My eyes opened slowly, and were greeted with a room lightly bathed in the sunset light.
I raised what should be my hand, which was especially dazzling in this darkness, and beheld this limb that was taking shape.
I turned my head around to look at my side, and saw a pale figure in the mirror.
A door that kept the warm light out opened, and my eyes were a little blinded by the light.
As I raised my arm to shield my eyes, countless footsteps sounded in the room.
That man, with his back facing the light, stretched his hand out to me, the numerous jewels and his withered fingers creating a distinct contrast.
With that dried and withered hand of his, he lifted my chin.
In my reflection, I saw skin so white it was almost transparent, and my hair was the colour of snow.
"She looks no different from the ones before, a little silly too, Sir, is it really as you say? Can… can she…"
The owner of that old, declining hand took it back, and smiled unsettlingly to that man, whose face was obscured by that mask.
A man next to him in hunter's garb and a half mask raised his hands, the corner of his lips arching up in a smirk.
"Congratulations, milord. We have finally succeeded."
The man who was addressed as milord narrowed his eyes and smiled upon hearing those words.
His smile was so unsettling, I felt a slight chill. I found out afterwards, that this was known as "harbouring ill intent".
He examined me, using his coarse fingers to rub his chin, then spoke to me in a soft voice.
"Such a rare beauty, smile a little, just like me."
…Smile……? What is a smile?
I raised my head to look at him, but I could not make out his expression clearly.
But, I could imitate the way his lips were angled.
I tried my best to move my lips the same way as him. Although the stiffness was something I was not quite used to, but…
The smile he spoke of is like that, right?
One of the masked men next to him half squatted, and gently pat me on the head.
This man's voice was much more pleasant than the lord's one. The nicest out of everyone here.
He took out a small wrapper from his sleeve, opened it and put it on my hand. Then he stuffed a small golden ball into his mouth.
"Your smile was really beautiful, this is your reward, you can eat it, exactly as I'm doing."
I stared blankly at the golden candy in my hand, then followed the man's movements, and stuffed the candy into my mouth.
I had never tasted this sweet, silky taste before, and even now, I can't forget this taste.
While I was eating, the lord left with the rest of his men. And that masked man, before leaving the room, turned back to look at me, and flashed a pleasant smile.
I liked his smile, it was much nicer than the lord's one.
II. Flower Garden
My room is filled with the finest clothing in the city, the best food, and all the toys that can be found. I am the princess of the city and I can do whatever I want. Everyone has to listen to me because I am their princess.
"Miss Milt, these are the new kimonos the Lord made for you, take a new look and see which one you like."
"Miss Milt, this is the new jewelry the Lord had the craftsmen make for you, pick something out."
"Miss Milt is…" "Miss Milt…" "Miss Milt."
I got my name, according to the master, because of my appearance. I don't like the way I look, it's too much white and not enough color.
Although I don't like the Lord, I do like the clothes that he gave me. They're more brightly colored than the flowers in the garden. A life surrounded by fragrant flowers and buzzing bees is indeed peaceful, but also a bit boring for me.
That's why I decided to find some fun. That started with the servant girls that the Lord sent me. The Lord and sir told me they were all my playthings.
The maid who's always by my side is very timid. No matter how timid she was, she still had no choice but to approach me.
"Miss Milt, what can I do for you?"
I don't know what she was so afraid of, but her quavering voice and forced smile betrayed her fear.
I looked at the girl, trembling with fear, then with a flick of my wrist brought a charm out of my sleeve. I really liked my charms, and sir says they can do a lot of amazing things. So, sir praises me every time I use them.
However, this time a slender hand grasped the charm before it struck the maid, who was screaming and shielding her head.
"Milt, why are you angry?"
The powerful charm in my hand was easily blocked by the hand of the newcomer. I knew it, sir is back! The only one in the entire city who will play with me without being afraid is back! He taught me everything I know! He's my everything…
"Sir, you're back early! Is it all done?? Can we have dinner tonight?"
My mischievous mindset from a moment ago was gone; sir had been so busy recently; it had been ages since we shared a meal.
Sir reached out his hand and gently touched my nose, then rested it on top of my head.
"Why must you be so headstrong? Look how frightened she is." He spoke with his other hand pointed at the maid, now collapsed to the ground with fear.
"It's her fault for being so timid! Hrmph! She's useless! I don't want her!"
I was furious, sir was finally back and he was wasting time talking about this plaything.
"Ah! No no no! Miss Milt no, please give me another chance! Please no!"
Fortunately, the guards didn't give her the opportunity to beg for mercy. She was dragged away from my small courtyard by the guards, crying for mercy the whole way.
