~ Prelude ~
The sharp crack of thunder startled me awake and upright -- in a chair.
The shadowed room I was in was tiny. The space was barely large enough for the chair I sat in and the battered round table beside it. The room's floor to ceiling window was actually within my hand's reach.
I didn't recognize any of it. For several baffled moments, I simply sat there in the dark hearing nothing but the storm.
Lightning flashed, illuminating the sharply peaked ceiling and faded green wallpaper.
I knew that wallpaper. I was there when my mother had chosen it for the attic rooms above the servants' quarters. I hadn't recognized it at first because it was a part of my home I rarely saw. Even so... I blinked in confusion. What was I doing sleeping in the attic, and in a chair? I had a perfectly serviceable bedroom on the first floor -- with a perfectly serviceable bed. Shaking my head, I set my booted feet to the floor and rose from the chair. My head barely cleared the sharply peaked ceiling.
Without warning, panic slammed into me. "The piano!" Before I could even wonder why I was so worried, I tore from the room and raced down the narrow hall to the service stairs.
Driven by overwhelming panic, I raced down the servants' hallway to the main staircase. I practically flew down the four flights of dark stairs to the first floor. Down the main hall I bolted, racing to the music room that adjoined the ballroom.
I threw open the door.
Two steps within by the left wall sat my concert grand piano. Under the warm golden light of the gas-light chandelier, the piano's mirror-polished surface glowed an almost bloody red.
My piano was whole, unscathed, and exactly where it was supposed to be.
My panic evaporated, erased by a new emotion -- shame. I had promised to play the newest piece by Chopin for my parents' ball on the first day of summer. I had not practiced nearly enough.
No better time than the present.
I raised the hinged seat of the piano bench to withdraw my sheet music from the narrow space within then closed the bench. It only took a moment to lift the piano's attached music stand and set the music in place. I then walked around to the piano's right side. A small bit of effort on my part raised the piano's heavy lid over the instrument's strings. With a bit more effort, I set the support post in its notch to keep the lid open.
Preparations done, I sat on the bench and lifted lid over the ivory keys. After a quick perusal of the sheet music, I stretched out my fingers and began to play.
At the far end of the room were the double doors that led into the mirrored ballroom. When the doors were open, the piano could be clearly heard all the way to far end of the ballroom. However, the sound of this particular piano had been known to carry throughout the entire house.
Behind me, the door to the music room opened.
I stopped playing and turned to look behind me, somewhat annoyed by the interruption.
A small black-haired, black-eyed oriental boy was peeking into the room. His coat and pants were made of rough dark cotton and were more than a bit ragged. Clearly, he was a child of one of the servants.
I smiled at him. I didn't believe in taking my temper out on children. After all, it was his parents' fault for letting him stray. However, I didn't feel comfortable practicing with him watching.
How to get rid of him?
Suddenly, it came to me. I widened my smile. "Could you ask the housekeeper for pot of tea, please?"
The boy's eyes widened, openly staring.
My brow lifted. Apparently, he had not been taught that staring was impolite. "Tea, please?" Just to be sure he got the point, I raised my hands and mimed the lifting of a cup from a saucer then sipping.
The boy's eyes widened. He nodded sharply, turned on his heel, and fled, leaving the door open behind him.
I rolled my eyes. Apparently, he hadn't been taught to close doors behind him either. Either way, he was gone. I went back to my practice.
The sharp crack of thunder vibrated the chair I sat in -- awakening me. I sat upright. Oddly, there was a strong sense of familiarity, as if I had been here before.
There was a flash of lightning. It revealed that I was in a small attic room in the servants' quarters -- a very specific room in the attic.
I frowned. I couldn't remember when -- or why -- I'd come to this room, only that I'd been here before. Struggling to remember something -- anything, I stood up. A wave of wild panic sluiced through me. "The piano!" I bolted out of the room and down the stairs.
In the music room, my beautiful piano gleamed under the warm light of the gas-light chandeliers. I sighed in relief. It was fine. It was whole.
