Edit: I filled in the swears, and I also remembered something about Iaret that needed to be corrected. Can any of you guess who she is? Because I may have given her a name, but she is anything but an OC. The only OC In this story is Zero.1, and that is actually still up for debate.
Chapter 2: The Ballroom and Central Staircase
The room beyond the door was utterly massive compared to the confined space of the cell they had been locked in. At one end of the hall was a giant staircase reminiscent of the one Junpei remembered from Building Q. It was brightly lit with electrical chandeliers instead of the torches they had seen so much of already. The floor looked to be white marble except for the large wooden dance floor set in the center of the room. The walls reminded Junpei of a fancy mansion built in the early Nineteenth Century, with decorative wooden panels going halfway up the painted blue walls. The ceiling had a sky design on it, painted a soft blue and complete with clouds. Odd pieces of furniture dotted the room. A fancy couch here, a soft-looking chair somewhere else. They had barely taken any of this in when they heard the voices:
"Look! Those must be the first doors," came a distinctly female voice. It was familiar, though he was sure he'd never heard it before.
"Would you be so kind as to tell me what numbers they are?" Junpei recognized this new male voice for sure, he knew exactly whom it belonged to, as he suspected, did Akane.
"Two, three and four," the familiar voice replied.
He gave Akane a look, giving a few quick glances towards the staircase. Akane nodded and they both ran off towards the stairs. Climbing quickly they found themselves in another hall similar to the one below, except that this one was covered from wall to wall with a thin green rug. There was still a wooden dance floor in the center of the room. Unlike the one below it, this hall had windows, spectacularly large bay windows at that. For some reason he couldn't see outside, despite the fact that soft moonlight appeared to be drifting in though them. There was an old gramophone sitting on an end table on the other side of the hall. Junpei couldn't tell if there was a record in it from his position on the opposite end of the room. There was another staircase; identical to the one they had just come up from, close by. There weren't any people here so they both decided to keep climbing. Once again the hall was nearly identical. There was no dance floor on this level however, and the thin green carpet simply stretched from wall to wall with no interruptions. That wasn't what they noticed about this area though; what they noticed were the five people standing at the far wall — facing a trio of doors emblazoned with numbers. They hadn't noticed Junpei and Akane yet.
One of them was dressed in a very noble looking outfit. He had very light brown hair, and was wearing a princely red coat, complete with tails. His white pants were elegant and had a red stripe on the outside of each leg.
Standing next to him was a girl with unmistakable pink hair, done up in ponytails on either side of her head. She had on a white blouse lined with pink fur, a white dress, and her boots were white and also had a furry pink lining. Junpei had no doubt as to whom these two people were: The boy was named Light, and the girl, his younger sister, was named Clover.
The next person to speak was a girl. Junpei recognized her voice as the one from earlier.
"So, do we have to verify?"
This girl was wearing a revealing blue belly dancer's outfit and wore some extremely expensive-looking jewelry. She had long black hair tied up into a ponytail. She reminded Junpeie very much of Lotus, except while she was in her mid-forties, this girl looked to be in her early twenties.
"Are you for real?" griped the pink haired girl, "Of course we're going to have to verify! No way for whoever's watching us to have fun without the prospect of some of us being turned inside out."
"Hey!" shouted another girl off to the side, "Don't talk to my sister like that you bitchy little shit!" her face was similar to that of the dancer-girl's. She was a bit more covered up and had her lair let down. For the sister of a belly dancer, she was a lot more…reserved, wearing beige cargo pants and a thick black sweater.
"You listen here," said the prince, his voice a harsh growl, "If I ever hear you talk to my sister like that again, you'll be wearing a reminder of it on your face! For days! You don't have to believe me, of course," he continued in his usual calm tone, "But I wouldn't suggest that you push your luck. I may be blind but I know exactly where you are, and could easily beat you senseless should a fight break out. He turned to face her just to emphasize his point.
"Uh, can we just maybe calm down?" pleaded the fifth person in the group. That was when a new voice interrupted.
