"Welcome, Momoko Hitsuragi."
A silken voice strangely similar in cord to the old woman's greeted Momoko on the other side of the door. She was in a large office with marble floors and floor to ceiling windows draped with blood-red curtains. In front of the curtains was a large antique desk with cherubs and demons carved along its edges, and sitting at that desk with a cold stare was a thin woman with elegant features and long golden hair. Across her left temple ran a streak of crimson in her bangs that made her dark blue eyes stand out even more from her pale complexion.
"A-Are you Ms. Hong?"
"You may call me Midnight." The woman stood and moved gracefully from behind the desk, and Momoko was struck by how tall she was. Overall, Midnight looked more like a high-class model in a suit rather than a doctor or specialist.
"Why did Sylvia send you to me?"
Momoko blinked, berating herself for staring. "Um, well, from the earthquake the other day... I've been having these headaches..."
The word was as sharp as a dagger, and Momoko winced. "And... Sylvia thought you could help. She said you were a specialist."
"I see." Midnight closed the gap between them, and Momoko had to look up to meet the woman's gaze. "I'm afraid I won't be able to help you unless you're completely honest Momoko. Why did she send you here instead of to a doctor?"
"You're not a doctor?" Momoko frowned.
Midnight smiled a smile as cold as her eyes, and Momoko couldn't suppress a shudder. The woman was downright scary.
She reached out and picked up the stone around Momoko's neck. "What is this?"
"Oh," Momoko grabbed it, thankful to have something besides the specialist's icy countenance to look at. 'It's a stone that fell during the earthquake. It hit my shoulder and I felt like I had to keep it. All though when Sylvia saw it, she thought it was an egg at first, which is kind of weird, but it glows, so I think it's a stone, but..."
"You're rambling." Midnight interrupted. "But that will do. Does being around your 'stone' cause these headaches?"
"No.... but I have this weird idea that being apart from it does. I've found if I try to leave it in the bedroom and go to the kitchen, the headache starts."
"Ah." Midnight motioned for Momoko to follow and they headed over to the right corner of the room where a silver bowl rested on an alabaster pedestal. "Wait here."
The mysterious woman disappeared through a side door on the other side of the pedestal. Momoko realized both walls of the office were lined with identical mahogany doors. She counted four on each side. What kind of an office had that many exits... before she could think about it further, Midnight returned with a glass decanter of water.
"Your guardian made a good judgment sending you here." She uncorked the decanter and began pouring into the bowl. "I am not a doctor, but I am a specialist... an expert in the occult, if you will..."
"A what?" Momoko scoffed.
"There are forces inside and out of this world that mankind rarely deals with, but sometimes those forces interject in our lives. When they do, people usually find their way to me. I believe you've been tapped by a powerful force, Momoko, and this seer's bowl filled with dragon's tears will prove me right."
"Look," she shook her head. "No offense, but I don't believe in this sort of thing; so thank you for your time, but this is a mistake."
"Learning the truth never is." Midnight waved her hand over the bowl, casting a light shadow across its reflective surface. "But the choice is yours. You can walk out my door and never again think of these things, or you can hand me the egg. Make your mind up quickly."
"Egg?" Momoko grasped at the necklace. 'I thought you said it was a stone."
"You believed it was a stone, so I did not contradict you as you told your story; but what you describe sounds very much like a phlox spore. The only way to know for sure is to use the seer's bowl."
Momoko cradled the stone/egg in her palm. Feeling the warm and tracing the intricately carved lines against her flesh. This was all too weird to take in. Was this some dream, a strange nightmare?
"Make up your mind, girl. I have other appointments today."
"If it is this spore-egg thingy... what does that mean? Am I contaminated by an alien or something?"
"I don't know what kind of egg it is yet, so I cannot adequately answer that."
Momoko let the stone/egg roll in her palm. Despite the woman's overall strangeness and abrupt manner, she felt in her gut that she could trust what the woman had to say. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to know what this thing really was... dream or not, someone was offering an answer to her unspoken questions. Every fiber in her being was consumed with curiosity. Could she really walk away from this strange room without some kind of answer, some hint to the odd little stone/egg she'd found? She gently removed the egg from its wire cage and placed it in Midnight's open palm. For the first time in a week, she felt like herself, liked things were right again. She blew out a large sigh of relief, as if letting go had unburdened all the weight of the world from her shoulders.
"Wise decision." A flicker of warmth passed through the deep color of Midnight's eyes.
