-awkwardly scampers onto screen-

Hello. Erm. Been a while, huh?

-a rotten tomato lands at the author's feet-

I have no excuse. After school started – and yeah, I'm starting high school, it's fucking scary – I've been swamped, but before that, I had all the time in the world. Just… didn't feel like using it on writing. Actually, I can't even remember what I did those last few weeks. Huh.

Words: 2,189

Read slowly. That way I can have more time to write the next one!

Recap (because we so need one):
In the last few Erin chapters, Erin received memories of a strange pair of teenagers and the ship to Kilika was attacked by Sin. She was not yet introduced to the gang because of this, and in the distance they could see Kilika being destroyed. In the last Lyssa-centric chapter, Lyssa visited Erin's mom, Mrs. Paisley, to quiet her own fears about Erin's disappearance and, hopefully, discover some sort of clue as to where she might have gone. Mrs. Paisley broke down crying about Erin's disappearance, and that is where we left off.

Fool's Paradise

Chapter Eight: Launch

Launch is always the most anticipated

Of any planned procedure. It is

Where the journey begins, for some;

Though for others, perhaps the end

Mrs. Paisley was downstairs, in the bathroom or something to try to fix her broken appearance. She would probably be gone a while, and I felt extremely awkward simply standing there in the hallway. For the first minute or so I refused to even glance in the direction of Erin's room, resisting the urge to poke around. Though… something still just seemed… fishy about the whole ordeal. I really wanted to investigate that room, maybe figure out what might have happened to make my friend vanish into thin air, even if I couldn't actually do anything.

Or, I guess, maybe I was just a bit too sentimental. It would explain the quiet urge to enter the familiar room and just… sort of gaze around at everything of Erin's past.

I never was very good at dealing with boredom, though, and as the seconds stretched to minutes while Mrs. Paisley fussed about in the bathroom, the idea being turned about in my mind grew more and more appealing. It couldn't hurt to look around, and it might offer some idea of why she'd just disappear like that. A letter or a note or something, or signs of a struggle. I wasn't a cop or a detective or whatever, I didn't know, but I figured that something would be left behind, right?

The hinges creaked a little as I pushed the door just a bit wider, and I stepped onto the tan carpet carefully. The room seemed to be just as Erin would usually leave it; bed unmade, posters and doodles taped to the wall, a calendar (Which, it seemed, hadn't been marked on since last weekend), a beanbag chair and her television in the corner, surrounded by DVD and video game cases. The entire room had a purple theme, which was odd because Erin preferred orange, but I vaguely remembered a time when she loved purple. It was so long ago.

But right, I wasn't here to reminisce… wasn't I? I shook my head, stuffing my hands in the pockets of my hoodie and taking a few slow steps into the room. Nothing seemed to be different, excluding the calendar. I scanned the room, first checking the window over the bed – firmly closed and, as usual, locked – and slowly making my way toward her video-gaming set-up on the other side of the room.

I might not have noticed it if it weren't for the way any bit of green tended to stick out in this purple room. The PS2 light was still on, even though the television screen was dark.

Well, obviously Erin hadn't just run away, then. She tended to get mad when her PS2 was left on; and since her younger cousins liked to play games on it, that happened often. I hesitated a moment before venturing toward the machine, half-considering switching the television on. Maybe she left a message or something?

…Alright, alright, so this wasn't some crappy mystery movie. That was stupid and I shouldn't get my hopes up like that.

I turned the TV on anyway.

Final Fantasy X's rich blues and pastel shades flickered into existence and I realized that Erin must have been playing this the day she disappeared. Disappointment overtook my curious expression when I realized that she hadn't left a message or anything, like I had silently prayed. Just her precious PS2, left running as the main character ran around on the screen…


The main guy on her game – Tidy, I remember Erin always called him, but I don't really remember if that was just a nickname or what – was still moving. Not some idle action or anything, but actually walking around on the deck of some ship in the middle of the ocean. It didn't look like a cutscene. Would a cutscene have lasted this long, ever since Erin vanished?

