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I Won't Let Him

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"Gentlemen and lady! Are you ready?" AUBREY asked loudly, a pirate captain hat and eyepatch decorating her head.

"AYE AYE!" Everyone else minus one cheered back.

"In that case!" With a proud smile, AUBREY pointed her softball bat like an arrow as she stood at the bow of the sailboat, "Set sail towards the legendary island of COCKAIGNE! Full speed ahead!"

HERO hoisted the sails on her command, giving a gruff, "Argh, Captain! Full mast deployed!"

The sail of the small boat they procured immediately picked up wind as the boat began sailing out to the vast ocean. Despite the heavy wind giving them incredible speed, it felt more like a gentle breeze on HIKIKO's skin.

The legend of COCKAIGNE island. A mysterious and far-off paradise located in the middle of unknown waters. Never been marked on a map before, never been seen before. They say that the island was a utopia for children, where all who go there can rest their weary heads as all their needs and pleasures were taken care of.

Those who go there will never have a need to worry about parent's expectations regarding schools or responsibilities ever again. The magic of the island would grant you unlimited energy, letting you play outside for as much as you wanted without getting tired. The trees grew unlimited amounts of sweets and pastries like candy, cake, pie, anything else you could imagine, and you could eat as many as you wanted without worrying about getting fat!

A children's paradise world where they could do whatever they wanted without worrying about the consequences.

Obviously, it was just a silly little story that HIKIKO decided to tell during story time with the others. It was something she had read a book about and thought it might be fun to share.

To think that AUBREY would get so gung-ho about wanting to try to find the island herself was something HIKIKO did not foresee.

Despite trying to convince the girl that it was only just a story, AUBREY insisted that they grab a boat and set sail as soon as they could so that they could be the first adventurers to find on this mythical paradise island.

After lots of pleading and begging, the entire party eventually relented and decided to go see if it was real or not.

HERO thought it would be quicker to convince AUBREY by letting her go see it for herself and sate her curiosity. Reassuring HIKIKO that it'd be safe as long as everyone was under her and HERO's supervision, they went ahead and built a sailboat just for this occasion.

KEL went along with it from the start, wanting to make the adventure pirate-themed since it involved traveling by boat.

Since everyone else agreed with AUBREY's plan, BASIL insisted that AUBREY be the leader for this adventure, much to KEL's dismay.

And thus, that was how they got to where they were. In the middle of the ocean, searching for a possibly non-existent island.

"Janitor KEL! Keep swabbing the poop deck!" AUBREY commanded smugly, "I don't want to see you stop until it's shiny enough to see my face in it!"

KEL groaned as he got stuck with janitor duty, swabbing away with his boat, "Man, how come I always get stuck with chores whenever AUBREY becomes the leader?"

"Maybe it's because you always make her do chores whenever you're the leader?" HERO offered playfully.

"Oh yeaaah…" KEL hissed, cursed by his hubris.

"LESS TALKING, MORE SWABBING!" AUBREY commanded loudly.

KEL began grumbling to himself as he got back to work, "I'll show you… Next time I'm the leader, I'll make you clean something super gross, you lousy little razzlefrazzledazzle..."

Satisfied with his obedience, AUBREY looked up at the top of the boat where BASIL was keeping watch with a telescope, "How's the navigating, Navigator BASIL?"

BASIL did a quick sweep around before putting his telescope away and cheerfully shouted back, "I have no idea what I'm doing!"

AUBREY gave a thumbs up, "Keep up the good work!"

"Okay!" BASIL gave a thumbs-up back, before resuming his… telescoping duties, or whatever.

"Boatmaster HERO, make sure the boat is in perfect condition at all times!" AUBREY called out to HERO.

With a serious expression and gruff voice, HERO played along, "Argh, Captain AUBREY! You're the boss!"

Turning to HIKIKO on the sidelines, AUBREY commanded her, "Quartermaster HIKIKO! If anything goes wrong, you report directly to me or the First Mate!"

"Aye aye, Captain." HIKIKO giggled as she saluted.

With everything done and accounted for, Pirate Captain AUBREY gave a proud nod to herself before swooning all the way over to the wall where SUNNY was standing.

Leaning on his shoulder, AUBREY blushed as she snuggled up to him, "And if anything does go wrong, I can rely on you to protect me! Isn't that right, First Mate SUNNY?"

Unbothered by the intimate contact, the stoic boy simply shrugged, "Aye aye."

Seeing this from afar, HIKIKO gave a small frown as she regarded her little brother with a curious glance.

Usually, he'd be blushing red up to his ears whenever AUBREY was flirting with him. Instead, he seemed unnaturally calm despite having his crush be up in his face.

Even though SUNNY was usually the least expressive person in the group, it didn't mean that he was completely emotionless. HIKIKO knew that SUNNY was the type that could get easily embarrassed in the right situation. It was why she loved teasing him so much, just so that she could get a cute reaction out of him.

HIKIKO noticed lately ever since they found him by the beach that there was something… different about her little brother.

What was different, she wasn't quite sure. He looked the same and acted how he always does, but there was something in his eyes that always made her feel like he was… studying something.

Normally he would be the type to be forgetful or get lost in his own thoughts… Recently though, HIKIKO would catch SUNNY staring at all sorts of things as if he was trying to dissect it in his mind. He was uncharacteristically more attentive and watchful than he'd ever been before.

And when he did get lost in his own thoughts, he looked so serious and intense about whatever he was thinking about… Nothing like the usual carefree head in the clouds that she was so used to seeing.

She wasn't sure exactly what it meant… It wasn't a bad thing, persay… It was just something she noted was different.

Hopefully, her little brother was alright… If he had anything troubling him, he should know that he could rely on HIKIKO to help him through it…

"Something wrong, HIKIKO?" HERO asked curiously as he tapped her side, "You've been staring at SUNNY for a while."

