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Tomorrow's World

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-- October 29th, 2018; 3:43PM --
 

“And, we’re home!” Papa’s voice echoes through the grand, marble hallway. 

The boy feels his jaw drop. It seems like a still from an American home magazine. It’s nothing like the traditional mansions he has seen on TV. Brilliant, large arched windows light the white, marble floors with the sun’s warm, soft beams, and give a stunning view into the estate’s huge garden. He can see a gazebo nestled between a few cherry blossom trees, painted red and orange in the fall foliage of late October. It’s a breathtaking view. 

Before he can stop himself, Keiichi exclaims, “It’s beautiful!” 

“Wow! It’s sooooo big!” he hears his sister, Keiko, too, marvel in awe, right before their father lifts her onto his shoulders. “Papa!” she squeals in surprise. 

He smirks, as he sets Keiko back down on the floor. “It’s a beauty, isn’t it? I bought the house this summer. There’s a indoor and outdoor pool for you to play in and a home movie theater – ” 

“A movie theater?” Keiko gasps with her wide eyes and open mouth. 

Papa laughs. “Not as big as an actual theater, my jewel, but yes.” He pauses for a moment, as if he is choosing his next words carefully. “The next 11 days will be full of fun and games for you both . . . I promise.” 

.
 

“Yori,” Papa calls out to the raven-haired servant, who is dusting the indoor poolroom’s table. “Come here for a moment!”

It’s been two days since Keiichi and Keiko first arrived at Papa’s giant mansion. Their father has been nothing but kind to them, but for a reason he can’t determine, Keiichi has been on the edge, feeling bad that something is going to happen.

“Silly Papa! That’s not Yori!” She giggles, splashing Papa with the water.

“It’s Norio,” says Keiichi, who is sitting at the pool’s edge in his swim trucks, his feet dangling over the edge. That’s strange that Papa would confuse the two servants – yes, they are brothers who both have black hair, but their faces both look completely different from each other. 

“Ah, I’m sorry, Master Gentarou. I am Norio.” 

“Oh.” His father looks taken aback, but then shakes his head and gives a little chuckle. “I apologize, Norio. You and your brother look very similar.” 

Norio smiles back at him. “It’s no worry, Master . . . Yori has gone to pick up the groceries you’ve ordered, but what can I do for you?”

“I needed to tell Yori something important, but it’s alright. I’ll tell him when he returns. Since you’re here, though, can you get us a few towels, please? I think our skin has been pruning for enough in the pool now.” 

He nods dutifully. “Yes, Master.” 

After they leave the pool, Keiichi goes up to his room to shower – he and Keiko have their own rooms with their very own bathrooms in them! – and change into fresh clothing. 

He looks down at Keiichi with a look of both pity and disgust. “What does your mother do with all of the money I give her, that she can’t afford to buy you a pair of proper jeans?” 

“They’re supposed to be in style, Papa,” he replies defends. It’s a lie, though. He doesn’t know what his mother does with the money his father has given for him and Keiko.

Understanding begins to dawn upon Papa’s face as his eyes soften. “I’d like to take you both shopping while you’re here and get you some nice clothing.” 

He feels his father’s palm smooth over his hair once. “We’ll get you a proper haircut, too, cub. Now, let’s go eat.”

And eat they do. 

Keiichi and Keiko feel stuffed beyond belief, since their father has overfed them with such delicious food – a feast, really, satisfying even the picky Keiichi, who finds many foods to be bland and tasteless. Their dinners thus far have been more than what they eat at home with their mother, but today’s dinner was massive. Yori cooked up all of Keiichi's and Keiko’s favorite foods. Their father watches them dig into their food, amused.

After dinner, the three of them head up to the game room Papa has made for them, with video game consoles and table games Papa has brought back from his recent trip to America. They play for a few hours or so, with Papa watching them silently, until they’re in the middle of their second game of air hockey. 

“I forgot my phone.” 

Keiichi gasps, startled by his father’s voice and immediately looks up at Papa - whose face is pensive - releasing his paddle. He then hears the puck fall into his slot, and Keiko cheering. 

He turns back to her with a pout. “Hey, wait, no fair!” he whines. “I wasn’t paying attention – ” 

Papa stares at him intently. “Keiichi, get my phone from the kitchen, please.” 

“Just one minute, Papa, please!” he pleads, before turning to his sister. “Keiko, you – ” 

His eyes narrow at his son. “Keiichi, I asked you to get my phone from the kitchen.” His voice is calm, but also icy enough to make Keiichi stop speaking and straighten up his back. Keiko, too, stops giggling. 

Keiichi bows his head down. “I-I’m sorry, Papa,” he stammers. “I’ll get it now.” He quickly runs out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen. 

Papa’s high-tech, advanced phone is on the marble countertop, where they ate. Keiichi immediately grabs it. Unable to resist, he unlocks the phone and opens the game application he always likes to play on Papa’s phone.

In the middle of his game, however, he hears a hissing sound from his right somewhere. It makes him look up from the phone. In his peripheral vision, he sees a blur of black. Is that Yori? He turns his head to see, but can’t find anything or anyone.

A strong scent hits his nostrils and he feels his eyelids grow heavier and heavier – but where is that sound coming from . . . ? 

The phone slips from Keiichi’s hand as he feels himself lose consciousness.

He drifts between in and out of consciousness, with no idea of what is happening, but the next time he fully wakes up, he’s in a flooding cabin on a ship, with a Number 9 bracelet on his wrist.

.
 

-- November 2nd, 2018; 12:23AM --

 
“Papa!” he cries out happily, running to the familiar figure that looms in front of him. He has just escaped the cabin with the Number 9 door painted on it. Narrowly escaped, actually. Whatever the case is, Keiichi feels so relieved. The water in that flooded the cabin was getting past his knees, causing half of his pants to get drenched. But now that he sees Papa, he can go home to him and Keiko and change out of these uncomfortable jeans. 

He is about to hug Papa in relief, but his smirks stops Keiichi from doing so. It’s a scary place, and now, his father seems to be acting scary, too. 

“Keiichi. There’s my boy.” 

“Papa! Papa, what’s going on?!” he asks frantically, holding his hand hesitantly. “Where are we? Where is Keiko?!” 

Without any answer or prelude or worry for Keiichi, Papa speaks in a dark voice. “Listen to me, Keiichi. This ship is about to sink. You only have 9 hours to get off. Follow the rules in place and you’ll be off before it happens . . . think of it as a game of sorts.” 

“What?!” Keiichi shrieks. “Papa, no, I don’t want to play this game!” He holds back his cries, knowing Papa will get upset and rebuke him for his tears. He holds his father’s forearm and tugs on it. “Take me off this ship – please, Papa, please!” 

“Keiichi,” Papa says softly, but his smile doesn’t fade, “Nothing will happen to you as long as you follow the rules. You’re my son. I won’t let anything happen to you.” 

He sniffles, but doesn’t say anything. 

Papa smiles, pleased. “Now pay attention. One of the rules that won’t be told to you, and that you have to keep to yourself is that you must keep tabs on Participant 5 . . . whatever door she goes through, you will go through. I want you to learn what you can about her. I’ve given you an advantage that will help you in the game and help you follow that participant. Do you follow what I am saying?” His father’s eyes take on a crazed, unfamiliar look as he smirks.

Keiichi gulps and nods shakily. 

“My eyes will be on you at all times. Nothing will happen to you and you will not get hurt, but you mustn’t fail this task, Keiichi . . . after all, Keiko’s trapped, too.” 

His eyes widen. “What?! Where is she?!” he cries, grabbing onto Papa’s arm again and shaking it slightly. 

Papa gently removes Keiichi’s hands from his arms. “She’s stuck like you.” He sounds calm, but his eyes are wildly lit up. 

Keiichi gasps. “K-Keiko!” he calls out, as his head moves around, desperate to find her. “Keiko!” 

“She’s not here. She’s in a place similar but in a different place. The only difference is, she’s in a building on land, and you’re on a cruise liner in the water.” 

He gasps. “Why? Why is she there? Why are we here? Why are you doing this? Tell me,” he pleads in a whimper. 

“Shh, shh. No questions, cub.” Papa’s voice is nearly mocking, and it unnerves Keiichi. “She’s safe for now, but in order for her to stay safe, you need to follow my directions. Finish the game and you’ll both be back with me at home soon enough. It’s only 9 hours, Keiichi.” 

Keiichi wants to argue with Papa, but the man’s steely gaze stops him from opening his mouth. He nods curtly. “Yes, Papa. I won’t let you down.” Tears fill his eyes, but he does his best to keep them from falling. 9 hours. He could do this. For Keiko.

Papa grins lecherously. “Good. That’s my cub.” He pats his son’s head twice, almost lovingly, and it leaves his son with a sad smile that twists into a grimace not a full two seconds later.

.
 

“M-My bracelet number is 1.” The short boy pushes his glasses up. Keiichi recognizes him as Uncle Teruaki’s son, Fumio. 

“My number is 2,” says the blind boy, Light - he already introduced himself to the group and just prompted them to tell everyone their bracelet numbers.

Ryota Musashidou is here, too. Keiichi has always found him to be a bully whenever they’ve met at Cradle’s company parties. “My number is 3.” The burly boy punches a fist against his palm.

The white-haired boy with the blue scarf shrugs. “4.” 

Keiichi holds his breath as he awaits the next number.

“My number’s 5,” a voice speaks up softly. Keiichi’s eyes immediately meet the violet eyes of the brunette who just spoke. This is the girl who his father ordered him to stay with. 

A little girl with reddish-brown hair speaks up next. “I am 6.” 

“And I am 7.” 

“My number is 8.” 

Keiichi takes a deep breath. “9.” And then it hits him. This is the advantage his father mentioned. If his math is right, he can go through any door he pleases, since adding 9 to a set of numbers does not change their digital root. That means it will be easy to take whatever door that girl goes through. 

“Why don’t we introduce ourselves?” Light suggests. 

While they speak, Keiichi takes a few steps closer to the girl with the number 7 bracelet. “Rikona?” he whispers, as he pulls Mr. Nijisaki’s daughter’s arm to drag her away from the group. 

“Hello, Keiichi.” She nods back, unsurprised by his presence. Does she know what is going on? 

“What are you doing here?” he questions. “Do you know what’s happening? Why are we here?!” His voice grows louder and desperate with each question. 

“Shut up,” she hisses back at him. “Shika and Keiko need us to get through this without any trouble.” Shika is Rikona’s little sister. 

“What? You know where they are?!"

From the corner of his eye, Keiichi sees that the white-haired boy with the number 4 bracelet, Aoi, peers over the group of people to see him and Rikona together. “Hey!” he calls out. “What are you two planning over there? Do you both know each other?” 

Keiichi steps forward and nods. “Yes. She is my friend, Rikona.” That might have been the wrong thing to say, because he feels Rikona pinch his hip. He winces and holds back his yelp, but thankfully, Aoi doesn’t notice. 

The others begin to speculate on why they’re here – and Fumio and Ryota’s silence leaves Keiichi surprised, since he would have thought that they’d acknowledge that they knew each other – but Rikona ominously whispers into Keiichi’s ear, “Why the hell did you tell them that we know each other?” 

Keiichi blinks in confusion, but doesn’t turn to Rikona. “What’s the point in hiding it?” 

She ignores him, and continues on. “At least, Ryota and Fumio had the brains to keep quiet.” 

Aoi is about to open his mouth to speak but is interrupted by a voice speaking through the intercom. 

Welcome aboard . . . I welcome you all, from the bottom of my heart, to this, my vessel.

A chill runs through Keiichi as he hears the voice explain that – it may well be distorted through a voice changer, but the cadence of speech is his father’s. Through listening to his sickening words, Keiichi discovers that each participant has a sibling in a building, similar to this, who is transmitting information to them through some morphogenetic field thing – something that Light promises to explain more about, when the others, except for Rikona and Fumio, of course, express their confusion on. That means Keiko is in Building Q, playing the Nonary Game, too. 

After his father goes over all of the rules of this twisted game, the others discuss their next course of action, in regards to the doors. Keiichi immediately takes charge and calculates in his head on how to divide the teammates between doors, so that he can pair himself up with Akane easily. He has never done mental math so quickly in his life, and chalks it down to the pressure of this life-threatening situation he is in, and of saving his sister from their father’s clutches.

“Number 2, Number 5, Number 6, and I, Number 9, will take Door 4. The rest of you can take Door 5, because, when we add your numbers, 1, 3, 4, 7, and 8, up, you get 23, and its digital root is 5.” He says it all in one breath, and sighs in relief when the others agree to the plan – Aoi does make a face, and the girl in the green dress and the bracelet with an 8 on it, Nona, frowns. 

Keiichi isn’t sure why Aoi is not completely on board with the plan, but Nona makes her reason known immediately. 

She walks up to Keiichi, holding the hand of the girl with the bracelet number 6. “Take special care of her, please. She’s only 6 years old, like the number on her bracelet; she is the youngest out of all of us.” She lets go of the girl’s hand and smiles at her.

“We’ll meet again soon.”

Chapter Text

“What’s your name?” the small, red-head girl with the number 6 bracelet asks Keiichi in Room B92, one of the second-class cabins, as she holds out a box of matches to him.

He contemplates ignoring her question, as he takes the box from her and places it in his pocket, keeping it for when it will come in handy. But the warm, innocent look in her eyes reminds him of Keiko. “Keiichi,” he answers earnestly, giving her a soft, small smile. “What’s yours?”

She gives him a wide grin, and the set of teeth she shows reveals a few missing teeth, just like his sister’s. Her toothy – or somewhat toothless smile – makes Keiichi feel a twinge of sadness. “Aya.” 

“Nice to meet you, Aya.” 

He thinks about Keiko, and he wonders what she is doing right now.
 

.
 

He still doesn’t get what’s so funny about this “Funyarinpa,” that Akane giggles on about with Aya. 

Aya had no idea what that picture in the 2nd Class Cabin was, until Akane whispered “Funyarinpa” to herself and burst into giggles. Keiichi saw a dog, not some Funyarinpa thing, and Light . . . well, Light, of course, couldn’t see a damn thing. 

As he sighs to himself in the pantry of the kitchen, where he is inspecting a rusty knife, he hears a laugh. 

“I don’t know what the hell a ‘Funyarinpa’ is either, if it comforts you any bit.” 

Keiichi turns around to see Light, standing with a smirk on his face. His fingers toy with a thin, yellow rectangle in his hands. 

He rolls his eyes, even though Light can’t see the action. “The girls are driving me nuts with it . . . nice bookmark, by the way,” Keiichi comments, eying the object, which elicits a wistful smile out of Light. 

“Thank you.” He nods. “I found it in the 2nd Class Cabin. Akane told me it had a picture of a 4-leaf clover on it, so I held on to it as a good luck charm.” He carefully places the bookmark into his pocket as his face becomes serious. “Keiichi, may I touch your bracelet for a moment?” 

“Um, sure.” A slightly confused Keiichi takes a step forward and holds out his arm. Light leans over to press the buttons on his bracelet, which causes beeping sounds.

“Hmm . . .” 

But Keiichi’s not paying attention to him. His focus is on Akane, who is crying out happily to Aya. He still hasn’t been able to determine what is so special about this girl. She’s been struggling, just like the rest of them, to seek a way out of the rooms. She isn’t naturally gifted at solving the puzzles, nor has she displayed any talent with the “morphogenetic field” that his father informed them about over the loudspeaker earlier. She is just an ordinary, average girl. 

His trail of thought breaks when he feels Light’s grasp on his wrist loosen. “I think Akane has discovered a way to open up that door. We should check it out.” Light gives a satisfied smile.
 

.
 

They’re running. 

They’re all running across the long, straight, seemingly never-ending hallway. 

Rikona and Aya are on both sides of Keiichi, each holding his hand – he was already holding little Aya’s hand when both of the groups crossed paths and they heard the bells toll, revealing that 2 hours had already gone by, but he’s not sure how he ended up holding Rikona’s hand. It feels slightly odd, since Rikona is a girl, his age, and he has never held a girl’s hand before. 

All he does know, though, is that she looks scared. (And maybe she sees the same fear in his eyes, too.) It’s a sight for sore eyes, since he has never seen her so vulnerable before. He has always admired her strength and confidence, even has come at the price of her bossiness. He gives her hand a small squeeze, and smiles reassuringly at her, but that seems to break the spell, as she recoils her hand back and slows her pace a bit. Coincidentally, at the same time, Aya gives him a lasting look before letting go of his hand, too, to run past Fumio and Ryota, so she can grab onto Nona’s hand. 

Though surrounded by 8 other people, who are running down the hallway with him, Keiichi now feels alone. 

"Come on! Over here!" Aoi screams hoarsely. He and Light have been leading the group of children down the hallway, since they are the oldest – they are both 15. Keiichi is the third oldest, at almost 14 years old. "C'mon! Hurry up!" 

They continue running for a few more minutes, before Aoi reduces his pace, grabbing a hold of Light’s arm, too, to slow him down.

“I see a set of doors ahead!” he shouts excitedly, and then he sprints ahead, with a startled Light in tow. “Come on, guys!”

But when they all finally reach the doors and burst into the large hospital room, all hell breaks loose. 

It starts when Keiichi accidentally bumps into Ryota. “Watch it!” the brawny boy warns in a low, threatening voice. “Don’t try to bump into me again, or else I’ll make you pay for it!” 

“Hey, sorry. It was an accident.” Keiichi shrugs, but then, under his breath, he mutters, “But it’s not my fault you think everything’s about you.” 

“Why, you little punk!” Ryota growls at him, taking a step towards Keiichi. Before Keiichi realizes what he is trying to do, Ryota’s fists fly at his chest. 

Keiichi steps back, recoiling from the punches. Fuck, he almost says out loud. It hurts like a bitch, but he won’t back down. He springs back at Ryota with a right hook of his own, which causes the other boy to grunt in pain and attack back. 

Aya, who watches them with fearful, teary eyes, begins to weep. “I wanna go home!” she cries. “I wanna go home!” 

Immediately, Rikona comes forward and slaps the crying girl’s cheek. She glares down at her. “Quiet, you brat! There’s already enough going on here, and no one needs you to add to it by crying!” 

Enraged, Keiichi takes one step away from where he and Ryota had just fought, and one towards Rikona. “What the hell is wrong with you, Rikona!? She’s only a child!” he growls in her face, at the same Nona shouts, “Why did you slap her!?” 

Aoi, too, flares his nostrils and crosses his arms over his chest. “Hey, you’re calling her a brat? She’s just a little kid who is scared and wants to go home like the rest of us! You’re the one who’s really acting like a brat!” 

Rikona’s eyes flash in fury. “What did you just call me!?” 

“Aoi, I think you should calm down a bi – ” 

“I called you a brat! That’s what you are. A spoiled, bossy, brat.” 

In spite of the situation, Keiichi fights back the smirk that threatens to spread across his face. Aoi’s words are spot on, and describe Rikona perfectly. 

Aya begins crying once more, which causes Rikona to growl in frustration – and that makes Keiichi, along with Aoi and Nona, to rebuke Rikona more. In the meanwhile, Ryota, who now has no one to fight with, turns to pick on Fumio and Akane. Aoi breaks away from his quarrel with Rikona to angrily yell at Ryota to knock it off and to stop being such a bully. Keiichi spots Akane sighing in hopelessness, and then his eyes flicker to a silent Light, who seems to be listening thoughtfully.

After a minute, Light finally speaks.

“Hello! Everyone! Yes, could you come over here for a moment?” he requests politely, but the authority in his voice pulls everyone from their fighting and makes them attentive to his words, as if he has just commanded them. He beckons them to where he stands, and they all gather around him. 

“I have a little sister,” he starts in a solemn voice. “She is very important to me. Right now, she is over in Building Q and is desperately trying to send information over to me. Her name is Clover, and today is her 9th birthday." His words make Keiichi’s chest tighten; Keiko’s birthday is in a few days, too – though, he’s not sure how long it’s been since he was taken from his father’s house, so he doesn’t know how many days are left. 

Light pulls some kind of plants out of his pocket, and Keiichi realizes they are a bunch of four-leaf clovers. That explains why he had kept been so drawn to that bookmark. “I was going to give these to her, as a birthday present. I was outside picking them when I was abducted. I'm sure I've already told you, but I am blind. For a man who can't see, collecting 9 of a very specific plant is . . . Well, it is difficult. But my sister means a great deal to me, and I hoped that these would show her how much I cared for her. Since it's her 9th birthday, I thought 9 4-leaf clovers would be appropriate.” Light gives a sad smile as he speaks. “Every one of you has a brother or a sister in Building Q with Clover. For their sake, we have to survive. We have to get off this ship. Do you understand?” 

