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Rune Escape: Book 1

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A loud, banging noise startled Lest from his deep slumber. He jolted, immediately slamming his head on the too-close ceiling. "Ow! Goddammit!" he shouted. He tried to roll over so he could crawl out of his bed, but he was closer to the edge of the bed than he thought, and the floor was nowhere near being as close as he thought it was. He dropped to the ground with a loud BANG.

"Ugh..." Lest groaned, going limp against the floor. He closed his eyes, feeling the pain spread over his body.

Eventually, though, he lifted himself up so that he was standing properly on his feet. He looked up, frowning at the bed. It was a three-level bunk bed, and it appeared that he'd fallen from the top bunk. He let out another pained groan, reaching up to rub his head. "Shit, that hurt..."

He looked around, slowly, the realization coming to him that this was not his bedroom. His pain fell to the back of his mind as he began examining his surroundings.

The first thing he noticed was how... Blurry everything seemed. At first he thought that it was because of some trauma to his head, but after a minute he realized that everything around him was shaking. He thought, perhaps, it was an earthquake, but... No, it was all too fast to be caused by that.

But then... What was it?

Before he could think any more on it, the tremors came to a stop. Lest gave a stumble from how suddenly they stopped, but quickly regained his footing. The low rumble that had been with the tremors stopped as well, and the room was now utterly silent. Lest swallowed thickly. He looked around, a frown tugging at his lips. "Where am I?" he murmured.

He stood there for a couple of minutes in silence, trying to recall what he was doing here, or at least how he'd gotten here, but all that earned him was a pulsing headache. He winced, putting one hand to his forehead.

When the pain went away, he began examining his surroundings, hoping for a clue as to why he was here.

He saw that there was another bed, identical to the one he'd fallen from, just across the room. Not that the room was all that large, mind you - there was maybe two feet of space between the beds. Then there was a tiny, sort of antique stove against the foot of one bed, though it seemed to be more for decoration than anything else.

Curiously, Lest knelt down opened the door on the oven, peeking inside. The inside was clean - not even a speck of dust. He shut the door, and stood properly once more.

Just to his left, he saw a sort of curtain. And when he opened it, he saw a tiny little closet. There was a blue suitcase sitting on a shelf that was about three feet from the floor, but otherwise the closet was entirely bare. He attempted to open it, but found that it was locked.

He sighed, and closed the curtain. He turned away from the closet, back towards the beds, and spotted big, rusty, iron door. It was emblazoned with the number 5 in bold, bloody red paint.

He walked over to the door with a frown, and attempted to open it. But no matter whether he pushed or pulled, the door would not allow him to leave. He scowled, glaring at the door. Then, his eyes fell on a sort of... Device, that was on the wall, next to the door.

He reached up, lightly touching at the device. It appeared to be some sort of card reader. Lest reached into his pockets, searching for any sort of card, but he came up empty.

He turned back to the door. "5?" he whispered to himself. He wracked his brain, searching for what that could mean... But he came up empty.

In times like this, when he was scared or stressed out, Lest would play with the bracelet on his wrist. He'd had it since childhood. It had been given to him as he was about to go into middle school, by his best friend at the time.

However, as he reached for it, his fingers did not meet the well-worn, stretched out leather of the bracelet she'd given him...

But instead met cold, hard metal.

His heart dropped. He looked down at what sat on his wrist.

Instead of seeing the dark brown braided leather bracelet that he held so close to his heart, Lest saw... What appeared to be a digital watch, of sorts. But instead of showing the time, the only thing on it was the number 5.

It didn't miss him that the number was the same as the one on the door.

However, Lest did not like this new accessory he'd been given. He wanted it gone. He flipped it over, ready to undo the clasp...

But he found that there was no clasp for him to undo. He frowned. He attempted to pull it off, but whoever had given him this had made sure that it wouldn't come off. It was stuck on his wrist.

If he wasn't panicking before, he sure as hell was now. Lest was typically a strong person, an optimistic person, but this...

They had taken something precious to him. And he didn't know if he would ever get it back. Tears came to his eyes, and he held his head in his hands, feeling himself begin to shake all over.

And then an image flashed to his mind. An image of... A gas mask?

He gasped softly. "What? What was-?"

And then came another pulsing headache. He groaned, pressing his palms against his face as he attempted to ward it off.

Slowly, the pain went away, and he stood on shaking legs. "I need... I need to get out of here," he whispered, voice shaking as he affirmed this to no one but himself.

He took a second look around the room. This time, he caught sight of the window on the wall, on the opposite end of the room as the door. Slowly, he approached it.

