Part 3: Central staircase
The water that had followed him out of the room was rapidly pouring out of the door. It flowed quickly down the hallway, and slammed into the foot of the short flight of stairs. Just 5 steps in fact.
And at the top of this short staircase...
Junpei leapt up the stairs, straight for the door.
The door burst open, and Junpei exploded out of it, only to freeze in his tracks. What other possible response could there have been to what he saw?
Wha...what the hell...?
His voice trailed off, and all he could do was stare.
The stairs and pillars were solid wood, and Art Nouveau embellishments and decorations covered the walls and pillars.
It looked like nothing so much as the entrance to a luxurious mansion from the early 1900s.
Junpei couldn't help but wonder... Was he really in a ship?
As he looked, a fresh wave rolled out of the room he'd been in, gathering speed as it moved toward the stairs.
Yeah, that's what I thought. This is totally a bo--
Junpei spun around, his wet shoes squeaking in protest on the polished floor, and ran toward the tremendous staircase in front of him.
[Music: Unary Game]
As he ran, he glanced quickly at the plates mounted on the wall, denoting the decks of the ship.
He took the stairs 2 at a time, not entirely sure where he would find himself. Just as he began to wonder where, in fact, the stairs did lead...
Junpei saw another person out of the corner of his eye.
Ah, we finally get to meet a few more of those eponymous 9 people.
On the landing to the left of the stairs, there were 4 people staring at him...
And on the right side, 3 more.
All told, there were 7 of them. It looked as though they had been on their way down the stairs. They'd stopped short when they saw Junpei, their eyes wide.
He'd done the same of course, and now they stood there staring at one another. Junpei didn't move, one foot placed awkwardly on the next step, in the middle of a stride.
Who were these people?
This entire interaction lasted only a matter of seconds. The woman spoke to Junpei, and time began to move again.
Junpei makes up minor descriptors, that are used as their "names" in the text boxes, for everyone in quick succession. At least it happens all at once so we get it out of the way now.
Her clothes covered very little, and her prodigious jewelry little more.
Hey! You! Come on! Hurry!
With no further ceremony, she ran straight past Junpei and toward the doors behind him.
The sudden proximity of a woman with such striking assets left Junpei momentarily stunned. The others wasted no time, and quickly followed the strange woman.
He threw a quick glance in Junpei's direction as he ran, muttering...
There are 2 doors, but neither of them will open!
Aren't you coming? You gotta hurry!
Her small hand was wrapped around the wrist of another man...
His features were graceful, almost serene... And he was dressed rather elegantly for someone his age.
Wait, there's 9 here right now? I only counted 8.
All of the cards are in hand.
What does that mean, he wondered. Junpei opened his mouth to ask what the other man had meant, but the girl with pink hair rushed past him, and they were gone.
He turned just in time to see 2 more people running toward him.
Alright, so, you see the last line here? That sentence is the one a lot of people seem to use to try and explain why the writing is bad. I don't agree with that idea, not because it's a good line per se but because I don't think it's a bad one either. There've been worse analogies used earlier anyway.
The scrawny one said nothing, and scuttled past Junpei as though he were running from something...
Didn't you hear him?! The doors on A Deck are no good! We gotta check the doors on B Deck! Got it!? Now go!
Before he had a chance to respond, the man laid a massive hand on Junpei's shoulder.
With no more effort than Junpei would have used to brush aside a fly, the man shoved him out of the way.
Thrown off-balance by the man and recent events, it took Junpei a few steps to get his bearings. He finally regained his balance and looked up, at what the other 7 had been running toward.
They looked quite sturdy, and each had handles jutting from them.
Written across the surface of each door in red paint was a number.
The room I woke up in had a number on the door, just like that.
You too, eh.
With an arched eyebrow, the lion looked over at Silver.
My cell was the same. A number upon the door. I opened it, ran down the hallway outside, and found myself in the rather grand room full of stairs, as, I suspect, did the rest of you.
It was as though the floodgates had been opened--they all began to talk at once.
"Me too." "I did too." "Yeah, a door with a number on it."
Yes, we all saw the same thing! That's not important! We need to hurry!
Ya think I don't know that, lady!?
Before the dancer had time to finish, Silver was already running. He grabbed hold of the door labeled  and pulled.
Move. You're in the way.
The mountain grabbed Silver's shoulder and tossed him aside. His path cleared, he took a few steps back, then threw himself at the door.
Twice... 3 times... 4 times...
The door shook as his body slammed into it, but showed no signs of breaking or opening. The mountain threw himself at the door again.
Junpei turned toward door .
Still, he had to check. Junpei grabbed a handle and threw all of his weight onto it.
It was locked as tight as the door next to it, as he'd suspected.
Junpei punched the door. It did not respond.
