The clouds sailed peacefully behind the porthole. Passengers dozed off, enjoying the absence of turbulence and announcements from the flight captain. Ambre had boarded for a twelve-hour flight on a whim, to satisfy everyone. Occis, Mr. Ishida, but also her own curiosity. And in the end, this trip was well-timed. Escaping, isolating herself, disappearing, that's all she aspired to now. To drown in a crowd of strangers, to forget herself, to get lost in a language and culture she had no grasp of, no expectations. To remain alone with herself and forget the sordid daily life she had built for herself in Paris.

A steward passed along the aisle, pushing a cart filled with prepared dishes, likely too salty. He handed one to Ambre and wished her a good meal. She opened the tray and discovered a piece of beef, steaming and caramelized, atop compact rice.

Never had a dish seemed so tasty to her. Normally, she avoided all starch to control her weight. But what happens at ten thousand meters altitude is nobody's business. Taking a bite of the industrial meal reheated in the microwave, tears welled up in her eyes.

Suddenly, someone made their way to occupy the empty seat beside her. They were given another intact food tray.

"Would you mind sharing with me? I think I'll have a hard time eating anything."

Ambre froze, the plastic fork suspended in air. Occis' nephew was slumped in the neighboring seat. Dark eyes ringed with circles, anxious and sick because of the plane, Lucas pinched his nose at the smell of the meat.

"I understand now why you argued so much with Mr. Ishida on the evening of the inauguration. You negotiated tickets for yourself as well."

His unexpected neighbor gave her a look of sincere apology.

"I'm sorry, but I absolutely must go to Tokyo. And when Mr. Ishida asked if you needed an interpreter on-site for your conferences on ghosts, I seized my chance. A free trip to Japan, I couldn't let such an opportunity pass. But you can count on me to fulfill my mission. I've prepared the itinerary for our hotel, booked the restaurants, rented a Pocket Wi-Fi... However, I need to practice speaking about demonic possession in Japanese."

"Don't apologize," Ambre cut him off, swallowing a generous bite of the meal. "I had prepared myself to be alone, but I believe your presence reassures me greatly."

Hearing her tone of voice, Lucas stopped speaking. He started an American blockbuster on the small screen in front of him, without paying it any attention.

His loose sweater seemed much more comfortable than the long, tight skirt Ambre wore. She always placed all bets on her appearance, smoothed her hair every morning, wore clothes that showed how much her frail silhouette adhered to society's current beauty standards. Nothing should stick out. Never.

After a few minutes, Lucas nervously ruffled his brown hair and swung his feet in rhythm with the explosions from the action film of no interest.

"Come on, ask me the question that's been nagging at you," Ambre relented.

"Do I get any free time, or will I have to play my role as your interpreter for the entirety of the stay?"

"Outside the conferences, I imagine I'll manage fine in Tokyo without speaking Japanese for a week. You'll be completely free, don't worry. Do you have friends to meet there, places to visit?"

"Places to visit, yes."

Ambre returned her attention to the clouds, truly relieved by the surprising appearance of the interpreter. While he turned off the screen to review the specific Japanese vocabulary he would need to translate the conferences live, she let her mind fog over with memories.


Her childhood had not been the most conventional. But despite its shadows, she clung to it with all her might.

Every morning, the same ritual was tirelessly repeated. She opened the green shutters of her room to admire the sunrise over the vineyards. She caught the attention of the lazy cat lying on the stone terrace, and enjoyed the cool wind on her face.

When she entered the spacious and warm living room, her grandmother was always drinking a large bowl of black coffee, a cigarette slowly extinguishing at her fingertips. Their eyes met, and Rose gradually returned to Earth.

"You are my anchor. You prevent me from drifting towards distant, hostile places," she would say, putting down her cold bowl.

Ambre woke up in the morning to pull Rose out of her bad dreams. Her presence chased away the darkness, brought clarity and comfort. Ambre systematically rid the house of any object, photograph, or book related to the supernatural. Thanks to her, the house remained healthy and bathed in light. This role shaped her entire childhood, albeit unwillingly. Her reason for living was to give everything, to cling to the sketch of a smile, to a moved and fleeting look. No matter the sacrifices.

How could she find happiness in a merciless city like Paris, in the adult world, where humans took everything, without respecting others' limits?

Riding her bike, Ambre explored every path on the Île de Ré, searching for the ocean behind the white houses with colorful, flowered gardens. She ventured into forests, on the sand at low tide to bring seashells to Rose. All the streets looked alike, exuding the same charm. But she always found her way back, guided by the sea air.

Early on, Ambre started cooking hearty dishes for her grandmother. She prepared delicious fish with basil salt, lemon tarts, and iced teas. Between meals and excursions into nature, she took advantage of the house's well-stocked library to learn about the island's fauna and flora, but also to escape by immersing herself in treasure hunt stories.

Rose was known all over the Île de Ré, but Ambre took time to understand that her fame actually extended beyond the ocean she gazed at every day. She only knew that Rose rendered services to the island's inhabitants.

During her young years, Ambre had time to imagine everything. What if her grandmother transformed into a mermaid upon contact with the ocean and desperately wished to hide her true appearance from her? Ambre thus amused herself by dipping her feet in the water and praying to have inherited this gift. She confided in the hollow of the waves, whispering all her secrets to them.

