Amethyst glanced behind her again. She was definitely being followed. Reporters… Didn't they have any idea when to let her alone? She hurried down the sidewalk, passing the fish-market, passing the flower store and the restaurants and the countless little stores whose names she couldn't read. She didn't know her way around Chinatown at all.
She could hear them getting closer. What did they want? An interview? Photos? Or just to follow her around all day and freak her out only to write some stupid newspaper article the following morning. Oh, it was ridiculous.
If they wanted to know about her music, that would be fine. But all they ever cared about was fabricating some secret identity for her.
She began to run, and she didn't stop running until she'd reached the bottom of the staircase. The petshop door was flung open and slammed into the wall. Amethyst darted into the parlor, a terrified look on her face.
"Oh, thank God," she gasped to herself.
No one was in sight, and the air was cool and peaceful. She was surrounded by animals of every species imaginable (and some unimaginable). Although none of them were confined, they were quite calm. A small goat walked over to her and tugged on her skirt with its teeth. She ran a hand through her purple hair, calming down.
"Good morning, Miss Moon," said a silky voice.
She spun around, raising her hands slightly in surprise. Count D's elegant form emerged from the shadows, passing through the curtain of beads and causing them to click and sway behind him.
"Count, I am so sorry to intrude, but I didn't know where else to go," she explained, still marveling at his unexpected entrance.
He smiled softly. "Not at all, Miss Moon," he answered smoothly. "It's an unexpected pleasure. Please. Do sit down. You seem rather pale."
The girl was still panting a little. "Um… yeah… um… Thank you, Count." She sat down on the edge of the couch.
"Are you hungry?" he inquired. "It's nearly noon. I was just preparing some tea."
Amethyst seemed slightly confused. "Um… Yes, actually. Tea would be great. But I'm a vegetarian. Don't worry about it."
D moved away fluidly, on silent feet. "On the contrary, that makes things quite simple."
Left alone, Amethyst began to look around her. A white cat came and curled up in her lap, purring when she began to pet it.
The décor in the place was amazing. There was no television or any modern equipment, besides an antique phone. The red drapes, the couches, the dark wood tables, the gold statues… And that beautiful fragrance! Some incense was burning that filled the room with a hazy smoke and a faint, flower-like aroma. It was such an exotic atmosphere. Was this place really a petshop?
"Do you like sugar in your tea?" asked the Count.
She jumped. He was standing right beside her. "A little," she smiled.
He placed a platter on the table and sat opposite her. There were two cups of tea, the teapot, the sugar bowl, and several vegetarian dishes.
"Now tell me, Miss Moon, what had you running like a hunted animal?"
"Call me Amethyst, please," she begged waving a hand. He nodded fractionally. "I came to Chinatown to do a bit of shopping. Someone must have recognized me and called the press, because these reporters showed up. When I saw them following me… I'm sorry. I just wanted a place to hide. I knew your store was somewhere close."
D leaned forward and slid one of the teacups towards her.
"Drink this," he suggested quietly. "It will help you relax."
She drank some of the tea and smiled. The flavor was almost like roses. "Anyway, they're always after me, asking me questions, trying to fabricate a my secret past… It's so annoying. I can't even go shopping without harassment!"
Count D was sitting perfectly straight. He was wearing purple slacks and a black robe embroidered with dragons. His long, slender hands were loosely folded, and she noticed that his fingernails were painted crimson.
"I see," he murmured gently. "They put so much emphasis on your unknown childhood that no one pays attention to your present. Is that right?"
"And for your part?" he pressed. "Which is more important?"
She bowed her head. "I don't remember, and I don't want to remember," she declared very quietly.
The perpetual smirk had not left D's face, but now he was peering at her intently. His long, black hair partially covered his eyes.
She glanced away. "I wish they'd just forget about it and let me move on with my life," she muttered.
Count D reclined slightly in a way that was almost nonchalant. "What do you really want, Amethyst?" he demanded gently. "What is your heart's deepest desire?"
The question looked like it startled her. She set the empty teacup on the platter and shrugged. "I don't know," she replied. She got to her feet, suddenly self-conscious. "I'm sorry, Count. I should probably be going. I am so sorry for putting all my troubles on you."
Count D rose also. "No need to apologize," he told her courteously. "But perhaps, since you're here, you might care to look around?"
She hesitated, but only for a moment. She really should be back at the studio, rehearsing. But she was always rehearsing! She rarely did anything else! This tiny shop was so inviting and alluring. She really wouldn't mind staying a little longer.
"I'd like that," she answered.
"Right this way."
The Count walked away gracefully, leading her into a hallway at the back of the store. The hall was long… really long. There were other corridors, and many doors, and always the smell of the incense. She followed him, marveling at the mysterious size of the petshop.
"Where are we going?" she finally asked, nervously.
"These rooms contain animals from around the world," replied her companion vaguely. "You are free to go wherever you'd like."
Amethyst stopped. She had no idea where to begin! What was she even looking for? Just then, a sound caught her attention. It was…
But it was like no melody she'd every heard. Completely enraptured, she turned and went in the direction of the sound. The song came from everywhere at once. Amethyst, drawn by the high, haunting voice, moved as if in a trance, walking down the hall until she came to a door. She stepped inside as quietly as she could so as not to interrupt the music.
She was in a shadowy room that, oddly enough, seemed to be filled with trees! And on a branch just ahead of her was a magnificent bird.
The bird was huge and looked something like the mystical phoenix with a golden beak and amber eyes. Its long feathers were a bright, dazzling blue. It was singing in a tone that sounded neither like a bird or a human, and the notes were clear and perfect.
Amethyst was spellbound.
The music was all around her. It comforted her and enveloped her in joy and utter peace. That music was the song her own soul had always been secretly singing. It was like she was hearing herself for the very first time. She heard laughter and tears and all the colors of the rainbow in that song.
The song was her life; if it ended, she felt as though she would die.
She heard a footfall behind her. "This bird is not for sale," the Count told her quietly.
"No…" she breathed, her eyes shining. "I don't… want it. I just want… to listen to it!"
"She hasn't sung in a long time," he went on, maybe to himself. "Yet she sings for you."
Neither of them spoke another word. The shimmering blue phoenix continued its melody, pouring out its song like rain upon stones. Amethyst stood perfectly still, glowing like an angel in her white dress. The music filled her mind; she could think of nothing else.
Then, abruptly, it stopped.
A sharp pain flashed through her heart.
"No!" she gasped.
"Everything ends, Amethyst," came the Count's mild voice. "Especially those things that are the most beautiful."
Amethyst shut her eyes, and the tears spilled down her cheeks.
Count D came up behind her and placed his delicate hands upon her shoulders. He put his face next to hers. "Not desire. It's fear, isn't it? What is that which you most fear?"
She didn't move or open her eyes.
"Silence," she whispered.
"Ah," said D.
And like some distant, invisible answer came the echo, loneliness…