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Author's note: This is one of the three novels I'm currently working on. Though I've only started on this idea last week, I have a really solid image of how it's going to turn out to be. I hope you'll all excuse any errors I accidentally made/will make in this story. To me, the idea behind this book allows me to realise that life isn't to be taken for granted. I don't want to be spoiling the story, so that's all I can say for now. I do hope that you, too, as readers, would be able to understand what I mean throughout the course of the story.
The sky cried with the parting of tearful goodbyes.
She lied silently on the soaked, cement ground, drenched in the sky’s miseries. Her whole body ached quietly, sending pulses of pain to her distressed brain that no longer responded.
Where am I? Why am I here?
Those words were repeated over and over in her mind, like a broken record of a melancholic song. Opening her eyes slowly, she tried to look around, but a sticky layer of fluid was blurring her vision. They only thing that she could see was a wall full of graffiti on her right, its colourful appearance sticking out like a sore thumb in the otherwise gray scenery. A light was deserted on the road next to her, flickering feebly in the night, like a broken ray of hope.
She heard voices then, a series of gasps and screams of fears and shocks. But she wasn’t able to turn her neck and see the people who made these noises, and the words they uttered were drowned in the overwhelming sense of fatigue that washed over her. Like a tsunami, it pulled and dragged her down into its menacing currents, and, unable to withstand, she exhales.
And at the same time, she died.
When she woke up, the first thing she saw was a blur of plaid gray.
She looked up from the seated napping position that she was in, hurriedly scanning through her surroundings. A huge mass of people were hiding themselves from the pouring rain outside, tucked inside the warm, crowded café, hoping for the company of a mug of coffee. The plaid pattern that she saw had come from an umbrella of a passerby outside, right next to the window table she was sitting at.
Where had the road gone off to? How did I get here? Was that all nothing but a dream?
Frowning, she tried to think back to the previous events proceeding to her nap. She couldn’t remember anything about entering the café. The only thing in her mind was the nightmare that visited her just seconds ago. It had felt so real; she could almost swore the taste of the wet pavement was still in the tips of her tongue, and the smell of exhaust pipes were lingering around in her windpipe. But how could it be real? She was clearly alive, the way she was mobilising her limbs perfectly well. Yet again, the memories that seemed to etch themselves onto her body could not be so easily ignored…
“Hot cappuccino!” a waiter shouted from the counter, and his voice pulled her back from her dazed daydreams. Her eyes landed on the empty cup of coffee in front of her, with the brown grains of residues lying peacefully at its bottom. Suddenly aware of the amount of people standing by the door waiting for an empty table to miraculously appear, she abruptly stood up, grabbing her lavender purse hung on her chair and leaving the place as quickly as she could.
Out on the busy downtown streets, she slightly cursed at the heavy precipitation that fell upon her the moment she stepped foot on the sidewalk. Digging into her bag, she fished out a small umbrella and used it to cover herself, though it barely did any good in the terrible weather. Frantically, she racked her brain, trying to find a place where she could go to hide from Mother Nature’s wails and sadness.
“The Tea Leaves,” she softly uttered to herself, finding an answer. The café was never popular with the natives, and was always relatively quiet: a perfect place to find shelter. She immediately headed towards the closest junction, trying to map out her location from the landmark buildings around her.
The streets were filled with people despite the awful weather, like a pack of caught sardines wiggling in the fisherman’s net. Her ears are overloaded with sounds of the city: the blasting honks of vehicles, the drummed footsteps of the million city walkers, and, of course, the chatters that drowned into one another, producing what merely sounded like the hums and buzzes of overly-productive bees. She waited patiently on the side of the road for the crossing light to turn green, holding tightly to her umbrella against the breezes that brought cold wind and droplets of rain.
“Oh, silly, silly, little lost Souls,” the young man next to her sang softly, and to that, she snapped her head up to look at him carefully. The man was handsome, with a native face yet hair that was dyed blonde. He was wearing a pale blue, hooded jacket over his attires, but he had a decent, casual style. His voice was, on the other hand, simply unique; just listening to it seemed to fade all other noises around them away. “What have you come here for? The Gate behind you has been closed; there’s nowhere else for you to go…”
What a funny song, she thought, wondering why it sounded so nostalgic, like a children song. It was almost like she could sing it along with him, like she knew the words that came afterwards. The melody was stuck at her throat, but where could she have heard such distinguishable lyrics? She couldn’t recall it.
