Sally sunk into her bed the moment she unpacked what little she brought. It all felt surreal, sitting in a brand new room, just a step away from wondrous technology out in the other hallway. She had already met (or half-met) so many more people that she would share a home with. They seemed like they already knew what people were going to turn out from the change in their former lives.
She forgot about the days that laid in either direction of her, caring about how to escape the present, only snapping back when she heard the other two days open and close. She didn’t want to care so much about her own life; she was ashamed because such little things, or things that seemed to be little to others even like her own brother, were bothering her so much.
She felt in chains, and her bonds were propelling her into the unknown. Ultimately, in her half daze she realized all the uncomforting feelings stemmed from a fear of the unknown. There was no knight trick or alternative, and every human is bound by it, she thought.
It was even more absolute than the method she chose for darklings, because even that primordial fear is lessened by acceptance. Knowing that there is a black hole of possibilities in front of her doesn’t ease at all.
Horrible thoughts raced through her head as she sat up. What if? The people around her could be cruel, or her job too tasking. She may even have to leave her brother if she didn’t meet the challenge.
Finally she decided that the what if scenarios are there in everything. It didn’t mean she dealt with her issue either.
She stepped out and saw that Stein and Tom had both been sitting on the couch. The walls showed an illuminating night scene, and she saw that one on the opposite wall from the kitchen could be used as a television. Nick sluggishly watched a news article about new separatism in the northern regions of Susanoo.
He then got up, acknowledging Sally and then preparing five sandwiches, yet Sally only counted four people. Without delay, almost like a queue Eleanor surfaced from her room, still in uniform.
She chatted indistinctly with Nick, and said without breaking pace, “Tonight we have to run through a patrol for another squad, but we’ll be free for the next couple of days.”
She ate her food without savoring it in the slightest and slipped away with only “Goodnight.”
If anything, she wasn’t mean or cold on purpose. Sally thought the whole episode was too cute.
Nick talked in fragments, being careful not to when he had a full mouth, “You see. Right now, Luna will be awake, since she, likes to sleep, later, than the rest of us. And Mr. Lawrence too, since he overslept, and he’s too sick, to go tonight.”
After the meal, which couldn’t properly be described as breakfast or dinner, Stein and Tom settled in their cozy white beds, glad that they didn’t have to suffer to share rooms. They valued the private rooms and the small bathrooms attached to each of them. No more did they have to conserve hot water, or worry about waking the other. Nick however, decided it was best to take a nap. He knew he had something important to tell Tom, but he didn’t think it was urgent enough for him to worry over it.
Sally couldn’t sleep, though her persistent fear was pushed back, and she as distracted by all the new sights she saw today. Instead she sat down and indulged now that no one used the television, but found that none of the shows she liked interested her anymore. They all seemed cheesy or bland now.
She was just about to turn in when a ghostly image entered from behind her. It couldn’t have been anyone else except for Luna. She was a specter, with hauntingly dilated black eyes, and pale skin like moonlight.
Except her deep red lips, she looked out of place, monochrome. She had long straight jet-black hair, and wore white jeans with a black t-shirt, with a white hoodie draped over. She was also petite and skinny, almost tiny for a teenager. She didn’t seem real at all.
“Hello? You’re still awake?” She asked timidly.
“I’m Sally, one of the new guys.”
“My name is Luna Tsukuyomi. You can go to my room if you can’t sleep,” She had a high and animated voice.
Sally turned off the television and Luna showed her how to turn off the panels with a remote. As she followed, they got a better look at each other. Luna had an otherworldly look that seemed befitting to a member of Zero Squad. From her last name, Sally knew she might have not been from Lodestone.
Her room had the homely smell of warm cinnamon. Sally spied a cup of tea and some rust-colored candles, and either could be the source of the fragrance. Luna’s room had a small desk which carried a book that Sally dared not look into, and a night stand covered with books.
“Oh, I really like to read since we’re not supposed to leave headquarters that often. I’m reading one called Carrion Crusader,” She pointed to the one on her desk.
