"The beast stopped in front of the entrance with two giant monuments standing guard. He had been following the scent of Argence for the last two days, and her scent stopped here. The beast must find the whereabouts of the Moonflower tonight, because the flower could only live for 3 days after it got separated and disappeared from his sight, and the key to all this is Argence." Koguma read the script with a tone that is analogous to the situation going on in the play.
"This, is the Garden of-"
An actress with bluish green hair appeared in front of Shirogane. It almost made Shirogane stop breathing because he couldn't believe she would be in this play as well. She is the only person he could never get things to have it his way. Shirogane gulped and swallowed hard, but the actress' mischievous glare which shot through him didn't offer him any solace – she knew who he is. The woman in front of him is the school's chairwoman, Koharu Hoshizuki.
"Pramisanae," said the beast. He was trying very hard not to let his voice betray his feelings. There is fear and respect in his words.
"It's been a long time." The woman nodded and smiled at him. "How long was it? Ten? Twenty? Or was it fifty thousand years?"
The beast said nothing.
"Look at you," Pramisanae touched and felt him, "is this what you have become after that?"
The beast remained in silence.
"Where is she?" The curious woman looked around, then she looked sad as though she figured out the whole story. "Ah, I see! So this is why you are here!"
"Show me the way." The beast reminded himself that he should be careful with his words, but he couldn't control his anxiety.
"My, my, my! How cold of you to meet an old friend here, yet you speak to me as though I am a stranger who deserves your contempt. I am hurt. Should I remind you that my offer of friendship still stands?" Pramisanae's index finger was playing around with his fur.
"You should know," said the beast impatiently, "that I do not have a choice whether I like to be here or not." Shirogane would like to be done with the play as soon as possible. Not to mention that the woman standing in front of him keeps on giving him the chills – both on and off the stage.
"Of course, and you should know how much I'd like to help you. After all, I fancy you since the day I've set my eyes on you." She leaned closer and gave the beast a kiss on the forehead. "Very, very much." Then she took his paw into her hand and led him into the garden.
"Eons ago, before the existence of Chromatia, there was an era when the gods dwell on the land. They coexisted with humans, until the day when humans started to thirst for power and domination. The gods started to fear their greed, and they knew that it was only a matter of time before their powers will be sought and manipulated by the humans. So in order for them not to become adversaries of the human greed, the gods gathered and decided that they should use their powers to teach the humans a lesson. This garden, built by the goddess – Pramisanae – is one of the remains of gods' lesson to mankind." Koguma provided the context of the area to the audience.
"Look over there," Pramisanae pointed towards the crowd of people fighting in a distance not too far from them. These people were in a trance and they didn't seem to notice the two who just stumbled upon them. "People haven't learned the fact that their greed and desire will kill them in this garden of illusion," said the goddess with amusement.
"Why are you showing me this?" The beast couldn't understand what this goddess is doing. She has got all the time in this world, but he doesn't. Pramisanae loosened her hand and walked away from the beast.
"Wait!" Halcyon called after her, but she kept walking and disappeared into the verdant sea. "Dammit!" He swore at the goddess. "I have done this before and I can do it again!" He roared and slammed his fist into a tree nearby. He noticed a familiar scent and turned around his head around, but he couldn't believe what his eyes saw.
"Argence?" The figure shook her head and gave him a bitter smile.
Shirogane was once again in awe at Yahisa's costume. She looked as though she is the Joan of Arc. Her costume is still in silver like Argence's, however, instead of a silver dress with her hair in braids, she was clad in armor and her hair in a ponytail. As soon as Yahisa realized Shirogane was mesmerized by her new look, she blushed and averted her eyes from him.
"You are not Argence, you are-" The beast tried to search for this person's name without avail. He knew he probably met her somewhere, but he couldn't recall.
"It's okay, Halcyon." The girl tried to comfort him and reach out her hand to touch him, but she only caught herself – Halcyon withdrew from her before she could touch him. She looked disappointed for a moment and then resumed with her words. "Halcyon-"
"Don't call me that," the beast roared and interrupted her, "I don't even know who you are! I have a feeling I should know you, but I can recall nothing about you in my head, absolutely nothing!"
