Disclaimer: Haunting Ground/Demento and Daniella are the intellectual properties of Capcom, confound it. No infringement intended.
"Lorenzo crafted you well, didn't he?"
Riccardo was not the type of man that required alcohol to overcome any sort of shyness or self-consciousness or restraint. He did not require liquor to free himself from inhibition.
There was not a drop of alcohol in Riccardo when he related to Daniella, with unabashed frankness and in gruesome detail, his exploits in the brothels of nineteenth-century Toulon.
There was not a drop of alcohol in Riccardo when anger overwhelmed him and he twisted Daniella's fingers about until shards of bone protruded through her skin.
Riccardo was completely sober when Daniella caught him, one day, bearing a girl in his arms up the stairs towards his chambers. The child could not have been older than ten; she did not stir, and Daniella could tell that she had been drugged.
"It may be that a gypsy family will come knocking at the door, in search of their missing daughter," Riccardo had solemnly intoned. "We have not seen her."
Riccardo had no need of alcohol to allow his 'true' self to emerge, for the simple fact was that the man was utterly without shame.
However, Daniella had learned that, when he was sober, Riccardo could at least be succinct and to-the-point; qualities that she appreciated in an individual. It was obvious that Riccardo disliked her intensely, and was pained to be in her company, and as a result he usually dealt with her as brusquely and briefly as possible.
It suited her.
Unfortunately, this night Riccardo was on his fourth glass of wine.
Daniella felt his gaze on her as she moved around the room. He lounged across the settee in the centre of the room, and held forth on any topic that came into his mind: philosophy, alchemy, biology, the damned idiocy of that old fool Lorenzo, geography, the art of love, until finally she herself found herself the focus of his blather.
"You're flawless, to the eyes," he said. Daniella ran her duster back and forth along the mantelpiece, and said nothing. "I've seen it, myself. I've seen every inch of you, did you know? I saw you before Lorenzo gave you the spark of consciousness. You were lying on a stone slab in a laboratory, lying there utterly lifeless, like a piece of meat, a corpse."
He sniffed. Daniella formed her mouth into an 'O' shape and blew a speck of dust from a candlestick.
"I searched for some mistake that the old man might have made. Some imperfection that he left in you. I examined every part of you. I turned you over, I looked everywhere, but you're utterly perfect. From an aesthetic point of view. Lorenzo excelled himself."
The flowers in the vases were rotting. Daniella withdrew them, and made a mental note to fetch fresh ones from the gardens.
"Not a blemish on your skin, though I looked and looked. No part of you is prominent, not your legs, not your hips, not your eyes, not your chin, not your breasts. They're all of a whole. Perfect poise. Such refinement. So tasteful."
A painting hung above the fireplace: a beach, stretching into the distance beneath laden skies. The tide is out, and a wrecked ship lolls half-devoured by the sand. Daniella ran a cloth over the frame. Mahogany.
"What I do not understand," Riccardo continued, "is this. Where is the point in going to so much trouble to create such a beautiful servant, without giving her a hint of life?"
Riccardo shifted on the couch. "You're utterly striking to behold, as much as any woman I have ever met, but it is all meaningless. Your beauty, your faultlessness, it's all worth nothing, because you're naught but a frigid, lifeless bitch. Women need warmth, and passion, and imagination, and fury, and terror. That's what I look for in a woman. That's what inspires me! You need to be able to evoke these feelings in a woman, for them to be worth anything at all."
Shovel in hand, Daniella began to remove piles of soot from beneath the fire grate.
"Does it bother you at all, Daniella? Does it trouble you that you're such a dry, hollow little doll?"
Her voice was faint. "I couldn't say, sir."
Silence prevailed for a moment, and Daniella began to wonder if she would have peace for the rest of the afternoon.
"Daniella," he said. He was motioning to the chair opposite the settee. Daniella set the shovel down by the fireplace, and walked over to the chair and sat down.
Riccardo fixed her with his stare. A moment passed, and he said: "Tell me about the girl."
"Fiona. I want to know how she died."
Daniella, hesitated, uncertain, and then she said: "I killed her in the boiler room. Sir saw what was left of her."
"I want you to tell me about the events that led to her death. How did you discover her? How did you trap her? What did she do?"
Daniella cast her mind back to that night. "I found her hiding in a wardrobe in a bedroom in the east wing. The dog leapt on me, and Miss Fiona was able to escape. I chased her along the outer passage, and outside into the gardens. I followed her into the fountain garden, and I found her hiding behind a hedge. I pursued her along the walls, and followed her through the kitchens and into…"
Riccardo's eyes rolled to the ceiling. "No, no, no, no, no! Don't you know how to tell a story?" he asked, exasperated. "How was Fiona behaving? Tell me how she reacted as you chased her down relentlessly, with the intention of murdering her in an excruciating fashion?"
