Prologue: The Open Door
The day had not started off well, and it had only been going downhill from there. A grey, dreary sky had met him when he woke up in the morning, and just as he had left for school a sort of hybrid of a clinging mist and a half-hearted rain began to sort of drift to the ground. It was a rather depressing sort of precipitation, in that while it still had all the misery of soaking you to the bone, it had not the energy to make up for it. It was as if the weather was tormenting you out of apathetic boredom rather than actual maliciousness, which made it all the worse.
Continuing with the motif of the universe casually toying with him, somewhere along the line one of the tires for his bike had developed a slow leak, gradually making it harder and harder to push the pedals and guide it, until finally he had given up and hauled it over to a pedestrian tunnel running beneath a roadway. The weary drizzle floating in the air made it hard to actually escape the cold water, but at least there was a light in the tunnel that gave him a better view than outside. Sort of. The off yellow bulb had a tendency to flicker whenever a car passed overhead, making the illumination sporadic at times.
All in all the day seemed constructed to annoy him, and he knew that it was only going to get worse. While technically not late for first period yet, there was no way he would get to class in time, meaning that when he did arrive he would get chewed out by his teachers for being late. And of course, no matter how well the school administration accepted his reasonable excuse of getting a flat tire pretty much exactly half way between his home and the school, the bane of his existence would inevitably treat his lateness as some sort of personal affront.
Then she would probably sulk and he and the others would probably have to figure out some way to cheer her up before she tried to destroy the universe.
Some days, especially on a day like today, it did not pay to be called Kyon. Especially since that wasn't exactly his name and now that he reflected upon it he knew that he would find it especially annoying today and Haruhi would find some reason to use an endless repetition of "Kyon-kun! Kyon-kun!" and as usual he would be limited in his ability to tell the spoiled, bratty, hyperactive destroyer and creator of worlds to just shut up.
Still, as Kyon fought with his tire repair kit in the poorly lit, damp tunnel, he made very, very certain that he did not even think that things could not possibly get worse. He was enough of a pessimist to know that things could easily get much worse, enough of a cynic to know that things would get worse, and enough of a realist to know that tempting the cosmos, especially when it already had it out for you, would not improve the situation.
Unfortunately, fate was being enough of a bitch to take his lack of invitation for a smiting as a sign of hubris and decide to give him a whole knew dollop of pain and suffering.
Kyon first knew something was wrong when the rain immediately behind him ceased its irregular patter. Turning about, Kyon discovered Yuki standing behind him wearing a rain smock with an umbrella in her hand. At first Kyon was relieved, but then he noticed that her normally emotionless and impassive face had a hint of concern and worry, perhaps even a smidgen of fear. To those that knew Yuki, this was somewhat like seeing a normal person running about in a blind panic with their hands waving in the air screaming bloody murder.
"We must leave," Yuki told him.
"Yuki, what's wrong? I…" Kyon began to ask something when he suddenly saw Yuki's face flash with fear and anger, her focus shifting from him to something behind him. Whirling about, Kyon discovered another person in the tunnel.
The person was wearing a somewhat garish purple and blue raincoat, the hood pulled up over the head and the whole body slouched forward while simultaneously leaning up against a wall, as if it were a chore simply to stand. The hands were slung in the pockets of the coat, again as if even letting the arms hang from the shoulders was simply too much effort. From the angle the person's face could not be seen, and so voluminous was the coat that it was impossible to even tell the gender.
With a sort of awful slowness, not from anything particularly ominous but because the motion felt poorly scripted, the figure turned its face towards the two SOS Brigade members, revealing an androgynous but slightly more male face concealed behind a pair of thick, dark sunglasses, incongruous with the dark, steel skies above. The face split into an ugly, lopsided grin that felt absurdly forced, almost as if someone else was trying to force the expression with their fingers.
The person then chuckled, producing a weird, atonal sound, before the person, tentatively labelled as a 'he', said in a choppy, disjointed manner, "I see simple hellos are not welcome here."
"They are to your kind," Yuki replied coldly. Already strongly suspicious that this had something to do with Haruhi, Kyon now knew for certain.
"Do I really scare you that badly? Is my presence here the dark mirror for your kind?" The man… thing… whatever asked.
"We are nothing alike," Yuki replied coldly. Normally everything she did was cold, or at least cool, but this was like comparing dry ice to a snowball: both were cold, but only one would burn when thrown at you.
"Your denial only tells me you know how lucky your kind is in comparison to my kind… and how limited as well," the man replied.
Getting somewhat annoyed, Kyon finally interrupted and asked, "Who or what are you?"
Yuki responded, "It is an extra-dimensional entity, one from another set of realities that the Integrated Data Entity has only recently become aware of. It is… malevolent."
The thing canted its head to the side awkwardly, as if attempting to affect an air of bored disdain but not quite getting the motions right. Sighing, it said, "Those are our cousins, we are not so uncaring."
"What about the man whose body you stole?" Yuki accused.
"His mind is being entertained as an honoured guest within the palace of my master. We are not so fortunate, as always, as to be able to simply form 'humanoid interfaces' at will," the thing said.
Kyon looked at the man again and he realized that all of the creepy awkwardness could be said to stem from the fact that it looked like the mind controlling it was unfamiliar with the skin it was wearing. Seeing his stare, the man reached up and removed his glasses. The reason for their presence became immediately obvious.
