Chapter 15:



My thick comforter allows me a reprieve from my overwhelmingly pink room, as well as my father, who, having realized I was in dismay, left me with familiar words: “Just practice your music and leave everything to me, okay?”Bookmark here

Leave everything to him? He somehow knows about Aku and Mary. What about JC? My phone is nowhere to be found. Whether it was left in that snowfield, or my father took it, I can't reach the person who's supposed to be my guide. So, how am I going to find Mary?Bookmark here

Should I sit and let her and my father fight each other? This is supposed to be my world. Though I’m not feeling very motivated, Mary did tell me to fight. There must be something I can do— at least, anything would be better than leaving everything to him.Bookmark here

Why is he here, anyway? And why does he know so much? He wasn’t around in Mary’s world, but I suppose that isn’t hard to believe if the NPCs are as unpredictable as JC said.Bookmark here

It seems like it’s really him… but am I safe here, anyway? Mary should know about this place. I want to find her and work together, but if it's the fake I'm dealing with, I might be in trouble. I don't know if she'll be able to come here if we're on different wavelengths, but even I subconsciously managed to put her in danger in her world.Bookmark here

Feeling uneasy, I finally force myself out of the cozy bed, still wrapped in the blanket. With a hop I reach the chair and begin working the mouse like it’s natural to me. First, I run a search on a video-sharing site and find my first piano recital at age seven. It’s from the Shibutani Group’s profile and has just a few thousand views, the comments consisting of businessmen trying to win favor with my father or complimenting my strawberry-blonde curls.Bookmark here

I run a new search for Shiburei, and land on a goldmine. It’s my own profile, stacked with videos of my studio-quality pieces attached to various artworks— some animated or topped with expensive graphic effects. They lie at the bottom of the list in views, yet some eclipse a million views. Above them are music videos with cutesy sketch animation, accompanied with other artist’s vocals or instrumentals— scoring two to three million each.Bookmark here

The five most recent videos, dating back as recent as a month, are live performances topping ten million views each. The leap is likely due to the nature of the performances, which reveal a shadowy glimpse of my pink curls and frail arms as I play from the comfort of my overly-pink room. More importantly, the piano is accompanied by my own singing, which serves as a striking complement to the piano’s soft cadence with its unassuming pitch.Bookmark here

The comment section of the most recent video is riddled with love and support verging on obsession. However, newer comments show concern over my lack of activity since the upload. One particular comment from today stands out, reading: “The world you created here feels like a deep, deep dream”. The username stands out even more: JC.Bookmark here

I snort at a reply urging ‘the son of God should really lay off the pipe, and smirk at his audacity. Communicating this way— he surely is right for this job. Of course, I understand what he’s telling me to do, but I’m not sure how to do it.Bookmark here

I scroll up and put the video on full screen. After draping the head of my blanket over the monitor to block out any light, I study the video. Every keystroke, and every word uttered. I’m drawn to the lights of several candles flickering on the piano’s edge, swaying and refracting in tandem with the melody and melting my gaze and consciousness within its form.Bookmark here

Just as I realize the phenomenon is exactly what I felt with the lab’s machine, I try to pull away to no avail. My perspective melts into the screen and becomes that of the girl within. My fingers move like machinery on the keys, as if I had never stopped playing.Bookmark here

The slight humming in my throat helps me stay in key, and I play as if it’s natural, my fingers dashing across the keys with unfettered passion, swift yet precise. The candle flame wraps me with warmth as I sink into ecstasy, indulging in my performance. The flames tailor their dancing to the tune of my emotion, my indulgence. Their wax bases all bear the shape of cherry blossoms, casting a similarly shaped shadow on the melting plates and piano’s surface.Bookmark here

Unhindered by my stupor, the cherry blossom shadows dance and distort beyond their caster’s means. Like specters the petals extend and wade across the piano’s scarcely illuminated surface, branching into thin, claw-shaped threads. The threads approach and surround me, their claws poised to strike.Bookmark here