"It's okay, H-" The girl stopped herself before she made the same mistake again. "Why don't you consider me as a companion for now?"
"Hmph." The beast didn't say anything, he followed her quietly after that.
"The two kept on walking without exchanging a word. The beast knew it should be late in the afternoon already, but when he looked upon the sky that is crowded by the branches and leaves of the trees, he could feel the scorching afternoon sun shining down on him." The backstage crew immediately increased the amount of lights on the stage. "The beast surveyed his surrounding and saw a pond nearby. He felt nostalgic, but just like before, he couldn't understand why he felt this way."
"What's wrong?" The girl asked. "Are you tired? Do we need to take a break?"
"No," Halcyon replied coldly. "Let's move," he urged and the girl nodded in response.
"They resumed walking again in the garden. Just the same as before, they didn't speak to one another, even though the girl turned around every now and then to check on the beast as if she got something she wanted to say." Koguma spoke as the background on the stage switch from one scene to another. He could still remember how difficult it was for him to communicate with the props team what he wanted to do with the never ending garden on the stage. After a lot of thinking and considering, he suggested the idea of having a revolving board background which would allow the actors to stay in the same spot while they also appeared to be moving.
"Hold up," Halcyon called the girl in front of him. She turned around immediately but she didn't ask him what he wants. "What do you think you are doing?" The "moving" background stopped, it was the same background where the two were moments ago – the pond. "Is this a joke?" The beast pointed at the pond angrily.
The girl shook her head and told him that it wasn't her.
"Lies!" The beast was furious, he had enough of the goddess earlier, and now he is completely fed up with the situation. "You are the one who walks ahead of me!"
The girl shook her head again, but this time she spoke. "You should know this place better than anyone else-"
"What do you know about me!" The beast was scornful, he felt the more he progresses the less he understands.
Shirogane too, he couldn't understand what is going on. He asked for the script while Yahisa and Kouji were on the stage. He tried to remember what little he read, but Koguma simply told him that he should act annoyed most of the time and play by the ear. Shirogane wondered why Koguma never really asked him to memorize anything other than letting him know the "general" plot. "Perhaps it's part of the play?" He laughed at the ironic idea that came to his mind. "As if having a weirdo for the play isn't enough to put on a show."
"You will never get out of this garden," said the girl matter-of-factly. "At least not in the state you are in right now."
"What?" Halcyon sounded as though a death sentence has been handed to him. "Stop playing mind games with me! Say it, what is it that you want!"
"This place," the girl started explaining, "is a place that will respond to your desire, your greed. What you want is what you will see." She gestured to her head with an index finger to illustrate her point. She was calm and if she had been Argence, she would be severely intimidated by now.
"If what you are saying is true, then who are you?"
"I cannot answer that," the girl sounded sad for the first time.
Halcyon was speechless. He looked around carefully and understood why everything was familiar to him.
"However, I can tell you this: you cannot advance because you have unresolved issues." She looked straight into his eyes, and again, she pointed towards her head.
Yahisa's voice was stern and stoic that it seemed like an accusation towards Shirogane. Of course, she had no intention of doing that, but it just sounded like that to him. He knew something was wrong ever since he got into this play. Everything just felt so strange and foreign to him. It was as though there is some sort of magic on the stage that keeps on beckoning him to reopen the Pandora's Box which he tried very hard to seal away after it was opened the first time. He was wary of what happened to him when he mentioned the flower and he regretted for doing it. These feelings he tried to keep under control are behaving unexpectedly. He couldn't tell whether they would cause him to commit the same thing earlier or perhaps more.
"Shirogane-senpai," Yahisa whisper woke him up and reminded him that he is still on the stage.
The beast jerked his head up awkwardly. "Heh, so the other way out of this goddamn garden is to either end up in despair or die."
