Prelude to Destiny
“Do a little turn.”
Rosalind complied, spinning around in a tight circle, causing her skirt to flare up around her, matching her movement.
The dress Rosalind had received from the tailor was a high-cut piece that stopped just above her neckline. A sleeve extended down her right arm, while her left arm was left bare from the shoulder downwards. The fabric that encased her upper torso and arm was elastic and sheer, similar in texture to nylon. The sleeve was made from several overlapping layers of fabric, granting it the appearance that emulated waves breaking upon a shore, or perhaps the tongues of fire, licking away at each other, competing for dominance. The skirt was arranged in a similar manner, layers of overlapping fabrics embracing each other in an ensemble that fell to the floor, exposing only a peek of her feet, enclosed in a pair of black slippers, laced across the top. The dress was a deep black colour, as I had heard her mention to the tailor – but what I was not expecting was the trim. A vine-patterned grey trim ran the length of the dress, spreading across the torso and encroaching into the skirt. It spread to the sleeved arm as well, granting her arm the appearance of being entangled in grey vines. Despite the occasional thorn that appeared along the vine motif, the patterning lent the dress a sort of ethereal beauty, a juxtaposition of the formlessness of black with the restraining liminality of grey. It was a breathtaking piece.
“…If the colors indicate what I think they do, I must say that I’m flattered. And somewhat concerned.”
Incidentally, I had black hair and grey eyes.
“Well, if you’re thinking that I based this colour scheme on you, you’re absolutely correct. I did.”
Rosalind looked away as she answered my question with an unsure voice.
“Well… I suppose it’s me saying thank you, in a way. It was a whim, really. I just thought it might be nice if the dress I wore for the concert was something reminiscent of you. After all, you’re the one who introduced the idea to me. You’ve given me a lot – too much, really – and I’ve not been able to repay you. So this is just my small way of showing appreciation, I suppose.”
“…and why are they vines? In particular, why do they have thorns?”
Rosalind looked back at me and grinned mischievously.
“They’re dangerous to be careless around. The slightest misstep might get you pricked, but they feel almost sinister in how they encroach upon the blackness. But even so, you can’t help but admire their beauty, you can’t help but want to navigate your way through the thorns. Even though they might be constraints, one can just as easily see them as embracing. Doesn’t that sound just like you? There’s constantly an unspoken air of danger around you – that’s the feeling I get. When I speak to you, I’m struck by fear of triggering that danger, but even so, I can’t help but want to brave the thorns, to navigate the labyrinth of your thoughts. That’s why I picked this design.”
I sighed. I wanted to refute her, but I knew her words to be true – I was constantly on alert, vigilant for new dangers, new threats. Ten years of living a normal life had been unable to expel the habits ingrained in me by ten years of fighting for my life. I could not help but remain hyper-vigilant about my surroundings at all times. It made me snappy, paranoid, unsociable. I had lost more than one friend on account of my eccentricity. Rosalind was probably the first person in several years that I could consider a close friend. I could not deny that associating with me was much like attempting to associate with a wounded animal. I usually managed to keep my exterior expressions of paranoia in check, but Rosalind was a good judge of character. She had likely seen right through my act – and despite that, she conducted herself as my friend. As she said, the patterning on the dress served as a good visual representation of the kind of existence I possessed. As such, I decided to shift the conversation on a different path instead.
“In any case, it’s a beautiful dress. I’m tempted to pay the seamstress a bonus.”
“But you’re not going to.”
“Of course not. Why would I pay extra for anything based on sentimentality? That’s a sure way to incur unnecessary losses.”
“Sometimes, your love for money scares me.”
“Allow me to correct you on that point: I don’t love money. I simply recognise its necessity, and therefore seek to acquire as much of it as I reasonably can, to avoid the situation of being rendered impotent due to a lack of it.”
“…I’m not seeing the difference.”
“The difference, Ros, lies in my priorities. If I loved money, then the acquisition of money would be an end in itself. But instead, for me, money is simply the means to an end. Resultantly, if I had the option to earn money by sacrificing the safety of those I hold dear – the aforementioned end – I would not take the option. Conversely, an individual who loved money might instead exercise the alternative choice.”
“It sounds like an arbitrary distinction. Well, it’s not like it matters. I know that you’re only rambling on in that explanatory way of yours to get me to change the topic to debate about your love for money.”
I cursed at Rosalind being able to easily discern my intentions, which caused her to laugh.
