The first sound she heard was a sharp snap of someone’s fingers, directly waking her up from a deep slumber that she wasn’t aware of herself.
The young lady immediately opened her eyes to see flashes of crimson red as they filled her dark, blurry vision. An ear-piercing ring further distorted her perception as it skewered her mind.
When the flashes faded, only a flickering yellow light remained, and when the dins toned down, she heard herself cry in pain. Then, she found herself hunching over, her hands tightly grasping onto her head as all that remained was a fiery headache. The next thing she knew, she heard a man’s voice.
"Ack!" The young man before her raised his trembling voice. "Was that too much?! S-Sorry!" He quickly raised his hand, but then he halted when the young lady glanced back up with trembling eyes.
"W-What's going on?!" she cried out. "What's happening?! Where am I?!" The awakened young lady peered up at the cloaked stranger before her. Her eyes stopped as they met a plain white mask concealing the upper half of his face. "...Who are you?”
"Me?" he asked in a whispering, shaking tone. "I'm..." He lowered his head as his voice trailed off, pursing his lips. The man’s hand irregularly patterned with scars tightened his grip on the glowing lantern’s handle. His other similarly blemished hand slowly slithered back inside the dark green cloak.
"Listen, I know you have way too many questions," he said as he raised his chin back up, his breath forming small, misty clouds. "But I need you to calm down. You will get your answers soon. Before that though, can you answer some basic questions?"
"...What kinds of questions?" she asked, slowly releasing her shaking hands.
"What is two times four?"
"True or false: dogs can eat chocolate."
The woman tilted her head and arched an eyebrow.
"...False?" she answered again. He nodded.
"What are you sitting on?"
She looked down. She shifted her body around her seat to take note of the dark object beneath her. "A wooden crate," she responded.
"Where do you think we're in?"
The young lady's eyes glanced left and right. Then, she looked up, shivering in place as she stared at the starless sky above them. She then gazed down at her gray pants and folded her arms, her hands clutching her sleeves made with thin fabric.
"A dark alleyway," she answered, furrowing her eyebrows. "I think?"
The stranger then pulled out his hand from within the cloak, holding a piece of paper. "What does this say?"
She read once, twice, then three times. She squinted her eyes on the paper barely lit by the flickering lantern’s light.
"Miracles do exist," she deciphered. "What's with this handwriting?" she further added. "This is awful!"
His lips curved into an open frown in response. The mask that only covered the areas above his nose couldn't hide his flushing cheeks. He widened his mouth and raised a finger, remained still, and closed his mouth again. He cleared his throat, stuffed the paper back into his cloak, and reached his hand towards her forehead.
"Anyways, uh, good! You answered all correctly." His palm continued to rest on her forehead, and she continued to gawk at him in return. "Now then, I have one last question for you."
With the young man now a little closer, the lady noticed that the plain white mask seemed to be stained with an unknown red splatter.
"What's your name?" he asked, his breath continuing to form miniature, fog-like mists with every exhale.
She blinked once. "What?"
"Who are you? What's your name?" he asked again, slowly letting go of his hand from her forehead.
"My name? I'm..." She paused.
"I'm..." She fell silent again. Her quiet, foggy breaths were all that remained. She stared as blankly as her mind, her eyes widening.
"I don't know?"
The amnesiac hunched over again, her hands grabbing onto her hair as she stared down at her monotonous clothes. She released her hands and hovered her palms before her eyes, fingers trembling. She turned her hands around as if it could help her at all, but in the end, the only answer inside her head was a speechless, ringing noise.
"Huh? Wait, what?" Her voice quivered. "Why can't I remember? Who am I again?"
The stranger before her remained silent and unfazed. Then, he let out a gentle sigh.
"Yep, I figured."
She looked up, eyes widening again. "What do you mean?"
The masked figure momentarily looked down, his slight frown remained. He inhaled and returned to meet her gaze.
"I had anticipated this. I'm sorry, Cherry. All of your personal memories have disappeared."
She opened her mouth, yet before she could voice out her questions, he raised his hand.
"Now, hear me out first. No, I didn't do it. Don't worry, your memory loss is temporary, and yes, it's fixable. Yes, I know how it happened. That...will be explained some other time," he said, resting his hand on his chest and clutching it. "I–I can't tell you what happened either. Believe me, I truly want to explain everything right now, but I can't!"
The frowning man scratched his head and lowered his gaze, the hood slightly exposing some of his dark, scrambled hair.
Cherry furrowed her eyebrows, slowly processing his words. "Why can't I know right now?"