"Despair stems from hope," the girl answered without hesitation, "as long as you have desires, you will long for them and have hopes for them. The fact that despairs manifest is because people realized what they desire cannot come true. In other words, the existence of despair is the very proof that not all hopes were lost; the desire is still there deep inside." She pointed towards his chest where the heart is. "As for death, unfortunately, you as the demon king cannot die from natural causes, you can only be defeated."
"Hahaha," the beast laughed, "hahahahahahahaha!" It was hysterical with an undertone of sadness. "Then tell me! What can I do to get out of here? I don't know where she is, I don't know who you are, I don't even know what it is that I need to resolve! So tell me, if you are truly a part of me, then you will know what I seek and what I desire!"
"Look around you. Think about why you are here, who you are doing this for, and for what purpose." The girl pointed to her head the third time. "How were you able to get out of this garden?"
"I, I-" The beast clutched his head. "This garden-"
The girl didn't interrupt the beast. She sat down and watched him quietly and attentively.
Two children appeared several meters next to Shirogane and Yahisa on the stage. One was dressed gold and the other was dressed in silver. Shirogane wasn't prepared for his, so he was kind of glad the spotlights that had been shining above him followed those children. He gestured to Yahisa with limited movements and gave her a curious look. He couldn't tell who those children were because they had their wigs on. Yahisa whispered the names "Kanade" and "Shirabe", the twin younger sisters of Kanakubo.
"There you are!" It was Kanade, she offered her hand to her twin in gold.
"Why are you the one who can always find me? Why do you have to be the one who finds me?" Shirabe questioned. The child in silver tilted her head as though she didn't understand the question herself. "Whatever, this sucks. I'm leaving."
"Wait up!" The child took several quick steps to follow the boy in gold. "I-I promise I won't do that next time—"
"There is no next time. Go away."
"B-but I just-"
"Leave me alone, will ya? I'm tired of this."
"I-I'm sorry." The girl was disappointed by the boy's reaction, but she still tried to look happy with a smile. "I'll see you tomorrow?" The young boy turned around blushing and he looked at her wanting to say something, however, he decided not to and left. The girl waved behind him.
"There you are, my dear."
"Mother? Why am I the only one who could find him?" The girl reached for her mother's hand as they both watch the boy disappeared into the bushes of the forest. "Did I do something wrong, mother?" Her mother kneeled down and brushed her hair gently.
"No, you didn't, my dear," said the mother. She noticed the tears on the corner of her daughter's eyes and sighed. "No, you didn't." She repeated to her child once again and gave her a hug.
"Wh-what is this?" The beast couldn't believe what he was seeing before his eyes. "Is this my-"
"What do you think?" Yahisa circled around Shirogane.
"Was that you?" Halcyon's eyes followed the girl wherever she went.
"Maybe?" She answered. "Or maybe not?"
"Stop this!" He roared. "Just tell me how the hell I was able to get out of this goddamn forest!"
"All you needed to do is to come to terms with yourself – to be honest with yourself"
"That's just it?" The beast scoffed. He couldn't believe it was that simple.
"Indeed, but you haven't been able to achieve that so far." The girl said as a matter-of-factly. Her words pierced into the beast like an assault. The beast couldn't say anything to counter her.
"Hey," Halcyon spoke again after a moment of contemplation, "tell me one thing."
"That will depend on what you are asking."
"What color is this?" The beast produced several pieces of crystal shards on his paw. The girl didn't speak but she looked at Halcyon with surprise and joy. "These shards have been with me for a long time," he continued, "and every time when I want to get rid of them, something inside of me tells me I can't."
The girl looked at him but she was obviously moved by his question and her body shook uncontrollably. Halcyon noticed that, he didn't push her any further. The beast raised the crystal shards toward the sunlight and began speaking again, this time in a much softer and calmer tone. "There is a flower that I have been looking after for a long time amongst others, and there isn't a day that I live without being around it. Of course, not until what happened recently." He joked, and he couldn't believe he actually did what he just did. The girl nodded with a polite smile.