Keiichi nods, and so do the others. 

“If we're going to do that, there are 3 things you have to remember,” Light informs them, his free hand now clenched into a determined fist. “We need trust and love, and we have to have faith in one another. If we can take all 3 of those to heart, then I promise that good luck will come our way . . . Did you know that the leaves on the 4-leaf clover mean 'faith', 'trust', 'love', and 'luck'? Those words are leaf words.” 

Faith, trust, love, and luck. Keiichi faintly remembers his mother once telling him something reminiscent of this. 

“So,” he says, as he begins to distribute a clover to each person, “if you believe what I've told you, and you understand, then I want you each to have one of these. They're a promise, between friends . . .” Light smiles in Keiichi’s direction as he finishes his words, holding out a clover for him to take. 

After he takes the four-leaf clover, Light is left with one for himself.

"Now don't ever forget . . . So long as you have that, we will always be connected. Do you understand?" 

Keiichi’s eyes quickly flicker to Aya, then Rikona, and then to Akane, who holds her clover to her chest, almost in reverence. 

With a sudden air of tranquility settling over them, Keiichi thinks he can begin to feel and understand this connection that Light speaks of with the others.

.

“Um, how old are you again?” 

“12, like Akane.” 

“No way! You’re 12?” 

“Uh, yeah.” Nona gives Aoi’s shocked face a quizzical look. 

Keiichi, Nona, Aoi, and Akane are in the Laboratory behind Door 8 right now. Because of the way the other children had their bracelet numbers added up (along with the fact that Aoi and Light decided that Keiichi and Ryota should not be going through the same door), they are currently somewhere behind Door 3. 

There’s Door 7 to explore, as well, so Keiichi, Aoi, and Light decided that if everyone arrives before the next two bells ring, then some of them could find a way back to that big hospital room and check it out, while the others look for more doors. 

Keiichi doesn’t really care if they get to explore Door 7 or not, but Akane seems anxious to do so. 

Come to think of it, Akane has been acting slightly weird since they went through Door 8. She was insistent to go through Door 7, but Keiichi managed to convince everyone that going through that door was not as necessary and would cause people to be left behind, so that he could take Door 8 with Akane.

His argument had flaws, as the combinations led to one or two people being left behind, but it wasn’t brought to attention. God must have been watching out for him because Rikona started to pick a fight with Aya for crying again, and when everyone rebuked her for doing so, she decided to stay put in the hospital room, irritated. Of course, everyone objected to this and was not willing to leave her behind. 

To this, she rolled her eyes and pulled out a map of C-Deck, and showed them how they were going to end up back in the big hospital room again, but probably with keys that would open the locked doors they saw earlier. They were all still reluctant to leave her alone, in case something happened to her, but Rikona assured them that she would be fine and knew “how to kick some ass.” After much, much arguing, everyone finally agreed with her decision, albeit reluctantly. Keiichi knows that she’s fine, though. Papa wouldn’t dare to lay a finger on Mr. Nijisaki’s daughter. It at least worked out because then Ryota, Light, Aya, and Fumio were able to make a digital root of 3, and enter that numbered door. 

But where did Rikona even get that map? More importantly, did she realize that if she did not stay behind, Keiichi would have been put under the radar for his calculations? Was she trying to help Keiichi? 

It doesn’t matter, though. Right now, Keiichi is just a little nervous about the fact that Aya is with Ryota. Of course, he trusts Light and Fumio (but, mainly, Light, as Fumio doesn’t have much of a backbone, like his father, according to Papa) to handle anything that might arise; but Keiichi can’t help but be anxious . . . oh, if it weren’t for his father’s orders. 

He knows Nona is worried about Aya, too. He can tell in the way her hand trembles as her fingers tap at the keyboard impatiently, as she waits for the computer to follow her command. Poor Akane has been trapped in the area where there is a mannequin she has dubbed “Science Boy,” which, Keiichi will admit, is better than “Funyarinpa” – where this girl gets these names from, only heaven knows. 

“How the hell do you know how to get into the computer without knowing the password?”

Nona rolls her eyes. “Oh, come on, 12 isn’t that young, and what I’m doing is not rocket science. All you need to do is enter the system through Safe Mode with Command Prompt and change the password of the account using CMD, and then shut down the system and log into the account normally and type in the new password. It’s very basic.” 

Keiichi’s and Aoi’s jaws are wide open in astonishment and in owe of Nona’s computer skills. 

“Uh, Nona, you lost me at the safe mode part,” Keiichi admits sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. 

“You lost me at 12 isn’t that young – ow, ow, fuck! Nona, that hurt like a bitch!” 

Nona stops her ambush on Aoi and lets out a giggle from hearing him curse. 

Keiichi, too, gives a hearty laugh at Aoi’s reaction to Nona’s angry punch, and it feels relieving. He hasn’t laughed like this in a while. 

“Idiots, the two of you.” She sighs, shaking her head. “Imagine if you guys were in here without me – you would have been screwed. If this wasn’t Windows, and it was, like, a Mac or something, you both would have been double-screwed. Oh, even triple-screwed, if you had to maybe brute-force it – but even I don’t know how to do that, so we’d all be screwed, really.” 

Keiichi’s eyebrows knit in confusion. “How did you say you know what you’re doing again?” 

“My mom’s a cyber-security expert and worked at a firm until my dad made her quit,” Nona responds, her face darkening in the light of the screen’s display. “She would be able to brute-force this thing in a pinch.” 

“You can’t . . . brute-force this thing, you said, so are you cracking into the computer system?” Aoi asks. 

“No, I’m, you could say on a very, very, very small level, hacking into the computer to get in without the password.” 

“That’s what I’m saying.” 

Nona shakes her head. “No, you aren’t.” She smirks. “In this case, hacking isn’t illegal, but cracking usually is.” 

Aoi rolls his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest. “Aren’t you very cocky?” he mutters under his breath. 

Nona’s eyes narrow in anger at the screen, and before she and Aoi can begin to butt heads, Keiichi quickly asks, “What’s the difference, anyway? They both sound like the same thing.” 

“Amateurs.” She gives them an exasperated sigh. “They are somewhat similar, but cracking is when you hack with malicious, illegal intentions, while hacking is usually just for fun, experimenting, or to test the boundaries of a system.” 

“I don’t care if it’s hacking or cracking, or if it’s legal or not. Just get my sister out of that creepy hellhole.” Aoi peers over Nona and Keiichi to look at Akane, who is standing on the other side of the Laboratory, clenching onto the iron bars that cage her. “Akane!” he shouts. “You okay?” 

“Yeah, I’m fine!” Keiichi hears her voice call out, slightly muffled from being farther away. “Don’t worry about me and keep looking for more stuff. I’ll look around in here.” 

“Okay, but please, be careful.”

Wait a minute. “W-Wait, Akane is your sister?!” Keiichi splutters in surprise. 

Nona’s eyebrows shoot up to her forehead in realization and shock as well. “I thought everyone was separated from their sibling!?”

Aoi grimaces. “Akane’s a transmitter. She’s not supposed to be here – she’s supposed to be in Building Q; but, there seems to have been some sort of mix up and now, she’s here with me.” 

It can’t be a simple mistake of switching two people . . . it had to be done with purpose – Papa wouldn’t asked me to watch Participant 5 if this was purely an accident, no?  

Was this the reason he was supposed to watch her carefully? Why he has to go through the same doors as her? 

Nona momentarily turns away from the screen to look at Aoi sadly. “At least, your sister is here with you.” 

Keiko’s smiling face flashes through Keiichi’s mind. 

“At least, your sister doesn’t risk drowning on the Gigantic with you, and is safe in Building Q.” Aoi laughs bitterly. 

Keiichi and Nona stay silent. The only sound that can be heard for the following moments is the sound of Nona typing away at the keyboard. 

Her eyes are completely focused on white code displayed across the black screen in front of her. 

“Hmmm . . . user name ‘Nonary’ . . . change password to ‘aoisucks4.’”

Aoi cracks a smile at that, and Nona gives a satisfied grin, happy to lighten up the somber mood.

“And, done!” She flashes Aoi an encouraging smile. “Don’t worry, guys. We’ll get Akane out of here, and be off this ship in no time.”

Chapter Text

When they escape the laboratory, they run along a long hallway that leads them back to the large hospital room, like Rikona told them. They’re all relieved to see that she’s unharmed, and Keiichi and Nona are at peace to see Aya again. Ryota is behaving well it seems. 

The children begin to discuss their next plan of action. They have managed to acquire a set of keys and cards, and inform each other how they have obtained them behind Door 3 and Door 8. 

“What about Door 7?” Akane wonders, before Keiichi can open his mouth to suggest that they should look for the doors that will open with the keys they have found instead. “Is there anyway we can check out that door?” 

Fumio slides his glasses up his nose. “We can split up. One set of us can look a-around for more doors, while you guys go off.” 

“Perfect!” Akane beams at him, causing his cheeks to flush slightly. 

So, as the others look for other doors with the new keys, Keiichi, Akane, Aoi, and Rikona go to check out Door 7, and all the while, Rikona, who has learned from Fumio, explains how to solve each puzzle. 

“And what is the code to the safe?”

Rikona huffs at Akane. “I thought I already told you. You have to figure out how many atoms are in Carbon Dioxide, Ammonia, and Ethanol.”

Keiichi racks his brain, struggling to remember what he learned in his chemistry class last year. “So, 3, 4 . . . and 9?” he guesses. 

“Yes.” 

“Alright, 3,4, and 9.” Akane nods to herself, which makes Keiichi suspicious. 

“Why are you – ?” 

Akane shrugs. “I’m just wondering.” 

But the way she bites her lip nervously makes Keiichi think there’s more to what meets the eye. 

When they return from Door 7, the group discovers from Light, Aya, Fumio, and Ryota that the E-Deck isn’t flooded, and that they have found Doors 1, 2, and 6.

Keiichi directs the group once more, though, this time Aoi insists he wants to go through a door with Akane. Keiichi and Rikona’s calculations, however, do not allow for him and Akane to go through the same door as Aoi. 

“Why do you have to be the one to figure out what doors we go through anyway, Keiichi?!”

Shit. Keiichi quickly racks his mind for an excuse. “Because I’m following the same way the others in Building Q have been going through the doors! My sister has been transmitting me the information, and I think the best way to go about this is to follow what they’ve been doing!”

It’s actually quite the opposite. 

Keiichi has been transmitting the way he’s been leading everyone on the Gigantic to Keiko. She, in turn, has been directing everyone in her group which doors to go through based on the information she has been receiving from him. It’s a lie that works out splendidly, actually, because everyone here has been receiving information from their siblings about the doors they have gone through, and they all think that Keiko – who has been being led by her brother – has been leading their siblings in Building Q. 

It makes him wonder if that’s why he’s on the Gigantic and Keiko is in Building Q, instead of the other way around – the way it really should be – considering he is the transmitter and she’s the receiver.

Thankfully, Light interjects before Aoi can protest any further, and asks him not to fret, since they’ll reunite soon. He also calmly adds that they also don’t have the time to be arguing over this. With a scowl, Aoi reluctantly agrees. 

So, they divide up into teams of three: Aoi, Nona, and Rikona to Door 1, Light, Ryota, and Aya to Door 2, and Keiichi, Akane, and Fumio to Door 6. 

Keiichi is nearly positive now that Rikona knows why he needs to be sorting the groups and is trying to help him out.


.
 

Keiichi is secretly afraid of heights, but sucks it up and steps slowly down the stairs of the big Steam Engine area, with an also reluctant Fumio, and a confident Akane who flies down the stairs ahead of them. 

Throughout their time in escaping the area, he notices Akane touching her cheeks and forehead occasionally, as if she has a fever, and he even asks her a few times if she’s alright, but she quickly assures him that she is.

As he climbs up the steep stairs once more, on his way to the final puzzle that is near the exit door, he swallows back the bile that rises up his throat, wondering to himself if this is father’s way of personally punishing him.

.

Keiichi squints and brings the card closer to his face. “These cards . . . are they supposed to be blurry mugshots of us?” 

“Everyone’s faces look the same,” Akane, who has been helping him find the cards, comments. “Why are they blurry? They shouldn’t be blurry.” The last bits of her words are in a murmur, but Keiichi catches them anyway. 

Fumio walks down the metal staircase of the Cargo Room, to where she and Keiichi are standing. “I wonder . . . is this puzzle supposed to show how people with p-prosopagnosia see faces?” 

Akane's eyes widen. “Prosopagnosia,” she whispers to herself in shock. 

“Huh? Progo-what?” 

Fumio slides up his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. “Prosopagnosia,” he corrects Keiichi. “It’s a d-disorder where the mind can’t tell between human facial structures. I heard m-my father talk about it once.”

Akane swallows and then nods. “Y-Yeah, and everyone’s faces look all the same. It’s kind of like with animals. If you go to the zoo and look at all of the monkeys, you can’t really tell the difference between each of them, right? It’s supposed to be kind of like that.” 

“Mm-hm.” Fumio nods back. “There are t-two types: acquired and congenital. Acquired prosopagnosia happens when the part of your brain that can d-distinguish between faces is damaged, and congenital prosopagnosia is when you’re born with the disorder.” 

Keiichi has never heard of anything like that before. “So, if you have prosopagnosia, how are you supposed to figure out who is whom?” he wonders, his eyes flitting to the cards in Akane’s hands. 

“Y-You’re supposed to go by the p-person’s voice or visual cues, like a person’s hair and s-skin color, their clothes, and their b-body,” Fumio explains, as he looks around the crates and barrels for anything they might have missed.

“But it would be easy to mistake relatives, even with those cues,” Akane argues, as she shuffles through the cards. “Hey!” She holds one up. “I think this one’s of you, Keiichi! I don’t think anyone else has that kind of hair!” She giggles. “It reminds me of a lion.” 

Keiichi smiles weakly, taking the card from her and inserting into the slot of the box with the 9 on it. “Yeah. That’s why my dad calls me his cub . . . now, come on, let’s get out of here.” 

The three of them sift through the cards and put them in their proper slots, and then retrieve the pins from the boxes that have now opened. 

They use the pins to solve the puzzle at the control panel and a slot opens to reveal a rusty key. Akane is bewildered, muttering something to herself about the lack of a Pushmaster 5000. Keiichi holds back his chuckle at her weirdness as they all walk back down the stairs to the exit, and use the key to open the door.

Akane and Fumio walk through the exit, but Keiichi feels himself stop in the doorway. His feet are planted in the ground and he feels immobilized, unable to move, heavy with the realization that has just dawned upon him. 

He turns once more to stare at the 9 blue boxes intently, as the faces of Papa’s servants, Yori and Norio, come into his mind. 

“Keiichi?” Fumio calls out questioningly. 

Akane, too, is confused by his behavior. “Hey, what’s wrong?” 

Keiichi is silent for a moment before he answers in a small whisper, “I think . . . I think the person who has been making us play the Nonary Game has prosopagnosia.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, let’s go find the Number 9 Door,” Nona announces, as they reach the Central Staircase on B Deck.

Keiichi is grateful that he is no longer in that Cargo Room with the cards that remind him of his father's possible truth. Prosopagnosia . . .

But does it really have anything to do with why he and the rest of the players have been roped into this game?

“Wait . . . what’s behind Door 1?” Akane wonders, as she looks up to A Deck. “I’d like to look up there if we have the time.” 

So, as the others look for Door 9, Light and Aya show Akane through Door 1; though, this time, Keiichi stays back. He doesn’t feel the need to follow them. After all, this door as already been explored, so it doesn’t apply to his father’s orders, right? He sits at the bottom of the steps of the grand staircase, waiting for them return.

After 20 minutes, he hears voices above him and he stands up to see that they’re back, but on the other side of A Deck. It seems that they just exited from a different door then. 

“Hey!” Keiichi is startled by a familiar voice's shout from beside him - he didn't realize that Ryota has also returned from hunting for the next door. Ryota is looking up at the A deck as well, calling out to Akane, Aya, and Light. “Come on, hurry, we found the number 9 door!” he shouts. 

When they gather together, he takes them all down to where they exited from the Cargo Hold. Damn, if Keiichi had known that the door was right down the hallway, he would have explored it earlier – but Fumio also suggested to check in with the others before going any further, too.

They enter a room that looks like a Chapel. Aoi, Rikona, Fumio, and Nona have been standing in the room, waiting for them. They all gather around, and Light deduces that there are two number 9 doors to accommodate for two teams to go through. As he and Keiichi discuss how to divide the group of people, Keiichi feels hopeful.

This is it. The exit lies just ahead of these two doors.

.
 

They’re running again.

Running and running and running. 

It is all a maze. An awful, awful maze. 

After running out of the strange, dark room with the pipes – which Keiichi took to call the Study in his head, since it is messy and cluttered like his father’s study back in his mansion – they burst into the Library. As the fifth bell tolls, Aoi immediately sprints for the door with the Uranus card reader, and within seconds, he has the door open, beckoning Akane, Aya, and Rikona to get out as he stays behind, only waiting for the last person to enter the hallway before he joins. 

Now, Keiichi leads everyone down the long corridor, panting as he runs. His hand digs into his pocket and curls around the Neptune key, upon reaching the next door. He puts the key into the keyhole, and lets out a sigh of relief as he hears the click of the lock. 

To the group’s surprise, when they enter the hallway, they run into the others. Everyone stands around for a moment, happy to be reunited, but Light and Aoi urge everyone to begin running again, as time is of the essence. So they continue making their way down the long-winded hallway, and then enter another strange hallway. There are a few warning signs around this new hallway, which alarms Keiichi. 

There’s a door in the area that can be opened with a lever, so, with nowhere else they can go, Aoi immediately grabs ahold of said lever and yanks it down. The door slides open with a loud, elongated screech, and everyone makes their way into a large room with an upside-down funnel-shaped roof.

And they see another number 9 door. 

Nona gasps. “There’s only one number 9 door!” 

“If there’s only one door, then only five of us can escape,” Rikona whispers sadly. 

Keiichi’s breath hitches when he realizes he can’t think of any more options. “W-What are we going to do!?” 

“There aren’t any other doors!?” Fumio cries. 

If Keiichi thinks this is the peak of the terror everyone is feeling, then he is absolutely wrong, because as soon as he opens his mouth to say something more, the doors of the large room slide shut – the same metallic screech causes him to wince. 

Warning,” a voice announces. It’s similar to the kind of announcements made in shopping centers and airports. “Warning. Emergency incineration command has been acknowledged. Automatic incineration will take place in . . . 18 minutes. Please evacuate the incinerator immediately. 

Repeat . . . Emergency incineration command has been acknowledged.”

Keiichi’s eyes bug out of their sockets. Incineration? Evacuate? What the hell is going on!? "What?!” 

"What's happening?!” This time, Ryota is shouting.

Akane turns to Aoi and tugs on his arm. "What did that thing say?!”

"That didn't sound good!” Nona says in reply, her eyes on the number 9 door. 

Aoi swallows hard before answering. "I think it means this room is gonna burn . . . " 

“Burn . . . ?” 

Aoi continues speaking. "The plaque on the door says incinerator. And that voice said that the incineration is about to start . . . And incinerate means to burn . . ." 

"Nooooooo!” Akane shrieks.

"Help meeeee!” 

Panic and terror sweeps through everyone, as they begin to scream and cry. Keiichi feels tears build in his eyes and his throat tighten. Is this the end? 

He looks to Light and Aoi, their leaders thus far, for some hope, but Aoi grabs on to his sister and hugs her tightly, eyes filled with despair, while Light looks down, his face crestfallen and hopeless as well. 

Rikona grabs onto Keiichi and cries on his shoulder, but Keiichi is too terrified of his impending death to be surprised. His hands are shaking, his palms are sweaty, and his cheeks are now stained with tears that he’s been trying to hold back for so long. He thinks about his sister, and hopes that she got out alive and safely. He thinks about his mother, and wonders if she knows he’s missing and not at home with his father right now. But then again, if his mother ever finds out that they are here, doing such things, she would go mad, Keiichi is sure. He thinks about his father, and wonders what sick pleasure he is receiving in having them participate in this death game. 

A loud clanking sound breaks Keiichi out of his thoughts, and causes everyone to become silent. 

Up on the wall, one of the air ducts has been knocked down, to reveal a huge, bear of a man popping his face out of it. 

"Don't worry, kids!” he cries out, when he sees everyone huddle together closely in fear. “I'm not your enemy! I'm one'a the good guys! I'm a detective. I'm here to rescue you."