My relief was abruptly replaced by an even stronger wave of remorse. I needed to practice for the summer ball. I pulled my music from my bench, set the pages on the stand, and went to open the piano's lid. Once I sat down, I raised the lid covering the ivory keys, and glanced at my music. My fingers poised above the keys of my piano --
I froze in place, frowning. "Wait a minute, haven't I done this before?" The pull to play brought my fingers to the keys. I simply couldn't stop myself.
Behind me, the door to the ballroom opened.
I stopped playing and turned to look, somewhat annoyed by the interruption.
A small black-haired, black-eyed oriental boy was peeking into the room. His coat and pants were made of rough dark cotton and were more than a bit ragged. He looked somewhat familiar.
The boy gave me a slight nod then stepped into the room. Looped over his arm was a folding tray stand. In his trembling hands, he held a plain wooden tray bearing a black earthenware teapot and a small matching cup with no handle or saucer. Steam rose from the spout.
The aroma was unmistakable -- Japanese green tea.
"Oh...!" I smiled in surprised pleasure. "Thank you very much." I reached for the cup...
The sharp crack of thunder startled me awake and upright -- in a chair. A flash of lightning revealed that I was in a small attic room in the servants' quarters.
I scowled at my surroundings. It was the exact same room I'd awakened in before. I still had no memory of arriving in the room or even sitting down. "Damn it, this is beyond ridiculous! Am I sleep-walking or something?" I stood up.
A wave of horrific panic rushed through me. "The piano!" I bolted out of the room and down the stairs.
In the music room, I stared at the piano in utter relief. It was fine. It was whole. That relief was abruptly replace by an even stronger wave of remorse. I needed to practice. I pulled my music from my bench and set the pages on the stand to play it. I then opened the piano lid. After taking a seat, I lifted my fingers to play and--
The action was familiar -- too familiar.
I froze, my fingers poised above the keys of my piano. "Wait a minute, haven't I done this before?"
I'd said those words before too. A shiver ran through me. Despite the overwhelming urge to play the piano, I fisted my hands and frowned in thought.
I considered the attic room and the storm I always seemed to awaken to.
I considered my flight down the stairs to the ballroom.
I considered my need to see the piano whole and in one piece, and then my urge to play it...
I had the strangest impression that I had done exactly this, not merely once or twice, but many times. In fact--
--In fact, that was ALL I could remember clearly.
The attic, the storm, playing the piano... That was clear and sharp in my memory. However, the memory of my last sword practice was hazy and blurred; even though sword-practice was something I did every morning right before breakfast with my parents. But...
But I couldn't remember my last breakfast with my parents -- not clearly.
-- Or lunch.
-- Or supper.
-- Or dinner.
In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I ate anything at all.
I couldn't remember doing anything beyond playing the piano, or seeing anyone beyond that one boy who brought me tea...
-- How many times...? Even so, I couldn't recall the child's name, or remember ever seeing his parents.
Even more alarming, I couldn't clearly remember the last time I'd seen any of the other servants. Nor could I remember the last time I'd seen any of my friends and acquaintances. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen any of the people I normally spoke to daily--not my mother, my father, or even my horse that I'd raised from a colt.
My eyes turned to the rain sluicing down the window panes. Thunder echoed in my ears and lightning flashed in the darkness beyond the windows. I couldn't recall the last time I'd seen sunlight.
All I could remember clearly were the storm, the attic, and the piano -- over and over and over...
My hands clenched on the cover for the piano keys. "What the hell is going on?"
Behind me, someone chuckled from the doorway. "You mean you don't know?"
Startled, I turned to face the door.
A man stepped through the door and into the light cast by the chandelier.
My first impression was that he was tall and clearly noble. Though he wore no hat, his pitch black caped overcoat was clearly tailored for his broad-shouldered yet slender form. The walking stick he held in his gloved hands had a polished crystal sphere for a hand-grip.
His sleek blue-black hair was pulled back into a snug neat tail that fell well past his shoulders. His chin lifted revealing a face that was oriental in cast with high cheekbones. His brows arched sharp and fine over slightly tilted eyes the blue-black of flint -- and just as sharp. His nose was fine and straight. However, his mouth was a touch severe and his smile sardonic.
To say that he was beautiful was an understatement, but his expression was a touch...cold.
