Chapter 1:


Bubblegum Beat


Veni shuts the door behind her.

"Urgh! Why does it matter?! What's the big deal?! Urgh!" she keeps muttering under her breath as she stomps around her spacious bedroom. Her face is red, arms restless. After exhausting herself, she jumps on her bed and reaches out for her phone.

Veni: "im running away"

She sends a message to her other friends.

Izzy: "Again?"
Cham: "ohhh"
Izzy: "What happened this time?"
Izzy: "And where are you going?"
Cham: "doncha stay out late ok ( •̀ ω •́ )✧"
Izzy: "It's plenty late already."

Veni rolls over to a position where she can type faster and more aggressively.

Veni: "they found out about the new discs i bought"
Veni: "and asked me to throw them away!"
Veni: "can you believe that?!"
Izzy: "Oh."
Izzy: "Yes, I can."
Veni: "can i come over to you guys right now?"
Cham: "cant. got guests over"
Cham: "but im down to have a sleepover at izzys ヾ(≧▽≦*)o"
Izzy: "Not a chance. Stay home."
Veni: "come on izzy! just one night!"
Cham: "are u just walking veni?"
Cham: "is scary out there. what if the tartarus gets you? (っ °Д °;)っ"
Veni: "at this point, i'd rather let him take me away"
Izzy: "That's not funny."
Izzy: "Veni. Stay. Home."

Veni tosses her phone to the side. "Can someone be on my side for once?" she whispers and covers her eyes with her arm.

She hears distant footsteps paired with inaudible chatter -- It's her parents and they seem to be having a relatively calm argument. She opens one eye to stare at the bottom of her door, thinking they're heading toward her room. The light outside her room goes out with a click and their chatter becomes muffled as they close the door to their bedroom.

By the sound of it, she doesn't need to worry about them bothering her tonight. That's when she knew that her chance to leave is now. She grabs her phone, wallet, and pair of earphones then quietly dashes towards her closet. She puts on her favourite baggy jacket.

"All set." She listens to her parents' voices. They're still preoccupied, and will probably be until they fall asleep. Veni turns off the lights in her room and tiptoes to her window. A gentle breeze enters her room as she opens it widely. With a quick peek, she starts climbing out.

She descends safely from her room on the second floor to the ground, not a single unplanned step. This is far from the first time she has done it. She takes a final glance at her almost-closed window before hopping off their tall fence.

"Night. Fight. Spite."

She gets on the calm road, a sight she hasn't seen in a little while. Everyone is fast asleep, even cars are rare to pass by. It is always this peaceful at this hour. An ideal night stroll setting for her busy mind. She walks around with one earphone on so the other ear can be attentive to her surroundings.

"Phone. Alone. Atone."

She's quite a distance from the residential areas. There's only a handful of houses in sight, most are behind tall trees. Yet the sidewalk remains pristine and well-lit. She needs to be prepared to hop into a bush if a patrol car happens to pass by as she would be hard to miss. That would only give her another table talk with her parents after she's brought back home, opposite of her agenda.

"Fleeting. Freezing. Pleasing."

Eventually, she gets to the river, the body of water that separates the upper class and the middle-to-lower class neighbourhoods of the city. Unlike her side of the bank, the other is dark and gloomy, but she can tell it's a lot livelier. She can faintly hear people roaming and talking.

"Curious. Furious. Serious."

She follows the river's flow, walking at the edge of her safety. The feeling of danger masks the frustration she is carrying. It fills her mind with something to pay attention to, leaving no space for trivial worries.

"Try. Cry. Di-"

She stops and takes off her earphone, swearing she heard something not coming from the music she's listening to. She looks around but sees and hears nothing. Just as she's about to put it back on, she hears it again. This time she's sure she heard it right. A strum of a guitar from a distance.

The strumming continues to play a sombre tune. Veni continues walking, trying to locate where it is coming from. The direction leads her down the path she's headed.

She reaches the bridge that connects the two distinct halves of the city. It is an especially unique view at night as the streetlamps only go up to a quarter of the way through the bridge, leaving the other half almost completely dark.

Someone with a guitar stands on the railing of the bridge facing the river. The melody is the only sound to be heard around, not even the gushing sound of the river can compete. Veni, curious about this person, slowly and subconsciously walks closer.

She gets right behind the girl who seems to be wearing black clothes, her thigh-length pigtails hanging by her side. All Veni could think of is how well the music fits the setting. It's like it was composed specifically for the scenery right before her. Calm. Solemn. Peaceful. Veni is stunned. Captivated.