"Oh, uh-" Embarrassed to have been caught off guard, HIKIKO fumbled before assuring him, "No, nothing's wrong. I was just making sure SUNNY was alright."

With an understanding smile, HERO calmly reached out to her shoulder, "Hey, it's completely fine. No matter what happens, SUNNY will be safe with us. You can count on that."

That wasn't exactly what she was worried about, but the comforting reassurance from HERO still helped calm her down a bit. HIKIKO nodded gratefully, "Of course. You're right. Thanks, HERO."

HERO smiled back before doing his rounds to make sure the boat was still in top peak condition.

HIKIKO turned back to SUNNY just in time to catch him staring at her with an inquisitive glance before he quickly looked away and pretended that he was staring at something else.

Maybe she should have a talk with him later to see what was on his mind. He always had that bad habit of bottling up his emotions for other people's sake.

HIKIKO was starting to get just a little bit worried.


They've been traveling for a decent while now.

OMORI stood by AUBREY's side as he watched the girl remain enthusiastic as ever while she performed her captain duties.

So far, his First Mate duties had remained unclear. All he ever did was just stick by AUBREY close enough for her to snuggle up against whenever she felt like it. He felt more like a personal pet than an actual First Mate.

After spending a decent amount of time in HIKIKO's HEADSPACE, he noted that there was very little difference between how she imagined their old friend group compared to how he would. They all seem similar enough to be nearly identical. If he had woken up here without any forewarning knowledge, he would have genuinely thought that this HEADSPACE was still his.

AUBREY was still as girly and flirty towards him as ever, OMORI was already used to that.

KEL and AUBREY still got into fights, just as OMORI expected.

HERO was still the reliable older brother that constantly mediates conflict within the group and was in love with HIKIKO. Whatever bad blood MARI had with HERO in this reality, it didn't seem to affect their relationship in her HEADSPACE. Perhaps that meant something that he'll need to figure out later…

BASIL acted completely the same, if not just a bit more affectionate towards him than normal. The only other difference he could notice between OMORI's BASIL and HIKIKO's was the fact that this BASIL's hair was completely blue instead of green. He wasn't sure if that meant anything yet. Probably just different preferences in color, most likely...

There were certainly some more noticeable differences outside of that, however.

The world itself was unrecognizable. It was just as colorful and beautiful as the HEADSPACE that he used to have, for sure. But the entire layout and location was completely different than his own. He'll need to stick close to HIKIKO and her friends when traveling, otherwise he might get lost.

He never figured MARI to be someone with an active imagination like him, though… The fact that her HEADSPACE was filled in with so much detail and creativity made him wonder about her mental state…

Another difference that he was able to note was how much more reserved HIKIKO was compared to how he remembered MARI back then. She seemed much more quiet and inactive for the most part, rarely getting in the way or joining the conversation unless directly asked to. In fact, even right now, she was doing absolutely nothing but sitting on the sidelines as she waited for something to happen.

That's not usually like her… The big sister that he knew was always the type to get involved with stuff and actively encouraged others so that nobody would be left out…

He knew that the MARI in this new reality was going through issues, most likely due to blaming herself for what caused his apparent coma, but the fact that she couldn't even imagine herself acting normally even as HIKIKO was… a bit sad.

Sigh…

He really has his work cut out for him, huh?

How in the world was he going to go about this? He had no idea where to even begin to try to help MARI face the truth and get her to forgive herself…

He knew he had to start somewhere… Despite the advantage of knowing that she thought it was her fault over what happened the night of the recital, he didn't really know how to approach it…

The last time someone in his HEADSPACE tried to directly get him to acknowledge the truth, he sent them to BLACK SPACE and stabbed their guts out.

He… probably shouldn't go down that route...

Although OMORI had no doubts that HIKIKO deeply cared for her little brother, he wasn't going to take that chance of finding out whether or not she's willing to murder him just to keep the truth hidden away.

If OMORI was willing to kill his own best friend over and over again, who's to say HIKIKO didn't have it in her?

Maybe as a last resort if things don't work out? If nothing else, he was willing to spend the next four years being killed repeatedly in her mind if it meant eventually waking her up to the truth. Might be good karma, make up for what he put his imaginary BASIL through. Just have to deal with the forgiving herself part, which was admittedly going to be the hardest part...

...

With that being said… What truth was exactly being hidden away here?

In this reality, it didn't seem like she was repressing the truth about what happened during the night of the recital. In fact, she seemed to remember what happened pretty clearly, blaming herself for apparently grabbing his hand and pulling him down with her as she fell.

If only something like that actually did happen in his world... He would have preferred having a guilty sister over a dead one, even if it meant costing him his own life...

Back when he was suppressing the truth about MARI's murder, he had entirely convinced himself outside of HEADSPACE that she actually did hang herself. But on a conceptual level, SUNNY still knew that it was his fault somehow for her death, blaming himself as the reason MARI died. He just didn't want to remember how directly involved his fault was at the time.

If HIKIKO was suppressing the truth about what happened, shouldn't MARI be in the same situation outside of HEADSPACE? Why didn't she convince herself that it was an accident and that her little brother somehow fell down the stairs by himself? Even deluding herself into thinking it was her fault for not being there to save him would be enough. Why still directly acknowledge what happened?

Unless… That wasn't the truth that she was suppressing at all.

If she wasn't trying to forget about the stair incident during the night of the recital, then what? What else could she possibly be repressing about?

That day was the day his life was ruined and the person most precious to him was taken away. It devastated him to the point of nearly losing his mind. He imagined that MARI had to feel the same way in this other reality…

If that wasn't the truth she was trying to suppress, then OMORI honestly couldn't think of anything else that she'd be hiding from herself.

Sigh, this was frustrating. The universe really did pick out the perfect punishment for him, huh? Who said punishment was going to come easy?

