Author's Note: The Sequel to 'Fire & Gold', 'Devil Wind' is finally done! That took much longer than I would have liked and even has less word count than before, but ultimately, I hope that the extra time help contributed into crafting a deeper and more intricate story.
The tone won't be too different than 'Fire & Gold'; the reason being Ruby and Yang stealing quite a bit of thunder and Blake... well, you'll just have to read to know further. What I can say is that this Arc is something like the prologue to Blake Belladonna's true life, the story of how she came to shed her old self completely and return anew. And kind of like how you look back at your high school/teenage self and want to strangle them before they embarrass themselves further, some of Blake's sentiments may feel slightly cringe-worthy. Sorry!
As usual, I will be posting one chapter per day, or per two days if there are real life issues that take first priority or 'emergency' edits. With some luck and intentional blindness I won't be tempted to supplement the Arc with additional chapters.
Devil Wind - Prologue
It was night. A young woman of pale complexion and black, flowing hair shut the leather bound volume in her hands and exhaled in contentment. She had been sitting here for the past seven or eight hours going through book after book, absorbing every bit of information at this treasure trove of knowledge also known as a library. Ever since she discovered this place two years ago, the black-dressed woman had made it a priority to visit here as often as she could.
"Do you like it?"
"Yes, very. It's refreshing to read about various histories of The Black War without the usual embellishments, distortions and outright fabrications that plagued similar works."
As usual, the librarian could only scratch his head wryly at her unusually blunt statements, while Blake Belladonna merely smiled kindly in return. She wore a black buttoned vest with coattails, with white, sleeveless undershirt that covered just short of her midriff. Her stockings were a pair of black fading into purple as it reached her feet, and at its sides sewed solemn belladonna flowers of pure white. A pair of black, low-heeled boots sat idly at a corner just a hand's stretch away from her sitting, and as she hooked them over elegantly to her side with a pair of toes, the equally black-haired young man asked knowingly,
"Going home already? That's a little earlier than usual."
She slipped into her boots and stood up, hands patting away at dusts that might have accumulated on her clothes, not missing either the black detached sleeves at her left arm or the twin ribbons wrapped around her wrists. Finally, with obvious concentration and effort, she tidied with detailed care the black ribbon bow perched tightly atop her head. The librarian looked like he wanted to say something, but controlled himself. By now Blake had been here long enough that no one could miss her obvious love for the seemingly insignificant piece of decoration, or the fact that she never took it off no matter where she went. Every time he inquired, she would deal with the attention with a half-smile and glare, and although he got the hint soon enough the curiosity in his eyes never quite faded away. Blake hid within her heart a sigh; some day that natural inquisitiveness was going to get him in trouble.
"The usual errands to run."
"Right. Any chance you'll tell me your secret businesses today?"
"Unfortunately, no," Blake remarked amusedly as she carefully tidied up the stack of read books and balanced them on one arm, "Why ask? You know I always leave around this time of the week."
The librarian hurried over to relief her of some load, and slowly they navigated together the small maze of shelves together while meticulously putting the read volumes back to where they belonged, "Yeah, well. I wanted to ask you something, and well, I was kind of hoping to have a bit more time, but well –"
"Elliot," Blake said gently, "Calm down."
"Right! Right…" the librarian took a deep breath before continuing, "Two days later, on Sunday, it will be my… birthday. Now I know! I know, that you're usually busy at that time, but maybe, just maybe… would you like to celebrate it with me?"
Her amber eyes widened in surprise before they narrowed into slits, the expression giving her the distinct look of a cat scrutinizing its prey. The young man gulped visibly at the all-too-familiar penetrating gaze, but he held it long enough to convince Blake he was serious, "I… see. That's great, Elliot, congratulations. But you know I don't like gatherings."
"Oh no, it'll only be you and me," the moment the words flew out of his mouth the librarian started blabbering again, "I – I – I mean! This is a library after all, so of course we can't have everyone gather around here."