"I've never questioned the things around me. It was as though nothing other than the flower mattered to me. It seems that I have a purpose, but it was never the purpose. It wasn't until I started questioning myself with the color of the flower." He took his eyes away from the shards and looked at the distant flora and fauna in the garden. "Those are Coral Charms," he told the girl. Then he pointed to another set of flowers and told her they are Blue Cosmos. The girl nodded as the beast told her the names of the flowers close by.
"When people came by my garden, I'd ask them if they could tell me the colors of the flower. They could tell me all of them, except for one." The beast had gone silent. In fact, it was because Shirogane had forgotten his next few lines and he thought this seemed like a good place to stop with a dramatic pause. He looked at Yahisa anxiously hoping that she would follow up on his missing cues. Yahisa simply blinked in return and Shirogane cursed his "forgetfulness" inside his head.
"This can probably do nothing to help me get out of here, but I might as well be asking you this: What color are these shards on my hand?"
There is nothing Shirogane could do but to improvise again. He simply came up with the next "possible" thing the beast could've asked and ended it there. He wondered if Yahisa realized he was stuck earlier and what he said just now is a combination of the original line, or lines.
"T-they are-" The color of the word which came out of the girl has a nostalgic tone to the beast, even though he was unable to identify it. He repeated the name on the tip of his tongue to familiarize himself.
"Thank you," he said. The beast couldn't believe what he said after he thanked her. He was shocked and he stopped himself immediately. The girl couldn't control the tears flowing in her eyes – they were tears of joy.
By now, Shirogane was quite impressed with the ability of Yahisa crying on the spot. If he got his camera with him, he would've been contemplating whether to snap photos of her or let her fly into his arms – though he'll probably want both with more emphasis on the latter.
"Halcyon!" She wiped her tears, but they wouldn't stop. The beast ran up to her until he was stopped by her hand.
"Sorry, Halcyon." Her face was beet red and her voice was broken, but she was smiling at him. "Thank you."
"Stop! Wait! I didn't know!" The girl started to disappear. "If I had known, I wouldn't have-!" He took a deep breath, "I wouldn't have asked you that question. I would forget about finding the flower and remain in this garden of illusion with you. I would never let you go-!"
"It's okay. It's really okay." The girl comforted the beast in front of her.
"B-but I just-"
"This is the garden of illusion after all," she interrupted the beast without letting him go any further.
"I-I-" Halcyon was rendered speechless. He knew what she said was true. On one hand, if he had never recalled who she is, he would be stuck in his own desperation trying to get out of the garden and go after Argence. On the other hand, if he had recalled who she is and made peace with himself, to which he did, she will disappear and make way for him to the exit of this garden.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" She smiled at him like she did when she was a child. The beast understood it wasn't an invitation at all. She was just behaving the way he wanted her to be, and she was just saying what he wanted her to say. He wondered if she will stay for him, if he wanted her to. He quickly erased the thought, because he knew this isn't real. If he lingered on the thought longer, another representation of her would manifest in front of him, and this time he wouldn't be too sure he could convince himself not to stay in the illusion. The one he loved was long gone, and all this was just the works of Pramisanae and her garden.
"Yeah, I'll see you later." He waved at her and watched her until she was completely gone. Halcyon felt his heart. It was late, but he was glad he could remember who she is once again. At the same time, he felt sad that the one he saw was only a projection lodged within his sub-consciousness.
"It has been awhile since I saw her." It was Pramisanae, she stood behind Halcyon. Her hostility earlier was subsided but not gone. She sounded different and lonely. "I knew it meant trouble ever since the day she met you in this garden. She told me she found children her age and she was happy." She looked at the beast, studying his features. "Nothing could stop the two of you, not even a goddess and her magical garden. When you were young, you had no fear. You and your friends were mere fools who wandered into this garden. No matter how many times I tried to lose you in the garden, she will always find you. Even so, you two ended up together." Pramisanae sighed and recounted the events as though they happened not too long ago. "I tried to stop her when she wanted to go with you, but she wouldn't listen."
"Look, I'm-" The beast was halted by the same manner as he did before.