Instead of eyes, there were only empty pits filled with blackness, and perhaps, if you stared too long at them, tiny twinkling stars that should not have had room to exist. It was an eerie, disturbing sight that was mercifully cut short by the thing returning the glasses to their position on its face, but what had been seen could not be unseen and Kyon felt a shiver creep up his spine that could not be blamed upon the weather.
Not even the homicidal Ryoko had displayed anything quite so sinister, and perhaps only the monsters conjured up by Haruhi in Closed Space during her blackest moods could approach the inhuman malignancy that now radiated off of the creature.
"If you truly care at all, the man will be returned unharmed to his body after we have finished our conversation. His destruction would not serve us, and we have no desire to antagonize any of you. We merely wished to ask a favour of you, and it is not one that would be truly onerous or odious," the thing said.
"His kind lies. Do not listen to him," Yuki warned.
Snickering harshly, the thing replied, "And what if our request was that you keep doing what you are doing? Would that cause you to immediately go out and tell Haruhi everything simply to be contrary to what we asked?"
Yuki frowned before she said, "Your kind always have ulterior motives."
"But of course. For now though, it is entertainment. We get a cheap laugh or two out of your various misadventures handling your young, immature goddess. We have no intention of disrupting the delicate balancing act you maintain, not when it is so amusing to watch. No, we merely wish to ask for permission to travel through this dimension," the thing said.
"Why?" Kyon asked suspiciously.
"Your goddess has altered this reality so that those who know how can slip through. We intend to use this reality as a transit hub of sorts, allowing us to slip through to other realms, other possible realities. Unfortunately, should your goddess alter the rules again, we would no longer have such an opportunity open to us. Pragmatically, we wish to spread to other realities as a form of back-up plan, but really, we are in a lull phase of our own operation back home and it would amuse us to no end to explore infinity," the creature replied.
"So you want to conquer the universe," Kyon said flatly.
"Just our own, and if you knew it, you would agree that it needs conquering. Where we come from is not a nice place, not a nice place at all," the thing said.
"Your kind makes it that way," Yuki accused.
"As I said, those are our cousins, who incidentally, we are offering, one time only, to keep away from your lovely reality. They are far less subtle, yet far more experienced with trickery, and no where near as benevolent as my kind. Also, as extra-dimensional travellers, we are ultimately unaffected by your goddess. Oh, scouts and agents might perish during a reality rewrite, and the doors might be barred to us, but ultimately neither we nor our less compassionate brethren actually care what happens here," the creature replied.
Kyon shuddered in mute terror. Assured destruction was what had held the various factions in line and prevented any overt action around Haruhi, but evil outsiders with no concern for casualties added a whole new level of horror to the calculations.
"What would your 'cousins' do if they got here?" Kyon asked.
"They would destroy us," Yuki stated.
"Correct. There are those who would immediately want to charge in and cause all sorts of death and destruction, the streets running with rivers of blood and that sort of thing, all very cliché and predictable. Haruhi would probably panic under such a situation and realize that having alien invaders from another dimension slaughtering her friends is not something she would want and rewrite this world into something far more bland and boring. And then there would be the others who would seek a more indirect approach, who would seek to change her," the creature then lifted one of the man's hands out of the pocket of the jacket. At first it was normal, but then with a sickening crunch the bones started to warp and break, the flesh splitting open to release jets of iridescent flame. Bits of burning, molten fat dripped from the limb for a moment until it all sealed up and returned to normal.
"How would you like it if Haruhi was informed of the sort of goddess she truly is and then convinced that she deserves to be worshipped, that she deserves sacrifices made to her? Or how would you like it if she was convinced that whips and chains and leather and piercings in sensitive places sound like a fun time and everyone should join in? Or all of a myriad of other possibilities, of ways that she could be corrupted. Every human vice and weakness and flaw and negative aspect that you can think of, my kind, and our cousins more so, can exploit and magnify. It would be so easy too with someone like Haruhi. But we do not want that, we merely wish to explore. So what do you say? We leave you alone and keep the nastier members of the cosmos off your back, and you leave us alone and keep Haruhi happy like you have already been doing?" The thing asked.
"Why are you asking us?" Kyon asked back.
"Well, technically Haruhi should be the one we're asking, but that entails a certain unpredictability we do not desire, so it falls to her 'handlers' to ask permission from. Of course, all of the SOS Brigade should be here, but Itsuki is both particular strong and particularly vulnerable against me, so he won't come within a hundred metres of my position, and Mikuru is rightfully terrified of what I am and what I represent, so I ask you two, knowing that you can speak for the group," the creature replied.
Yuki looked at Kyon in a sideways manner for a moment before she said, "You are not to be trusted… but the Data Integration Entity trusts you more where you are visible. We will not act against you."
Kyon looked at the thing warily before he said, "I agree, I don't trust you, but I don't know how to stop you from doing something worse if you don't get your way."
"Excellent. A pity that we could not work more directly, but here the deities do not know their own power, unlike where I come from. If you need anything, you two, or any other member of the Brigade, can simply say my master's name three times and a representative will be sent to you," the thing said.
"What is your master's name?" Kyon asked.