“It’s about a superhero whose body can only handle rotten refuse. If anything it’s more light-hearted than the title suggests.”
Sally had a dumb look, and Luna realized how awkward she sounded, “Well. There’s a bookstore down the street and I usually buy books in bulk. Occasionally I get strange ones in the hurry.”
Sally waited for more explanation, “I’ve grown to like all books, and even those kinds are fun to laugh at.”
Sally smiled, indicating she thought it was neat, “Well, Is that how you sustain yourself?”
Luna thought for a very long time and her pail face shined. Sally noticed that even in the warm light of her room, she could see the veins on her arm.
“No. It’s just me. His Highness likes to visit a particular orphanage that the king sponsors, and Mr. Lawrence has to keep social obligations since he was recruited as an adult. Even Ella has her own office work. Besides that, they all have to train harder than me.”
Sally sighed, “I didn’t mean to be so invasive.”
“Not at all. Anyway, the reason I chose to take up so much reading is that I think being thrown in another book is a good way to get your mind off of other things. Being a knight requires you take your respite.”
“Is there any reason why you don’t train as hard?” Sally was stuck on that point.
Luna took some offense, but she quickly cooled herself, hoping that Sally wasn’t feigning ignorance, but then confronted her, “I’m an umbra. Have you really never seen one?”
Sally nodded and became a little serious.
“An umbra is a human who can produce a mercurial form like a darkling’s. It gives us superhuman strength, but I never thought of it as anything besides a curse. It takes much discipline to control, or else it can get out of hand,” Luna said coolly.
Sally didn’t have to be a genius to understand how she felt. If Tom’s gift was perception, than hers was sympathy.
“Is that why your eyes are like that?”
“Yes. Umbrae have little pigment, but always have black hair and eyes. The mercurial form is never totally gone, and for most people it is confined to their eyes while they’re resting. But it also exists elsewhere in the body, depending on the person.”
“How can that be?”
“Mercurial forms have no shape, no mass. It’s not matter, so it can exist in a space that’s already occupied. It’s in my ocular tissue, my veins, my blood,” Luna was becoming a little flustered. She talked without taking breathes in between.
Sally sat in silence for a few minutes as she digested it. Luna felt a little relieved, because she knew Sally was trying to bridge the gap. If she truly never knew of an umbra, she would have no prejudice against them, a fresh slate. Luna’s eyes returned a bit closer to normal, but still looked like craters.
Sally for the first time didn’t know how to approach her, “Were you born with it?”
“The physical traits are all there but sometimes the rest doesn’t show until later.”
“If so, you shouldn’t worry,” Sally spoke in burst because she wanted to reply quickly but not without caution.
She spoke again, “Always seeing yourself as something less won’t change a thing. Seeing how well you're controlling the mercurial form, I think worrying about what to do with all the free time is more important.”
It was a risky move to say something so general about something she only heard of today.
“You’re trying to tell me, that even if I have certain needs, I’m still a normal person,” Luna giggled, “I was only trying to educate you on the matter. You didn’t need to tell me that.”
“You’re a handful, Baronet. You had good intentions, and you’re right about my biggest problem is dealing with boredom.”
Sally eyed a small backlit clock. It was getting late and she had been up for a long time. She picked up Luna’s cup of tea as she stood up.
“Okay then. I hope you find something to keep yourself occupied. If anything, I’ll have another girl to talk to; Ella is such a drag.”
Sally found herself to sleep at ease, and let the darkness lure her away. Luna however, was still up neatening her room. She didn’t have to gut to tell her new friend that a hobby wasn’t for being aloof, but it was something necessary for keeping the mind off of the cruel realities of being a knight. Although she was immune to the radiating fear of a darkling per her umbra nature, she knew that destroying a darkling didn’t mean all of its effects would just vanish instantly.
Also, she hadn’t thought about the particulars of being an umbra very much until now. She always just saw it as a way of serving her prince, but since she had to make out the details for Sally, she was aware anew of the dangerous and unpredictable nature of a possible breakdown, or how being born that way destined her to knighthood.