A Reverie for Another Eternity
“So, why did we have to leave exactly?”
The pair had been on a steady stroll from their departure and had come across a red light.
“It’s just my curfew, Maya looks out for me often when I get lost in time.”
As the wagons and carriages continued busily, Mikuta took a glance at Helena. Whether it was out of doubt or for self-affirmation, she couldn’t remember after seeing Helena’s aggrieved visage. Though it was for only a brief moment, it was a face of reluctance, so very very far out of place in front of a simple stoplight.
She turned around and faced Mikuta with a solemn look.
"Those children, they really do work hard just to live for another day. I wouldn't downplay their efforts if I were you."
The same cold stare previously used on Erika was now facing Mikuta, but she could care less about what Helena had to say. She only thought of what she saw, and until there was something to prove her otherwise, Mikuta was going to stay adamant about her opinion on the matter, regardless of how much her eyes plead for a mutual understanding.
The lights still turned green, and the pair made their way down the street and to the familiar bakery store. Helena had just finished dropping off the few baskets when suddenly, a memory of an earlier encounter arose in Mikuta’s mind.
“Wait wait wait hold up, weren’t we supposed to see someone today?”
They stopped their trekking through the less crowded streets, as the night lights flickered on. Mikuta had just now observed that the lamps weren’t conventionally powered by electricity, but rather with a ball of bright flame. Pretty interesting.
At that moment, Helena had realized her unfulfilled duty, giving an apologetic yet sheepish smile while holding the back of her head with one hand.
“O-oh yeah… we did have something like that to do on our list.”
She sighed with a worried look. Mikuta shared the same sentiment, though in fear of having to face Erika’s wrath instead.
“Guess we better run.”
Helena quickly grabbed Mikuta’s arm and rushed off towards the very tall and white building in the distance. Taken by surprise, Mikuta was struggling to steady her long and unbalanced steps, eventually keeping her pace in line while striding alongside Helena. She then let go of her hand and began pumping her arms.
They quickly sped away towards a hill opposite to the dorms, the central clocktower’s tolling bells indicating that it was now six in the afternoon.
The impressive white cathedral was the destination, standing out with its towering height and above the various buildings that were in the way. The pair made their way through the forest of brick buildings until eventually, they came across a monstrous staircase that seemed to go on endlessly. There were even clouds that seemingly covering the top step!
The imposing mountain shouldn’t have been referred to as a hill, looming over them. That explained why the white cathedral stood out even when they were in the city.
Mikuta took a gulp in both awe and terror for their next labor.
“Do… Do we need to go up that?”
She pointed to the very obviously long stairway that was in front.
"Can't you just, like, use your magic or something to fly us over there?"
Helena just shook her head.
"I'm not skilled enough to do something like that, sorry!"
The discouraged Mikuta licked her lips in hopeless anticipation.
“Better late than never I suppose.”
The two took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. At once, they ran up the onslaught of stairs with great dexterity and vigor, the muscles in their legs straining with each lift. They rushed through the flight of stairs, covering an impressive five stairs for every step. Even when in the state of complete exhaustion by the 777th step, the pair nevertheless persevered, gritting their teeth and gulping down liters of air until eventually, they finished the 999 steps.
Barely breathing at this point, Mikuta dropped on the gravel pathway, panting her heart out as she looked above at the purple and blue haze brought by the setting sun.
“Not… So… Bad… After… All...”
Helena was wheezing, her hands on her knees as the church doors opened, the dimly lit entrance couldn’t be seen with the outside light.
“You… can… say… that… again…”
The pair, still slightly out of breath, approached the open doors.
“You first, m’lady.”
Mikuta gestured towards the door and bowed down sarcastically. Half an act and half a need to recuperate a little longer, the droplets of sweat meandered their way down the contours of her face, leaving a glistening trail down her neck where it then made its way into her shirt, a cold welcome for her overheated body.
She followed in a few moments after Helena had done so, and as soon as they both made it to the first row of pews, the doors slammed shut.
“And who’s obligation did you say it was, hmm?”
A chill ran up the pairs’ spine. Helena didn’t dare to look back, but Mikuta did, out of sheer morbid curiosity.
Staring down at the two with an icy gaze, grinning from ear to ear, was the terrifying blonde sister from before. Her look of satisfaction far outweighed any other emotion she may have held at the moment and was most definitely terrifying.
“A-at least we got here!”
Helena bravely looked back as well, meeting her gaze.
Erika slumped her shoulders in mockery, shaking her head side to side while heaving a sigh.
“You have no idea how scared I was for the two of you~”
Instinctively, Helena piped up needlessly.
