1 Prologue: The Shadows Of The Past (1)

DISCLAIMER: Any resemblance in this novel to reality is a coincidence. All names, places, and events mentioned are purely fictional.

--> Please check the auxiliary chapters only after you've finished this volume as it contains spoilers.



'Another profitless day.'

Beneath the dim, aged lights of the century-old bookstore, a lanky old woman with a crooked back stood among the towers of old, yellow-paged books.

With the single beady eye she had, the old crone watched indifferently as customers entered and left without a single regard of hospitality. She only paced back and forth, never uttering a single word to the customers who appeared to have noticed her gaze.

Perhaps unnerved, but like the few who had entered the bookstore before, they promptly left, never staying longer than five minutes.

"Honey, it feels like we're being watched," One couple whispered to each other as they left.

But regardless of what they said, the old crone's expression remained utterly indifferent. Whatever they had to say, she couldn't care less.

At last, after the sun finally set, the old woman concluded her day.

Customers only appeared during the daytime; after sunset, nobody roamed the streets anymore--especially not in such a rundown neighborhood.

With no one to bear witness but the worn-out books all around her, she pushed back the strands of gray and white hair that veiled her unsightly face before laying down.

Once in a while, the hag would hack out her lungs, and with every cough, her spit would land on nearby books and the pillows that lay near the couch.

'Maybe this was karma for all her past actions.' She thought.

A beat of silence later, the hag lightly snickered as she recalled the words that once haunted her when she was still in her youth: "Death is the only ending for a witch like you! Mark my words, death will come knocking at your door in the form of your greatest joy and seize you!"

'Heh. So much for death.'

She had outlived all those bastards who once raised hell upon her, and their descendants who they swore would hunt her down. Those fools were six feet under, whilst she was still alive and kicking.

Nevertheless, the old crone remained where she lay.

But, as if fate had other plans, the tottering door of the bookstore swung open with a force only the youth possess, knocking over a couple of books near the entrance in the process.

'How exhausting, a customer at this hour?' She thought, frowning.

Like a statue, the hag remained still, merely rolling a single eyeball towards the door, eyeballing whoever had entered. When she saw who had entered, distaste and ridicule filled her heart.

It was a young lady who looked no older than twenty. She wore flashy, striking colors and revealing clothing: fishnet stockings paired with colorful six-inch stilettos probably sharp enough to puncture through cheap oakwood.

In such terrible weather with the muffled melody of rain and snow beating against the boarded windows like little pebbles, the lass stuck out like a sore thumb.

'How vulgar.' The old crone thought.

Slowly her gaze made its way up, carefully analyzing the young lady who had entered with great bravado. She'd give the lass some credit alright, her taste in fashion was rather abnormal, but the fabrics mixed quite well togethe-

Abruptly, the old crone's breathing came to a halt as the young lass stepped into the light, her face illuminated by the few feeble candles that lit up the bookstore.


"Good evening… madam," The young lady said, noticing the old crone. In return, she merely nodded at the lass, her head bobbing up and down with great difficulty.

"I hope my presence isn't too much of a bother, but it was raining cats and dogs outside. All the stores on this block and the next are closed--I promise I'll leave as soon as my driver arrives, Madam," She said whilst awkwardly laughing.

The old hag merely raised a single eyebrow at this and waved the young lady away. A driver? In this neighborhood? What is someone like her doing in the slums?

'Not to mention... Does she take me for an idiot? All roads on this block have been closed off for construction.' The crone mentally grumbled.

Nevertheless, despite how unfriendly the old woman was, the lass continued walking around the bookstore. It was as if she was unaffected by the horrid stench, the dust, and the hag herself.

Occasionally, the young lady would pause and pick up a book. She would sift through the pages before setting it down and picking up another.

Sitting up from where she lay, the old beldame craned her neck, carefully examining the young lady's face. Despite how she was in her twilight years, the hag's vision was far better than most her age.

With the single eye she had, the hag traced the features of the lassie; she was like a beautiful doll made from the hands of a peerless artisan, and every curve and line of her face appeared to be flawless.

The lass had a slim, lithe figure like that of a swan.

Under the moon's gentle light, her ivory complexion glimmered like a priceless china doll. Her curly black tresses reminiscent of dusk tumbled below her shoulders, nearly reaching her hips.

Like a skilled ballerina who had performed on-stage before a crowd of many, the young lass skillfully maneuvered around the numerous piles of books and 'vintage artifacts' within the bookstore.

Contrary to her bizarre attire, she seemed almost like a well-bred lady from an upper-class family.

But, as the old woman's gaze lowered, she stared at the lass' hand, befuddled.

'Are those... eyes growing on her hand?'

"Madam," the young lady said. Hearing her voice, the hag's breathing stopped and she snapped her head up.

What is the matter? The lassie seemed to ask, yet her lips remained still and unmoving.

Blood quickly rushed up the hag's head. At that moment she swore could hear the sound of her heart beating in her eardrums.

Thump! Thump!

'No- No way, no way...!' The hag shook. Her vision shook, and in the place of the young lass, she saw a handsome gentleman with hair as dark as charcoal.

"Madam?" The lass said.

The voices dug and scraped at the old hag's eardrums like earthworms and tiny millipedes. She spoke like there were a thousand personas trapped within her throat—incongruous whispers—each a different voice and tone from the one before.

The young lady's limbs the old crone had thought to be nimble and flexible like a dancer's twisted and spun like a spool of fine silk, smothering the walls of the bookstore like mold.

Panic seized the hag's mind.

Laying in a fog of terror, at that moment, she feared all that surrounded her.

The bookstore that she had resided in for nearly half a century didn't seem so familiar or secure anymore. The darkness that used to bring comfort to her now seemed to chew away at the bits of her mind like starved rodents.

The hag spun her head like a roly-poly, eyeing the dark crevices of the bookstore.

Compared to the steady hands a skilled and retired sculptor like her would have, the hag shook and rattled.

Fear threaded along the back of her head, caressing and running their fingers down her hair, tracing the bumps and the creases of her curved spine against her aged skin.

At that moment, the hag trembled like a feeble branch for the first time in decades. Fear tasted like ashes and decay. Fear was an abomination, a gaunt and hollowed-out man with holes for eyes; fear was a rotting man with death for a face; fear-

"…Pardon me, is this painting for sale?" The lassie coughed.

She wore a curious expression, wondering if the beldame had heard her. Receiving no reply, the lass cleared her throat, "Madam, is this painting for sal-?"

Brought back to reality, the old hag firmly shook her head. Her palms were covered in half-crescents, and she reeked of anxiety.

"Hm, I see."

'Perhaps she was seeing things.' The crone thought. It must've been a trick of the light, or perhaps it was simply one of her late-night delusions.

Hallucinations, you say? Madam, please calm down. You have severe insomnia, not psychosis or schizophrenia--or so, her doctor would solemnly insist every time she claimed to see cryptic beings in the dark.

Perhaps the old fogey was right this time, the hag concluded.

Behind her, the shadow of a man softly exhaled, its eyes watching her.

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