The clouds in the sky were transformed into a vivid red by the colors of the sunset.
Sir didn't so much as glance in the direction of the constant screams. The eyes under his mask looked at me as tenderly as usual. He sighed helplessly and placed a piece of delicate pastry from the table into my mouth as I buried my head in his arms.
"Is it OK? You're not angry?"
I bite down on the dessert in my mouth, the sweet tasted only a little worse than the original candy.
"I'm not angry!"
Sir took a tea cup from the table and poured himself some tea from the teapot simmering on top of a small stove. He poured tea so beautifully, I couldn't help but stare. He probably noticed that I was watching him all the time, so he placed the cup down and asked me:
"What's the matter? Is there something you'd like to talk to me about?"
"When can I accompany you on your trips? My charms are really powerful so I'm sure I can offer some help."
I reached out anxiously and grabbed onto his hem. I wanted to go out with him instead of staying in this small courtyard with only a bunch of toys.
He looked rather pained at my words. He touched his chin and a small furrow appeared on his brow. I didn't like him this way, so I reached out and attempted to smooth his brow.
"Never mind! It's OK sir!"
He sighed, took my hand in his, and gently patted the back of my hand.
"Actually, there is something you could help me with, but… Ah, never mind…"
"I can do it! For you, I can do anything!"
He seemed to be very embarrassed. He shook his head and got up, stroked my hair like he always did and left.
In just a few short months, the Lord's health deteriorated significantly and the texture of his skin was akin to weathered bark. At this moment, he was holding onto sir's arm in a tight grip.
"S..sir… why don't…"
Seated beside the old man's bed, sir placed the Lord's hand back under the covers and tucked the corner back in.
"My Lord, only spirit food which is willingly offered can give you what you need now… You've waited for a long time, why not wait a few more days?"
"F…fine, I'll leave it to…to you!"
When sir came back, his white hunting clothes were stained dark red with blood. His swaying body leaned against a servant who was holding him up, and I could hardly hold myself back from rushing towards him. However, most of the attendants around him had light or heavy injuries, and they were muttering something under their breath.
"Why do we have to go to such a dangerous place to get the medicine every single time when there's one of them living right here in the city? Isn't this the main reason why the Lord went through all the trouble of summoning her?"
Sir, who was leaning on a servant for support, scowled in anger at these words.
The man who was reprimanded quickly lowered his head, but a note of dissatisfaction remained in his voice.
"Forgive my indiscretion! Please heal him as soon as you can!"
They didn't notice that I was hiding behind the wall, and I knew that they were talking about me…
Because of me, sir… he got so badly hurt… And I am the medicine that will work…
When sir came to the tatami room where I lived, I hid behind the door. The intense pain in my arm caused my smile to be a bit forced, but I tried to put on my usual expression because I didn't want him to worry. Although the oozing wound on my arm was really painful, I must not make him worry. Anyway, the wound would heal soon, I just needed to put up with it for a while.
I don't want him to see through my facade, so I had to keep him out. I really didn't want to.
I instructed the maid to pass the elixir to sir, so that he would no longer need to get hurt while trying to obtain the Lord's medicine.
This way… maybe sir will be able to spend more time with me…
The dusk sky was reddened by burning fires, causing it to look even more blood-like than usual. Screams filled the air, sounding like sorrowful wails from hell.
I lay motionlessly in my own room and watched the garden, where flowers once bloomed so beautifully, get swallowed up in flames.
I had barely enough strength in me to turn my neck. The brightly-coloured flowers which used to be my favorite were now gradually burnt to black ashes, and blown away by the hot wind.
Initially, it was just the flesh from my arm. As time went by, it was from my limbs, my body.. Even before my wounds could heal, they were torn apart again and again with my own hands. Pain from the scraping of sharp metal against bone began to spread inch by inch throughout my entire body.
As a Food Soul, this wouldn't kill me, but that didn't lessen the pain one bit. Yet, I've brought that pain upon myself… Everything for sir…
Sir would accompany me every single time… He would carefully braid my long hair and he even gave me a rosary which was blessed by a monk to protect me. How could he hurt me?
He.. he wouldn't bear to hurt me.
But he didn't come.
As the courtyard became engulfed in the fire, I wasn't scared. There was an inexplicable relief as my heavy eyelids slowly drifted close.
Just when I thought the heat was going to swallow me whole, somebody suddenly rushed in and dragged me out of the fire.
As my body had not recovered from the countless injuries, someone had to lift me up by my arms. Unhealed wounds split open again and blood soaked my brightly-colored garments. It hurts, but I really… had no strength left…
It was then that I realized my blood-stained furisode probably didn't look great.
My mind was groggy and my vision was blurred. There seemed to be a few familiar faces in a sea of angry faces.