"She was afraid."
"And how did she express this fear?"
"She was crying."
"Yes, go on!" he urged her.
"She begged me not to hurt her. Sometimes I lost her, but I heard her crying and I found her again."
A smile had appeared on Riccardo's face. "Continue. Did you hear her begging God out loud to save her?"
"And a lot of good that did her. What did her voice sound like? Was she almost unable to get words out, for all the sobbing and crying?"
Riccardo nodded vigorously. "Did it sometimes seem as though all reason had fled from her? Did it seem like her wits had abandoned her? Did she flounder about in a confused daze, that mongrel jumping and yapping about at her heels?"
Riccardo's eyes were filled with light. "Alright. You cornered her in the boiler room. What was that like?"
"Miss Fiona was afraid."
"Was she cowering in a corner?"
"It must have seemed as though she might have gone entirely mad with fear."
"Did she wring her wrists in that dainty way that certain females have?"
"Yes," said Daniella, slightly bemused by Riccardo's insight.
"Could she barely speak, such was her terror?"
"Alright. What happened next?"
"I fought her to the ground. I tore the cloth from her belly, and I cut the Azoth from her flesh."
"How did you manage that? Did she not fight you?"
"Yes, but she was not very strong."
"How did you overpower her?"
"I rested my weight on top of her," she said, and Riccardo mouthed a captivated "ah!".
"Did she struggle?"
"It must have seemed as though she had lost her mind!"
"Was there a type of…well, I don't know…conflict within her?"
"Sir?" she asked, confused.
"You were attempting to murder her, but when she looked in your eyes, was there a suggestion of longing, of pleading, as though you might at the same time be her saviour? Did she perhaps believe that there was a hint of love in you? Was there the hope in her that you might show her mercy?"
Daniella thought for some time. Fiona's face flashed before her; once again, the girl's frantic, beseeching eyes met hers.
"I see. I've seen that on more than one occasion." For a moment, Riccardo seemed lost in thought. "And then you cut into her with the glass. What did she do then?"
"Miss Fiona began to scream."
"Did her eyes bulge?" Riccardo looked at her through circles formed by his thumbs and forefingers.
"Did she twist and writhe about beneath you?" Riccardo licked his lips.
"Could she sometimes not scream at all, because she couldn't catch breath?"
"Her face must have contorted into the most ridiculous shapes."
"It usually happens. People lose all sense of dignity when they're about to perish. And they let out the most laughable wailing, as well. What did her screams sound like? Utterly without grace and elegance, I'll wager."
"In your view, Daniella, in the end, in her last moments, was Miss Fiona devoid of fear? Did it seem as though awareness had left her, and there was nothing left but agony? No fear, no longing, no feeling at all. Only pain?"
Daniella remembered Fiona, her face warped, her skin white, her eyes protruding. Daniella was a convincing imitation of a human woman, but as she died, Fiona seemed a distorted parody of a woman, not human at all.
Riccardo sighed, and seemed to sink into the settee, strangely contented. He peered at Daniella intently. "You witnessed a remarkable thing, Daniella. That young girl wished to live; she wanted it more than anything. The will to live; the desire to endure and to avail of the delights of this world."
"Yes," he continued, nodding. "The will to live. Fiona was terrified. Never in her brief life had she been confronted with such madness, such horror. But the will to live, it drove her on. It compelled her to flee through the corridors of this house. It drove her to hide in the darkest, dankest corners of this place, to avoid capture. The girl was not brave, of course. It's quite clear that she was a sniveling coward; we all saw that. But the girl wished to live, she wanted it so much."
Riccardo laughed softly, and looked at Daniella. "That is what's missing from you. You couldn't care less if you lived or died. Am I correct? If there was no one around to tell you what to do all the time, you'd just sit there, wouldn't you? You'd sit there until you rotted away. Isn't that right?"
Daniella looked at him. "I couldn't say, sir," she answered.
Riccardo snorted, and turned his attention to the ceiling. Daniella resumed cleaning the room.
The world imposed itself, and Daniella snapped out of her reverie.
She had stumbled into fantasies of the past, again. She had been thinking about a conversation Riccardo had forced her to have; he had blathered on about something to do with the "will to live", but she did not remember much of what he had said. She was certain, however, that not long after that discussion, she had left Belli House, with no intention of returning.