.
 

Right after the detective leaves, with a promise to come back and save them, Light immediately turns to Keiichi.

“Rikona, Aya, Fumio, Ryota, and Keiichi, you five are to go through the door,” he orders, his voice hard.

“W-What?” 

“We’re not leaving without you guys,” Keiichi answers back, his voice full of conviction. 

Light shakes his head. “That detective won’t be able to save us all at once, and we can’t risk having someone left behind. That’s why you five should go ahead. I’ve added up your bracelet values and the digital root should come out to 9. We will come with the detective.” He speaks in a low, quick rasp, and Keiichi realizes that he, too, has realized that their 9 hours are almost up. “Now go!” 

He tries again to speak, “But – ” 

“Incineration will begin in 10 minutes.”  

Aya whimpers softly at the announcement. 

Light shakes his head. “Go! Verify! Quickly!” 

And so they quickly run to the large, metal door of the incinerator, placing their palms on the RED to verify their numbers. The five of them dash out of the incinerator when the door opens. 

Before the door closes, Keiichi gives Light and the others a lasting look. As the nine seconds come to an end, the door closes, but not before Keiichi hears Akane shout, “See you soon.” It makes him crack a smile of relief, but then Rikona shakes his shoulder to put his hand on the DEAD that is near the door. 

After that, they run again. This time, they run up the spiraling, endless stairwell that is near the door.

But, in their haste to reach the top of the stairs, only Keiichi realizes that the digital root of their numbers does not add up to 9.

Chapter Text

“Rikona!” 

Keiichi beckons Rikona to come near the door with the wheel-like knob – and behind that their exit most likely awaits – where he stands, while the others at the top of the stairwell, trying to see if the others are coming. “Come here!” 

“What’s wrong, Keiichi?” she asks concernedly, as she walks over to him. 

“Our numbers didn’t add up.”

“What?” 

“When you add up our numbers, their digital root is not 9.” 

“1+3+6+7+9,” Rikona murmurs to herself, and then her eyes widen. “That’s 26, but the digital root of 26 is 8!” 

“I told you!” 

She shakes her head. “That can’t be . . . the door opened.” She brings her wrist to her face and inspects her bracelet. Taking note of the two buttons on the side, she begins pressing them. She purses her lips and taps her foot on the ground impatiently as nothing changes on the display. “Show me your bracelet for a second,” she commands to Keiichi. 

Keiichi obediently holds out his wrist. 

Rikona furrows her eyebrows in concentration as she presses the buttons on his bracelet.

A hyphen appears, and then the screen displays a 0

Her eyebrows shoot up to her forehead as she turns to meet Keiichi’s widened eyes. “What the hell?!” 

“D-Do that again, Rikona,” he insists.

So, she presses the button again. 1.  

Once more. 2. 

Press. 3. Press. 4. Rikona goes on to do this a few more times before the screen displays a 9

Her eyes widen and her mouth drops open. “Uh, hold on.” Her voice is wary and slow. 

She quickly walks back to the others and crouches down to sweetly talk with Aya. Keiichi sees her play around with Aya’s bracelet, and then nodding at her with a smile, before she walks back to Keiichi. 

“Her bracelet reacted like mine, and I’m willing to bet the others’ will, too.” Her shoulders are slumped as she speaks. 

“So, it’s just mine?” 

She nods slowly. “F-Father said to always to stay with you in the game,” she begins in a stammer, “because Mr. Hongou gave you a special advantage. I should have taken his words more seriously,” she whispers regretfully. 

“What do you mean? What’s going on with my bracelet?” 

“Keiichi.” Rikona bites her lip, unsure. “I think your bracelet might be a free pass of sorts.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can enter any door you please.”

“Yeah, I can do that since my bracelet number is 9!” If a person adds 9 to the digital root, it will remain the same. 

Rikona shakes her head. “No, that's not what I mean."

"Huh?" He is starting to feel anxious. What is she talking about?

"I don’t think your bracelet number isn’t really 9, Keiichi." Her eyebrows knit together, struggling to make sense of her own thoughts, it appears. "I think . . . I think it adapts as any number.” 

Keiichi’s eyes bug out of their sockets once more in shock. “What!?” 

“I really think it does, Keiichi . . . Let’s take the digital roots of our numbers, for instance,” she suggests. “1+3+6+7+9. If you add those up, you get the digital root 8. And, yet, the door opened, which is impossible because that door clearly had a 9 on it. That can only mean two things: either your father tricked us into thinking that door opens with a digital root of 9, or your bracelet number changed to 1 to adjust to the digital root requirement.” She grabs his wrist to press the left button on the side of the bracelet twice more, and the screen changes to display a bright blue hyphen, and then a 1. “And it seems to look more like the latter, at this point.” 

“No way,” Keiichi whispers. 

Rikona sighs. “I wish we had known earlier. It would have been a huge help.” 

Keiichi nods in agreement. If only he had played around with the buttons on his bracelet soo – 

“Son of a bitch!” he suddenly hisses, as his thoughts lead him to a most obvious conclusion. 

“What?” 

“I think Light knew.” 

“About your bracelet?” 

He nods his head eagerly. “Yes! He asked if he could check it when we were in the kitchen, before. I didn’t pay attention to what he was doing, but somehow he knew, Rikona!” 

“That’s why he made us go ahead through the last door,” she realizes, her widened eyes meeting Keiichi’s. 

Questions race through Keiichi's mind. How was Light able to deduct such a thing? Did everyone or anyone else have such a function in their bracelet? If not, was this simply a glitch in the bracelet's functions, or was this an advantage given to by his father?

Did Keiko have the same, glitched Number 9 bracelet? From what she has been transmitting to Keiichi, they did not follow the same numbers for the final door - instead they divided into 1, 2 and 6, and 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9, following the same groups they separated into the chapel door. Something everyone on the Gigantic should have thought to have done. Keiichi realizes that everyone needless panicked, but they could not be blamed, considering the pressure that life-threatening situation has placed on them, especially as they were on the final hour and the incineration command was activated as well.

“Nona!” Fumio suddenly cries out, breaking Keiichi and Rikona out of their silence. 

The two children turn to the others, to see a crying Nona climbing up the last of the stairs. They give each other a look before walking over to them. 

Keiichi steps forward to squeeze Nona’s shoulder. “Nona, are you okay?! Where are the others?!” 

She sniffs. “The detective got us out and we were all climbing up the stairs, but then Aoi realized that Akane wasn’t with them,” she cries. “They made me go up while they went back to get her, but I heard them screaming while I was coming up, and I think something’s happened to Akane!” 

Keiichi gives the staircase a long, lasting glance. From what Keiichi has gathered from the past nine hours, Akane was someone very crucial to his father’s game. His father is too meticulous to make a mistake – there is no way that Akane being placed in this group was an accident, and it was no coincidence that she happened to be the wearer of the bracelet number his father told him to follow. Something is going on . . . something that has to do with his father’s possible prosopagnosia, with this awful game, and with Akane. 

That bastard must have done something to her. 

“Keiichi, no!” he hears a voice cry, breaking him away from his thoughts, along with someone tugging his arm. He looks up to see Rikona near him, tears streaming down her cheeks, which makes him realize that he must have started walking down on the staircase.

“You can’t go down there and get stuck, too!” Aya, too, sobs, as she brushes past Rikona to grab his other arm and pull at it. “Come up, Keiichi, please!” 

As Keiichi walks up the steps with them, Ryota, too, comes forward. “We don’t know if we’ve lost them or not, but we can’t risk losing you, too.” 

That banishes most thoughts of going back down to save Akane from Keiichi’s head.

Not a full five minutes later, Keiichi hears the sound of footsteps running up the metal staircase. He peers over the railing to see three figures rush up the staircase. He squints to see Seven carrying Light on his back, while Akane and Aoi lag a little behind.

The world begins to move quickly and before Keiichi realizes it, the detective has everyone seated in an emergency lifeboat, which he promptly releases from its hook. The boat begins to lower into the ocean, and his chest feels much lighter. 

And his wrist. 

Surprised by this sudden feeling, Keiichi’s eyes fly to his wrist, which is now bare.

“Hey, our bracelets are off!” he hears someone cheer.

When the boat finally settles on the water, he looks down to his lap, where his cursed bracelet has fallen to. No longer is he Number 9. The bracelet number that his father must have allotted to him, so that he could bend the rules . . . 

As they start to row away from the cruise liner, Keiichi hears an awful crashing sound. His head whips back to see that it has come from the ship itself.
 

-- November 2nd, 2018; 6:37AM --
 

The sun is beginning to rise. They all watch the Gigantic sink in silence, the only sound being the mighty roar of the ship descending into the water. Keiichi feels Aya cringe beside him, and she grips onto him tightly. He turns to Rikona, who sits at the other end of the boat, and sees her body shake slightly. 

And then, the madness finally stills. 

The waves crash, the boat rocks, and the detective, Ryota, and Light paddle the oars against the water with soft grunts. 

“It’s over,” Keiichi hears Aoi, who has his hand on Akane’s shoulder, whisper to himself.

“Yeah,” she answers back, her overused, raspy voice brimming with happiness.

Chapter Text

 -- July 2027 --

It’s been almost 9 years since they’ve had to play that wretched game.

9. What an awful number. 

Keiichi was right. Their mother did go mad when she found out what they had gone through – so mad that she had to be hospitalized, and then put into a mental institution. She passed away only a year after being institutionalized, much to Keiichi and Keiko's grief. Keiichi and Keiko were sent to live with their father during this time, though an insistent Keiichi moved out the moment he turned 18. 

After the Nonary game, Keiichi went on to attend school in the United States, with his own money, got a degree in real estate, went to law school and became a real estate lawyer. He also does small contracting gigs on the side – much to his father’s displeasure, as he was hoping that Keiichi could continue his legacy and be the heir to Cradle. 

His father acted like none of the Nonary Game had happened – at least, his involvement in it. Keiichi realized that it was better off this way, so that Keiko wouldn’t find out. She was already going to therapy and was doing much better than when she came back home from the Nonary Game. 

Keiichi hasn’t really seen the other players of the Nonary Game since then, with the exception of Rikona, her sister, Shika, and Aya. Aya, Shika, and Keiko became good friends after the Nonary Game, much to his father’s displeasure. 

And Rikona? She and Keiichi butt heads a lot, and she is still as bossy as ever, but ever since the Nonary Game, she has been a little softer with him and they have been good friends. 

As he waits for the other line to answer, he stares longingly at the framed 4-leaf clover on his desk at the law office he works at – he has preserved it all of these years. And that is how he able to remind himself every day how much he has grown since the Nonary Game. It also reminds him that he needs to seek out the other players one day and meet with them. 

“Crash Keys, huh?” he murmurs to himself, right before he hears a male voice answer on the other line.
 

-- August 2027 --
 

It feels like Keiichi has been transported to 9 years ago, when he was in the Nonary Game, trying to escape the laboratory with Nona, Akane, and Aoi. 

Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that he is in the laboratory in Building Q, with Nona, Akane, and Aoi currently.

Except, instead of trying to seek a way out of the room, they’re sitting on the tile floor that they have just deep-cleaned and eating. 

“We have the charming stockbroker who brings in the money to pull this shit off, we got the IT expert to sort out the technical details, we got the handyman who is also a lawyer to fix shit up and make sure everything carries out smoothly – ” 

“Aoi, I’m a real estate lawyer,” Keiichi interrupts, as he swallows the chewed bits of his food, unbothered by its tastelessness. “I’m the one that was able to help you secure this building.” Though, his occupation came in handy, it helps that he is the son of the original owner. 

“ – and we got the mastermind to plan the whole thing out,” Aoi continues, ignoring Keiichi’s clarification, “so, we can’t go wrong with this.” He takes a big bite out of his pizza. 

Nona’s face is pensive. “We’re . . . we’re almost like the four Cradle executives, if you think about it. But we’re the good version of them.” 

Keiichi has never thought about it that way. 

“Hmm,” Akane hums. 

“To a certain extent, yes.” Aoi’s voice is muffled from the food in his mouth. 

Akane sighs, exasperated, and rolls her eyes. “Aoi, please, eat before you talk.” 

“Yes, ma’am!”


-- September 2027 --
 

“This is so fucking gross,” he mutters into his mask, as he dusts the insides of the drawers in the office. 

A very, very loud shriek is heard from the Captain Quarters. 

“What’s wrong?!” Keiichi shouts, bursting into the room, seeing Aoi, with his own mask on his face, also run into the room from the pink door across from him. 

A skeeved-out, squealing Nona scurries out of the room and through the door Keiichi. Before she goes through the doorway entirely, though, she pulls down her dust mask and points towards the desk with the televisions on top. “There are big-ass, dead cockroaches under that desk, and I’m not laying a finger on them!” Her voice is full of disgust. She makes her way out of the room, mumbling under breath how she’s made for hacking and IT stuff, and not for cleaning out the closet. 

Aoi chuckles to himself. “Akane says she’s just like her mother. If she really is, then she’s going to be a handful to deal with during the game.” 

“I’m not touching the dead roaches,” Keiichi simply answers back, turning around to go back to cleaning the office – which causes Aoi’s face to scowl. Keiichi knows better than to fall for his gateway into buttering him up. 

“Aw, fuck you!”
 

-- October 2027 --
 

“Keiichi, I need you to make a device for me. Look at these plans carefully and create it to the exact specifications, please.” 

“Holy shit, this is the Pushmaster 5000?! I was beginning to lose my mind wondering what the hell you were muttering on about that day in the Cargo Room.” 

“And, Nona, for the puzzle in the study . . . that last emblem’s puzzle needs to be set to an 8 and a 9, instead of a 9 and a 9. And the only available numbers it can use are 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8.” 

“I’m on it!” 
 

-- November 2nd, 2027; 10:18AM --

Why Akane? The same thought has been running through Keiichi’s mind all week, as it was 9 years from today that he had escaped the Gigantic with her and the others. Why was his father so obsessed with her throughout the Nonary Game in the first place? Why was Akane such an integral part to his plan that he ordered Keiichi to keep tabs on her?

He taps impatiently as he hears the repeated rings. 

When he finally hears the soft, but assertive voice speaking on the other line, he smiles. 

“Yes, hi, Jin, this is Keiichi Hongou.” 

“A-Ah! Hello, sir! What can I do for you?”

“Jin,” he admonishes playfully. 

Jin is his father’s secretary, and Keiichi’s old classmate from high school. Sometimes, Keiichi feels that his father hired Jin (offering her higher pay than his past secretaries) to simply spite him; regardless, they both know that she is extremely intelligent, capable, and deserving of the job.

“Oh, um, sorry. Keiichi.” She giggles sweetly, which makes him grin widely. He enjoys teasing and flirting with her from time to time, since he simply can’t resist himself – she’s very shy and cute and he knows she has a little crush on him. He’s not quite sure how he feels about her, but he occasionally likes to test the waters. 

He chuckles. “That’s better. Anyway, I was hoping to speak to my father. Is he free right now?” 

Keiichi hears the secretary’s breath hitch nervously. “No, ah, he isn’t, right now, but – ” 

“Ah, of course, he is not free. Busy man, isn’t he?” he mocks through gritted teeth. It’s a lie, of course. His father is probably in his office, fucking his personal assistant. He wants to both laugh and retch at the thought – laugh, bitterly, because his father’s sex life is faring far better than his own, and retch, because the man and his wrinkled balls are nearing 60 years old, and his personal assistant is only 10 years older than Keiichi and Jin. It is disgusting how people are willing to stoop so low for money. 

“Is there something else you need besides family matters? You know that I can always help you, too.” 

He grins at Jin’s eagerness. “Well, I need you to free up in his schedule for day after tomorrow. 9 hours. He has to attend Keiko’s birthday lunch at my apartment and then we’re going out somewhere special.” Special. What an understatement. 

“Wait, but Keiko’s birthday is tomorrow.”

“I’m aware.” 

Jin is silent, and Keiichi knows it’s because she thinks it’s not her place to say anything, even though he is giving her an open invitation to do so. “I . . . I, um, can cancel his meetings he has tomorrow.”

A sardonic grin slowly spreads across his face. “No, don’t worry, Jin, day after tomorrow is perfect.” 

Now, there is one more thing left to do.

-- November 3rd, 2018; 12:09PM --
 

“You want to go out to dinner with me?”

Keiichi smiles sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. “If you’ll have me, of course.” 

Rikona sits across from him in her office chair, her narrowed eyes scrutinizing him, as she crosses her arms over her chest. “What are you up to, Keiichi Hongou?”

“Nothing, Rikona.” He frowns. “What’s wrong with me asking you to come to dinner with me? Doesn’t have to be a date.” 

“Something is definitely wrong here.” 

Keiichi’s shoulders slump, an unexpected wave of rejection crashing over him – he is not accustomed to feeling this way. “You know, if you don’t want go, just tell me.” 

Rikona’s eyes widen and her cheeks flush in embarrassment. “Wait! Keiichi, I didn’t think you were serious.” 

“I am.” He sighs, giving a little pout, which causes her to groan in exasperation, but her eyes do soften.

“Fine! 7:30, tomorrow night. Take me wherever you want.” A smirk begins to play on her lips. “I can’t lie . . . I’ll be looking forward to see how this turns out.”

“I’m looking forward to it, too,” he says softly. He truly means the words and it’s slightly surprising. He gives her a small, awkward wave and she nods before turning around and walking away. He, too, begins to turn the way he came from. 

“Keiichi?” 

He turns back around to meet her grinning face. “Yeah?”

“Shika told me that it’s Keiko’s birthday today.” Shika, Rikona’s little sister, and Keiko were still best friends after all of these years – after they were kidnapped and put into Building Q for the Nonary Game, the two girls became especially inseparable. “Wish her a happy birthday from me.”

“Thanks, Rikona.” He smiles back amicably. “I will.”
 

-- November 3rd, 2027; 7:45PM --

While Keiichi is in the middle of internally debating with himself if he should buy an ice cream cake for Keiko or a regular cake, his phone buzzes with a text from Jin. 

What are you guys doing for Keiko’s birthday? It reads. Your father was asking how he should dress for tomorrow. 

Keiko said she wants to go laser tagging for her birthday. Tell him to dress for a lot of running, he types back to her, biting back a smile. 

At that moment, his sister walks to him, the heavy vest over her clothing, as her hands toy with the attached laser gun in her hands. “Are you texting Jin?” 

His eyes widen. “How did you know?” he asks.

“You have that dumb-looking, goofy smile on your face that you always have when you talk to her,” Keiko says slyly, nudging him playfully.

Keiichi rolls his eyes, exhaling. “Shut up, Keiko. You know it’s not like that,” he insists, playfully elbowing her back.

She shakes her head and sighs. “Yeah, right.” Keiichi opens his mouth to counter back, but she interrupts him with a wide beam as she lifts up her gun, aimed at his vest. “Ready?” Her voice is full of excitement.

He grins, before shoving his phone back into his pocket, and then reaches to his right side to pick up the laser gun that hangs from his own vest. “Hell, yeah! It may be your birthday, but I’m not going easy on you. Prepare to have your ass kicked!” 

“You’re on!” 

Hey, it’s not like Keiichi was lying to Jin – she asked about Keiko’s birthday plans and he answered her . . . and, plus, it is in his father’s best interest if he wears clothes he can easily run around in tomorrow.

Chapter Text

-- November 4th, 2027; 5:52AM -- 

A shaky hand thrusts a water bottle into his face.

“Here.” Her voice is soft, raspy, and full of sleep, in the darkness of the dimly lit warehouse. 

Keiichi silently takes the bottle from her. The air is filled with tension – Keiichi’s palms are sweaty and his heart is racing. But it feels as though every cell in his body is tingling with delight, anticipating the events that will unfold in the near future. 

It’s a dangerous feeling, and he hasn’t felt anything akin to this since the First Nonary Game. He holds back a sardonic laugh at the irony. It was innocent, fearful dread that had filled him back then – now, it is sick, twisted anticipation. 

He looks into the woman’s soft, unsure brown eyes. He had no idea that looking into the startup that turned his father’s proposal down would lead him to this. A frazzled, panicked Jin revealed to him this summer that Gentarou tracked down and wanted to fund a company’s research into developing more durable and long-lasting ABT, whatever that was, in exchange for licensing it to Cradle Pharmaceutical. But the haughty representative they sent – Keiichi struggled to remember the woman’s rather unconventional name at the time, but it started with an E, maybe? – immediately turned him down. Intrigued that they turned down such a ridiculously large sum of money, he asked Jin for the name of the company. 

Crash Keys. 