"Stop, I don't need it from you. She was serving her duty as the daughter of the tribe – she did this for Chromatia." She was angry. Her hands were made into fists and her knuckles turned white. "I was able to remember who she was because I am not a forgetful, greedy human like you and the rest of Chromatia! Everyday I have to watch you humans strolling in here, drowning yourselves in your greed, fantasies and desires! And there isn't a day I am not thinking about her! If I could, I would throw away my role as a goddess and live as a-" She thought about what she was about to say and knew how ridiculous she sounded both logically and as a goddess. Indeed, for a moment there she threw away her role as a goddess.
"Leave," the goddess pointed to the exit. "I don't want to see you anymore."
"The beast couldn't say anything and he started heading for the exit." Koguma's voice kicked in after a long absence without any narration. "He knew how much he hurt Pramisanae for what he had done. There was nothing he could do to make up for it. Halcyon knew the goddess could kill her, but she wouldn't, because then she would become the next demon king, and the only way for her to end her own misery is to wait for someone to defeat her. This was the first time Halcyon realized the demon king is the most miserable existence in the world – to survive means to be hurt or to hurt others. It is an endless world with an endless spiral of pain."
Koguma's last few sentences got to Shirogane again. He couldn't count how many times he had to be reminded of what he did. If he could scream, he would do it right then and there, but he wasn't about to do something like this. He wouldn't want anyone to know what he did. What he did was shameful and despicable. He knew if it were known to others, they would beat him up and shun him for the rest of his life. It would be quick of course, but what about her? She would be forced to relive the trauma again. Just like Pramisanae, forever and ever again for the rest of her life.
"When this is over," said Shirogane, "and if I am alive, you can do whatever you want to me. Your garden is my prison." It wasn't particularly therapeutic or cathartic, but Shirogane felt the need to say it. The headmistress raised an eyebrow to his words. He knew it probably mean little to nothing to those who had no idea what he meant. To him, however, it meant a lot. If Pramisanae's garden exists in real life, he wouldn't mind being chained in there and reliving every single moment of the events on that day.
"I will never forgive you," the goddess vanished the same time as her sentence was done.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to all of you who is still reading this! This is supposed to be done back in August, but my work schedule came in and August ended up extremely busy (along with several things that happened in life). I am very very grateful to those of you who are still reading this. I understand that my long absence could affect the interest in this fic, so it's perfectly fine if people ended up dropping this series. I apologize sincerely to everyone who is looking forward to this eagerly and checking the site for updates every single day.
Koharu, Shirabe and Kanade's appearance in this chapter isn't what I originally had in mind when I wrote the outline. As I revised the script several times, I figured I might as well add them into the play so that the fic wouldn't revolve only a handful of people. :p Pramisanae is an anagram to another word, if anyone's interested, please feel free to check it out. Hint: Her name is similar to what her garden does. There seems to be a lot of things in the play that aren't answered directly. I didn't bother with the explanation because I think they could be inferred with the reader's imagination. So to those who are still reading, I encourage you to use your imagination! XD And if you're stuck, the garden itself is the answer. I would like to explain more about the garden, but it appears I may spoil people with the story, as usual - pass!
KairaKara101: Yeah, the whole anime thing feels like 13 episodes to me as well. I would like to see all the games turned into anime, now that would be "complete"! Haha, I would love to ask what you anticipate the ending would be, but I think I'll have to save it for later. XD
The Pisces too lazy to log in: I tried to put more Shirogane's thoughts in this chapter without revealing too much. So I hope that you will be able to guess what might've went on in the past. And I agree with you there needs to be more fics with minor characters in them! XD
Sai: Yes, Koguma isn't supposed to know about anyone's past. Sometimes, there are things people say without meaning or pointing to something specifically. However, those who are mindful will try to relate everything to something. In this case, Shirogane knew he did something very wrong in the past, so when he took the role of the beast (who also did something wrong in the past), Shirogane was reminded of the things he committed. Although the nature of Shirogane's past offence and the beast are very different, they have both caused harm to those around them. So from time to time Shirogane collided his own identity with the beast during the play. I would like to go deeper but that would be spoiler, hahaha.