30 October 2013

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20

Emilia's first goal is in navigating the convoluted hallways of the 2nd floor. The white hallways, with torches hung up on the walls beside the tapestries, lighting the way with a diffuse orange glow. Her bunny slippers just solemnly squeak while the servants are fetching documents and freshly prepared snackerals.

At the front, she told the guards that she's looking for a washroom. Strangely enough, she half-expected them to tell her that the washroom is just under the stairs. But instead, they told her to head up to the second floor – "It should be in one of the rooms, and if in case you get lost, just ask one of the servants for directions."

The privacy of a washroom will lend Emilia and Lulu the chance to diviniate the layout of the castle, and find out how to reach the Duke's Archives.

"I smell bacon," Lulu tells Emilia.

Indeed, the smell of bacon and other foodstuffs is in the air, and it makes Emilia wonder who are the lucky ones being served tonight.

Speaking of which, she doesn't remember having eaten anything at all in a long while. As an undead, perhaps you miss the inconvenient sensation of being hungry – the pleasure in eating something delectable.

Emilia contemplates stealing a bite or two from the dinner plates, until Lulu points out a vacant washroom, where they manage to slip inside without anyone noticing there's two in the washroom.

They light the incense candles.

Lulu pulls out a turquoise crystal from her pockets. It bears an eerie glimmer from within.

"Make a wish," Lulu goes, notioning Emilia to hold onto the crystal too.

The crystal lights up, and it is as if old, forgotten memories have been freshly unearthed in Emilia's mind. She understands the entire layout of the castle now, where all the chambers and hallways lead to. Even the secret passageways.

Except..

There is a 'blank' in the layout by ground level, in the chamber ahead of the main entrance, as if something is forbidding her from gaining knowledge about that place.

What could it be?

~

Back in the main hall, Emilia notices the foggy doorway up ahead as she descends down the stairs.

"What's over there?" she asks a guard, pointing at the doorway.

"There? That is a private area," the guard says. "The only ones who can pass through the boundry are members of the Royal Family. I honestly don't know what lies beyond."

Emilia feels her chest tingle inside, just looking at it.

"Do you mind if me and my friend have a look?" she asks.

"Why?"

"Because.. erm, I'm curious," Emilia says. "Just wondering how an enchanted barrier feels to the touch."

"Well.. okay, why not," the guard goes. "I've tried it, it feels like you're touching a repulsive force out of thin air.' He leads the two of them up to the doorway, and the sensation grows stronger in Emilia as the distance closes between her and the doorway, until she feels the energies in her pulsate.

She raises her hand and presses it against the door; her fingers disappear through the fog, feeling fuzzy all over, and she pulls her hand back, taking a little of the fog with it.

"What the.." the guard goes, noticing. "Who are you?"

The realisation hits Emilia – this doorway only permits undead to pass through. She takes Lulu's hand and thrusts herself into the grey mist.

(ta-dum)

On the other side, it is grey everywhere. All the colours seem to have drained away, and the very air is thick with a gut-wrenching tension. It feels like they could be attacked, by something.

"This place is giving me the hiccups," Lulu remarks.

Emilia turns around and sees that the misty doorway is white. She attempts to pass through it again, but to no avail as she feels the mist repulse her.

"Damn, it won't let us out.." Emilia goes.

Apparently, they can only come through it one way. And to escape, they'll have to find another way out – if there is any.

Unnatural daylight sheens through the frosted glass, highlighting the six pedestals carrying stone pieces. Each of the pedestals are marked I, II, III.. up to VI. Up close, the fragments bear faint etchings, wavering contours.

The tension begins to gnaw.

"Emmy! Your skin!" Lulu goes.

Emilia notices the skin on her hands is withering away. The wrinkles develop, and some gashes start to appear over spots, itching.

"You too," Emilia says, noticing Lulu's face sagging.

"What do we do?" Lulu limps around, looking for anything remotely resembling an exit. She prods all the four edges of the room – lingering especially by the two doorways on the other side, which are enveloped in white mist also. "We're doomed!"

Emilia approaches the pedestals and takes the pieces into hand. She notices that they all have a smooth, curved convex side with the etchings, and on the other side, they are very jaggedly protruding. Maybe they are fragments of a whole?

"Lulu—" Emilia coughs, her voice hoarse. "Come, help me with these pieces. I think it's our only chance.."

The fey girl limps back to Emilia's side. But halfway through, she stumbles onto the ground and has to crawl the rest of the way there.

Emilia's fingers quiver; she holds a fragment in one hand while she hastily tries meshing the other five fragments with it accordingly, in hopes that one way or another they would piece together (somehow).

Then it occurs to her to try matching them by their surface etchings.

At this point, her hands are no more than exposed muscle overlaying bones.

It itches all over – it takes Emilia all of her mustered will not to scratch herself. She quickly glances at the fragment's contours, before bringing another piece together and making sure that the contour lines match up with each other.

They connect.

"Lulu--!" Emilia's voice is a grotesque whisper. Poor Lulu is fumbling the other four pieces, so Emilia points out the contours. "Connect them by these lines!"

"Okey-dokey."

By the time they connect four out of six pieces, Emilia's hands are just skeletal bones, and her body collapses onto the ground, limp.

"I can't.. move my hands," Emilia goes, straining out each word from her paralysed jaw. She can only stare at Lulu, making progress with the other two remaining fragments. Hurry..

The whole piece is supposed to be shaped like a sphere.

Lulu just manages to fit the fifth piece together before her hands slacken and she drops the incomplete stone sphere.