Calls demanding for the deaths of the Lord and I were getting louder and louder. The redness of the sky gradually receded into the depths of the night. I had barely regained enough strength to look at the maddened crowd.
What did I do wrong? Why were they so angry?
Suddenly there was a familiar voice… I tried to raise my head with great effort. The smiling face that used to sweetly call me "Miss, Miss" had morphed into something else.
It was my maid. Under the burning torch that she carried, her delicate appearance looked like the face of a ghost in an illustrated book that sir had once given me.
"I know! The elixir that the Lord has been consuming is her! She's the elixir!"
The sound of her voice, once so crisp and pleasant, was like a fatal incantation in my ears, filled with fury and hatred. I looked at the familiar face and wanted to ask her why, but I couldn't remember her name.
Suddenly, as if a bucket of ice water had been thrown over the crowd, burning like a fire only a moment before, everyone fell into a strange silence. Then their strange smiles terrified me. The people took out their weapons and advanced towards me with twisted smiles.
I'm so afraid… Sir… Save me…
"It's… It's true isn't it…"
"Yeah… Yeah, the Lord was wounded so badly and still lived, it must be because of her!"
"Me, give her to me! My children! My children! They'll be alright now!"
Sharp weapons, broken weapons, shattered tiles, even sharply edged rocks.
"No… no… No! NO!!!"
I head my voice screaming for help, seeking the only person I knew. You are my maid! You said that you would always be by my side! Please save me!
"Save me! Please save me!"
I turned my attention to the most familiar face in the crowd, but the maid who used to gently braid my long hair was staring at me with cold eyes. The sight made my blood run cold.
"Now that you're without your charms, you can't do anything… In the past, my sister begged for you to help her. Did you save her?"
Her eyes filled with tears as she said those words. For the first time, I felt like I understood the feelings of another.
The naked hatred burned in her amber eyes, and behind that orange glow was a darkness of despair.
I felt suffocated. It was as if my nose and mouth were covered with a wet cloth.
I struggled for air but couldn't find any. The discomfort made me retch.
Was I crazy, or were they?
Rumors tell of a city. The city's Lord was once wise and compassionate. As the years passed his face grew old, he was beset by illness, and his mind was gone.
As his body weakened, so did the conscience that had once supported him and the city.
There is no one who is unafraid of death, unafraid of getting old; ordinary people can only dream of cheating death, while those who hold power in their hands will use all the resources at their disposal to pursue their own longevity.
Maintaining a peaceful and stable life requires a ruler's maintenance for years and even decades.
Destroying it however, takes only a second.
Soldiers went out to sea searching for a legendary elixir on another continent but never returned.
The Lord gave everything in pursuit of his goal.
However, unlike most stories, this lord really did find his "elixir."
After finding it, his body began to recover day by day.
It couldn't restore his youth, but it could make him stronger each day.
However, a king who has lost the hearts of his people can no longer be called a king.
He became a tyrant, and was soon overthrown by his own people. His elixir, the elixir brought by the girl named Milt, became an open secret among the people.
The surroundings were different from the tatami room where she had been newly summoned, where even the closed door couldn't keep out the warmth of daylight.
In the dark cellar, it was cold and wet. Not even a single ray of light could enter.
Milt's hands hung limply apart in the chains that bound them, her red eyes had lost their spirit, and the thin white cloth wrapped around her scarred body was spotted with blood.
In the cold darkness, there was no one to answer her even if she made a sound.
Milt began to wonder if she still existed.
She tried to look at her own body to find out, but the complete darkness swallowed her vision.
The only thing that made her feel like she was still alive were the two cruel jailers who came every day with sharp blades and small bowls to cause her terrible pain.
Milt's red eyes began to lose their focus as she stared at the small door that opened everyday to bring her great pain.
Suddenly, a sharp glare tore through the maddening darkness, causing her eyes to water.
A man wearing a mask stepped into the room. The scene reminded her of a past memory in a warm tatami room; he had the same gentle smile, but this time his mask was splattered with blood.
"Come along, Milt…I'm taking you with me…"
"……………….Hee hee, what are you calling me for? Are you really that bored?"
"I see you're daydreaming again! Come on! I'll buy you a beautiful dress! You're as pale as a corpse! Girls should dress prettily!"
Hesitation flashed in the eyes of a girl with snow-white skin as she watched the Master Attendant disappear into the distance.
Still, the girl pulled out a paper charm from her sleeve and turned it into a small paper crane with her slim fingers; it hovered around her briefly, then flew off into the distance.
"Hey! Milt! Come on! Didn't you say your charms were used up? I'll buy some new paper and ink for you, so come pick them out!"