Chapter I: Et Ça Commence
It was late November, in the middle of the season, that she met her.
One minute, she was above a bridge’s railing, overlooking a rushing river. Just waiting for the right moment to move and meet Death itself face-to-face. The other, she found herself bailed out from the darkness’s embrace—her feet safely settled on the stable ground—by a stranger she has never known before and that has never met her.
Then, as if she was some illusion or hallucination made up by her messed up mind, the golden-haired girl disappeared as quickly as she arrived. And Blake Belladonna never got the chance of meeting her ever again.
Although the once-renowned author whispered in a billion falling stars and hundreds of 11:11 with the same purpose, by no means did the universe seem to have heard her wishes. Yet again, fate and destiny are two subjects no creature could ever alter except themselves.
Or, at least, that was what she thought at first.
Someone was calling her. Her last name echoed through the walls of her empty, dreamless mind. Although she could not quite place the voice by its owner.
Who are you, she wanted to speak. What do you want from me at this ungodly time?
But she could not say anything. She can’t. It was as if she was mute.
Her name was called out a couple of times after the first two. Each one arriving a second faster into her head. She wanted to reach out and answer -- to stop hearing the repeated name over and over again. But as soon as the space between the words depleted, it began to overlap each other, getting louder and louder. Until everything ended in something that she wanted to forget for what felt like eternity.
A voice, which can only be described as rust grating against a weathered metal. Like acid being poured into still-lit embers of a finished fire, casting it alight once more. A voice owned by a demon, or maybe even the Devil himself.
Blake woke up with a harsh jolt and sharp scream, causing her to sit upright as soon as the hellish nightmare stopped. Her vision was blurred and unfocused. Her ears rang in an uncomfortable, nauseating frequency. Her lungs felt like they were aflame, and her joints trembled and creaked against each other. Cold sweat dripped down her forehead, neck, and back. She raised her quivering hand and covered her face -- at least half of it.
Oh. Oh, no, Blake thought. She ran the same hand through her jet-black hair, which was sweat-soaked and covered with grease. No no no, it happened again.
Rapid footsteps were heard coming up the stairway from the hallway. The sound was loud enough to be noticed even with the door closed, but the ringing in her ears stayed longer and thundered her eardrums. Her hands shielded both pairs of ears as she tried her very best not to let her situation get any worse. It was already awful that she’s uncontrollably hyperventilating and convulsions spurring all over her body every few seconds.
Blake…? Blake, dear… Are you okay…? We heard you scream and…
Her sense of hearing caught several words, however faint they seemed. Their voices were quite familiar that it pierced through the blaring. “I… I can’t… h-hear any of you.” She mumbled as much as she could before she broke down on her parents’ arms.
Sunlight from the setting sun glinted all over the room as a golden-haired girl painted on the partially drawn canvas, lilac eyes accompanying the shifting brush. The water-based acrylic enhanced the quality of her upcoming project, from the volume of its hues and the gradual decrease and increase of different ombres. Barely even finished, it does not take someone clever to tell that it will be one hell of a masterpiece.
While she painted with utmost concentration and measured movements, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons reverberated from her vintage record player. She quietly hummed along, letting her prosthetic arm illustrate the thoughts delving in her mind. But just as she got through the rough sketch, the familiar creaking of wheels and the soft crunch of perfectly baked cookies caught her attention. By the sound of it, the person was trying their very best to be sneaky and subtle, but to no avail.
The painter smirked, an idea squeezing itself in her brain. Her brush halted from moving, and so did the creaking and crunching behind her. She suddenly giggled, giving the person a side-eye. “Is that what you call ‘being sneaky’, Ruby?”
Ruby gaped at her older sister, the cookie jar from her arm slowly slipping away from her snug hold. She sputtered, “H-how?! Wha—That was the subtlest I could possibly do! I—what in the heck?!” Once she calmed down a bit, another question fell out of her mouth. “Are you doing some kind of magic, Yang? Witchcraft, perhaps?”
A snort erupted from Yang, eventually refining into a dwarfish chuckle. Sometimes, the occasional overreaction from her younger sister can alter her sulky mood entirely. “Maybe,” She began, then proceeded to resume her ongoing work. “or maybe you just need to re-oil the bearings on those wheels.”
The crimson-haired girl pouted and inched closer to Yang, deciding to focus on what her sister was working on instead of replying to her snark. Her silver eyes narrowed at the unfinished illustration in front of her. She tried her very best to make even the tiniest bit of sense just by looking at it, but to no avail. Out of curiousness and utter confusion, she questioned, “What’s this supposed to be?”
