The satisfying glide of a fountain pen swished across the blank line, adding his name in shining black ink with a single mechanical stroke. The light swish of paper on wood became a familiar sound as the next blank space of the contract underneath awaited the pen’s sharp strokes. These motions had continued long into the morning in an elegant room, upon the same massive, baroque style desk where his grandfather’s grandfather sat as the head of the household.
A knock upon the office door drew the Master’s attention from the endless sea of paperwork. He fixed his tie and adjusted that one strand of his dark hair that refused to stay in place. The Master cleared his throat and spoke, his voice powerful enough to command legions.
“You may enter.”
The door opened and his office was filled with the light footsteps of maids and the tinkling of a silver cart. They worked fast, as expected of servants in his household. The cart was brought around near his desk, but he lost interest in their work as he returned to his own. The next contract to be signed was from one of his contacts all the way from I-Island.
He owned several laboratories there, all vying for his attention over their own little experiments and inventions. Not that he minded, his money and influence there was born from a risk he had taken years ago, a risk that has finally been paying off the last few months. Heroes all across the United Kingdom benefited from their research.
Of course, he had several smaller ones near his home, and plans in motion for a much larger one in Spain, but I-Island was so rich in resources from across the globe. It was hard not to sink his teeth into such a cultural and scientific source.
“That is quite enough,” A gentle voice drew him from the paperwork, “You are dismissed.”
The voice came from the silver fox of a man standing in the doorway. The other maids bowed to him and departed without a word. The man, Aegis was his name, was dressed in the traditional black uniform of the household’s head butler. His long silvery white hair was pulled back into a ponytail which gently flowed behind him when he walked. His immaculate beard was well kept and his eyes, eagle sharp but always kind, gleamed like sunlight reflecting off crystal clear ice.
“Your usual afternoon tea, Master?” Aegis asked.
The man waved his consent and resumed his work. Aegis crossed the exquisite room in a few long strides, and soon the earthy aroma permeated the office. Since long before he was born, Aegis was an integral part of the household. The man came when his grandfather was but a boy, his quirk extended his life far beyond the normal capacity. He was looking for work and his great grandfather was kind enough to let him stay. He’s been in the manor ever since.
A gold rimmed porcelain teacup and platter were gently set next to him. Aegis stepped away and bowed his head as the man took the first sip, and nodded. The old man smiled, and turned to the crimson drapes covering the ceiling high window behind the desk.
“Would you like me to fix the drapes, Master? Perhaps some more light will clear the drab air in here.”
The man simply flipped to his next contract. “Do what you wish.”
The office was suddenly plunged in natural light, a chuckle escaped from Aegis as his master blinked a few times.
“Would you look at that, its still snowing.”
The Master chanced a look over his shoulder. Pure white flakes danced upon the tender December breeze. The ivory blanket stretched across the gardens of his estate and dusted the surrounding forest. The vast whiteness held true into the sky, where the sun hasn’t shone in the last three days. They were silent for a few minutes. The Master sipped his tea and dove into his work while Aegis stood like he always did beside the window.
“How go Emilia’s studies?”
Aegis’ eyes lit up. He stepped next to his master and made the next cup of tea before answering.
“Her studies go better than expected. The young mistress is wise beyond her years and I believe another tutor befitting her level should be hired soon. She finished early today, so I thought it might be in her best interest to go outside and play in the snow.”
The Master’s ever flowing pen froze, and he turned to Aegis with a dark look in his eyes. The look didn’t bother Aegis, instead his gentle smile stretched a bit wider as a pleading light entered his eyes.
“She is only seven years old, Master.” Aegis said, “If you pardon my rudeness, but I believe it will be beneficial for her to play in the snow as a child should.”
The Master let a long sigh escape him. “I shall permit it this once. She has more important things to worry about than frolicking in the snow.”
Silence sat between them for several minutes, the only sound was of the turning pages upon his desk. It was apparent the man didn’t want to speak further. Aegis had not been dismissed, so he went milling about the office. Straightening the painting over the fireplace, making sure the bookshelves were clear of any invasive dust, doing his best to make the office look pristine.
And then, he hears it.
He looks up from his paperwork with a scrunched brow. A beautifully haunting note, like that of a bell, rings into his ear. It was distant yet, but the timbre’s vibration seemed to be within his very soul. Aegis had his back to him, wiping down another gilded frame of a painting. Did he not hear it? The Master shook his head and continued his work.
He was looking over the next paper when the bell rang again, this time louder. It sang to him. But not like the sweet lullaby of a mother’s song, more like the haunting beauty of some creature from the deep ocean. His chair creaked lightly as he looked over his shoulder. It didn’t come from outside, did it?
“Is something the matter?”
Aegis’ voice drew him back into the room. The sound did not come again.