Then she quickly set aside this hypothesis to imagine her leading a small school for witches, which would one day open its doors to her when she had grown up or proved herself worthy. But Ambre ultimately entered a primary school in La Rochelle, easily accessible via a huge bridge built a few years before her birth. She saw it as a gateway between her cozy nest and real life. Sometimes, the crossing was very difficult.

Car rides with Rose were always very stressful. The driver never looked at the road; Ambre always had to signal when it was necessary to stop, start, turn, park. Rose often said she didn't see cars in her mirrors, but the deceased victims of road accidents. Her headlights illuminated lifeless bodies broken on the concrete.

In hindsight, maybe Ambre deeply hated those ghost stories. Those invisible spirits that stole the attention of the person she loved most in the world. The walls could well shake, voices from beyond could scream in the attics, the possessed were free to levitate, Ambre just wanted to share her life with the one who was supposed to raise her.

On the first day of elementary school, she made a ton of friends without even opening her mouth. After her last name was read from the roll call, the children in her class all threw themselves at her, revealing the truth about Rose through loud, shrill screams. That day, Ambre discovered that her fantasies about witch schools and mermaids were curiously close to reality.

According to her classmates, her grandmother was what you'd call a medium, an expert in demonology, a clairvoyant woman. Faced with Ambre's bewildered look, the class representative launched into an exposition as precise as it was macabre.

Throughout her life, Rose had delved into various areas of the paranormal, phenomena unexplained by science. As a demonologist, she had studied the origin of demons, their mythology, and their function in the hierarchy of Hell. Apparently, there were arcane symbols, pentacles for making pacts with demons or subjugating them to our will.

In her career as a medium, she had acted as an intermediary, a bridge between the visible and invisible worlds. By transcending the limit of the five senses and with the aid of extrasensory perceptions, she managed to communicate with the dead. Succeeding in perceiving these invisible energies for the average person made her a clairvoyant.

However, Rose had never explored occultism, which involved the practice of alchemy, witchcraft, or divination.

Rose apparently believed that after death, the body was indeed reduced to dust over time, but the soul persisted.

The island's inhabitants called her if an object moved in their homes, if they heard the voice of a deceased relative in the middle of the night, or even if their dog stared too intently at a corner of the ceiling. Rose always managed to reassure the superstitious, to purify a house afflicted by paranormal events. Her name, Rose Balzart, had crossed French borders due to a terrifying drama she had investigated in Montmartre in the 1970s.

Over the years, Ambre ended up completely fading into the background. Her classmates wanted to hear Rose Balzart's stories, they wanted to visit Rose Balzart's house, to have the chance to exchange a few words with Rose Balzart. Her friends agreed to sleep over only if a secret séance was planned for 3:15 am, the exact time when the Amityville massacre had taken place.

As for Rose, as time passed, she became less capable of taking care of herself. Ambre didn't have time to think about her own problems, and nobody wanted to hear about them anyway.

She ceased to be herself to adopt two different faces. Rose's granddaughter, or Rose's ray of sunshine. Her grandmother meant everything to her.

Ambre's parents visited her every year on the Île de Ré, in May. Their suitcases overflowed with gifts for their daughter, literature, catalogs of various exhibitions. Their mouths overflowed with culture, fine dining, exceptional wines, theater outings, political and philosophical debates. But their eyes expressed nothing genuine, no emotions Ambre could cling to. With a fleeting, impatient, superficial look, they never stayed more than a week.

Jessica and Pierre had their baby in their thirties and were not at all ready to turn their backs on Parisian life. The cafes, the bookstalls, the meetings, the museums, the theater. For Ambre's "well-being," to ensure she had a calm childhood away from the capital's bustle, they had "left" her with Grandma Rose.

"What a chance, to enjoy nature," Jessica often repeated without really meaning it. Because without the beacon of the Eiffel Tower, the intellectual couple was deprived of their bearings.

Pierre and Jessica scorned Rose's ghost stories, but the money accumulated through mediumship, books, and interviews suited them well. As for Ambre, her grandmother's tales provoked no thrill in her. Spirits, voices from beyond, curses, paranormal investigations, none of it affected her. How could her grandmother believe in it so much, to the point of dedicating her body and soul to it?

"At my death, you will inherit this house. My world will belong to you, and you can do what you want with the tormented spirits that inhabit it. Embrace their suffering or ignore it."

Ambre never had the chance to solve Rose's enigma. Because one morning, she woke up, opened her green shutters to annoy the cat on the terrace. She felt the sun on her face but didn't see her grandmother in the living room. The smell of coffee didn't permeate the room. Her grandmother's nostalgic expression had extinguished forever, taken away in her sleep.

Ambre found herself propelled to Paris, thrown into the lion's den without even learning to defend herself. Her five years of literature studies had been nothing but a slide down a water slide into which her parents had pushed her. Her body battered at every turn she hadn't seen coming, the tepid and dirty water splashing her face to make her swallow the cup.

In her parents' home, for the first few months, she felt like a guest in a beautiful hotel.

Located in the Opéra Garnier district, a few minutes walk from the Louvre and its pyramids, Pierre and Jessica's apartment seemed straight out of a catalog. Large bay windows, armchairs, minimalist decor. No trace of the literary works that animated their debates. The bare walls were just waiting to support one of the paintings the couple so praised.

Pierre and Jessica were not the type to clutter. And after propelling Ambre into her small studio, they organized a poetry reading evening with their literary friends to celebrate their regained freedom.