Prologue 1: Awakening from a false dream
I'm dreaming. I rarely do that, but I'm dreaming.
I don't like dreaming. I can never remember anything specific, only indefinite emotions.
They make me sick. I feel as if I'm a statue in a lonely temple, capable of thinking but unable to move. Alone.
Alone. Alone. Alone.
This is why I don't like dreaming. I want to wake up. I want to wake up. I want to wake up!
But, I wonder...wake up from what–
In the formless darkness, I am.
I'm not waiting. I was not. I will not be.
I am. The King is absolute.
For eons I rested in this sea in the Core of the Moon. Not my favorite idea of afterlife, but is better than pure oblivion. My Friend is here, so I don't need anything else.
I own everything in this world. What there is that I don't have?
From time to time I observed those things... Those contests created from that Eye, calling the ones who lived only in the memory of my glory, linking them to greedy magi searching for a miracle.
What a bunch of mongrels. All of them. I'm the only True Hero and my Friend is my only equal. None of those fakers can compete with me.
Sometimes one of them tried to call for me. I didn't even bother to answer them, or to watch the Eye delete them for their failure.
Why I should care? Not one of them is worth my time, my attention. My Friend participated in some of them and told me it is fun, but I can't stand being tied to some weakling.
And yet I'm bored. Bored to death. Not one of them is worth my time but after eons this existence is too dull.
Aaahh, I want to find something interesting...
Where is the belfry?
In that moment, gentle days end.
Days Remaining: 0
I always awaken very abruptly. I don't even think I dream. I suddenly find myself walking to school. Not that I want to dream, but it's too weird remembering only my school life. It isn't even exciting/It isn't even real.
My headache worsens day by day, until it finally buzzes in my head like an alarm. I think it will kill me sooner or later. How one dies from a headache? Can the pain grow so much it splits your head apart? Must be funny to see. Or not.
That day. In potent numbness, I wake up twice as fast as normal. Why am I bothering to go to school if I'm so sick? And yet, before I can think about it I find myself standing before my school. Tsukumihara Academy. A normal school. A normal place. Nothing remarkable.
I walk to the schoolyard. It's clear and cloudless, 7:30 A.M. But...what season is it...?
When I try to recall what season it is, I start to get so dizzy I almost pass out. It's not winter because the air is not cold. Is it autumn, spring, or maybe even summer? I can't tell, but thinking about it make me want to throw up.
I may wind up back in bed if I let go and faint. But something forces me to endure the nausea and look ahead.
For some time, I have been embracing a rush of useless information. The normal stuff you'd see at a school, like the hustle and bustle of my classmates by the entrance. No, there is no such a thing as useless information. Someone–
I don't remember who.
–told me that the Devil is in the details. Observe the world. Analyze. Compare. Judge. And you will see the Truth. I see and I don't like what I'm seeing.
It hasn't changed.
The same people. The same positions. The same faces. The same gossips. For four days counting today...
It hasn't changed.
–When I push the thought, my field of vision fizzles and my headache threatens to make me faint. So I give up.
Today/Again today, there's a crowd of students milling in front of the school gate, and more are being directed that way.
As to what's going on–
There's a boy in a black uniform wearing glasses in front of the school gate. His uniform is black because he is part of the student council. Mine is brown.
He's my friend/as I recall.
He's Issei Ryuudo/as I recall.
I remember this from the first time. When Issei notices me looking at him, he pushes through the crowd.
"Good morning! Lovely weather we're having, don't you think?"
The same phrase every morning.
"Hmm? Why do you look surprised? We announced at last week's assembly that this month the student council would strictly enforce school rules."
He runs through his spiel, as if this was the first time he'd ever disclosed the information. I already know this.
I know it. I already know what happens. It's happened more than once.
Every. Single. Morning.
I'm seized by a headache. I'm so dizzy I feel like I'm being forcibly logged out of my consciousness. I don't know how I can still standing.
"First, let me check your student ID. I shouldn't need to remind you, but it should be on you at all times."
His voice soothes the pain. I hand over my student ID.
It's so obvious now.
I answer clearly to the question that usually makes me go dizzy.
