Chapter 1: Whom the Bell Tolls

"Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow…

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?" Edgar Allan Poe

When he opened his eyes, it was dark.

The wooly sky blue blanket was scratching at his ankles and he abruptly tossed it off. He looked around blindly, breathing rapid and drastic as he reached out a hand and formed a fist. His lean, sturdy fingers clenching and unclenching, tendons and ligaments flexing underneath a thin layer of flesh. He reached up pressing it against something lukewarm and soft; he could make out every singular beat of his heart. His palm moved over his slender neck, up his jaw, over his lips, along the smooth plane of his nose before coming to a stop just below his left eye socket.

He smiled and even though it hurt like hell, even though he could not remember the last time he did so, he smiled. He had skin, he had bones, he had blood, he had a pulse, and a heart that beat a steady rhythm in his chest.

He was alive.

He heard the faint click of a door being opened and the rustle of fabric as someone – or something – stepped inside. Suddenly, the room was smothered in a surreal golden glow and the young man was temporarily blinded by the abrupt change. After a few seconds of his eyes twitching, blinking, he grew accustomed to the light and was able to make out just where he was. He was lying on a bed, which was blue, in a room, that was blue, and in the epicenter of the aqua den was a woman just as tall as he was, or that he thought he was… before. The woman was in her mid to late twenties. Her hair was a flaxen blonde color and was impeccably neat, but her eyes are what stood out the most. They were hauntingly familiar, and burned with a faint, peculiar glow as if there was some kind of fire burning beneath those liquid gold irises.

"E- Elizabeth?" He asked his voice bubbling up his throat like toxin, coming out in a rough rasp. The blonde women gazed down at him neither confirming nor denying his ragged proclamation. He sat up and threw his legs over the side of the small bed. A ghost of a smile flashed across the woman's face.

"You seem to be doing well; my master will be most pleased." She said more of a mental note to herself then to the young man who was still sitting on the mattress. He opened his mouth, and then closed it the gerbil in his mind ferreting out details of people he met, subtexts of word meanings. Finally his trusty mind procured the image of a balding head, hooked nose, and wrinkled features, a man who was more bird-like then human.

"He's still alive?" The young man asked, the woman's smile was a little deeper now.

"The occupants of the Velvet Room do not age. Not even our masters." She stated placidly, "Besides it has only been two years from your last…meeting. That being said you may want to come with me, my master has something you may find of interest." He scowled but nodded anyway.

The floor lurched beneath him as he stood; his knees buckling beneath him like a new born colt. He lurched to the left and connected with her shoulder.

He didn't even see her move.

She looped her arm around his middle and locked a grip on his arm pulling it over her shoulder and offering him a quiet smile. The young man made a strangled noise of thanks before opening his mouth.

"Just where are we?" He asked as they exited the room and entered, what seemed to be a very large, very blue foyer, just a shade darker then the bedroom he had just awoken in. The flaxen haired woman flicked her gaze towards one of the doors before fixing her peculiar set of eyes on him. She walked over to the door before reaching out her free hand.

"Velvet Manor, of course." She exclaimed coolly as though it was the it was the most rational thing in the world, she opened the door and tugged him inside before setting him carefully on a high backed chair. He thanked her again and looked at the old, withered, white haired man sitting across from him. The room was a deep midnight blue, as dark a blue as the chair he was currently sitting in, but the chair that the old man was sitting in was, by some divine chance. Black. Not blue. The ancient man peered at the younger man - or through him more or less.

"Igor." The man rasped before pausing to clear some of the rust from his throat. "It's been awhile." The older man smiled exposing a row of razor sharp teeth.

"Indeed it has," Igor replied bowing his head just slightly, a wrinkled hand grazed over the arm of the black chair, grasping what seemed to be an equally black bond book. "It truly is splendid to see you up and about after… your rest." The young man cocked his head to the side, unsure of what to say in return.

"Thank you." He decided to say, and the other man's smile widened if it was possible. A small whirring sound filled his ears and he looked up spying a rather large clock hanging from the rafter.

"Awakens some old memories does it not?" Igor asked, beady black eyes never leaving the younger man's face. When he nodded Igor placed the book in front of him, a growl worked its way up his throat and the woman, who had been completely stoic up to now, glanced over at him. He could have sworn he heard Igor chuckle. "Deep breaths m' boy. It is a newer contract. Not that old faulty one." The blue clad woman's gaze returned to her feet. "Your resurrection ensured the need for one."

"W-why am I alive." The younger man asked softly his voice struggling to obtain its normal pitch. The blonde woman looked up again, her eyes piercing through the man in the blue seat. Igor chuckled.

"Because, your world is in a dire need for old heroes. Besides that, you have always had more direction then our former guests." The woman made a small noise in her throat; the young man looked at her. She ducked her head again and peered down at her feet. Igor just waved a white gloved hand towards his guest. "Yes, Elizabeth certainly seemed to know who she was dealing with." The noise came again and Igor's cold, obsidian eyes sparkled just slightly. The young man sighed under his breath; he had no time to watch Igor play the sadist.

"While that is great to know, I would really like to be going now." The rust in his voice was gone and a layer of terse control overcame his tone. The woman's head shoot up and her eyes widened. Igor turned back to his assistant.

"I did tell you he would make a quick recovery, did I not." The woman nodded, the old man turned back to his guest, the predatory smile never leaving his face, even as he handed the young man the contract and the sound of rustling paper was the only sound that circulated through the large, blue room.

After several seconds the guest shut the folder, arching a dark eyebrow.

"What's the catch?"

"There would never be a catch. I am honest about all my dealings." Igor replied, the grin fading slightly.

"But there's a deadline isn't there, there was a deadline before, I'm assuming there is one now."

"Around seven months." The fair haired woman said, causing both men to look at her. "Or more, it is all up to the path you choose to follow." Igor's mouth formed a tight line.

"Margaret is correct. Your 'deadline' is in seven months - one for each trumpet." Igor explained, he shot a glare towards the woman. "And now that you know too much, I strongly suggest that you sign that contract, your journey is going to start soon." The old man looked up at the slowly ticking clock, "Very soon so," He handed the young man a spare pen. "I dare say this will not be the last time we meet." The other man nodded and took the pen and signed on the doted line, before handing it back to its owner. Igor nodded and turned back to his assistant.

"You will see him off won't you Margaret?" The woman stepped up to the guest.

"Shall we take our leave?" She asked softly, the young man looked up and nodded, and with those final words they vanished.