“There’s no way someone like you would be scared of anything, and especially for us.”
She continued to berate the sister, Erika casually nodding along at each passing moment.
“In the first place, I don’t think you’d have any trouble finding us. You’re probably - no, definitely - just too lazy to do so.”
A hand came down on top of Helena's head, as Erika began to squeeze down very hard.
“Owie owie owie owie!”
Helena grabbed the vice grip with two of her hands, desperately trying to fend off the attack.
“Let us move on, Sister Erika.”
A voice as light as a feather, almost a whisper, could be heard from the farthest row of pews. It seemed as if Helena and Erika had also caught notice of such a voice, as they turned their heads towards that direction.
“Mikuta, was it? Would you mind sitting in one of these rows next to me?”
In the farthest corner, there sat a hunched figure in a habit. However, her scapular was a bright red embroidered with gold sigils. A dragon and a lion surrounded what seemed to be several rubies on the top of her hunched back.
Oh, this is definitely an upgrade from whatever Helenas wearing.
Mikuta tiredly walked over to the very front of the aisle, dragging her feet slightly, and sat at the end, opposite to where the other, much more elderly, nun sat.
Taking a closer look, she could see that the hunch was probably due to years of poor posture, her wrinkly chin visible under the veil, much like her scraggly gray hair. Mikuta could’ve sworn she saw a smile, but any indication of that soon vanished under the movement of her head, the veil concealing any expressions she could’ve been making.
Mikuta heard the door quickly open and shut. Looking back, she saw that the two had disappeared from the inside - Helena was probably thrown out by Erika, who also proceeded to go outside. She was somewhat mildly amused at the act, smiling at the thought.
Suddenly, the same voice spoke in its unique and courteous manner, segueing perfectly into a conversation after the shutting of the door. The timing was flawless, and her speech was just as perfect. It was something to expect straight out of a high-class establishment.
“How was your day so far in the city, young lady?”
Mikuta hesitated for a bit before replying, unsure of what to really say to this old lady.
“It was fun, I guess.”
“Ho ho. Did Miss Patrovosky show you around town properly?”
Mikuta reminisced about the colorful world that she explored alongside Helena. Though it did have its cons with the slums, the city itself was a pretty wonderful sight to behold.
The old lady just chuckled lightly at this response.
“Is your name Mikuta? It'd be alright if you'd like to be called something else.”
“Uhh, no that won't be necessary." She quickly looked down. "Would it be ok if I asked for yours?”
“Lady florentine would be alright.”
The pair sat in silence for a few more moments of candle flickering until Florentine spoke up again.
“Have you heard of the phrase ‘moral relativity'?”
Confused, Mikuta didn't know where the conversation was heading.
“It’s an interesting concept of how people would choose to abide by certain ethics in given situations. Whether it would be something small, like selling orphans to slave traders in exchange for quick monetary gain, or knowing that a better life is to be had with the death of an entire slave dynasty, their lifeblood fueling the livelihood of a city for generations to come.
Normally, these acts would be the most unthinkable and despicable of atrocities a normal person with goodwill would never do. But, never once has one understood the intentions of another, nor the underlying circumstances behind it. For what if I were to have told you the orphanage had lost its funding and was forced to give away the children under a government mandate? What if it was the blood of a criminal clan that would allow for the flourishing of crops and bountiful harvests at each new moon, providing relief for many hard-working people?"
At that point, Mikuta had thought that it was the phrasing that made all the difference, but she didn't bother correcting this crazy old lady.
"Considering everything, every extenuating circumstance, every extraneous detail that may have shaped an individual’s wellbeing in the past, present, and future, it is possible to calculate a bias, a prediction of their fate, in the everpresent, everflowing current of human constructs. Though it may seem disconnected from a fourth-party's viewpoint, it will eventually add up once the puzzles had fallen in place. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, an applied curse that none can avoid, in basic terms.
And so, would you be willing to commit what humanity deems as sins if it’s for the sake of others? For the sake of yourself?”
Yup, she was pretty crazy. But Mikuta had to respond somehow, and so without any solid basis for her reasoning, thought that all forms of selflessness were an overly stupid thing to do, for both the giver and the receiver. She decided to play dumb instead to see where the old lady was getting at. After all, this entire talk about moral relativity and predicting human behavior didn’t add up in the slightest.
“I don’t get what you mean…”
The old lady didn’t bother answering.
“Do you believe in god, young lady?”
Again, Mikuta was being tested. If she were to answer something as asinine as a no, then it would most likely result in her being kicked out. However, if she were to answer untruthfully without actually knowing the name of her chosen god or gods, then it would also be over for her.