"Hey everyone, there's an open door on the bottom floor, but it looks like it just goes to another one of those holding-cell halls. If anyone came out of it I don't know where they w— Akane!" A boy about Junpei's age, maybe a bit older ran up to them and threw his arms around Akane. He was about to pull the intruder off when he noticed something: The silver hair, ratty tank top, chains and black cloth ribbons gave it away.
"Saywhatnow—" shot 'Santa'. He hesitated slightly as he remembered his code name, "…Oh… Yeah… could you just call me Aoi? I don't feel like using codes right now."
By now, everyone was looking in their direction but Aoi didn't seem to notice the extra attention.
"I'm really glad you're safe Akane. Not so glad that you're here in this situation, but at least I know where you are now. So what are you doing with ol' whatshisname here…uhhhh…I know this…starts with a 'J'… Juniper…or something like that." Akane giggled. Junpei's left eye twitched and a vein pulsed in his forehead.
"I'm afraid you're somewhat mistaken Aoi," it was Light, although nine months ago Junpei had mostly known him by the code name 'Snake', "Points for getting the first three letters correct, but you mixed up the second half. It's good to meet you again Junpei."
"Well, I guess I'm glad someone remembered my name," he muttered, "Juniper isn't even a boy's name in the first place! In fact, I don't even think it is a name at all."
"Uh, to answer your question Aoi, Jumpy and I woke up in the same room. I think we both were fumbling around in the dark until he…accidentally groped me…" she would have blushed from embarrassment at the thought had Aoi given her time to do so. However this was not the case. He had instead jumped in front of Junpei and kneed him in the groin, getting a high-pitched squeal out of his sudden victim. Junpei had barely fallen over before Aoi grabbed him with his right hand, lifting him off the ground by the collar of his shirt.
"Accidentally, huh?" he hissed. His voice was soft, but that had only made him even more terrifying, Junpei's mind, having recovered from the underhanded strike, was racing, he tried making eye contact with anyone else, hoping to make a silent plea for help. He failed to do either.
"She cute enough for ya?" Aoi's voice had gone from a hiss to a snarl, and the others were slowly stepping backwards from the two of them. "You perverted fucker!" He pulled his free arm back.
Someone had grabbed his arm before he could let the punch fly.
"Akane…" Junpei was surprised to find that he was not the only one saying her name, though for a different reason entirely.
"Please, don't hurt Jumpy…" she whispered.
Aoi's face, a monstrous visage contorted by rage, slowly began to soften and Junpei was relieved to find himself hesitantly being lowered back to the floor. Aoi huffed in frustration as Akane tried explaining the incident to him. Eventually she stopped talking. There was a long and uncomfortable silence. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Everything was still.
That was when it happened.
With a crackle, an unseen speaker came to life, a voice coming from thin air.
"Welcome, honored guests…" it spoke slowly, the voice deep and distorted—obviously disguised by a voice changer. Searching for the source of the voice wasn't particularly difficult. The dancer's sister had quickly pointed to a wall-mounted speaker to the right of the three large double doors across from the landing, and they all rushed over to it. The voice spoke again:
"I graciously welcome you to my mansion."
"Hey!" Aoi shouted at the speaker, "Who the fuck do you think you are? You want to talk to us? Grow a pair and do it in person!"
The voice continued speaking, seeming to ignore Aoi's tirade:
"I am the one who invited you here: I am Zero Point One. You may call me Zero."
"Why did you bring us here!" the dancer demanded. She was graced with an answer.
"I have brought you here to play a game: You should all be familiar with this game, most of you having played it at least once before: A Nonary Game."
'Tell us something we don't know,' thought Junpei, 'Irremovable watches and numbered doors; what else could it be?"
"I shall give you a short summary of the rules," Zero continued, "In this game you will be faced with situations that may put your life at risk. To win, you must overcome these obstacles, you will never reach these obstacles however without going through a numbered door. Only three to five people may enter a numbered door at a time, and to enter a numbered door, the numbers of the people going through it must be a digital root equal to the door's number."
Everyone turned towards the three double doors. The closest one was emblazoned with the number 4, followed by 3, and then 2.
