Cressela - Twisted

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【 Chapter Five 】

Katarinas. Meam commemorationem.

But what did they mean?

Katarina was a girl’s name, Amber was sure of it, but it was plural. And as for the other phrase, she’d never heard of it. Was it in another language? Amber flipped the page, her frown deepening as she studied words filling the pages from top to bottom, scribbled down in the same ink, but in a different way altogether. It looked almost like some kind of complicated code, some kind of out of this world writing. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was neither.

Page after page had the same writing, and Amber sighed in confusion, going to the back of the book and stopping quickly when she found three odd-looking chips taped to the back page. Well, they looked like chips - not computer ones, more like a microchip or a means of identification. Small, slender squares with a matte black shade, with one word, a dash and a letter labelled on the backs of each in very fine white print. Amber leaned in to get a closer look, squinting as she managed to make out the words.

NOVA - D

ZANYA - L

CRESSELA - ∞

She frowned as she studied the writing, then focusing on the symbol on the end word. Didn’t that stand for infinity? And what did it have to do with the rest? Amber sighed, leaning back in her seat and staring blankly at the ceiling. If this was the adventure she’d always wanted, the changed she’d wished and thought about for so long, it was a very complicated one. She could just forget about it all - throw the book away, pretend that the night never happened, and the girl was never there. Throw away the opportunity for a normal life, like so many people have done before her, and continue to do so today.

But she couldn’t.

She wouldn’t.

Amber Obscura was a part of this twisted mystery now, and as she shut the book and put it back into her pocket, she decided that she was going to uncover the full story. If the girl had wanted her dead, she would’ve killed her, and although she couldn’t be sure of almost everything at this point, she knew of someone who could very possibly help her out. Someone who’d believe her, and always has.

Slipping off the chair, she called Marcel over as she grabbed the keys and left the house, running off past the forest and streets of shops and houses, to get the street next to a small park with a fountain in its centre and dogs on leads sniffing the grass and following their owners. It was a small side street with a row of bungalows, simple brown ones with small gardens on the outsides and picket fences encircling them. The one Amber advanced to was the second to last, with neatly trimmed bushes on either side of the brown-stone path leading to the front door, and green grass with wildflowers and daisies dotted amongst it.

Going over to the left bush, Amber lifted the back end up slightly to reveal the hidden spare key. She unlocked the door, and Marcel bounded inside, very familiar with the home and its owner. Amber followed and locked the door behind her, the scent of tea and new books easing her already. Kicking off her shoes, Amber walked through the short hallway to the main room, where Ruey was sat at his desk, Marcel already by his side and licking his hand for attention. Fluffy white fur rubbed against Amber’s ankle as Celeste, Ruey’s old American Curl cat, gave her a brief greeting as she circled her leg once before going back to the windowsill and licking her paws daintily.

“Amber,” Ruey said with a wide smile, standing up to give her a hug and offer her a seat on the sofa, “lovely to see you, dear, as always. Tea?”

Amber nodded with a grateful smile, and Ruey went off to the kitchen, returning a minute later with two cups of tea, handing her one cup and placing his on the coffee table, sitting down in his armchair and taking off his thick-rimmed glasses and reading his granddaughter’s hesitant expression with ease.

“Tell me,” he encouraged, picking up his cup and taking a sip, “what’s wrong? I’ve always got time to listen, pet. Has Mazel been putting silly ideas into your head?”

“Tried and failed,” Amber responded with a half-smile, but it left her face almost as soon as it’d appeared. “Grandad, I was in the hospital because of something that happened las-”

“You were what?”

Amber laughed at that. “You sound like Theo...”

“How exactly did you end up there? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Amber assured him. “It was in the forest, and it was late-”

“Start from the beginning, for the love of God,” Ruey told her with a chuckle. “Don’t look at me like that, you’re not on trial.”

“You won’t believe me,” Amber said quietly, fidgeting in her seat. “Even I’m finding it all hard to believe. But I know that it did happen, and I think it’s what I’ve been waiting for. You know, when I always talked about there being something missing from my life? I think I might’ve found it.”

Ruey nodded slowly, no sign of judgement in his face. “Start at the beginning,” he repeated. “You know I believe you, Ambs, no matter how mad you sound.”

“Okay. Well, I needed to get out of the house for a bit. Just because of Mazel and... I just needed to get out. I love it in that forest, always have. It was kind of late at night, but I know my way around - but this tree was blocking the path I always took. So I went the long way around, and right into the middle of the place. But then I saw this bridge, a really old-looking bridge, with ivy trailing down from the ropes. I went to investigate, and I was careful and everything, but then everything just went... black. I think I was hit from behind. Then I woke up in a room, pitch-black room, on a hard mattress on a bed frame. There was... I don’t know how to describe it-”

“Draw it for me, then,” Ruey suggested. “A picture can paint a thousand words, they say.”

So Amber pulled out her sketchbook and grabbed a pencil, sketching the bed and the letters on the floor, the table, the chair next to the door, and the cobwebs in the corners. She ripped out the page and handed it over, and Ruey put his glasses back on, analysing the page in interest with his brows furrowed.

“Why does it say ‘ssh’ on the floor?”

“I don’t know. It was just there. I thought it was some kind of hint to keep quiet, but it could stand for something. But anyway, after a while I took my torch and left the room, going down a long corridor with hardly any lighting at all. There were stairs to my right and a room to the left, and the main door at the front. But the main door was bolted and chained and everything, so I went left, and found a book in a chest. I took it with me, but then I dropped something, and I had to literally run for my life. I won’t ever forget,” Amber said the last sentence in a whisper, almost out of breath at the vivid memory. “I can’t... her face, Grandad - it was all wrong, it was...”