"No—!" Lulu squeaks.

Suddenly, Pixy comes out from her pockets. He has been overhearing a lot of noisy desperation from his master – so he flutters over to what Lulu has been holding.

"Finish.. puzzle," Lulu wheezes out to Pixy, and the butterfly with all his might (unaffected by the chamber's strange enchantment) lifts up the last piece and slides it into the gap of the sphere, fitting snugly.

The etchings glow; it is a globe of the world.

The tension in the room dissipates, and colour replaces the greyness.

But Emilia and Lulu are still lying on the ground, unable to move. Much of their muscle and flesh have eroded away. Pixy rummages through Lulu's pouch and finding her estus flask, gives Lulu and Emilia a sip of its energies. All at once, their bodies regenerate back to normal.

"We're alive!" Lulu cheers, bouncing herself upright again. She helps Emilia up.

Relieved, Emilia picks up the stone globe. She examines it, not recognising the geography of the world. Scattered landmasses litter the top hemisphere mostly, while the bottom hemisphere is very concentrated as a super-continent.

"Where are we..?" she mutters, and Lulu answers, "Here!" and points out somewhere on the globe's bottom. "That's the North."

The misty barriers have faded away from the two doorways, while behind them the white mist still remains.

"I have a feeling we should keep the globe with us," Emilia says.

~

Taking the left doorway, Emilia and Lulu descend a tightly coiled stairway – they hold onto the walls for stability. It is quite dark, so Lulu gets Pixy to light up his fluttering wings, providing a violet glow that helps them find the way.

A faint, humid breeze blows up from below. Emilia can feel it on her face. It smells like the moments before the onslaught of a rainy storm.

"Squeak!" Emilia's bunny slippers feel unsteady on these steps.

How far down do these stairs go?

"Lulu?" Emilia feels like making a bit of conversation as an antidote to all the stresses that have befallen them.

"Mm hmm?"

"What's your first memory?"

"Hmmm.. I sorta forgot actually. I remember.. I was playing in the glade with the foxies and flowers and everything was changing colour, from blue to purple to green and orange. I must have been playing for what must be a very long time, and I think it was to chase away the flu I had then. Yes, the flu! I remembered someone saying that if you have a lot of fun, you can chase away any bad feeling in the world. This was before I found my Pixy, mind you.

"I was nibbling at all the berries and splashing a lot of water from the ponds, and it felt like I never wanted to leave. Until I started feeling very dizzy – it was like feeling very thirsty and hungry at the same time, but I couldn't wrap my tongue around it.

"I wanted to come back home so my mama could make me feel better, but I didn't remember where I came from.. or who I am. I was very scared. I ran around in circles, up and down, left and right through the woods, and then I tripped on a vine and splashed myself wet.

"I saw what I looked like from the water, and I didn't look very nice at all. I looked like an old prune! It was an awful nightmare!

"And then I heard shouts. They were men in shining armour, but they didn't come to rescue me, they wanted to slay me! They had their swords and pikes up high, and they called me a monster! So I had to flee. I ran and ran, and if I didn't bump into Shen, I wouldn't know what I would've done. Shen scared away those guys good with explosive smoke and his trusty sword.

"I made good friends with him, and he taught me all about living courteously as an undead. That I should never take souls from living people, but slay the hollows who need a good time-out if we ever needed more."

Lulu lets out a small sneeze.

"Are all the undead like us?" Emilia asks.

"Like what?"

"Well.. we're looking to bring an end.. find the First Flame, and then extinguish it. We don't resort to killing people outright, do we?"

"Emmy.. there are actually some very naughty undead ones out there. And they're not very nice to meet. They pillage people's villages, sucking away all the souls that they have for themselves. A lot of people don't like them, and they don't like us too either."

"Hm."

"Shen calls those types the Darkwraiths," Lulu goes. "They wanna steal the First Flame so they could rule the world, and make everyone bow down to them."

"Do you really know what'll happen once we extinguish the First Flame?" Emilia asks.

"The First Flame has kept life going on for ages," Lulu goes. "I know it seems bad.. if we take that away, everything will be cold and dark again. But if you think about it, it's just like going to sleep after a long, long day. You'll wake up feeling refreshed for a new tomorrow. In Fall and Winter, it looks like all the trees and animals have died, but they're just sleeping away until the new Spring comes."

It's a heavy thought. Emilia tries to imagine an existance without herself – and a dread comes over her, of a vast darkness that could not be penetrated by light, because there is no light. It makes her stomach churn, and she has to pause descending for a second.

".. what'll happen to us?" Emilia goes.

"I'm not sure," Lulu says. "Maybe we'll all fall asleep.."

"Don't you mean dying?"

"How do you die when you're already dead?"

"When you stop existing." The words come out of Emilia like bile. Her eyes are downcast, weighed down by that heaviness building up inside. "I'm afraid.. Lulu. I'm afraid that all the things that comprise me, my feelings, my thoughts and memories.. one day or another, they will all have to disappear. I'll never get to see the sun again, or smile with anyone again, or.. love.. I'm just some damn leaf tumbling in the wind."

"Emmy," Lulu goes, holding onto her hands. "Nothing ever disappears. You've smiled, you've cried, and even though happy times will pass you by, they continue to exist. Because they've happened, even if you forget. That's what matters in the end. And.. maybe, they'll all come back, in one way or another. Even if you can't see it."

And Emilia just clutches onto the fey girl, as tightly as she can, bittersweet tears escaping her eyes.

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