“It’s probably nothing.” The man pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed before resuming his work.
Aegis studied him, worry gracing over his features, before turning back to polish the ornamental weapons hanging on golden hooks. His eyes scanned over the usual dull wording, not absorbing much of the contents since he was distracted. He wondered why the tip of his pen trembled right before he signed. He set the pen down and stared blankly at his shaking fingers.
Suddenly, the bell sang again. A crash of a thousand songs came over his body like water. It froze his blood and vibrated deep within his bones, he barely kept himself in his chair as the feeling washed over him. It was… calling him? A cry for help rang across a sea of darkness, the image entered his mind for a split second and then it was gone just as fast.
His hands were reduced to white fists on his desk, and he gathered his composure as he looked towards Aegis.
“What is that infernal sound?” He growled.
Aegis looked over to him with wide eyes. He studied his master, the very depiction of majesty and calm grace, but the fists as white as snow painted a different picture. Aegis strained his ears as his expression fell with concentration.
“My apologies, but I don’t hear a thing.”
The Master’s eyes darkened and he opened his mouth to say something, when the commotion outside silenced him. A maid’s pleading voice was futile when the door was thrown open. His offspring rushed into the room, cheeks red from the cold and panting heavily. Her aquamarine eyes, the same as her mothers, stared at him with tears. Her silvery platinum hair was shaken out of her long braid. The Master’s eyes hardened, but it was the…. thing behind her, wearing his offspring’s coat that caught his attention.
The creature had a humanoid shape and was about the size of a four or five year old child. It wasn’t human though, that much was for certain. With skin so inky black no light would ever penetrate it, and bright yellow eyes with neither any sclera nor iris. The jagged red line, which was its mouth he supposed, was ended by two crimson fangs. There were two strange feathery tufts drifting from the top of its head, but the ends were uneven and frayed as if something longer was mercilessly torn off.
Aegis was at their side in less than a second as his offspring shakily told a story. But his focus was on that thing who held her hand with clawed fingers of its own. The bell rang again, and this time, the source lifted its head to stare back at him with golden eyes.
“Now, say it after me!”
Emilia held the hands of her new friend. After she told her story, how this child suddenly emerged from the forest dead on their feet, Aegis led them to a spacious drawing room while father contacted the police. The children sat upon a couch, well within the heat of the crackling marble fireplace. The maids brought treats and tea for the child, but their fearful glances hadn’t escaped her.
The child said as if speaking for the first time, with a voice clear as a bell and laced with innocent curiosity. Emilia beamed and held the child’s hands tighter.
“Right! That can be your new name!”
A maid standing diligently beside their couch furrowed her brow. “You shouldn’t give it a name. What if it already has one?”
Emilia turned to her, her big eyes tearful, “She’s not an it, Regina! She’s going to be my new sister, and her name is now Owl!”
Regina blinked, hiding her doubt with a smile. “Of course, Mistress. If I may ask, why Owl?”
“Owl?” The child said, more clearly as she pointed to herself.
Emilia’s smile radiated joy and she trapped the other child in an embrace. “Yeah! Because of the way her ears are! Aegis showed me pictures of owls during my last lesson, and she looks just like one.”
Regina hummed and motioned to the tray of treats. “Why don’t you and Owl eat? We don’t know how long she’s been in the forest.”
Emilia reached over, drenching a scone in jam and honey, and giving it to Owl. Regina’s lips quirked in disgust as the honey dripped onto the dark child’s tattered clothes. Emilia took a scone for herself, the other child’s eerie yellow eyes studying her as she took the first bite. Owl looked at the dripping treat in her grasp, flicking her eyes to and from Emilia.
Regina held in her recoil as Owl’s mouth opened far wider than humanly possible. Not only that, it was just wrong. Fangs like daggers lined her mouth and she had a wickedly forked tongue, the scone was devoured whole in a single snapping bite. Emilia’s mouth fell open as Owl chewed thoughtfully, but the girl giggled and took another bite of her treat.
“Well, well, somebody is a messy eater.”
Aegis stood at the door with a kind smile. Regina stepped away from the couch with a bow of her head as the other man approached, kneeling down and bringing out his handkerchief. The man’s hands were gentle as he cleaned the child, and he made a mental note to how the child’s skin almost felt like glass and was nearly weightless. He folded the soiled cloth and set it on the table.
“Regina, please fetch a set of clean clothes for..” He hesitated for only a moment, but it was enough for Emilia to pick up on.
“Owl.” She beamed, “Her name is Owl!”
Aegis’ eyes softened. “Ah, of course. Please fetch a clean set of clothes for Owl.”
Regina left without a word.
“What did the police say?” Emilia asked.
Aegis stood, staring at Owl with a furrowed brow. “It will take a while, but they are searching through any missing persons reports. They will also want to interview her and do a quirk evaluation, I believe an agent is on his way here now.”
