Thomas took a sharp inhale of breath as he felt a set of eyes upon him, and a new presence he hadn't noticed before taking a seat at his side. His concentration broken, he turned to see a somewhat familiar face, though one that wasn't as distinct in his memories as the ones who he'd accompanied in Victoire's Floor.
He didn't respond to her initial question, answering with a slightly bewildered expression that she had even approached him in the first place, followed by a crumbling look of confusion and even a little upset. Katie's words echoed within his mind, blending in with his own inner monologue that had been telling him the same thing now since his battle with one of the thorny wolves, no longer than an hour previously at this point. He looked as though he wanted to say something for a moment, but the words didn't seem to come at that moment. Instead, he asked something easier, something he knew his mind would allow him to say."How do you get used to it though?"
Thomas finally mustered up those words, still staring somewhat blankly at the counter. "I saw someone die today, and then... not a minute later she just got up. But she was dead, she'd been killed, and then out of nowhere..."
He turned to Katie again with those brilliant violet eyes, filled with uncertainty as he trailed off towards the end of his sentence. "How long have you and the others been up here? How long does it take to become used to something like... like that?"
It was a realistic set of questions. Not many were used to the notion of death, let alone those suddenly thrust into the Tower's floors. The boy turned to Katie as if she had all the answers to those questions, the key to the root of his disturbance. And she did answer, mouth moving in the motion of words spoken; but no noise came from them. Her lips moved but words did not reach Thomas' ear. She continued talking, as if the conversation was normal for her. But at some point, Katie's expression became confused and her lips mouthed, "Are you even listening?"
These too would not reach Thomas. All the boy could hear in the Dangeki was the melody of music
that wasn't present before. Or at least, if it was, he clearly hadn't noticed it until just now. Regardless, the source of it came from inside the bar and rest area ever still.
Somewhere among the darkest corner of the Dangeki, there in lay the music that filled the air, a sound only Thomas could hear. Locating it was no mystery, not when the music seemed intent on drawing his attention. Hidden in a corner everyone else seemed to ignore or forget, lay a modest piano that continued to play upon it its melody. Seated behind the keys was its player, one almost familiar to Thomas. She
almost resembled one of his own Serei cards; perhaps she was, having caught his attention with eye contact and smirking softly for him to come closer. The music persisted as she worked, lost in her work but still staring through Thomas as a figment only he could see. The lights dimmed between them, shadow surrounding both girl and both until only they were the focal points of this hidden world.
Thomas had returned Katie's look of confusion at first, but at a certain point he felt he couldn't respond to her anymore, feeling more and more distant from her and the rest of the Dangeki as the elegantly played music filled his ears. It drew him off of his seat, almost as though the notes themselves were putting the boy in a trance, and pulled him towards the dark, well-polished wooden beast that emitted those dreamy tones. And, for the first time since he'd arrived at the Tower, Thomas didn't question the piano's sudden appearance. He wasn't concerned with the 'why' or 'how' for once, simply approaching closer and closer whilst Katie and the rest of the bar seemed to disappear around him.
Once he was close enough, his eyes gazed through the open lid of the piano, long metallic strings and wooden hammers strung together in a gorgeous symphonic mechanism of steel and wood, culminating in those ivory keys at the performer's fingers.
As for the performer herself, her abnormal eyes interlocking with his only drew him in closer, a smirk from her indicating she knew exactly what was going on. Eventually, even the wooden floorboards below Thomas' feet had disappeared, and he was left standing next to the mysterious girl on a bed of darkness that crept up the walls and ceiling, completely engulfing his field of view. All except that girl and the piano, her music the only thing that seemed completely real to him in this world at that moment. His fingers brushed along his pocket, where his Serei cards laid, thoughtfully waiting for whatever climax was coming."It's not polite to keep a girl waiting,"
the player finally said. As the first to speak, she couldn't help but give an airy but exasperated sigh. "Does someone like you really belong in this Tower? I can't imagine why you were plucked in here but who am I to judge? Well....I suppose I'm qualified to~"
The card in Thomas' hand flashed and thankfully he wasn't completely clueless. One of them chilled his fingers, an icy grip settling along flesh and that was the Serei who spoke to him. There wasn't a need to check. "Oh, you know who I am. Everyone knows. Like that girl over there does."