My name is Hana Hashimoto, a sixteen year old girl and second-year student of Tsukumihara Academy.
Hana: flower. Hashimoto: the base of a bridge. Many say is a beautiful name. Others, manly males, joke about the double H of my initials. Perverts. I usually kick them in the ankles. I'm just a normal girl with long wavy hair and eyes. Beneath my uniform I wear a black turtleneck, black leggings and a modest blue ribbon.
"Great. There's no telling when an emergency might occur, and it will be a help if you have your ID."
I feel nauseous, and I know it has nothing to do with what I ate for breakfast this morning. I don't even remember what I had in the first place!
I feel nauseous because of the world around me.
It's repeating itself over and over, and that's making me sick–
"Now for the uniform inspection...Collar check! Pants hems, check! And your socks...check!"
I can't take it anymore.
I want him to get out of my way. I want this repetition to stop. I push him aside and go forward. I'm not nice about it, either. But I don't care: I'll apologize later.
"Next is the contents of your bag...Notebooks, textbooks, pencil box! Not even a whiff of contraband. Your nails are evenly cut, and your haircut is sensible. Indeed, quite remarkable. You're a model Tsukumihara Academy student."
I turn. He keeps on talking loudly, even though he's facing no one. Like an actor/Like a doll.
Him, and all the other students, are wrong/are false. I run away.
I have a headache. I'm shivering. I know one thing for sure.
This is wrong. This is not the school I know! It can't be!
I have to go. I have to hurry and wake up. Or else it will be too late.
But, who am I– awakening for–
Somehow, I make it to my homeroom...just barely. I enter.
And the first person I see is Shiji Matou verbally abusing like usual that black haired guy.
God, now I'm really thinking about ditching school. Or jump out through the window. Anything to avoid the jerk. Once he tried to hit on me with his smug expression and the air of someone who is buying some high-quality jewel.
He didn't walk straight for three days.
I ignore the two of the and sit down. This will be a long day.
My anxiety and headaches are only getting worse. Afternoon arrives while I desperately try to find a way to escape this bizarre situation.
Leo, the new student, disappeared in the middle of the class. And no one, NO ONE seemed to care. When he put Matou in his place without even get angry I almost forgot my sickness. I have to try that technique one day.
As is now the norm, my vision is overlaid with some kind of unnatural distortion, like a buzzing television. But now I understand the core of it.
Uneasiness. Futility. Emptiness.
I want someone to explain to me the true nature behind all of these feelings swirling inside me. There must be a key somewhere. Something that will have the answers to all of my questions.
"Man, where is everyone? It's like a ghost town around here. Things are getting weird..." A female student mutters.
Weird is not enough of a word to describe the situation. Nightmarish is more appropriate.
I pass next to where Matou sits. Shinji's desk is disturbingly organized, a reflection of his obsessive-compulsive personality. Mine is just plain: inside the desk is a bunch of textbooks, random junk, and a Mr. Tiddles plushie. I instinctively grab the lion-like peluche and put it inside my jacket. I am fond of it and for some reason I have the feeling that, should I leave it here, I'll never see it again. I leave the classroom.
The moment I step foot on the first floor, my feelings of unease intensify. I scan the area and, down the hallway to my right, there is a student wearing a red Uniform...Leo, the new transfer student.
The instant I lay eyes on him, I immediately feel intimidated and humiliated. Why? He's done nothing wrong to me. He behaves like a high-class noble, which he is if I'm not mistaken, towering over us humble mortals, but he has never been arrogant.
I don't like him, I decide. He's a good guy and I have nothing against him, but he and I can never get along. It's just how we are. There is also someone trailing behind him. It looks like...one of my classmates...that black spiky hair! He's the guy who hangs out with Shinji. Neither of them seem to notice me.
The more I think, the more I realize that Leo isn't the only anomaly I've come across while on campus. There are other things that seem...off...as well. I simply could not think clearly about it before. But now, despite the pain, all of them connect in my head and form a pattern. It's becoming clearer now.
There are people who shouldn't exist. Students that mysteriously vanish. The loops. The fabric of reality is unraveling.
–Don't turn away now. –
What is the "truth"?
