I went and replaced the chapter, only now noticing there's actually stuff missing.
No clue why it wasn't there in the first place but rest assured, the last part now makes more sense.
"Taiju-kun?", a female voice called softly.
The man in question looked up. He was in a hut, sitting on a log in lack of a proper chair, next to a bed. If it wasn't for the crude style, one could almost assume it was the very same room Senkuu had found himself in. Maybe one would be right, too, for this was the very place the sick and injured were taken to either recover or die - since recently, the former of course. On the bed lay the very same youth, unmoving, but far from pretrified. They'd undone the "spell" a few minutes after it being triggered, since that worked best according to some tests, lots earlier. Whatever wound had been there had closed, but he'd yet to regain consciousness. Taiju felt reminded of a very certain scenario, not too long ago. It was just him, Yuzuriha and Senkuu back then. His friend had gotten himself in quite a predicament, with his neck broken and almost dead, his failsafe being a little bit of petrified flesh right next to a wound nobody could see. This was the day they'd found out about the healing capabilities of this so-called curse. It was the bias for their current use of it, too. It had saved lots of lives since then. The technique had proven useful. People woke up dizzy and disoriented, but usually cured of whatever ailment had plagued their bodies; even near death, or even seconds after death. Senkuu too had revived a lot sooner that day so long ago, so why wasn't he coming back now?
Taiju had kept an eye on his friend day, after day, after day, only leaving for physical needs, returning when he could, taking care of what was needed - whenever it was needed. But said friend hadn't even twitched. He was breathing, so it was certain Senkuu was still alive, but each breath was so flat they'd almost declared him quite dead and possibly buried him. Taiju had prevented that as well. He was, in fact, the best friend anyone could wish for.
Yuzuriha, whose voice had disturbed his brooding, came to kneel next to him, her big eyes sad. Of course it affected her; on one side, she feared for one friend's life. If he suddenly stopped breathing, there wasn't much they could do, even now. The Medusa device's 'battery' was completely depleted, taking ages to recharge - or a blazing hot, sunny day. It had been raining for weeks with no sign of improving conditions, so a quick recharge was out of the question.
On the other side, a friend who gave his last to prevent the, maybe, inevitable from happening. He wouldn't even let someone else take over so he could rest. This too bothered her, greatly too: Taiju had taken to the notion Senkuu might die while he was away (thanks to Gen's dark humor which had granted him the small victory of scaring Taiju to near paranoia and a neat bump on his head, awarded by Kohaku who'd been glad to do so). He of course knew he was overreacting, nonetheless, the man, who'd throw himself in harms way if his friends were in danger, was afraid.
"Let me watch him for a while, Taiju-kun.. you need to sleep. Please.", she then began, expecting the answer that was promptly given. The same one he'd given countless times before. A simple shake of his large head.
"I can't.. what kind of friend would I be if I just..", he began, but she wouldn't have any of it this time. Lately, Taiju had started looking more tired, almost haggard; she'd decided to stop him before he too required medical 'assistance'.
"A very good friend. Everyone is worried about you, too. It's just a few hours. I will wake you if anything happens."
His sudden giving in surprised her, but she didn't comment on it, just gave him a resolute look, nodded in agreement. But then he started again:
"Taiju-kun..", she sighed, pulling him off the log right into a hug. The fact she could do that said a lot; he had twice her weight in raw muscles but didn't put up much resistance. He was, in fact, tired as hell, being kept awake by sheer willpower alone. "It will be alright." After a moment, he just uttered a quiet "Okay", before he was helped to one of the other beds, tucked in tightly and asleep in seconds. Yuzuriha just smiled, shaking her head and took place where the stubborn young man had been sitting before.
"One who sleeps too little.. and one who doesn't wake up", she mumbled to herself, noticing their common friend didn't seem to sleep all too peacefully. A nightmare maybe..? A single drop of sweat ran down his high cheek; or was it a tear? He'd begun giving small, hasty huffs. He seemed to try fight something off, but couldn't move enough to hurt a fly. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped. Senkuu was dead-silent again, while Yuzuriha could hear her own heart race. Immediately she checked for a pulse; Thank god, he was fine.