She flicked her mismatched gaze over to Riku and her wolf Serei for although the room was dimmed, it was still there, as if someone just turned down the lights to focus on them. "You're not the brightest around here Thomas. Why ask pointless questions about death when you could have just asked me instead?"
Her fingers idly continued their tune, bringing up a slightly faster pace to their crescendo, before dimming back down to a slower speed. "You know who I am. Everyone knows who I am."
Instinctively, Thomas almost snatched his hand away as soon as he felt the unforgiving chill of the Serei card spread to his fingers, but something compelled him to hold on, his whole hand beginning to clasp around it in an almost protective fashion.
He stayed silent as she spoke, her words resonating over the music, entering his inner-most thoughts. Sometimes it even seemed like he was even thinking those words himself. Everyone knows her. Everyone knows who she is. The boy turned his head back towards Riku for a few fleeting seconds as the girl indicated to her. She knows who she is.
Thomas turned back to the girl. The music at this point, despite its crescendo and tempo pushing forward through phrase after phrase with effortless musicality, took almost a back seat. His eyes slowly closed, the vivid violet colour disappearing as the music decrescendoed back into almost nothing. And then suddenly, within the tiniest corner of his mind: Death."I know who you are."
Thomas affirmed, his eyes blinking open, looking back down to the girl seated at the piano."Mrhn. You're half right. Most people make that mistake; if you know who I am, why don't you use my name? Are you sure you've done this kind of thing before?"
Marianne slowed her playing if only to focus on Thomas entirely now. "That's not my card description, is it. I'm just the carrier of Death. I suppose, in terms you can understand, Death is my grandfather."
She was very loose in her wording, though it was more likely just to have Thomas wrap his mind around the concept. "But for all extents and purposes, it really doesn't matter. Call me Death if you like, but I prefer my more worldly name~"
Her fingers stopped, removing her hands from the piano. However, the music continued to play, each key indenting on their own now."This is our first time meeting, isn't it. Well, however real you can consider this. Every Serei is just data. A copy of the original thing. I'm not even really here right now if you want to be pedantic,"
she spoke with a low hum. "Isn't it funny you got stuck with my card when you're so hung up over a girl dying. Did you fancy her? She's right there you know. Better to make your move on her now before someone else swoops in and snatches her heart."
Thomas said nothing at first, wanting to give the girl the chance to say everything she wanted to say. He kept his eyes on her and her fingers, dexterously weighting each key with a precise and trained technique, while his hand slowly emerged back out from his pocket, the cold Serei card
nestled safely between his thumb and index finger. It showed, as he'd assumed, the girl sat before him, as well as her name and title inscribed on a golden plate: Angel of Death, Marianne."Marianne..."
Thomas whispered to no one in particular as he read the name, his eyes and face remaining mostly blank as he simply tried to process each new piece of information that came his way. As if on cue, Marianne's hands lifted from the piano and a ghostly force carried on in her stead, playing with the same precision and intense musicality that she had previously.
He looked back to Riku as she was mentioned once again by the Serei, this time in a way that bewildered him slightly, his eyes snapping back to her as soon as the idea of attraction was brought up, almost looking panicked. After all, it wasn't his fault that he'd been thrown in as the only guy amongst a group of girls!"No, it's not that! Just..."
He mellowed out a bit, after what he, but not most others with a more boisterous personality, would've described as a sudden outburst. "Just I've never seen anything like that before. Or anything else I've seen here. In the first place, I've got no more of a clue than you do of why I'm really here. Plus, however you look at it, death is death. Maybe I'm just not as used to it as the others are...""Death is indeed death. It's neither biased nor predicted. It just happens."