“I’ve known you for over a year now, Ely. It would be a demonstration of my ineptitude if I had not at least learned to recognise your attempts to redirect a conversation. That said, there’s no need for such antics right now. I’ll change the topic for you: How go the ticket sales?”
I shot her a glare, slightly annoyed that she was acting magnanimous by changing the subject. Still, I was not so foolish as to let my pride stop me from seizing the opportunity offered.
“Well, we’re not quite sold out yet, but we still have three days to go, so we should be fine. In fact, the numbers we’ve generated are extremely impressive, considering we only started selling the tickets two days ago.”
Two days prior, I had made regular announcements at one-hour intervals, explaining that Rosalind would be performing at the Town Hall the next week. I made these announcements throughout the night, clarifying that the shop would be open in the afternoon the next day for the sole purpose of selling tickets, though Rosalind herself would only be singing at night, as usual. I had further explained that the ticket, which was a small card that had Rosalind’s name printed on it along with the time and venue of the concert, would be necessary to gain entry to the concert.
This alone had some of the crowd clambering forward to buy the tickets, but to further increase the frenzy of desire, I talked at length about the production of Rosalind-inspired merchandise, namely the wood carvings which Bainel had acquired from the craftsmen’s guild at my request. In fact, they seemed quite taken by Rosalind’s image – they had further produced fifty folding fans, which portrayed a painting of Rosalind’s likeness. Bainel had apparently initially thought of refusing the fans – they had not been in the original contract, and he was thus unwilling to pay for them. But when the craftsmen had offered it at a low price, he had accepted the offer and promptly brought the fans to me, to discuss what to do with them. I was, predictably, ecstatic at the sudden development.
I had been thinking for some time about what kind of gift to give to the especially devoted fans, but the answer had eluded me. Idols in my home world did handshake sessions, but that would not have the same impact, given that Rosalind met and shook hands regularly with the people of Monspiere. The other common option was a photo session, but that was impossible here fore self-evident reasons. Ergo, I had to turn to the third method – limited merchandise. But just as I was thinking about what we could give out as special gifts, Bainel had approached me with the fans. I immediately had Rosalind sign them – all fifty. Of these fifty, we set aside forty to sell as higher-priced ticket bundles. The remaining ten would be given out at random, based on lucky draw – the tickets each had a unique serial code, and I had the full list. We would thus pick ten lucky winners to receive a free fan. It was a tried and tested model, and I saw no reason to change that.
“I’m surpised that you managed to sell all of the Tier A tickets, Ely. I had my doubts that anyone would buy them.”
“Aha. You underestimate the power of your popularity.”
We had split ticketing into three tiers. Tier C was simply the ticket itself, and cost 400 Ciry. Tier B was the ticket, as well as one wooden carving, randomly chosen from among the three designs, featuring Rosalind in various poses. Individually, these carvings cost 150 Ciry apiece, so we priced our Tier B tickets at 530 Ciry. Tier A tickets included the tickets, the carving, as well as one of the fifty signed folding fans. As the fans could not be bought normally, we were free to set a higher price for the Tier A tickets, and so we set the price for these tickets at 1,000 Ciry, or 1 Miry. We sold all our Tier A tickets within the first day of sales, and were already running low on the Tier B and C tickets. All in all, our ticket sales were doing ridiculously well.
I grinned and looked at Rosalind.
“There won’t be a problem. You’ll have a full house. My job’s more or less done. From now on, it’s on you. You just need to give the best performance you can give. Do you have your new song prepared?”
Due to the numerous errands I had to run, I had not been able to spend much time with Rosalind. As such, I had no idea about the progress on her new song. Furthermore, I had not heard her practice it, even once. Understandably, I was thus concerned about whether she would have it ready in time. In the worst case, she would have to stick with her usual repertoire – which was not entirely a bad thing, but it would cause her first concert to lose a bit of impact. However, her response was unexpected.
She blushed and averted her gaze.
“…Yes, I do. I don’t think it’s a very good song, but… it’s the best I could come up with.”
I pondered for a bit about how I could reassure her. I settled for simply ruffling her hair.
“Don’t worry about it too much. If you’re not confident, just let me know – we don’t need to have a new song for this.”
Rosalind’s blush seemed to deepen as she silently nodded her head in agreement. I briefly wondered what kind of song she had prepared – but I decided not to pursue the issue. It would just make her more nervous.