It took him a bit to realize that AUBREY was staring at him while he was busy lost in his thoughts.

Shaking his head clear, he looked up to AUBREY and asked, "Yes?"

She gave a cutesy smile, "I like it whenever you stare off into space sometimes. It gives me an excuse to admire your face for as long as I want!"

OMORI awkwardly scratched his neck, "Okay…?"

AUBREY was still as flirtatious towards him as ever. Sometimes OMORI has to reel back a bit whenever she becomes this direct with him about her feelings.

Actually… Now that he thought about it again, why was the AUBREY in HIKIKO's HEADSPACE flirting with him?

If he remembered correctly… In his HEADSPACE, he had imagined his AUBREY to have romantic feelings for him because SUNNY secretly had a crush on her ever since they became friends. He had wanted his feelings for her to be validated, but also kept things one-sided because he didn't want their relationship to change that drastically from the norm.

HIKIKO would have no reason to do that for him since this was her HEADSPACE.

Unless…?

"Wow, you seriously went back to being distracted again even after you just noticed me?" AUBREY pouted, "How rude…"

Shaking his head clear again, he muttered embarrassingly, "S-Sorry about that. Didn't mean to."

Bad habits die hard.

AUBREY giggled at his reaction, "It's fine. I was going to keep staring at you until you noticed me again, so I wouldn't have minded."

"Was there something you needed, Captain AUBREY?" OMORI asked, still keeping with the pirate motif of this adventure.

Pointing over towards his sister, who was looking uncomfortable with herself as she stared off to the sea, AUBREY told him, "Quartermaster HIKIKO looks like she's being moody again. She always gets like this whenever I keep you to myself for too long." Nudging him towards her, AUBREY commanded, "You should go keep her entertained so that she doesn't get lonely."

"Oh." OMORI hummed as he looked over to HIKIKO. It does seem like she's being antsy about something. "Alright."

"I'll call you if I need anything, First Mate SUNNY!" AUBREY cheerfully reassured him.

OMORI nodded before stepping over to go be next to his sister.

When HIKIKO noticed him approaching, her mood seemed to shift over from uncomfortable to happy in an instant. Smiling brightly, she greeted, "SUNNY! Did you need something?"

OMORI shook his head, "AUBREY noticed you were lonely."

"And you came by to keep me company?" HIKIKO giggled at this before bringing a hand around his shoulder and pulling him close, "Aw~! You're so considerate!"

HIKIKO continued staring out into the ocean, but this time with a content smile as she wrapped herself around him and laid her head on top of his.

It definitely seems like she's starved for close contact, OMORI noted idly. He could sympathize with her. It always felt nice to have MARI in his HEADSPACE stay close to him when he felt like he needed her.

In fact… it felt really calming and comfortable now, feeling the warmth of his sister hugging against his body again… Probably for the first time in years…

Unlike outside of HEADSPACE, where his body was too numb to feel anything… In here, he could feel and touch everything again. Her steady breathing behind his back. Her warm arms wrapped around his stomach. Her tender and loving hug...

He didn't deserve to feel this content, being by her side… To enjoy the comfort provided by the sister he murdered…

He wished the universe would stop dangling the unattainable fruit of his sister's love right in front of his face while he was on this mission to get her to face the truth and forgive herself. It was painful to be reminded of what he lost and could never get back…

The sooner OMORI helps this reality's MARI, the sooner he could finally die in peace.

All that torture and suffering will finally be worth something in the end…

"Hey, SUNNY?" His sister called out softly.

"Yeah, MA- … Ahem." He cleared his throat just in time to catch his mistake, "HIKIKO?"

"Is something bothering you?" HIKIKO asked, looking down on him with concern.

"What makes you say that?" OMORI looked up at her curiously.

"You've been… acting a bit weird ever since we found you at the beach." HIKIKO pointed out, "You aren't your usual self."

Was that so?

Hm… That's frustrating. He was doing his best to act as naturally as possible. In fact, he hasn't been acting all that different from how he usually acts. He hoped that would have been fine, but...

Was the SUNNY from her HEADSPACE a bit different? If so, how does HIKIKO usually imagine him being?

"I… I guess I just have a lot of things on my mind." OMORI said evasively. Hopefully, that would be a believable excuse.

"Oh? Like what?" HIKIKO asked curiously, before smiling encouragingly, "You know that you don't have to deal with it by yourself. You can rely on me! I'm always willing to help! All it costs is your love!"

OMORI stared at her a bit.

She always does say that a lot in order to get him to open up about his feelings…

Sorry, MARI… Not this time.

"Thanks, sis. I'm fine for now, but I'll call you if it ever gets too serious." OMORI reassured her with a soft smile.

This seemed to placate her for now, as she happily hugged him tighter and continued staring out into sea.

Meanwhile for him, he still had a lot of food for thought…

They stayed close like this for a while, enjoying the beautiful scenery in front of them.


"Uh… The ocean is pink."

OMORI opened his eyes, waking up from the nap as he saw KEL staring at the sea from the side of the boat. He pulled himself up from HIKIKO's embrace on him as she slowly began to wake up as well.

AUBREY tiredly pulled her captain's hat up to uncover her eyes, blinking as she just woke up from her nap as well. Tiredly, she asked, "What? What do you mean the ocean is pink?"

KEL turned to her and pointed out to the sea, "I mean that the entire ocean is the color pink."

The three of them got up from their spot as they all walked over to where KEL was standing, only to look out to the entire ocean in shock.

Yes, it was indeed pink, just as KEL adequately described.

"What in the…?" AUBREY muttered in confusion, "Why is the ocean suddenly pink?"

"Oh, hey guys! Did you all sleep well?" BASIL called out from above.

They all turned to look up at BASIL as he cheerfully waved at them.

