Eve stares speechlessly at the man claiming to be Weiss Guertena, the artist that she's admired for years. "D...Don't be ridiculous!" she yells in disbelief. "Weiss Guertena's been dead for decades!"
The man claiming to be Guertena merely chuckles as he places his hat back on his head. "Is an artist not one who seeks their own immortality? Who strives to create a legacy that will last long after they have passed away?" He tosses his cane into the air. "Well Eve, my dear, that's exactly what I have done." He says as he catches the cane with barely even a thought.
"That doesn't explain anything!" Eve replies.
Guertena lifts up a finger facing Eve, and waves it side to side. "Tsk, tsk. And you call yourself a fan. Consider this, won't you? It's said that spirits dwell in objects into which people put their feelings. I've always thought that, if that's true, then the same must be true of artwork."
Eve blinks in surprise. She remembers these words. She's memorized them. "So today, I shall immerse myself in work, so as to impart my own spirit into my creations…"
Guertena sneers. "That's right, Eve…"
Eve clenches her hand into a fist. "How…HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW THOSE WORDS?!" she screams.
"Because, my sweet Eve…" Guertena reaches into the inner breast pocket of his coat and pulls out a small, crumbling book. "…it's an entry in my diary."
Eve looks at the book in utter shock.
"Ha-ha, no need to be so surprised, Eve. An artist with my talent, did you not think I'd be able to succeed?" Guertena places the book back in his breast pocket and snaps his fingers. At that moment, the three find themselves in a black hallway filled with Weiss Guertena's works. And each one of them is alive. "What you see before you—and no doubt the things you will soon see—are all things that I, the great Weiss Guertena, have created in my lifetime! I have created a world in which not only my legacy, but my very soul can live on for all eternity!" He begins to laugh almost uncontrollably.
However, Eve can hardly hear him. She's completely distracted by the living works around them. The Lady in Red…Death of the Individual…they are all works that she's admired. And she sees other things. Black hands clawing at her…a menacing blue face…everything around the two girls is thrashing violently and hungrily at them.
And at the floor in front of them was a massive pool of dark water that wasn't there before. And Eve saw what fascinated and terrified her most about Weiss Guertena. Swimming in the abyss was a massive lantern fish, its eyes gaping black, its teeth like thin blades. And the fish takes notice of the woman paralyzed in utter fear. The fish sees its prey. And it lunges. And she screams.
But with another snap of Guertena's fingers, it all vanishes, and the three of them are once again in a black void of nothingness. He chuckles again. "Do you understand now?" he asks.
Eve can't find the strength to answer. She can barely even move, save for an uncontrollable quiver of fear. Desperately, she has her arms wrapped tightly around Ib, who is still in pain. And tears won't stop streaming from Eve's eyes.
"But of course, you don't have to take my word for it." He says. "After all, your little friend has been here once before. Isn't that right…Ib?" he asks as he points his cane at the girl in Eve's arms.
Ib, whose head has just now started to reorient herself, looks at Guertena with a blank expression. "I…" Ib tries to register what he means. She can't remember him or being in the place they are now. She tries to remember, but a sharp pain runs through her head.
Guertena lets out a disappointing sigh. "You really don't remember do you?" he asks sadly. "Well, it doesn't matter, I suppose. I'm sure it'll come back to you in due time..."
Eve swallows, trying to quell her fear enough to move again. She motions her lips to speak, but it comes out as a quivering whisper. "W-What do you want from us…?"
Guertena smiles, and it makes Eve jump a bit. "I just want to play a game. People still like games in the real world, right? And I know you'll want to play...especially if you want to go back home. And Ib…if you win, you can save him. You can save the forgotten portrait."
Ib looks at Guertena once more. His last words seem to have caught her attention. She has no idea who the man in the portrait is, but after so many years of staring at him, she feels a connection, a bond stronger than almost anyone else she's ever known. She feels...deep down in her heart…that she needs to save him. "Do you mean it? I can really save the man in the painting?"
Guertena nods. "But only if you both agree to play."
Ib looks at Eve, who is still frozen in fear, waiting for an answer. Eve looks back to her, speechlessly affirming their answer.
Ib then turns back to Guertena. "We'll play." She says with complete confidence.
"Splendid!" he says with a smile. "Oh, I've been waiting for this for ages." Guertena takes his hat, reaches into it, and pulls out a small, yet long box. "This is yours, Ib." He tosses the box. It lands gracefully on the ground in front of them.
Ib hesitates for a moment, then opens the box. Inside is a single rose, but the color was unlike anything either of the two girls recognized. In fact, there wasn't any color at all. The petals are perfectly clear, almost like glass. Carefully, Ib takes the rose.
