Images formed around her, enclosing her in a dark room that she remembered all too well. She saw her parents, happy and laughing together. Her mother wore the dark shabby dress that she had always worn, save for special occasions, with a dirt brown skirt with a burnt orange bodice; snippets of earthy green and blue fabric were patched over areas that had been worn and weathered. Unlike Hataru’s free-flowing curly brass locks, her mother’ dark chocolate hair was pulled back into a single loose braid with small strands sticking out at odd intervals. The girl’s father was tall and well built. His arms were huge, toned from his smithing job and perfect for holding his wife close. He wore similar drab apparel along with a thick, knee length leather apron. The way the couple gazed into each other’s eyes with such passion melted Hataru’s heart into a slippery puddle of gooey goodness. She herself was a child, dressed in a downy gown, softened by age. This was what her life looked like before even old enough to speak: happiness and joy all around, no pain or sorrow, bliss.
As if swept away by the wind, her fond memory was gone in an instant and replaced by another. A pair of once fulgurant eyes now clouded over with misery gazed up at her. Their eyelids drooped ever so slowly, lower and lower, until they were closed and did not open again. Hataru felt her tears slip from her own eyes and onto her passed mother’s cheek. Running, as if to escape the sorrow, Hataru fled from the cold room full of dust and death. She came to another room, even dirtier than the one before, but better lit because of two broken windows that let pass warm sunbeams, only to be chilled down by the bitter wind which they also allowed entrance. Tears still streaming down her face, Hataru leaped backward when the door, situated between the windows, was struck down by a powerful force, letting more light pour into the room. Men by the dozens rushed in, as uniform and fluid as liquid water, and surrounded a lump in the corner of the room, paying no attention to the crying little girl. The lump, it turned out, was a man crumpled on the floor, whimpering like a dog about to be beaten by its master. The men grabbed at him roughly, sneers of disgust on their faces, leading him out the door they had just broken down. The man’s once strong and mighty arms were no use to him now. He couldn’t even dream of fighting back, so they led him down the empty street, golden leaves dancing all around them, leaving Hataru all alone.
Again, this vision blurred, found herself, now a young teenager, enclosed in utter nothingness. The cold, colorless caves on the top of the mountain had had more detail than this place. There, you could hear water droplets kerplink onto the slippery ground. Here, there was nothing. There, you could see reflections of the lanterns on the glistening walls. Here, there was nothing. There, you could feel the sudden chill of coolness as you stepped into the shade that the caves provided. Here, there was nothing. There, you smell the clean air provided by a face mask. Here, there was nothing. There, you could taste the years of mold and mildew lingering in every droplet that touched your lips as you run back to the lifeboats. Here, there was nothing. Hataru had never felt this isolated in all of her life. She couldn’t tell if she was in a wide open space or confined within a small box. The silence, the stillness, the senselessness, began eating away at her. What if she was to be trapped here forever? Hataru would not be able to bear it! Just as she was about to loose her mind in the agony of the nothingness, there was something.
It started as a soft melody, gently sailing in. The sound enfolded her, growing louder, bolder. Unseen trumpets, flutes, violins, and guitars melted together into an enchanting harmony. Without thinking, Hataru began moving her feet in time with the music. She twirled and chasséd at all the right parts, as if she had rehearsed it. It wasn’t until her other senses came back to her that she realized she had! The nothingness faded away, bringing forth magnificent, bright colors of large banners and ball gowns. Pinks, blues, oranges, and purples, a sherbert of colors, surrounded her as well as many other pigments. Women swirled around, their skirts fanning outwards, their jeweled necklaces sparkling in the light, and men accompanied them; everyone smiling brightly. Hataru felt the sleek silky fabric of her own light green gown, with a low-cut and wide-collared bodice, cascade from her hips. Her bedazzled shoes pinched her toes, but she didn’t mind. Next, the fragrances of baked bread and ripened fruit wafted passed her nose. The princess turned around to see a decorated table fit for a feast, full of delectable foods and desserts. Rushing over, Hataru daintily snatched at a crepe stuffed with strawberries and a thick cream. The explosion of flavor in her mouth was overpowering! She reached for another, but the music suddenly stopped and all eyes were suddenly on Hataru. All the lights dimmed, except for a single spotlight focussed on her. A court herald declared her presence to the guests as she made her way to the middle of the room, just in front of the elevated platform where the king sat on his throne. She curtsied to him, bowed her head, and waited. Just as it had started before, the music gracefully flew from the instruments to her ears. Her feet, hips, and arms all moved on their own accord, kicking here, swaying there, and waving all around. She knew this dance like the palm of her hand.