His body moved before he had time to think. Junpei turned, and ran back toward the stairs.
He had scarcely taken a step, when--
At the top of the stairs, next to an ornate clock embedded in the wall, he saw a person.
He couldn't quite remember where, but he knew... He knew he'd met her before.
The girl, too, stared at Junpei, similarly stunned. Her response suggested she'd seen him before as well.
Without saying a word, Junpei walked slowly toward her. She didn't move. It was almost as though she was held in place by some sort of magic spell.
As Junpei stepped onto her landing, the spell broke. No sooner had he set his foot down, than the whole ship shook a second time.
Moving on instinct, Junpei leapt to catch her...
Or so he thought.
Her face was far closer than it should have been; mere inches from his own. He was flat on his back, and she had landed squarely on top of him.
The girl seemed as confused as he did, and her face suggested she still hadn't fully recovered from seeing him.
For a moment that seemed to stretch for a very long time, they stared at one another.
The ship stopped shaking. Everything was quiet. Water could be heard from the bottom of the ship, lapping faintly at walls and ceilings, but eventually that faded as well. The silence was complete, a thick, muffling blanket...
At last, the girl opened her mouth.
Jumpy... Jumpy... Her words echoed through Junpei's head, and suddenly, his memory returned.
Her soft eyes were only inches away from his own. He could feel the warmth of her face.
Feelings he'd thought long-forgotten began to work their way to the surface. He could feel his face heating up. At that moment...
A speaker crackled to life, and a cold, eerie voice filled the room.
I welcome you all, from the bottom of my heart, to this, my vessel.
With the voice's invasion, the spell between Junpei and Akane was broken, and all hints of burgeoning romance instantly forgotten.
They hurriedly untangled themselves from one another, and struggled to their feet.
They looked around frantically, desperate to locate the source of the voice. At last they found it... A speaker set in the ceiling.
I am also the person who invited you here.
The voice was harsh, obscured occasionally by the crackle of static...
...But Junpei recognized it. How could he have forgotten it?
What do you mean to do to us?!
I mean to have you participate in a game.
The [Nonary Game]. It is a game...where you will put your life on the line.
What the hell's that?!
The voice continued, implacable.
The rules of the [Nonary Game] can be found upon your persons. They are simple rules. Read them.
Hey. There's something in my pocket. Check this out.
Silver reached into his pocket, and pulled out a small slip of paper. The rest of them reached into their own pockets, and pulled out similar slips of paper.
Hey, I got one too!
Then it would seem Zero has seen fit to grace us each with a letter. Would you mind terribly reading it to us, young man?
His request had been delivered to Junpei who, after a short moment of surprise, did as he'd been asked.
We will call them the [numbered doors]. The doors in front of you are a pair of the same. The key to opening these numbered doors are the [numbered bracelets] that each of you possess. Should you total the numbers on your [numbered bracelets]...
door, the door will open. Only those who have opened the door may pass through. There are, however, limits.
This is a rather convoluted way of saying you need 3-5 people who's "bracelets" give you a digital root that matches the number painted on the door. It's like the card reader from before but with people, basically.
All those who enter must leave, and all who enter must contribute.
The purpose of the game is simple. Leave this ship alive. It is hidden, but an exit can be found.
Junpei had reached the end of the letter. There was a long moment of silence, and then the speaker crackled to life once more.
There is one last thing I must tell you. As you have no doubt surmised, this ship has begun to sink.
After remaining afloat for 2 hours and 40 minutes, it sank beneath the waters of the North Atlantic.
Let me tell you a bit about the RMS Titanic.
We all know the basic information, it set off from Southampton on April 10th 1912 before making port at Cherbourg and Cobh while en route to New York. Before it could make it there, it collided with an iceberg near Newfoundland on April 14th before ultimately sinking on April 15th. For potentially numerous reasons, more than half the estimated number of passengers ended up dying (~1500 out of the 2200 on board) and out of those that survived the ordeal none are left alive as of May 31, 2009.
However, there's a bit more to this story than you might expect.
I will give you more time.
Due to the construction of the ship, many people speculated that it was doomed to sink anyway. Because steel welding was, at the time, far from being perfect (or even commonly used), the ship's 2,000 hull plates were held together by... over 3,000,000 rivets. The rivets, alone, increased the weight of the Titanic by over 1,000 tonnes. In itself this doesn't mean much as mass doesn't affect flotation (average density does), but that's quite impressive all the same. There's also the issue of the size of the Titanic. Not only was it 175 feet tall, and almost 900 feet in length, but no shipwright had dealt with the construction of a ship so large. Effectively, what this means is that anyone working on the ship wouldn't necessarily be skilled enough for the task. And it had two sister ships to boot (which we'll possibly discuss later).
