"I honestly didn't think that I had so little control over you all. The second those doors open, Boom, you guys went rushing away like rats in a maze."
His voice continues to drown out the cackling of his torch as he continues going on about who-knows-what.
"I was thinking about shouting for you guys to come back, y'know, being the leader and all, obviously I had a plan. But nope, I thought 'Why bother?' and began rushing forward myself. Some leader right?"
He gave a smile. A friendly welcoming smile, one without any hint of hostility.
It was obvious that he was waiting for me to give a response, but given he's cold commander-like attitude back in the chamber, all I could do was give a confused stare. Maybe he's bipolar? That's a serious mood switch.
"What? Something on my face?"
"No..." I finally answered. You know what, screw it. "I just find it hard to talk to you- considering, well, let's just say you didn't leave the best impression on me."
I rather not get too chummy with him, but since we are in a maze put together by a game master who's only intent is to get us killed, I might as well understand how he works.
"Ahh, that. Well, I intentionally left the same impression on everyone. When I got here, everyone seemed lost and confused, having no idea what to do. So I decided to let them have someone to rely on, and to do that, I made myself as strict and confident as possible. Kinda backfired though, as you can see, I have no power now. I just hope that everyone's alright."
He said that as if he really did cared about the people here, his face, brightened up by the light of the torch on his side, didn't betray any hint of an act he's putting on. He genuinely is worried about everyone.
"Say, do you know who broke that orb?"
This again? I thought this didn't matter anymore, we're in the maze.
"Don't worry, don't worry, it isn't like I can do anything to you now, I just want to know who did it."
"Yeah well, even if you say that, you still sound as if you intend to murder that person who broke it with the way you were acting back there."
He gave a short laugh before responding. "Strict and commanding remember? Would people follow a leader who in reality, has no idea what he's doing?"
"They didn't even follow you either way..."
"Ehhh, you're right, but I didn't know how to act back then. The light suddenly vanished, people shouting, pulling out their swords and stuff, how else could I have acted like?"
Guess I can't argue with him there.
"See that little kid at the back there beside the silent one, talking with the old man about God-Knows-What? He's your culprit."
Immediately, he turned and looked back, his eyes scanning the three before finally setting his sights on the smiling Minatsu. Soon after, he raised his eyebrows and faced forward once again.
"Him huh, why'd he do that for?"
"Something about a text above the orb telling him to break it, I didn't see it though... But, him being him, he went ahead and broke it and the rest is history."
Silence followed soon after, our footsteps and Minatsu's talking were the only things audible around us as we continued our navigating. Left, right, straight, right, straight and then finally left. Although it may seem like he was just taking random turns and corners, the relaxed, composed behavior of his movements seem to say otherwise.
Occasionally I've caught him muttering to himself about something or another and sometimes a "A turn here" or a "over here" escaped his lips at some intersections we come across. And although quite common in a maze, we didn't run into any dead ends or enemy mobs, or even any traps.
Making me come to the conclusion that we are after all, heading the right way. But then again, in video games, no mobs equals wrong way, which leads me to assume that we are all going to die and that GlaDOS was wrong about this guy. Which then leads me to assume that maybe GlaDOS was just a ruse by Cardinal to lead us into the wrong way. Which then leads me to think about why would he do that to three guys when there others in the maze as well. Which also then leads me to think about the other players and how they're holding up in here. Have they already reached the exit? And if so, how many? Which then led me to think about how much time we have left and what happens when it eventually runs out.
In short, I think about a lot of things. Not a lot of good things though.
"We turn left here and then right and we keep heading that way, I'm pretty sure, well, sure enough."
The whispers of this man snapped me back to our predicament, having to rely on basic bodily movements as my brain rides the train of thought disorientated my sense of awareness for a moment. Where are we now? Are we close? Maybe I should ask, yeah, probably should have done that long ago.
"How long till we-"
"So you know-"
Both of us spoke at the same time and both of us stop at the same time. What the heck was that, I thought that only happens in Anime. Particularly romance ones... No, this is not going to be a start of something new, I can tell you that much right now.
"You go first..." He said after a few seconds of awkwardness.
Naturally, I took the chance and asked, easing my worries is the one thing I want.
"Do you know where you're going, and if so, how do you know?"
He face displayed confusion for a moment before giving a short sound of realization. "Ahh, that's right, I keep forgetting that I beta tested this game."
The heck does he mean by that?
He gave another short laugh, before continuing, a smile plastered across his face. "That orb guy, whoever he is might seem all high and mighty, saying 'I built this' and blah blah blah. But the truth is, this maze here, has been around since the early days of testing. It was built as a quest location for the game but was removed before the game's release because Aya- the developer was worried that the players might get lost."