I rose to stand before my piano and bowed slightly, noble to noble. "I give you good evening, sir. I am Viscount Frederic Muncastor." I lifted my chin, and my brow. "What brings you to Thorne House?"
His gaze hard on mine, he stepped further into the room, his shoes rapping on the hardwood floor. He stopped at the side of my piano.
I frowned and set my palm on the piano's upper edge. I did not like that he was so close to the instrument.
His brows lifted, and his smile faded. "You see me." It wasn't a question.
My frown deepened. "Of course I see you. Are you supposed to be a ghost, sir?"
His smile reappeared softer and a touch...sad. "No. You are."
I simply stared while a feeling of...unease settled in my belly. The sound of the rain filled the silence. When I finally brought myself to speak, my voice was...less than steady. "Is this some sort of...joke, sir?"
His gaze on mine, he slowly shook his head. "This is not a joke. I am Mochitsuki, an 'onmiyoji' sent here to lay you to rest."
Anger stirred in me. "With all due respect, Master...Mo-chee-zuki. I've never heard of any such thing as an 'on-mee-o-gee'."
The young man chuckled softly. "I believe the English translation is 'necromancer'; a sorcerer or wizard that works with the spirits of the dead, though I am more of a priest than a wizard."
I folded my arms across my chest, smiled tightly, and lifted a skeptical brow. "My apologies, but I don't believe in ghosts any more than I believe in sorcerers."
Mochitsuki's smile disappeared utterly. "Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately, Viscount Frederic?"
I frowned. No, I hadn't. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I had.
Impossible! One had to look in a mirror to dress, but...? But I couldn't remember the last time I'd changed my clothes. Something was definitely wrong -- with my memory at the very least. He couldn't be...right? I couldn't be...a ghost?
I looked around the music room. Just ten steps beyond the end of the piano was the first of the of tall gilt mirrors stationed between a pair of gas-light sconces. I looked back at Mochitsuki. I didn't like leaving my piano, but...? I needed to see, I needed to know. I scowled at the man. "Just stay right where you are."
He nodded and smiled. "Of course."
I stepped away from the piano. My boot-heels made solid echoing thumps on the floorboards. That was reassuring. Ghosts were supposed to be soundless, right? I tugged on the hem of my vest, briefly wondering where my coat had gone to. Taking a deep breath, I stepped before the mirror.
White... The shoulder-length waves of my hair were snow white. That was wrong. It was supposed to be dark blond.
That wasn't the only thing wrong.
My eyes were bright, heart-of-flame blue. My eyes had always been blue, but never that blue. My face was the color of porcelain -- bone-white, with my features shadowed in shades of blue and violet. My lips were deep blue-violet, almost black. It looked as though I was wearing cosmetics, even lip paste.
I raised my hands to my face -- and did not feel powder or paste. It felt like bare skin and my hands... My hands were as pale as my face and just as shadowed in blue and violet. Most damning of all, my vest. It was supposed to be wine red and embroidered in gold thread. Instead, it was a soft charcoal, the gold thread turned silver -- colorless.
I turned to stare in shock at Mochitsuki. "I..." I pressed my hand to my chest and felt a soft thump, thump. Could a ghost have a heartbeat? I pressed my hands to my lips and felt the passage of breath. However, I could not tell if it was warm. Still, could a ghost breathe? I frowned at Mochitsuki -- this man I did not know, this man I had never seen before, this man that had freely admitted to being a sorcerer. Could this be some sort of illusion? "If I am a ghost, explain to me how it is I can play a piano?"
He shrugged. "Easily. Your piano is just as much of a ghost as you are."
I bared my teeth. "Now I know you're lying! That piano is as solid as I am!"
"Is that so?" He raised his walking stick and slashed at my piano.
I threw out my hands and shouted in terror. "No!"
The walking stick passed through the piano without a sound, and the piano... The piano dissolved into mist, swirled around his cane and evaporated into thin air. The sheets of music fluttered to the floor and settled under the piano bench.
I stood there, frozen with my hands out. "What have you done?"
Mochitsuki turned to face me. "That piano wasn't really there, Viscount Frederic."