"BASIL, were you awake this entire time?" AUBREY asked loudly, causing HERO to wake up in the background.

BASIL nodded, "Yeah! Did you guys notice that the ocean is pink now? It's really neat! It happened a few minutes ago while I was keeping lookout!"

"BASIL, why didn't you wake us up to tell us what was going on?" AUBREY frowned.

HERO rubbed his eyes clear as he came up to the group with a yawn, "Hey guys, what's going on~? Is something wro- HOLY CRAP, the entire ocean is pink!" HERO jolted at the sight of the scene.

BASIL gave an apologetic smile, "I'm sorry! I wanted to tell you guys earlier, but you all looked so peaceful… I didn't want to disturb any of you…"

AUBREY gave a disappointed sigh before shaking her head as she smiled weakly at her innocent friend, "It's fine… Keep up the good work, Navigator BASIL."

"Aye aye, Captain!" BASIL cheered in high spirits before resuming his duties.

"So," KEL began curiously, "the ocean is now pink. Wonder what that means?"

HERO leaned over the side and looked at his reflection in the water, "I guess it means we traveled a bit too far from home." Looking up to face HIKIKO, he asked, "You think we should turn back?"

HIKIKO nodded at this, "Probably. It's not safe to be out this far."

AUBREY pouted at this, "Turn back? Already?! But we only just got started on our adventure! We haven't even found the mysterious island of COCKAIGNE yet!"

HIKIKO went over to calm her down by rubbing the small captain's back, "Oh, AUBREY… I know how excited you were to find it, but we're not even sure if it's real in the first place. It was only a story I read about, after all…"

"Aw…" AUBREY groaned disappointedly, "And we built this entire boat and came all this way out too… I was really looking forward to eating the magical cakes and stuff…"

"I can always just bake you a cake back at home, AUBREY." HERO offered as consolidation.

"Yeah, but those cakes make me faaaaaat…" AUBREY whined.

"Sweets that don't make you fat are sweets that are too good to be true, AUBREY." HIKIKO imparted to the young girl with an apologetic smile.

While this was going on, OMORI noticed that KEL seemingly went missing while he wasn't paying attention.

Looking around for the boy, KEL suddenly returned from inside the boat while holding a cooking ladle.

OMORI didn't say anything, even as KEL brought the ladle with him as he went to the side of the ship.

"I'm gonna see what it tastes like." KEL announced, bearing the same stupid grin he always had when he was about to do something really dumb.

Before anyone could stop him, KEL had already reached into the water to fill the ladle before bringing it up to his lips.

AUBREY grimaced as she watched KEL drink the seawater, "KEL, ew! Why would you decide to do that?! You are so gross!"

HERO furrowed his brows as he began chastising his little brother, "KEL, you shouldn't be drinking seawater! That's not healthy, the ocean is full of salt and bacteria- You could get sick!"

KEL, however, completely ignored the two of them as he blinked in shock from the taste of the ocean's water. Smacking his lips a couple of times, he announced neutrally to everyone, "It's strawberry."

"What." AUBREY said in a flat tone.

"Strawberry? What do you mean?" HERO asked confusedly.

"The water tastes exactly like strawberry juice." KEL repeated before finishing the entire ladle with a satisfied smile, "It tastes really good, actually!"

"KEL, stop lying. You're being weird." AUBREY accused with an irritated look.

KEL got offended at this as he defended himself, "I'm serious! Just taste it for yourself, I'm not lying!"

Scooping up another ladle full of pink seawater, he brought it up to hand it over to AUBREY.

AUBREY looked at the ladle dubiously, even as she grabbed the ladle out of KEL's hand. With a bit of hesitation, she decided to bring a little bit of the water up to her lips and gave it a small taste.

Smacking her lips for a bit, her eyes widened in shock before she decided to give it another taste. Then she suddenly poured the entire thing into her mouth and gulped it down.

"Oh my god, this tastes amazing!" AUBREY smiled as she slurped her lips in satisfaction.

"Told you." KEL gave a cheeky smile.

Walking over to OMORI's side and scooping up another batch from the pink ocean, she brought the ladle up to OMORI's face. "SUNNY, you have to drink this! It's delicious!"

OMORI raised a skeptical eyebrow at the ladle, before shrugging as he let AUBREY give him a sip. Not like it was going to hurt him or anything.

Mmm…! Fruity.

He gave a thumbs-up, internally rating the drink as eight out of ten in his mind.

AUBREY beamed up with excitement as she scooped up another batch and handed it to HERO and HIKIKO with an expectant look.

After HERO and HIKIKO took their turns drinking the seawater, they too were pleasantly surprised by the strawberry taste.

"An entire ocean made out of strawberry juice?" HIKIKO muttered curiously as she smacked her lips in thought, "What could it mean?"

"What else could it mean?!" AUBREY gushed excitedly, "Think about it guys! An ocean that tastes like strawberry juice?! Doesn't that mean we might be close to the legendary island of COCKAIGNE?!"

"I think she might be right…" HERO hummed in thought, looking out into the ocean with inquisitive eyes, "I never heard of a STRAWBERRY OCEAN before. Maybe the stories about that island were true after all?"

"Right?! RIGHT?!" AUBREY bounced excitedly, "So that means we gotta keep moving forward! We just gotta! Can't we?! Can't we?!"

HERO looked over at HIKIKO and shrugged, "It's your call, HIKIKO. I'm following your lead on this one."

KEL chipped in his two cents, "I think we should keep going too! If there's an ocean made out of strawberry flavor, then that means there's gotta be one made out of chocolate or vanilla too! Or even one made out of ORANGE JOE!"

"Eww!" AUBREY shuddered at the thought, "I hope not… Only you would drink that disgusting stuff, KEL."

"Hey, ORANGE JOE tastes good! You just don't have the refined taste to appreciate it!" KEL grunted.