She looked about, and found that she was standing in the centre of the front room. The light from the window had almost dwindled to nothing, and the place was entirely dark; evidently, she had been lost in thought for some time.
Against the dim light that remained in the window, Daniella could see the silhouette of a lamp. She made her way over to it, and on the way her foot brushed against something that was lying on the floor. She fumbled about in the gloom, and eventually her fingers found the switch. She turned the lamp on, and the place was filled with light.
The entire room was in disarray. Daniella passed her eyes over the cupboard; it had been dragged from the wall, and now stood at an awkward angle. She saw the chairs, positioned strangely around the place. She saw the fragments of porcelain on the floor; they had fallen there after a plate had been dashed against the wall.
Daniella remembered. A thin smile appeared across her face.
Daniella remembered the fury that had consumed her. She remembered the savage visions and thoughts that had burned in her mind.
She remembered stalking through every room in this place. She remembered how the air had filled with her shrieking and screeching. She remembered flinging objects at the walls. She remembered pulling furniture aside. She remembered glaring into shadows, searching for the object of her rage.
She remembered standing in the middle of the room, amidst all the disorder she had wrought. She remembered how her body had trembled with anger. Somehow, her thoughts strayed, and she became lost, drifting through memories. She must have stood there for hours, unmoving, engrossed in the past.
Daniella heard a soft scuffling sound, and her head turned to the dinner table. It stood in the corner, and as she looked at it that moment, it seemed charged with a kind of promise.
Slowly, she walked over. She bent down, one knee coming to rest on the floor, then another, and then she got down on all fours, her lavender hair tumbling down from her shoulders. She gazed into the darkness underneath the table, searching past the jungle of wooden legs.
Monica was crouching in the shadows.
Daniella's lips cracked open in a smile. "You may come out, Monica," she said, softly.
The girl peered out from the shadows, her eyes wide.
"Mummy isn't angry anymore."
The thread to heaven had been broken, and all joy was fled from her.
Daniella felt as though a veil had been torn from the world. Every pleasure that the senses could bring her had been exposed as an illusion, and now she could not find delight in anything. Food rested like clay on her tongue, and fought its way down every inch of her throat. Every scent that reached her nostrils sickened her; every type of sound that she heard, music, words, the city, accumulated painfully in her head, a growing clamour that filled her skull with noise until she felt as through it would explode.
All the epiphanies that Daniella had gathered in her short life had been rendered so mundane and meaningless. The promise that the world had held, the possibilities that had lured her from Lorenzo's castle, had vanished.
No other human being was present to witness Monica come into the world. She arrived in the dead of night, and her mother had delivered her by herself. Daniella alone had drawn the child from her flesh. Daniella alone had braved agony and exhaustion. At last, the apartment was filled with cries, and Daniella brought the infant close to her.
A chill coursed through the new mother.
The girl's hair was sodden and slick with blood and mucus and whatever else had followed her into the world. They clung to the side of her tiny head, curling about the skin, glinting in the light: strands of blonde hair.
The demons in the shadows began to chatter. Lying sprawled in the centre of the floor, her strength spent, her baby clutched to her chest, Daniella was seized by the most inexplicable dread.
Monica watched her mother open the fridge door. It resisted her hand for a moment, before swinging open with a jerk. Mother took out a carton of milk, and then shut the fridge again; the door fastened into place with a dull sucking sound. Mother opened the cupboard, and withdrew a glass, which she set on the counter. Mother twisted open the carton of milk, and then poured its contents into the glass. Mother returned the carton to the fridge, and wordlessly handed the glass to her. There was a crack in the side of the glass, but it was so fine that neither of them noticed it.
Monica put the glass to her mouth, and it broke apart. A jagged shard sliced its way through her lower lip, and she screamed as pain rushed through her. The tumbler impacted on the kitchen floor, and milk and glass sprayed across the tiles in every direction.
Monica knew that cries angered her mother, but she had not yet the strength to stifle them. She stood in the middle of the kitchen, shaking with sobs, milk and blood streaming from her mouth and down the front of her shirt, arms hanging uselessly at her sides.
A shadow fell across her face; her mother was leaning in close. Daniella stared at her daughter, and a sneer took shape in the corner of her mouth. So obnoxious, the way the girl's face scrunched up; so unappealing, the way her skin reddened; so revolting, the way tears and snot mingled with blood and milk and dripped from her chin down to the puddle at her feet.
"Hmmm…a thief is betrayed," she murmured. "You try to hide it from your mummy, don't you, Monica? Such a lovely, innocent face. Such a fine little actress. But you don't deceive me, young woman."