My heart aching, I staggered toward where my piano had once been and reached out. "My piano... My beautiful piano..."
Mist rose from the floor and collected under my hands. It coalesced and solidified into my piano, whole, unscathed, and solid under my fingers.
I swept my hands across the smooth dark wood. I rapped my knuckles against it. The sound of hollow knocking followed. I smiled sourly. "For a ghost piano, it's awfully solid."
Mochitsuki scowled. "Viscount Frederic..."
I didn't bother to look at him. Something was definitely off with me, but was I truly a...specter? And if I was...? If I was dead, what about...? "My parents...? Do you know what happened to them?"
Mochitsuki looked away. "According to my research, they died peacefully of old age."
"That's good to know." I smiled sourly and walked around the opposite side of the piano. I did not want to be struck by that man's cane. "Considering how much my mother loved this house, one would expect that she would be the one haunting it."
His brow lifted. "So you admit that you are a ghost?"
I scowled at him. "I admit nothing. I am not quite so foolish as to believe what just anyone tells me. No matter what the mirror shows, I do not 'feel' dead in the least." I pressed my hand to my chest. "I can feel my heart beating, Master Mochitsuki, and breath passes my lips. Can you explain that?"
He sighed. "Being a spirit of great strength, you can manifest anything you choose; a heartbeat, breath, a piano..." His brows lowered. "But that does not change the fact that you are a ghost."
I curled my lip at the man. "A spirit of great strength, am I?" Thoroughly annoyed I stepped up to the man and grabbed onto his upper arms. My intent was simply to keep him from striking me with his cane, however...
Mochitsuki stiffened under my hands, his eyes widening. I surpassed him in height by more than a few inches, so he actually had to look up at me. His lips parted.
I leaned close to glare directly into his eyes. "Tell me sorcerer, can a ghost hold you like this?" My gaze dropped to his slack lips. "Or do this?" Before I even realized my own intent, I dropped my head and pressed my lips to his in a kiss.
His lips were warm, almost hot. They parted under mine, a soft sound of surprise escaping him.
I boldly took that opportunity to slip my tongue into his mouth. He tasted mildly of some sort of herbal tea.
Mochitsuki jerked back hard, escaping my hands, and my lips. His free hand lifted to his mouth. "You..."
I smiled -- and casually stepped out of range of his cane. "What? Never been kissed?"
His gaze narrowed and his jaw tightened. "Not by a man!"
I snorted and rolled my eyes. "Clearly, you've led a very sheltered life." Or so I said, however I wasn't exactly experienced in kissing men either. Though most of my friends dallied with either gender, men normally didn't interest me. However, this one...
Mochitsuki ground his teeth. "You...pervert!"
I rolled my eyes. "I prefer libertine."
He frowned, as though he hadn't quite understood what I'd said.
I shook my head. "Never mind that, how long have I supposedly been dead?"
Mochitsuki's chin lifted. "You went missing over one-hundred and fifty years ago."
I blinked. A hundred and fifty years...? That was a bit much to take. I collapsed on the piano bench and swept my hands across the wooden lid that protected the keys. "Do you know...?" I swallowed hard. This was surprisingly difficult to ask. "Do you know how I died?"
Mochitsuki frowned. "You don't know?"
I gripped the piano's wooden cover. "I... I can't remember anything -- anything at all." All I knew was that I kept waking up in the same small room in the attic, worried for my piano. Perhaps...? Perhaps that small room was where my body lay hidden? I had no intention of mentioning my suspicions. Even I knew that to lay a ghost to rest one needed the bones of the deceased. If he was right, that I was a ghost, I had no intention of letting anyone lay me to rest, least of all this man.
His gaze dropped to the piano. "According to my information, you went missing after a break-in that..." He looked up at me. "That destroyed this piano."
I stared at him, wide-eyed. "Destroyed it...? I remember no such thing!"
"I assure you, it happened." He nodded at the piano. "In a fire that burned right through the floor."
I stroked the sleek wood of my piano. "And yet, here it is."
Mochitsuki shrugged. "Ghosts have been known to manifest objects important to them." He nodded toward me. "Such as your clothes."
