Artemis stared at her. Majime stared back. The beating of her own heart rang loudly between her ears. It was something both captivating and awful, seeing the girl's eyes. The darkness of them reminded her of the drain in her bathtub—as a child, she'd been terrified that the drain would somehow suck her into the depths of the sewers.
She resisted the urge to scratch her ankle. Artemis didn't move, a prisoner within the canvas. A girl made of paint. Majime licked her lips and wished her unease away. She then began to analyze the portrait, telling herself that it was harmless.
The princess looked a lot like her father, if the portrait was indeed accurate. Her features were fine and delicate. Long black hair framed her cheeks. She was a very pretty child, one that would've surely grown to become a very beautiful woman. Majime tried to remember if the girl in the video was the same as the one in the painting—the picture in the former was so grainy that it was truly hard to tell.
She turned away from the portrait. Artemis' bedroom was a time capsule; despite the dust that coated every surface, the room still sparkled. Majime felt like a pauper surrounded by such abundant finery.
After a few minutes of poking around, she found nothing of note in that room, so she made her way back to the main apartment. She conducted a similar investigation in Levana's quarters. Again, the dust was the only thing that kept Majime from thinking that the apartment was inhabited.
"I wouldn't have thought you'd go this far to steal stuff."
Majime jumped, the put a hand to her chest to calm her beating heart. "I swear, I had no intention of stealing anything—"
"The least you could do is turn around so that I can see the weapons you're holding."
She complied, holding her palms open in a show of innocence. "No weapons, Sir. I can explain, Sir."
The man who'd confronted her crossed his arms over his chest. A couple of royal guards stood behind him. "Well? Why have trespassed into a forbidden part of the palace?"
"If it's so forbidden, why isn't there better security?"
The man cocked his head to the side, pondering this idea. "Mmm, touché. I guess you win that one."
Majime didn't dare lower her defences. "Sir, I meant no harm here. I'm simply conducting a private investigation."
"Investigation? On the royal family's property?"
"There's no political motivation behind my search," said Majime. "Purely...personal interest."
The man raised his brow. Majime's words did nothing to convince him, and she honestly couldn't blame him for that. She hadn't put herself in a good position, sneaking around like she was.
"Your Majesty, should we apprehend her?" Asked one of the guards.
"No, I find her quite amusing, actually. And look at her; I'll bet she doesn't have a dangerous bone in her body."
Majime stuck up her lip in irritation. How she longed to tell him off, but somehow she sensed that giving attitude to King Charleson Annotel would only worsen her current situation.
"So tell me, Miss…" Charleson glanced at his port, "Urushima Majime, what do you hope to accomplish by looking through this apartment?"
"Tell me, Your Majesty, if you've heard of a chip that kills its viewer. A sort of video curse."
"Well, I've seen a very suspicious video of this nature, and all evidence pointing to the one responsible leads me to Empress Levana and Princess Artemis."
At those last words, the king's amused expression melted into one of subtle anxiety. "Artemis? That's a name I haven't heard in a long time."
"You knew her?"
"Well, no one really knew her per se, but if you're asking whether I've had contact with her before or not, then yes, I have."
"Could you tell me more about her? About how she disappeared?"
Majime put her hands to her chest, pleading. "Please, Your Majesty. Anything you know will help. My daughter and I are in danger. So is my best friend." She lowered her voice. "Artemis wants to kill us. Somehow, I don't know, but she can kill people who've seen her video. She killed my niece."
"The world was told that she was kidnapped and never found."
"I think she might still be alive. If I can just know how and where she went missing, maybe I can find her and save my Hiroko…"
Charleson Annotel shook his head. "It's a very fishy story. The royal family were on vacation somewhere—they went every year and the location was always kept secret: that was the last time the princess was seen. The only person I can think of who'd know where she went missing is the earthen emperor. He was there."
This merger information only upset Majime even more. "Your Majesty, I'm desperate. I only have three days left."
"You're really committed to this story, aren't you?" Charleson sighed. "Tell you what: because I find your delusions cute, let's take a walk and I'll tell you what I remember of Artemis. Maybe that will help you."
Majime swallowed her contempt for this man's condescension and followed him eagerly away from the chilling, abandoned apartment. He took her through a quiet hallway that wound around and around; Majime was convinced that it was just an eternal pathway straight to hell. Perhaps letting the king having her alone for such a long time was a bad idea.
"So. Artemis. She was...well, special would be one way to describe her. I still don't really know what was wrong with her. There definitely was something wrong, though."
"Wrong in what way?"