“What I see,” Yang briefly explained. Besides, even if she put the considerable effort of racking her brain for any other conclusion, she knew to herself she would not find anything else. That was her one and only answer whenever someone asks her that question.
Ever since she had her independency of thoughts, every moment she heard any kind of sound, Yang did not only hear it. She also got to have the ability to perceive its coloration and motion. The beats of drums and the barks of a dog appear as small bursts or splatters of fireworks, while the violin materialize as the sparks whenever you sharpen or smoothen a rough metal.
For other people (especially those who knew and/or are friends with her), this might seem like a heaven-sent blessing from the gods. One can only dream of witnessing colours emerge with every sound you hear. One can only imagine how colourful their life will be with this uncommon ability. Yang, however, has different verdict about her condition.
A chuckle came out of Ruby, her short hair moving slightly. She already knew her older sister would not give her the full answer, yet she still asked. “Ever the ‘mysterious’ type, huh?” She teased as she did quotation marks using her fingers.
Yang laughed and smeared the dark red paint from her palette to Ruby’s cheek, who spluttered as she tried her best to swat away her hand. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say. Why’d you come here, anyway?”
The younger of the two hummed and snapped her fingers, remembering her purpose. “Oh, right. Tonight’s the deadline for those reference books we borrowed from the town library. Madame Goodwitch called early this morning; told us that—”
Yang cursed, instantly setting down her brush and palette, wiping any excess paint on her cargo pants. Mentally reminding herself to scold Ruby later for telling her at such a short notice, they both got ready as quickly as they could—the blonde gathering the borrowed books and the brunette wearing her exoskeleton—and headed to their destination, hoping they could still manage to make it just in time.
A gauche atmosphere surrounded the Belladonna Residence as the family of three ate their dinner. Deafening silence engulfed their environment until Ghira cleared his throat (though his sudden action was a result of Kali nudging his foot with hers under the table.
“So… do you have any plans for today, Blake?” Hesitation was evident in his tone, yet he asked anyway. His wife only watched the both of them as she ate quietly. They knew better than to carelessly wander through their daughter’s newly aggrandized boundaries and walls. So, treading through cautiously seemed to e their best option for now.
Blake laggardly shrugged, putting the last of her food into her mouth. She didn’t have the energy to answer, but her guilt forced her into saying at least a few words. “I don’t…really know…” She managed to rasp, light coughs following afterwards.
Her parents looked at each other with the same amount of worry. Several years have already passed since the tragedy occurred. And still, their daughter cannot liberate herself from the shackles of her past. This was not as seldom as it appears to be, however.
Blake’s sunken and fragile-like features are hardly ever mistaken. Everyone that is acquainted with her never fails to take a good glance at her and whisper behind her back their opinions and thoughts. “What happened to her?”, “She used to laugh at my jokes…”, “She never goes out anymore…”, “Did something happened to between her and her boyfriend?” Those were the most common things all of them heard. Yet no one—not even Blake herself—could answer any of it.
Kali broke the following silence by reaching over to hold her child’s hand, her ears slightly raising from the flicker of hope she had. “How about you try and head over to the library near the park, hm? To get some, you know, fresh air?” She grazed her thumb along Blake’s knuckles, patiently waiting for her response.
Dull and somber as can be, amber eyes gazed down at her mother’s hand. She completely forgot about her remaining food and focused on the radiating warmth. She has a point, a tiny voice in her mind echoed. It’s been a long time since we went out. Her brows involuntarily lifted, surprised that she even got to have a single positive thing squeeze itself inside her empty head. But just as she came to consider the idea, a lamentable thought almost crushed the former. What is, that you’ll be wasting time in something you don’t even have the energy to do? The voice of the latter was a shadow that loomed over a candlelight. Nonetheless, that small spark tried its very best to battle the pitch-black darkness.
How do you know such a thing if you haven’t made an effort to do so?
Blake sighed, returning the gesture and giving a soft squeeze afterwards. “… that seems like a good thing. Would you mind driving me there?” She stared at her parents’ eyes intently as the words panned out of her mouth. Kali was holding back tears whilst a relieved smile formed on her lips, and Ghira had his jaw unhinged down to the floor.
It was unbelievable—Blake accepting such an offer. They both did their best in convincing her to get out of her room or the house, so far to no avail. Well, obviously until now.