AUBREY turned to him with an annoyed, "Excuse you, I have plenty of refined taste! You're the one here that likes drinking caffeinated soda like some hyped-up sociopath!"

HERO pulled them apart by the scruff of their shirts as he tiredly admonished them, "Stop fighting already, you two. Don't you guys ever get tired of being at each other's throats all the time?"

Both KEL and AUBREY harrumphed at each other as they turned in opposite directions.

HIKIKO looked out at the ocean with considerable thought, wondering what to do. OMORI stood by her side as he waited for her judgment.

Looking over to him, she asked, "What do you think, SUNNY? Do you want to turn back or keep going?"

OMORI raised an eyebrow, wondering why she needed to ask him for his input. It wasn't like this was his adventure after all, since this was all entirely in HIKIKO's mind.

He nonchalantly shrugged, "I don't mind either way."

All he's really here for was to try to find a way to get her to face the truth. Maybe this island might be where she kept the truth hidden or something, assuming that her HEADSPACE worked on the same rules as his own.

HIKIKO hummed in thought, before saying, "I guess if no one objects, we could keep going then."

"YES!" AUBREY cheered, "Then as captain of this ship, I decree we keep going full speed ahead until we reach COCKAIGNE island!"

At least, that was supposed to be the plan.

Everything got interrupted all of a sudden when the entire world started rumbling and shaking.

The boat they were on was rocking back and forth, causing everyone to stumble and scream in shock.

"Everyone grab onto something!" HERO commanded, holding onto KEL as he wrapped an arm around a part of the boat.

AUBREY and OMORI latched on to HIKIKO as she did the same, keeping the two of them close to her chest.

Up above, BASIL had no idea what was going on as he panicked and hugged the railing tightly for dear life.

While this was going on, something huge had arisen from the STRAWBERRY OCEAN. A big giant mysterious object, poking through the ocean surface as it caused waves to ripple around it's location. Waves huge enough to nearly cover the boat itself.

Eventually, the waves calmed down and the shaking stopped. The boat slowly steadied itself as everyone regained their footing.

The mysteriously huge creature revealed itself to be a giant robot mecha holding a trident in its hand. He easily towered above the group five times over, intimidatingly staring down at them with its glowing yellow eye visors.

OMORI blinked a bit as he actually recognized this thing.

It looked exactly like that one action figure that KEL owned, decorating one of the shelves in his house. The reason why OMORI easily recognized it was because it was a toy he remembered buying together with MARI back during KEL's twelfth birthday as a gift.

OMORI gave a quick glance over at HIKIKO as she looked up at the action figure in shock and awe.

So, even she has a habit of making up characters inspired by the stuff in real life.

OMORI couldn't help but feel that this was a bit… excessive? Was that the right word here?

Well, it's not like he was any better in that regard… Sort of reminded him of PLUTO in his EXPANDED form.

After everything calmed down, BASIL began shouting down a warning at them in a panicked tone, "GUYS! There's a giant robot standing right in front of the boat!"

"Y-Yeah, we kinda figured that out already, BASIL." HERO shouted back obviously.

"Okay… Just wanted to let you guys know!" BASIL replied nervously.

"Who dares defile these sacred waters?" The giant toy mecha spoke in an ominous voice, "State your intentions, interlopers!"

Well, that was definitely not a welcoming greeting…

OMORI hesitantly placed his hand over to where he kept his steak knife hidden, preparing to use it if the situation calls for it. He was doing his best to keep the knife a secret from HIKIKO, but if push comes to shove, he might need to use it to protect her if necessary.

In any other normal situation, he was sure that a measly little steak knife couldn't possibly do anything to a being of this size. However, this wasn't the first time he fought a giant being before.

If he could take down PLUTO (EXPANDED) with his friends back in his HEADSPACE, he should be able to deal with something like this as well. Probably. Hopefully.

Maybe.

"Er… Um…" AUBREY nervously quivered in place, intimidated by the size of this giant potential foe. She slowly stepped back a bit while reaching out to HERO, whispering, "HERO, tag in for me? I don't want to be the leader anymore…"

HERO nodded understandably and slapped her hand, switching places with the young girl as he stepped up to plate.

Clearing his throat, he did his best to calm his nerves as he spoke loudly to the mecha, "Dear giant sea robot! We come in peace!"

Meanwhile, HIKIKO gathered the younger kids behind her as she stepped protectively in front of them with her arms out, "If anything happens, get ready to run. Got it?"

"Run where? We're in the middle of the ocean!" KEL whispered back.

HIKIKO hissed frustratingly to herself, "Right. Shoot."

"We could all probably just jump into the water, but…" AUBREY gave a worried glance over to OMORI, "SUNNY's afraid of drowning, isn't he…?"

OMORI awkwardly looked away.

Actually, he got over his phobia of drowning a while back when he needed to travel the ocean to find all of his friends in the LAST RESORT.

Not like he could just blurt that out though...

"Right… Don't worry, I can probably think of a way out of this." HIKIKO reassured them.

The giant mecha leaned forward as it peered down at them closely with a discerning eye, "State your identity."

HERO was doing his best to not let his fear show as he introduced them, "M-My name is HERO. These are my friends. AUBREY, KEL, SUNNY, HIKIKO, and the one on top is BASIL." With a gulp, he attempted a charming smile as he asked, "Can we know your name?"

"I am PROTEUS! Guardian of the fragarian sea, and loyal servant of her highness!" The mecha announced, raising his trident in the air triumphantly before pointing it down on them, "Why have you intruded on these waters, interlopers?"

Ah, PROTEUS. That was its name. $59.99 in stores, has the ability to glow in the dark when submerged in water and squirted it out of its mouth like a water gun.