The voice finished, and the speaker went silent. The sound of a bell tolling echoed through the hall.
So, did the iceberg really sink the Titanic or was it just one of many, many factors in the inevitable fate of an allegedly unsinkable ship? Maybe sometime in the future, we'll get a real answer to this question, but for now we can do naught but speculate. As it stands, the most likely answer (and the one I think is most accurate) is a resounding "yes." It's kind of in two pieces, and most likely only sunk because of the sheer volume of water that flooded on board following the collision. But, hey, that's my opinion; there's plenty of other... very different... theories floating around out there. Some of them are kinda clever and well thought out. Others? Well, others potentially make the "Flat Earth Society" look like sane and reasonable people. Naturally, we'll be a bit more interested in the latter.
The sound of the 9th bell faded away. The 10th never came. That meant the time was 9 o'clock. Most likely 9 o'clock in the evening.
When Junpei had peered out the window of his cell, he'd seen nothing but blackness. It had to be nighttime. If that was the case, then they would need to escape by [6 AM] the following day.
Now, it is time. Let our game begin. I wish you all the best of luck.
The speaker went silent, and did not speak again.
[Music: Extreme Extrication]
Silver yelled at the speaker with language coarse enough to embarrass a sailor, but the rest of Junpei's companions were silent, deep in thought. Junpei, too, was consumed by his thoughts. There was a great deal he didn't understand.
And why had Junpei been chosen as part of this insane game? Why had any of them been chosen? But one question was foremost on his mind.
They hadn't seen one another since elementary school. Why had she appeared now? Coincidence...? No. That seemed impossible. There had to be a reason.
He didn't know what it might be, but... There had to be a reason.
Standing around here won't do us any good. Best we get moving, don't you think?
Are you planning to open the numbered doors?
H-Hey! Wait! Don't tell me you're actually going to do what this...this Zero says?!
No, no, that's not what I mean.
The lion shook his head, mildly annoyed.
I'm saying, let's find another way. After all, we haven't really examined this place yet.
Their hard work had not gone completely to waste, however. They had learned a number of things as they'd scoured the parts of the ship they could reach. It seemed that they were confined to decks A through C.
C Deck was as far down as they would be able to go, however. The reason being...
That D Deck was completely submerged.
The prince knelt down and gently drew his hand across it.
door lower down. He said that our time limit was 9 hours. In other words, this water won't rise for 9 hours.
Then you're sayin' we won't sink 'til then?
Well, that may be a little too optimistic. No point to wishful thinking.
None of them had numbers, or verification devices. They were, however, locked like the other doors. No matter how much they pushed and shoved, the doors refused to move. The mountain and the lion threw themselves against them a few times, but to no avail.
They tried pushing the button. No response. Apparently there was no power running to the elevators.
To the left of the elevator doors was a card reader.
Junpei stared at it for a while.
It's an astrological symbol.
Then, the mark on the other door...
They had seen the same symbols on A Deck.
The one on the left had a keyhole with a similar symbol engraved on it.
The horizontal line symbolizes the equator and the vertical one represents the Prime Meridian.
The Prime Meridian is basically the vertical equivalent of the equator. In a sense, there's no such thing as its position was decided by conference in 1884. The meridian represents 0° longitude (as you might have guessed, the equator is used for 0° latitude) and is used to determine the international date line, but there have been different points used as demarcation lines for it before.
Incidentally the current one, by sheer bizarre coincidence, passes through... the Royal Observatory in London. Odd how England keeps cropping up here, huh? If you're so inclined, you can even go and see the exact location of it.
The metal looked very solid. Anything short of an explosive charge was unlikely to damage it.
In other words...
Junpei was not happy. The girl with pink hair spoke up.
Well, I'm sure they go somewhere. We just can't open them.
You don't know that. For all we know, they just open into walls, or take us in circles.
The prince did not agree.
No, I'm sure they go somewhere. Otherwise, what point would there be? And we can open them. Well, 2 of them, at least.
H-Hey. Wait a minute.
I think I said this earlier, but I don't think we should do that.
The dancer moved in front of the doors, as if to block them.
We'd have to be crazy to open these doors. If we do that, we're doing exactly what Zero wants us to do.
The clamor of voices made it next to impossible to determine who was saying what. Their arguments grew more and more intense, until people were shouting and screaming at one another.
Junpei had remained silent, but at last he could take no more.
They fell silent, and all eyes turned to Junpei. He felt each stare burning into him, but he refused to flinch.
Before we try and decide where we're going to go, there's something else we oughta do.
We don't know anything about each other. I want to know who you guys are. Who you are, where you came from, why you ended up here.
Don't tell me you aren't curious too...?
They were silent. Some of them looked the other way, or bit their lip, or crossed their arms and stared at the ceiling.
But one of them spoke up. It was Akane.