As they prepared for the short trip, Kali and Ghira wondered to themselves what made her consider. Was it hope? No, it could not be. Even they picked up the sense of utter hopelessness her eyes stored in them. Was it guilt? From all their previous failed attempts, perhaps. Maybe Blake did not just want them to be more disappointed than she thought they already were. For all the conclusions they could think of by chance, none of them could not give one. Not Ghira, not Kali.
Only Blake, albeit the whole concept being blurry, understood.
New snow fell slowly from the sky, gently staining the grounds of the library and its park. And as she gazed out the window from the comfort of her couch, Blake could not believe that autumn have already passed. Has it really been that long? It seemed like the days just went by for hours. Her eyes repeated the same line on her book over and over again as her mind raced. When did fall begin? She shook her head as she tried to recall. Unsurprisingly, she could not. How could she forget?
When was the last time you remembered?
Before she can fully comprehend, her ears pinned against her skull, eyes shifting into slits, and her normal breaths turned into hyperventilating. Her vision doubled and blurred, causing Blake to close her eyes and aim concentration on getting air into her lungs. As she inhaled, her whole body trembled. C’mon, Blake, get a grip on yourself, she reprimanded, unconsciously closing the book in her hands and placing it on her side. She moved a svelte hand over on her chest, which felt like her heart was going to burst out of it from the way it pounded irregularly. She felt lightheaded. Was it from the lack of oxygen since she couldn’t breathe properly? Or maybe it was her fault—letting that intrusive voice stuck forever in her brain have much better control over her own body?
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Blake roughly scratched the back of her head and jaw. I should not have agreed to this, her hot nerves induced her knee to bounce in a patterned pace. Why did I even go here? Forcing herself to stand up, Blake managed to tamp down the sudden assault for at least a little while before dragging her feet away from her position. She had only been staying here in the library for about half an hour. For others, sure—it seemed to be such a short time. Unfortunately, the same statement could not be said for Blake’s situation.
With her head down low, the raven-haired lady multitasked calming herself down and treading through the library’s mahogany floor. She was lucky enough to hear the music from her headset through the slight ringing in her ears. A breath of relief escaped her dry lips, the pounding in her chest further subsiding its speed. The song’s lyrics finally made sense once more as she lip-synched the words, hoping it would make her limbs from being unsteady.
“A man came across this old tower one day
It was straight like from a book he once read
He lifted his head up and saw this young lady
And here's what the lady said
"Moi je m'appelle mademoiselle Noir
Et comme vous pouvez le voir
Je ne souris, ni ris, ni vis
Et c'est tout ce qu'elle a dit”
Then, just as Blake approached the last two bookshelves placed before the exit, someone bumped by her shoulder. The sudden collision prompted an earpiece to fall from her ear and almost knocking the books in her arms over. Shaking her head, Blake glanced behind her and narrowed her amber eyes. This day, apparently, could not get any worse.
“Watch it next time, idiot—”
She started, only for her words to be caught up in her throat. It can’t be, she thought to herself. Everything she had been wishing for all this time—to once again witness the golden locks of a goddess and recognize her immediately. And this woman in front of her, who was currently clutching her right shoulder, was as near as she could possibly get to winning this made-up game of hers.
The girl eventually gazed at her after chuckling, purple irises meeting molten gold ones. Her eyes seemed to have some kind of ethereal light stored inside them, quickly brightening up Blake’s world for a short moment, which was accompanied with an apologetic smile.
“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to bump into you—it’s just that my sister was being a little shit and, erm… are you okay?”
“…y-yes, I’m quite alright,” Blake, above everything else, was not. She was too entranced in the stranger’s voice; it was like hearing her mother sing her a lullaby when she was a toddler. There was only one word she could think of to describe it: angelic.
Blake’s memory was broken, yet she tried her utmost to nail down every detail there is. How her golden hair was perfectly imperfect, how she stood with radiating confidence, how she made a vest over a button up shirt and dark skinny jeans work, and how she directly resembled the Sun. Blake forced herself to remember.
The woman awkwardly scratched her head, obviously nervous under Blake’s intense stare. “Well, I’m sorry again. I’m just gonna… er, skedaddle! Yeah, skedaddle, heh….” She stumbled on her words. Just as she was about to go, Blake called out to her. “Wait!”
The stranger turned around and quirked up an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
A stretch of silence. Then she braced herself to ask the question.
“…have we met before?”