Chapter One.: Moonrise
A golden cage painted in black blood and screaming silence...
A golden cage she called home. Locked away, hidden behind windows with wonderful, mysterious geometric images blocking most of the light , small rays rafracting into a koleodoscope of colours. The stained glass windows distorting the outside view, the smell around her nothing but the scent of old books, darkened pinewood and candles while the noises around her were faint, hardly audible and felt like nothing more than illusion of her mind. Sunken in studies, books, researches Garnet Nihilia wouldn`t notice how many servants passed by, how often her father or mother had been checking up on her to make sure she wasn`t being interrupted or taking any break. Ever since her father had forbade her to sing, ever since he had burned all of her musical instruments the hours during the daytime wouldn`t pass. Endless long hours of learning and studying, getting tested and examined on new knowledge daily and being forced to live a life which never felt like it was hers.
Her fathers words still echoing like a curse in her head, "You'd rather sing than learn! You are forbidden to do so. You have to represent the family in Mary Jois once your time has come. Do you think you can engage into politics by singing? Do you think you can change anything or rule this country with a song? Music is forbidden is this house from now on!".
Forbidden!!! His words always sounded like he was the devil himself. A word she gladly would spit on if she could do so. Nihilia knew very well she lived in a golden cage. Surrounded by servants and maidens she only needed to click her fingers to get whatever she wanted, be it the finest clothes, the best wine or the most expensive jewelry. But the price for this was high, deprived of any freedom she wasn`t allowed to go outside, to do what she liked or to meet anyone. No friends, no one to talk to and the whispering voices that thought they wouldn`t be heard were like a yawning chaos in her mind. The light faintly bringing a little joy slowly dimmed, indicating another day of studies had passed and it was time for the moon to rise. As always she left her papers on the desk in the huge library for her father and mother to check on. As always her brother would mock around for her going to bed so very early. As always maiden brought her to her room, helped her washing, brushing her hair and untying her corset which grasped her rips every day to steal the very last bit of breath she had left.
And just as every night she would climb out of a window, slide down on a pipe overgrown by ivy and use the shadows to sneak away to her favorite place in the woods nearby. Her gaze was observing the sleeping Kingdom of Noctia, one of the most gloomy places on the Grand Line. Dark mountains on the horizon, plants, trees and wilderness tainted by a nightblue shade and only few lights indicated that people in the nearby town were awake. She wondered if this world she lived in would look the same by daylight, if it would be still a beautiful darkness or maybe a shining glow. Maybe the plants on Noctia Island were never nightblue and just looked that way to her, maybe the mountains were never black but grey or maybe brown. And just maybe by day there were no lights needed to see the far Ocean glittering instead of being a liquid, empty void of darkness. Sneaking through the treelines she pulled over a hooded, black cape to become one with the surrounding blackness, to become invisble to anyone and everyone. She was like one of those shadows that were haunting people in the night, so she never was afraid of what was hiding in the void since she knew that this was her only way to get away from the home she called so very lovingly her golden cage.
On her way to the Umbrea Lake her mind raced over and over. Night by night. "Run away from home. Start over. Why do you let them take your life? Why do you let them comand you to do their biding? For what purpose have you been born?".
Those questions were like a curse every time she left home to sit by the lake which was, especially at night the most beautiful place she could imagine. The water was still, undisturbed and clear, fireflies usually brought some light to it and the stars on the sky above always seemed to look into the liquid surface as if it would be a mirror to gaze into. She always felt like those celestial bodies were gazing into it to be blended by their own beauty. Slowly she approached a bush nearby, a hiding spot for the instruments she could save from her fathers rage. Choosing a small, ornate harp this time she sat down by the Lakes shore, her long dress faded out like it would be painted onto the ground, her hair tenderly floating in the soft, warm breeze, her purple and red glowing eyes the only contrast in the world of night. Slowly she played her song, first humming while her fingers played with the harps strings, than softly but silently singing while watching the moon she sang for with all of her heart. And just as every night, or at least as in the last few nights the unknown visitor lurked between trees quietly listening to her singing. For how long she had wished her voice would reach others she couldn`t tell. But to know that there was someone who took the time to pause and listen to her voice let her feel a warmth she imagined only a suns ray could provide. She was seventeen years now and for the last seven years she had sung alone at the lake in the night. In those last days the unknown stranger seemed to observe her, though she wasn`t scared. He could be a criminal, a normal man or woman or even a pirate. It wouldn`t matter because if this person was there to harm her, it would`ve already happened.