“Since you are here, oh, little lost Souls, why don’t we play a Game?” he continued to hum melodiously, “If you can win, I’ll let you go; but if you fail, then that’s a shame…”
When the crowd around her began to move and push her forward along with the current of people. Unable to get away from the moving horde, she craned her neck up and backwards to look past the people and get a last glimpse at the young man, but by the time she managed to spot the other end of the junction, he had disappeared from his previous position, gone someplace else. Disappointed, she turned around and decided to continue on to her destination.
As she rounded the corner where The Tea Leaves was just a few metres ahead, she came to an abrupt stop. There was a man dressed in the cosplay of a black-clothed warrior, a cross between a ninja and a samurai, with tattered shirt and a pair of black angel wings; he stood silently, leaning against the outside wall of the establishment. He didn’t have a face cover, but his shirt and pants were modelled after that of ancient warriors. On the side of his face was a long, burnt mark,
Shibuya is Shibuya, alright, but how is it that no one is at least glancing at that? she frowned, but for one reason or another, her legs refused to bring her forward. It was as if every fibre of her being was telling her that she shouldn’t go near the man, and should simply abandon The Tea Leaves for another—safer—place.
However, her legs weren’t fast enough; the moment she decided to change her course, the man turned his head and spotted her head-on. Scanning her from top to bottom, his stare felt like an X-ray machine that threatened to see through her core of existence. Trapped within his gaze, she was no longer able to escape. Within the blink of an eye, he was by her side; his face was levelled with hers as he locked eyes with her.
“You’re a newbie Player,” he snickered, “Good. You’ll be an easy prey for me.”
Her words were stopped by the spectacle that happened before her. His pitch black wings flared out as if it was alive and had a will of its own, forming a cocoon around her petrified figure that caged her in, allowing no escape. He raised his right hand in between them, and in front of her very eyes, black coating of what seemed to be scales crawled up his skin, engulfing his wrist and fingers into that of a demon reptile's, complete with claw-like features and a set of five long, yellow nails. At the same time, his wings moved once again, wrapping its suffocating, rough feathers around her body tightly, allowing her no escape. They lifted her feet off the ground and angled her so that a clean cut to her neck would be possible.
"What are... Let me go!" She began to panic, struggling in the vicious embrace of her chains. Looking around, she shouted to the passersby who didn't seem to mind her at all--had they all gone blind and deaf of her existence? "Help me! Someone help me!"
"Don't bother wasting your breath; they can't do anything," the man grinned, preparing his hand for the murder. "Sorry, but your role ends here."
"Hate the Game, honey," he laughed, positioning his claw next to her neck, preparing to rip her head out. "Don't hate the Hunter."
"Let me go!" She screamed, and this time, her words seemed to bring forth a reaction.
From her waist, a metallic sound grinded against one another, and with a quick burst, multiple sharp points of blades broke through the wings, spilling black blood out to the ground. The wings released their grip on her as the man screamed in pain, and she dropped to the ground on her feet, immediately picking up her purse and dashing out as far as possible from the scene. The hanging decorations on her chain waist belt hovered around her defensively as she made her escape, as if enchanted by magic.
"Come back here, you little…" The man roared, immediately after her.
She sped through the streets, whizzing past and between crowds of people that didn't seem to pay any attention to her. She broke through a junction diagonally without even checking the traffic lights; at times like this, those things were trivial issues that could easily be discarded. Behind her, the man flew over the crowd, having the advantage of flight even though each flaps of his wings splashed black blood to the pavement and the passing people who didn't mind it. Cursing under her breath, she paused for a bit and turned back, waving her hand towards his flying figure. As expected, several decorations tied to her waistbelt shot forth and attacked, tying his wings together. Flicking her wrist down, the chains obeyed as they, too, dragged his body and slammed him hard against the ground. Feeling that it was enough of an interference, she began to dash away again; her chains followed her, returning to her side.
