I was unsure how long I had been asleep, but I felt a strong surge of illumination coating my entire body.
It gradually dawned realization within me, as I slowly dragged my eyes open, and that was when my chamber sluggishly materialized before my sight, pulling me back to reality.
Calling this chamber "mine" isn't quite suited to this occasion. It was a more forlorn, abandoned bedroom, and I found myself laying on a wooden bed situated at the very corner, where a window stood right next to me. The gentle, but dim blue rays of the moonlight shining on my figure.
I cautiously turned my head from side to side, as if discerning the place for the first time, and, whilst I had already grown used to it, the palpable sense of hopelessness and sorrow still managed to find their way into my very core. The gloomy, oppressive air within the entire manor broke into this room, consuming it as if a heavy black cloud hovered within.
My entire surroundings appeared bleak and desolate. There was no concept of light except the dim illumination of the moon itself, which only lit the corner where I lay.
There were no sounds, not even the sounds of perhaps the rustling trees outside the window, no... As I got myself to sit up straight, I turned my head to the left, attempting to look out of the window, yet, there was nothing.
Whilst a strong, but ghastly contrast to the ambience inside, the outside looked as if the entire world was shrouded in an infinite grey mist. The moon was nowhere to be found, even though my eyes tried to follow the source of the illumination.
I turned my gaze back to the chamber, embracing the overarching darkness. Once again, I had already grown accustomed to it, yet the palpable sense of emptiness seemed more noticeable this time. The entire place was only but a hollow shell weeping hauntingly of memories long lost and forgotten.
I eventually stepped off the bed before I realized I had been dressed in the same attire for as long as I could remember. A black robe that completely covered my slender frame, with its hood covering most of my facial features, yet not enough to hide my long black hair that cascaded over my chest.
I stood still for a few moments, absentmindedly discerning whatever the room had to offer. Not to my surprise, it only comprised the bed I lay in, as well as a wooden chair that stood in front of a small table, where a set of weathered papers and a burnt candle stood.
That candle may have recently died out, as I could still smell a vague sense of cinnamon mixed with vanilla. The aroma may not have been cold, but whilst it was as warm and oppressively heavy as the daunting air around me, I still felt refreshed with the flavourful mix blended with the atmosphere, and that was when I noticed a small mirror lying on the ground.
As my hand was gradually being pulled out of my robe's sleeve, I picked it up, feeling its weight in my palm. My skin had a timeless and supernatural pallor. It was as absurdly smooth as it was pale, and my bright blue eyes, although partially obscured by the hood, were easily discernable beneath the walls of shadows. My face appeared slim, feminine-like. I had no facial hair, and my cheeks were hollowed.
...How long has it been...?
Ah, Charon... He must be at the entrance.
I made my way out of the chamber, dragging the closed wooden door open that emitted a vague creaking sound as it opened wider and wider. I took measured steps outside before closing it down. I turned my head left to right, as the even more palpable gloom instantly descended upon me, and a last brush of wind from the bedroom aroma gently breezed against my face. I closed my eyes for a second with a heavy sigh through my nose before I turned around.
I found myself in a corridor. A protracted path steering towards a staircase leading downstairs. One could see this as a former aristocratic manor from the 19th century, having been abandoned for a century or two.
The characteristics seemed even more bleak than the bedroom. It consisted of several closed doors, their outlines barely visible. The colour of its walls and the wooden floor were not discernable because of how dark it was. I did not have my candlelight with me, yet, thankfully, I knew that I was standing on the right trajectory to reach the staircase, which I eventually did after long seconds of taking measured steps, the muffled creaking sounds reverberating throughout the area.
I slowly made my way downstairs, which was only one level below. The dim moonlight that shone in the corner of the bedroom seemed to also shine dimly on the hallway leading towards the entrance. It only shone on the wooden surface, leaving the surrounding walls without the delicate embrace.
A few larger open windows were etched on the walls, each of them an ornate-esque carving. After descending the staircase, I walked up to one of those windows and silently gazed at the albeit eerie, but atmospherically beautiful view.
It was... endless. Literally. Besides the overarching mist, the entire surface was buried beneath an infinite sea of grey colour, presumably mirroring the mist. I stood at the far left side of the manor, so when I turned my eyes to the right, I could see a grand, stone staircase both descending towards the sea and ascending to the front doors of the manor. The threshold of the staircase was flanked by a stone gateway, with barely discernable Gothic statues standing on each opposing side like the ancient guards of this depressing world.
I eventually stepped towards the entrance of the manor. It was a much wider area where a cleanly polished wooden counter stood to the right. Standing behind it was an elderly man who turned towards me and smiled as soon as our eyes met each other. He was dressed in a form-fitting all-black suit and had short, well-groomed white hair, as well as a set of black glasses. He had a mesmerizing set of golden hazel eyes that seemed to illuminate his area, yet buried beneath the nocturn at the same time.
To each of his sides were two separate paths leading to their respective closed doors. The one on the left had a black colour, whilst the one on the right had the same, wooden-esque frame as the others. Behind him hung a candle on the wall that slightly illuminated the surroundings, shadowing his face from behind, yet not enough to obscure his pale complexion. Much like mine, it was as noticeable as a white ghost walking through a forest during the night times.