She hesitated, swallowing down the lump of uncertainty in her throat.
Only one way to find out.
“Will answering this question kick me out of the dorms?”
Florentine chuckled, her fragile-looking frame wobbling from the weak laughter. Mikuta thought that she could definitely take her in a fight if it came down to it.
“Of course not, dear. If anything, our church is nothing but questioning the existence of god.”
Mikuta was confused but relented and asked another.
“What gods are there in this world? What good can be made in this world where our lives are dictated by such powerful existences?”
She began to boil down to a question that she truly wanted to ask, not one that was asked simply for word count.
“What exactly am I to this world?”
Mikuta could only recall fragments of who she was before. And with those sparse fragments, she could tell apart things that were familiar and things that weren't. Perhaps that was for the best.
“It is by discovering these evils and self-evident truths that we can progress through this world of ours with new understanding.”
That was just a bunch of baloney that didn’t make sense. Regardless, she was done hearing her out. She already had fulfilled her duty of greeting this lady anyways, her legs still wincing from the earlier workout. She definitely wasn't looking forward to going back down those steps again.
“May I head back now? This conversation has been… pleasant, but I think I would like to go now.”
Mikuta stood up and could hear a small scream from outside. Erika was probably doing something to Helena. She chuckled to herself at this thought.
“Now now, let me finish.”
There was a new quality to her voice, one of cold and stern darkness that compelled Mikuta to sit right back down.
“Perhaps you would like to take a look at the Tripitaka?”
Florentine gestured towards a shelf holding various parchments, books, and scrolls.
A Christian church with Buddhist literature? This isn’t right at all…
Mikuta grabbed the smallest and most dull-looking book she could find there as a form of her silent rebellion, and promptly sat back down.
The cover was decorated with a symbol, in which five animal figures seemingly of Buddhist origin stood around a golden cross in prayer.
“Now read the fourth page.”
Mikuta unwillingly obliged.
Let’s see… In this world, seven precepts govern society. One: to refrain from taking another’s life in acedia, Two: to refrain from stealing in avarice, Three: to refrain from taking intoxicants in gluttony, Four: to refrain from lying to oneself in the sake of pride, five: to refrain from lusting without love, six: to refrain from disheartening others in envy, and seven is… blank?
Mikuta knew that the only missing cardinal sin, for some reason disguised as a Buddhist precept, was wrath, but she didn’t know what actions led on by ‘wrath’ would cause that sin to be committed. Not like it really mattered to her, though it was a bit interesting.
“What seems to be the trouble, young lady?”
This time, that decrepit old lady asks Mikuta with a complacent tone that was fully aware of her authority. Mikuta was both annoyed at the fact that she understood Mikuta’s own powerlessness, as well as not even calling Mikuta by her name once!
“Mrs. Florentine, there seems to be a specific portion of the page that was intentionally made blank with…”
Mikuta observed the paper a little closer, the little black smudges seemingly made of soot garbling the sentence. She flipped a page forward and backward, and couldn’t help but notice that the static portion had only remained on page four of the missing precept.
“Some kind of smearing…”
“Ah. I would not worry about it.”
She paused, her voice lightening up.
“But it would be good of you to understand the world sometimes without any former… prejudices.”
Mikuta quickly caught onto what she was talking about - specifically about her origin. She stood up abruptly, despite the tingling sensation from earlier telling her body not to.
“Do you know who I am, Florentine?”
Without saying the honorifics, Mikuta slapped her hand over her chest, exasperated at the thought that the very unlikeable and incorrigible lady knew something that Mikuta herself doesn’t know about. She was very frustrated indeed.
Florentine chuckled, leaning backward as she crossed her left leg over her right, her hunch no longer appear in her fluid arch of a spine. She comfortably grabbed the top of the bench with her arms outstretched and easily hung her head back.
To Mikuta, this was a totally different woman from the one she was conversing with earlier. And she most definitely couldn’t take this one in a fight.
“I do not, and it is not my particular concern to know who you are now or were.”
Her voice was enriched with a velvety quality of youth, her fragile self no longer. Though aware of this change, Mikuta didn’t like her answer.
“Let me finish.”
Once again, that dangerous nature seeped into her tone once more, Mikuta clicked her tongue in annoyance.
“For you to continue using the dormitory, you will have to either attend my school of choice or to take up an apprenticeship under someone willing to hire you.”
“And,” the lady continued, “You must have tangible results that would prove your worth. If not, you will be evicted indefinitely.”
Mikuta began to sweat uncontrollably.
“B-but I don’t even know how to read and write??”