I rolled my eyes. Arguing with him was like arguing with a wall. "But that still leaves the question of why anyone would want to destroy a piano?"
Mochitsuki strode casually toward my end of the piano. His walking stick thumped ominously on the floor. "The obvious answer would be debt."
I scowled. "Debt...?"
Mochitsuki nodded. "According to my research, that piano put quite a strain on your parents' bank account."
I frowned. "Understandable. This is a concert piano, a very expensive instrument."
His brow lifted. "Did you know that it had been heavily insured?"
I snorted. "Of course. It would be foolish not to insure it. More than a few of the paintings are--" Were? "--Also insured."
He nodded. "Several paintings went missing after that break-in, but only the piano was destroyed. Your parents' collected quite a bit of money from its loss."
I turned him with narrowed eyes. "Mochitsuki, what exactly are you implying?"
Behind me, lightning flashed very close to the windows.
He stepped back with a slight smile. "I imply nothing. These are merely the facts I have uncovered concerning the piano." He bowed slightly. "The only fact I could not discover is where your body lies."
He was implying that my parents had burned my piano for the insurance money! Little did he know my parents! They were patrons of the arts! They would never do any such thing to such an instrument! Clearly, he was lying, which meant he had to be lying about everything else too -- including my death.
I narrowed my gaze and rose from my seat. "If I died a hundred and fifty years ago, then this house should have changed significantly, wouldn't you agree?"
His eyes narrowed, but he smiled. "Go look for yourself." He lifted a hand toward the door.
"Thank you, I will." I strode for the door and threw it open.
I stepped out onto the gold carpeted hallway. I gazed about at the gaslights that shed golden light on the paintings that lined the pale gold walls between the polished wood vaulting for the cathedral arched ceiling. The hallway looked exactly as it should. Everything was in its proper place with no sign of age at all. I glanced behind me at Mochitsuki.
He blinked at his surroundings, then scowled ferociously.
I lifted my chin and strode for the main hall.
The grand hall was my father's pride and joy. An arcade of squared off marble pillars supporting fluted arches lined the entire expanse. I looked, but saw not a crack or chip anywhere. The sculpted acanthus and arabesques decorating the arches were perfectly intact and clean of dirt, or even dust. The tall wrought-iron standing candelabra in the hall's four corners were lit and all twelve candles in each were clean of wax-drippings. The mirror smooth gold-flecked marble floor glittered in the candlelight. The Greek sculptures ensconced in their pale blue niches were exactly as they should be and also clean of dust.
I looked up at the exposed hallway of the second floor which lined the hall on three sides. The gas lamps in the upper hall were all lit. The soft gold light burnished the wrought-iron balustrade with its polished oak banister.
I looked down at Mother's rose pink and Mediterranean blue Aubusson carpet that commanded the grand hall's very center. It looked freshly swept. The scrolled oak table that occupied the carpet's center gleamed with polish. The flowers looked fresh and clearly set by my mother's hand. Directly above, the gas-lit crystal chandelier glowed like a star shedding rainbows on every polished surface.
I turned to face Mochitsuki with a tight smile. "That was a very fine fairy tale you tried to feed me, and I freely admit that your illusion with the piano was quit clever. However..." I narrowed my eyes at the man. "I'm afraid that your efforts to delude me have failed." I pointed at the flowers on the table. "I would know my mother's touch anywhere."
Staring all around, Mochitsuki's brows were drawn tight and his jaw clenched. His cheeks were flagged in red. Clearly, he was furious.
I found the expression more than a little satisfying, and somewhat amusing. Anger looked surprisingly attractive on his face.
"You...!" He threw out his hands and turned all the way around to encompass the entire hall. "You manifested all of this!"
I snorted and rolled my eyes. "In case you haven't forgotten, you are the one who claims to be a sorcerer, not I."
Mochitsuki turned to me and spoke through his clenched teeth. "I admit that you are a far stronger spirit than expected, but...!" He lifted a hand and pointed at me. "There is one thing you absolutely cannot change."
I lifted a brow and waved my hand. "By all means, show me more, sorcerer."
He stomped past me to the arched front doors and threw both wide. Outside in the night, rain and thunder continued. Wind gusted loudly through leaves. He turned back to face me with a grin smile. "You cannot change the fact that this house is not in England."