Ruey came over to sit beside her on the couch, taking Amber’s hands in his. “Who’s face, love?”

“That girl’s,” Amber told him desperately. “She had black hair and really, really pale skin. And her clothes were weird - they kind of wound around her legs and arms. They were black too - but her eyes, her eyes. They... they were white.”

“They were white?” Ruey repeated, and Amber nodded.

“Yeah. Empty and searching and pure white. And there was, like, blood or something dark coming from them, like she was crying red. She heard me when I dropped a crowbar I picked up for protection in the room on the left, and she sounded like an animal. She kind of roared, but it was high-pitched and sounded almost harmonious. I can’t describe it. But it was real, I swear to you. It was real, and it’s still there, in the house in the forest. She threw something electric at me, and it slashed the side of my cheek, but I kept running and made it out of the forest. Then I collapsed outside, and then I woke up in hospital.”

Ruey didn’t respond for several seconds, and silence coated the room as Amber steadied her breathing, Ruey deep in thought as he processed her words, his expression unreadable. Marcel sensed the tension and padded over to Amber, lying at her feet again with a huff, Celeste glancing at them indifferently and returning to her personal wash.

“Do you believe me, grandad?” Amber broke the silence in a small voice, and Ruey looked up, his eyes meeting her golden ones.

“I’ll always believe you,” he told her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and rubbing her arm comfortingly. “You said you took a book... do you still have it?”

Amber nodded, taking it out from her cargo pants pocket. “I don’t understand anything in it though. The words are strange and written in code or some different runic language. There’s some kind of chips stuck to the back page too, with a word and letters on each, but none of it makes any sense.”

Ruey took the brown book from her hands and opened it up to the first page, reading the words in confusion but with slight understanding.

“It looks Latin to me,” he realised. “Katarinas... more like a name, but meam commemorationem means commemoration, or in memory of. My guess is that it’s a journal of some kind, but those who wrote it died.”

Amber stared at it in curiosity as Ruey turned the page over, eyes skimming the odd writing and dots and dashes that filled every page in crimson.

“This isn’t Latin, though,” he mumbled, shaking his head. “Looks more to me like a code.”

“That’s what I thought,” Amber agreed. “But look at the back. The chips, there.”

Ruey skipped to the back of the book, scanning the black squares and having Amber tell him what the impossibly small words and letters said. Then he sighed, leaning back in the couch’s soft material, seeming perplexed but almost in disbelief.

“Can you make any sense of it?” Amber asked him, and he shrugged, sitting up to face her.

“I might,” he admitted, unsure, “might. But I don’t know for sure. See, decades ago, before you were born, I was in Rome for some time. And in Vatican City, there were rumours of a scientist, Adriano Sanistri, who’d gone completely insane. He’d claimed to the government that he’d come into possession of an unnatural species from a different realm, with amazing, limitless powers and abilities. He said that they and he could be the answer to solve all the large problems in the world - you know, natural disasters and natural forces.

“Of course, everyone mocked him, most didn’t believe him, and the ones that did deemed them as a threat to humanities existence. They gave him a nickname, Dr Insanis, as a play on words of his last name.

“He was furious. He told the journalists and questioners that they would be the threat that the government believed they would be, and that they would all pay by the name of delusion. No one ever heard of Insanis or his kidnapped creatures again.”

Amber’s eyes widened in shock as she listened to the account, glancing at the book and then back to Ruey. “You think that could be an escaped one?”

“I think it could have something to do with it, yes. But I said I think, not I know. There’s no proof that this scientist ever had the species in the first place.”

“Do you think she managed to escape or something?” Amber said in wonder, already imagining the scene. “Do you think Insanis is alive and planning his revenge right now?”

“I think you’ve got enough imagination to power a universe,” Ruey said fondly, shaking his head and passing the book back to her. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay. What’re you going to do now?”

Amber took a deep breath, but held it, looking at her grandad knowingly. Ruey caught on almost immediately, several expressions passing his face as he groaned, taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes.

“You’re going to go back there and get yourself killed, aren’t you?”

“I won’t get myself killed,” Amber persisted. “If that girl wanted me dead, she would’ve killed me straight away. I want to go back, give her the book, and try to talk to her.”

Ruey stared at her for a moment, before bursting out laughing, putting his head back in his hands. “Great idea. I’ll arrange your funeral to take the stress of Mazel and Theo, shall I? Don’t be ridiculous, Amber. It won’t go smoothly, you know that. Imagination and reality have a distinction, like it or not. You’ve got to be very careful, you understand?”

“Are you saying I can’t go?” Amber asked him slowly.

“No. You’ll go anyway. I know my granddaughter, and she’s just like her parents, so I’ll lose any argument. Now listen to me. Do a bit of research on this first. There might be some newspapers about it in the library. No harm in looking. Go back at night, but only if you keep your wits with you, and be as on guard and aware as you possibly can. You’re the only one I’ve got left, do you hear? I’m only letting you go because I know you’re a smart, amazing girl, and if this is your adventure, it’s your adventure. But take something to defend yourself at the very least. No unexpected surprises, okay?”

Amber nodded, hugging him close and burying her face in his shoulder. “You know I will. I’ll bring her back, back here. This is what I’m good at.”

“Then go,” Ruey told her, patting Amber’s leg and finishing his tea. “And I’ll see you tonight. Tell Theo you’ll be sleeping over tonight when he gets back.”

“Yeah, I’ve got to pick Jackson up from school when it finishes. I’ll take him to the library with me. Then I’ll go tonight, and find her.”

Ruey nodded as they stood up, Marcel perking up and standing with her, going over to the door behind her. “And Amber?”

Amber looked back, and Ruey smiled slightly. “Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing.”

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