He continued on, but the smile was gone. That little slip up I heard wasn't just my imagination then. Feeling guilty, buddy?
"But since I was a beta tester, I had the pleasure of running around this maze over and over and over again to the point where I know it like the back of my hand. Didn't think that orb was capable of putting it back into the game but he went ahead and did it, but lucky for you guys, you got your own personal gps system right here." He pointed a thumb at himself to emphasize that he was talking about himself, which was unneeded and unnecessary and cringeworthy.
When he was done, another thought popped into my head.
"Did you think that maybe you should have shared this information with everyone before we entered the maze? Would have saved a whole load of panicking. But hey, that's just my opinion, could be wrong."
"Again, I didn't think it'd be put back into the game and I didn't have time to tell anyone as they were all racing towards the entrances like they're in Super Mario Kart 10."
"There were still some of us starting our engines at the entrances, you know."
"Well I-... I didn't see that. I thought you'd all left. Sorry.
"Some leader you are."
"Indeed I am."
He ended with a sigh and shook his head, probably mentally punching himself at his incompetence. But shortly after, I decided that I had another question to asked of him. Can never have too many questions, after all.
"Since you know all this, I'd assume you'd be the first one to exit the maze, the hell are you still doing here?"
"You expect me to head to exit without bothering to at least find any of you? What do you take me for?"
Do you want me to honestly answer that question? I'm afraid you're not going to like the answer if I do though, I'm just saying.
"I was spending my time trying to find some of you, and when I didn't after awhile, I thought that you all already made it to the exit and that I was the last one left. But you guys showed up and here we are."
Here we are indeed, walking, talking, navigating. What an eventful day it has been and just right after I recovered too.
"Now it's my turn."
Although he tried to play it off putting on a nonchalant act, but the immediate tensing of his body as he readies his question might as well say 'This is where shit gets serious, yo."
"Ayako... How long have you known her for?"
Yea... This is what I was dreading and trying to avoid... Guess this was eventually going to pop up sooner or later.
"Well... A day? No, even less than that, I've known her for just a few hours."
He pretended to clear something in his throat as he ask his next question.
"How did you meet? Did she say anything?"
"Ummm..." Shit how do I answer this? "We came across each other on a quest, she said she was hiding from some people, didn't say who, but she seemed tense, so I asked if she wanted to follow me."
"She told me... She was being hunted by someone, when I asked who, she just... began to cry. And I uhh, kinda felt sorry for her and hung out with her throughout the night. We talked, she said she was like a leader of a guild and that she left because 'it wasn't all that she had thought' and because of that she had a bounty placed on her head. Anyway long story short, I helped sneak her into town and went our separate ways from there... Haven't seen her since. It was only until Cardinal mentioned it did I realize it was your guild who placed the bounty."
Did he buy it? I heard the best lies are the ones with the hint of the truth in them. I rather not risk him attacking me because I know what he did.
That's what he's worried about?
To my surprise, his jaw immediately tightens up in response and his face scrunched up.
"I'm a hopeless idiot."
Suddenly he stopped his walking and slammed a fist against the wall, causing a loud slam to be heard. The conversation behind cut short by the sudden noise, the three of them now staring at his figure.
"Why did I do that? What came over me?! That wasn't me... That was... I-I made her cry."
I snuffed out the flames on my sword, having noticed my mana running low and sheathed it. I put on a puzzled face and slowly began questioning.
"Did you... Were you the one who placed the bounty on her?"
He responded with a shake of his head before using his free hand to cover his face.
"Mmm, and much, much more..."
Okay, if he ends up telling me about it, it means he has no malevolent thoughts about killing me or anything. Then again, this could be just an act.
"Listen..." He turned around to face everyone, his voice now pleading, a guilt-ridden tone in it. "I... I have done some very unforgivable deeds I the past. Some too heinous to simply brush off. But I can't continue leading you and talking to you unless you know all about it. I understand if you don't want to speak to me after this, but hear me out okay?"
Everyone, including me, simply nodded our heads, having no idea how to respond. I don't even think Fujiyuma-San or Minatsu even know what the hell he's talking about. Kazuto might have an idea, he has been silent, so maybe he eavesdropped.
"I, I'm a liar, a brute, a monster, everything that is the epitome of disgust. Back during beta testing, I had and still am in love with this girl. Her name was Ayako Rei."
At that, Minatsu's head immediately perked up, having heard an acquaintances name.