"Senkuu-kun..", she said quietly, taking the young scientist's hand into her own and squeezing it a little, reassuringly. "Come back to us.."
The one person breaking the whole picture, was standing right in the door, his customary menacing look staring at the current inhabitant of the room. Even wearing modern clothes; he looked every bit like the common youth. But despite this outer look, slowly, not unlike a predator, he started stalking towards Senkuu, who stared right back, like a rabbit caught in a corner.
"Tsukasa..?! What..", the very same began, but the other didn't leave him time to speak.
"You don't belong here. This isn't your world"
"Huuh.. What are you talking about? First off, what is the world's 'strongest primate' doing here, in a random student's sickroom? I don't think we even have introduced ourselves all prop-..."
"Stop acting cool. You're too smart to believe this made-up world", Tsukasa interrupted, not stopping one second. "Yes.. you called me by my first name. Your subconscious works to unravel the dream"
"W-what are you talking about anyway.. I just woke, dumbass. No way I'm dreaming. That weird s-..."
"Stone World, isn't it?"
"How could I know this? It was all but a dream, wasn't it? A side-effect of the concussion maybe, or the drugs in your blood. Let me tell you, they're waiting. Hoping for your safe return and you refuse to go back? Yes, that's selfish, even for you. I know you keep hearing voices, ever since you 'woke'. Listen closely.."
"There's no way I'm hearing voices..!"
"Tch.. if you just shut up.."
So, taking a deep breath, closing his eyes, he listened. First, the low rumbling of the nearby devices, meant to supervise his vital signs. Wind, blowing around the building, a sharp wheezing sound. Very uncanny; birds, singing in the midst of the storm. When did the weather change? Hadn't it been all sunny and still before?
"Listen", Tsukasa said again, when his mind began to wander. Damn that..
"..-kuu! Come back!"
What? All of a sudden, he'd heard it, under the wind. Like a whisper. Now when he started to focus on the sound, it became louder, unlike a whisper, more like someone yelling full volume into his ear.
"Do you hear them now?", Tsukasa said again, calm amidst the raging weather outside. There wasn't a trace of his student clothing anymore. He looked every bit his leader-of-the-stone-world-self, all dressed in fur and leather. This couldn't be, Senkuu concluded, as he wearily stared at the other, who was calm and so very unmoved it was unnerving. Aside from this fully unreasonable thing there was no logical reason why this could be a dream. He smelled the sharp scent of the desinfectants, felt the rough mattress under him, had that nasty pricky feeling of a needle in his arm, heard the storm outside - or maybe not, weird weather - and looked straight at Tsukasa, who'd transformed back to his student self. Strange, but no evidence of this being a dream. For all he knew, he was wide awake, dizzy and hallucinating. Modern world's drugs, so very different from the herbal stuff back there.. This too proved he was home. This was real. He felt real. He'd spent the better of two weeks in this damn room, losing valuable time he could've used for his project. That was.. what?
"You're closest from home you'll ever be. But if you decide to stay here.. yes, it might very well become your home again..", Tsukasa again crashed his train of thought with that motionless expression of his.
"..So..", an unnerved Senkuu began, but the other wasn't done yet.
"You will of course die in the outside world. Yes, with you, science will die. Civilization will never return. War will never return. Yes, this could be beneficial to both of us"
"It's not my decision. Or my responsibility. You will have to make that call, Senkuu. Will you see this world as it is or keep believing in your truth?"
".. what if I wanted to go back?" Couldn't hurt to ask.
"I shall kill you. The only way to release your self from this.. state."
"Wa-wait, if I die here, doesn't that mean..?! You know.."
"Don't be a fool. You're too smart for that"
Tsukasa, or whoever he was, didn't wait for much of an answer. Lacking the physical power to stop the hands closing around his neck, his victim just weakly gripped the strong hands, as oxygen couldn't pass by the throat any longer. On top of that, Tsukasa's weight pressed him down. Senkuu felt himself slowly sufficating - panic started to well up in his eyes. He wanted to speak, to call for help, but couldn't.
"Yes, I already know your answer. You're afraid I'm wrong and you will die here"
A nod, the only reply coming.