The name felt so familiar to him, and he wasn’t sure why. He repeated the word in his head for the rest of the day. It wasn’t until a tired, half-asleep Keiichi, heading to bed, accidentally garbled out the word, “Kurashikis,” instead of “Crash Keys,” did he finally make the connection. His eyes immediately snapped open after that, and needless to say, he lost his sleep, and spent the next few days trying to track down their contact information through Jin, finally managing to get a hold of their number. 

Though it took multiple efforts to get through Akane, Aoi immediately was able to recognize the potential in Keiichi and his use to their plan to conduct the Second Nonary Game, which Keiichi more than readily agreed to. To Akane, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not she trusted him, but it was the matter of involving more people than necessary. In the end, though, she had no choice but to concede to Aoi’s point and have him join their scheme. 

“Are you done fixing that metal plate?” she adds in forethought. “We need to bring it with us tomorrow to cover one of the cabin windows. Aoi said that we’ll have to pack it carefully for the private jet.” 

He puts down the welder and removes his mask to reveal that his eyes have widened and his jaw has dropped. “Holy shit! We’re flying in a private jet?!” he exclaims. 

She smirks as she crosses her arms over her check. “What? The son of Cradle Pharmaceutical’s CEO has never been taken on a private jet by daddy dearest?” 

“Fuck no! I left that bastard’s house as soon I turned 18, Nona.”

“Oh.” The young woman is quiet for a moment. “How else do you think we’ll be able to fly 9 unconscious bodies from Japan to Nevada without a hitch?”

“Ah.” He blinks, before shaking his head. “And, yeah, I’ve finished with the plate. We’ll pack it before I leave.” He pulls off his heavy gloves to take a hold of the bottle. “Thanks.” He twists the cap open and brings it to his mouth. Ah, it feels so refreshing. 

He’s been here at the Crash Keys warehouse for over an hour already, and has to report to the law firm he works at by 8:30 to meet with a client whose landlord’s rent is too high. 

She tucks a piece of her dark hair behind her ear. “You know what I was thinking?” 

“What?” 

“We’ve made it so that the door is only going to open with the digital root of 8. That’s the way it’s set up – that 9 is really a ‘q,’ which is 26 in hexadecimal.”

“I know. What are you trying to get at?” 

“Isn’t it ironic? When Light made you and the others go through the door, your digital root was 8, too. I was so confused, but also too scared to say anything about it, and then when we were able to get off the Gigantic, I forgot all about it . . . at least, until a few months after the whole thing. Did your father lie about the digital root for the final door being 9? Is that why Akane had to make the digital root 8, for the last door this time around, too?” 

“I don’t know, Nona. I think about it all of the time,” he sighs, “Rikona thought that my father made it so that my bracelet could adapt as any number to make the needed digital root . . . but the fact that Akane is so insistent that the door has to be programmed so it opens to a digital root of 8 makes me unsure.” 

“But Akane also told us that if things go wrong, we will see Light take off his bracelet to enter the number 9 door. He could have done that during the first game, too. It was me, Light, Aoi, and Akane. 4+5+8 equals 17, and the digital root of that is 8!” 

He shakes his head. “I don’t know, Nona,” he repeats once more, a chill going down his body, as he realizes that he truly doesn’t know what is going through Akane Kurashiki’s mind.
 

.
 

“We could have met for breakfast at 8, too. Keiko doesn’t have school today.” 

Keiichi shakes his head. “No, lunch worked out better – I was in the middle of work at that time.” 

“In the middle?” his father asks with widened eyes, surprised. “At what time did you start working?”

“4:30.”

“In the morning?!” 

This is so fucking awkward. Keiichi wants his father out of his sight. He hates standing awkwardly across him like this in his kitchen; though it's not as grand as his father's kitchen, with his grand, Italian marble countertops, it's quite big, filled with updated appliances, and the counters are quartz - easy to maintain and cheaper than marble. Keiichi would know, since he built the kitchen and bought the materials himself.

It's supposed to be an open-concept kitchen, but, in his father's presence, it all feels suffocating to him.

“Yes.” 

“Cub, I understand that you’re enthusiastic about law, but why on earth did you go into the firm to work at 4:30 in the morning?” 

He frowns at his father’s use of that nickname. “I wasn’t working at the firm. At least, not at that time.” His father gives him an encouraging nod. “I went in at 4:30 to work on a contracting gig, and then left for court at 9.”

“Oh, I see.” Gentarou’s mouth has twisted into a disapproving grimace. It seems that his father is not receptive to the idea of him doing the contracting gigs. Of course he wouldn't. It ruins his pristine image - his son is out working lowly jobs like a pauper, struggling to earn and save every penny instead of living lavishly like his father and his associates and their children are.

Ah, if only his father knew where his contracting gig was, and for whom he was doing it for, he’d go ballistic . . . 

“Yeah.” He shrugs awkwardly, shifting uncomfortably under his father’s intent gaze. 

He sighs. “Why must you work these lowly side jobs, Keiichi? If you’re not earning enough from the firm, you know that Cradle is waiting for you with open arms.” Pursing his lips, he also adds sulkily, “You wouldn’t even have had to worry about earning enough money if you had just stayed home with me.”

Keiichi glares at his father. “Do you really think I’d be able to stay with you, knowing what you did to us 9 years ago?” His voice is icy. 

His father lets out a breath of air before speaking. “Do you know why I named you Keiichi, and your sister Keiko?” 

Keiichi gives him a blank stare. 

“You – you, especially – are supposed to be my jewels. You are supposed to be my pride, my joy.” Though his father doesn’t say them, Keiichi knows that the words, “my heir, and my successor to maintain the legacy of Cradle,” are supposed to follow. “Now, if you’re my jewels, would I ever purposely put you in harm’s way, knowing that you would get to get hurt?” 

“You did, though,” Keiichi states flatly. 

His father’s mouth twists into a grimace. “No, cub, I didn’t. I knew you wouldn’t get hurt. The Nonary Game was designed to allow every player to come out of it alive.”

“You’re wrong!” And with that outburst, Keiichi’s calm demeanor snaps. “You had us ingest fucking bombs in our stomachs that would detonate if we broke on of the rules – and honestly, we were kids, and one of us could have accidentally broken the rules at any time! And not to mention, the final escape of the game involved an incinerator that was going to burn us all to death in 18 minutes, if that detective hadn’t save us!” 

Gentarou’s eyes darken. “I made sure that you and Keiko did not ingest any bombs.”

“What about the other kids?” 

He looks away from his son’s eyes, like a coward. “ . . . I wasn’t in charge of them. I only looked after you two.” 

“Well, Akane Kurashiki almost died!” Keiichi’s hands ball up into fists. 

Gentarou grunts. “I apologize that you feel this way, cub, but it had to be done. And who was she to you? No one. An orphan – she wouldn’t be missed by anyone but her brother.” 

Keiichi ignores his father’s last comment, fighting back the urge to attack his father with punches from said balled up fists. “Why? . . . I’ve been asking this question for years, with no answer from you.” 

His father wordlessly stares at him with his blank, unfeeling eyes. 

“Is it because of your prosopagnosia?” he taunts darkly.

Those three words are enough to jolt Gentarou from his impassiveness. “W-What?” His face can’t mask his shock. “How do you know about that?” 

“The cargo room’s card puzzle.”

Gentarou’s shoulders slump in defeat. “From the Nonary Game . . . you caught what I was trying to convey, then.” Despite his shock, he looks at his son in pride. Even if his cub turned out to disappoint him, he has proved that he still is Gentarou’s son.

Keiichi tries to ignore the proud expression on his father’s face, and looks away from him. “Akane, Fumio, and I thought the blurry pictures of us represented how someone with prosopagnosia would see our faces.”

“My smart son.” He beams, though there is an hauntingly dark, indiscernible emotion in his eyes that makes Keiichi’s stomach drop – whether in fear or disgust, he can’t tell. “It was only a matter of time until you figured it out.” He straightens up his back before speaking. “Where’s the birthday girl?” 

He’s pulling out the Keiko card. Great. It both sickens and amazes Keiichi how quickly and easily his father can shift a conversation as well as its tone. 

“In the basement,” he answers flatly, unclenching his fists. 

“I will go meet her, then.” Gentarou promptly turns around, without looking back at his son once. 

Fucking coward, Keiichi thinks to himself scornfully, as he watches him disappear down the stairs. He takes out his phone and dials a number. As he waits for it to ring, he gives the stairs a final look. 

Is he coming down?” 

Keiichi nods, even though Aoi can’t see him. “Yes, he just went into the basement. Get the Soporil ready. I’ll be down in a second.”


.

“You’re going on a business trip?” 

Keiichi feels himself frown as he zips his suitcase shut. “Mother has left us some inheritance in the United States. I need to talk with one of our uncles to acquire it.” 

Keiko stares at him warily, her arms crossed over her chest, as she stands in the doorway of his room. “Which uncle?” Her voice is full of suspicion. 

He looks at her and shrugs. “A distant relative, I guess.” 

“You have to go now? You couldn’t have just matter resolved this earlier?”

“No,” he answers back curtly, as he turns around from her and walks to his desk. She follows him, too. “Legal constraints.” He hates lying to his sister. 

She stands behind him and huffs. “But you’re a lawyer.” 

Keiichi desperately doesn’t want to face her, so he decides to search for a checkbook that his father had given him last month – he has no clue where he put it. “I’m a lawyer, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m above the law. Plus, I concentrated in real estate law.” 

Keiko groans, placing her hand on his shoulder, shaking it slightly so he can turn around and look at her. 

“What, Keiko? I’m trying to find something!” he snaps, feeling irritation taking over him. 

She looks at him sadly, hurt evident across her face – it makes him feel like shit, and he immediately regrets yelling at her. “Why now? Why do you need to do it now? We don’t even need the inheritance, anyway. I know you didn’t want Papa to pay for your schooling, but let him pay for mine,” she pleads gently. 

He should have realized how sad she must have been feeling – their father never even called for Keiko’s birthday, which is actually Keiichi’s fault, let alone make plans (at least, according to Keiko), and now she has to, once again, put up with his and Keiichi’s tension. “You’re right, Keiko,” he concedes softly, taking a hold of her hand. “I’ll let him pay for your schooling, but I sure as well won’t let him pay for mine. That’s why I need the inheritance.” 

“You’re going back to school?”

He nods, meeting her eyes sheepishly. “I want to earn my LLM.” It’s not a lie, since he has been thinking about it for a while now. After the Nonary Game ends, he will enroll. 

“But you have a law doctorate degree already.” Her mouth twists into a pout. “Why do you need another degree?” 

He shakes his head. “That’s my Juris Doctorate. I need my LLM – it’s almost like getting a Master’s Degree for Law School.” 

“But you don’t need it!” she insists. 

“It will increase my chances of getting a better job.” 

“You wouldn’t have to look for a better job if you work with Papa!” 

He growls, frustrated. “You know that I don’t want to work with him! What’s your problem, Keiko? Why are you acting like this? You’ve been behaving so strangely for the past days! What the hell is going on?” 

She closes her eyes shut, squeezing them tightly. “You . . . you don’t understand, Keiichi.” She opens them back up to reveal that they are filled with tears. 

“So, make me understand!” 

She sighs. “I don’t know how to explain it to you. I’ve been going through so much lately. It feels like I’m carrying such a heavy burden.” 

He rolls his eyes at her. “Oh, don’t pull that teenage drama dialogue on me. I already know what you’re going through.” 

“No, Keiichi!” she weeps. “No, you don’t! You don’t know anything at all about what’s been happening!” She bows her head bows down. 

“The hell I do, Keiko.” He glares at her with accusatory eyes. “You like Aya, but are afraid to acknowledge the fact that you’re attracted to a girl because Papa might disapprove. Am I right?” 

Keiko’s head snaps up to meet his eyes, surprised, and quickly wipes her tears away. “H-How . . . how did you know?” 

He places his hands on her shoulders. Since he is at least a foot taller than her 5’1” form, he towers over her. “You’re an open book . . . and you’re my little sister. And I know how our father is, too. Of course I’d know what’s happening. I also know that you shouldn’t act according to him, and that you should tell her your feelings.” 

She turns her face away from him, her cheeks reddened in shame. “I already told Aya that family comes first.” 

His nostrils flare in anger. “So, you’re going to suppress your feelings for the poor girl because our shithead of a father cares too much about maintaining his 'pristine' image?” 

“He’s not a shithead!” She pushes his hands off of her. “You might hate his guts, but I love him! He took us in when Mama passed away! He has always loved us and wanted the best for us! Why have you always hated him so much?” 

“Listen, Keiko. Forget about me for a second. Why are you putting the weight of the world on your shoulders? You’re just a kid. Go tell Aya how you feel, and then I’ll help you talk to Papa about this.” 

“But that’s the problem, Keiichi! How am I going to even to say anything to Papa if he’s missing?! That’s why I don’t want you to leave me now.”

Keiichi has to bite his lip so that his face doesn’t give anything away. 

“Missing?!”

Chapter Text

With the way he is feeling queasy, Keiichi isn’t sure if that awful, overpriced salmon hasn’t settled into his stomach right, or if he’s just anxious.

He recalls that after Keiko informed him of their father's disappearance, he promised her that he would go to the police to file a report for a missing person. It wasn’t a lie this time, surprisingly enough. Aoi had suggested he do it to avoid suspicion. A frantic Keiko was stubborn, though, insisting to come with him.

So they headed down to the station to talk to an officer and file the paperwork.

Keiko was surprised by the lack of imminent response from the officer assigned to the case, but was even more so by the fact that Keiichi’s intentions to go to the United States the next day had not wavered.

“Our father’s missing, and you’re still going away!” she screamed hoarsely, beginning to lose her voice from sobbing and yelling all day. Her outburst caught the attention of everyone in the station and, after a sharp glare in their direction from an officer, Keiichi scurried to take a fuming Keiko out of the building. When he brought to the parking lot, she cried and punched his arm many times. She called him a horrible son, which had him biting his tongue from retorting that he’s a horrible father – he has a terrible habit of never keeping his feelings in control, and he has learned the hard way that it affects Keiko negatively, especially when it comes to their father – and that he didn’t care what happened to him. 

“Keiko,” he finally started softly, after she had calmed and resorted to simply sobbing into his chest, with his t-shirt now soaked with her tears. He placed an arm around her. “I know that this is a serious situation. I don’t want to go at a time like this, but the police are doing their job, and will do their best to find him. We can’t do anything but hope they will find him as of now.”

She looked up from his shirt, her face blotchy and tear-stained, her sad eyes filled with unanswered questions. He looked at the same chocolate eyes that they both have inherited from their father – he hated his own eyes, but they looked prettier on Keiko’s cherub face.

“Do you trust me?” he finally asked, after a few moments passed.

She sniffled, but nodded.

“I don’t want to have to leave you alone like this while Papa’s missing, but I don’t have a choice. I can’t tell you why it’s so important for me to go and why I can’t skip out on this, yet. But it concerns you, me, and Papa, and it is for our own good.” 

“Keiichi,” she choked out in a sob, “you aren’t looking into moving there, are you? You aren’t going to leave me like Mama did. And I don’t want to leave Japan either.” 

Keiichi’s heart broke at the innocence and sadness in her voice and immediately moved to tighten his arms around her. “We are not going anywhere, Keiko, I promise.”

“Okay, I trust you.” 

Keiichi’s heart broke a little more in that moment – now, he wasn’t sure what was worse: having been lying to his sister and breaking her trust in him (especially considering some of the inhumane things he's about to do tomorrow), or having to soon reveal his father’s true intentions and actions to her and breaking her trust in their father. 

Shaking the memory and thought out of his head, he sets down the napkin in his hand, and stares at the young woman across from him. 

“Rikona,” he begins, beginning to feel the bile rise in his throat, but swallowing it back, “all those years ago . . . when we were playing the Nonary Game, you saved me from getting caught when you stayed behind. Everyone would have realized that I was grouping people off in a specific way.” Though Keiichi doesn’t clarify in what way, he knows that Rikona probably realized it during the game. 

“You were Number 9. You could join whichever door you wanted to. It was only fair that I help you, seeing that you could have been of great help to me, as my father had advised me at the start of the game.” She grimaces. “I’ve been thinking about it for a years, actually . . . in numerology, the 9 is a number that understands all connections and is most tolerant and conscious. It’s a number of global consciousness.”

He blinks, confused. “What?” What does that have to do with anything? 

Rikona simply closes her eyes and leans her head back against the booth. “Fumio and Ryota weren’t espers,” she admits in a whisper.

His eyes widen. “What?” he repeats again, this time in shock. “Why were they with us then?” 

Rikona sighs, as she tucks a lock of pin-straight, black hair behind her ear. “Ryota was part of another faction of the experiment – his cousin was an esper, while he was not. How would that affect the transmission of information between the two? Your father had determined that there are two conditions that must be met to form a link to tap into the morphic fieldset: first, one must be subjected to a life-threatening situation, and, second, must be surrounded by others who have tapped into the field, so that morphogenetic resonance will allow for the link to form.”

Rikona opens her eyes and lowers her head to look at Keiichi with piercing eyes. “Would the situations be dire enough to unlock Ryota’s abilities to receive the transmitted info, granted that he was surrounded by other espers? That was something our fathers wanted to explore and experiment with.” She grins wryly. “And, of course, no experiment can have valid results without a control . . . which Fumio and his sister served as, since neither of them were espers.”

Keiichi, both in awe of the mechanics of morphogenetic resonance and in disgust of how their fathers so easily could think to experiment with children, opens his mouth to respond, but struggles to find his voice. He clears his throat a few times and sips his water, as Rikona waits patiently, her hands folded in front of her on the table. 

“A-And you?” he finally manages to choke out, setting his glass down softly and then running his fingers through his shoulder-length hair. He really must get a hold of himself – he cannot allow anxiety to get in the way and cloud his mind, especially not tonight. 

She exhales lightly. “I was the opposite of Ryota: I was – am – an esper, while Shika is not.” Her voice is solemn. “We were all different experiments of a whole investigation. Though we all had an overarching purpose, each of us served different functions in this sick test.” 

Keiichi swallows, feeling the urge to puke once more. “The bracelet, then . . . my number 9 bracelet . . . was that their experiment on me? “Did Keiko have the same functions on her bracelet, too?” 

Her finger traces the rim of her wine glass. “It appears to be that way. You were Number 9. You were the global consciousness. Your bracelet value wasn’t really 9, in this way, but was arbitrary, adapting to create a specific digital root with the other numbers presented. Both mathematical and philosophical.” Her grave, chocolate brown eyes look up to meet his. 

The solemn, mechanical way she speaks makes a tremor run down Keiichi’s spine. “My dad isn’t much of a philosopher, and hates math.” It is a weak excuse for an objection. “It doesn’t sound like he would be behind something like this, even if he did want to give us an advantage . . . and why would it be something as obvious as this? Anyone could figure out I was lying about my bracelet value being 9 if I had tried to use it anytime during the game to work my way around the digital root requirements. 

It would cause jealously, resentment, and arguments over the bracelet. Everyone would have asked why I had to be the one with the bracelet. They might have realized that it was a case of favoritism, or I was being targeted by the people that put us in here. Doubt would have clouded their minds and ruined the experiment. Gentarou Hongou is subtle and sly as a fox. This is too obvious to be his work.” 

“That’s what he may have realized you would think, though,” Rikona objects, the perfectly manicured nail of her index finger pointed at him. “It could be a trick. You said he was sly and subtle – exactly what you would expect from a cunning, big businessman.” 

Keiichi isn’t convinced though. He shakes his head at her. “What if . . . what if it was something else, though?” 

She raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” 

He feels anxiety bubble in his chest, but swallows, opening his mouth to speak. After all, he hasn’t thought about this for years, only to falter now, when he finally has the chance to explain it to someone. “We had determined, because of my bracelet, that either my bracelet value changed to 1 to adapt to the digital root requirement, or that my father tricked us into thinking that the final door would only open to a digital root of 9.”

Rikona nods in recollection, and answers, “Yes, I remember.” 

“What if it were the latter?” 

“What?” 

“What if the door didn’t open to 9? Or, what if it didn’t open just to 9? That’s why it opened to 8.”

She stops playing with the straw in her hands to consider his words, but after a few minutes, resumes. “I don’t know, Keiichi,” she finally answers, looking skeptical. “Your bracelet did keep changing the display when I pressed all of those buttons.” 

“It could be a trick,” he counters, in the same tone she had before when suggesting the same to him. 

She shakes her head ruefully. “I don’t know, Keiichi. Whatever I told you here tonight, I was only able to discover by reading through my father’s journals.” 