What she couldn`t know was that this stranger was drawn to her voice, that this was a young man and indeed a pirate who felt being captured in the bewitching sounds of a siren luring him into the darkness and keeping him spellbound. She also couldn`t know that this young man was normally stern, serious and didn`t interacted with others. That he was a loner and not that kind of person that would be easily bewitched by a divine singing voice as hers and she also wouldn`t know that this young man was Dracule "Hawkeyes" Mihawk, the man who would become the worlds` greatest swordsman one day.
There was something about her that intrigued him, he was going to find it out. He was
wondering indeed if this young woman was possessing the powers of some devil fruit that gave her the ability to put a spell by singing onto someone or if this woman was the witch living in the forests as he had been told by some people in the inn. Mihawk wouldn`t know who this young woman was, though he had an idea but netherless he would be cautious. Not wishing to bother her yet he stayed away far enough not to be seen but close enough to listen to her. The rumors about this island had led him here in the first place, rumors about demons in woods that were strong enemies to fight. Rumors of mysterious creatures and haunting ghosts terrorizing the townsfolk. Though not much of it seemed to be true. He had heard from the people in the inn he stayed in that even if there were creatures ruling the shadows of this island that nothing would happen to anyone since the Garnet Family was a bundle of experts when it came to supernatural, paranormal or even magical topics. The Family was well known for their engagement into occultism, the studies of the otherworld and what might lurk behind it. Some even said that they were the only ones possessing the original book the devil himself write once and that this book would have an answer to every question one could ask. True or not, a mystery clearly was surrounding the rulers of Noctia.
Nihilias song went on and on, her voice became louder, clearer as if she wanted to show the stranger hiding from her how good she could sing and how much she could improve this skill if she really wanted to. She felt happy and challenged by his presence and for those very few moments she felt like her dying wish would become true one day. Her fingers stopped playing the harps` strings and she put it aside, but yet she was humming as the song came to an end. Her hand caressing over the surface of the water in front of her, a smoke-soft stroke that caused slightly waving disturbances in the black, liquid mirror in front of her. The stars in it flickering, glittering and shining in waving pulses for a brief moment until the water became silent again. Her curiousity for this man had increased over the last few days and a question was burning in her throat. The burning became bigger, more purgent and turned into a flaming desire to know who her unknown listener was. She wouldn`t turn her gaze to the man, she wouldn`t gift him a view of her face just once, but her voice would echo through the night again. A voice so tender, silent and serene that it could be only heard by someone who was listening closely, "For someone who is hiding in the shadows over days and listens so quietly to me you could at least tell me your name."
Tonight she had changed her attitude towards him, stopping to confront him, she actually spoke. Did she know he was there the entire time? It would`ve surprised him normally but somehow he had known over the last nights that she already knew he was there no matter how silent he was. As he heard her words, the young man with the eyes of a hawk came out of his spot, a faint smirk crossed his lips and a sighting sound left his throat before he would reply to her, "Maybe you should tell me your name first. You shouldn`t sit alone in these woods at night, haven`t you heard the stories?".