The window was circular, and appeared to be the type of window you'd find on a ship. "Am I on a boat?" he whispered. He peeked out the window, but it was far too dark for him to see anything. "Must be night time..."

And then the glass cracked.

Lest jumped back in shock. The crack started as a small, almost hairline fracture. But it quickly grew, and grew, until the glass broke.

And then water burst into the room.

"What?!" Lest shouted, looking at the flowing water in terror. He ran, slipping a little, as he went back to the door. "Help!" he shouted, beginning to bang on the door. "Someone! Help me! Please!"

The only response he received was silence.

He had to get out of here on his own, he realized. He swallowed thickly, looking around desperately. The water was coming in fast, so he knew he had to move quickly.

He spotted a sort of... Cover, on the wall. He went over, lifting it to see what lay underneath. There was a mirror, with a red key taped to it. He pulled off the key, but paused, looking at his face.

"God," he whispered, looking at how... Lifeless he appeared. He truly looked as though he were the living dead. "What happened to me?"

And then, suddenly... It came rushing back.


It was around one in the morning when he'd finally made it home. He trudged his way up the stairs to his apartment, then used his key to open the door.

As he flicked on the light, he called out, as an inside joke to himself, since there was no one around to reply, "I'm home..."

The apartment was a tiny one, but it was the best he could manage. It ran him 500 a month, and that was without the water and electricity bills.

He sighed, kicking off his shoes. Then, as he was about to start to bed, he felt a... A breeze. He turned, and spotted an open window. Hm... Curious. Must have left it open.

He approached the window, and pulled it shut.

And in the reflection, he saw someone behind him.

Letting out a loud shout, he spun around, heart racing in fear as he stared at the person. He couldn't see their face - they were wearing a gas mask. "Who... Who are-"

His words were cut off with a gasp. He fell to the floor, his legs no longer able to support his weight. His head felt fuzzy, and all he could do was stare at the small, grenade-like device on the floor that was letting out a white gas into the room. Lest knew it wouldn't be long before he passed out entirely...

"You should feel honored," the person suddenly spoke. Their voice was distorted terribly, and there was no way to tell their identity from it. "You have been chosen to participate in a game."

And then he passed out.


Lest swallowed thickly. Who had that person been? Their body, voice, and face had all been entirely concealed. There was no way for him to tell.

He sighed. He had to focus on getting out.

He turned away from the mirror, red key in hand. He walked towards the bed opposite of the one he'd originally fallen from. He moved the pillow, and there sat a red suitcase. He didn't even hesitate before he stuck the key into the lock, and popped the suitcase open.

Inside the suitcase, there were red cards with numbers on them, along with a blue key. He picked up the red cards, and sloshed over to the card reader next to the door. He swiped each card, but none of them allowed him to leave.

Dejectedly, he went back to the suitcase, and picked up the blue key. He headed for the closet, and when he swept the curtain to the side, there, where he'd left it, was the blue suitcase.

He stuck in the key, and gave it a turn...

Click.

Inside this suitcase were blue cards with numbers, a small calculator, a pencil, some paper, and the instructions for finding the digital root of a number.

Digital root... Lest blinked, looking at the unwanted number 5 on his wrist. He picked up the pencil and paper, tucking them into his jacket pockets, then the calculator and blue cards, walking over to the door.

After a bit of adding, he swiped the blue seven, the blue six, and the red one in the card reader. Then he pulled the handle...

And just like that, the bright red light on the corner of the device turned a brilliant green color.

"Does that mean I can leave?" he whispered.

He hesitated, then attempted to open the door.

It gave way easily. Not wanting to waste another moment in the rapidly flooding room, Lest scrambled out. The water followed him, flooding the hallway he'd found himself in.

Lest ran, spotting a door at one end, the closest end, of the hallway. He ran towards it, desperate to get away from the rushing water.

He flung the door open, relieved that this one wasn't locked. But then he froze, staring at the sight in front of him in shock.

What he saw was more like the foyer of a mansion rather than the interior of a ship. The large, grandiose staircase, the tiled floors, the chandelier hanging from the ceiling...

And then he heard the water behind him, and he turned, looking at it in fear.

It was coming towards him in a wave. Lest panicked, and ran once more, scrambling towards the large staircase in front of him. He took the stairs, two at a time. As he went up, he took notice of a plaque on the wall.

C Deck.

He took more stairs, desperate to get as far away from the water as possible.

B Deck.

Well, then, reasonably, A Deck would be next, he thought.

But before he was even fully on B Deck, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye.