“Young lady, you must understand one thing. This isn’t a charity organization - it’s a loan that you’ve taken out and must repay soon.”
“I didn’t ask to be saved! Why the hell would I need to do something like that?! I-I-”
Once again, the old lady just gave a light shrug, completely disrespecting Mikuta’s thoughts on the matter. It was so disruptive that Mikuta had forgotten about what she wanted to say in the first place. Her fist clenched tightly, her fingers almost turning purple, Mikuta turned around and stomped her way towards the exit to get a message across. Of course, this wouldn’t do anything, and Mikuta had wished it did.
She wondered if landing a punch on the old lady would satiate this burning desire to hit something. Not that it would’ve done her any good.
From behind, the ever-present voice of Lady Florentine reverberated in her ears as another whisper could be heard, this time right next to her ear.
“Good luck, Mikuta.”
“God, what the hell is wrong with that hag?”
Mikuta kicked a smooth pebble that stood right outside the church door. It went flying down the stairs, the small thumps on concrete could be heard even at where she stood.
Helena leaned against the side of the cathedral, rubbing her temples gingerly from the earlier harassment by Erika.
“She must’ve gone senile after all those years of just messing with people I bet.”
“Miiikuuuutaaaa, you shouldn’t speak badly about Lady Florentine…”
She continued to rub her temples.
“She’s the one in charge of this church and the dorms we live in, and if she hears you it might be the end for youuuuu…”
“Like I care!”
Mikuta loudly proclaimed to the city below the long stairway down, her foot on the top stair. She was very proud of her statement, until she looked down, her blood suddenly draining from her face.
Down below, a sister was smoking, a large plume of smoke drifting in the air aimlessly.
“Oh, and here I took you for the silent type.”
Erika flicked her cigarette, the ashes fading into the upward breeze that tossed it next to Mikuta’s foot. The sister got up and dusted off her tunic, turning around and looking at Mikuta.
Erika took a few steps up, overshadowing Mikuta despite being exactly three stairs lower than where she stood. Until now, Mikuta hadn’t noticed how freakishly tall Erika was - adding only to her already imposing figure.
Though the sun had disappeared over the horizon, the dimmed purple and blue skies certainly didn’t forgive Mikuta for that remark, as the faint light outlined Erika’s formidable figure, like some sort of god.
Maybe that should’ve been her response to Florentine's earlier question.
Mikuta’s stomach rumbled once more, breaking the silence. Helena laughed as she came behind Mikuta, tapping her lightly on the shoulder.
“You’re not you when you're hungry.”
“Y-yeah. I guess.”
An arm had wrapped itself around Mikuta’s shoulder, the same smoky and perfume fragrance filling the air in front of Mikuta. She scowled at having to breathe in the fumes.
“Don’t worry, I totally agree with you there, Mikuta.”
To the right of Mikuta, Erika was slouched while continuing to smoke another cigarette. She exhaled, sending the last of the smoke out of her lungs, as she dropped the cigarette butt on the floor.
“Let’s go for curry tonight, yeah?”
Helena and Mikuta nodded compliantly, as Erika grinned.
“Alrighty, let’s a go!”
The trio merrily made their way down the tediously long steps, and back to the dorms. Though Mikuta and Helena were only putting up an act to keep Erika in a more favorable state, unbeknownst to them, Erika was already in a statement of happiness with Mikuta’s reaction towards lady florentine - finding another comrade to chastise her with.
“Phew, I never thought the shower rooms were that big.”
Mikuta was currently drying her hair with a towel in the room just outside of the showers. She was surrounded by a bunch of sinks and bath mats benches that sat between the blue lockers.
Though everything was clean, orderly, and modern-looking with its beautiful paints and well-done infrastructure, she sighed silently, as Helena continued to hum in the showers next door.
The three had finished eating their freshly prepared curries once they arrived at an empty cafetorium. Strangely enough, it was already sitting there when the three had arrived, though it was the least of Mikuta’s worries at the time. When they had finished eating, Erika had left them once again, saying something along the lines of “I need to go do another job before I can rest properly”. The remaining two then walked down the halls once more and entered through a mundane-looking door, which surprisingly hid away an entire bathhouse that was very well maintained, even by her standards. Yet again, there was not a soul to be seen within the steamy interior.
Mikuta’s face flushed as she recalled the earlier quarrel that went down between her and Helena, one of which ended in a full-body wash by Helena despite Mikuta’s reluctance.
She could recall herself being too embarrassed to give herself a proper wash, too abashed to look at the mirrors that populated every part of the walls of the rooms. Mikuta could still feel the tickling sensations on her bosom, and judging by how well-rounded they seemed in the offender's hands, she gave a rough estimate of the size - perhaps the volume and shapeliness of coconuts.