For a long moment there was nothing but silence. A silence that would be only broken by the whistling sounds of the wind blowing through the trees tops. Still she wouldn`t turn around to look at the young man, but once more her hand reached onto the liquid surface of the lake to cause another disturbance. "Witches, Demons, Devils. The Forest is haunted by creatures of the night. The most dangerous thing on this island is the superstition of the people believing black cats and broken mirrors would bring misfortune. Myths are created by humans and humans love to create myths to explain what they cannot understand.", her words were filled with sadness and yet they held kindness, a soft voice that spoke of nightmares that had been seen, but carrying hope to see the light once more. Her eyes were fixed on the moon shining above, it`s pale light was near spotlighting her figure in front of the lake, letting her skin look just as pale and her hair seemed to be of the same shade of white and silver. The words pausing she thought of the right way to say who she was, to introduce hersel. But the only and first thing in her mind was the very answer to who she thought she was, "Who I am...? I am nothing but a shell...".
His words on the other hand were well chosen, he tried to get informations about the hauntings in the forest out of her in a subtle way. Not expecting much of an answer in the first place she seemed to carry knowledge about the happenings of the dark Kingdom Noctia. He knew instantly that she was the one who knew exactly what was going on with this place and where all those rumors came from. But rather than boring her with yet another story he had heard or alarming her with the myth of the shadow-demon lingering near the mountain he chosed to sit down, putting his sword on the ground close to him. His legs crossed, his long coat flattered out onto the earthy surface, his eyes fixed themselves onto the moon as well. It felt like he was trying to figure out what she was searching in the night sky.
"A shell that has been lost in a vast ocean of sadness as you voice indidcates. I see...", he replied in a stern and serious tone to her. His first set of words meant to show some sort of understanding for the pain someone can feel. He himself knew that people who spend the night awake gazing into the sky usually had lost something or that they are lost in some way. It was the time where people reflected themselves, their life and went mindfully through their options and opportunities. "Do you believe superstitions come from nothing? There is always some truth behind them after all. No matter if that truth had been bended, twisted or even changed into something else, it is still there. I am well placed to know that."
Closely she listened to his words, his voice and his tone since Nihilia always had the opinion that one who listens closely and attentively can learn a lot about someone else. When eyes where the thin glass which contained a humans` soul behind than the voice was an echo from it, reflecting and recalling the deepest sets of someones mind. Noticing the young man sitting down next to her, this was the first time she chosed to look at him. Her glowing eyes meeting his for a brief moment Mihawk felt like she was actually looking behind them. To him it felt like she was seeking something in them the same way she seemed to seek something in the moon. The red-purple colour of her eyes where a sharp contrast to the dark blue tones in the forest, when she looked at him he felt like they were burning pincers forged in the flames of desire, the unusual glow held something... somewhat magical and yet he didn`t believed in such things. Though he admitted without speaking it out loud to himself, that something bumped in his chest. An emotion he couldn`t explain nor ever had felt before. Her gaze was sad, spoke of tears and long moments of weakness and yet there was a strenght to it he hadn`t seen in anyone before. It was the same bewitchment in her eyes as her voice which had drawn him to her in the first place.
She smirked for the briefest moment and turned to look back at the moon above them, "The Rumors are made up so the Garnet Family has more power over the people and can pride itself with an umbrella of protection over them. It`s obvious but the townsfolk seems to want to believe that the Garnet Family is their shield against demons and devils."
Closing her eyes she took a deep breath, her chest moving up highly as she felt her lungs being filled with warm air. A long sigh left her throat as she reflected on her own words. Interaction with others was so very difficult for her, never knowing what to say, how much to say or what words to choose she usually felt uncertain and unsure in situations like this. But to be fair, it`s been years since she spoke to anyone who wasn`t a family member or a servant so she never had the chance to learn how to communicate and a part of her thought, if her dream would ever become true, she wouldn`t need to speak anyways since her singing would reach every corner of the world. As her eyes opened once more she continued her words, "If there would be demons, witches or ghosts in the forests than I wouldn`t be scared of them since I believe that humans can be much more... cruel... than those that linger in the dark. They`re nothing more but lost souls, trying to reach the light but never being able to do so. Misunderstood and lonely they wander through an empty space that deprives them the deepest wishes of their hearts. They are nothing but -".