At least he wouldn't be able to chase after me on air, she thought to herself in between huffs of hurried breaths. In her hurry, however, she accidentally slammed into a solid body, and the collision rebounded her to the wet ground. Wincing in pain, she craned her neck upwards to see into the eyes of two young men.
One was taller than the other, with an attractive face of an undiscovered model. His eyes were a natural shade of jade green, but his skin and face were oriental; his hair was shaped like a character out of a Japanese anime and dyed light brown, but he was a sight to behold nevertheless. Even his fashion statement looked like something that would pop out of the pages of a comic strip, or even a high-end fashion magazine—a turtleneck, armless top, black jeans, a black choker that seemed to be made out of metal and was hooked to a golden nameplate, like a dog’s collar, and half-gloves that covered his hands. His demeanour and aura was supreme, like a higher being that didn't need to engage in empty conversations.
The other had all the looks of a rebellious 'yankee,’ most commonly defined as youthful street fighters, except that he seemed to take good care of his face. His hair was dyed auburn, but he didn't seem to be a native, possibly a Caucasian. He was sporting a black leather jacket over a red cut-top, a red choker similar to that of the first man, and, from the pocket of his black rock-pants, she could make out what seemed to be a pack of cigarettes. In his callousous hands was a lighter that he tossed up and down carelessly.
"Oh, what's this?" the yankee asked, bending down to take a closer look at her. "You're a Player, too!"
"A weak one, from the looks of it," the taller one snorted, nodding at the dark angel who seemed to have recovered, catching up to them.
"Are you alright?" the yankee offered a hand to help her up.
She slapped his hand away automatically, jumping up to her feet and taking a distance away from the two of them, as well as keeping an eye on the angel. "Don't touch me."
"What's with the attitude there?" he frowned, nudging the man on his side. “Chase, did I do something wrong?”
She ignored them completely and once again faced the Hunter who had arrived. Cussing, she once again motioned her hand towards the man with a quick wrist-flick, and her chain belt shot out its extendable branches, grabbing hold of his limbs as tightly as they could. Bringing both hands upwards, her weapon followed by lifting the man upwards, and, throwing her hands down, they, too, smashed his body onto the paved ground before returning to her side.
She couldn’t believe her eyes when he still stood up, seeming completely fine from her attacks, without a trace of pain or scars. The Hunter grinned, and his eyes were glazed with the desire of murder.
“That’s dangero…” the yankee began, stepping forward; however, his companion stopped him, extending an arm to the side to block him from going further. Frowning, he looked up at the man called Chase, curiously asking, “What’re you doing?”
“Just watch,” he snorted, folding his arms in front of his chest. “Clear the area and observe.”
“How can you expect me to just…”
“Clear the area, Leon,” he repeated, and this time, his voice was significantly lower, the tone of a double bass that authoritatively bent the wills of everything around him. “We don’t want the Reals to get hurt.”
Shrugging, the yankee called Leon gave in, seeming unaffected by the weight of his companion’s order. Looking over at the winged man, he called out, “Yo, Hunter boy! Don’t start the fight just yet, yeah? I’ll secure the premises first.”
“Don’t boss me around, you puny little Player! I’ll kill you off, too, and…” he started, but his sentence was immediately cut off by nothing but a cold, merciless glare from Chase’s eyes. His stare had the weigh of a thousand words, pinning him down to the ground with nothing but an unspoken threat. Admitting his inferiority, he cowered down, mumbling, “Well… Rules are rules…”
“That’s right. Wouldn’t want to face Erasure, now, would you?” Leon grinned widely, gripping the lighter in his hand tightly. When he clicked on it, instead of a small, feeble fire, came out a ball of blue fire that burnt majestically, levitating in his hands. Smiling, he motioned it upwards, to the middle of the space where they stood. She watched in awe as slowly, the crowd parted and left the circular region around them alone, though they didn’t seem to be aware of what had caused them to avoid the section of the road. Satisfied by his work, Leon nodded approvingly, adding, “Yep. Now you can start brawling.”
At first, no one moved—she and the Hunter were merely gazing at each other in an unannounced staring contest; it was like a mutual agreement that whoever would make the first move, lost before the fight even started.
