CHAPTER XII

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The monster was still sitting in the middle of the circular room, its impossible body compressed like that of an animal; except sitting dogs or cats had heads and not arms crowned with long bone-like scythes. Had it been able to see me, it would've killed me... And yet, through all of the things that would fill my nightmares for days to come, that monster looked peaceful.

The monster sat there, scanning the room with its single eye.

I walked around it. The sound of my feet echoed in the room, but the monster did not stir. I looked down and noticed the chain. The creature was indeed bound at the waist by a thin silvery chain, which seemed to be connected to the center of the floor.

Only I could have gotten past this. I told myself. But why?

I made my way to the door on the other side and reached for the surface with my hand. The second water-door didn't feel like a physical object, just like the first one. The clear liquid moved around my hand, never touching my skin.

I turned my head to look at the monster. It was still sitting there, staring at the first door like a vigilant watchdog. It looked peaceful, so much more than my beating heart.

I couldn't breathe or blink. I braced myself and stepped through the door...

And found myself, once again, inside a room unlike anything I'd ever seen. The only source of light was an orb in the center of the ceiling. It hovered there, spilling light into the room like a miniature sun. The floor and ceiling seemed to be made of a muted-gray metal. I reached down to touch it, and I found it rough, like hardened earth.

I looked around me and found that the room was only a little bigger than the one with the monster. Both of the walls to my sides were piled high with metallic crates. I took a closer look, and found they had paper labels on them, but I couldn't read the words. I wasn't sure if they were truly words or rather drawings made of many little squares.

As I walked deeper in, I found something that took my breath away.

Not a machine.

Not an impossible creature.

It was something... terribly sad.

At the other end of the room, I could see a framed photograph sitting atop one of the crates. I walked to it and held it up to the light.

It was a picture of five people. The black was faint, and it meshed at points with the grays and whites, but the faces of those present - those who had a face - were as clear as the petals of a flower.

On the right was a woman with long and wild hair. She wore a vest, leather pants, and boots. She carried a sword across her back and one of her eyes was covered by an eyepatch. She smiled wide, like someone who'd fought strife and survived.

On the left was a hunched figure. The creature didn't have a face, but rather a single eye. It wore a fine suit, and instead of hands, it had three-pointed claws. I recognized that creature as Gam. Although it had no mouth to smile with, that single eye was wide and as bright as midday sunlight. I could see, and feel, the joy in that eye.

Next to Gam, there was a woman wearing a simple dark dress. She wore a big white ribbon on her waist. Her hair was pale and long, and her skin looked opaque. There was only the faintest smile on her face. She appeared to be winking at the photographer with her head tilted to one side.

And... in the center of the photograph, there were two men. One had short light-colored hair while the other's was longer and darker.

The first man was wearing a suit with a pocket watch. While his right hand was adorned with many rings, his left held only a sword. He smiled like an old man, looking at the camera with eyes that betrayed his age. He seemed like he'd tamed the world and grown wise beyond his years.

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