"Not..." My mind blanked for an entire breath. "Not in England...?"
Mochitsuki's smile turned coldly triumphant. "This house was purchased and moved, stone by stone--" He waved a hand towards the porch beyond the doors. "--To my country."
I stepped towards the door, drawn and repelled at the same time. I didn't want to look, but I had to know. I had to see for myself. I stepped out onto the porch. On either side of the doors, the gas lamps bloomed with golden light. Light spilled across the floor tiles of the pillar-lined portico. Light splashed against the stone railing, and beyond the light...
Beyond the light was a small muddy field showing signs of new grass. Beyond that small muddy field was a forest, a mature forest with fully grown trees -- a forest that had never, ever been there, even when my house was originally built.
Thorne House had been built atop an older house with the lawns and gardens already in place. The forest that might have once been there had been cleared several centuries earlier, during the time of Henry Tudor.
That forest did not belong there.
The mature and neatly mowed lawn that should have been there, that should have gone on for almost as far as the eye could see, and the fountain, and the rose garden that surrounded it...?
Gone. It was gone -- all of it, with no trace that it had ever been there.
Lightning flashed, exposing the world beyond the tree-line. Forest covered mountains marched as far as the eye could see. Mountains that should not have been there, any more than the muddy lawn or the forest beyond it.
I stared, well aware that my mouth was hanging open in abject horror. "Where...? Where is this?"
Mochitsuki set his hands on the stone railing and smiled into the rain. "Japan."
"Japan...?" Halfway around the world...? I stepped backwards, toward the door and shook my head. "No."
Mochitsuki turned and followed after me with a smile of utter maniacal triumph. "Yes. This house is in Japan, and you are just an annoying ghost that should be laid to rest."
I turned to face the great hall...
It was dark -- too dark. The candelabra were gone from the corners and the light with them. However, I could see well enough to tell that the sculptures gone from their niches. The carpet was gone from the floor and the table with it. The vases were gone, the paintings -- everything.
Everything was gone.
I looked up. The upper halls were filled with deep shadows and the wrought-iron balustrade appeared to be missing entirely. The arches showed chips and cracks. The inlaid arabesques were missing pieces. The pillars showed mortared seams that had never been there before.
The chandelier that hung overhead appeared to be half its size, but I couldn't see well enough among the shadows to tell what it looked like.
Behind me, there was a click.
Light bloomed from the hanging chandelier. It was small and completely bare of hanging crystals. The fixture was merely a slightly decorative brass frame with mock candles tipped with small bulbs of glass that glowed with hard white light.
The light mercilessly revealed dirt and grime in every crevice and corner. The once mirror-smooth floor was scarred with gouges and caked with muddy boot prints.
In abject horror, I stared. "What have you done to my house?"
Behind me, Mochitsuki's voice was soft, but determined. "This is not your house anymore, Viscount Frederick. This house belongs to someone else, someone living -- in Japan."
Slowly, I shook my head and strode across the great hall. "This is wrong."
Mochitsuki's shout followed me. "This is the truth!"
"It can't be. Not this." My heart ached in my chest and my eyes burned. Anger welled from deep inside and exploded outward in a shout. "This is -- an ABOMINATION!"
Thunder and lightning exploded over the roof, making the whole house shudder.
I strode into the hallway that led to the ballroom. All trace of paint, wallpaper, and carpeting was gone, as was all the art. The walls were bare stone riddled with fine cracks. The gas lamps had all been replaced by small electric fixtures of plain frosted glass.
It was hideous.
I stepped through the door into the ballroom. The floor was unpolished new wood. The walls were bare of paint and gilt. Mirrors still lined the walls, but they were not quite the right shape -- ovals instead of long beveled octagons. Instead of the fluted gas lamps, electric fixtures framed each one.
I looked up at the ceiling. The familiar mural of clouds and blue sky was still there, but the paint was dingy and yellow with age. The crystal chandeliers that marched in a line of brilliants down the center of the long room were missing entirely.