The calm before the storm didn’t last long, however, as the Hunter finally began. He dashed forward, his claw ready at hand to slash away anything in front of him. Defensively, she curled away backwards, raising both arms to cover her face as he approached, and with her movement, the chains of her belt shot upwards, clashing with the man’s claw in a fight of strength. Deciding that she might have a chance after all, she swept her hand from one side to the other, which caused her chains to push the Hunter away from her.
She took this chance to move away from him, but as she did, his wings shot forward, grabbing her ankle and tripping her on to the ground in her escape. She collapsed, wincing in pain, but there was no time to waste. Sending her chains forward again, they pinned his wings down to the ground, giving her the opportunity to sit back up and watch over the situation, panting heavily. The Hunter struggled in the grip of her weapon, and, seeing him groan in pain, her determination wavered. Slowly, she willed for her belt to loosen itself around him, pitying his situation.
Using this moment of foul tricks, the Hunter broke free from her cages, and, in a flash, were back on to the offensive. She didn’t have enough time to see it coming, let alone counter it. Her belts weren’t fast enough to block the surprise attack, and she shut her eyes instinctively in fear, knowing that death, to her, was only a matter of seconds.
There was a sound of impact, but she didn’t feel it upon her. Daring a peek through her closed eyelids, she faced the scene of the Hunter’s collision against Chase’s circle of words that surrounded his body protectively. He stood in front of her, shielding her from their common enemy.
“You’re too soft. Guys like these don’t deserve your sympathy or mercy.”
“What the hell are you…” she began, but Leon placed a hand on her shoulder, pulling her up to her feet, away from the fight about to commence between his companion and the self-proclaimed Hunter.
“It’s alright, hun,” he smiled friendlily, “Let Chase show you how a fight between a Hunter and a player is supposed to look.”
And in front of her eyes, the battle began.
At first, nothing happened, except that the crowd around them continued to pass by without even noticing their presence. She stood beside Leon’s figure, eagerly waiting for something to take place. But just like the previous fight that she fought together with the Hunter, neither party seemed to be willing to take the risk of making the first move. It was almost as if such action was a taboo.
“To those who are after my well-being…” Chase started to speak, and his voice was soft, like that of a silk. But in its smoothness, there lay a dark intention sewn into the threads of the fabric, flowing out like poison from his lips.
The one who started was the Hunter. His quick, fiery nature couldn’t keep him on the watch for too long, and he leaped forward, sending his wings in front of him as a million lances that threatened to pierce through each of Chase’s every limbs. In response, he didn’t launch a counter attack, nor did he dodge his opponent’s multiple blows. All Chase did was stand, waiting for the right moment to come, and when the wings were just inches away from his face, he spoke.
The effect was an immediate one: with nothing but his words, the sharpened feather tips of the Hunter's wings slammed against the ground and ricocheted a three on the Richter scale to the roads around them. The man, too, was dragged down by the sudden jerk of his wings; it was almost as if a weight of a million tonnes was dropped onto them. Chase stood in front of him superiorly, not moving an inch from where he was.
"This skill... You can't be..."
"Needless conversations tire me," he sighed, and this time, he stretched his right arm out with palms wide open, aiming it at his opponent's head. "Are you going to stay and face a humiliating Erasure in the hands of a Player, or are you going to flee to fight for another day?"
"Tch," he cussed, scrambling back to his feet as he took staggering steps back. Eying Chase one last time, he abruptly turned around and sprinted away from the scene without hesitation, not glancing back even once.
The silent victory was broken by Leon's enthusiastic claps and a face like that of an awed child in his first visit to the amusement park. She frowned at his exaggerated antics that didn’t match his outgoing yet rebellious appearance, and in response, he chuckled, returning to his normal expression.
"Didn't expect it to turn out otherwise,” Leon nodded in satisfaction, extinguishing the ball of flame that he previously sent out with a wave of his hand. “Who was that, anyway? For a Hunter, he was way too weak.”
“Well, his nameplate says Hell’s Angel,” he shrugged in response, running a hand through his soft, light brown hair. “What a joke. The Game God clearly overestimated his abilities.”