"Why not have it somewhere else, then?"
"Well, uh," A leftward glance to the ground, mindless shuffling of the feet. How predictable, "You know. Reasons."
It was quite late already, so Blake decided to spare him just this time and skipped to the next question, "How about your family? Won't they want to celebrate it with you too?" Blake asked.
"Yes, but I've already told them to have it earlier during the evening. So I'll still have time to come here," Elliot replied.
"If that is the case, then surely there's no reason to celebrate a second time," Blake said indifferently.
"But there is," her friend insisted, "You. Of course I'm happy to celebrate my birthday with my family, but I also want to do it with you. I would have invited you to the party, but you know," Elliot winked an eye and Blake rolled hers, "You."
Blake leaped lightly from where she stood, and with incredible deftness shoved the final book into the highest shelf. As usual, Elliot was gawking even though it really wasn't anything special, but then she was used to such expressions. With that done she turned to face Elliot with a look of slight puzzlement, "I don't understand. Why me? I'm just a regular here. A nobody."
"Don't say that," the librarian said softly, "To me, you're a very good friend. Or do I not count?"
Blake bit her lips before replying, "Sorry, I don't mean it that way. Yes you are. It's just that I really am not sure if I can make the time. Saturday is unfortunately not… right."
Her friend's shoulders slumped at the cool statement, but he brightened up quickly and suggested, "Okay, what if we celebrate it a day earlier then? Or the day after?"
It wasn't. Blake had a very good reason to avoid human company on any of those days, and on any other occasion she would have refused similar invitations, Elliot or not. In the first place, the reason she chose to frequent the library was precisely for its lack of human traffic and popularity. It just seemed contradictory to participate in a party right here, even if the only attendees would be her and Elliot.
Still, she could not outright refuse him. In regards to this matter, Blake agreed wholeheartedly that a birthday was the most important occasion in a person's life, and she did not like the idea of causing her friend regrets on such a day. Ah, curses, she just maneuvered herself into a corner, didn't she? Blake allowed herself a tiny grimace and said, "You really want me here, do you?"
"Of course! It will mean a lot for me if you come," Elliot chirped when sudden mischief twinkled in his eyes, "And who knows, I might even let you take out some of the more precious books. Don't deny it, I know you've been eyeing 'Red Stanza – The Unsaid Truth of The Moon' for quite some time now."
Blake rolled her eyes again at the blatant bribery, but could not resist a small smile of her own. It was her own fault that she fell in love with books, after all. Those golden, feline eyes gazed enigmatically into the burning hearth, and finally, as she lifted a pail of water to douse out the flames, the young woman finally nodded, "Okay. I'll see you on Sunday night then. But if you don't see me by twelve then go home; I don't want your family to get worried."
"Yes!" The young man leaped so ecstatically into the air that he nearly knocked himself over a table. Blake could only smile wryly at his exaggerated antics as he quickly controlled himself and asked sheepishly,
"Ah, sorry. So, what kind of cake do you like? Chocolate, vanilla, cheese, or would you prefer fruits?"
"I thought this is your birthday, Elliot."
"Yes, but my family would have bought my favorite flavor already – which by the way is cheese with strawberries and crisp biscuit fillings – and if I'm going to do this twice, I might as well taste something different, right?"
"I suppose. But I don't have any particular preference so, just the standard chocolate will be fine."
"Blake Belladonna! I know you're usually indifferent about such things, but this is a cake, a cake we're talking about! How can you not be excited?"
"A librarian with a fetish for cakes? This world is hopeless."
"What? It is not a fetish!"
As the duo turned off the lights and locked up the main door, exiting the library into night air chattering away as only close friends could, Blake Belladonna felt content, happy and at peace. She looked up to the skies, savoring quietly the sight of countless stars shimmering from above. Yes, this was the life she had always yearned for. This was everything she ever wanted. If she was to meet a genie, then the only thing she would ever wish was for this little, tranquil peace to last forever.