The king rubbed his forehead. "Bear with me here, because it was a long time ago. I was around fifteen when I last saw her. The main thing I remember is that she was looked like she was half-dead. She never slept, you know. At least, that was the rumour going around court. She had dark circles around her eyes and she was as pale as a ghost, I swear. She never smiled at anyone. She'd never look anyone in the eye. People also said that she didn't have glamour, since she was half-earthen and all...but she could still make us see things."
"I don't know. But she was definitely doing it because all those weird things only happened when she was around."
"Yeah. I'd dare say they were supernatural, beyond even strange. There was that monster that would roam the halls at night that everyone could see, yet no one could get rid of. It would be gone when the royal family left for Earth, and right back haunting this place when they'd return. Oh, I remember when all the wolves in the menagerie just jumped out of the windows and drowned in the lake. It was so nasty."
Majime's muscles clenched. Sweat dripped down the nape of her neck. Dead wolves in the water.
"Artemis did that…"
"It's what the court would say, yes. No one knew what to do about her. There was no proof that she was behind all the weird stuff that's happened here, but everyone knew it in the back of their minds." Charleson cleared his throat. "Then, Levana started to go crazy, and I mean absolutely insane. She'd ramble all the time and have panic attacks in public...I once even saw her foaming at the mouth a little sometimes. She tried to cover it up, but eventually, it got so bad that she had to stay in a mental hospital in New Beijing for a while. My father looked after Luna while she was away."
"Until Artemis went missing."
Charleson shook his head. "No, Levana was released from the hospital a bit before that. Four months away from Artemis seemed to have cleared her head enough for her to be coherent. She was back at court. Then, the royals went away and Artemis was never seen again."
"Why wasn't she found? Surely there must've been a hell of a search for the heir to the Lunar Empire."
He leaned in closer to her, enough so that he could whisper into her ear. "Isn't it obvious? Everyone was secretly glad that she disappeared. Ever since she's been gone things have been better for us all."
Majime shivered. "Levana killed herself three months after."
The king's brow furrowed. "No, she was assassinated. I like to think it was by the same people who'd taken Artemis. Sick people," he said, clicking his tongue.
"In the video, she shot herself in the head."
"You keep on talking about this video. Is it something I should see?"
Majime clutched her briefcase close to her hip, trying to protect its contents from Charleson's scrutinising gaze. "No."
After a moment, he shrugged. "Eh, whatever. If what you're saying is true, I most certainly don't want to have Artemis coming after my skin." He stopped walking and stared out a large window. Majime only then realised that they had passed this same window at least four times during their conversation. "Well, that's all I have to tell you. For further details, I suggest you go to Artemis' father. He'd know more than me, anyway."
"I already tried. He wouldn't tell me anything."
"The poor sop. He's been unhinged for years now," said Charleson.
"So you don't know how what kind of power she had."
"It wasn't glamour, so no. How do I know it wasn't glamour? Simple: when Artemis made things appear, they stayed around. The monster would follow her. The things she'd mark on the wall were permanent. That was the scariest part about what she could do—her creations weren't illusions, they were real. Tell me, which would be worse: a hallucination in which a bear eats half of your body, or if a real grizzly actually came after you and chomped off your legs?"
"I think I'd rather keep the grizzly away from me."
"Heh, you're funny." Charleson patted her on the shoulder.
Majime flinched at his touch. "Well, I just want to thank you for your help and your time. Sadly, I think I should be leaving now. I have a six-year-old waiting at home."
"Wait." His grip on her tightened. "I just remembered something! We have Levana and Artemis' medical files stored away in the hospital, including the ones from the asylum. Maybe you'll find those useful too."
Charleson Annotel had left Majime alone in an empty office to sort through the contents of the box he had promised her. It contained two folders, one quite thick, the other containing only a few documents. The larger one had Levana Apogee Blackburn written neatly on the tab. Majime pulled out the late empress' birth and marriage certificates, her general health records, a list of her hospital stays and surgeries. The document that caught Majime's eye was titled pregnancies. Instead of a single entry, there were six different occurrences noted on th sheet. The first was Artemis, conceived sometime in January of 127 T.E. and born on September 15th in the same year. Majime was shocked to learn that Levana had been pregnant a total of five times in the span of two years, between 133 and 135.
Fetus #1 conceived in February 133 T.E.
Miscarried on June 6th 133 T.E.
Below this, there was a picture of a bloody creature, obviously dead. It didn't even look like a baby.
Fetus #2 conceived in August 133 T.E.
Miscarried on October 11th 133 T.E.
Another picture of a dead fetus. The rest of the list was more of the same. Miscarried, miscarried, miscarried.
"Stars," Majime muttered, "she just wouldn't quit."