With one foot placed on B Deck, and the other on the last stair, he turned to his right. And his eyes widened.

He was not alone on the ship.

Chapter Text

A grand total of 7 people stood at the top of another set of stairs, staring at Lest in shock just as he stared at them.

Eventually, one of them moved. It was a woman slightly older than he, with long red hair in twin braids and a monocle over her eye. As she passed by him, she said in a dull tone, "Another one. That makes 9."

Before Lest could manage a response to that comment, a much larger man with light brown hair, a mustache, and a beard walked by as well. "I wouldn't bother going up there," he noted. "All of the doors on A Deck are locked, I'm afraid."

And then he walked away, following after the redhaired woman.

Next came another redhead, this one being much shorter, and with some almost unnoticeable streaks of gray in his hair. "9 people, huh?" he said, raising an eyebrow at Lest.

And then he, too, moved on. He was followed by two people - one short blond boy who appeared to be about 18 or so, and he was pulling on the arm of an older, maybe 20 year old, blonde woman. "Come on, come on!" the boy said to the woman.

Neither of them even acknowledged Lest.

The next person was a taller man who had long, dyed teal hair and dark skin. "I don't blame you for looking so surprised," he noted. "This is a rather strange situation. But just standing there isn't going to do much, is it?"

After that, an older man walked by. He had long, dark gray hair, and a scraggly, unkempt beard. He didn't even so much as glance at Lest as he followed after the other people.

With that, Lest had seen all of the people. He frowned, looking over to the other staircase, but there were no others. Hadn't both of the redheads mentioned that there were 9 people? By his count, including himself, there were only 8...

But he shook off the thought, and followed after the strangers.

They were all going towards 2 large, metal doors. Both had big numbers emblazoned on them - the one on the left was 5, and the other one had a 4.

"They're just like the door from the room I woke up in," the man with teal hair whispered.

Just like that, everyone began talking over each other. They all basically said the same thing - they had all experienced the exact same situation. They had all woken up in an unfamiliar room with a number on the door.

"Who wants to bet we can't open these?" the redheaded woman said, adjusting her monocle. "Because I do."

"I'll be willing to take that bet," the large man said. "Just give me some room."

Everyone quickly backed away. Lest watched with widened eyes as the man took a few steps back... And then, with a loud roar, he ran, slamming himself into the door with the 5 on it.

It didn't budge.

Lest was in awe. The door didn't even dent from a man that size running into it?!

Still, the man was undeterred. He backed up again, and ran into it. Still nothing.

"Well, let's help him out," the man with teal hair said with a smirk. He headed for the door with the 4 on it, and leaned on it, pushing all of his weight onto it. Lest quickly went to help him, pushing his own weight against the door as well.

Neither of the doors would move.

"Ugh!" cried out the short, blond boy. "What are we going to do, then?!"

Lest opened his mouth, ready to suggest they go and try C Deck, but movement caught his attention. He turned, and his jaw dropped at what he saw.

There, at the top of the staircase, stood a petite woman. Lest's voice was gone, and he couldn't find it in himself to say anything as he slowly walked towards the stairs.

And judging by the look in the woman's eyes, she felt the same. She stood rooted to her spot, one hand delicately on the railing, the other awkwardly in the air from when she'd been brushing her hair out of her face.

All other sounds - the water below them, the discussion that was going on behind Lest... All of it felt as though it were merely static.

Lest... Lest knew this woman. Her name was on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't find the mental capacity to speak it aloud... He stood at the bottom of the stairs, not able to find the will to get any closer to her.

And then, the spell was broken.

The ship gave a violent shake, and the woman let out a loud shout as she was suddenly flung from her place on the stairs. Lest moved quickly, attempting to catch her.

But he only ended up on the ground, with the woman on top of him.

And just like that, she whispered, "Oh my gosh... Lass, is that you?"

Lass...

That old childhood nickname finally triggered the memory immediately of just who this woman was.

"Venti..." he whispered.

Her eyes lit up. "Lass! It's so good to see you!" she gushed. She stood up, and held out a hand for Lest, smiling brightly down at him. Lest smiled back, taking the hand as he lifted himself to his feet.

Lest led Venti over to the rest of the strangers. Just as they made it, there was the sound of a loud crackle, like that of a speaker... And then an all-too familiar voice.

"Welcome aboard, dear passengers."

Chapter Text

Everyone looked around in a sort of panic, searching for the source of the distorted voice.

"Look! Up there!" the girl with red, braided hair suddenly said. She was pointing dramatically up at an old, funnel-shaped speaker that sat on the wall, just above a large clock. "It must be coming from there!"