He looked back up and met her gaze once more. "Well, how's your head feeling?"
"...In pain," Cherry murmured, her hands rubbing her forehead as a burning sensation flooded through her skull. "It...hurts. It hurts a lot..."
"Exactly. Your brain is in a vulnerable state right now. If you learn too many things too quickly, it could lead to a 'brain overload.'"
"A...brain overload?" she asked.
"Yep," he confirmed. "If you keep getting answers that only lead to more questions, it’ll worsen that headache of yours. That’s…that’s why I can’t tell you everything just yet."
"I'll assume I can't know why I have this condition either, huh?"
"Can I at least know who you are?"
"Charlie...?" She repeated as if saying his name could spark some sort of recollection, but nothing came to mind at all. The voiceless, ringing taunts continued to occupy her head.
"Yep. Charlie. I can only tell you that."
"So, what do you want with me, Charlie?"
"That is what I'm going to explain next," said the weary man, his masked eyes remaining focused on the lost lady. "I'm here to get your memories back."
"Huh? Really? You want to help me?"
"Absolutely. You and I are in this situation for a reason after all."
Cherry glanced back down at her hands. Indeed, the cloaked stranger was right. For her to wake up with pure amnesia was questioning enough, yet to have someone who knew her history immediately guide her lost self was even more bizarre as if this was all pre-planned. If that were to be the case...
"...Can you at least answer one question?" Cherry asked. "I'll accept your help if you do."
"It depends on the question, but alright."
"Did I...volunteer to forget?"
"...No," he slowly answered. "No, you did not. That's why I'm here. I need you to remember again."
“...Why do you want to help me?”
“Can’t tell you.”
She twitched an eye.
“...Sorry,” he muttered, facing downwards.
Cherry looked back down and fell silent as well.
If she didn't volunteer, then...how could she truly know if the man named Charlie before her was truly her ally? Or rather, can she truly believe anything that he told her at all? She grasped onto her thin sleeves, dread crawling behind her back much like the cold air as she acknowledged the potential risks.
Then again, what other choice did she have, when there was only one promising option offered right before her?
"Can I...really trust you?" she asked, voicing out questions that were seemingly directed at herself rather than at Charlie. "Will you really help me remember?"
"I swear it on my life that you will remember everything," said Charlie, his hand emerging from his cloak and clutching his chest.
"Huh, how close are we to make such a promise?"
“Can’t tell you that,” he said as he shook his head. “Sorry.”
“Uh, okay…so how will you help me?”
“Can’t tell you that either.”
“Why not?! Can’t you tell me anything at all?!”
“I just can’t! I’m sorry, I’ll explain it all soon, I promise. Just trust me on this. For now, all I can say is to just stay alive.” He lowered his lantern as he turned to face the lightened end of the passageway. “If we’re done talking here, then let’s go.”
She knitted her eyebrows, hesitating to follow him as her questions remained unanswered. Even so, perhaps it would be wiser to follow the stranger than to sit around in this freezing temperature.
Cherry stood up, her rear already missing the warmth it maintained from the wooden crate. She grimaced, looking down at her thin gray flats that were as ineffective as the rest of her clothes against the cold. The soles felt especially translucent as her feet began to rapidly lose their heat as soon as she stepped on the cold cement.
"Hey, what's with these clothes?" Cherry complained. "Why am I wearing these out in the cold?"
Charlie turned to face the shivering lady. "Do you want my cloak?"
"Huh?" she asked as she looked up. "Can I?"
"Sure, I'm not that cold."
Setting aside the lantern, he swiftly pulled off his dark green cover with both his hands, revealing his plain white shirt and black pants as well as his short, dark red hair entirely. It was utterly messy, Cherry had to silently remark.
"Thanks," she said as she accepted the cloak, immediately putting it on.
While doing so, however, Cherry felt something suddenly whirl past her. The sudden breeze made her shiver, and she quickened her pace, attempting to adjust the cloak to fit her. A warming relief began to calm her shaking figure as the cloak shielded her from the freezing temperature. Her feet remained to suffer from the cold, but this was more than enough for her to settle with.
However, Cherry's momentary relief immediately ended when she heard a thump, and she turned to face the direction of the noise. She tilted her head when Charlie was no longer visible, but that was until she lowered her eyes.
She blinked and gaped her jaw at the young man who had collapsed onto his knees...
With one of his hands clutching his stomach...
Where there was an arrow present...already pierced through him.
It freed the crimson liquid from within, dyeing his white shirt. Charlie slowly open his mouth as a thin trail of the same substance slowly spilled from the corners of his lips.
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