The piano was gone, but the stool still sat there. However, the seat cushion's pristine white silk had been reduced to gray shreds splotched with stains from God knew what. My sheet music lay scattered beneath it on a floor of raw unpolished wood boards.
Heartbroken, I knelt to gather the music and finally noticed how yellow the pages were. I touched the faded musical notations with trembling fingers. Was it true? Was I merely a ghost like my piano? Was the house I knew, the one my father built, the one my mother loved so very much -- gone?
Mist rose from the floorboards and formed into my beautiful piano. More mist spilled out across the floor, spreading polished shine across it. Mist crawled up the walls, bringing back the warm ivory paint and the gleam of gold gilt. The mirrors expanded into their proper shapes. The gaslights appeared, wiping away the electric fixtures.
Across the ceiling, the painted clouds became white and cream, the blue rich and vibrant. All the way down the ceiling, chandeliers bloomed into being and cast light and rainbows on every surface.
I rose to my feet and a bitter smile curled my lips. No, it was not gone. My piano, this room, my house...they were still here, even if only as a memory. A manifestation, Mochitsuki had called it, something that I had called forth.
I took a seat on the pristine white bench before my magnificent piano. With careful deliberation, I set the music on the piano's stand. The music, the piano... It all felt as real as my own body.
However, I was supposed to be a manifestation too, was I not? God, what a bitter thought.
It suddenly occurred to me that if I could manifest a piano and the ballroom around it -- if I could manifest myself, why not a pot of tea?
I closed my eyes and pictured one of the folding tables that were kept in the kitchens. I then pictured the blue and gold French teapot my mother had favored above all others along with the cup and saucer that matched. I imagined the pot filled with my favorite tea -- Earl Grey. Beside the pot should sit the silver sugar bowl and the matching cream pitcher. A napkin and silver spoon should also be there.
A familiar warm sweet scent filled my nostrils.
I opened my eyes to see the tea set on its folding table exactly as I'd imagined. Steam curled from the spout.
I smiled, though my heart was not in it, and reached for the tea pot. It was solid to my hand, and heavy with tea. Carefully, I poured myself a cup of the steaming liquid. I added two lumps of sugar and a spot of cream. I stirred it with a spoon as firm to my fingers as the tea pot. Holding the cup with proper decorum, I sipped.
Delicious, exactly as it should be.
I set the tea cup down and sighed. Perhaps Mochitsuki was right. Perhaps I and my beautiful piano, the lighted ballroom that encompassed us and the pot of tea were nothing more than memories from the past made manifest.
So what if I and my house were ghosts? Being remnants didn't make me or them, false or invalid. Being spirits didn't mean we didn't exist! I might not be made of living flesh, but I still had thoughts, desires, and dreams -- I still existed -- and where I existed, so did my house.
My chin lifted and my gaze narrowed. God rot Mochitsuki and his 'laying to rest'! I would NOT give up what small existence I and my house still had just because someone else -- someone I did not know, thought I should!
Had it not been said that those who sought to forget the past were doomed to repeat it?
Out in the hall booted feet ran toward my ballroom.
I glared at the open door. "No."
The double doors slammed closed. The lock engaged.
I found the...manifestation quite satisfying.
"Viscount!" Mochitsuki shouted and banged on the door. "Viscount Frederic! Open this door!"
I raised the lid from my piano keys and set my fingers on the ivories. With determination, I began to play Chopin's first Nocturne, opus nine, number one, in B-flat major -- as loudly as I could.
Mochitsuki continued to bang on the firmly closed door.
I ignored him, blotting out the sounds of his shouts, his fists, his...Japan with my music, my house, my...England.
Beyond the sound of my music, and the shouts from an annoyed sorcerer, I could hear the thunder passing away, the storm leaving. Some instinct within me warned that when the storm was gone, so too would I leave -- until the next storm awakened me once again in that attic room.
Next time however, I would remain in that tiny room and search for what was left of my mortal body. No matter how gruesome the task, I would find every part of me that was left, and make every effort to ensure that it would never be discovered.
Mochitsuki might be determined to erase the past, but THIS past would not be erased.
A grim smile curled my lips. No petty sorcerer would lay me to rest. This was my house and I would not leave it.
End of Prelude.