As the shadows multiply, the heat given off by the candles begins to wane, sending a chill through my body. I try to ignore the feeling in favor of my indulgence, but its effects seep into my bones and slow my movements.Bookmark here

With my delayed performance, the shadows swarm me. They smother me with a relentless cold and force my stiffened fingers onto the keys. I answer them and continue the song, desperate to evade the growing cold before it renders my numbed joints unable to operate.Bookmark here

Like my life depends on it, I play, inching ever closer to the warmth of the candlelight with each keystroke and fending off the shadows note by note. As the warmth returns, so does my passion. I feed off of the warmth and carry it as a beacon of my zeal in my craft as I continue kneading the keys with vigor.Bookmark here

The shadows of the cherry blossom petals retract to normal size, their form glitching in equality with their caster, the flickering candle flames. Like clockwork, however, the flames calm and the shadows once again set out for their prey. The cold returns, spreading within me. My limbs shudder as they’re compelled to move despite stiff pain.Bookmark here

The cycle completes and repeats as the shadows withdraw and the warmth returns. It repeats once over, and then twice over. After a third iteration, I desire the warmth much more than I had at the start. After an eighth time, I become fixated on the warmth and play carefully and meticulously in order to return to it. After ten rounds, I manage to prolong the period of warmth with the quality of my playing.Bookmark here

However, the cold always comes. With a twentieth iteration, my playing becomes so crisp that I stretch the warm cycle over a minute, but when the cold finally returns, it does so with equal magnitude. I urge my freezing limbs on, producing even better work. As I gnash the keys with increased energy, I feel the warmth burning within— not as a beacon, but a fuel.Bookmark here

As my hunger inclines more, a foreign sound radiates from my computer behind me. “Mirei,” the voice whirrs. Its extraneous placement within my cycle confuses me but does not stop my devoted playing. “I'm sure you’re going through hell, but you have to overcome it. JC and I can’t help you. I’m sorry for saying we would. That misstep cost us.”Bookmark here

The buzzing is extraneous, but it's not cold, at least. Despite the shadows, I attune my ears to it. “Can you hear me? I’m still here no matter what, okay?”Bookmark here

“Mary?” I hum out loud, only partially aware of who I’m referring to.Bookmark here

“Mirei!” she cries emphatically. “Listen, you have to hurry and get out of here. The more time you spend here, the closer our wavelength will become!”Bookmark here

“But Mary… I can’t stop playing, see?” I remark, grinding the keys boastfully.Bookmark here

“I know you can’t, Mirei,” she says with a warmth exceeding that of the candle flames. “Of course, you can’t, because… you’re terrified of dying.”Bookmark here

Her words cut my performance short, wiping the mad look off my face and replacing it with fear. The shadows swarm me, but even their coercion is not enough to move my limbs. My arms and hands begin to ice over as the flames fade. What feels like iron cords coil around my heart and wrench it upward.Bookmark here

I feel like my soul itself is being ripped from me. I think only of myself, recalling my pitiful life, and reach within myself for my fleeing soul. I call out to every nerve in my body. A single nerve answers my call, jerking my index finger downward onto a key. The key responds in kind, playing and holding a low note until my vision is blotted out and static overwhelms my consciousness.Bookmark here

Falling out of my computer chair, I throw my blanket off and stagger toward my bed, my pajamas sticking to my skin with cold sweat. I gasp for breath, trying to ignore the melody coming from my computer. My attention is stolen immediately by the sound of thunder. I direct my gaze out the window and trudge forward.Bookmark here

The window, which had just displayed a midday snowstorm, now reveals a thunderstorm in the dead of night. The snowy floor is illuminated by a stampede of lightning just beyond the property. Opposite the gate at the bottom of the hill lined with cherry blossom trees, a horde of people, armed with various weapons, also stand illuminated.Bookmark here

At their head, a slender girl with riveting black hair wearing a black jacket glares daggers in my direction, thunder cracking through the sky as if manifested by her gaze alone.Bookmark here

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