"From what I know of the previous Nonary Game, only four of its players actually had bombs in their stomachs. I assure you that this technicality has been corrected for this game. I shall remind you that the only thing that will trigger the bombs' countdowns to start is by passing through a numbered door; if everyone who verified with the Recognition Device, or 'RED' to open the door does not also verify with the Deactivation Device, or 'DEAD', within eighty one seconds of passing through the door, your life, or lives, will end…rather messily."
It almost sounded as though the distorted voice found some sort of sick humor in this. Such thoughts frightened Junpei and he tried not to dwell on them.
"Just to clarify the matter, verification is achieved through placing one's palm on the face of the RED and DEAD. The watch is your detonator, and whenever it senses that you have passed through a numbered door, it will begin the countdown. Also, if you try to remove it forcibly it will also trigger the bomb inside you to explode immediately. As with all Nonary Games, you will be given nine hours to escape this building. After nine hours this mansion will collapse, leaving anyone inside trapped in the rubble. That is all the information I can give you. I wish you all the best of luck."
The speaker shut off and the room was silent once again.
"Okay, what are we doing? Stop standing around and let's get organized damnit!" It was Aoi, impatient as usual, "We need to know each others' names for one thing. We won't get very far if we can't communicate easily. Trust me, if any of my past experiences with these twisted games, Whoever Zero Point One is knows exactly who we are anyway, so it's okay to use our real names.
Junpei was a bit shocked that it was Aoi doing the mediating. After all, he himself had gotten everyone together last time, 'sodon'tlethimhogthespotlight!' a part of Junpei thought. "Aoi's right," he spoke up, "Let's get some names here. I'll start; I'm Junpei…I would appreciate if you called me that and not…anything else," he shot an unimpressed look at Aoi, "and this is my second time being put through a Nonary Game. My number is '5', and I'm going to write this down so that everyone knows everyone else's number. Who's next?"
Aoi was the second to speak.
"Hey, my name's Aoi, don't wear it out. My number's '3', and this is my third time dealing with this Nonary shit. Akane over there is my little sister."
Akane decided that she had to be the next to speak.
"Hello," she said a bit uncomfortably, "M-My name is Akane…I-I-I'm number '6'. Aoi's my older brother, and I've played the Nonary Game t-twice a-already s-so this'd be my third time too. Actually, I was k-kind o-of the host of the second time, but I don't want to have to explain all the reasons behind having to do that. I understand if you d-don't trust me because of this.
Noticing the three dirty looks being directed at her as she said this, Junpei decided to speak up for her.
"Don't worry, she had a very good reason for hosting that game. Me, Aoi, Light and Clover can all vouch for her," there were four nods from the mentioned people as he said this.
Akane blushed fiercely but still smiled at them, "Thanks, a-all of you. I-I don't deserve this though."
"Don't be so hard on yourself Akane," said Aoi calmly, "you'll end up hurting yourself."
She smiled again, still blushing, but not particularly uncomfortable anymore.
The princely young man took the opportunity to cut in here, "I'd like to let everyone here know that my name is Light. Clover here is my younger sister. This is also my third time playing this game. Just to make sure that everyone knows, I happen to be blind, but do not let yourselves think that I'm at any sort of disadvantage because of this. I'll get along just fine as long as I can hear. My number is '2'. Go ahead, Clover."
The pink haired girl stepped forward from her brother's side, "I'm Clover. Light's my big brother, and this is my third time doing this too… Oh yeah! I'm number '4'."
There was momentary silence before someone else spoke: it was the Dancer.
"Hi, I'm Nona. This is the second time I'm being put through a Nonary Game. My sister here's Ennea. I'm number '8'. Do I have to say anything else?"
"…No…I guess not…" said Junpei hesitantly.
"Good, 'cause I'm not gonna. Your turn Ennea."
Nona's sister stepped forward.
"I'm Ennea, and let's just say that I'm number '1' in more ways than that particular number. This is my second time putting up with this Nonary Game crap. So… now we're all just waiting for you pretty boy."
The boy with the long brown hair looked offended for a moment, but then he sighed and just spoke.
"My name's Geoffrey. This is also my second time at this, and I'm absolutely sure that this is not my favorite game. Anyway, I am uhh…number '7'.