–Don't turn away now. –
What defines the world you know?
Don't turn away now.
There is a reason why you're here. Come. Do not allow yourself to close your eyes to the truth.
Those words echoes inside my mind. This is. The diverging path. The turning point. If I want to know the 'truth' I need to follow them. Steeling myself, I head down the hallway. I see the back of my classmate up ahead where the hall makes a L-turn. Not wanting to give myself away, I step softly and quietly as close as I can, to try and hear what they may be talking about. Reaching the corner, I dare to peek around it. Leo's staring at the blank wall in front of him while my classmate just looks at him.
"The attention to detail is quite impressive. Even the surrounding air is surprisingly substantial. If that's the case, this world is in some ways more real than the real world it represents."
So I was right...This IS a false world! But if so, what kind of Virtual Reality can be so accurate, and why I don't remember entering it...?
Wait, HOW I know this is a Virtual Reality? I don't even know what it is!
Yes I know.
The sound of Leo voice snaps me out of my confusion. "How about you guys? What are your thoughts on this?"
You guys? He know I'm here! Stupid Hana, you've been caught too easily! However, Leo turns and begins speaking to my classmate. Both seem oblivious to my presence, but for a moment his eyes flash to me. The spiky haired guy doesn't react.
"Greetings. I believe this is the first time we've had an actual conversation." He looks to the other, but I have the feeling the words are directed at me. Leo gives me a smile with no hostility. However, I have the suspicion that there is something malicious behind his smile. I like him even less, and now I know why.
There's a side of him he is hiding from us. It is completely normal for him, but creepy for everyone else.
"Attending school wasn't half-bad. I've never had the opportunity to go to one before now. In that respect, this has been quite an interesting experience."
And this explains why he hit on Fujimura-sensei without even noticing it. He's not dense, just inexperienced.
"...However, the time for fun has come to an end. I did not come here to pretend to be a student. No matter how enjoyable the detour, eventually one must return to their appointed path. And for me, the time to do so has arrived..."
With those final words, Leo turns his back on me.
"Farewell. No, that's not quite right. I don't think farewell would be accurate in this situation. For reasons I cannot explain, I have the distinct feeling that we will see each other again. So I guess I should use the more congenial, 'See you later.' Well, it's time for me to move on. I wish you the best of luck."
Leo said as much, even going so far as to look in my direction. For some inexplicable reason, I'm not surprised that Leo knew I was spying on him. The other guy remains motionless.
And then Leo suddenly...disappears. He simply walks towards the wall and fades away. The student who is following him also disappears after touching the same spot on the wall. At the same moment he vanishes, my vision distorts and the shock threatens to overwhelm me, like I have just witnessed a flaw in reality being exploited and my mind cannot grasp the input it received. If this continues, I will end up in a coma.
What is going on here...?
...I wonder if this place is the source of my unease. Like him, I place my hand on the wall, expecting to be drawn in. I see now that the way to the 'truth', to why I have these feelings, begins right here...
"I want to know." I mutter. The atmosphere changes. Acknowledging my desire to advance the world shifts. The error who was blocking me is removed. All of my uneasiness disappears and for the first time after four days/nearly a eternity...
I feel good.
I blink and where the concrete wall used to be... now stand a doorway, like the one of the gym. It's not something of this world. No, it's not correct: this is the beginning of something not of this world. There's no doubt this door leads to someplace unfathomable. But it's okay: it was the purpose of this whole journey. I turn for a moment toward the fire alarm to my left. I smile: I've always want to sets it off. Just like that. Maybe another day. I bid farewell to the false world, and take my first step toward the truth.
An entrance to another world–
Beyond this door, the previous statement perfectly describes the view before me. Beyond the door seems to be a dismal looking storage room. However, there are two major anomalies.
The first is the doll standing in front of a chest of draws. It is like a warped mannequin, all geometrical and without any distinctive features. Points-ended limbs, a neat oval as a head and bright orange lines spreading over the surface of its body.
The second is the...Hole? Gate? I'm not sure how to properly call it. It was like square sections were removed from the opposite wall until it opened up into a black void. And to the sides...bubbles of blue light? The image of an aquarium come to my mind.