"You thought you could steal all my feelings, but you were too greedy! You filled herself with too much treasure, and sometimes it comes falling out."
"Cry and cry and cry, Monica. Cry so hard you cannot breathe!" Daniella started to laugh, trembling with deranged mirth. A finger found its way to Monica's face, and traced the length of the glistening trail that fell down her cheek. "Tears for when your belly hurts. Tears for when your toys break. Tears for when the cold won't let you sleep. Tears for when the door closes on your little hands."
Daniella's nostrils flared, her eyes blazed with rage, and her face filled her daughter's sight. "I know you did it!" she hissed, her teeth clenched. "Did you think I would not know? Did you think you could steal from me? Did you think you could take my life and that I would never find out? Do you think mummy is an imbecile?"
Her voice swelled with fury. "You cry in your bed. Do you not think I hear? Do you not think that I know what you have done? When you are hungry, it is because mummy can't be. When you are scared, it is because mummy can't be. When you are cold, it is because mummy can't be. You stole it from me! Do you understand, you little thiiiiiiief? You stole it from me! It was mine! It was mine!"
Monica knew walls and ceilings.
Monica knew wooden floorboards and drawn curtains.
Monica knew cracks in plaster and clumps of dust that tumbled across the floor.
Monica knew the blare of horns and the call of voices and the tap of feet on stone. Such sounds found their way into the apartment that she shared with her mother. They came from beyond, passing through the walls, and Monica would wonder about that strange world that existed outside.
Monica did not go to school. Her mother would only bring her out when night fell. They marched down streets and lanes, a hand firmly clasped in the other's. The pavement cracked and buckled beneath Monica's feet, disorientating the girl. Cars would pass by, blinding her with their light. The cold would finger its way through her clothes, and she would feel weak. Sensations would swirl about her, and she would struggle to maintain her balance.
Mother sometimes became irritable when she could not keep up.
Monica knew beauty. She saw it in her mother: flawless, sublime, forbidding, unattainable.
Often the light left mother's eyes, and she gazed vacantly into nothingness. Monica would gorge herself on the sight of her, then. She studied every inch of her.
Sometimes, mother would be overcome with tiredness, and would fall asleep in her chair. Monica would walk over, and stand gazing at her. She would run her fingers through her mother's lavender hair. She would put her little nose to her mother's face, and breathe in the scent of her. She would trace stubby fingers along her cheeks, across her lips, down her throat. It was the richest feeling that was hers to experience.
Monica was a wanton child. She indulged the few sensations that were available to her.
Monica knew madness. She felt it in her mother's laughter.
Monica and Daniella ate dinner together. There would be nothing but the clink of knives and forks on plates and the squelch of food in mouths, when suddenly mother would burst into giggles across the table. She would sit there, trembling with demented mirth, food dripping from her lips.
Monica knew fury. She saw it in her mother's eyes.
Mother became angry when Monica cried. When Monica became hungry, or cold, or when she felt pain, she tried her best to conceal it from her mother, but it was difficult.
Sometimes she would lie curled up in bed, late at night, weeping softly into the sheets. She would hear the stamp of feet on the floorboards. She would hear the door of her bedroom being flung open. The blankets would be torn from her, and she would look up.
"You are crying again, Monica." Her mother would loom above her, a terrible silhouette in the gloom. "I can hear you through the walls. May I not have some peace? Are you not happy with all you've stolen from me?"
Daniella would glare at her daughter, lying before her on the mattress. She would shake with rage, gulping at the air. "Stand," she would say, and Monica would hesitate.
"Stand!" she would screech, shattering the peace of night, and Monica would leap to her feet. She would stand awkwardly on the mattress, shrinking from her mother; tears rolling down her face, incriminating her.
"I know you do it," her mother would spit. "You know that it makes mummy angry. That is why you do it, isn't it, you little beast?" Mother would begin to cackle madly. "You mock your mother! You take my light, my feelings, and then you flaunt them before me! You animal, first you steal from me, and now you laugh at me! Do you want to make mummy sick, is that why you do this? Do you want to make mummy entirely mad?"
Monica knew the passing of shadows across the room.
Monica knew the ticking of the clock on her dresser.
Sometimes Monica slept for sixteen or seventeen hours a day. Daniella prepared meals whenever her daughter told her she was hungry. Strangely enough, her daughter's requests for food never angered her; she simply set to work, shuffling about the kitchen.
Sometimes Monica withdrew into herself. Her mind was sparse. She would slump against the wall of her bedroom, and lose all awareness. She did not become lost in thought; she simply drifted away.