Oh! I'm sorry. I'm talking about him. I just call him Jumpy. His name is Junpei.
She pointed toward Junpei.
We're childhood friends. We went to the same elementary school-
Wait! Stop! Don't tell us stuff we didn't ask you about!
What're you gonna do if he's listenin' in?!
Would that be bad...?
Hell yeah it would! We don't know how much that bastard knows about us. Maybe he just picked a bunch'a random people to kidnap. If that is the case, then it'd be dangerous for us to let him know too much. If Zero knows who we are, he could go after our families. Maybe he'd tell us he had 'em to get us to do stuff, you know?
But, we still need to know what our names are. It's going to be hard to talk to each other if we don't have names.
Yeah, we'll each pick somethin'.
Seven? Why are you Seven?
It seemed a fair question.
The mountain stuck out his left arm.
Oh, I get it. Yeah, that's a good idea.
Any of you chumps know Japanese? No? Well, "san" means "3". So I'll be Santa. You know like Santa Claus. Fits don'tcha think?
Then your bracelet number...
Yeah, it's got a (3) on it. Good job, grandpa.
Very well then. I'll go next, shall I? My bracelet number is (1).
Y'know I'm curious as to which type of lotus she's referring to. I'm just speaking from experience here, but every lotus flower I've seen has had a lot more than 8 petals. Admittedly, I'm only familiar with waterlilies (which are a lotus despite the name), so I might just be thinking of the wrong type altogether.
Which means, of course, that my bracelet number is...
My bracelet number is (2). Since Ace has chosen cards, then I choose
Blind? Really? He'd kept his eyes closed during their entire ordeal, which had suggested something strange, but to hear it said so casually...
It was something of a surprise. Everyone seemed a little nervous at the prince's proclamation, but no one seemed to know how to react to it.
There was one person, however, who didn't seem to be surprised in the least. The girl with pink hair.
You know, like a 4-leaf clover... Good luck, right?
They'd come around to Junpei. He held out his bracelet...
Why have one? It's not like there's any point to it now.
The dancer cut him off in mid-sentence.
I mean... We all know your name already. You're Junpei.
They all nodded. Akane stepped forward, nervously.
Then you should all call me by my name too. Because...I mean... It doesn't seem...
It doesn't seem fair to "Jumpy"?
Akane fidgeted awkwardly. Junpei decided he had to do something.
What's your bracelet number?
Junpei looked at it for a moment and thought.
Yeah, you know... It's the 6th month of the year. So you're [June].
The one thing you'll possibly notice right away is that, unlike the other 7, June is potentially someone's given name without it seeming very... unique. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure it's not exactly often (if ever) used as a Japanese name which helps. This one was more likely than the rest to backfire spectacularly.
Granted, Clover and Lotus potentially could too, but Clover's been as good as unused outside of incredibly rare situations. Lotus, on the other hand, had sort of gained "popularity" but peaked in 2009 when it was used for... a whole 0.1% of people. In the Netherlands.
Akane kneaded her hands and looked up at Junpei, uncertain. He smiled back at her, reassuringly.
Are you good with that?
She thought about it for a few more minutes, then seemed to come to a decision and gave Junpei a small nod.
Their names decided, Junpei ran over them quickly in his head.
That meant that 8 of them, including Junpei, had revealed their bracelet numbers.
But there was still 1 person left...
His skin was pale, his breathing was heavy, and he was soaked with nervous sweat. His behavior seemed very suspicious, or perhaps simply emotionally unstable. It was difficult to tell. Whatever the case, it seemed clear that he had only a fingertip's-worth of a grip on his sanity.
The girl with pink hair, [Clover], walked up to him, slowly. She put her hands on her hips and eyed him suspiciously.
What number are you?
He didn't answer. His bloodshot eyes twitched from person to person, and his breath came in hot pants.
Hey, I'm talking to you...
The man licked his dry lips with a shaking tongue and spoke with a voice like old paper.
There are 9 people here. A-A-A-And you know who numbers 1 through 8 are. I'm th-the only one left.
So you're (9)?
Clover looked at it contemptuously.
What's your code name?
What do you want us to call you? We all made up names. You should too.
I-I-I-I-I d-don't need one.
B-B-B-Because I'm n-n-not going to stay here. ...With y-you.
He took a shuddering breath and exhaled. Clover looked at him with something very like disgust.
You've got some sorta plan?
Yeah? What's that?
Y-Y-Y-You sure you w-want to know?
A-All right. Let me sh-show you.
The man's body moved like a snake's. In the blink of an eye, he had slid around behind her, and wrapped his arm around her waist.
Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing!?
Silver--[Santa] leapt forward, toward Clover and the 9th Man.
He was halfway there, when--
Suddenly the man's hand dove into his pocket.