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It began in darkness. There once was a time where the dark of nighttime inspired a curiosity in Libretto, a sense of mystery, and an urge to solve it. It was exciting, to some extent. After the events of the Songbird Symphony, that was no longer the case. Now the darkness was terrible, for Libretto knew what lurked beyond its veil. She remembered, and it haunted her. The stench of blood and decaying flesh, a nightmare at every turn. Monsters and tortured souls, so lost in madness they crumbled under their own weight. Libretto saw it every time she looked into the dark, and she felt a fear she could no longer call foreign grip her heart with an icy maw. It made falling asleep nearly impossible, and when sleep did come? It wasn't any good, because after the darkness, when sleep found its way upon Libretto's weary mind, it pulled her into the nightmares.

She found herself on the stage of Symphony Hall, before an audience of people long since dead. Each one was mutilated in a new and gruesome way, everyone that Libretto saw somehow more sickening than the last. The blood was dry, and decay festered within every ancient wound. Mold and fungus overtook bodies that were once so full of life, souls cursed never to be free of the hall that tormented them so. How could any of them ever find peace after what was done? Could they ever be free of this hell? There were no answers, for Libretto was met with the piercing gaze of a hundred hollowed eyes. The crowd had nothing left but rotting flesh and old bones but despite it all Libretto could feel the raw emotion that radiated from them; the anger and the unimaginable grief thick enough to be seen in the very air around her. It weighed down on her every step, every motion, but it was not the very worst of it.

Laid down on the stage upon her back, just a few feet away from Libretto, was Elisa. It would be then that she recognized the only sound audible through the entirety of the hall; pained and exhausted crying. With every sob that shuddered her body, the sound continued to grow quiet. Every tear that rolled down her cheek was another drop of life leaving her body, her watery eyes filled with hopelessness that cut through Libretto’s heart like a blade.

Libretto rushed to Elisa’s side, the burning stares of the decrepit crowd still boring holes through her very being. She dropped down onto her knees and pulled Elisa’s head into her lap. Libretto brushed aside Elisa’s hair, hands lingering and intermingled with her silky locks while gazing down into her eyes. They were gray, glazed over with sickening red haze. Where once those eyes were full of love and joy, they were now utterly devoid of life. Yet Elisa still cried, and she still mumbled to herself words completely incomprehensible. But Libretto didn’t need to hear it to know what was being said, two words forming consistently on Elisa’s lips amidst the muttering. A single question. Where’s Libretto?

She tried to answer, to tell Elisa that she was right there and going nowhere but the words wouldn’t form. Every desperate attempt at speaking was met with silence, and Libretto could feel her own tears begin to roll down her cheeks as a pained lump formed in her throat. All that she could do was stare into the empty, crimson eyes of the woman she loved and plead, begging the darkness for mercy. So many souls trapped and warped by the song, left to suffer in the gallery of a madwoman. Libretto couldn’t let Elisa join them, and would have forsaken so, so much if it could guarantee her love’s survival.

The darkness didn’t care, and neither did the audience. The swirling rage and grief emanating from the revolting display of death grew thicker until Libretto was suffocating on it, suffocating on the taste of copper. Her eyes stung as tears poured, barely able to see her surroundings but capable enough to recognize what began to seep from every crevice of the hall. Blood. Thick, crimson, and oozing it poured from every wall, bubbling up from the floorboards underneath the stage. The audience began to move, and with it came a gut-wrenching, blood-curdling scream so far from human one could only begin to wonder what monster created such anguish.

Libretto’s heart pounded, so loud that she could hear it in her ears with every pulse, as an icy fear spread its tendrils over her heart. Yet she stayed still, eyes locked on Elisa amidst the madness of Symphony Hall. Libretto let her hand fall down to Elisa’s cheek, gently stroking away her tears with her thumb. She hoped to find peace somewhere on the face of her love but was met only with the sight of her thumb beginning to unravel. It began at the very tip like the removal of a keystone, causing lengths of crimson thread to unspool through her thumb and collapse into nothing. It worked it’s way down to her palm, and through the rest of her hand before her arm began to unravel as well. Libretto could only watch in horror as her flesh unwrapped itself out of existence, stopping only once it reached her shoulder.

There was no time for Libretto to process what happened before the stage gave way beneath her, the groaning of wood turning into a sick, squelching snap at the end of its crescendo. And Libretto fell, plunged into darkness, into a churning ocean of blood that dragged her deeper into its gut. The dark liquid filled Libretto’s lungs as she gasped and struggled for air, the thick taste of copper on her tongue while it’s pungent smell left her gagging in a futile effort. She was drowning in the ocean of the lost, and even then all Libretto could think about was Elisa. Where was she? Would she be okay, would she survive? Every struggling claw for breath was done for her until there was nothing, until she was snapped back to reality.