"She was the head developer of this game. At that age of twenty-four, and me still at eighteen, naturally she had no interest in me, I understood that. But still, I... I loved her and I couldn't help it. She was a total beauty, she was funny, charming, smart, all that I could ever asked for. I was so in love that most times when we were together, the only things I could do was make stupid idiotic passes at her and giggle like an idiot."
He stopped for a moment and opened his menu, he looked at the time and immediately resumed walking, us following in his wake in silence. After a few moments of nothing, he continued.
"So when I found out that she was trapped in this game with me, I was on cloud nine. I was ecstatic. 'Finally! A chance to prove myself to her!' I approached her and suggested we teamed up, which to my delight, she agreed. We spent the next few days together, hunting together, doing quests together, finding hidden items together, everything. It felt like heaven to have her by my side. But it wasn't enough... I wanted more of her. I wanted her to love me like I did her."
We turned to the right after facing an intersection and in that brief moment of silent, I caught him grinding his teeth.
"After... After someone had beaten the first floor and everybody moved up to the second, I found myself suggesting to make a guild with the two of us as the co-leaders, again she agreed. She thought it was a great idea and began hunting for recruits. But I had another plan in my mind. Maybe if I prove to her how well I can lead people then maybe she'll fall in love with me. So I went to work, brushing up my social skills, preparing speeches, changing my attitude. And then the day came where the entire guild, all 30 of us were to storm the tower. Gave my speech and how the players went wild, I have never seen Ayako so happy in my life. I thought to myself 'I want to keep making her smile like that'. So I worked harder and harder, gaining more recruits, purchasing a guild base, everything."
His pace quickens, forcing us to move a little more faster.
"But every time it's always 'The guild this, the guild that' or 'We need this, Let's get that for the guild'. It's always about the guild with her! And it tired me out, slowly, I contributed less and less everyday until finally I just gave up. She won't pay attention me because she feels nothing for me. My love will remain unrequited, no matter how hard I try. The guild is everything to her, her face says it all. And... That... That, well, it angered me. If it wasn't for me, she wouldn't have that stupid guild in the first place. If it wasn't for me, she would have remained standing there too scared to move, if it wasn't for me, she would have nothing. If it wasn't... If it wasn't for the guild, I could still have a chance."
He took a deep breath before continuing.
"So I stopped leading the guild, only a leader in name, I slacked, leaving everything up to her. While I just... lay around, doing nothing. I didn't even wanted to lead in the first place, I just wanted to prove myself to her and now that I did that, she doesn't pay attention to me anymore. I waited for her to confront me about the state of the guild, I decided to confess my feelings to her there and then as my last attempt. So when she did confronted me about it... Everything, everything just spilled out. I shouted like a madman about how much I loved her, cared for her, and how much I didn't give a shit about the guild, only her."
His voice began to waver as he reaches the part that I was dreading to hear the most.
"If I was crazy then, imagine my reaction when she told me she was leaving the guild... leaving me... imagine, Sora, imagine... Heh, you probably already know about it and are just playing the fool. Heheh, doesn't matter now, does it?"
He slid his hand downwards across his face as he took another deep breath.
"I raped her... I raped her... I raped her... I raped her... I raped her... I raped her... I raped her..."
Over and over again he repeated the same three words for us to hear, the three all stunned at his behavior, probably even more about his confession. I got on guard just in case he suddenly snapped. It was only after a few more times did he say something else.
"Just as I thought... No matter how many times I say it, it still sounds as bad as the first time. Yes, I. Raped. Her. There's no other way to put it. Afterwards, I took her back to the house we purchased and kept her there. Something... Something came over me back then, I didn't know what I was thinking. Maybe, maybe it was because it felt so good and I just wanted more of her.. Maybe that's why I kept her there. I made her go through the suffering of being used over and over again for the sake of pleasuring such a despicable person. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!"
He dropped the torch in hand and raised both arms to his head, clutching his hair. All common rationality immediately left his mind as he dropped onto his knees and started shouting. The torch casting a shadow over his pathetic state.
"I DIDN'T-I-I WAS SCARED! WHAT WOULD THE PLAYERS THINK OF ME IF THEY KNEW?! SO I HID HER, I LET HER SUFFER, I DID IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN I COULDN'T STOP! I JUST, I JUST, I-I... am a monster..."
Oh god, what is this situation, I didn't ask for this. I didn't ask for our navigator to have a mental breakdown, who asked for it? Come on, we're running out of time, get up, get up!
Slowly, picking up the torch in the process, he got back up. Having finally calmed down. Minatsu and the others looked on in shock and concern. Minatsu in particularly was pretty shaken up, finally being made aware of Ayako's messed up early days in this death game.