“I’d say. The way he was, he’d probably be killed by a low-rate, beginner Player; he won’t need a Guardian to Erase him…”
“What the hell are you talking about?” she finally cried, unable to hold it in anymore. Raw emotions of fury, confusion, and fear were sown into her voice as she took a few steps back from the two men in front of her as extra precautions, not daring to take any chances. In this crazy, messed up world that she was in, they could very well be enemies, no different than that of the Hunter. “Hunter? Player? Guardian? Erasure? What is this, a computer game?”
“Oh, I forgot to introduce myself,” Leon avoided her question entirely, grinning as he offered a handshake. “My name’s Leon. What’s yours?”
“I would never give my name out to people I don’t trust,” she hissed, once again on high alert. Sensing her distress, the belts once again began to hover around her protectively. “For all I know, you could be after my life, too, just like that other guy with wings.”
“But we’ve just saved your as…”
“Well, at least you have some common sense,” Chase shrugged, patting Leon’s shoulder to calm him down. “You’re right. This world may very well be foreign to you, but if you can’t put your faith in the people who have saved your life, you would never make it on your own.”
“What if you saved me from that man only to kill me yourselves?”
“That’s absurd; nothing can be gained from killing someone of your own kind,” Leon frowned. “We’re all Players here. Only Hunters have the job to Erase us.”
“How do I know that we’re on the same side?”
“That,” he pointed to her neck. “Anyone who’s wearing this collar is a Player, regardless of its colour.”
“Wait,” she frowned, for once noticing what she had been wearing. The last she remembered, her attires were a shirt, jeans, and her favourite chain belt. She ran to the nearest shop’s windows, staring at her reflection in surprise. Her converse shoes were replaced with white, cotton boots that reached up to her knees, and underneath it were long, black stockings, the kind that she had seen several times on school girl cosplays. Above that was a gray, high-rise miniskirt, with the top as a band that reached up to her waistline. Her shirt had been replaced by a long-sleeved shirt of striped black and lavender, with exposed shoulders. And, just as Leon said, a silver collar with a golden, circular nameplate was resting peacefully around her neck. The only things that remained unchanged were her lavender purse, and the silver chain belt that could now move according to her wills. “Since when has my clothes changed?”
“I think it looks cute,” Leon smiled friendlily. “You should get used to it; it’ll be stuck on you until one Game Cycle is finished.”
She turned back to see him then, slowly echoing, “Game… Cycle?”
“Yep. In fact, it should start anytime now…”
“What’s a Ga…”
“Ah,” Chase spoke softly, stopping the conversation and looking up at the gray sky above them. “The Initiation has begun.”
She frowned at his pause, and, cautiously, she too, stopped to gaze at whatever it was that caught his attention. The sky was suddenly showering the sudden appearance of thousands of thin, red papers that floated down gracefully, avoiding any water droplets from the rain. Leon and Chase both grabbed one of the many that fell close to them, and, following their lead, she, too, took one. Aside from the number ‘3’ written in fine brush strokes in the middle of the paper, nothing else was written.
“What is thi…”
Her sentence couldn’t be finished, for the moment that she began to speak, a strong current of electricity bolted down her body, coursing through her every fibres as she jolted uncontrollably in its overwhelming strength. She wanted to cry out, but her words were masked in the cracks and sizzles of the red, electrical, jagged lines that caged her body. From her half-closed eyes she witnessed that Leon and Chase, too, were tormented by the same phenomenon. To her surprise, the bolts surrounding all three of them seemed to be alive, as they noticed the others’ presence, and, once they did, they turned into a brilliant neon green that pierced her eyes with its dazzling colour. Along with its change of hue, the bolts were consumed into the nameplate of their collars.
Panting, she looked up at the two men who seemed to have completely recovered, and whispered, “W-w-what was that?”
“The Initiation Ceremony,” Chase shrugged, watching as the red sheets of papers around them were suddenly set ablaze in a black fire that reduced it to nothing but ashes that seeped into the wet cement. “In each Game Cycle, Players are grouped into the number shown by the Red Papers. The moment you read the number, your collar will automatically seek for Players closest to you.”