Oh god, please don't tell him that something of this size could shoot water beams out of its mouth. Surely, his sister was not that inspired by the toy, was she?

HERO held his hands in a calming gesture, "We're just a bunch of kids going on an adventure, Mr. PROTEUS, sir! We didn't mean to disturb or intrude your home or anything like that!"

"Yeah, we're just trying to find the legendary island of COCKAIGNE!" KEL decided to add for some inane reason.

OMORI turned to give an incredulous glare at the boy, already predicting what was about to come next.

KEL seemed put off by the angry look OMORI was giving him, "W-What? Was I not supposed to mention that?"

"COCKAIGNE…?" The giant toy mecha repeated slowly before his eye-visors shifted the glow from yellow to a menacing red. Shifting to an attack stance, it screamed, "INVADERS! You are invaders of her highness! Your crime shall not go unpunished!"

Oh wow, who didn't see that coming?

"KEL, why didn't you keep your mouth shut!" AUBREY shouted angrily at the boy, "Now it's going to attack us!"

"Oops." KEL mumbled, sweating in fear.

"Guys?! It's doing something with its mouth!" BASIL shouted down at them, frantically pointing at the robot as its mouth began glowing up with a bright energy.

OH WOW, WHO DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING.

Dammit, MARI! Why did you have to imagine a giant toy robot?!

OMORI took a deep breath, pushing his frustration and anger aside as he kept it to himself.

Running up to HERO and grabbing his pajamas to get his attention, OMORI stated seriously, "We need to steer the boat away. Now!"

HERO seemed a bit surprised to find him shouting commands, but nodded back as he prepared to hoist the sails up again. "Someone take the wheel and steer the boat!"

HIKIKO jumped into action immediately, grabbing the steering wheel and turning it one hundred and eighty degrees.

The wind picked up at the best opportune moment, pushing the sails as the boat began turning around. They were already on a course to run away from the giant guardian robot as soon as possible.

However, it seemed to be a fruitless endeavor.

PROTEUS fired its water laser beam near the ship, the explosive force disturbing the waters as it caused giant waves to form and carried the boat with it.

Despite their best attempts to regain control, it was only a small sailboat after all.

A particularly nasty wave formed right beside them, and everyone knew that it was going to submerged the entire boat.

"BRACE!" HERO shouted.

OMORI instinctively closed his eyes and held his breath as he felt the waters push him off the boat.

For the next few seconds, he felt absolutely weightless.

He could feel his body shifting and turning, tumbling all around with absolutely no regard for his safety.

It was like the world was spinning out of control, the ocean covering his entire body.

His eyes remained shut and he kept holding his breath, waiting for it to eventually be over.

When he felt his body stop spinning, he opened his eyes.

In front of him, all he could see was darkness. Like an endless abyss was staring back at him.

It reminded him of BLACK SPACE, in a way.

Thank goodness he got over his fear of drowning. Otherwise, he wasn't sure if he could have stopped himself from freaking out right now.

Shaking himself out of it, he shifted around to look upwards and was able to see five shadowy figures right on top of him as they floated in the middle of the pink ocean waters.

There they are. Time to put his swimming skills to use again.

OMORI kept holding his breath as he began pushing himself up to the surface, paddling his feet as he swam.

But then he felt one of his feet get caught by something, before he was suddenly pulled back down even further.

Looking down to see what was pulling him down, his eyes bugged out when he saw what was below him.

OMORI felt his heart start beating rapidly, his instincts telling him to panic.

Three eyes.

The dark abyss below stared back at him with three giant eyes. Two left ones, one right.

An oversized malicious grin formed right underneath them. Like an eldritch abomination awakening under the deep ocean.

Okay, nope, nevermind- He's freaking out- HE'S FREAKING OUT-

OMORI struggled to pull away from the dark tendril wrapped around his feet, even as he desperately tried to unwrap it with his hands.

When that didn't work, his second instinct was to pull his steak knife out and begin slashing away at the tendril in the hopes of cutting himself free. This managed to work, as the dark tendril began bleeding out and loosened its grip.

Unfortunately, several more tendrils shot out from the abyss below and wrapped themselves to cover each of his limbs soon after.

OMORI pulled and pushed as best he could, struggling to get himself out of this horrifying predicament even as he stabbed and slashed at the dark tendrils surrounding him.

The dark tendrils seemed to have a mind of its own, latching on to his wrist and twisting it back painfully. OMORI muffled in pain as he lost grip of his knife.

His only weapon began floating away from his grasp, and he was powerless to go after it as he was pulled further into its depths.

The air escaped his lungs, making him struggle to breath.

OMORI became AFRAID.

This has never happened before. He's never lost control over a situation like this. Even when everything started stressing him out, OMORI would always instinctively shut down his mind and force himself to go back to WHITE SPACE before anything could go wrong. His safe haven, where nothing ever went wrong.

He doesn't have WHITE SPACE anymore, does he?

This wasn't his dream. This wasn't his reality. This wasn't his imagination.

He wondered if he could actually die like this?

What a horrifying way to go.

...

He… He could feel his consciousness slipping away…

The pink light from the ocean surface was starting to darken as his eyes struggled to keep itself open.

Well… he could imagine a worse way to die… Wasn't how he preferred to go out, but if that's how the cookie crumbles…

Maybe he wasn't cut out to save his sister after all. After all, he was completely worthless.

All he ever did was be a burden to other people anyway. Nothing he did ever mattered. He just made things worse.

If he couldn't even save himself, how was he supposed to help save his sister? He couldn't even stop himself from murdering her the first time around...

Sorry MARI… Your little brother failed you again before he could even get started.

Worthless…

Worthless…

...worthless…

He felt someone grabbing onto his hand.

Opening his eyes, he saw HIKIKO right above him with a look of relief.

The dark tendrils that covered his body seemed to vanish without him ever noticing.