"Welcome, potential Master." A voice come out of nowhere. I don't react, after so many strange things this is nothing. Anyway...Master?
"This effigy will be your sword and shield for what lies ahead. It will move in response to your commands." At those words the effigy springs into action and silently walks behind me. A sword and a shield, huh? So there will be danger, and this weapon will rely on my will to fight. Got it. "Now then, please proceed. The truth that you seek lies ahead."
It may be dangerous, but it's better than being ignorant. Steeling myself, I step into the darkness, the doll walking behind me like a trusted servant.
At first, only the endless back void. Then, a road of blue light rectangles appears under my feet. The direction is straight ahead. Easy. I keep going and soon the scenario begins to change: the darkness is replaced with distant walls of spinning water, while to the sides other geometrical figures, all square-based, hover and dance. It this supposed to be a metaphor? Or a visual representation of complex data?
After a certain amount of time there's another shift and I find myself walking through a hallway made of blue light squared-panels. They are transparent and beyond them I can see...a blue and black sea with huge skeletons of aquatic creatures floating around? What a merry sight. Wait, it means I am underwater? No, I remember myself, it's only the setting. A bit macabre but only the setting.
I continue until I reach a larger room: the floors, the walls, the air, even the aura are slightly off. It wouldn't surprise me to see a monster pop out from the shadows. It's very much like a dungeon here.
Wait a minute...I turn back to look at my effigy, remembering the words of the disembodied voice. Realization lands upon me.
It is a dungeon! And I can't believe the truth I've been searching lies inside a video game of all things!
"Welcome, potential Master."
With a shocking suddenness, the voice of before begins speaking again. It sounds like it's coming from the empty sky above.
"If you are looking for answers, you must reach the goal. Now, please step forward."
It isn't like I have much choice. I begin walking into the new corridor until I reach another room. In the middle, suspended by a bolt of energy, is a blue cube with a light in the center.
"The illuminated cube in front of you is called an Item Folder. Inside of it is a farewell present of sorts for those about to face the coming trial. Touch it to open it."
Really, really like a video game. And what do you mean a farewell present? I get the sudden impression the voice is mocking me. And it is good at it: because it's working.
I put my palm on the surface. An unlocking sound and the box opens, the purple light being absorbed into my hand. A list of data downloads itself into my brain: a Ether Shard, a healing item to recover small wounds. It is to be used on the effigy: all I need to do is recall it and it will be transferred to the doll. Classical dungeon box. What's next, a random encounter? I turn my head...
And began cursing Murphy's Law. Blocking the road is a floating blue sphere, its violet 'eye' staring at me. Luckily it isn't moving.
"Before you is an Enemy Program, in this case a Watcher. It is programmed to attack on sight. Touching it will initiate a battle. But you won't actually fight as you are too fragile. The effigy given to you will fight in your stead."
Good, because it doesn't have any legs I could kick.
"If your effigy is ever destroyed in battle, you will no longer be shielded from harm. To put it bluntly, you will die. So be very careful in battle."
Die? But death like a simple game or real, physical death? Is it possible to die for real in a Virtual World?
Easy: it is your Soul which is actually immersed in the program. A sufficiently strong protocol can erases your digital brain and convert your personality into a puddle of random data. Kill the mind and the soul will float away, leaving the body rotting. How–
How do I know this? Again, unknown information makes its way inside my head. I don't know where it comes from. The only thing I know is they're helping me understand. So I'll trust it for now.
"But there's no need to be afraid...for now. Just do what I say and you'll be perfectly safe for the time being. The enemy before you will only perform one type of action: strong, but slow direct attacks. Just order the effigy swiftly and the program will be dead in no time. Study your opponent, and learn how it attacks. Observing and understanding your enemies is the key to victory ."
So I have to think fast and predict my opponent's moves. This practice serves to acclimate me to battles and commanding the effigy. Okay then, I won't lose!
My thanks go to InsertRandomUsernameHere ( net / u/ 2317271/ InsertRandomUsernameHere ) for the concept behind this story.
Read and Review if you Enjoy it ^^
Constructive critiques are welcome, my English is not very good...