“Does that mean that what happened just now makes the three of us a team?” she cringed. The thought of having to cooperate with the misanthropic man worried her, though she didn’t mind Leon very much despite his rough, muscular body.
“Unfortunately for Leon and I, yes,” he sighed, ruffling his hair once more. “Well, as long as you stay out of our way and don’t drag us down, I suppose we can have you tagging along.”
His statement sparked an anger that was starting to build up in her mind, but she knew that it wasn’t wise to pick a fight with him. From the battle that he recently fought with the Hunter, it was clear that if she wanted to survive, being by his side was definitely beneficial. After all, not only could he protect her from any other attacks which may target her at any moment, he and Leon seemed to have experienced this series of events before.
“Well, now that we’re all stuck with each other, why don’t we have a properly introduce ourselves to our newest member?” Leon decided with an enthusiastic smile. “The name’s Leon Smith, but my Player codename is the Flamethrower. As you can probably guess from that, I’m given the power to control fire.”
“I’m Chase Everson, and I hope to be able to win the Game with you all,” Chase continued the flow, but ended his self-introduction with that.
“What about you?” Leon asked towards her cautiously, expecting her to once again refuse to be involved with him and Chase.
He wasn’t very far off—she did consider venturing off on her own. But in a world where she couldn’t distinguish between friends and foes, and when the millions of pairs of eyes around them weren’t able to see her, let alone come to her aid, she had no other choice. Sighing, she gave in and muttered, “I’m Vivian Hollows.”
Leon nodded, once again extending his hand out. “Well, then, Vivian. Chase and I officially welcome you into the Game.”
Carefully, she relaxed her stance a bit and reluctantly shook his offered hand. His calluses weren’t as hard as she’d expected, grazing against the soft of her palm with a warm, welcoming embrace that pulled her in. His lips never failed to curl into a smile that soothed her worries away. Under his guidance, she felt more at ease, knowing that she wasn’t alone in this mess. He was a friend, someone who would come to her aid in moments of needs—and even in moments when she didn’t need him so much. He was one she would always be able to count and depend on.
Sneaking a peek from the corner of her eyes, she stared at Chase, who seemed uninterested in formalities, and were observing the weather that began to turn clearer, bringing colours back to the sky’s endless canvas of different shades of blue. When he wasn’t saying anything at all, he was the picture of beautiful serenity, standing calmly in the midst of the bustling streets of Shibuya. Bathed in the sun’s rays that penetrated through the last rain clouds, his figure was angelically attractive, dazzlingly shining in the light. Watching the edges of his lips rise up in a soft, gentle smile that touched his eyes made Vivian's heart skip a beat but for a moment; did he truly love the sky that intensely, or was he comforted with the appearance of her presence by his side?
"Here you go, Vivian: your cup of vanilla tea," Leon smiled kindly, placing a China cup of clear brown liquid on the table in front of her.
The three of them were safely seated in a secluded corner of the dimmed chamber of dark marble tables and lush, cushioned sofas of The Tea Leaves, out of the way of the other customers. Because they weren't able to ask for beverages the normal way, Leon had taken the liberty of sneaking into the kitchen and prepared the drinks themselves. Though Vivian found the idea of having someone like Leon brew teas doubtful--she wouldn't be surpised if he'd spiked it--Chase seemed to be perfectly content with it, quietly sipping his latte and consuming his slice of tiramisu. Leon plopped himself down on one of the bean bags opposite of Vivian's armchair, gulping down his chocolate milkshake cheerfully like a child who had never tasted candies. Above them flickered another one of Leon's blue fireballs that he claimed was a 'Repellant' to normal people.
"What's wrong, Vivian? I thought you wanted that," he raised an eyebrow, pointing to Vivian's untouched tea. "Drink up; it isn't everyday that we Players get to eat or drink things."
"Please tell me," she started, trying to both avoid drinking the tea and get the answers to the pile of questions in her head, "What is going on? Why are we cut off from the rest of the world? Where are we and why are we here? Who was that guy you called the Hun..."
"Slow down, there, hun," Leon chuckled, taking another sip of his milkshake. "We know that you’re completely lost; Chase and I have gone through it. There's just so much information to this situation, and I'm not sure how well you're going to receive it."