When Libretto awoke, she awoke desperately crying out Elisa’s name, panting, and heart racing. Her body was caked in sweat, a chill running down her spine as her eyes darted around the room. She was in her flat, and Symphony Hall was nothing more than a pile of rubble. Her desk was messy with sheet music and old letters, a photo album opened on top of it. It was a familiar scene, even in the dark, and it was devoid entirely of death. There were no corpses, and there was no blood. The only noticeable smell was the faintest whiff of smoke from a putout candle. What brought to Libretto the most comfort, however, was the woman in the bed next to her, now groggily rubbing at her eyes. It was Elisa, safe and sound.

“Mm..? Darling..? Are you alright?” Elisa murmured. She sat up slowly, wrapping one arm around Libretto’s waist while placing a hand atop of her shoulder. Libretto returned the hug to the best of her ability, wrapping her arm around Elisa and pulling herself closer. Without her right arm, though, it was a struggle for Libretto, and how she mourned its loss. She wouldn’t be able to hold Elisa the way she truly wanted, hold her as tight or as close, to surround her so completely in warmth. It hurt more than any words could ever express, trying to move what wasn’t there to hold her love, to protect her.

Libretto’s instinct was always to protect Elisa, but it was in this instant, tears flooding down her cheeks as the love of her life held her securely and lovingly, that Libretto knew it was herself that needed protecting. She pushed forward through hell for her friends and for her love, sacrificing her own safety to ensure they would be okay. Not once did she ever think of herself, and it’s how she coped with the pain. Looking over others to ignore the burdens upon her own shoulders. But that was no longer a possibility, Elisa wouldn’t let it be. After all, she had just as much of a protective streak as Libretto, at least when it came to the woman she loved. Libretto could only choke out Elisa’s name through the sobs that left her whole body trembling.

“Oh my love, I’m here.. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got you, darling, don’t you worry,” Elisa whispered. With her hand, she began to press against the tense muscles of Libretto’s shoulder in a gentle massage. A soft kiss on the cheek followed shortly after as a tired Elisa comforted the love of her life, not knowing the exact details but knowing exactly what she needed. It wasn’t the first time Libretto had a nightmare, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the last.

It took a while for Libretto to calm down, but in Elisa's arms, she knew that she was safe. They were together, alive, and safe. There was nothing left to separate them or to terrorize them. She knew that, and every breath filled with the wonderful, comforting scent of her lover reminded her of it. When her tears came to a halt, her heart no longer pounded in primal fear, and her body ceased to tremble, it was then that Elisa finally spoke once more, "Would you like to talk about it, my darling?"

“No, no.. I think I would much rather forget,” Libretto answered, her voice little more than a whisper into her lover’s ear. With her head buried in Elisa’s shoulder, she could feel her nodding her head. There was a moment of stillness before Elisa began to move again, swinging one leg over Libretto’s lap to sit atop of her, arms still wrapped around her in a hug. She leaned forward, and in doing so lied them both down against the bed. Libretto nuzzled up against Elisa, and held her tight.

“Then would you like to hear something rather interesting, love?” Elisa asked, and Libretto murmured a yes, her voice muffled by her lover’s embrace. Elisa continued, “I can hold the whole world in my arms.”

“Oh..? How’s that?” Libretto turned her head to the left for a brief moment so that she could speak without her voice being muffled, before promptly returning to burying her face in the crook of Elisa’s neck.

“Well, you see darling.. I’m already doing so right now,” Elisa said, and she tightened her hug around Libretto, pulling her into an embrace that they were both so glad could finally happen after all those years. Libretto was at first confused, but the moment she understood she couldn’t stop the soft laughter that fell past her lips. Elisa smiled, and she smiled wide.

“There we are, and what a beautiful sound it is, my Libretto,” Elisa whispered, and placed a kiss on Libretto’s forehead, who hummed in quiet delight. They had been through so much together, and after it all there was nothing left in the world that could keep them apart, nothing in the world that meant more to them than each other. No matter how bad it got, and how hard it was to recover, Libretto knew that they could do it. Elisa was there for her, just as she had always been, just as she always would be.

“I love you, Elisa,” Libretto murmured, barely able to stay awake long enough to hear Elisa’s delighted response. A string of words that Libretto never got tired of hearing, and words that sung her into a dreamless sleep like a lullaby. The darkness terrified Libretto, but in Elisa’s arms, she knew that she was safe.