"What…?" I stared in shock for a moment before abruptly turning my eyes toward the floor and fumbling around the bean bag chair. I didn't need to look very hard; there was the object of my search, the PS2 controller, right in front of the PS2 on the floor. It wasn't upside down, it wasn't wedged between the bean bag and the floor, the joystick wasn't stuck… there was absolutely no way that blond dude could be moving on the screen.

No way…

I frowned down at the television screen, where Tidy was making rounds, talking to people on the deck of whatever ship he was on. At the moment, he had begun to head toward a door that probably led below deck, and I frowned deeper. It was… fucking weird. And impossible.

Moving closer, I figured I'd open up the PS2 disc drive and check to see if anything was going on in there, but quickly stopped.

The only reason I didn't investigate further – a lot further – was because right at that moment, I heard the stairs creak and Mrs. Paisley called my name in a still rather wavering tone. I gave the television one last suspicious glance before jabbing my finger at the Off button of the TV, leaving the PS2 on and slipping out of the room. I closed Erin's door behind me, because it was obvious that her parents really didn't want to see inside, and right then Erin's mom reached the top of the stairs. She looked horrible, with bloodshot eyes and a puffy face, but she had clearly tried to fix her appearance some. I wouldn't fault her for not caring much anyway, with Erin missing.

Mrs. Paisley and I engaged in some discomfited small talk for a little longer before, grimacing inwardly, I told her I should be getting home – my brother might be worried, I said, but that was a lie because, knowing Owen, he would still be asleep – and made my exit within record time. I really didn't want to try to deal with saying the wrong thing and sending Erin's mom into tears again – it made me feel just a little guilty.

All the way home, I contemplated. That obviously led to quite a few falls as I missed a turn or rode my board right into a pothole, but I still couldn't shake this weird feeling, like I had run into something important when I checked out Erin's room. I mean…. it's just…

Something really fucked up was going on with that game. I didn't know what, at least not yet, but I planned to find out, because something told me it had everything to do with Erin's disappearance. Though… how, exactly, does one go about figuring out how a video game could be playing itself?

I didn't exactly get my answer, but that Monday, I definitely got more questions. Maybe even a hint, or two.

I'd been feeling like shit the entire week, even if maybe no one else had. I mean, obviously some people were worried, too – Erin had plenty of friends – but… the majority of people around the school had gone back to their normal lives. Erin didn't make a difference to them, and it just really pissed me off– but, erm, I've gone over this before, haven't I? How this was just another little blip on their timelines, and those pathetic hags don't care any more than 'Oh, how sad'? Yeah. I thought so. Right, um, anyway.

So it was just before school started, and I'd ridden the bus there so I ended up arriving a half-hour early. I had tons of time to kill, but nothing to really spend it on. Typically, I rode my skateboard to school – it was quite a few blocks away, but I didn't mind the exercise – and got there around eight-o'-clock. That day I just hadn't felt up to it. I probably would have driven myself into a ditch, anyway.

Obviously, since I had nowhere better to be and all my friends besides Erin tended to somehow get to school just ten minutes before the first bell rang, I had a choice – either the bathroom, or the library. Maybe I was a bit overdramatic, but the bathroom seemed to be for losers and preppy girls who wanted to finish their makeup, so while the library was usually filled with bookish geeks, I didn't think I'd mind sitting at one of the tables and just catching some more sleep until the first bell, and libraries were usually quiet, right? Unfortunately – or perhaps the opposite – that wasn't what happened.

"You lost the freaking disc?" I heard the furious whisper from the table behind me. At first, I took little notice but for the miniscule irritation at the girl's loud, piercing 'whisper.' I mean, wasn't this a library? Could she not see that it was fucking 7:30 in the morning and I wanted to sleep? But then they went on, still in a stage whisper thick with outrage, and eventually I found myself listening not because they were loud – and they really were, I mean it was just luck that I was the only one there… or maybe, for them, it was unlucky – but because they were sounding very suspicious to my suspicious Erin-hunting ears.

"It wasn't my fault, Haley! My fucking mom is the one who– ow! Don't kick me!" That one was a guy, and he was better at whispering than the girl by far. At least, he might have been, had he not been so righteously indignant at the time.