Frustrated by her answer, Keiichi lets out a groan, before jumping into calculations. “Light was 2, Akane was 5, Aoi was 4, and Nona was 8. 2 plus 5 plu – ”

“Oh, my god!” Rikona exclaims with now-widened eyes, lightly slapping a hand to the table in surprise. “How can you actually remember everyone’s numbers? I’ve done my best to block out everything from memory as best as I could!” 

“It’s branded into my memory,” Keiichi responds back sourly, his mouth twisting in distaste. “I can’t forget even if I tried.” 

He had to remember. The Second Nonary Game was reliant on the past events that they were forced to experience.

But, even regardless of that, he could never forget.

.

Rikona is such an aggressive, controlling person that Keiichi would have thought that she would have been the one to lead in the sex. To his surprise, though, he dominates her, his body over hers, while she cries and moans under him. 

Before he knows it, his sweaty back hits the soft, plush mattress. They’ve made a mess of Rikona’s expensive, silk sheets, but she doesn’t seem to care too much. 

It’s been a while since he’s had sex and, damn, does it feel more relieving than a cold shower. He feels much lighter, as though all of the tension and stress of the upcoming Nonary Game has melted away. 

Keiichi turns his head to see Rikona close her eyes, a serene smile gracing her face. 

Her blissful state puzzles Keiichi, though. “You didn’t come,” he accuses, narrowing her eyes at her. 

“It’s okay.” She looks at him through half-lidded eyes and gives him an assuring smile. “I almost did.” Her voice is soft.

God, I’m such an idiot. He should have at least rubbed at her clit a bit, or try not to blow his load too soon. A blush rises to his cheeks as he realizes that he feels like a teenager all over again. And why didn’t she say anything? Why didn’t she touch herself? Rikona is by no means a blushing virgin, and knows what she is doing when it comes to sex.

Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter now. It won’t be fair to Rikona if Keiichi doesn’t get her off, especially since he’s been leading her on the entire night. 

“That’s hardly fair,” he murmurs, as he leans down to slowly, deeply kiss Rikona, who hesitantly kisses him back, most likely confused. “I’ll take care of this.” 

She looks away shyly, an action that stuns Keiichi, because he has never seen her like this before. “That’s not necessary, Keiichi.” 

He shakes his head and gives her a quick peck, before stifling his yawn. You can’t fall asleep, Keiichi. Not now.

He then scrambles out of the bed, and kneels near the edge of the bed. He pulls Rikona close, and then his face disappears between the apex of her thighs.
 

-- November 5th, 2027; 2:33AM --
 

He strolls over to her en suite bathroom, stretching lazily as he does. He quickly pops into the shower to clean himself up. It takes no longer than 5 minutes to finish washing up and pick up his clothes from the bedroom floor to dress into.

As he puts on his pants, he feels his phone vibrate through the front pocket. He quickly answers a text message and then rushes to wear his socks and shoes.

Before Keiichi walks out of the room, though, Rikona murmurs softly in her sleep that she loves him. It makes his heart sink into his chest, since he knows he might never be able to be with her, and has been completely unfair to make her believe that he can.

.
 

“Took you long enough to get here,” Keiichi mutters scornfully to Aoi, as they lug Nijisaki’s body down the grand staircase. 

The white-haired man scowls in the darkness. “It took you long enough to call us. I was beginning to think you were too into fucking that brat that you forgot about the fucking mission.” He stops speaking for a moment and chuckles. “Heh, no pun intended.” 

Feeling frustrated, Keiichi snaps, “What pun?!” Keiichi feels so under pressure right now, not only from the weight of the mission, but from carrying this surprisingly heavy man, but here Aoi is, making puns as if it’s not a grave situation they’ve put themselves in – if they’re caught or exposed in any way . . . 

“You know . . . ‘the fucking mission.’ The fucking mission,” Aoi insists, causing Keiichi huff at him, annoyed, and roll his eyes at him.

Some people go on a date with to get into another’s pants, which calls for getting into their home. 

But in Keiichi’s case, he went on a date to get into Rikona’s home, which called for getting into her pants. 

“Stop with the crudeness and move quickly!” Akane hisses, from in front of them, as she carries the three gas masks in her hand. “We don’t know how much longer Nona will be able to feed the security cameras with looping footage.” 

“Fuck. Uh, okay, then. Akane,” Aoi whispers, “go bring the van up front. We’ll be out of here by then.” 

A surprised Keiichi can make out Akane’s eyes widening in the darkness. “M-Me? You know that I don’t have a driver’s license!” she protests, her voice tinted with horror. 

Aoi shakes his head. “Don’t worry, it’s only a tiny drive. We can’t afford to stay here much longer and need to get out of here – who knows how much longer Nona will be able to bypass the security system for? And I trust you.” 

“You can do it, Akane,” Keiichi encourages in a murmur. “Remember that the left pedal is to accelerate, and the right is to brake. Also, use your right foot to push against the brake when you want to shift gears.” 

Akane pauses for a moment, processing the information, before nodding. “Alright. Come to the front gate, you two, quickly.” She scurries away, the pitter-patter sound of her tiny feet reverberating throughout the large foyer. 

A few minutes later, Aoi and Keiichi have finally gotten Nijisaki’s body down the stairs. They both prepare to head near the front entrance, but a soft voice interrupts them. 

“Keiichi?” Rikona croaks. 

Aoi and Keiichi freeze as their eyes meet each other’s and widen. 

“Fuck,” Keiichi mutters. “Rikona woke up.” 

“You idiot!” Aoi hisses. “You were supposed to spray the brat’s room with Soporil before you left!” 

Rikona’s shadowy figure begins to slowly move down the stairs. “Keiichi . . . is that you?” 

He doesn’t want to admit to Aoi that he didn’t have the heart to knock Rikona out with the anesthetic, and though he scrambles to find an excuse, he comes up with nothing. “I’m sorry!” 

“Keiichi, where are you?” She stops and stays on the staircase. “Come back up.”

He nods at Aoi, who signals him to go. They quietly place Rikona’s father’s body down on the marble floor. Keiichi quickly climbs up the stairs, and grasps her shoulders. “Shh, Rikona, go back to bed.” He slowly begins leading her up to her room, crooning softly at her that nothing’s wrong and go to sleep. 

Rikona’s body stiffens beneath his hands. “You’re leaving now?” she whispers, but doesn’t look at him. 

He sighs. “Rikona, I have to go. I’m sorry.” 

Her shoulders slump. “I understand.” She turns around to face him, and reaches up to kiss his cheek. “Goodnight, Keiichi.”

He smiles softly, as his palm cups her cheek. “Sweet dreams, Rikona.”

She goes into her room, leaving the door slightly open, almost as if she’s offering him to come back in. But Keiichi waits until the sound of footsteps cease before pulling up his sweater to cover his nose and mouth, and retrieving out the small can of Soporil, that he had used to knock her father out with earlier tonight, from his pocket. 

I can’t allow my feelings to get in the way of the mission anymore, he thinks to himself, as he sprays the anesthetic inside the doorway.

Chapter Text

-- November 5th, 2027 -- 

Keiichi and Nona watch and hear everything that is happening in the Second Nonary Game through CCTV footage from the Study in Building Q.

Aoi and Akane didn’t want to pre-record Zero’s introduction to the game to play over the speaker, in case one of the participants would notice and suspicion would arise. That meant either Nona or Keiichi needed to address the participants’ concerns or talks in some way during Zero’s speech. Nona halfheartedly offered to speak, but Akane insisted that Keiichi should be the one to do it. 

So, at the start of the game, Nona hooks up a microphone, with a voice changer – set to a frequency that would match the distorted voice of someone trying to speak through those special gas masks Akane had – to the intercom system of Building Q. Keiichi inhales and exhales once before he addresses the participants with the use of the microphone.

“Welcome aboard. I welcome you all, from the bottom of my heart, to this, my vessel,” he speaks into the microphone, holding back a shudder at how he sounds like his father. When he sees his father’s horror-stricken face on the security footage, though, he relishes the moment, satisfied that Gentarou Hongou is beginning to realize the bigger picture.

He feels Nona’s eyes burn into the side of his face; he’s not sure if it’s because this was not part of Akane’s script at all, or he just used the same words his father spoke 9 years ago, or both. 

He then reaches over for the paper that Akane scribbled the speech on, and begins to read them aloud.

“I am Zero . . . The captain of this ship. I am also the person who invited you here.” His voice is calm but his thoughts are harsh, full of hatred for his father.

Hey! Asshole! What the hell is this?! C'mon out here! I wanna get a look at you!” Aoi – who is Number 9, posing as 3, instead of Number 4, this time (“because 4 is a half-ass number – and 9 is better since it’s not a lame middle number”) – yells, with a fist clenched in the air. Keiichi would laugh at his dramatics if the situation weren’t so grave.

What do you mean to do to us?!” his father questions, looking at the speaker with a hunched back and deeply-furrowed eyebrows.

He now understands why Akane found him the most fitting to pose as Zero over the speaker. 

A sick, twisted grin graces Keiichi’s face as he answers his father.

“I mean to have you participate in a game.” 

.

H-Hongou, a few of the kids . . .

"What?"

Keiichi looks up from his laptop to the screen above him – that shows the grand central staircase – at the sound of his father’s voice. Each of the participant’s bracelets are bugged with microphones, so Keiichi and Nona are able to hear what they are saying.

"They were from the batch we had chosen for the Nonary Project," Keiichi’s “Uncle” Teruaki hastily whispers. “One participant here is blind, and I believe that he is the same blind boy from our experiment 9 years ago.”

Ah.” He nods. “I understand. Keep as low of a profile as possible and stay away from me. If the others see we know each other, it will draw attention to ourselves.”

Kubota nods. “W-We will take different doors.” 

Keiichi rolls his eyes. Nona will hear if any important exchange occurs in their conversation. He resumes working on his laptop, tuning out the rest of their conversation.

It seems the settings for the DEAD were altered. Now it only requires a single person to deactivate the detonator in the bracelet. Investigate what's beyond Door 5. We'll meet again later.”

.
 

Keiichi’s eyes widen in shock as he hears the man’s final scream. From the corner of his eye, he sees Nona wince, quietly telling him that Hongou - or Ace, as he now has as an alias for the game - misinformed him that the DEAD settings were reconfigured to only have one person deactivate the bracelet’s detonator. 

Sick bastard. A chill runs through Keiichi, but for more than just that reason.

Was the 9th Man, Teruaki Kubota, meant to die? Akane didn’t inform them anything about that – hell, if Keiichi goes by the fact that Akane’s fever has struck up at that moment, then there’s a chance he wasn’t supposed to die. Fuck, Akane warned Nona and him that her fevers were supposed to mean this wasn’t the alpha timeline they were seeking.

There was a possibility she could have been faking the fever, too, as a way of planting the seeds of a hint to Junpei that when her fever gets worse, things are going wrong. Maybe it’s her way of throwing Junpei off the idea of going through Door 5, and to also bring his attention to her, so that he chooses to go through the same door as her. 

Keiichi doesn’t know. 


.
 

When the participants of the Second Nonary spilt off to search for the missing RED parts Keiichi hadn’t yet put in, he and Nona scour through the security camera footage to find Light Field. When they finally see him, near the end of the hall with the rooms on C deck, Keiichi quietly whispers the location in the dark, silent makeshift-surveillance room. It feels so surreal to see Light, all grown up, even if it’s through the security cameras.

And then, Aoi appears on the screen, an injection of Soporil in his hand, slowly creeping behind the man known as Snake.

Immediately, Keiichi jumps to his feet, one hand blindly for the soft, black folded fabric, the other reaching for a cluster of batteries and wires for the RED. With a parting nod to Nona, he sprints towards the large hospital room.

Keiichi,” Aoi whispers breathlessly to the earpiece in Keiichi’s ear from the microphone chip in his scarf, just as he finishes inserting the parts into the RED.

“On my way,” he answers without hesitation, his feet moving automatically towards C Deck.

After stripping an unconscious Light down to his underwear and then zipping up the black, Free the Soul robe on him, Keiichi and Aoi lug Light’s body to the Chapel.

When they gently lower him into the coffin, Keiichi sees Aoi’s hands tremble. Before they close the lid, which have tiny holes for breathing to sustain him for a certain amount of time, Aoi places a hand on his cheek and squeezes his eyes shut, whispering a quiet apology to the comatose man.

His face leans closer to the blind man’s from above, and for a moment, a shocked Keiichi thinks he’s going to kiss him - he didn’t know the older Kurashiki felt that way about Light! But instead, Aoi leans his forehead against Light’s, sighing to himself as their foreheads touch.

Keiichi quickly looks away, feeling as though he is intruding on a personal moment between the two of them, even if Light isn’t awake for it and might never know it has occurred.

Suddenly, Aoi wrenches up from his crouched position and wordlessly turns to the door, leaving Keiichi to close the coffin lid. 

After obeying Aoi’s silent order, Keiichi, too, walks out of the room without a second glance, hearing the door lock behind him with a click. Love sucks, he declares to himself internally, as his mind immediately flits to Rikona. He can't imagine how Aoi must be hurting right now.

He heads towards Door 1, who waits for him to open the door with his arms crossed. Keiichi is wearing his own “master” bracelet on his wrist, which has the ability to open any door locked with the RED. He also has a master key and a master card for all of the doors that require the planet keys. Not Aoi, though. Akane specifically stated that she and Aoi were not allowed to have any access to any of the master keys, for the sake of the game. He verifies on the RED, pulls the lever and lets Aoi in. He doesn’t need to verify on the DEAD, as the master bracelet doesn’t activate its function. They walk past the Chart Room and go straight to the Captains Quarters, where Musashidou and Nijisaki, both drugged and half-conscious, are on the floor, restrained by rope tied around their arms and torsos. A flash of hatred surges through Keiichi as he stares at the two Cradle executives pathetically moan and roll around, half-willfully trying to free themselves.

“Up!” Aoi spits out to Nijisaki in disgust, roughly pulling him up. He unties the rope that, truthfully told, wasn’t tied very tightly (which adds to their pitiful state). He grabs onto Nijisaki’s wrist and yanks it up in front of Keiichi.

Keiichi’s stomach flips as he stares at the man’s shaking, pale hand. Maybe he is slightly remorseful for what he’s about to do. Not because he is killing this pathetic man’s life, but because he is killing Rikona’s father. How will he tell her that he is the one responsible for her father’s death, that he killed him? . . . No, he must never tell her – he will never tell her that he killed her father.

Is this how Aoi has been feeling since they left Light in the coffin?

Shaking the thoughts his mind is starting to wander to, as he focuses on Nijisaki again. I’m sorry, Rikona, he thinks to himself, as he places the duplicate Number 2 bracelet with the active detonator on her father's wrist.
 

.
 

“I’m gonna . . . I’m gonna close my eyes for a second, Keiichi.”

Keiichi, whose eyes are trained on the CCTV footage of his father placing his scrap of paper with the pile of everyone else’s at Junpei’s feet, each paper detailing their choice of door number, simply responds to Nona, “Go to sleep if you want. I’ll wake you up once the participants go through Door 9,” his eyes not leaving the screen. Junpei has two other pieces of papers folded up in his pocket, the sneaky little bastard.

“No, no . . . s’okay. I’m not gonna to fall asleep.” 

Keiichi rolls his eyes. “Sleep for a bit, Nona. We’ll have to get out of here soon, so rest while you can.” 

There’s no response from her, so Keiichi turns to look and sees that she has fallen asleep in the office chair.

For once throughout this wretched night, he genuinely smiles, amused, and shakes his head.
 

.

Akane warns them to prepare for many scenarios.

.

In some timelines, Keiichi’s father kills everyone with Uncle Kubota’s knife and leaves to escape with his, Kubota, and Nona’s mother’s bracelets.

Things branch off, though, as in some histories, he uses the “sinister hand” hint to open the coffin and kill Light, while in the others, Light simply suffocates to death, since Keiichi and Nona are unable to open it in time. His father finds himself unable to open the number 9 door and tries to leave to retrieve everyone else’s bracelets. 

Before he can, though, Keiichi locks him into the incinerator and stoically watches him burn to a crisp as he struggles with the final puzzle, feeling absolutely cold in emotionless from watching everyone die, while Nona mourns the deaths, especially her mother’s. Keiichi checks the coffin to see if Light is alive, (if his father does not kill him), though he is found dead in all of them. Keiichi leaves the desert area with a despondent Nona and calls the police to leave an anonymous tip of the players’ whereabouts and insinuates that Cradle Pharmaceutical is behind this.



The timelines where Clover kills them all are similar. She kills mostly everyone with an axe – in a few, she manages to kill Keiichi’s father, her axe overcoming his knife, or resorting to use the golden revolver gets after killing Aoi, and kills Lotus, too; but she is unable to open the number 9 door, and solve the final puzzle, and burns to death in the incinerator.

In others, though, his father manages to stab her, or takes the revolver from her, killing both her and Lotus.

There are another set of histories where Clover hears someone in the coffin that has been placed into the chapel: in some, she simply ignores it and walks away, which leads to the set where she tries to kill “Ace” and “Lotus”; in a few others, she tries to slice the coffin, whether to open it, or to stop the banging of whatever dead being is trying to come back to life, only to realize in horror that she has killed her brother, and responds to it in the only way that she can – by shooting herself with the golden revolver; in the last few timelines, she opens the coffin by determining the code through the “sinister hand” tip from Zero, happily reuniting with her brother, but also filled with guilt for killing Aoi, that detective, Junpei, and Akane. 

Still, she and Light make their way to Door 9, but before they can even think about getting out of here, Ace spies them and immediately threatens to kill Lotus if they try to come closer. Lotus struggles against him, so he slashes her with a knife. Clover tries to point the golden revolver at him, though Ace overpowers and shoots her. Snake immediately jumps to attack him, but the incinerator activates and, depending on the timeline and who manages to hurt whom, either one or the two of them are burned alive.

.

 

Akane also warns them that when it seems like they’ll be so close to winning, they’ll actually lose. 

Keiichi,” he hears her whisper breathlessly into the microphone chip, outfitted into her hairpin, in one timeline. From the live CCTV feed, he sees that she is slouched down against a wall in the steam engine room, alone, while his father, Aoi, and Junpei are trying to find a way out of the room. “This isn’t the one . . . this isn’t the ending we needed.”

His eyes widen in terror. “What!?” he shouts, startling Nona awake. 

“Mm, Keiichi?”

He ignores his sleepy companion, trying to focus on the question he wants to ask before panic can cripple him. “H-How can we get the right ending, Akane!? What can we do to bring ourselves back on track!?”

Nona gasps, more alert now. “This isn’t the right timeline!? What are we going to do?”

Akane sighs. “We can’t . . .” Her voice is raspy, strained even. Keiichi sees her close her eyes, resigned. “This is all we could have done. I’m going to die, Keiichi. I lost . . . Zero lost.”

“No! No, don’t say that Akane, please!” Nona shouts to Akane desperately, as she grabs onto Keiichi’s arm tightly.

Akane smiles sadly, knowing that they can see her. “Don’t worry about me, and just listen to my instructions. At the end of this, you both have to spray Soporil in the incinerator to knock out Seven and Lotus. Aoi will bring Junpei’s body into Keiichi’s SUV. You both will return Junpei, Seven, and Lotus to their homes, as well as yourselves, and forget this whole affair ever happened.”

“What about Clover and Light, and . . . Hongou?” Keiichi’s voice is steady as he asks the question, even though he already knows the answer to it.

Your father will kill Clover, I believe . . . it’s inevitable. Snake, however, will put up a fight before dying, and drag your father to death with him in the incinerator.”

Keiichi feels his throat tighten.

“What . . . what about you and Aoi, Akane?” Nona asks hesitantly. “What will you do?” 

“I . . . I don’t know how much longer I’ll have to live after Junpei realizes I’ve disappeared, but . . . Aoi and I will leave in the other car – I-I can spend my last moments in peace.”

In spite of how calmly Akane speaks, in spite of how subtly manipulative she has been, and in spite of the way she has been playing God, Keiichi can hear by her shaky voice that she is scared of dying, too.

Chapter Text

Things unfold quite differently in the alpha timeline.

Keiichi sucks in a breath, struggling to find his voice for a moment. “Nona,” he calls manages to then out, his eyes never leaving the screen. He hears the pounding of blood in his ears – or is it just the sound of his heart racing?