Then the strumming stops as the girl turns to face Veni who snaps out of her fantasy, stuttering to come up with an excuse for being there. A black mask covers half of her face. Veni stares at her beautiful blue eyes, almost outshining the full moon right behind her.

It took a single look at this girl's face for Veni to know who she is. Tartarus. The increasingly popular recent urban legend of a supposed large man who roams at night and drags people into darkness. Completely different from what Veni had imagined that person would look like but she is immediately convinced.

Their staredown lasts for a few seconds until Veni breaks the silence.

"Hey! That was really good!" Veni applauds.

The girl continues to stare at her for a few more seconds. Veni's applause fades as she's unsure what to say next nor what the girl is thinking.

"Lost soul, what's your worry?" the girl speaks.

"W-Worry?" Veni tries to understand this seemingly cryptic message.

"Something's bothering you. Deep inside. And you're trying to escape it." She strums. "That's what brought you here, right?"

"Uhm... I guess," Veni reluctantly admits.

"We all have our worries. Love... Grief... School... Family...," she strums again. "And walking just doesn't cut it, right?"


"Loss... Indecisions... Fights...," she strums again. "We argue a lot with the people we care about. It's natural."

"Yeah. You're right."

"And we'll get over it."

"That's true."

"And one day you'll have to confront your parents about your hobbies."

"Yeah... Wha- How did-?!"


"But I'll keep you company tonight," the girl interrupts Veni who was taken aback. "I'll help you forget about it. How does that sound?"

"No, wait. How did you know that? Who are you?"

She hops down from the railing. "My name is Nao."

"Oh... My name... is... Veni," a thought keeps bothering her. She was expecting Nao to introduce herself as Tartarus. In hindsight, she realizes how weird that would have been.

"Nice to meet you, Gummy."

"Nice to meet you, too. But it's... It's Veni."

"Got it. Anyway, Gummy...," Nao starts playing another tune.

"No, it's...," Veni interrupts the music.



"I'm a street musician, as you can tell," Nao resumes playing. "I perform for anyone and everyone I come across. Do you like music?"

"I do."

"Then let me perform a piece for you. To ease your worries."

Veni listens. It's not something she has heard before but it feels strangely familiar and intimate. The melody is somewhat more upbeat than the prior one. Vibrant yet fading. She's engrossed by it.

As if it's rewinding back time for her. She can picture every step she took from her house to here with every chord. All the way back to the conversation she had with her parents. Like earlier, the music is imitating reality, but this time, it's not the scenery that it is matching. It is matching... Veni herself.

She can't help but feel like she has been followed all this time. No, not only that. It feels like her entire life is being turned into a musical piece. Everything she feels inside is being brought out at this moment, even the ones she has long forgotten. It creates a blanket of comfort around her, one where she feels at home.

The music ends. Veni stares at Nao, trying to figure out where that piece came from.

Nao carries her guitar over her shoulder. "Did you like it?"

"Sure. That was good. It was kind of...," Veni still struggles to describe it. "...surreal, really. How... How did you do that?"

"That wasn't for free, you know," Nao remarks.

"Oh! Y-Yeah. Of course," Veni scrambles for her wallet. "H-How much for that?"

"You can just buy me a drink," Nao starts to walk backwards toward the other side of the bridge.

"Uhm... I...," Veni looks back at the bright end of the bridge and back to Nao. "...can't really go there."

"I see. Too bad. I was going to tell you who I really am."

"What?! Who are you really? Do I know you?"

"After a drink." Nao continues walking further from the light, leaving Veni behind conflicted.

Their distance grows enough that Veni has to raise her voice a little. "Is it nearby? It's... It's not dangerous, is it?"

"Not if you stay close to me."

"How will I get home after?"

"I'll walk you."

"Really? Promise?"

Nao is almost completely engulfed by darkness.

"Hey!" Veni looks at her side of the bridge again, the bright lights where she belongs. What is she doing at this place even? She just happens to come across this girl she's never met before. She doesn't need to come with her. She doesn't need to take a step into this unknown new world.

Veni takes a sigh and calms her trembling hands. That's right. She shouldn't even be here right now. She shouldn't have left home, to begin with. It's still not too late to correct her bad decisions. This will be the end of her encounter with this mysterious girl.

But why she's walking towards Nao, not even she has a good answer.

"H-Hey!" Veni chases behind before she completely loses sight of her. "Okay, okay, I'm coming! Wait up!"