One step, two steps, then finally, he resumed walking at a reasonable pace, one hand against his face while the other holding the torch forward. With the silence of the atmosphere, I'd assume he no longer was going to continue talking but only just a few short moments, he spoke up once again.
"She escaped soon after... Good for her. But at that time, I was shocked, angry, and most of all, terrified. If she told anyone what I've done to her, my reputation would be ruin for sure. So I told a lie, one simple, yet very effective lie. Since most players didn't know who the head developer was, I spread the rumor that Ayako, who is the head developer, was the person who trapped us in this game and a huge bounty would be given to the player who brought her back. I didn't care about how much trouble it'd be for her, I just didn't want her to tell anyone."
He breath out a loud sigh.
"I had plenty of days to think about what I've done, I left the duties to my friend Tomoe, I couldn't operate properly, I couldn't sleep. Just thinking about her alone, drove me crazy. Thinking about someone killing her, got me screaming. It was only after being transported to this floor, did I finally had enough with the guilt. I removed the bounty, sending messages to the players hunting her to stop and I made the announcement that I'd be leaving the guild. I told them I was tired... which I was. I also didn't bother to read the patch notes, so when I was suddenly transported to an arena of sorts, I was confused out of my mind. No one was there, except the person in front of me. No announcement, no messages, nothing."
Oh yeah, he was last person in the death match event...
"But the person knew what was going on. He rushed me with his axe, swinging it around wildly like a crazed maniac. I was confused, why was he attacking me? Is this retribution for my crimes? He kept on swinging, and he was pretty easy to dodge. I didn't fight back, I tried to reason with him, frantically telling him to calm down. But he kept on swinging, a crazy desperate look in his eyes. It reminded me of me, the sight of him frantically waving his axe, made me think of myself and in an instant, anger began to set in. I lost all control. When he swung again, I grabbed hold of his arm and sliced it off in one swoop. A second later, I tripped him to his knees and... and bashed his head with the handle of my sword. Slowly, inch by inch, draining away his life bar. I didn't want him to die an easy death, I wanted him to suffer as much as possible, scream, cry out as much as possible before he dies. And he did. When he died, I was transported back to where I last was. I stayed there for the rest of the night."
That was kinda brutal...
"In my dazed state, I contemplated killing myself, I didn't deserve to live after the things I've done. But I just couldn't bring myself to. Pathetic, I know. Then I thought about apologizing to her, yes, I'll try to find her and then I'll apologize. Then at exactly 3:00 a.m. I received a message saying that she was here. So I rented an eagle and left. Which leads us to now... Me telling you all my pathetic life story, I don't even know why I'm telling you this..."
And with that, he finished his story, having nothing else left to say. Or to be more specific, there was nothing left he could say. He opened his mouth once again, only to immediately shut it back up. So we walked in silence, letting the silent stares and judgement of the three continue forevermore.
To be honest, I didn't expected at all to hear this confession, I was expecting him to be quiet about it, doing all it takes to keep it a secret, even if he had to resort to killing me or something if he knew that I knew. This scenario, although much more favorable in my end, left us with a broken husk of a man. Though he was still walking, the daze look in his eyes never left his face, as if contemplating something or another. Why do I keep finding myself in the middle of trouble?
More turns were made as we continue to walk in silence, the atmosphere now gloom ridden thanks to Jin over here. It felt as if the maze was going to keep going forever, but suddenly- a light, though small, has appeared at the far end of the path ahead of us.
"There!" Minatsu suddenly shouted after a long silent streak.
Though no one said it, we still broke into a sprint, the light now finally getting closer. I can see... An altar? What is that? Eh, who cares, I'll find out when we get there.
We ran, faster and faster till finally, one by one we reached the exit, now standing in a room, square in size, the thing I had mistaken for an altar was in fact a giant door shaped into an arc. Thank god, I was beginning to think we weren't ever getting out of that.
"Wait, what is this?!"
A voice suddenly called out from the exit. I turn to look behind, only to find Minatsu, Kazuto and Fujiyuma-San. Ragnarok, standing at the edge between the room and the maze. Which can only mean one thing.
I made my way towards him, watching as he frantically banged his his hands against the invisible wall.
"Come on, this is bullshit!"
It sure is Ragnarok, it sure is. Maybe this is karma? What goes around comes around right?
"The limit for the amount of people has already been reached, I'm afraid there's nothing we can do." I simply said. I'm not saying I don't want to help him, but how can I help when I can't help? I'm not going back out there so that he can go in. I want to live too.