This scene was… surprisingly familiar.

He felt like he'd seen this before. A long time ago…

This wasn't the first time his sister saved him from drowning, was it?

HIKIKO pulled him closer to her before hugging him tightly.

"I got you! I got you, SUNNY!" He could hear her whisper, "I won't let you go…! I won't ever let you go…"

He couldn't find the energy left within him to respond, already on his way to slipping unconscious.

"I won't let you go… I won't let you go… I won't let you go…" HIKIKO repeated over and over, hugging him close to her body like a lifeline.

This was… so frustrating.

Always relying on his sister for everything...

Why couldn't he ever do anything right by himself?


HIKIKO found herself walking down a long hallway.

She didn't exactly know where she was or what she was doing. She didn't even remember how she got here in the first place…

All she knew was that she needed to find a way out of this hallway. Her little brother and her friends were waiting for her outside. They were supposed to be doing something important…

God, why was this hallway so dark? She could barely see anything in front of her beyond a few feet.

She kept her hand close to the walls, making sure not to get herself lost somehow.

Dammit, where was she?

How long had she been here? It felt like she'd been stuck walking down this hallway for hours now.

When will this ever end?

Suddenly, she was startled as she heard a noise skittering behind her.

Quickly turning around, she backed herself to the wall as she tried to find what made the noise.

But it was so dark, she couldn't see a thing. All she could do was stay frozen as she cautiously looked around, keeping her back against the wall.

HIKIKO shifted uncomfortably, wondering if the noise was just her imagination…

When the skittering didn't happen again, she hesitantly pulled herself away and resumed walking down the hall again.

She needed to calm down and breathe. Letting her nerves get the better of her was not going to help her in this situation. She had to find a way out of here as soon as possible…

It took a while before she eventually found a door appearing in her sight. Hopeful that it was an exit, she quickly got up to it as she entered inside.

Instead of an exit, however, she found a room.

A dining room, to be precise... A familiar dining room, as three figures sat at the dining table while in the middle of a conversation.

HIKIKO furrowed her brows as she stepped closer, "Hello?"

Out of the three figures in the room, two of them were a blurry mess. It felt like trying to see through the static of a tv screen.

Only one figure, she could properly make out clearly. A young girl, with long dark hair.

HIKIKO realized that she knew this girl.

"MARI…" One of the blurry figures sitting across from the girl started off, an older woman's voice, "Your father and I have been discussing this for a while… We've decided that we should all move to a different town."

"...what…?" The girl muttered in shock as she dropped her fork on the floor.

"We think it'll do the family some good. Get away from the memories of this place." An older man's voice spoke next, agreeing with his partner.

"It'll be a new fresh start for us. A new beginning." The older woman explained, sounding almost hopeful.

For some reason, HIKIKO felt sick to her stomach as she listened to this conversation.

She really didn't want to be here…

The younger girl stood up from her chair, "You want us to move?! Why?! What in the world made you even consider doing that?!"

"MARI, please! Calm down and try to understand your mother-"

The young girl slammed her hands down at the table, "This is where we live! This is our home! This is SUNNY's home! What about SUNNY?! How do you think SUNNY would feel if he woke up tomorrow and found out we all left him behind?!"

"MARI, I didn't say that! We're not doing this because we want to leave SUNNY!"

"Listen to your mother, sweetheart!"

HIKIKO really really really did not want to stay here.

But for some reason, she couldn't get her legs to move…

"MARI… Please… SUNNY's accident affected all of us, especially me! He was my only son, and I'm just so tired of being reminded of what happened when I stay here-"

The young girl shouted back, "What's going to happen to SUNNY if we move away?! How far are we moving?! How am I supposed to visit SUNNY anymore if we end up moving too far?!"

HIKIKO was starting to find it hard to breathe… She felt like there wasn't enough oxygen in the room…

"MARI… I'm just going to come out and say it…" The older woman sighed, "We're moving away so that we can move on from SUNNY… We're not going to keep visiting him anymore."

The young girl was stunned silent, slowly backing away from the table.

"Ever since the accident, all I could do was grieve and worry endlessly about him. But it's been a year now and he hasn't woken up since then. I know how hard it is for you to lose your little brother- GOD it hurts me too to admit it- But there's nothing we can do for him anymore. Constantly worrying about him isn't going to make him wake up any sooner."

"...if he ever wakes up at all…" The older man mumbled depressingly.

HIKIKO leaned back against the wall, feeling her lose her sense of balance.

She hated this…! She hated this so much!

"I just want us to move on together, as a family. I want us to live a normal healthy life again..."

The younger girl didn't stay to listen to another word. She was already running past HIKIKO as she left through the door.

"MARI! Wait!"

The moment the younger girl left the room, HIKIKO felt like she could breathe again. She was gasping heavily as she pulled herself up from the wall, regaining her balance.

The moment she found the ability to move again, she pulled out her jump rope and began attacking the two figures in front of her.

She didn't know why, but she felt like she wanted to do it.

Both figures vanished the moment her attack landed though, causing her to become immensely dissatisfied.

Shaking her head clear, she calmed herself down and pulled her jump rope back.

Looking around the room, she clicked her tongue when she realized that she couldn't find the exit here.

Knowing that there was nothing for her in this room, she left through the door she came in.

Instead of a dark hallway, however, she found herself in a completely different location entirely.

HIKIKO stumbled inside as she looked around in confusion. It looked like a hospital room.

In the middle was a bed where she saw her little brother was sleeping. A heartbeat monitor was steadily beeping right next to his head.

"SUNNY!" HIKIKO cried out in worry as she ran over to him.

Sitting right beside his bed, HIKIKO saw the figure of that same young girl again from before. The girl was holding onto SUNNY's hand as she looked down on him with a depressed frown.