"And of course, we need one for Eve as well. " Guertena reaches into his hat once more and takes out a rose with pitch black petals. They were almost invisible in the black void. He tosses it to Eve, who barely even notices it. "You probably won't have remembered this from before, but you and the rose are unified. Know the weight of your own life. When the rose rots, so too will you rot away."
Ib examines the rose carefully. "So if these roses lose their petals…we'll die?"
Once again, Guertena smiles his bone-chilling smile. "You'll lose." He raises a finger in the air. "However, young Ib, your rose is special. Right now your rose has no color. Although it still functions normally, it's a ghost of what it should be. That's where our little game comes in. The rules are simple: scattered all around my world are the rose's red hues; its true petals, if you will. Your task in this game will be to collect all of them. Of course, whatever denizens that lurk will be out to destroy your roses or otherwise impede your progress. But if you manage to collect all of the true petals and make your rose whole again, you will have the power to save your friend and get back home." He pauses for a short moment. "Ahhh, that felt good! I had that all rehearsed for years, and I finally have an audience!" He turns to the girls. "What did you think?" he asks.
Ib ignores the question, and Eve remains frozen. "What happens if we lose?" Ib asks.
"Well, that won't be a problem. I'll have tons of more games to play. And we'll have the rest of eternity to play them in…"
Ib swallows, trying not to show fear.
"Well then, it seems you're all set. I'll be watching your progress and checking in every now and then." Guertena raises his hand, ready to snap his fingers. "As soon as I leave, the game will begin. Good luck, ladies…" He snaps and in an instant, he's gone. At the same time, the black void that Ib and Eve were in has changed back into the museum they came from, facing Abyss of the Deep. The velvet rope surrounding it has been cut off at one point. In front of the open section is a message in blue paint. "GAME START"
After a short moment, Ib removes herself from Eve's arms, and she examines the ghostly rose in her hands. She then turns to Eve, who is hunched over on the floor.
"Miss Eve?" Ib asks. "Are you all right?"
She can't speak. The images of what just occurred are racing through her head, and she can't even begin to process any of them, let alone the fact that Weiss Guertena, the man whose work she's admired for years, is a deranged lunatic. Eve fights through tears saying, "What is this…what the hell is this!? This can't be happening…I'm no one special…why is this happening to me…we're going to die…we're going to die! WE'RE GOING TO DI-" Without a second thought, Ib raises her hand and slaps Eve across the face.
"…" Ib stops for a moment to look at her hand. She had never done something like that before, but it felt almost familiar. She thought about doing it once more for good measure, but instead she decides to turn to Eve and speak to her. "Please calm down, Miss Eve." She says calmly.
Once more, Eve is at a loss for words. She takes a moment to try and collect herself, then turns to Ib. "What is wrong with you!?" she yells, rubbing her cheek. "Didn't you learn to never strike your elders!?"
"You were getting hysterical. We're not going to get out of here if you can't keep it together." Ib smiles.
"Ib…" Eve slowly removes her glasses and wipes the tears from her eyes. "You're right, Ib. I'm so sorry. I'm not usually like that, it's just..." She looks down and notices the black rose at her side. "…This is really happening…isn't it? We're really in another world…and Weiss Guertena…is a madman who wants to keep us here."
"It's hard to believe." Ib places her rose in her pocket. "But right now, we have to focus on winning this dumb game and getting home."
"I know, but..." Eve starts to remember the black hallway again, and she holds herself. "I'm so scared..."
Ib puts out a hand to help Eve up. "It's okay…I'm scared, too." she says as she smiles softly.
After a moment, Eve chuckles. "You could've fooled me." She takes Ib's hand as Ib pulls her up. "Thank you, Ib. If…when we get out of here, I think you'll make a wonderful assistant."
Ib smiles again. "Thanks, Miss Eve."
Eve takes her rose and puts it away, and the two girls walk around the painting, stopping at the game's start point. "Oh, Ib…before I forget." She turns to her. "Guertena…he was saying something—well, lots of things—that I didn't quite understand. But he spoke to you as if he's met you before."
"This may sound insane, but have you…been here before…?"
Ib remains silent and turns away from Eve to stare into the abyss. She has no thoughts in her head, no memories of anything like this. All she can think about is the forgotten portrait. She can almost see him in the water. "I…I'm not sure…"
Eve sighs disappointedly, although she wasn't sure what she was expecting. "Well, for now, we should just focus on the game."
"…Yeah…" They both stare into the abyss together. They're both scared, unsure of what awaits them. Before they leap, they take each other's hands.
"Are you ready, Miss Eve?"
And they both jump in.