“Yeah, they’re pretty huge.”
A voice came out from behind Mikuta as Helena had wrapped her body with a white towel just in a nick of time. To the Mikuta who still held an adolescent boy’s mind, it was a bit stimulating, and much more embarrassing.
Helena began wrapping another towel around her head after wiping away any remaining drops on her legs and arms.
“Nothing like a good soak after a long day, you know?”
“Of course, of course.”
Mikuta had begun to change, taking her assigned pajamas out of the locker. Helena had begun to do the same as well, her clothes being on the opposite side of Mikuta's. The words “thank god” were mindlessly repeated in Mikuta’s mind. Perhaps the steam had gotten to her, as well as the rough first day. Yet her morals had somehow stayed intact (applause).
The two, after properly drying off, brushed their teeth in the sinks. As they had finished rinsing the last of the green toothpaste, Mikuta stopped. She had remembered another crucial memory, something that definitely couldn’t be overlooked.
“Hey, uh, Helena?”
Helena wiped away the remaining water droplets on her face and looked up at Mikuta, whose face was sweating with nervousness.
“Are there spare bedsheets in the storage room or something?”
Mikuta wasn’t sure if there even was a storage room, but she definitely didn’t want to sleep on the rough mattress without a bedsheet. She cursed herself for not being able to hold it in earlier in the day.
The vivid nightmare of the crimson tide was still fresh in her mind, shuddering at the thought.
“Why would you - ah.”
Helena had realized why she had asked such a question, and in turn, chuckled.
‘At this hour, no. You can get a spare when morning comes though.”
She tapped her forehead, illuminated by the strips of light overhead. Also magically powered, maybe.
“Maybe there are spare rooms?”
With Mikuta dejected, Helena had come up with a brilliant idea. She puffed out her chest and pointed her thumb at herself gaudily.
“You know, I’m more than willing to let you sleep in my bed just for tonight.”
Truth to be told, Mikuta was very glum about the possible prospect of having to sleep on something as hard as the floor upstairs, or to deal with a rugged mattress that would’ve scratched her supple and girlish skin. She vowed to not have malicious intentions and to not take advantage of Sister Helena’s goodwill if it did come down to sleeping next to her.
“That sounds nice, but you sure?”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll keep you safe.” With a beaming smile, she held Mikuta’s hands, much to her embarrassment. “Anyways, let's go now, I think my hair is just about dry.”
With a nod, the pair threw their clothes in the hamper, and quickly slipped on their shoes, and headed towards Helena’s room.
It really wasn’t as far as Mikuta was expecting it to be, being only a short turn and a few hallways away from her own.
She stood in front of the door as Helena headed inside first, and Mikuta trailed on from behind.
Mikuta surveyed the identical space that she could’ve easily mistaken for her own room, aside from the lack of windows and the clutter of books that sat atop a huge oaken desk.
Helena jumped backward and onto her bed, kicking her legs back and forth.
“Did you use the bathroom already?”
“I’m not a kid you know - and plus I'm supposedly older than you so shut it.”
Though Mikuta had proclaimed that sentence boldly, Helena snickered.
“And who’s the one who wet themselves AND their bed?”
Mikuta couldn’t bring herself to tell Helena what had actually happened - and not like it would’ve done her any service either to the smug so-called supervisor of hers. So Mikuta waited for Helena to stop, where she then rolled over next to the wall making space for Mikuta.
Looking back at Mikuta, Helena patted the open area of her bed with outstretched arms.
Sighing, Mikuta hesitantly went atop the bed and snuggled under the comfy covers which had a distinctly good smell of strawberries.
The two gingerly allowed each other to hoist the same cover over themselves without attempting to be rude about it, the entire situation comfortably silent.
And with a snap of Helena’s fingers, the fire in the lamp went out.
"Don't wet the bed, ok?"
"Oh, screw you."
A few minutes had passed since then, and Mikuta turned her head over to gauge Helena’s reaction. As expected, she had already begun to fall asleep, her breaths becoming more drawn out with every passing second.
Her warmth was comforting, and her soft breaths had a soothing effect on Mikuta’s otherwise overly anxious and fearful mind. Having considered how badly the day could’ve played out, as well as her earlier dream on the chair, Mikuta was truly grateful for the existence named Helena.
Tonight, she definitely would not be having a nightmare.
As she began to think that, a black mist had clouded Mikuta’s vision as she drifted off into a plentiful rest for the first time in her life in the other world, her face expressing a heartfelt smile of gratitude that no one in the small world of theirs would’ve known.