"Okay, that's everyone?" asked Junpei. There were nods from everyone except for Akane.
"I think that we missed someone," she said softly pointing towards the stairs. There, sitting at the landing was a figure in a thin white robe. No one in the group could see the person's face as his or her back was turned to the rest of them and the hood of the robe was up. Slowly, Clover walked over to the person and tapped them on the shoulder.
"Hey, what's your name? You are coming with us right?"
"Leave me to be in peace," the figure said softly. The voice was distinctly female, and she had a heavy Middle Eastern accent.
The woman turned around so that she was still half sitting on the stairs and removed her hood revealing a relatively young face, framed by black hair fitted with numerous beads and other ornaments. Her robe covered her whole body except for her face. It had baggy sleeves, and the hood rested in a pile behind her head.
"C'mon, we just wanna know who you are," insisted Clover.
"You wouldn't know me. What does it matter?"
Clover looked dumbstruck and she seemed to bristle with sudden indignation.
"It matters because we all wanna get the hell outta here! Junpei! What are the numbers of everyone we counted?"
"Well…the only person we don't have is number '9', so I'm guessing—"
Clover didn't wait for Junpei to finish before grabbing the robed woman's right arm and pulling her sleeve up. Sure enough, there was a numbered bracelet that read '9' on her wrist.
"So, you're number '9'?" demanded Clover, "then you have to come with us because you're pretty much the most valuable number here! You can go into any room you want with anyone you want because '9' never changes the digital root.
"I told you to let me be alone," said the woman. She was a bit more forceful this time, though she was still soft-spoken.
"Why do you want to be alone so much anyway?" asked Junpei, his tone curious.
"If you must know, I am grieving for a momentous loss," she said. Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"What happened?" asked Clover, "Did you lose someone important to you?"
The woman stood up and this time her voice truly rose in volume and hostility, "Everyone in my entire civilization is dead! Have I satisfied you in your need to question me!" her tone was demanding and her eyes burned furiously as she stared into Clover's.
"I…don't think I've heard of any widespread disasters or genocides in the past several years though," mumbled Junpei, "Where do you come from?"
The woman huffed and glared at him for a moment before a look of defeat spread across her face.
"My name is Iaret, I come from Egypt where I was a priestess to the goddess Amun-Ra.
"Wait a minute…I know you. Clover, you should also recognize her. I don't know why I didn't see it before! You're that woman that we found hitchhiking out of the Nevada Desert nine months ago!"
"If by that you mean I was looking to find a ride in one of those mechanical vehicles so that I could get to the nearest village, then yes, that was I. What I found terrified me! The urban town to which you brought me was full of foreign objects and things that I had never seen before: Buildings that went into the sky! Rooms with lanterns on the ceiling that would light at the touch of a tiny lever! Nothing in this world you live in makes any sense! I—"
"Stop!" Akane interrupted her rant, "What did you say you were?"
"A priestess…is that so strange—"
"A priestess to whom?"
Akane's eyes widened and her mouth hung open ever so slightly, but she regained her composure quickly enough that no one could have noticed her shock. "Hmm, I see…" she responded slowly.
"But nobody's worshiped Amun-Ra in thousands of years…" Akane mumbled to herself, "Who is she?"
"Look," suggested Junpei, "I want to find out more about…Iaret too, but let's give her some time to cool down and we can take another quick look around here."
"Fine by me," said Aoi aloofly.
"Okay," the sisters agreed in unison.
Geoffrey just nodded.
"I'll be content to wait here while Clover goes ahead," said Light, "I wouldn't be of very much use trying to look at anything now would I?"
Clover rolled her eyes at her brother, who surprised everyone the moment after her eyes came to a stop.
"Clover, you know that's rude; don't roll your eyes."
"How does he do that?" asked Junpei.
"Not telling," giggled Clover jovially, "That secret is for me and my brother to know and you to pace the floor over."
"Yeah, let's get going," said Junpei. That quick exchange never happened after all. He didn't need to feel awkward about it.