Musashidou is dead. Keiichi saw his father kill the man with his own eyes, but he felt no remorse, just in the same way he felt no remorse seeing Nijisaki’s body explode from the bomb detonating in his stomach (though, he couldn’t say the same for Nona, who was so disturbed by not only seeing his violent death, but being a part of it, that she nearly puked). He knew these men personally. On the outside, they display cool, pleasant demeanors – Uncle Kubota probably being the only exception – but inside, they are cold-hearted, selfish creatures who seek nothing if it isn’t for themselves.

But now, the events unfolding in front of Keiichi very much surprise and scare him, considering the fact that he is working to make sure the Nonary Game goes smoothly, but didn't know this was going to happen at all.

There is no response from Nona, so he tries again, this time, grabbing and shaking her arm with his shaky hand. “Nona! Nona, wake up!”

She jolts awake with a gasp, blinking. Her eyes immediately move to Keiichi’s wide, horror-stricken ones. “Keiichi . . .” Her voice is thick with sleep. “Wha – ”

“A-Aoi just pulled the revolver on Akane!” 

Her eyes fly open. “What!?” she croaks out, becoming more alert as she wrenches up from her seat. “What . . . w-why?! They didn’t tell us anything about this!”

“I know,” is the only thing Keiichi can answer, bewildered by this himself. “I’m confused, too, Nona, but they’ve gone into Door 9. We need to go to the Reactor now.”

“But Akane – ”

He shakes his head at her. This stuff has to be happening for a reason, he somehow just knows it – is Akane transmitting this knowledge to him through the morphic fieldset . . . ? But that’s impossible, since he’s not a receiver. “No, Nona. They know what they're doing.” His hand grasps the laptop bag on the desk as he finally turns to face her, his eyes burning into hers. “We need to leave before they reach the study. Get your stuff – we have to leave, now.”

She stares at him with unsure eyes, but nods at him, regardless. “Okay.” 

So, they grab their necessary things and scramble to the Reactor, a room unused in both the Nonary Games – though the second game is based on what Akane has seen through Junpei’s eyes, he’s not sure why his father didn’t have them. (Though, the Torture Room was more than to incite fear within the children . . . maybe it was for the better that he hadn’t incorporated this room into the game as well.)

As soon as Nona turns the key into the lock and pushes the door open, Keiichi immediately jumps for the red sofa, diving into the cushions. Relief flows through his body, especially legs, as he sinks into the dusty cushions. He didn’t realize how tired he has been until now. He is still a little unnerved by what he saw occur through the CCTV footage, even though he knows that Aoi would really never hurt Akane, but tries to relax.

Nona laughs and simply shakes his head at him. She drops her heavy backpack, filled with all of the controls for the vibration platform he installed into the study, for the bell system, and for the water leveling on the staircase, onto the ground and walks straight towards the next door in front of them.

Keiichi’s heart leaps out of its chest when he sees her unlock the door in front of them. “Don’t!” he nearly screams, wrenching up from the couch. 

Nona jumps and whips her head towards him, alarmed by his outburst and horror-stricken face. “What the fuck!? I’m just getting a chair from the other room. It’s not my fault that you hogged the couch all to yourself.”

“Oh. S-Sorry,” he says lamely, feeling foolish. As he sinks back down into the sofa, an embarrassed blush rises to his cheeks. “I thought you were going down to the reactor.”

A puzzled and slightly concerned Nona raises an eyebrow. “Why would it be a problem if I was going down there?” When he responds with a panicked expression on his face, she rolls her eyes. “Oh, silly, Keiichi. I appreciate the concern, but it’s not like the reactor actually works. Building Q is only a replica of the Gigantic.” 

Keiichi stays quiet. He doesn’t have the heart to tell Nona that if Akane and Aoi could withhold the fact that Aoi was going to pull a gun to her head to them, then who knows what other information or things they could be keeping a secret? For all they know, the reactor could be a working one, or there could be a trap laid downstairs.

When she returns to the first room, rolling an office chair into the doorway, Keiichi spies a pink booklet tucked under her arm. “What’s that in your hand?” 

She plops onto the chair and pushes herself to Keiichi, spinning once as she does. She holds up the book, “Super Sudoku,” which looks quite worn and torn up. “Akane’s book of Sudoku puzzles. She let me keep it to finish while we’re supervise the game.”

Keiichi is surprised. “Oh, uh, that was nice of her,” he says awkwardly, as he opens his laptop to continue his surveillance. He didn’t think Akane would do something like that, but at the same time, did it have to be a fucking Sudoku book? 

As Nona works her way through the Sudoku puzzles, with her backpack on her lap, Keiichi keeps a close watch on Junpei, Clover, Light, Nona’s mom, and the detective, chuckling slightly at some of the things they have to say. Like the rust on the metal machine in the back of the study! The rust did kind of look like a face, maybe Elvis’s, Keiichi amusedly thinks to himself, as he watches them all sing about a pipe in the study, which baffles him. What the hell? How can they be so cheerful and sing at a time like this? It’s none of his business, though, so he shuts up after that and watches them complete all of the puzzles, cheekily grinning to himself when he sees that the final solution to the Numbered Door Puzzle is the correct input of bracelets needed for them to escape Door q. Akane and Aoi are sneaky bastards. 

At 6AM, Keiichi’s watch on his right wrist – not the bracelet, which is on his left one – begins to be beep, as it does at the start of every hour.

Akane said once the participants would talk about the Ganzfield experiment and make speculations about Zero (after the last puzzle yields the picture of the Cradle Executives), at approximately 6AM, the study should shake.

The watch stops beeping, just in time for him to hear the participants discuss how Zero’s next target will be Gentarou Hongou. Ha. As surreal the whole experience has been for him, he finds some amusement in hearing their talks, especially since they think Aoi is Zero, and because Zero doesn’t plan to actually kill Gentarou Hongou.

“Nona,” he calls out, the anticipation – or is it dread? – bubbling in his voice, “it’s six o’clock! Make it shake, now!” 

.


As Keiichi watches “Ace” punch Aoi in the stomach and snatch the gun to point at Lotus’s head, he feels Nona’s hand grasp his tightly. He gives it a small squeeze back as his eyes look to hers, in hopes to convey his apologies about his father’s actions, but he is also trying to swallow back the bile that rises up his throat.


*
 

June – Akane Kurashiki, or Zero, as he now knows – towers over him. The warmth in her eyes that Gentarou has been familiar with for the past 9 hours has vanished, and in its place, a cold, calculating look pierces through his own eyes with resentment. Gone is the mask of sweet, caring peacemaker who had mourned at his feigned vigilant behavior. In its place, lays the true face of a cunning, vengeful mastermind, left bitter and heartless, but also sad and broken. 

Gentarou has always heard to never judge a book by its cover, but Akane's true nature has taken him completely by surprise. Who would have thought that the meek, innocent, naive, and caring young woman, was the same subject from his experiment 9 years ago, who set out to ruin his life, because he had nearly ended hers? 

“So, all of this, it was for revenge, then. I can’t deny that I’m impressed by your efforts, Zero . . . or should I say Akane Kurashiki,” he spits out bitterly.

The girl looks away, her face hardened into a grave expression. “Aoi told you already that revenge wasn’t the primary reason,” she answers him quietly. “I did it to save my life.”

“Though I can’t claim to know how this saved your life, frankly, I don’t want to know. It wasn’t just to save your life. Revenge had to be a large reason. You so easily manipulated me to do your bidding and have Kubota, Nijisaki, and Musashidou dead.” He grins lecherously at her. “You don’t have any blood on your hands . . . but what about the blood that will stain your hands when you kill me?

Gentarou has already accepted defeat. He has lost to Zero, there is no doubt about that. But though Akane Kurashiki still stands, it wouldn’t take much to make her fall as well. As devious as she may appear to him now, Gentarou can tell that there is a fragility to her that could be easy to break. 

But as her eyes flash angrily and as she makes a step towards him, Santa – Aoi Kurashiki, the “secretary to Zero,” as he called himself earlier – places a hand on her shoulder. The younger Kurashiki turns to her brother, who shakes his head. She grunts once before looking back at Gentarou with a look that wipes the grin off of Gentarou’s face and sends chills down his back.

“Make no mistake, Gentarou Hongou – if I wanted you to kill you four, you would have been dead a long time ago.” She speaks in a deadly, low tone. “It was your choice to kill them – I simply gave you an opportunity. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if all four of you came out alive – I’d simply turn all of you into the police.” 

Such threatening words from such a sweet, high-pitched voice. It’s almost laughable – if he didn’t just see it for himself, he wouldn’t believe that this kitten was actually a tigress.

A tigress that tore this lion to shreds.

“I did what I had to for the greater good,” she answers back cryptically.

He barks out a weak, albeit sarcastic laugh. “Greater good? Let me be the first to tell you now, little girl – ”

“You’re in no position to talk, Gentarou Hongou,” she tells him icily, and immediately, Gentarou loathes her and her patronizing tone. “Remember that you are the one who pitifully is tied up – ”

“Playing God doesn’t lessen the severity of what you’ve done!” he snaps angrily, frustrated by her taunting and by the fact that she's overpowering him. “You’ve kidnapped 9 people against their own will; you forced them to play through your sick games; you’re responsible for the death of people. You and I, Akane Kurashiki, are cut from the same cloth. There is no difference between us.”

“There is a difference between you and her - it's that you’re a monster!”

Gentarou’s blood runs cold at the sound of the familiar voice. “Keiichi?” he breathes in disbelief, struggling against the rope to turn around and see him. 

His son squats down in front of him, staring at him with hard eyes. “You were wondering about my contracting gig.” Keiichi turns his head slightly towards the enormous building and smirks. “This was it. Building Q. Four months of toiling, lying to and hiding things from the people I love and care about, all to help Akane orchestrate the Second Nonary Game.”

Gentarou is in shock. His own son would betray him like this? “W-Why? Why would you do such a thing? Did you forget so easily that you’re my son, my own blood?” His words end in a seethe, rage filling him at his son’s disloyalty. 

But Keiichi is unfazed. “Did you forget so easily that you put me, Keiko – your own children, your own blood – and 16 other kids into a death game for your sick desires?” His voice is ice-cold, but Gentarou doesn’t sense any anger from him. No . . . he seems numb. He no longer cares anymore about Gentarou.

Was this game simply revenge for him?

Revenge has been exacted and served, and now Keiichi no longer wants any ties to him.

Understandable, of course, but Keiichi would never understand Gentarou’s own actions and just why he had to do it. 

“What are you waiting for then? Kill me. Just kill me, then. I’d rather die at your hands, anyway.” Gentarou wouldn’t normally like to die at anyone’s hands really – only his own hands, at his choice – but better his son than the manipulative Akane Kurashiki. He feels too drained of energy that he’d rather put an end to this now.

“No.” His son shakes his head. “I won’t kill you. I won’t stoop down to your level. You’d be willing to kill me, but I’m not willing to kill you.”

Gentarou stiffens. Is that what he really thinks of him? His voice is dark as he replies to him. “I never would have killed you. You’re my son, my own blood; I’ve told you a thousand times already, and I will tell you a thousand times more: you and Keiko are my jewels. I did this all for you. I wanted to see you! I wanted to see my own children’s faces!” he insists, his voice raising by the end.

“I doubt it,” Keiichi mutters scornfully, looking away. “If it had been me who was supposed to be stuck in the incinerator instead of Akane 9 years ago . . . I’m sure you would have let it come to that.”

No. Never. Gentarou simply wouldn’t allow it. Keiichi was his son. Never. Not even if he was in Akane’s place in the incinerator. Not even if for all of the money in the world, even if his company was on the life, even if Gentarou’s life depended on it. 

. . . if he was in the incinerator, and was Gentarou’s last chance at being able to see faces just once . . .

Maybe.

Yes.

Oh, my. So, his sociopathic nature extends to even his children, too, it seems, something that he hasn’t been hoping for – his children are supposed to be the last thing that keeps him grounded to humanity. But it seems that even as a father, he is a failure. Not that it’s his biggest failure, of course, but a failure nonetheless. And not that it matters, anyway. He has lost, totally and utterly to Akane Kurashiki. 

Keiichi narrows his eyes, his hands clenching into fists. “I knew it. What else can someone expect from a pathetic man like you?” He squeezes his eyes shut. “I’m ashamed that you’re my biological father.”

“Hmph.” Keiichi’s first comment stings much more than his last, but only because he is right. Gentarou is pathetic, and foolish for that matter. He fell for Zero’s obvious trap by killing “Snake,” who was really Nijisaki, his only close companion. Furthermore, that insect, Junpei was able to see through Gentarou’s actions and motive as if it were the clearest glass. He so easily succumbed to his downfall that his blood son had a hand in. Most importantly, though, he is disgusted with himself to have fallen prey to this seemingly innocuous girl’s manipulation and to have lost to her. 

What a pitiable end for a brilliant, cunning man as himself.

With a final, resigned sigh, Gentarou bows down his head in defeat, before Keiichi and Aoi tapes his mouth shut with duct tape and lock him in the back of an SUV.


*

While they wait for Nona to bring the other SUV they brought for their escape, Keiichi watches Akane silently as Aoi wraps a comforting arm around his younger sister’s shoulders, making Keiichi wonder what his own sister is up to.

“I’m far from an angel, but I’m not a monster like him either, right?” Tears stream down Akane’s cheeks, as Aoi quietly reassures her that she is not.

As much as he hates the way she plays God sometimes and is completely fine with manipulating anyone for it, including the man that she claims to love unconditionally, Keiichi truly feels bad for Akane. Her life has been full of hardships from a young age, and only became Zero so she could ensure her existence in the future. 

He is sure that Akane doesn’t regret much that has happened in Building Q, at least, with what has happened to the four Cradle Executives (Junpei is another story, he’d wager). This simply her finally cracking under the pressure since everything is over, the dam that burst open as soon it was free to break. 

And maybe it’s time for his dam to break as well.

“You’re nothing like him.”

Akane’s head snaps up to his, and Aoi curiously turns to him as well.

“He’s a disgusting, vile person, who wouldn’t have thought twice if it was me, or maybe Keiko, in that incinerator instead of you, because he’ll do anything for his own selfish purposes.” Keiichi swallows hard. “He’s the worst of the worst.” 

“Keiichi . . . ” Aoi sighs.

Finally, finally, his throat tightens, as he feels the water welling in his eyes. “Scum.” His voice slightly cracks. “Repulsive.” His hands begin to shake. “Despicable.” His nose strings before the tears spill from his eyes. “A demon on earth.” 

Keiichi wishes he actually could be as strong, cool, and nonchalant as he tries to appear.

He hears an exhalation from besides him, and feels a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” is all Akane says, and he turns to see her looking at him with pity.

But Keiichi doesn’t want to be pitied, so he shakes his head at her. “No.” His head then tilts upward to take in the scorching hot sun of the Nevada desert, closing his eyes. His tears are minimal, but roll freely down his cheeks now. “Don’t be. He got what he deserved. I hope he rots in hell.” As he roughly wipes moisture off of his cheeks, he wonders how Keiko will react to this all.

He needs a distraction. “Akane.” His voice comes out graver and more hoarse than he intended. Damn those tears. “I’ve actually wanted to ask you something since the beginning of the game. We're in the alpha timeline where Junpei successfully was able to solve the puzzle and save you from the past, yet you broke out into a fever when the 'ninth man' exploded . . . Was Kubota supposed to die?”

Akane’s eyes widen in surprise, and then flash in anger. She turns to glare sharply at Aoi. “No, he wasn’t! And where the hell did Kubota get a knife from?!” she demands, stepping forward to punch her brother in the arm, who gives off a small smirk, shrugging, before he feels the force of Akane’s fist and winces.

.
 

“A SOIS Agent hitchhiked a ride in the SUV we’ve left for them, and is guiding them to their Las Vegas Headquarters. You and Keiko will each get a phone call shortly informing you that your father has been arrested.” 

Keiichi nods from his seat at the shabby, secondhand dining room table – Crash Keys’ official “meeting” table – though a pang of sadness runs through him. Today, poor Keiko will be exposed to their father’s true colors. And then his eyebrows furrow in confusion. “Wait, what’s SOIS?”

Akane looks up from the documents she has been reading across from him. “The Special Office of Internal Security.” She frowns. “A secret branch of the Department of Defense that investigates any sort of threat to national security, through domestic or foreign terrorists or terrorist groups.”

Aoi, who sits on top of the tabletop, his feet resting on the empty chair next to Akane, scowls. “Next thing you know, we’ll have the fucking Feds on our asses.”

Nona sits in the wooden chair next to Keiichi, passing two cups of instant coffee to him and Akane. “Wait, I thought the FBI is part of the Department of Defense?”

Keiichi shakes his head. “Surprisingly no. It’s a very common misunderstanding,” he answers, taking a sip. His foot taps impatiently against the concrete floor, causing Akane to shoot him a annoyed glare.

Suddenly, Aoi jumps off the table, landing on his feet with a resounding thud. He then takes a step towards Keiichi and grabs his hand to place a set of keys into his palm. “You and Nona will go to the Las Vegas HQ and meet your parents. Akane says that Keiko will already be there, by the time you get to the place, but pick Ennea up on your way.” His eyes widen. “Before I forget . . . ” He reaches into his pocket and produces two thick envelopes. “These are for you both. This is my small way of thanking you for helping me save my sister’s life.”

Keiichi stares at the envelope blankly for a moment. “You know that I don’t need this,” he finally answers. “I did this because I wanted to.”

Nona, too, looks at Aoi with hesitation. “I . . . I can’t take this, either. Sorry, Aoi.”

Aoi rolls his eyes and shoves the envelopes into their hands anyway. “If you return those, I’ll just deposit them to your bank accounts – and trust me, I will do that.”

“You suck, man.” Keiichi groans, reaching over to punch Aoi’s arm softly, while Nona frowns, staring at the packet. 

Aoi ignores their reactions. “We’ll be in touch soon. Have Ennea update us on the ABT, Nona.”

“W-Wait, where are you going?” Nona cries out.

Aoi folds his arms over his chest and smirks wryly. “You haven’t realized it, yet? Akane and I are criminals on the run. We kidnapped 10 people and are indirectly responsible for the death of three.

“We’re going into hiding,” Akane finishes for him, standing up, the files in her hand cradled to her chest.

“I helped you guys repair Building Q," Keiichi points out calmly, arms crossed over his chest, "kidnap the participants of the Second Nonary Game, and help orchestrate the game itself.”

“And so did I! And yet you're the only ones who have to be on the run.”

Akane smiles sadly at Nona, taking a few steps towards her and taking her hand. “Your involvement in this was a secret from the start. We couldn’t ask you to take the fall with us. You’ve already done more than enough. We put a huge burden on you and your conscious. The only thing we can ask you to do is to take this secret to the grave.”

As he watches Nona and Akane exchange tearful goodbyes, Keiichi gets the distinct feeling that these words were meant only for Nona and not him.

Chapter Text

“Keiichi!”

Before he can register the owner of the familiar voice, a force – no, a human – slams into his chest. “Unf!” he grunts, as he feels small arms wrap around his torso. “K-Keiko?” he nearly screeches, finally recognizing the voice. The straight, short brown hair beneath his chin confirms that it is, in fact, his sister. Relief flows through him as he closes his eyes and embraces her. Looking back on it now, those 9 hours in Building Q have been horrible. 

Her head tilts up at him to reveal bleary eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “Keiichi,” she sobs, her hand squeezing his shoulder tighter, “they’ve arrested Papa.”

Wait a minute . . . From the corner of his eye, he shares a wide-eyed look with Nona, who he has just arrived at the SOIS headquarters with. Keiko is supposed to be in Japan!

“Keiko,” he begins slowly, shock replacing the relief in his voice, “how are you here and not back home?” There is no way Keiko was able to come so quickly after learning about their father’s arrest. It’s only been a few hours, and though she could have used their father’s money to get on a plane immediately, it would be impossibly quick to get to the United States this fast.

She pulls away from him and averts his narrowed-eyed glare, focusing on her shoes instead. “I . . . I came to Las Vegas to find you since you said you were going to Uncle Sho.” And then her face tilts back up, shooting him an angry glare of her own. “But he didn’t even know that you were here and I was so worried. And then I got a call that Papa was arrested!”

Fuck. This would be hard to make up an excuse for. “Keiko, I – ”

“Do you know how worried I was, Keiichi? You were gone! You were missing . . . and then Papa got arrested?” Her voice cracks and the anger on her face crumples into sorrow. “How did he get arrested? He couldn’t have done anything bad, right?”

Keiichi immediately reaches for her. “Shh, shh.” His hand strokes her hair softly, nodding at Nona, who has hesitantly indicated to him to bring his sister inside the building, since everyone is staring at them.