"I am the captain of this ship," the distorted voice said. "You may call me Zero. I am the person who has invited you here."

The speaker was clearly old, making the already distorted voice difficult to understand. But Lest managed to understand it nonetheless, and he could tell that everyone else did, too.

"My, my. Hiding behind a speaker?" said the man with teal hair. "Are you scared of what we'll do to you if you show your face?"

"What do you want from us?!" the man with red hair shouted, glaring up at the speaker. Lest couldn't help but think that his height somewhat ruined the threat in his eyes.

"What I want," Zero spoke, as if they'd heard the question, "is for all of you to play a game. It is called the Nonary Game."

"Kidnapping people to play a game?" the woman with blonde hair said dryly. "How original."

"The rules for the Nonary Game can be found on each of your persons," Zero continued. "Though I am sure that some of you have played before, and do not need them..."

At that, Lest and the others began rustling through their pockets. Lest managed to find his first, tucked in the middle small stack of blank paper he'd found in his room. Everyone else found theirs in similar fashions - pulling out paper, then searching the paper for the rules. However, they all ended up looking to Lest for him to read off the rules.

So he gave a nervous gulp, tucked away the other paper, and looked down at the rules.

He read, in a shaky voice, "On this ship, you will find several doors which have numbers on them. We will refer to these doors, henceforth, as the Numbered Doors. And the keys to opening each of these Numbered Doors would be the Numbered Bracelets, or just Bracelets, that each player possesses. Should you total the numbers on your bracelets, and find that the digital root of that number is that of the number on a Numbered Door, you will be able to open that door. Only those who have opened a door will be allowed to pass through it..."

Everyone gave a pause, glancing down at the bracelets they all wore.

Lest took a deep breath, hesitating, then continued, "However, there are limits. There must be a minimum of 3 people in the group, or a maximum of 5 people, or the door will not open. All who enter a Numbered Door must both contribute and leave." He bit his lip. "The object of the game is a simple one... Leave the ship alive. Though hidden, an exit does exist. You can survive. Seek a way out. Seek a number 9 door."

And as if on cue, the moment Lest finished speaking, Zero's voice echoed through the room once more. "There is one more thing you must know," they said. "As I am sure you know by now, this ship has begun to sink."

Venti, standing next to Lest, rolled her eyes at that.

"On April 12th, 1914," Zero continued, "a ship called the Titanic crashed into an iceberg. After remaining afloat for a mere 2 hours and 40 minutes, it sank to the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again. However, I will give you more time than that. You have 9 hours to escape."

Gong. Gong. Gong.

The clock started ringing, loud and clear the bell echoed in the room. Everyone's eyes were drawn to it as they counted out the gongs.

It stopped at 9.

"It must be 9 PM," Lest said. "I looked out the window in the room I woke up in, and it was so dark that I couldn't see anything."

"Then we have until... 6 AM to escape," the man with red hair said.

"It is time," Zero said. "Let the game begin."

And with that, the speaker's crackling came to a stop. All was silent for a few seconds.

Eventually, Lest's gaze fell to Venti. His mind wouldn't stop telling him that it was too coincidental that they were here together. Did the others have ties to each other as well, perhaps? Had Zero chosen all of them for specific reasons?

"I think," he said, turning to the rest of the group, "that we should exchange information."

Everyone gave him odd looks. "Information?" the large man said in confusion.

"Yeah," Lest said, giving a nod. "I think introductions, specifically, are in order, here. I don't know any of you people, and I think even knowing your names would help me trust you guys."

"Lass is right," Venti jumped in, giving a firm nod.

At that, everyone looked among each other, bewildered. "Lass?"

Lest felt his cheeks burn. "Well, that's him," Venti said, pointing at him. "I mean, his real name is Lest. But I've called him that since we were little. We went to elementary school toge-"

"Stop!" the larger man said quickly, running to put a hand over her mouth. "Do not tell us anymore information!"

"Yeah," the woman with red hair said, frowning. "What if Zero's listening to us? You can't just go around saying that kind of thing. What if they use it to find your family, and hurt them, too?"

The large man slowly pulled away his hand from Venti's mouth. Venti didn't try to say anything more, but instead just looked silently down at the floor. He sighed in relief, then said, "You two were right about one thing, though. We do need to find some way to communicate. Won't be easy to do that without names."

"What about codenames?" the redheaded man suggested.

Everyone paused, seeming to think that over. "That's not a bad idea," said the blond boy. "It'd certainly keep our identities secret."