Setting the chilling document aside, she shifted her focus to the second folder in te box. The second folder contained all of Artemis' records. There weren't nearly as many for her as there was for Levana. Aside from her birth certificate, the only other records under Artemis' name were the notes taken from the mental hospital.
HRH, Artemis Miwako Blackburn
Property of Ankang Mental Hospital
Majime ignored the last words written in bright red and went through the folder from Ankang. The majority of its contents didn't reveal anything new about Artemis—she had been an insomniac since the age of three, likely a schizophrenic, suffered from paranoia and severe social anxiety.
Then, Majime saw the pictures. They weren't photographs, but x-ray images. Handprints, needles, severed limbs, and what looked like an impaled face were printed onto the sleek x-ray paper, the glowing white of the images a stark contrast to the black background. There were four sheets of these; Majime recognised it as Artemis' handiwork. She must've somehow produced these strange pictures with her powers.
Finally, at the very bottom of the box, there was a chip and a tangle of wires. These wires ended with round pads, and Majime realised with horror that they were identical to the thing she had pulled out of her throat on the way to Luna. After a moment's hesitation, she quickly took the bloody plastic bag containing this wire from her bag and condemned it, along with the clean wires, back to the very bottom of the box.
This left her with the chip resting in her palm. It was black and didn't give off so much as a glimmer. Majime dug out her port and plugged the chip in. Unlike the cursed chip, this one contained fifteen different video clips, each about ten minutes in length. Majime was feeling anxious about the time and didn't think that she could stay and watch all of them.
She decided to start with the last video file, titled AR00015, and work her way up from there. As the last recorded session, it likely had the most information on it.
She tapped on the video and the file began to play. The camera focused on a white room, where a small girl was seated on a metal chair. Long black hair covered her face. Her small hands, fingers as white as bone, were folded in her lap. She clutched the fabric of her white hospital gown.
"This is AR00015, Artemis Blackburn, hour 15," said a voice. "Welcome back, princess. Did you have a good night?"
Artemis didn't respond.
"I see that you didn't really sleep at all. Tell me, what's been keeping you awake?"
Still, the girl didn't speak. Majime tried to pick out the face of Artemis' portrait in that of the girl in the asylum, but all Majime could see was a curtain of black.
"Let's talk about the pictures. How did you make them?"
The pictures? Majime glanced at the x-ray sheets.
"I don't," Artemis finally said, "make them. I see them, and then, they just...are."
"Artemis, I need you to start telling the truth, okay?"
"Can I see my Mommy?"
"No, Artemis, not until we find out what's wrong with you."
"I want my Mommy," said Artemis.
"Your mother is very sick right now, Artemis. She says you're the one that's doing all of these horrible things to her."
"I love my Mommy."
"Yes, you do. But you don't want to hurt her anymore, do you? You don't want to hurt anyone."
"But I do, and I'm sorry," Artemis whimpered.
"Well, that's why you're here; so that we can help you to make it stop."
There was a long moment of silence. Then, Artemis lifted her head slightly, though not enough to have her hair fall away from her face. "He's going to leave me here," she muttered.
"They just want to help you, Artemis."
"Your Daddy loves you."
Artemis shook her head. "Daddy loves his Cinder. He thinks I'm an abomination." She fidgeted with the wires attached to her skin. "He wants me to go away."
Majime's eyes watered. Something about the girl's absolute certainty of her father's feelings toward her made Majime's heart break. No child should ever feel like their own parents hate them.
"He doesn't hate you," said the interrogator.
Artemis went on as if he hadn't spoken. "But he doesn't know..."
"He doesn't know what?"
"What is it that he doesn't know, Artemis?"
The video ended suddenly and the picture melted away. The screen was left white with what looked like burnt paper. Black ink scrawled across the screen. Five characters were etched in vulgar penmanship.
Majime recognised this as Japanese and read out a name: Takayama Miwako. A thought suddenly clicked in Majime's mind. Miwako, Miwako...not only was that name written on Artemis' folder, but if she remembered correctly, that was also the name of Emperor Kaito's late mother. Empress Miwako of the Eastern Commonwealth, wife of Emperor Rikan.
Majime couldn't help the feeling of excitement that overcame her. It was a clue, that much was obvious. She jotted down the name before her port suddenly switched off. It refused to reboot until the chip was removed. As soon as the screen came back to life, Miwako established a comm link with Toshi.
"Hey, are you doing alright over there?"
"I'm on my way out," Majime said, putting the folders away neatly in the box. "Boarding a ship as soon as possible. I just need you to do something for me."
"Look up the name Takayama Miwako; I've sent you a text with the spelling. I think I might have found something."
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