As she moved her body to the rhythm, the party-goers all watched in fascination. Not a word was uttered, for everyone was captivated by her beauty; there could be no match to her grace and poise. The song was reaching its climax, and the princess was putting forth all of her effort; perspiration glistened on her brow. Now she was spinning, spinning a countless number of times, never ceasing. Faster! Harder! She spun around, not once losing her balance. The music was at its peak, and then... she stopped. Right in the middle of her grand finale, the beautiful, young girl froze, staring into the eyes of a boy she had not seen for a very long time. It was the boy from the window that she had seen so very long ago in a completely different world than the one she was in now. He was older now, as was she, but there was no denying that it was him. As time stood still, the ball room and everything in it began to crumble into dust, starting at the ceiling and making its way down to the marble floor. The food table, the guests, the musicians and their instruments, even the king began exploding one by one; clods of dirt flying in every which way. It was quite a frightening scene. Only Hataru and the boy were left, drifting in the nothingness, staring into each other’s eyes.
In the split second it took the princess to blink, the boy had once again been transformed into a man with his same features. He walked over to her, his strides long and silent, the crown on his head reflecting an unseen light source, a polite grin spread across his face. Kneeling down before her, he grabbed her hand and pressed it against his warm lips. Looking back up at her, he shot her a killer, knock-'em-dead smile, but then he too began to crumble away into the dust. Wait! Don’t go! What’s your name? she wanted to shout, but it seemed that her voice would not work, and he was already gone. She wanted to cry out and call the man back into existence, yet still her words were only spoken in silence. All she could do was wait for the next memory to come.
Only this time, it wasn’t a memory. Images she’d never seen before flashed by, quick and short. One scene was there and then it wasn’t, immediately replaced by another, with no way for her mind to take everything in. Screams, growls, panting breaths, unrecognizable words rang in her ears. Hataru wanted to shut her eyes and roll up in a little ball and wait till it all disappeared, but she couldn’t. Her heart was racing. She could feel her dress cling to her back due to her clammy, sweaty skin. One image caught her attention. A spark, floating down from above, landed in front of her. From that spark burst forth a small, gentle fire. Crouching down, Hataru yearned to feel it’s warmth on her palms, but as soon as she stepped close, the fire reared up like a horse startled by a snake, towering over her.
Scrambling to get away, the princess’ feet tangled themselves in her own skirts as the fire swooped down towards her. A second before contact, when she could feel the tongues of flame on the nape her neck, Hataru jumped up and flew from the spot. Sprinting from the horror, she dared peer over her shoulder only to have fear strike her heart even more fiercely than before. The fire was chasing her, storming through the air like an angry cloud with the intent to kill. The screeching call of a bird echoed through the darkness that surrounded the girl and the flaring force of nature. Finally, her path came to an end. Before her lay a huge drop off; behind her burned the storm of flames. The fire encircled her, giving her two choices: jump or be consumed. With only the fear of the blazing heat on her back, Hataru leaped from the edge and began her plummet into the unknown.
The fire was gone now, again she was surrounded by darkness, but this was not the nothingness. She could still hear the soft echoes of a screeching bird and the wind that whistled past her ear, and she could still feel her hair and dress blown upward as she fell through what seemed to be a bottomless pit. She did not enjoy the sense of weightlessness, however. Just as she was yearning for the sensation to stop, with a sudden jerk, a pair of invisible hands reached out and grabbed the princess under her arms, and her wish was granted. Another hand grabbed her ankle, and another her wrist, and yet another her hair. From every angle, the unseen hands darted out and grabbed a part of her, tugging her in all directions. The helping hands had turned out to be not so helpful at all.
Screaming in pain as she was being pulled apart Hataru wiggled, kicked, slapped, and bit at the hands, anything to get them off of her. Her struggles only made them hold tighter and yank harder. Deep voices pealed out in laughter, and she knew that she could not escape. Her body went slack, giving in to the hands, only drawing back when one hand pulled too hard. But then her eyes opened wide and her body went stiff when one yanked so hard that her skirts began to tear. NOOOOOOOOO! LET GO OF ME! she shouted in a desperately vicious voice. At once, the hands let go and disappeared, allowing her to crash onto a cold, dusty floor below. Coughing and wheezing, she could not sit up. All she could do is lay where she had fallen, her lips parting and a scream racing up her throat.