"What have I told you about cussing?" growled the girl reproachfully. Bored, I was just about to tune them out. These were clearly their problems, not mine; I had plenty of my own, thank you very much. And then if turning them out failed, as it probably would, I would happily turn around and give them my best death glare and a threatening fist. "And it doesn't matter if your mom is the one who pawned it off, that was our only copy of the modified Final Fantasy X; now we just have the original one! Do you really think Daniel will make us another? Oh, and to think you hid it from me this entire time, you arsehole!"

I froze.

"What?! Why do you get to cuss and I don't?"

Final Fantasy X?

"I don't say the f-word! That's different!"

"Modified"? What does that mean…?

"Oh, like that is so much better – you know what, fine, whatever! Like I was saying, it isn't my fault my mom sold it to some stupid fu–fricking pawn shop! You left it lying around in the laundry room for some reason, stupid!"

A pawn shop?

Erin got her copy of Final Fantasy X at a pawn shop not too long ago. I remember because she had been complaining about her old one getting scratched last month, and she was seriously ecstatic when she found another copy – even though it was used – at this pawn shop downtown. We had finished playing through the game by then, and had barely thought about it since last year, so I don't think Erin even opened this one up for a week or two after getting it, but… that was really weird.

"I forgot I put it there, okay?! Your mom is stupid for thinking we didn't play it anymore!" the chick replied acidly. I was listening intently, probably not looking inconspicuous at all, but the two were too caught up in their argument to notice my concentrated attention. "David, you do realize how dangerous that could be in the wrong hands, right? How we could probably get in a lot of trouble if some dumb little twelve-year-old gets our version of FF10?" the girl accused her friend, her voice growing louder. I don't think anyone else was close enough to hear, but she toned her voice down to an angry hiss and might have sent a cautious look my direction; I tried to look asleep, but who knew if that worked. Their version of FF10...? What the hell? "Daniel told us not to let anyone else know about these discs!"

"Daniel and his stupid hacking skills can shove it, Haley!" the boy replied with vitriol. "You talk about him as if he's God or something!" The girl, Haley, took a deep breath to likely screech at him, but David continued, "Look, we'll just head to the fucking pawn shop and buy it back, all right? Problem fucking solved."

"It's been a month, David! Do you really think it's still going to be–"

But, if she continued, the rest of her words were lost in the ringing of the bell. I nearly jumped out of my seat with shock, and hopefully that looked more like I had actually been asleep and just woke up than that I had been too focused on listening in on their… interesting conversation.

I had this feeling. These people… whatever 'modified disc' they were talking about… it was big. And I bet it had something to do with whatever shit was going on with Erin's disappearance and that video game playing in her room. I just had to figure out what the connections were.

"And stop cussing, damn it!"

The plot bunnies are gonna eat me alive, I swear. I got an idea for a Durarara fic recently. Ergh. Add that to my ideas for three different FF7 chapter fics, an FF7 one-shot, a ½ Prince manual, an FFX-FF7 crossover, an Ouran fic, and an eventual revamp of my Naruto fic…. ERGH.

But I love them all anyway :) Usa-chan, usa-chan, come play in my mind garden of writingness, all of you loverlies! :D

So. I'll, erm, try to be faster? I suck at managing my free time, so between homework, reading, World of Warcraft, and Star Ocean (WHICH I GOT FIRST DEPARTURE, BTW, IF YOU KNOW STAR OCEAN. I'M SO HAPPY. IT IS BETTER THAN SO3.) I kind of forget about writing until it's too late and I have to wash dishes and go to sleep. Or I put it off because I'd rather be reading fan fiction.

I didn't check this one over too much before I uploaded it – normally I go through and comb over it to make sure I like the flow and the writing style, but not much time with this one since there was a long period when I just went, "Psh, writing? Nah. GAME TIEM –drools-" so please tell me if you find something to be unsatisfactory. Like, anything. It will not insult me. In fact, you'll be wonderful awesometastical readers for telling me. -heart- And feedback on anything else is nice, too ;D