"Ah, there you are, Azrael!" he said with a bright tone, lifting his left hand in a greeting posture.
"Ah, Charon..." I murmured. My voice, much like his, sounded deep and hoarse. The sound waves of my voice were a lot more... heavier than most. However, Charon's sounded a lot more clear, and less "hazy" than mine.
"It was not quite nice of you to avalanche your tasks onto this old tree," he chuckled with his eyes closed.
"I... apologize for that."
"Can you truly? It does not seem you've remembered the moments before your age-old slumber."
"...You're right," I responded, slightly lowering my head, gazing at my right-opened palm. "I can't quite remember."
"There is no worry on that front. What matters now is making sure the balance remains intact. Given you're present, perhaps we could start right away. Does that sound pleasing to you?"
"You seem quite agitated," I said, raising my head to meet his eyes. "Is it a special person this time?"
"It sure is," Charon retorted, pulling a large, but weathered, brown-coloured book from under the counter. He ran through what seemed like thousands of pages until he finally stopped, and placed his finger on the center of the right side. "Her name is Mariah, 17 years old. The date of her death is the 12th of December, 1887. Around three days from now."
I remained silent in response, to which Charon added,
"If you need additional rest, we can wait it out until the final day of her life."
"There's no need for that," I said. "I may just be able to work this one out."
"Splendid," he smiled. "It does, however, appear that you are still bound to human frailty. Sleep may not be as necessary to you, but you don't see me having the need to slumber."
I took a deep sigh as I closed my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose. "Charon, what happened before I went to sleep?"
He then let a closed smile tug at the corners of his lips, tilting his head to the left, his gaze fixated on the book below him. "Come, the pilgrimage is about to start."
"...Not feeling as talkative today?"
"I am, but we can have this talk later. Do you already know what form you will take?"
"Heh, of course not," he jested. "I have three different forms for you."
He then skimmed through the pages once more, eventually landing on one page that displayed a sketch of a Butler. "Mariah is a single aristocratic child. The daughter of an affluent family named the Cheldspears. She primarily resides within an esteemed mansion that is being kept at bay thanks to a team led by your first option, the Butler."
"Besides the role of the Butler..." he began, skimming through the pages once more until he landed on another page that comprised an illustration of a teacher. "You also have her Teacher, who always had a close, but non-existent relationship with her. I say non-existent because of a profound but tragic reason you will eventually discover."
He then continued, landing on the final page after a few moments, which displayed a portrait of a middle-aged aristocrat. "Lastly, we have her Uncle, who has been asked to oversee the manor during the remainder of the absence of Mariah's parents...
...Like always, the living reality will be warped, and the memories of every single person who has met, learned, or heard about the existence of the role you choose will be manipulated the moment you step into the Endless Sea. Meaning, that everyone will know you as either the Butler, the Teacher, or the Uncle as you are, right now."
"...I will go with the Butler."
"Excellent choice," Charon said, closing the book as it let out a thumping noise that echoed throughout the space. "Be wary that this means you will be spending most of your time with her. You are the only person her "Twin" allows her to talk with."
"Twin?" I queried. "Did you not just say she was an only child?"
"You will find out about that soon. Feel free to prepare yourself before you leave."
"I have all I need," I responded, turning towards the closed front doors. "I guess I will see you in a good while."
"Eh, well, three days to be exact," Charon shrugged. "I've had worse. Do you have a name you will give yourself?"
"...How does Adrien sound?"
"Adrien... Splendid! I would have never guessed such a fitting name!"
"...Thanks. Take care."
"You too. I wish you the most fortuitous pilgrimage."
I pulled the doors open with both my hands and a strong wind instantly brushed against my entire figure, fluttering my robe uncontrollably before it calmed down.
The outside air felt palpably more clear and fresh than the inside, albeit slightly cold. The manor stood atop an earthly stone platform. The first thing I was met with was the long staircase leading downwards into the Endless Sea, and I began to make my way downstairs. The sound of the waves punctuated the air, echoing throughout the entire place as if this world was placed inside of a hollow vessel.
The statues I could only barely see back inside were now fully visible. They were statues resembling Fallen Angels, their weathered smiling faces partially covered by green vines. The both of them held a prayer-like gesture, both of their hands glued to each other, their heads slightly lowered.
The Sea came closer and closer until I began to step inside of it. Strangely enough, the waters did not stain my robe. It felt strange, as if I was covered in a transparent shield that prevented me from getting wet. The water itself also only seemed like a flat surface. I could step downwards until fully submerged, and that was when darkness covered my sight for a few moments before a blight illumination pierced through, dispersing that darkness as if a large curtain had been uplifted, revealing the world I found myself in.
My black robe that once covered my entire body vanished in a second, revealing the pitch-black suit I was now clothed in as a strong current vacuumed me into the depths of the Endless Sea, and before I knew it...
...I had already been transmitted into the world of the living. I stood in a bedroom bought for only servants of a higher echelon.
Chapter One: Part One: Complete.