Marianne shrugged and her eyes flitted away from little red riding hood. "Those who die in the Tower simply die. Very rarely do individuals cheat me. But that girl has more than a few unsaid secrets about her. Death surrounds her like a shroud~"
She leaned forward, interlacing her fingers together and resting her chin on her palm. "Were it up to me I'd happily drag that girl's soul under for cheating me for so long, but as I said, that's not by my authority. I suppose whatever mandates my grandfather put in is heavy on her. Oh well~"
She brushed aside the implication the princess had met her demise more than once, time and time again. If Thomas wanted more on that, he could ask Riku herself.
Without warning the flow of the song changed, morphing slower and slower until an entirely new melody
was played. Marianne only lifted an eye in indication but paid no major mind to it. "You're luckier than most, seeing death so young. And the more you see it, the easier it becomes. I can vouch for that,"
she mused. "Though, there's a few individuals in your little group who would love to cheat me now that I think of it. And none by their own volition."
The strangeness of the conversation was something that didn't go unnoticed by Thomas, but the talk of death became something that felt somehow natural to listen to in a surprisingly short amount of time. Perhaps hanging around the Angel of Death herself was having an affect on him. And the more Marianne spoke about her, the more Thomas realised there was something curious about Riku, beyond what was already beyond what met the eye. He looked to the red-clad warrior one final time, a desire for understanding dancing in his eyes, that curiosity plagued with a want for empathy.
His attention was brought back as the music gradually shifted onwards to another piece entirely, a looming and feeling emanating from the melody that the piano produced. His eyes went to Marianne as her thoughts seemingly shifted to the boy's other companions."I'm not sure I see it becoming easier for me, but maybe I'm just being naive..."
He remained calm and honest, but within Thomas' mind a much darker thought, one that remained unspoken, manifested within his mind. Did that mean that, if the time ever came, his own Serei would be the one to harvest the souls of his own comrades? Even his own? It was an idea he didn't want to dwell on, especially when he'd barely even met the girl minutes ago, but it left a sense of dread lingering within him, one reflected by the dark music that continued to play along as an ominous background to what was otherwise silence.
Marianne left those thoughts to himself; he could think what he wanted because it was infinitely more fun that way. Instead, her own thoughts turned to other things, other topics in conversation. "Did you know everyone has a song?"
she asked near out of the blue. "Reapers and those who work with death tend to hear it once or twice, but I hear them more fluently than others. The piece before...well, I'm sure you can guess whose heart it resonates with. But this, well, this is something new. I can hear this tune from many of your companions."
Throughout the conversation Marianne's features didn't much change and even now her smirk only dipped just a bit. "Companions is the right term. I'd hardly call them friends if I were you. They're far too dangerous for a cute boy like yourself to be hanging around, especially when such a melody drips from their souls."
The change of conversation was a nice change of pace for Thomas, and though the back of his mind was still plagued with the dark thoughts and images he had conjured only seconds before, in the moment his mind was occupied with the idea of the music connected to the souls of him and his teammates. The boy's features grew more into a look of concern though, as Marianne's own expression changed ever so slightly while explaining her thoughts on the matter."Dangerous? But they're my teammates, they've all helped me. From what I've seen so far, in this Tower nothing matters more than companionship."
Thomas didn't even react to Marianne's complimentary description of him, taken aback completely by just about everything else that had come out of her mouth. "Should... should I not trust them? Is that what you're saying?"
He took a step closer to the Serei, a look of uncertainty taking over his expression."I don't know, should you? If you can't make decisions for yourself, maybe you're not ready for my card,"
said the Angel of Death with another shrug. "I'm not here to hold your hand. Nor am I here to be your friend. But you have my card, so if you don't use it then you must have only yourself to blame, right?"
She moved, this time turning to play the melody herself by her own hands. "What you do is up to you. You tell me if this is a song worth trusting in. I just wouldn't wear my heart so readily on the sleeve around some of your so called friends,"
she said without a beat. "I'm sure you can make the right answer by ear alone. You look like a smart boy if nothing else, Thomas."