HIKIKO came over to his other side before trying to shake him awake, "SUNNY! You have to wake up! We need to get out of here!"

SUNNY did not respond.

HIKIKO paused, hesitantly pulling herself away as she looked over him again.

"SUNNY?" HIKIKO called out softly.

SUNNY did not respond.

Just then, one of the two static figures from before gently entered the room. HIKIKO watched from afar as the figure sighed deeply before coming over to stand right beside the young girl.

"MARI…" The voice of the older woman called out to her, putting a hand over her shoulder, "Can we talk, sweetie?"

"What's there to talk about?" The girl replied emotionlessly, never once tearing her eyes away from SUNNY.

"I know how you feel… I miss him too. We all do." The woman sighed tiredly, "But we can't let our love for him consume us like this… Aren't you tired of living this way? Obsessing over him like this, every single day? We'll never be able to move on like this."

The girl didn't bother responding, ignoring the older woman as she held onto SUNNY's hand tighter.

The woman sighed again, "MARI, please be reasonable…"

The girl finally looked away from SUNNY for the first time as she stared at the woman, "You two can move if you want. But I'm going to stay here."

The woman shook his head disappointingly, "MARI, we can't let you do that. You're only sixteen."

"I don't care. I'm not leaving him."

With an aggravated sigh, the woman began raising his voice, "Think about how I feel for a moment! Do you know how much it breaks my heart to see you like this?!"

The girl tilted her head in confusion, "Why should I care about how you feel? You're the one abandoning your own son."

"That is not true, MARI! I'm doing this so that we could all heal together as a family!"

The girl stayed silent for the longest time as she stared blankly at her mother.

"Don't make us force you, young lady. It's already hard enough on me to have to do this, don't make it any harder than it has to be." The woman told her gently. "This is what SUNNY would want from us. To move on and try to live a normal life again."

The girl closed her eyes in thought, before opening them again to say, "If you take me from him, I'm going to kill myself."

The woman stood still, shocked silent.

HIKIKO felt a massive feeling of gratification coming from within her.

"What did you just say…?" The woman whispered slowly.

"When you least expect it. When you stop paying attention. I'm going to end my life. You'll lose both of your children, and it'll all be your fault." The girl explained emotionlessly.

"How… How dare you say that?! How could you threaten me with something like that?!" The older woman angrily shouted back indignantly, "How do you think SUNNY would feel if he heard you say something so cruel to your own mother?!"

The girl shook her head coldly as she turned back to face SUNNY again, "Stay, don't stay. Move, don't move. I don't care what you do. You're not my mother anymore from this day forward."

"Are you seriously going to test me, young lady?!"

The girl glared back with murderous eyes, "Are you?"

The older woman flinched back under her gaze, seeming almost terrified.

"Just try it." The girl goaded, "Do it. Use whatever power you have to force me. The only way you are getting me to leave is over my dead body."

"MARI… What happened to you? When did you become like this…?" The older woman began crying.

The girl didn't bother responding. She turned back to face SUNNY again as she held his hand.

HIKIKO knew that she'll never let go.

The older woman sprinted away from her as she left a trail of tears.

From that day onward, she never appeared in her life ever again.

When she knew that she was alone again, the girl's facade became completely cracked as she started crying as well.

She laid her face against SUNNY's lap, stressfully pulling her hair as tears streamed down her face, "Oh my god, what am I doing…?! What is wrong with me, why did I…? I just made my own mother cry…!" Looking up at SUNNY, she sobbed out, "SUNNY, I'm so sorry…! I'm so sorry I did that to her…! I'm so sorry!"

HIKIKO didn't understand why she was apologizing.

This was good. Her mother was going to force her to leave him. Threatening her was the only way to stay by his side.

She had to do it. She had to in order to be with him.

HIKIKO would have been willing to do far worse if it meant protecting her little brother.

Both SUNNY and the girl disappeared in front of her eyes.

HIKIKO blinked in confusion, before looking around.

She seriously needed to get out of here…

As she walked back to the door, a small object suddenly clattered onto the floor, gaining her notice.

Looking back, she saw another piano key somehow found its way here.

Turning around to pick it up, she examined the piano key in her hand curiously. What an odd place to end up finding it.

HIKIKO will need to be on the lookout for more of these while she tries to find a way out.

Pocketing the piano key away, she turned back to leave through the door.

Reaching out to the doorknob, she tried to turn it… Only for it to end up being locked…

"Seriously?" HIKIKO huffed in frustration.

She attempted again to try to open it, growing more and more forceful with each attempt.

When that didn't work, she tried to kick the door down, and even shoulder slammed into it.

The door refused to budge.

"Great, now what?" HIKIKO sighed.

This was honestly starting to get really annoying.

MARI?

HIKIKO felt SOMETHING whispering in her ear, causing her to freeze in terror.

MARI, can we please practice for the recital together?

HIKIKO had a cold chill running up her spine as she nervously gulped, knowing that there was SOMETHING behind her.

Please? I want to spend more time with you…

Don't turn around. Don't turn around. Whatever you do, just don't turn around.

You're always so busy… I never get to see you anymore.

HIKIKO turned around.

In the middle of the room, a three-eyed demon smiled at her.

The moment she made eye contact, it instantly crawled towards her faster than anything she has ever seen move.

She could barely let out a scream before it grabbed her throat-


OMORI's eye became wide open as he was startled awake.

Blinking for a bit, it took him a moment to realize that he was awake again, back in his room.

The sun was up, shining through the window. It was daytime.

He turned over to see MARI was still in his bed with him, still asleep while holding on to him tightly.

She had a serene look on her face, as if she was in a safe place in her dreams.

Safe.

Not in danger.

Not in the ocean.

Not in a dark hallway.

Safe.

What in the world did he just witness?

Was that… her BLACK SPACE?

Oh dear god, MARI was worse off than he thought.