She looked outside. The rain that had begun to fall at sunset silently drenched the walls of the modest stone building.
She coughed softly. The paleness of the hand she pressed to her lips betrayed her illness.
You don't have much longer.
The village elder, who also served as their doctor, had announced this reality to her coolly.
When will I die?
She was filled with neither grief nor emptiness. Instead, she was simply enveloped by a peculiar, crushing weight.
Unnoticed by her, the man stood in the corner of the room, amidst the gloom cast by the light of a small candlestick.
"Are you suffering?" the man said as she slowly turned her gaze upon him.
"Who are you? How long have you been there?" she asked, surprise and fear in her voice.
The man continued slowly, approaching her step by step, as if he had not heard her enquiry. "Don't you want to be saved?"
The small flame from the candlestick illuminated the man's face. The man's skin was black as night, his eyes clouded white and seemingly unseeing.
"What do you mean? I'm going to die. Everyone says... that my illness can't be cured by any medicine. That this is my fate..."
She covered her face. It was like the thing engulfing her weighed ever more heavy. She didn't know what the weight was. Suddenly, she began to feel afraid - not of dying, but because she had noticed that the weight felt like it was going to crush her.
It's going to crush me. I don't want that. That's the only thing that scares me. Even more than death.
Her heart struggled desperately against that invisible something. She felt her breathing grow heavy.
"Death comes to us all." The man appeared to smile slightly, as if he saw what was happening to her. "It is a fate from which we cannot escape. But if you wish it, you can change that, too."
She looked up, staring straight at the man, as if shaking free from a nightmare. She now noticed that the man held a knife.
"You have a twin sister. If you cannot live alone, then you may take her life. That is the power that you, twins, hold..."
"What are you saying?"
"That which once was one divides into two, becoming two lives. And when the two return to one, that one is granted eternal power..."
As she listened to the man speak, she felt her consciousness fading. The man's voice gradually grew more distant, faint, and yet it echoed ever more clearly within her head.
"...Who are you...?"
"Before long, the moon shall be curtained with crimson... If, at that time, you kill your sister with this knife... That which was two shall return to one..."
When she next opened her eyes, she was alone in the room. The rain went on falling, and the flame of the small candlestick continued to flicker. The only evidence that the whole thing hadn't been a dream was the knife she held in her hand.
All that moved amidst the deep, dark forest was a pair of lights.
That is to say that through it a car slowly drove, its dull-sounding engine echoing around. A few hours had passed since the light of dusk that covered the forest had faded, and for the first time, Christina remembered that she hadn't sent word to the university.
Now that I think about it, this car belongs to them, too...
For the blink of an eye she was astounded by the rashness of her actions, but the thought vanished again just as quickly.
I have to go...
The fierce voice that echoed in repetition inside her heart drowned out the fleeting sprout of slight regret with extreme ease.
On the passenger seat sat a book. Its cover, which must have been snow white once upon a time, was now a dull grey, but its title was still just about legible. The dubious-looking book, titled "Research on Prehistoric Civilisations of North America", had been in the library at the university she worked at. Ever since the moment she'd opened the book in the library, ever since she'd spotted the woman within, she was ensnared by this strong emotion and couldn't be apart from it. Stirred up, she stepped on the accelerator, and the car resumed its journey through the forest.
More than twenty years prior.
Still a small child, she trudged alone across an empty beach. What was she doing there? Why was she all alone? She couldn't understand. It was even unclear just what had happened to her. Her whole body throbbed with pain, but she continued to walk.
Where were her mother and father? For some reason, she was unable to recall their faces. All she could sense was that she had parents, and that they had suddenly disappeared. She remembered burning, a loud, bursting sound, and a plume of black smoke. Over and over again, the sound and image of the smoke surfaced and sank within her mind.
She wanted to cry, but for some reason the tears wouldn't come out. She kept on walking. If she didn't, she felt like she was going to disappear - just like her mother and father.
That was her oldest memory. She still didn't know anything from beforehand. She had tried to remember so many times, but she couldn't figure out what the noise and the black smoke meant.
The car continued along, finally exiting the forest. Christina, finally catching sight of the manor she had been heading for, slowed down a little.
That's the Clancy house... She's there...
The manor, with its dense forest and lake, felt somehow familiar, even though she had never visited before.
A while later, a car sat parked in front of the Clancy estate. It was the car that had come out of the forest with Christina.
Moonlight shone down on the passenger seat of the empty car. The old book was nowhere to be found.
Michael Stewart, a researcher who had been taking reference photographs, spun around at the sound of the door opening.
"M-Mr. Albert... W-what brings you here, sir?"
The man he called Albert, ignoring Michael's slightly shrill voice, slowly surveyed the area.
"M-my apologies. It's a bit of a mess... Um, I've been gathering a little investigation material for later..."
Albert walked over to the nearby desk and Michael hurried to join him, beginning to tidy it. Albert slowly began to speak, as if paying no attention to his fluster.
"Where... is Bridget...?"
"Th-the chief? I, um, I haven't seen her yet today. I, uh, think Irena might know..."
It's like his voice is echoing from the depths of the earth... Michael thought, cowering at the question from over his shoulder. I've never liked him. He always looks like he's brooding over something...
Michael continued tidying up, waiting for Albert to leave, but he simply stood there in silence. Stealing a glance, he saw that he seemed to be deep in thought about something and showed no signs of moving. The silence dragged on. Unable to stand it any longer, Michael began to speak as he went on putting things in order.
"Come to think of it, how has Miss Jessica's health been lately? All of the employees here are terribly worried about her, and wonder if they might be able to pay her a visit..."
Michael waited for a response from Albert, but none came.
Having finished putting the desk in order, Michael searched restlessly around for something else to do, trying to escape the oppressive air of silence, but nothing came to him.
Michael steeled himself and made an attempt at conversation. "Um, Mr. Alb..."
"Where is the stone?" Albert cut in.
What does he mean?
"Where is the red stone?"
"Red... O-oh, you mean the 'soul stone'. It's in the safe over there..."
What does he want with that thing? Michael wondered and gazed over at Albert's face, about to ask, but as he did so he decided that it didn't matter.
"I-Irena is in charge of the key. She's p-probably in the office..."
He stood there, unable to look away. He just wanted the man before him to get out as soon as possible. Albert silently opened the door to the office and left the room.
After watching him go, Michael hurriedly opened the other door and stepped into the hallway. Succumbing to his fear, he walked briskly towards the front of the building. He wanted to put as much space between himself and that man as he could.
What's up with him...?
He turned back here and there along the short hallway of the research institute, then went outside. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, but the fear still lingered. He had seen Albert's eyes, and within them, he felt like he had seen something he shouldn't have. He did not yet know what that something was.