When Monica was six years old, she began to masturbate. It was another sensation for her.
One day, Daniella knocked on Monica's door, and entered, a stack of linen in her arms. She looked about, and saw her daughter crouched in a corner, her hand reached between her legs.
Daniella stared at her child, her face impassive. Monica lifted her head, and looked dully at her mother. The two held each other's gaze for some moments, and nothing at all passed between them.
Daniella always resented Monica for not having lavender hair.
It always seemed to Daniella that her daughter was slighting her. It began the moment Monica was born. She remembered when she set eyes on her child for the first time. She remembered the blonde locks sticking to the side of the infant's head. She remembered the sickening feeling that seeped into her.
During her pregnancy, Daniella had indulged often in fantasies about her child. She had imagined it as a boy, a girl, a baby, an infant. She had floated through countless blissful scenarios. But she was always convinced that the child's hair would be exactly the same colour as her's.
Daniella endured a long, painful labour, and beheld her daughter. She saw the golden hair on the child's head, and countless dreams scattered like ashes.
As Monica grew, Daniella became constantly suspicious. She could never rid herself of the feeling that she was being made fun of.
The light would strike her daughter's hair in a particular way. Golden light would shimmer, and Daniella would seethe.
When Monica was five years old, a hint of freckles appeared on her face. Daniella felt the queerest affront. Her skin was perfect; such was her design. Was Monica insulting her? Was she trying to tell her that she wanted to look nothing like her mother?
Such subtle ways Monica had of tormenting her mother. How cruel she could be.
Shadows passed across Monica's face.
She sat in her room. The hours passed, and she did not think.
But in her mind, minor disturbances took place. There was no telling what caused this. However, memories became dislodged, and floated up into her consciousness.
Monica's face twitched.
Desperate flights through darkened corridors.
The howling of a dog.
Her mother's laughter, but in an unfamiliar place.
A man, a sadistic smile, deep scars across his face.
Crouching down in grime and darkness, praying to remain unfound.
The lurching terror of discovery.
The desperate desire to remain alive.
The awful yearning to be safe, to be away. To escape.
Just as quickly as they had made themselves known, the memories sank back into the murk. Monica's head rocked back, and she sat, unmoving, her eyes empty.
Time goes by.
Dark stripes of sandy brown began to work their way through Monica's golden hair.
Daniella watched as her daughter grew older. She watched her face change. She began to doubt what she was seeing.
Eventually, however, her uncertainty faded. When Monica was nine years old, Daniella became sure that she had known this face before.
Daniella knew little of alchemy. Her purpose as the maidservant of Castle Belli was to dust and cook, and Riccardo would have roared with laughter at the suggestion that he might take a homunculus servant on as an apprentice.
But she supposed that what she suspected her daughter to be was possible. Sometimes, the will to live, the desire to endure, could not be destroyed.
It made no difference. Nothing had changed.
Azoth was life. Azoth had given Daniella every pleasure that the world contained, and Monica, or Fiona, or whoever it was that crawled out of her womb, had stolen it from her.
Azoth was life. Monica could not yet create life; she was, as yet, too young to bear a child.
Daniella would wait until Monica was ready. Daniella would wait until her daughter was able to grant life. Then, Daniella would be able to retrieve that which was taken from her. Daniella would once again have the life, the warmth that was torn from her when she brought her child into the world.
When the blood came, Monica would die.
Daniella sat motionless in her chair, deep in thought. The door to her daughter's room was closed, and not a sound came from the room beyond.
Daniella remembered when she was pregnant with Monica. She remembered how giddily excited she was, in those days. She remembered hours passed in blissful dreaming, fantasizing about her child.
Daniella knew that when she regained the Azoth, all the human emotions that she had lost would be restored to her. She absently wondered if she would miss Monica. She wondered if, when her daughter was dead, she would love her as she was unable to do when she was alive.
It didn't matter. All that mattered was that this torture would end, in time. All that mattered was that she would be complete again.
Daniella sat in her chair. In the next room, Monica hunched on her bed, oblivious to all. The hours stretched before them.
It can't be! But it is! I've actually seen a fic through to completion. Will wonders ever cease?
I wanted to write a different story so badly. I wanted to write a fluffy piece where Daniella is able to love her daughter and the two have a beautiful life together. But I just couldn't buy into it.
Many, many, many thanks to sissyHIYAH, HazardousRaptor and futomaki007 for keeping me going with their reviews.
Sorry if you were hoping for a happy ending, people.
Reviews/feedback are greatly appreciated. In the highly unlikely event of people having trouble understanding what happened in this story, I may post clarification in the reviews section.