So, he coaxes Keiko to come inside and sit on the waiting bench with him.

“Hey,” he then whispers quietly to Nona, “go find Ennea and Lotus – ” He shakes his head. “Sorry, I mean, your mother. We will talk later.”

She nods. “Okay,” she answers, shooting him a look of pity that makes him want to growl in frustration, before she walks away.

“What’s going on, Keiichi!?” Keiko demands hoarsely, after Nona is gone. “You clearly know something if I’m the only one who is shocked by this!”

With a deep breath, he takes a seat next to her and wraps an arm around her shoulder. “Listen to carefully,” he murmurs softly, feeling his voice cracking. “Our father is a bad man. He has done a lot of bad things.”

Keiko’s eyebrows knit together as her face slowly tilts up to him. “B-Bad things?” Keiichi is surprised by her response – it’s the first time she hasn’t tried to argue with him or defend their father, but considering the man's recent arrest, it makes sense.

He slowly and softly explains to her how their father was the one to trap the kids in the Nonary Game 9 years ago, and that’s why he hated him – he would have told Keiko, but she was already so traumatized, and the bastard kept taunting him to tell her and see how her mental health would worsen.

“I couldn’t contain my hate enough and am sorry to have caused you so much turmoil with the tension between me and him, but now you know why I acted like I did,” he finishes, giving her a sad smile.

“I-I didn’t know,” Keiko whispers sorrowfully. "I wish I had known." She wipes her tears, before opening her mouth to speak once more, but is interrupted before she can.

“Excuse me.” An agent stands in front of them, and the sympathy is evident on his face. “Mr. Hongou is done with the interrogation – you can meet him now.”

That was rather quick. Hopefully, that means his father has kept mum about the Nonary Game he was just a part of; they didn’t call Keiichi or Nona into questioning, so, it at least appears to be the case.

Keiichi represses a sigh. This is it. He stands up, but suddenly feels Keiko grab his hand.

“I want to see him, too.”

His eyebrows rise to his forehead. “Are . . . are you sure, Keiko?” he hesitantly asks, worried that she won’t be able to keep herself together, and instead, make herself more miserable.

She swallows and tearfully nods.

So, hand in hand, they follow the agent into a small room with a long table, where Gentarou sits on one side quietly, with his hands folded together on the metal tabletop, the same resigned expression Keiichi last saw him with a few hours ago.

“Papa,” Keiko whispers, as Keiichi notices the agent slipping out of the room.

Hongou looks up with a frown. “Keiko . . . I don’t want you to see me like this, my darling. Please, leave.”

What the fuck!? Is this bastard for real? Keiichi thinks, unable to believe his ears. No apology, no “I’ve done you wrong,” no remorse, not even shame — only embarrassment.

But Keiko is surprisingly calm, and doesn’t object. “I will leave, Papa, but I need to ask you something first . . . did you trap us in the Nonary Game nine years ago?” she vacantly asks, no trace of emotion in her voice.

“Yes,” he immediately responds, but even the embarrassment disappears from his face. In its place, a blank expression is set onto his face.

“Why?”

Is this exchange really happening right now? Keiichi is in disbelief. This is like a weird nightmare from which there is no escape nor awakening. Keiko, in spite of her tear-stained, flushed cheeks, and hoarse voice, is calmly talking with her father like this. 

Gentarou closes his eyes and leans back in his chair. “All I wanted was to see my children’s faces . . . it was all for you two.”

“W-What . . . what’s that supposed to mean?” she demands, taken aback by his words. Finally, Keiichi notes, the stillness of their exchange is shattering and Keiko's coolness is starting to burn up.

"I have prosopagnosia, Keiko,” he answers quietly, his eyes still shut.

Her eyes flash with some indecipherable emotion, and then her fingers pull away from Keiichi’s hand. “Can you give us a minute alone, please?” she asks her brother in a shaky voice.

“Keiko, I’m not sure if that’s – ”

“Please?” 

Keiichi sighs, resigned. He comfortingly rubs Keiko’s shoulders and turns to sharply glare at Gentarou (whose eyes are wide open in surprise) in warning. He says a silent prayer to whoever is up there that Keiko finds closure and not anguish through her talk with their father.

As he leaves the room, he nods to the guard who stands outside, before falling back onto the bench he and Keiko were sitting on before.

The walls of the room are unfortunately soundproof, so Keiichi cannot hear the contents of their conversation, but two minutes later, the iron door opens with a squeal. Keiichi looks up to see a sobbing Keiko appear though the doorway. He immediately springs to his feet and runs to her as she collapses into his arms.

“You were my hero, Papa,” she croaks, without turning back at her father. “You were everything, but now . . . you’re nothing to me.” In spite of her tears, her voice holds a tone of finality. 

Keiichi peers over Keiko to see Gentarou look away, his eyes hard and his face taut. He can’t tell if their father is hurt by her words, or if he’s still embarrassed that his fall occurred like this.

What a pathetic man.

He turns back to Keiko. “Shh,” he finally coaxes his sister, “let’s go.” 

Now, they have returned to the bench, where a pink-haired girl in a school uniform sits and looks at them in pity.

Clover, Keiichi recognizes, as he tries to comfort his sister.

Of course. If his father is here, that means Clover, that detective, Junpei, and Nona’s mother are here . . . as well as Light.

Keiichi sees the guard motion at him. Of course, the universe won't let him sit quietly with his grieving sister in peace.

He needs to go speak to his father. It’s the last opportunity he has to ask what he didn’t feel was right to ask in front of Akane and Aoi.

He looks to his sister. “Keiko,” he says softly, “I have to speak to him. I will be back in a minute, I promise.” 

She sniffles and nods, but more tears leak out of her eyes, and Keiichi feels his heart break a little more. He wants to talk to his father but also doesn’t want to leave his sister behind like this.

Suddenly, a pink-manicured hand holding a tissue comes into view. Keiichi identifies the source as Light’s sister. “Go. I’ll look after her.”

Keiko’s teary eyes light up in surprise. “C-Clover?”

She looks well put together, and for someone who participated in the Nonary Game a few hours ago, she is rather calm. “I’m glad that you remember me.” She smiles gently.

.
 

“I hope you are satisfied. Keiko finally hates me. Are you here to rub it in my face? To mock me that I’ve completely and utterly lost?” Gentarou’s voice is dark.

“No.” He shakes his head. “I don’t have anything left to tell you. I’ve already made it clear that you’re the most pathetic excuse for a human being I’ve met in my life.”

Gentarou cocks his head in confusion. “What do you want, then?”

“This may seem obvious, but I wanted to hear it from you,” he starts hesitantly. “Your prosopagnosia . . . was it acquired?”

His father bows his head in defeat. “Yes,” he sighs.

“How? Tell me!” he demands, a hand subconsciously slapping against the metal table.

“Monoxide poisoning.”

His eyes widen in surprise. “What? Monoxide poisoning? From what?” he wonders. 

Gentarou’s lips are pursed. “There is something you should know . . . Nijisaki, Kubota, and I were participants of Gordain’s games, a game established by Lord Dashiell Gordain, the second owner of the Gigantic. People would be kidnapped and forced to escape from their captivity and seek a way out. Gordain and his wealthy friends would bet on the players. Gordain passed, but his game lived on.” His eyes, unabashedly stare into Keiichi’s, a sick interest shining in them. “Think of the Nonary Project, but without the puzzles and bracelets.

“One year, they decided to expand the range of years of the participants and decided to see what would happen if they had kids participate. They would make sure that there would be a way for all of the children to escape without dying, and though most of us got out of there quickly, they pumped carbon monoxide into the incinerator, so some of us were poisoned with carbon monoxide while escaping . . . a punishment, of sorts, for not being swift enough. Breathing in the monoxide caused my vision to become blurry, or so I initially thought, and it was hard to breathe, but we managed to make it out of there alive. And, of course, that blurriness stayed even after I was recovered, since I was the only one who suffered from the rare side-effect of prosopagnosia.” He grins wryly. “And you think I was cruel to the kids during the Nonary Project.”

Keiichi wants to argue but bites his tongue, knowing that now is the only time he’ll get to hear his father speak his side of the story.

“I grew older, but more weary of being surrounded by monkeys,” Gentarou continues, his face darkening. “I married and had kids, but even the people closest to me were still nondescript to me. I couldn't see my employees who worked for me - and I felt powerless, weakened by my inability to see their faces. That’s why I had constructed the First Nonary Game. I got into contact with Musashidou, one of the wealthy men who bet on me during Gordain’s Game, and was willing to place his trust and money in me once more - even more so, after I was able to create Soporil from the root found in the coffin that was supposed to hold All-Ice. We, along with Kubota and Nijisaki, created the Nonary Project.”

“And kidnapped children, including your own, to play your sick game and do your bidding?” Keiichi finishes bitterly.

His father’s eyes flash in anger. “You possibly can’t understand how it feels. Do you have any idea how much I've suffered?” His voice rises with every word. “Can you even begin to understand my pain?”

Keiichi is silent, though he contains the anger rising within him. He is done with this man. He does not want to speak to him or look at his face again.

He promptly turns to leave without looking back at his father, who protests and tries to call him back. But Keiichi simply shrugs while walking away and makes a noncommittal noise in response. See you in hell, old bastard.

He returns to the bench to see Rikona now sitting with Keiko, her face blank and emotionless. Clover is gone. What an eventful bench, he deadpans mentally, though he approaches the seating area with caution.

“Rikona,” he starts, upon coming close to the young woman, but she holds up a hand to silence him.

“Father is dead.” Her voice is hollow. 

He outstretches a hand to pat her hair softly, but clenches it into a fist and retracts it before it can make contact. “Rikona, I’m so, so sorry.” More than you could ever know. 

“I know you kidnapped him,” she breathes suddenly, in a voice so soft, he could have nearly imagined it. Nearly.

Keiichi’s heart lurches to his throat. She knows.

“Rikona Nijisaki? Keiichi and Keiko Hongou?” 

They all turn to face the approaching woman, the sound of her golden, high heels clicking as she struts towards them. Keiichi nearly sways, dizziness hitting him as he takes in her appearance. This day just keeps raising Keiichi's blood pressure more and more.

She completely resembles the drawings he saw of All-Ice, the Egyptian queen preserved by ice-9, the one whose coffin was supposed to be on the Gigantic. Her clothing may be modern – her ornate jewelry excluded – but the color scheme of her outfit definitely reminds him of the mummy. It doesn’t help that her beauty is stunning (and her eyes are fierce and gaze piercing), enough to rival an Egyptian queen.

“My name is Alice, and I’m an SOIS Agent,” she nearly croons, her voice velvety. “From what I understand, you all are participants of the First Nonary Project.”

Alice! Even her name is similar to All-Ice!

“As you must have realized by now, the people that were responsible for kidnapping you all 9 years ago were the four executives of Cradle Pharmaceutical. We have recently come to learn that there is a religious death cult called Free the Soul that three of the Cradle heads has had ties to.”

Keiichi’s eyes meet Keiko’s equally shocked ones. Free the Soul? 

As she talks about the group and how it is SOIS’s responsibility to stop them, the taste of bile fills the back of his throat, which he must swallow down – he is feeling sicker and sicker by the moment. His father is part of a death cult?

“As the kids from the First Nonary Games have come into contact with Free the Soul through Hongou, Nijisaki, and Musashidou, SOIS wants to recruit you to help us take them down.” 

“No thanks – not interested.” Keiichi's response is immediate, in a voice that is hard and aloof.

“Keiichi,” Keiko feebly rebukes, her voice raspy from crying, before turning to Alice. “I’m sorry about my brother, Agent Alice. We’ve had a long day.”

The chocolate-skinned beauty shakes her head. “It’s quite alright. I understand. Are you interested in joining?” she asks Keiko. “I know you are young, so we wouldn’t immediately require you to do any field wor – ” 

“We said we’re not interested,” Keiichi interrupts through gritted teeth. 

Alice raises an eyebrow. “Your sister has a mouth of her own, you know.” 

His nostrils flare up in anger. “Look, Agent. Sorry if I sound like an ass, but I’m in no mood to listen to your bullshit about SOIS. My father was just arrested, and right now, I don’t want to think about him, let alone try to pry into the terrible, sick shit he’s done and was a part of. I don’t want my sister – who, mind you, is only 15 fucking years old – to be exposed to that either . . . so, for the last time, we are not interested in joining SOIS!”

“Keiichi . . . ”

Alice seems unfazed, and merely shrugs. “Suit yourself. Just know that you’re welcome to join at anytime, should you consider it.”


.

“What?!” he snaps, as soon as he answers his cellphone – the words PRIVATE ID flashed across the screen.

On the other line, Akane sighs. “Why did you turn down Alice’s offer to be part of SOIS?” 

What the fuck?! “Because I’m not interested in learning about the crazy shit my father has been a part of,” he answers back, as a pang of irritation hits him.

“Keiichi, don’t you understand? We could get so much information out of this! Free the Soul is planning something huge in a year, and we need to find out what it is.”

So, he was right that Akane saying, “you’ve done more than enough for us,” was only meant for Nona. Though she got off the hook because she and Ennea have promised to provide ABT to Crash Keys in the future, there is no way he is done with whatever shit Akane has in store for him.

His hand clenches into a fist. “Akane, why can’t you understand? I don’t think I’ll be able to come out of this with my sanity intact.” He exhales in resignation. “Look,” he starts softly. “I’ll do whatever else you need me to do, but I’m not joining SOIS.”

Akane is quiet, which releases a sigh of relief from Keiichi.

Before she can say anything further on the matter, he changes the topic. “You know,” he begins in a somber tone. “Junpei came in as I was leaving.”

He hears her breath hitch over the phone. “He was looking for me,” she answers back softly.

Keiichi’s brow twitches. “I wish you were there to see the hope disappear from his eyes when he realized you weren’t there,” he tells her bitterly.

She does not respond to his words, but Keiichi is satisfied by her momentary silence – she needs to realize the weight of her actions on Junpei. “He walked into the building? I thought they drove Alice to the headquarters and were questioned there.”

He is not surprised by her change of topic, but is surprised by how she knows that last bit of information. He refuses to question her on it, though – Aoi has warned him to never question Akane. “No, he actually came from the basement floor – I assume that’s where their headquarters is located.” 

She hums in thought – Keiichi thinks it sounds slightly gleeful. “It’s rather small, then,” she boasts.

“Yeah, probably smaller than Crash Keys HQ, I guess.” Keiichi purses his lips, and then sighs. “Don’t change the topic, Akane. How long are you going to torture the poor guy? We both know that he is crazy about you, and probably will never stop looking for you.”

“We’ll meet in the future . . . certain things need to occur before he can see me again. It will be worth the wait, though.”

Doesn’t sound like it, Keiichi thinks sourly, as he exhales sharply. “I can’t wrap my head around your love for him – you have an awful way of showing it.”

“Well, Keiichi, you should mind your own business.” Her voice is calm and low, but full of warning. “And you have no right to point a finger at me like that. I love Junpei and I know that I’m doing the right thing.”

Keiichi doesn’t know what the difference between right and wrong is, in Akane’s mind, but knows that if love is this, then he can’t stomach the thought of what Rikona’s love might mean for the two of them.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe Papa had been emotionally blackmailing you,” Keiko whispers tearfully. 

They’re both sitting on the bed of Keiko’s room in Keiichi’s apartment – her decision to move out of their father’s house was immediate and not a hard one. She would stay with Keiichi every weekend anyway, so it was a matter of moving the remaining half of her belongings to his apartment. 

As of now, Keiichi is looking into selling the mansion to an orphanage or organization that would need the massive space and numerous rooms. Neither he nor Keiko wanted anything to do with it. 

He nods slowly, swallowing back the lump that was beginning to form at the back of his throat. “That’s why I wasn’t able to tell you anything after we beat the Nonary Game. He knew that I couldn’t tell you what he did because it would make your condition worse, and the bastard kept rubbing it in my face.”

Keiko’s eyes fill with tears. “It’s my fault . . .” She places her hand on top of her brother’s. “It’s my fault you’ve had to suffer though this for 9 years. I wish you had told me.” 

With difficulty, he manages to console and get Keiko to sleep, but he, himself, is struggling to fall asleep himself. 

Rikona seems to be in the same state as well, because she calls him to tell him that her father’s actions are resting heavily on her conscience, so she has understood what is the right thing to do now. 

He hears Rikona take a deep breath. “I think Shika and I going to join SOIS.” 

Keiichi turns to look at Keiko’s sleeping form and frowns. “Keiko and I are joining, too.” Begrudgingly so, on Keiichi’s part, at least. Honestly, his head is still reeling at the fact that their father was a part of a death cult. “I really hate to expose her to it, but the guilt is eating Keiko alive, and she insisted this would be the only way to make her feel better . . . plus, SOIS is run by a bunch of psychos and needs all the help it can get to figure out what our dads and Free the Soul were up to.” He doesn’t add that Akane has been pushing him to join, of course. 

Rikona doesn’t laugh at his joke and is not amused by his small jab at SOIS. “So, what you’re really saying is that you and Keiko need that closure,” she states simply, “so that your dad’s deeds won’t haunt you forever. But even if you joined SOIS by yourself, it wouldn’t be fair to your sister if you didn’t include her in this.”

Keiichi is quiet, not denying anything.

I knew it.” He can detect the hint of pride in her voice. 

“Hmph.” 

A beat of silence passes before he remembers something that he’s been meaning to ask Rikona. 

“Hey, Rikona?” 

Yeah, Keiichi?” 

“Ryota and Shika – you said that they were non-espers at the start of the first game, and that their role in the experiment was to see if they would be able to take on esper abilities.” 

Yeah.” 

“I never asked . . . were they able to? I mean, are they espers now?” 

There is a beat of silence before Rikona answers him. “Yes.”

.

At SOIS’s first meeting, Keiichi sees Light, along with his sister, and nearly everyone else from the First Nonary Game – Rikona and Shika, Fumio and his sister, and Ryota and his cousin, Nona and Ennea, Aya and her brother, and a pair of twins who were in Building Q with Keiko. It is a surreal reunion of sorts, weirder than when he met Aoi, Akane, and Nona in July, and even weirder than when he saw Light and Clover through the CCTV cameras showing their experience in the Second Nonary Game – it’s especially surreal because he’s actually, properly meeting Light for the first time in years. (The last time he saw him, he and Aoi were placing his unconscious body into a coffin.) 

After the meeting, he hesitantly approaches the man in question, who is talking to the other, former participants alongside Clover. He somehow senses Keiichi’s presence from a few feet away and turns towards him with a smile. He politely excuses himself from the others before Keiichi walks to him.

“L-Light!” he exclaims in a stammer, after approaching him cautiously. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Keiichi.”

He tilts his head and smiles. “Of course, I remember you, Keiichi.” He reaches out to touch his shoulder, and immediately, Keiichi feels calm. 

They discuss the events that have brought them all together, and Keiichi feigns surprise when Light talks about the Second Nonary Game and how he, Clover, and the other participants found Alice on the side of the desert dirt road. After that, Keiichi can’t help but wonder how Akane knew Alice would be there . . . unless, she lured her to come there – though, honestly, at this point, what could he do by knowing? It’s best not to question it, like everything else when it comes to Akane’s schemes. 

“. . . and, Keiichi, you’re Gentarou Hongou’s son, aren’t you?” 

Keiichi lets out a startled gasp, broken out of his thoughts. “Sorry, Light, I got caught up in my thoughts for a sec. What did you – ” And then, his previous words hit Keiichi. “Oh, fuck.” 

Shit, shit, shit. How did he find out? Alice specifically said that the Cradle children’s identities were not to be revealed until the next meeting. 

But Light’s poker face reveals nothing. 

“Uh, yes, I am,” Keiichi answers back honestly, his voice a breathless whisper. 

An indescribable emotion crosses the blind man’s face. "I thought as much. I can’t say I’m sorry about your father’s arrest, but I am sorry that his actions must have hurt you and your sister.”

He looks away, his face hard. “I don’t have a father, Light. I lost him 9 years ago.”

Light blindly regards him for a moment before he nods. “. . . I see.”

A few moments of awkward silence pass, and they stand next to each other quietly as they hear Alice speak to some of the members and explain future training opportunities for the younger members and fieldwork for the older members. 

“Light,” Keiichi suddenly says, his voice strangled, “how did you know about my bracelet? . . . Nine years ago, I mean.”

Light cocks his head, an eyebrow raised in surprise. “Oh, that?” he says nonchalantly. “I found a letter in my pocket that was in Braille. In it, it was written that as I am blind, I was given an advantage. It said that the one who wears the Number 9 bracelet is special, and that their bracelet can adapt as any number.”