Her sentence ended abruptly as she wasn`t able to finish it, thought the rest of it resounded in her mind over and over, " - They are nothing but a shell. They are lost just as I am."
Looking up to the sky Mihawk noticed some clouds coming up rapidly, the wind above was strong and moved them quickly over the skyline as he thoughtfully listened to her words. They held some truth in them, though they were spoken as some sort of riddle not everyone may understand, he knew what she was indicating with them. "Lost, lonely and misunderstood...", he repeated this part to himself. "Violent as well... for some at last. But are they this way because we are afraid of them, or are we afraid of them because they are this way?".
Nihilia turned her gaze once more to the young hawk-eyed man sitting next to her, her expression now still held the usual sadness but there was something else. A very faint shimmer that spread across her face since she knew that he understood what she was trying to tell him. But it also made her wonder who this man actually was. She knew she had seen his face somewhere before but she couldn`t recall where this had been. Watching him closely as he remained silent for a short time she also thought about the things he had said. Are the creatures of the night really evil? Or are they just evil because people want them to be this way? Misunderstood... They are so very misunderstood.
"Some creatures are just what they were made for. Others... well others are just adapting to what they live like. Demon, monster, not human... killer. Even I have nicknames. But I know what I shall be remembered for. And it is in this goal that I strive for the best, even if it means being considered as a lonely soul and monster by some. After all, life is about adapting and building our legends.", he then continued his words in the stern voice he seemed to keep and yet there was a flint of pleasure in it. A pleasure, a strength and somewhat of kindness so faintly noticable to one needed to listen and watch closely...
This man was someone special, someone who would reach his goal no matter what cost and this was something Nihilia could respect deeply. In fact she felt jealous, though she wouldn`t show this. Jealousy of his freedom and strenght to do whatever he wanted to do. Living free without being bound and tied up by invisble chains of society, enviroment or attire. It happened a few times that she met someone in the forest at night when she sneaked out of her home for her singing sessions. Whenever she met someone, once people saw her eyes, they commented in fear to it. They ran, screamed disgusting things as if she was the witch the rumors told about. The witch living in the forests, sacrificing humans to the devil...
He was right in the first place. Superstitions always had some truth behind it and it was this moment she realized he may had searched for this so called witch, but found her instead. Finding out that there was no witch but a lonely soul and he had chosen to spend a few minutes to listen, watch and observe to get his own picture of the happenings. The word "adapting" echoed in her mind over and over. He couldn`t be more right about it. Nihilia had adapted to her circumstances as well. She wasn`t allowed to go out but she found a way. She wasn`t allowed to sing, but she found a way. Maybe it wasn`t the right one, maybe not the easiest but there was always a path for someone who carried that power of will inside. And she noticed as well, she wasn`t allowed to be free and yet she was here, at her beloved lake and did what she wanted to do. This time a smile crossed her lips, it felt so incredibly good just to talk to someone who wasn`t a member of her family or one of her servants. The silence came back around the lake, and the howling of wolves and others creatures could be heard. It gave the whole area something scary but in his and probably Nihilias eyes there was beauty in this vast darkness. She loved the night... it wasn`t only her circumstances, she chosed to live in the time where the sun was gone and the stars came out to play.
"Aiming to be the best? The best in what?", she then asked watching the clouds pass by and leaving the moon shine brighter and brighter once more.
Mihawk was used to live in both, day and night but he admitted, he loved the view of this place. The Umbrae Lake had something special, it wasn`t only the clear water or the skyline. It wasn`t the unusual shade the plants held or the way gentle fog floated close to the blackened ground. There was something to this place, something no one ever could point a finger onto. Though, it reminded him of a view he had seen on another island
once and he would gladly live there on occassion. Kuraigana...
"To be the best among swordsmen. Since I met a man on the seas, my goal has been to be an equal of him. It may take years, but one day I aim to be a legend.", Mihawk answered with another faint smile and stood up, put his sword back on his back between the straps on his long coat. The moonlight reflected as well upon the shining black blade of his sword, giving it a silver shine lost in its darkness and sharpness.