"No, no, it's, it's okay, it's fine... This is fine." Slowly, he backed off, taking steps backwards.
What is he doing?
"What are you-"
"I'll head for the other exit! If I run I might make it!" He turned his back and began running in the other direction.
"But the time!"
"2 minutes! It's 4:48! I can make it! I think!" His voice slowly faded off into the distance, his figure slowly gets smaller before being enveloped in the darkness of the maze. Jin Furukawa, though we only known each other for a short time, I can honestly say, I never want to see you again. What you've done is unforgivable and downright freaking unbelievable, it makes me wonder how you're even human. But even so, I wish you good luck.
"Uh, will he be... Alright?"
How in the holy name of Saitama am I supposed to know that, Minatsu? Do you think I'm God or something?
"He'll be fine, he'll be fine. He made it this far, how about we worry about ourselves for now? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea."
This door, no doubt the others are inside it. Seven people behind this door... Who could they be, I wonder?
"Are you just going to continue staring at the door? Maybe you should try opening it, like what you normally do with a door."
Kazuto the smartass, where was your mouth when Jin over there was having a mental breakdown? Could've lighten the mood, you know.
"Still that kid... He's done a couple of awful things, but still, I don't get the feeling that he's all bad. If anything, I hope he makes it."
Yeah, yeah, everybody deserves a second chance, whatever old man, let's get this door open.
"Fujiyuma-San, grab hold of that handle and we pull on three."
Nodding his head, he made his way towards the handle on his side and grabbed hold of it. Once he was ready, I began the countdown or... Count up.
At once, we pulled with all our might. This bloody door is quite heavy... Goddamn. It made a rusty squeaking noise as we continued pulling till finally, it was open enough for us to enter. My question is, how on earth can one person even manage to pull this thing, I wish you even more good luck Jin. Also, why is it so goddamn rusty if the others also opened this same freaking door? Whatever, video game logic, who cares. Let's see what's it inside.
With one look taken, the contents of this room can only be summarized in one word. And that word is:
"Empty." Kazuto said. "What's the use of this stupid room then?"
"No, it's an abandoned archive, Kazuto. In a bloody game, every room has a purpose and this room's purpose is..." I left my sentence hanging as I took a step inside, a another small room, enough for just 5 people to fit inside. Which can only mean one thing.
I scanned the surroundings and as expected, a small, stone button was camouflaged by the stone walls. "To be an elevator of sorts." I finished, beckoning them all into the cramped lift.
"Now, buckle your seat belts and remember to enjoy your trip, once again, we thank you for flying with Sora Airlines and we hope you have a pleasant-"
"I will slap you."
Okay, whatever you say Kazuto. Guy tries to have a little fun... Figures.
I pressed the button, and for a few seconds nothing happen, until suddenly the sound of gears moving came to life.
"An elevator... Typical. Wonder what else they could come up wi-WOAHH!"
The lift was sent skyrocketing upwards in an instant, causing us to lose balance and fall flat onto the lifts surface as it continues to ascend. It continued up and up and up, no sign of slowing down. What the hell is this?!
Then before I could even get used to being pushed down by force, the lift stopped and we went flying upwards before hitting what I can only guess is the goddamn ceiling. What was next to come, was of course, being slammed back onto the ground by gravity.
At least the physics in this game is on point. Who am I kidding, that was bullshit.
"Op, we have others."
A man, well something that appeared to be a man, can't really see well after being sent flying, approached us. I looked up, my vision slowly becoming clearer before realizing who it was.
Then I noticed another thing, the floor was soft.
What the heck is going on, why is there grass?
"Good to see you again Sora, come get up." He offered me his hand which I gladly accepted and pulled me up to my feet. I took a moment to gather my senses as Tatsumi helped the others up to their feet.
"We've all been through it, hurts like hell. But what can you do? You should try looking around though, the view is amazing."
The view? What is he-
Before I could finish that thought, I opened my eyes to see a massive labyrinth, an array of green hills, rivers, waterfalls, the ceiling reached high above. The placed looked as if it go on for miles, and everything is all lit up by some glowing mushrooms and fireflies everywhere.
"What is this?" The question left my mouth before I could even comprehend what I'm saying.
"It's the same place, Sora." Tatsumi said, walking up beside me, the others silenced into awestruck. "The Great Duke's Archives."
Author's Note: Hello and I am back with another chapter in less than a week! A miracle from the gods I know, I know. Nah, I just thought I owed it to you guys after weeks of empty promises. Anyway, the next chapter, would come in about a week's time but definitely let me know about what you think of this chapter. Also follow if you like what you read, and blah blah blah boring stuff, goodbye.