom all the more beautiful.
He was silly, capricious, a bit rude, and even charming. From the countless conversations they had throughout the night, she learned that Amane had a fascination for what hid beyond the endless sky that humans could never reach. It was adorable and oddly fitting, as she could’ve sworn he had a smile that shone brighter than the stars themselves. From the joy and the excitement, she nearly forgot the reason why she even had the chance to meet Amane, until-
“I see you’ve already gotten hold of your target~!” A voice rang in her ears, causing her heart to cease movement for a split second. Her heart began to race once more, only not from excitement. Frantically, she searched for the same empty eyes that had first greeted her hours ago; only to find them staring right at her from across the room.
She could see the same devilish grin on the woman’s face, mocking her. “I hope you know that it’s too late to turn back.” She dropped her usually sweet tone and looked at the side, prompting Nene to take note of the scene around her.
Everyone around the room had gone quiet, save for the orchestra who continued playing. All eyes were on her, void of emotion; cold, artificial smiles on their faces as if each guest was merely a puppet—a pawn for the sorceress’ game.
And she was no different.
“Do you finally understand?” She purred, satisfied with her work.
Nene payed no mind, her head was spinning; eyes darting to every single corner of the room until they finally landed on the boy in front of her. She felt a pang of pain in her chest, heaving as she let out shaky breaths, and the world seemed to resume as the party guests turned back to each other and continued as they were.
“Nene. Are you okay?” His voice was laced with concern. Letting go of her right hand, he noticed that she was trembling as he placed his hand on her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her.
Absentmindedly, he glanced at the large clock behind them, taking note of the fact that it was nearly midnight. He was surprised at this, he definitely didn’t intend to stay so long, nor did he intend to be dancing hours upon end with a girl whose captivating eyes held a fire within them. He was pulled out of his thoughts by that very girl trailing her hand to the crook of his neck.
Throughout the night he had made her face flush a lovely shade of pink numerous times, but it seemed that it was his turn this time. “H-hey, what are you…” He thought the action was rather flirtatious until he looked at his partner and saw tears streaming down her face.
This startled him and he began to panic, cupping the girl’s face with his hands and gently wiping her tears away using his thumbs. “Come on, don’t make that face.” He cooed, gazing at her gently in an attempt to soothe her. Normally, the action would cause her heart to skip a beat; but this time it delivered another sharp pain to her chest, causing her knees to give out. Amane knelt down with her, holding her with his right arm as sobs wracked her small frame.
The clock chimed as it hit midnight, the sound blaring and resonating in her mind. She felt helpless, realizing that she could barely control her own body. Her free arm had moved on its own, reaching under her dress to pull out the dagger that she had been hiding; and all she could do was sob. She had willingly walked into the spider’s web, trapping herself, and now was the time to reap the consequences of her actions.
The confused boy continued to stroke her back, unbeknownst to what was going on. “A-A…mane…” She croaked out, looking at him, pain and guilt flashing in her eyes. The sound of bells signaling the end continued ringing in her ears, blocking the sound of her own screams inside her head, begging her to stop. Her right hand jerked forward as she felt her wrist throbbing from the hold she had on it with her left hand in an attempt to stop herself. Tears clouded her vision and she could feel droplets falling onto her arm growing as she felt her self-conscience slipping away. “I’m sorry…”
He gave her a sympathetic smile. “Sorry for what—”
At that moment he felt a searing pain in his abdomen, the sharp blade leaving his body as fast as it entered. He pressed his shaking hand onto that area, hissing at the pain. To his horror and disbelief he saw red; the same color that he had grown to enjoy staring into that night. Red; the fire in the eyes of the very girl that had stabbed him. Red; the blood seeping through his clothes as the gash on his side bled out. He felt himself weaken as he fell on his back, letting out a pained groan.
It was only after the deed had been completed that Nene regained control of her body. Instantly she dropped her weapon, its touch scorching her hand as she realized what she had just done. She panicked, crawling over to Amane and grasped onto his hand as if it were his life. Sobbing pathetically, she helped him raise his back to rest it onto her lap. She couldn’t care less about her clothes getting soiled by the blood that refused to stop oozing out. She would cry out a thousand apologies if she could, but she could only offer several choked up ones. “I swear… I didn’t want this.”
“Nene, look at me.” She winced at the sound of his pained voice. She didn’t want to, she was afraid. How could she look at him after what she had done? The thought of her first and only friend hating her made her chest sting with pain. “Nene.”
Looking at him hesitantly, she felt her heart ache at the sight before her. Even with pain evident in his features, she saw him look at her with the warmest eyes she could imagine. Any hint of coldness that she saw earlier that night had melted away. Despite the sweetness that radiated from the smile he gave her, she felt nothing but guilt and disgust for herself. Because of her, no one would ever see this smile again.
Because of her, the universe had been robbed of a star.
She felt a ghost of a touch on her face after he shook his hand out of her grip, urging her to keep her eyes on him. “Please, don’t feel bad about this. I deserve this.” She opened her mouth to protest but he cut her off, looking away shamefully. “I… killed my younger brother years ago.”
Nene could feel a mix of emotions surging through her; sadness, frustration, guilt, disgust, and now: confusion. She couldn’t respond, and Amane didn’t expect one either, so he continued. “Every day I prayed to God for some sort of redemption—for any way that I could atone for my sins.”
Tears trickled down his face, the ghosts of his past coming to hit him all at once. The rush of emotions was overwhelming; shock, dread, guilt, yet strangely: contentment. “If this is the way that He has decided I’ll pay for my wrongdoings—” He looked back at Nene and smiled. “—then I’m thankful that I’ll be dying by your hands.” His eyebrows furrowed in concern, his eyes shining with shame. “Plus… You couldn’t be friends with a murderer could you?”
She shook her head vigorously at this, tears continuing to stream down her face. “I’m no better.” She looked at the dagger behind them. Turning back to face him, she tried to push a smile onto her face; for him. “You would’ve been my friend no matter what.”
Despite his slowing heartbeat, he could feel a warmth spreading from his chest. If God would have the smallest bit of mercy left for him, he would beg that he could relish this moment for a while longer. He felt a smile of genuine joy creep up on his face, contrasting the tears that stung his eyes, threatening to spill at the realization that his time was almost up.
“Well, then…” He held both of her hands weakly, pushing himself to his very limit. “…from this moment forth…” The ache in her heart had spread out to her whole body, realizing that he was slipping out of her hands. “…our souls have been bound together…” His began to close, and Nene tried to keep a smile on her face until they did. “…by you and your blade…” He let out his last breath and she felt his hands and body go limp beneath her.
She felt despair course through her body as reality hit her, as she saw her world crumbling right before her eyes. She did what she always did, the one thing she had grown accustomed to, yet this time the pain seared through her body a million times more painful than it ever was before—she let out a cry of anguish, letting everything take over her at once. Gripping onto Amane’s cold body, she prayed; not for her sins to be forgiven, but for mercy. Going through even one more day after this would be tenfold more painful than anything else. That was the last thing she thought before she blacked out.
“My… what a shame! But at least the mission was accomplished~” The masked woman knelt down and held the unconscious girl, stroking her hair. “Humans are really something else~ There, there…” She looked down at her, excited about her latest catch. “I always make sure that my creations don’t remember a thing. Isn’t that right?” She shouted out, gleefully. The crowd that she had under her spell came back to life, cheering in agreement.
This was the new life she had promised.