She gently dropped the egg into the water and as it sank, the ripples turned a strange pinkish color. A low hum began to resonate, causing the water to tremor. Momoko watched the lines across the egg begin to glow more brightly than the soft yellow color they had emitted all week. They grew brighter as the humming changed and shifted into whispered words in a language Momoko didn't understand.
As the words and tremor of the water began to sync into a beautiful show of color and music, she felt a warmth bloom in her heart as the egg seemed to grow until it was as large as the bowl, and the hum was the egg, soft and warm and as inviting as an embrace. She reached for it, fingers trembling against the light shining from the egg. She felt like a flower when it first turns its face to the sun. The light was everywhere, the warmth filling and passing through her as if her being was only a thin veil for it to shine through. She could stay this way forever, she could—
A splash of cold water against her face was as painful as severing a limb and she screamed, falling on the floor in agony. She slowly grew aware of the marble beneath her, the intricate stars carved in the plaster ceiling above, her own ragged breathing, and the intense gaze of Midnight hovering over her.
"I apologize." She handed Momoko a soft towel. "I did not anticipate such a reaction."
"I don't understand." Momoko croaked, the words pushing through a throat too dry for speaking.
Midnight gently pulled her up, and Momoko had to lean against her lithe frame and be led to a chair by the large desk. She stared at the veins running through the floor, but all she could see or think about was the light and warmth too vivid a sensation to be able to acknowledge the chair beneath her or the glass of water being put in her hand. Someone was talking to her, a cold voice with cold eyes. She blinked, and as the present came back into focus, she recognized Midnight again.
"Drink." the woman commanded. "It's infused with mint and cucumber, it will ease the effects."
Momoko took a long sip, the cool water refreshing her throat and clearing her mind.
"It is a phlox spore, as I suspected, and you've been bonded to it."
She took another sip of water. "What does that mean?"
"It means you must take care of it until it hatches. You've been chosen to become an advocate for humanity."
Momoko shook her head, hearing the words, but not completely understanding them.
"It also means a demon may be coming for you. Wherever a phlox appears, its opposite is sure to follow. The last time phlox spores appeared, the world was nearly destroyed. I hope this time the advocates will choose differently."
"I don't understand."
Midnight gently pushed the glass against her lips. "Drink, and then take your egg and leave. I will be able to explain things better next time we meet."
"Next time?" Momoko looked up as she finished off the glass.
Midnight's smile was almost gentle. "There are always consequences to our choices. You've chosen to see the world as it really is, and you will have to come to terms with that in your own way. It is not an easy path, but you're strong. I expect great things of you."
Momoko looked down at the egg in her hand, confused on how it got there. She placed the glass on the desk.
"I don't get any of this. Could you—"
She looked back up, but there was no one in the office. "Midnight?"
No answer came.
"Ms. Hong?" Momoko stood up, going over to the door by the pedestal.
She tried the knob, but it was locked.
"Um, Ms. Hong?" she called louder, and then tried knocking on the other doors.
When that didn't yield a response, she tried again, calling the strange woman's name as she tried each door. Finally she gave up and stood in the middle of the office a moment, trying to figure out what to do. The only door she hadn't tried was the one she had come through at the end of the room. With no other option, she pulled on it and it opened up to the small dusty room where the fortune teller had been, but that room too was empty.
"Hello?" she called as she moved to the front of the room.
She headed down the hallway to the foyer, calling out, but no one responded. Exasperated, she gave up and threw open the front door, walking out into the bright afternoon sunlight. She blinked, trying to focus.
"Ms. Hitsuragi?" she recognized the cabbie, Dean, standing on the sidewalk next to the taxi.
"Oh!" she gasped. "You really shouldn't have waited for me, I know that took a while..."
He gave her a perplexed look. "It was only about two minutes."
"What?" her heart fell into her stomach.
"Heard you calling around in there, guess it's empty?" he gestured at the building behind her.
"No, but-"she spun around, giving the rusted door a tug. This time it didn't open. She pulled harder, but the rusted hinges wouldn't budge.
She leaned her forehead against the door and took a deep breath, fighting off the panic. It had all been a dream, or a vivid hallucination, or something....
She looked down at the egg in her hand and remembered the feeling that had overcome her during the seer session.
"Are you okay?" Dean frowned.
"I feel a little like Alice." Momoko laughed humorlessly, and seeing that he didn't get the reference she heaved a sigh. "Please take me home."