“But why . . . ?” Keiichi trails off, the words on his tongue but unable to escape his lips. It’s all so hard to process. What had his father been thinking nine years ago?

Light may not be able to see, but he doesn’t appear to be blind to Keiichi’s thoughts. “I’m not sure why Hongou would have thought to have done something like this,” he answers, arms crossing over his chest. “I am truly sorry to say it like this, Keiichi, but he doesn’t seem like the type to give you a handicap that would cheat the game and ruin his chances of tapping into the morphic fields to cure his prosopagnosia. Even with your blood relation.”

He simply shakes his head. He isn’t offended at all – in fact, it’s rather refreshing to have an open conversation about his father and the Nonary Project. With the Kurashikis, it is more of tiptoeing around certain subjects and only talking about why the Cradle head’s actions were wrong (and not about what their actions really were).

“You don’t need to be sorry,” he assures. “I agree – the bastard wouldn’t risk it. The only advantage he gave me was the flexibility of being Number 9, and even that was for his selfish purpose to have me – ” Keiichi breaks off, stopping himself from speaking any further. Maybe it is best not to tell Light. 

“For you to go through the same doors as Akane Kurashiki?” he supplies, smirking in satisfaction. 

“W-What?!” Keiichi’s breath catches in his throat. “Um . . . ” He wants to think of an excuse, but knows there isn’t much point in hiding it now. “Was I really that obvious?!” 

“No, it didn’t occur to me until after the game. I assumed you had fancied her.” Oh, gross. Keiichi would never . . . He has to repress a shudder at the thought. “But now that I know whose son you are, it’s easier to connect the dots. Regardless, that is probably why your bracelet was adaptable.” 

Keiichi sighs exasperatedly, looking away from Light. “I still don’t understand why the old bastard made it like that, though.” 

"You were meant to get the Gigantic kids all out of there in the event of something going wrong.” 

Keiichi’s head whips towards the source of the voice. “Fumio!” Keiichi exclaims, more for Light’s benefit than out of shock, as the young man hesitantly comes to them.

“‘In the event of something going wrong’?” Light echoes, blinking, his head angled towards Fumio as well.

Fumio pushes his round glasses up the bridge of his nose, an unreadable expression darkening his face. “M-My dad was the one who created the bracelets. He was fine with the experiment up until your dad said that we, their children, would be participants. Everyone else agreed to it, but my dad was hesitant and started to worry. He knew that Hongou planned to have you a-and Keiko as Number 9, so he modified your bracelet.” 

“My bracelet?” Keiichi wonders, his teeth momentarily sinking into his bottom lip in thought. “Why not Keiko’s?"

“Because you were a transmitter meant to be planted onto the Gigantic, while Keiko would be a receiver in Building Q,” Fumio explains.

“Apologies for the interruption,” Light interjects, holding a finger up, “but Akane was a transmitter on the Gigantic, as well.”

“Yeah, but she and another girl were accidentally switched. It was Keiichi who was meant to be the only t-transmitter amongst the receivers. That’s why his was the only one made adaptable to the digital root. In fact . . .” Fumio’s eyes fall to Keiichi’s left hand. “His bracelet would be able to open any door, regardless how many o-other number of bracelets were being verified, kinda like a master key.”

Keiichi’s breath escapes in a loud whoosh, the words piecing together in his mind, as realization hits him like a brick. Shit a brick. The thought immediately pops into his mind, and he curses himself inwardly for being such an idiot. 

“You were meant to save us all.”

.
 

He drops the Free the Soul files he swiped from SOIS HQ onto the table with a relieved sigh. 

The sound echoes throughout the large, Crash Keys’ warehouse, and it startles Aoi, whose attention has been invested into his phone. “Motherfucker!” he exclaims, as he looks up in surprise. “Keiichi!” He scowls. 

Keiichi shrugs, before pulling out the empty chair before him and plopping down. “It’s not my fault that you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.” In spite of his occasional distrust of Akane, Keiichi has a good relationship with Aoi. Their friendship is one of the only things that makes his affiliation with Crash Keys bearable (that, and, well, saving the world, that is). 

“Hmph.” Aoi crosses his arms and looks away haughtily for a moment, before his lips curl into a grin. “Hey, Keiichi, how’s the SOIS work going?”

It’s Keiichi’s turn to scowl now. “Fine,” he replies tersely, even though he and Aoi both know that it is going horribly. 

It’s been a long fucking year with SOIS. 

Their next mission, composed by the wonderful Alice, involves them dressing up – Keiko is to be Lady Gaga, somehow Fumio was assigned Captain America, and Keiichi just received his fucking Elvis costume from her today.

“You won’t have to worry about Alice for a couple of days,” Aoi assures him, and Keiichi is confused by his mysteriously mirthful smile, but doesn’t question it. 

Instead, he takes a few moments to look around the warehouse warily. “Where’s Akane?” he finally asks. 

Aoi turns his face away, his eyes hard. “Mars Mission Test Site.” 

At this point, Keiichi has grown weary and doesn’t want to know anything than the need-to-knows, so he doesn’t press the matter. “When is she coming back?” 

“I . . . I don’t know.” 

“What do you mean by that?” he demands. “How do you not know?” As an older brother himself, he can’t fathom how Aoi is currently not going out of his mind right now. 

But Aoi proves him wrong by holding up his cellphone, with slightly shaky hands ,and the screen lights up to display a map. “I lost her location about an hour ago, but I’m still refreshing the radar to see if she pops up again.”

So, that’s why he was so invested in the phone before, Keiichi realizes. Well, if anything, he is doing a good job of maintaining his composure. 

“She might not come out of it alive. Apparently, the test site has a bunch of traps in them, and that’s where Radical-6 is supposed to be released.” His voice is nonchalant, but Keiichi can pick out the underlying sadness in his words. 

Keiichi recalls Akane’s talks of Radical-6 and how Free the Soul will be the ones responsible for releasing it and killing 6 billion people. Another conversation also comes to mind, though. 

“Is it another one of those Schrödinger’s Cat things?” Akane has tried to explain the phenomenon to him and Aoi on occasion, but Keiichi has never been able to wrap his head around it.

Aoi sighs in resignation. “Honestly? I am not sure, Keiichi.”

.

“Do you want to get dinner together?” Rikona asks him a few days later, as they step out of the SOIS HQ together. Light led the meeting today, as Alice and Clover were not there – and Keiichi has the distinct feeling that is what Aoi was referring to that night in the warehouse. “I’m really missing food from home and found a Japanese restaurant not too far from the strip.” There is a glimmer in her eyes and a faint blush on her cheeks. 

Keiichi sighs and shakes his head, as the humid, hot, Las Vegas air hits him like an opened oven. “Not tonight.” He doesn’t feel like chewing through horrible, flavorless food. A homemade protein shake will have to do – shakes are the easiest to swallow down.

Her shoulders drop, discouraged. “You always say no,” she says quietly. 

Before he can make up an excuse, his phone buzzes. He sees the name ‘Aoi’ flash on the screen after he fishes it out of his pocket, and quickly bids a farewell to Rikona and politely excuses himself. 

“What’s up?”

Akane called. I have to go to her,” Aoi pants on the other line. 

The cat is alive, Keiichi think wryly, though he can’t suppress the relieved sigh that escapes his lips. “Where is she now?” 

She just escaped the site. She’s heading to Arizona as we speak.” 

“Arizona?” he wonders aloud. “Why there?” 

She and Junpei are going to help cure a participant’s sister of Reverie Syndrome, and they need me.” Junpei? “So, while I’m gone, I need you, Nona, and Ennea to hold the fort down.” Nona is back? And, Ennea? Since when is she a part of the Crash Key operations? 

He shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts. What an information overload, man. 

“ . . . so, Akane and I will come back soon.” 

“Aoi . . . does this mean what I think it means?” he begins hesitantly. “Humanity isn’t going to be destroyed?” 

Fuck yeah. And you know what that means, Keiichi – you can go tell off the ice bitch, now!” Aoi is nearly howling in laughter. 

So, he gleefully calls Alice and tells her that he’s quitting SOIS, which causes her to screech. It turns out that Ennea quit today as well – and that explains Aoi’s previous words.

The first thing he is doing when he gets home is burning that Elvis costume.

Farewell, SOIS – or should he say, State Of InsanitieS?

.

-- December 30th, 2028; 3:54AM --
 

In a dingy, secluded cell, a middle-aged man, a prisoner, is on his knees. On the outside of the cell, another man, taller but much older in age, simply stands with his arms folded over his chest. 

“Please, please, tell me!” the prisoner begs, his hand folded as he bows his head down to the old man in reverence. “Please, holy master, Brother . . . what can I do to restore my ability to distinguish between faces?” His reverence towards Brother is ironic, considering that he has never given a damn about Free the Soul or Brother before – he had only joined the group because Musashidou had been part of the cult and they readily funded the Nonary Project on his behalf. 

“Dearest Gentarou,” the man named Delta – or Brother, as Gentarou Hongou addresses him – croons, holding out a hand through the iron bars, which Gentarou eagerly grasps. “You were headed in the right direction, but the approach was wrong. The Nonary Project was designed to test the phenomenon of tapping into the morphogenetic field to transmit and receive information, yes?” 

“Yes, it was!” Gentarou nods eagerly, a wild desperation dancing in his eyes. “You told me that for a non-esper to be able to successfully tap into the morphogenetic field, there are two conditions that must be met: first, one must be subjected to a life-threatening situation, and second, must be surrounded by espers so that morphogenetic resonance will allow the non-esper to transmit to or receive from the field.” 

“And so, you had hoped that being surrounded by those receivers on the Gigantic would allow you to receive information from the morphic fieldset – that information, you’d hoped, would be imageries of distinguished faces. Once you received that information, you would be able to recognize faces once more and your prosopagnosia would be cured . . . but you hoped wrong.” His voice is taunting, and it causes Gentarou to immediately retract his hand from Delta’s. 

“Grr . . .” Gentarou’s hands slap against the iron bars as he growls at Delta. “You old bastard! You fucking misled me! I wasted so much time on your damn cult, just so that I could get funding for the Nonary Project and find a way to rid myself of my disease, and this is what I receive in return?!” he spits. 

A smirk plays across Delta’s withered lips, and his red sunglasses reflect in the light as he tilts his head. “Now, now. I did no such thing. I merely raised a possibility for you to investigate. It is only your own fault that you failed to correctly grasp the mechanics of the morphogenetic field.” 

“And what is that supposed to mean?!” he snarls back. 

“You foolishly presumed that a transmitter sending information to a receiver would be enough for you to catch a glimpse of faces. You did not research enough and failed to find the phenomenon of SHIFTing in your research.” 

Gentarou pauses, pushing himself up from the floor. “SHIFTing?” 

“An esper SHIFTing to another timeline would do the trick, of course. So, had you simply SHIFTed instead of holding the Nonary Game, it would have been enough.” 

Gentarou doesn’t know what he means by that, but his curiosity is piqued. “Please, elaborate,” he replies calmly, straightening his back and composing himself. 

“A woman with an inability to feel emotions . . . a boy born with an inability to properly taste . . . a man blind to different types of faces. The psychopath caught the first glimpses and felt bits of emotion as she SHIFTed. The boy suffering from the disorder called ageusia would be able to detect the different flavors and umami of food after SHIFTing. A man with prosopagnosia would easily be able to catch sight of faces and recognize them from SHIFTing, then.” Delta tilts his head slightly. “Your son – and your daughter, for that matter – are espers, yes? I’m sure you are one, too.” 

The prisoner swallows, but not before the brief glint of madness returns in his eyes. 

“Brother . . . tell me how I can SHIFT.”

.
 

When Keiichi learns about his father’s death, he sits Keiko down that night to inform her the news. 

She immediately cries, the well-constructed dam in her heart bursting, overflowing with grief. He, too, allows himself to shed a tear, feeling a dam – which has been up since the First Nonary Game – rupture in his own heart as well. 

After he composes himself, he walks down to his messy kitchen, where Keiko had helped him experiment with protein shakes – this time they decided on including chopped almonds, and Keiichi found the addition to be enjoyable. He has learned over the years that he has relied on texture over taste and finds that adding different types of nuts add to the enjoyment of drinking shakes and eating food. 

After he cleans the dishes and wipes down the quartz countertops, he pulls out his cellphone from his pocket. 

“Hey. I called to let you know that I quit SOIS . . . no, as of now, Keiko is staying. I just can’t stand Alice.” He pauses, listening to the voice on the other line, before his face suddenly scrunches into laughter. “Shut up!” he cries playfully. “I already fucking burned up that Elvis costume to a crisp! Thank God. I really dodged a bullet with that one . . . ” 

“Um, do you want to go and get a drink in an hour?” Alcohol may be tasteless to him, but he loves the way it burns down his throat and how it loosens him up. He shakes his head at voice. “No. It is probably delicious, but I’ll still pass on that Japanese restaurant . . .” It’s frustrating to be able to smell and eat a delicious meal, but to never be able to taste how delicious it is. “But I do have a reason and I’ll tell you about it some time.” 

His ageusia was a secret only known to three people – himself, his mother, and his sister. His mother is dead, so now it’s only him and Keiko. He was born with the inability to taste, but was not properly diagnosed until right before the Nonary Project. It was something he intended on telling his father, but after he discovered Gentarou’s true nature, he refused to tell him and asked Keiko to keep it from as well.

But, maybe it is time that he becomes more open about his inability and fully accepts it.


There is a domain in which Keiko learns of Crash Keys, her brother’s involvement in the Second Nonary Game and her father’s arrest, and of the religious fanatic – in this domain, she works alongside her brother, their girlfriends, Aya and Rikona, and the rest of Crash Keys (old and new members), to track the fanatic down and save the world.

But in another timeline, things unfold quite differently.

.

-- April 12th, 2029 --
 

“The espers in Decision Game were immunized against the virus by having Axelavir injected into the bloodstream, with the exception of Phi – I have, however, prepared an altered strain of the virus for you and Sigma to use during the AB Game, which will work on all of the participants, as well as some vials of Axelavir,” Delta informs, his mellow, but strong voice reverberating throughout the warehouse. 

“Thank you, but, why . . . why did you make it so that the infected kill themselves while suffering from the virus?” a woman with a high-pitched voice asks in turn. 

“Are you familiar with Reverie Syndrome, Akane Kurashiki?” 

The woman in the black robes sits across the table with her hands folded and lips pursed. “Carlos’s sister, Maria, had Reverie Syndrome . . . though, she passed away only a month ago.” Her skull pricks at the thought of another person she knows who is in a coma because of the illness. 

“You have another friend who suffers from Reverie Syndrome as well,” Delta states impassively, undoubtedly hacking her mind to read her thoughts.

The invasion of privacy is ironically disturbing. Akane swallows back the bile rising in her throat. 

As uncomfortable as Delta makes Akane, she had no choice but to come here today – he promised her a few months back that he would share with her “the secrets of the world” and the “true god” Free the Soul believes in. Though, that “god” is simply Sigma’s ability to make the AB game and jump back to 2028, so that he and Akane can make sure that they can win the Decision Game, the first secret Delta imparts to her is a strange one: if they meet again, he will be dead by then, and a different Delta will stand before her. A less jaded, more confused Delta, who has transported from the past, to maintain the immortal image of Brother. But that Delta will still assist her and Sigma from afar and send out the defunct Myrmidon D-10 out to Rhimzone-9 on January 25th, 2074. 

The other secrets, they have been discussing in detail. 

“Reverie Syndrome results from an esper subconsciously accessing the morphogenetic field,” he explains, furthering on one of those secrets, “causing the esper to be stuck in a daydream mode. It makes the person appear to be in a coma, but really, they’re drifting in and out of consciousness, stuck between stuck in a constant SHIFT mode . . . More and more cases of it have been appearing as of 2028. More and more espers are subconsciously accessing the morphogenetic field – do you know why?”

“No.” She gets a distinctive feeling that the answer won’t be pleasant.

Delta pushes up his sunglasses to reveal purple, wrinkly eyes, full of intent. “They sense the upcoming destruction.”

Akane lets out a shaky breath at his ominous words. “So, those innate espers who are subconsciously pulling information from the morphogenetic field . . . it’s about the upcoming destruction of humanity?”

He nods. “Yes. The Radical-6 pandemic, the Antimatter Plant Explosions, and the religious fanatic's plan to destroy humanity, among other things,” he states, though his voice is grave. 

“How is that similar to Radical-6?” There is an unmasked bitterness in her voice. 

In spite of his ability to read her thoughts, his eyes hold no regret or shame. “I’ve created Radical-6 to contrast Reverie Syndrome. It embeds the desire in an individual for his or her soul to escape – but, in actuality, it is the consciousness that needs to escape, or rather, SHIFT to another timeline. In essence, the illness causes an individual to subconsciously try to unlock their abilities as an esper and SHIFT.” 

“And SHIFTing requires the need for a life-threatening situation,” Akane completes slowly, her voice unable to hide back her shock. Her eyes widen in realization as she stares at the old man in front of her. 

“That’s right. Killing themselves would be the best way to unlock a subconscious – or conscious, if the esper is self-aware – desire to SHIFT. And, if they can successfully SHIFT, then, they have a chance of escaping to the alpha timeline where I am not compelled to release Radical-6 and the world is saved from the fanatic,” he concludes, confirming her thoughts.

Then he crosses his hands over his chest. “I’m not as cruel as you make me out to be, Akane Kurashiki – my motives are simply . . . complex.”
 


With her mouth slightly hanging open and her eyes blank, the teenage watches her comatose, bed-ridden brother’s chest rise and fall in a quick rhythm. Keiichi’s condition must be worsening . . . or maybe, it’s her own condition that is worsening – Akane warned her not to go near Aya, but she didn’t listen. 

But in the 3 months that Keiichi has been in the coma caused by his Reverie Syndrome, she’s never seen his breathing quicken like this. 

Reverie Syndrome . . . and Radical-6 – these two illnesses have plagued Keiko’s life and the two most important people in her life within the past four months. 

She vowed to save the world alongside Akane, Aoi, and Keiichi, but Aoi succumbed to Radical-6 a few months ago, around the same time that Keiichi fell into his coma, and Keiko swears she hasn’t seen Akane smile since then. They’ve fallen apart, and though Akane often says that this is the history that God abandoned, she says that there is still someone they must wait for to turn things around. But Keiko doesn’t have it within her to wait around anymore. Her patience is wearing thin and she’s losing everyone she loves. 

In a sudden movement, she springs to her feet. She has been sitting in a chair near Keiichi’s bed, watching him for the past few hours, so her action is too fast for her mind to properly process though, (confirming her fears that Keiichi’s breathing is actually slow and steady, and it is her who is perceiving things incorrectly) and a sudden dizzy spell hits her - and, ugh, her head hurts. 

She sways in her footing, but regains balance. She begins walking again, this time with slower steps - much, much slower than a normal person would consider “slow.” But, what else can she do? The world has been moving too quickly for her brain to register, and, really, she only has herself to blame for that. 

She knows there is no hope for her and has to die in this domain, but maybe . . . 

Maybe, what she is looking for is not here . . . maybe, she might have to go somewhere else to find a way to save her brother and bring back her lover.

There is a newfound purpose in her sluggish, but entranced stride to the dresser of the small bedroom. 

There is a shiny, gold gun in the drawer, kept by Aoi, as a protective measure. She stares at it curiously, entranced by its pretty design of vines wrapped around the barrel. The weight of the gun feels cold and smooth in her hands. 

She was under strict orders not to risk getting infected, but she went to visit Aya where they kept her quarantined, anyway – how could she be expected to refrain from spending the last moments she had with her? 

Desire pulls at her – but is it a desire to take matters into her own hands, or is it simply a desire to die? She does not know herself. 

Hell, she still doesn’t know how Aya got her hands on a Tubocurarine injection, but, in her mind, she can still hear her cries, begging Keiko to kill her. When a hysterical Keiko refused and tried to pry the injection out of her fingers, she injected herself with the deadly muscle relaxant and died right before Keiko’s eyes. 

Keiko doesn’t know about saving the world anymore, but she will save her brother, and she will bring back her girlfriend. 

What was Akane saying that their father did? SHIFT to another timeline? Is that what it was? Where did he go then? 

I don’t care what it will take, she thinks to herself as she lifts up the gun, determined, but equally beguiled by the power this handheld weapon has. 

I will save them.

As she pulls the trigger, the last of her thoughts ring through her mind as a promise to Keiichi and Aya.

…even if it kills me…

 

Fin.