"Don't. This can't be real."
A woman's scream ripped through the silence. Through hazy eyes, Senkuu could see his mother standing in the door, a look of sheer horror on her face. Almost cliche'd, her mouth was wide open from screaming. Tsukasa wasn't impressed.
"I shall show you this isn't real"
He let go of the younger one, who started coughing violently, as air passed into his lungs again and his vision cleared. Though he wished he didn't see. Tsukasa just casually strode to the woman in the door, who seemed too afraid to move, shivering in fear. All of a sudden, the man even held a dagger in his dominant hand. He didn't bother hiding what he was about to do, nor did he care about her loud voice, just pulled her into the room, calmly closed he door, every bit the sociopathic mass-murderer.
"Watch closely. This isn't your mother", he said, turning to Senkuu, who'd started moving the second Tsukasa had turned on her, how dare he!, but only managed to fall flat on the ground, his legs unwilling to cooperate. Not that he didn't try crawling closer. Who cared if that IV drop fell over, beeping loudly, maybe it called in help..?!
"Nobody will come", Tsukasa commented on his thoughts, made sure the younger could see from his point, then made one quick slash over the woman's throat. Blood seeped out, gushed out like a river, as she went limp within seconds. Her dead body fell to the ground, thrown away like a bag of rice. With mild interest, the killer watched Senkuu going from shock to anger within a couple of heart beats.
"Yes, that's it. Get angry. Maybe this will help"
Being no warrior to begin with and still sick and weak, Senkuu's following lunge wasn't worth the name. Tsukasa dodged easily, then pressed the boy - for it was a boy, if he went mad over the death of a woman - against the next wall, dagger close at hand.
"Just know that my self in you and myself in the real world have nothing to do with each other.. yes.. it's all your imagination.."
With that, the blade went through bruising flesh and the last Senkuu felt was his own blood, boiling hot, washing out of the cut veins, and the ground as he slumped on it.
All he could see was darkness.
Not the kind you'd see at night, but the real deal. In fact, he knew exactly what kind of darkness it was, for he'd seen it for like what, 3700 years? But how could that be, they didn't know the petrification beam in the old world and even if they did, with his body being like this he wasn't having one millimeter odds of survival. Too much time would pass before someone even got the damn device and got it to him, used it properly on him, all before he bled to death. Then again, they'd done it before. Last second saves, of all the things.. So if his theory, against all odds, proved true, he might just as well start counting again.
Can't wake in mid-winter, right?
1.. 2.. 3.. 4..
This didn't add up, at all. Not in one billion years this would make sense. He'd never been dreaming, much less with that much detail. He could remember almost every single thing since he'd woken up in the hospital room. Every ache, pain, the dull food, the visitors. He was dead, one hundred percent sure. But why could he still think? In all logic, his brain should have shut down from lack of oxygen by now. Could the human brain really create a fully autonomous world, inside your head?
5.. 6.. 7.. 8..
What about the stone world, had that been a dream too? An illusion? With scents, taste, the ground beneath your feet, freezing cold in winter and scorching sun in summer? Then again, it really had been dreamlike, hadn't it.. he'd even survived getting his neck broken. Back in the old world they'd have called it a plot armor, quite literally. A bit of leftover stone had protected him, like an armor, and healed the otherwise deadly injury when it was dissolved. In which weird reality would dissolving a stone repair nerve damage? Maybe he'd woken from one dream into another.. but where did that leave reality?
9.. 10.. 11.. 12.. 13.. 13.. 13..
"Don't die. You can't die now! You hear me?!"
His train of thought shattered once again - it was becoming a habit, he mused -, he looked up. Now where'd that voice come from? Whose was it even, he couldn't place a face to it. Now he noticed himself to possess a form. Most curiously, he wore that outfit he made himself out of sheer neccissity and monkey skin. Even the bloody label he wrote was still there. E=mc², a reminder to himself, to keep going. Why would one dream leak into a third one? A side-effect of the drugs, again, triggering first a nightmare, then something like this. The only logical reason. As the voice called again, he found curiousity get the better of him, so, in order to find out where this voice was coming from, he went to explore the darkness.