Emilia’s hands tighten over Owls. “So… she can stay?”
“For the moment, yes.”
Regina returned with fresh clothes, and Emilia helped the child change in a spare bathroom. Aegis brought them more snacks. He couldn’t help the dread creeping up in his heart as the poor child devoured anything and everything she got her hands on. Emilia was attempting to show Owl proper manners.
Regina was visibly disgusted, but he didn’t mind. He’s seen far stranger things within his extended life. Just how long was she out in that forest, alone, cold, and without any proper food? How did she survive, with barely anything for warmth? He doubted the thin rags she previously wore wouldn’t be enough for a normal child. Regina’s voice pulled him from his thoughts.
“Ah, look! The sun is finally out.”
A few rays shone through the curtain and Regina reached to pull them back. Warmth and light doused the room in a golden glow, but that same warmth shown something terrible. A hissing and a sound like breaking glass. No sooner did Aegis turn did the blood curdling scream send a chill up his spine.
Owl, draped in sunlight, fell from the couch flailing. Her skin crackled and popped with black wisps fleeing from her body in droves. Emilia reacted faster then a child her age should. Her silvery hair lighting up with her quirk. The threads extending from her hair were like starlight, twisting and zigzagging at a speed with which no human eye could keep up. A blanket was weaved within seconds, thin as a human hair but warmer than any fireplace.
Owl’s screams died into whimpering hiccups as Emilia wrapped her in the blanket and hugged her tightly, using both the blanket and her body to shield her from the light. Regina stood, mouth agape, as she exchanged glances with Aegis. Emilia gently shushed Owl as she rubbed her back, ignoring her hair that is now inches shorter.
Regina snapped out of her daze and hurried to close the drapes. Concerned whispers were just outside the door, and he nodded to Regina to answer them as he went over to the children. He wrapped them both in a hug. His ancient heart nearly broke when Owl shuddered and leaned into him as if he were the last person on earth.
“So, what are your conclusions after interviewing the child?” The Master asked.
The infernal bell never ceased, but it was lessened now that the child was probably asleep. They sat in that same drawing room where the child had screamed bloody murder just hours ago. The moonlight glinted in through the windows and the detective sitting across from him rubbed his face in exhaustion. He was a rather plain looking man, donning a dark suit and hat. His sandy red hair was just as unkempt as his beard.
“Honestly? I have no clue.” He flipped through the files in his hands, littered with several notes, “She only remembers being in darkness from what I can tell. And her quirk is some form of shadow manipulation. It’s rather weak now, but I would like to have a specialist schedule further appointments as the quirk develops.”
“I see.” The Master gently swirled the teacup in his hands, “And any missing persons reports?”
The detective looked up at him with a raised brow, and shook his head. “Nothing. I’ve had agents look through files from across England, and there’s no such report. I’ve had them fast track her case, as this would be considered urgent since she’s so young.”
The Master narrowed his eyes, “As if the child were just dropped out of the sky?”
“I wouldn’t put much stock in a theory like that, but…” He released a long sigh and shrugged, “It’s as close a guess that we have at the moment.”
The door opened and Aegis walked into the room. He bowed his head towards them and spoke at his master’s expectant eye.
“They are both asleep. Lady Emilia didn’t want to leave her by herself, and they fell asleep cuddled next to each other.”
“She’s even named it.” The Master mumbled so that the other two didn’t hear.
The ringing was almost silent now, but the effects from earlier were still fresh in his mind. He needed information. He wanted to put that child into one of his personal laboratories for study, but now that his offspring had grown attached and the police were now involved, it would be impossible. He would figure something out later, when the unceasing bell had quieted some more and he could think clearly.
“That brings into question something else,” The detective started, studying the Master with a sharp eye, “We could take her into custody, but I feel she would be safer and more relaxed here with someone else closer to her age.”
The Master took the last sip of his tea before setting it on the table. He exchanged glances with Aegis. The head butler cleared his throat.
“I’m sure we can easily create clothing for her… weakness to sunlight. And Lady Emilia seems delighted to have a friend.”
A pet, more like. His mind whispered. He released a light sigh and nodded.
“I shall take custody of the child until the case is over with.”
If that ringing didn’t drive him mad first.
“Good.” The detective breathed his own sigh of relief as he stood. “I’ll send the necessary papers to you tomorrow. I believe I’ve kept you gentlemen up long enough, please excuse me.”
Master and butler sat in silence long after the detective left.
“Are you certain you never heard a bell ringing?”
Aegis scrunched his brow as he studied his master. “My apologies, but no.”
The Master frowned, holding back a twitch as the faint bell rang in the back of his mind. He only hoped that this case would end soon, so that his mind wouldn’t fracture under it’s persistent call.