"I need to know."
"Yeah, I know you do," he sighed, leaning back on his bean bag. "Well, for starters, do you know where we are?"
"Shibuya, right? It’s like Japan’s mini-Paris, with all its fashion trends and talks."
"That is correct... and wrong," he shrugged, trying to find the right words to use. "You see, the Shibuya you see around you belongs to The Real, which is, simply put, the real world. But the Shibuya that we can interact with, the Shibuya that we currently live in, is in The Other. They're like two sides of a mirror, two faces and dimensions of the same location."
"So we're in a parallel dimension to the Earth?"
"I suppose you can say that, though technically speaking, we're still on it. After all, we can still touch objects from The Real, like these drinks," Leon patiently answered, “The only things that can’t see, feel, or hear us are the living from The Real.”
“A-and is there..." she hesitated, not wanting to hear a negative response. "Is there a way to return back? To The Real?"
"Play the Game and become its champion," Chase replied, "Only the winners of the Game may return to The Real World. Other Players either face Erasure--in which case, they disappear completely from the face of the Earth--or they may play the Game again."
"How did we even get to be in the Game? Can anyone simply enter?”
“Of course not,” Leon laughed merrily, “You pay a fee every time you enter a Game Cycle, though the fee varies from person to person. I suppose you’ll know yours, once your memory returns.”
Vivian nodded, trying to believe in everything that they were telling her despite how much of a challenge doing so was. "So how do we win?"
"I'm glad you asked, but unfortunately, it's easier to show you how it’s done, and at the moment, we don't have what's needed..." Leon laughed apologetically. "Well, let's just say that we have to do what the Game God tells us to do..."
"Yes. You see, there're more than just tens of Players involved in the Game. There are the Hunters, whose job is to hunt us Players down, and the Guardians, who're meant to kill the Hunters. Also, there are the Game Moderators: the Gate Keepers, who build obstacles for us Players, and the Game God, who controls everything going on in the Game."
"What kind of a person is the Game God? Is he an actual God?"
"Who knows?" Leon shrugged. "Nobody have seen him and lived to tell the tale. But one thing's for sure: we are no match against his power. Instead of going against a force that we can't win against, why not just go with the flow?"
A silence fell upon them as Vivian fought to put all the pieces together in her mind. She went through the information she has just obtained once more, carefully remembering every tiny detail, just in case she would miss anything. Not wanting the tea to go to waste, she picked it up from the saucer and took a small sip from it—it was must better than she expected. The vanilla was perfectly blended with the bitterness of the tea, turning itself into a natural sweetener; she hardly needed any sugar. As she continued to drink her beverage, she proceeded to watch her companions. Leon went on to fish out the last flavours in the bulks of ice at the bottom of his milkshake, and Chase looked through the contents of his phone casually, once in awhile smirking in between a few clicks on his keyboard. Taking a deep breath, she placed the now-empty cup back onto the table.
"Why are we here?" she whispered, and the two men looked up at her slowly.
"Why are we here?" She repeated, in a louder voice this time. "Why were we taken into The Other?"
The two men glanced at each other with furrowed eyebrows, looking as if they weren't sure of the answer themselves.
"The will of the Game God, I suppose?" Leon tried.
"It's something inevitable?" Chase added.
"But what does it matter? We're going back anyways, aren't we?" Leon grinned, steering the conversation into another direction. "We're going to win the Game together and come back to The Real. That's all we need to focus on."
"Yeah," Vivian replied weakly.
"Well, for now, you just get some rest," he smiled warmly, placing his glass down as he glanced at the watch around his wrist. “The Initiation Ceremony should end anytime now. Once that’s done, just close your eyes shut and don’t think of much, alright?”
“Why? What’s going to…”
She received her answer even before her question was posed. From her neck, another electric bolt sparked through her body, sending pulses after pulses of numbing attack that drowned her in the darkness of the unconscious. She winced in pain, but mostly, her body was overwhelmed with fatigue and drowsiness that pulled her under. Giving in, she closed her eyes, and before she could so much as count to three, she was taken into the slumbers of the welcoming, embracing sleep that promised millions of beautiful dreams.