Thomas looked back down to the card itself, undecided about how to feel about what he was hearing. Did Serei have the capacity to lie, to bend the truth, to manipulate? And even if they did, what reason would the Angel of Death herself have to lie to someone like him? But either way, she did have a point. He barely knew these people, their intentions, their personal lives. And though that was no reason to treat them coldly, it did create a good argument to take caution.
As if to drive her point into him even more, Marianne's delicate fingers took to the keys of the piano once more, that dark and unnerving melody engineered by her own hands now. Thomas' eyes were immediately drawn to her playing again, before once more back to the card depicting the girl before him, which he then slipped carefully back into his pocket. "Well, thanks for the advice Marianne, I'll keep it in mind..."
Thomas turned to leave, but had only taken two paces when he suddenly rushed back towards the girl and her music. "Wait!"
, he called back to her as he came back around the piano, this time sitting down directly next to Marianne on the piano stool she'd been occupying solely until this point. "First, I've got two questions I wanna ask you.""Oh my~"
Marianne raised an eye at his sudden quickness, plopping beside her smoothly onto the shared piano bench. "Well, as your Serei, I'm obliged to answer to the best of my ability. You should make it quick though. The longer we talk, the longer you stay spaced out. The others might catch on you're mumbling to yourself~""I-I am?!"
Thomas expressed some embarrassment at the realisation of the unusual position his physical body had been left in. Following that embarrassment, his cheeks developed a warm and pinkish hue, something he hoped didn't also carry into the 'real' world. But he also knew that he didn't have time to stay flustered either. There was precious little time that he had left in this space and he intended to use it."W-well, first of all, I want to know what my song is, if I can at least. And secondly, if you're the one who claims those souls of those who die, I want to know if you've claimed the souls of anyone with the same eyes as me."
As though to emphasise his words his eyes widened, their unique colour shining through even the deepest darkness of the shadows around them, staring straight into Marianne's with a definite, though probably unintentional, intensity.
Marianne paused in her playing and for once the room went dead silent. No music and no breathing passed between them as the Angel of Death turned to her ward. A crooked expression etched itself to her face as she peered closer to Thomas, looking right through him. "To hear one's song is to court death. Everyone has a melody, everyone has a swan song. I didn't think you'd want to hear your own death so quickly Thomas. Do you really want to know how your song ends."
She left that open in the air for him to even process before she answered his second question in quick succession. "No. I've collected many with violet eyes, but none with your eyes. Not yet anyway. Everyone has a song to end and a time to come. Everyone dies. It's all the same to me, Thomas."
The boy could feel his heart beat just a little faster as the subject of his own death was brought into question, and lips parted to reveal a slightly gaping mouth. In fairness, it was quite a disturbing topic, and that was before Marianne's unnerving delivery of the reality of the situation and his request. Not a word of what followed concerned it, the idea of it being pushed to the back of his mind with the other unpleasant thoughts that had been too difficult for Thomas to process immediately from the conversation, and Thomas took a few seconds before continuing on with what he had to ask next. And his heart only beat faster as he heard what Marianne had to reply with. It was almost unbelievable, so much so that he wasn't truly sure of what to feel. Overjoyed? Excited? Sad? Nervous? It didn't feel as though there was a right or wrong answer the more he thought about it, but nonetheless he didn't let it affect him outwardly, although he couldn't help but look at least a little shocked. After all, he hadn't really expected anything.
For now though, with his questions answered and their first meeting all but finished, Thomas took one last look at the vast sea of ivory keys before him, before turning his eyes back to Marianne. It sounded mundane in his head, but there was something quite interesting about seeing her for the first time without music playing in the background, whether it was from her own doing or not. He simply stared at her for a couple of seconds, taking in the silence of the room, before offering her a smile and a nod."Thanks, Marianne. I'll see you later."
And with that, he stood up from the stool and walked back the way he came, bracing himself for what would come next with new perspective and with new purpose.
But Marianne was already gone and out of sight. So was her piano and even her space. Instead, Thomas was right back at his bar stool as if he'd never left.