As he was walking away, as he had some duty to attend, he spoke some last words for the night, "To answer your question, I am Dracule Mihawk."
"The worlds best swordsman...", she copied his words in a whisper that wasn`t audible at all. Barely visible movements of her lips attempting to say those words, to repeat them. Though it did remind her of her dream...
A dream that would be lost if she continued to live like this, if she wouldn`t be able to break her chains and reclaim her life for herself. In her opinion there were many ways to fight, some may include a sword or a gun, others may simply use words but her way of fighting was by singing. A dream of stopping wars with nothing but a song, to bring peace to the hearts of everyone around the world with nothing but a few tones. Maybe it was foolish, even childish or naive to think somebody could achieve this. But that was the thing with dreams, some come true, some do not. Some turn into nightmares and others, no matter how unrealistic will be achieved. Her eyes reflected the moonlight faintly as she got up herself looking to the mountains nearby. The moon would be setting soon, it would be replaced by the sun when the next day will dawn. It reminded her of a story she heard once. The story of the sun and the moon falling in love with each other, a forbidden love that could never come true and yet they found a way to touch each other, be it just with hands and feet.
A huge, gothic castle dominated the horizon...
A castle that she called home. A castle that was the golden cage she would need to return to soon enough. Dracule Mihawk. His name reflected itself in her thoughts a couple of times. She would remember this name and in exchange for it she decided to reveal herself to him. "Garnet Nihilia...".
"I know..", he replied with an emotionless tone and expression.
"I thought so."
"The dress gave it away. It fits the decor of your home.", he said pointed with a finger into the castles direction. "Also, nobody in town seemed to be able to afford such noble dresses. For your nightly trips, I would advise you to wear something more... casual."
"You know... this is the only thing I like about being born into this family. We don`t do "casual". We present ourselves as would a noble house of our reputation".
"An advice you will not follow then. Do as you please.", he replied with another very faint
smirk on his lips until his figure vanished between the shadows of the trees.
18 years later...
"What are you thinking about?". Nihilias` gentle humming was interrupted by Mihawks smokey voice, offering her a glass of wine as he positioned himself next to her on the huge balcony that had become her small but personal stage. Smiling and taking the glass she took a huge sip of it, nodding thankfully while watching him for an extended moment without replying to his question. Over the last days her mind slipped over and over into the past, pictures of things that had happened, good or bad reflected themselves in her mind like a loop so rampant that she felt she wasn`t able to escape it.
"Do you remember the first time we met?", she then answered his question with one of her own.
"I do. I think I`ve never seen someone who had such a lost gaze, hiding behind a vinear of nobility so much so as you did."
"That maybe because I was lost then but you found me. I will never forget that day, since some of your words helped me to realise my own strength that I didn`t know I had.", she smiled back at him. Taking another sip from the glass, swallowing it slowly to increase the fruity taste of the red liquid tenderly gliding down her throat.
"I`m glad I helped.", Mihawk smirked and poured a glass for himself while following her gaze to the moon above them.
"I did not. I never would.", he replied with a somehwat indignantly and ironic tone. He was mocking her indeed.
"Of course not..", she chuckled for just a second as her tone kept the same irony as his.
"I was serious this time, indeed. I am glad I helped you. It set a foundation for the realtionship we have now.", he replied before taking a sip from his glass himself.
"Do you remember the lake we used to meet at?".
"Why do you think I would forget it?".
"In the end...", she paused her words while turning her gaze to him. A most beautiful smile crossed her lips. It was rare she smiled like this, but it suited her. "...It was nothing but a mirror."
Raising an eyebrow, looking at her with a slightly tilted head he wasn`t sure where she was aiming at with her choice of words, "A mirror?".
"I've seen us but not as we are now, we were different, our eyes, cloths and even our expression. I`ve seen us...".