"Yeah. Alright, I'll go first," the redheaded woman said. "I want to be 'Lotus'."

"Lotus?" Lest repeated.

"Yes. It's my favorite flower, and it has 8 petals. And my bracelet number is 8."

"That makes sense," Lest said. "Alright, you're Lotus, then."

"In that case, I will take the name 'Lucky'," the large man said. "As in, lucky number seven. As you can likely tell, my bracelet number is 7."

"My turn, then," the redheaded man said. "I'll be 'Wolf' - like, lone wolf. Since my bracelet number's 1."

The blonde woman gave a slight hum. "I think... I will choose 'Blade' as my codename. As in, dual blades."

"So your bracelet number is 2, then," Lest said. He received a nod in reply.

"Hm, my turn, then?" the man with teal hair said. "Well, if we're choosing names based on our bracelet numbers... I suppose I'll choose 'Santa'." When he received confused looks for that choice, he explained, "The Japanese word for 3 is 'san'. And my bracelet number is 3. Get it?"

The short blond boy hummed in thought, then said, "I guess I'll be... 'Square'? I mean, I can't think of anything else that goes with 4..."

"Square is fine," Lotus said with a nod.

"Okay, I'll go," Lest said. "My number is 5, so-"

"You don't need one," Santa pointed out. Lest blinked, looking at him in bewilderment. "You're Lest. She told us, remember? There's no use for a codename now."

Venti's eyes widened. "Then you should know my name, too!" she said quickly.

Lest, however, placed a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay. You need a codename. I don't want you to get hurt."

"Wha... I don't need you protecting me!"

"What's your bracelet number?" Lest asked patiently, not responding to her argument.

Venti hesitated, then sighed. "It's 6," she mumbled, averting her gaze from Lest.

"Alright, well... You can be Seis. It's not fancy or anything, but it'll get the job done, right?"

She fiddled nervously with her hair, biting down on her lip. "...Yeah. Okay."

Lest gave a slight nod. So now they had Wolf, Blade, Santa, Square, himself, Ven- no, Seis, Lucky and Lotus. There was just one more person...

Everyone's eyes fell on the tall, gray-haired man who hadn't said a word this entire time. His eyes were distant, as though he hadn't heard a word of anything that had been said.

"Hey, you," Square said, catching the man's attention - though he still didn't seem fully 'there'. "What's your codename?"

"My... Codename?" the man said slowly. Lest was surprised to hear him talk.

"Yeah," Square said, nodding. "What's your bracelet number and your codename?"

The man eyed Square carefully. "Come... Come closer," he said softly. Everyone frowned in confusion at that, but Square shrugged and walked closer to him.

Before he could even open his mouth to ask what was going on, though, the man had grabbed on to him. He spun him around and held him close, with Square's back to his chest, and then a knife was pressed to his throat.

Square let out a desperate scream, and Blade immediately reacted.

"What are you doing to my brother?!" she shouted.

Whoa, wait, brother?

Lest glanced over to Blade, just for a moment, but he quickly looked back at the hostage situation. That was more important, after all.

"Shut up!" the man shouted to Blade. "No one's gonna get hurt if you just do what I say, okay?!" He dragged Square over to the door on the left, the door with the 5 on it, still holding the knife to his throat. "Put your hand there," he said, referring to a sort of device on the wall next to the door. "Right on the circle, okay?"

"O-okay! Okay!" Square said, tears brimming in his eyes. He reached up slowly, pressing a shaking hand to the circular panel. As soon as he did, a beep was heard, and an asterisk appeared on a thin, LCD screen above the circle.

That was how it worked, then... 'But how did he know about it?' Lest thought to himself.

"Good," the man said patronizingly. "Now you!" He turned his glare on Wolf. "You! Put your hand over here on the panel!"

Wolf blinked, stunned. "O-okay. Okay," he said. He walked over slowly, as if any sudden movements would startle the man and make him slice Square's neck open. As he got to the panel, he carefully placed his hand where Square's had just been. And just like before, a beep was heard, and an asterisk appeared on the screen.

"Good, good," the man said, giving a low chuckle. And with that, he released Square, shoving him in the direction of Blade. She caught him in her arms, holding him close.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

"Y-yeah... I'm fine. Thanks," Square mumbled, clinging tightly to Blade.

The man, meanwhile, pressed his palm to the circular panel, and then he pulled on the small lever at the side of the device. And just like that, the 5 door swung open.

Everyone else watched helplessly as he leapt through the door, then gave them all a vicious, evil smirk. "See you guys later," he sneered, just before the door slammed shut.