Junpei stuck close to Aoi and Akane as they scoured the three ballrooms for anything that might help them later on. It was about half an hour before they eventually met back up with the group. They didn't have very much to go on, but they did have something; between the eight of them they had found four more doors, all locked, but with strange symbols on them: A set of double doors at the back of the hall on the second floor had a simple castle emblem engraved on them. There was a door on the top floor as well, and was most notable for possessing the only symbol that any of them recognized above its keyhole; the planetary symbol of Earth. On the first floor there was a door in the otherwise solid bottom set of stairs. It was emblazoned with what appeared to be an eye, but it was blurry, as though it were being viewed from within a veil of thick fog. Last there was a door close to the gramophone on the second floor that was connected to a card reader that had a simple mountain depicted on it. Not having any of the keys on hand, and without the first clue as to what the symbols might mean, they decided it was time to go through the numbered doors, which was just as well, seeing as Iaret seemed to have stopped moping and was now standing by the door labeled '2'.
"So, we should split into three groups of three," ordered Junpei, "That's the only way for us to all progress while also covering the most ground. Now for the hard part: Who's going through which door?"
As Junpei said this, Nona seemed to nonchalantly take a step closer to Ennea. Clover simultaneously got a tight grip on Light's arm.
"We have three choices; '2', '3' and '4', so what'll it be guys?" Junpei asked again. Light was the first to speak:
"I think I will go through door number '4'."
"Then I'm going with you!"
He had barely finished speaking before Clover had interjected.
"Clover, Junpei happens to be right here so you don't have to shout," he observed, "And there's no need to be so hasty either."
"Ya think so, huh?" Clover demanded, "Well I happen to remember exactly what happened the last time we split up!" she was practically in tears.
"Okay!" Junpei interrupted being as sensitive as it was possible to be without being polite, "We've got our first choices! Geoffrey, your name was? You're going with them. You're the only one who can go with them to get the right digital root."
"Huh? Lucky for me then," Geoffrey said with a grin, "I was hoping to go through '4' anyway."
"I'm sticking with my sister," Nona declared forcefully. Junpei didn't complain. It wasn't because she was glaring daggers at him either; more because she was glaring full-length broadswords at him. She was daring him to disagree. So he could let them stay together, or he could split them up. Junpei chose the option that gave him a more likely chance of keeping his balls attached to his body. As opposed to otherwise.
Aoi spoke up.
"Guess that means I'm going with them to do door number '3'," he said passively, "good. I wanted to keep an eye on the newbies anyway."
This comment was followed up by a high-pitched squeal as Ennea smashed her knee into his crotch.
"What?" he shrieked, "What do you even mean by that? Whatthehellwasthatfor?"
"Eyes on them, Aoi, youreyes on them," Akane explained simply while holding back a giggle. Aoi just groaned and continued clutching his groin on the floor.
"That just leaves the three of us I guess," said Junpei, gesturing at Akane and Iaret.
"Praise be to Ra," Iaret sighed in relief, "I was worried that I might have been needed to be grouped with those lunatics going through the '3'rd door."
"I don't think that would have worked for any of these doors though…" Akane mumbled in a sad tone.
"Okay then!" Junpei announced, "We've got our three groups: Clover, Light and Geoffrey will be taking door '4', Aoi, Nona and Ennea'll be going through door number '3', and I'll be joining Akane and Iaret in door '2'." Are we ready to go and do we all understand the rules?" He got nods and various words of agreement in response.
"All right then! Let's get going!" he and Akane verified with the RED on the wall next to door number '2' and Iaret hesitantly followed their example. Junpei pulled the lever on the side of the RED. The heavy metal doors swung open with an ominous groan. If this was going to be anything like the last Nonary Game those doors would close in nine seconds. He didn't waste time; he looked at Akane, nodded, and took hold of Iaret by her wrist, leading her through the soon-to-be-closed doors, Akane following close behind. They passed the threshold into another hallway. They were immediately greeted by a cold beeping sound coming from their numbered bracelets. Junpei raised his right arm, and sure enough his bracelet now displayed a flashing red skull overtop the number '5'.
They had eighty-one seconds to find the DEAD.
Eighty-one seconds left to live.