Part 22: MEddling
It's time to actually use those directives we got in a previous update Starting from the beginning of the flowchart:
Ancora 'wakes up' in the classroom, and after introducing herself, decides to keep talking to Invidia. After they solve the puzzle and leave the classroom, they run into Ira, Avaritia, and Tristitia, and Ancora introduces herself to Ira. Luxuria and Gula exit their room without the ninth person. ME explains some more of the rules, and after she's done, Ancora approaches Gula first to introduce herself. The group make their way into what was known as the Crossroads when the school was open, and in the process Superbia hits her helmet on the doorframe and is incapacitated. Ancora helps Ira with her. The group split up to search for more ME-cards so they can initiate the first voting session, and this gives Ancora the opportunity to hack into another person's helmet; she decides to hack Ira, which is how she learns that Ira and Superbia are a couple. She uses this to her advantage in the first voting session, goading a fight between Ira and Superbia which leads to Ira committing suicide by asking the group to vote him out in a show of defiance. The group complies, and Ira is executed.
The group slowly leaves the Crossroads afterwards, but Ancora and Luxuria stay behind to put the used cards into the machine in the center. Luxuria floats the idea of forming a team with Superbia, who is shaken by Ira's death. After the door leading to the next batch of rooms is open, the group explores briefly before regrouping, at which point Luxuria brings up the fact she wishes to form a team with the rest of the participants...
They didn't have much time. The clock was ticking. A few seconds later, the other group joined back with them again, and the discussion about how to split up was delayed once more when Luxuria mentioned the possibility to form a voting group.
No, that's not a good idea. People grouping up ahead of time to decide on voting others out would jeopardize the normal decision-making process.
Someone needed to chip in, so after some consideration, Ancora...
This time, we're taking Luxuria's side.
Maybe it would be good. If we all team up based on who we trust most, and decide who's the likeliest to betray us, we can avoid having scuffles later on. It would also save us time.
But that's still unfair for the rest of the others who aren't part of it.
It is like condemning them to die, no? That's a recipe for disaster if I've ever seen one. People can do really terrible things when they're backed into a corner.
Precisely. That's probably just unfair on the rest, and it will lead nowhere. It will give a few of us a position of power over the rest.
Luxuria and Ancora looked at the others. Avaritia, Tristitia, and Invidia were all nodding their heads. Gula didn't seem to be truly sharing their opinion, but all she could give was a slight shrug towards the two, considering she was outnumbered.
At this point, Ancora has two options of who to team up with, but she decides to stick to the original suggested teams, and is partnered with Superbia and Lux. While walking towards the puzzle rooms, Tristitia begins acting strangely...
Hey, Trist. Something on your mind?
Ah, no, not really... But I was thinking about epiphanies. You know what an epiphany is, right?
Yeah, kind of. Had an idea?
Maybe. I don't know if I can really talk about it yet, though. I'm a bit reticent for now, since it's still somewhat baseless.
So he did have an idea, then?
It might be important! We should hear what's on his mind.
You just sound a little absent. Is it regarding what Lux said just now?
I admit your pondering is now bothering me equally.
Gula's sudden intervention surprised Ancora, since the girl momentarily came back just for this, making Avaritia wait on her. Tristitia hesitated a little while the teacher patiently crossed her arms, apparently glaring daggers at the group.
No... Not really about Lux. It's about what ME said earlier. Something just doesn't quite add up.
What is it?
Sorry, but it's just related to what I'm thinking about. Nothing personal.
I'm sure he's just safeguarding himself from dying, because he knows if it came out that Invidia was the mastermind, he'd be voted next round. It's just insurance.
Well, that's your choice, I guess. I can't really tell you to not distrust me, given our current situation, but we're also going to be exploring a room together, so we'd better not fight.
Gula's interest in the topic struck Ancora as odd once more, but she didn't pursue it. The more she thought about it, the more she figured Gula's words were tinted with sarcasm.
Assuming her original interest was due to her being mentioned, why does Gula have such a keen interest in Luxuria?
From here, the other groups enter their respective rooms, and Lux and Ancora go to retrieve Superbia. They do their best to convince Superbia to join them, and in the process even get her to agree to a vote team, despite the others shooting it down. The puzzle room they investigate is made to resemble the school principal's office, and the answer they need to find is what crime he is guilty of. After their investigation, the trio determine that he is, in fact, not guilty of any crime at all. The three escape their room, finding themselves the first to make it out, and decide to split up to look for a third ME-card so Ancora can vote. While heading in the direction she's chosen, Ancora encounters Invidia leaving his room; he shows her another old-fashioned key that they found, and asks her which of the keys is her favorite. When she chooses her answer (still not an important choice at this point ), he reveals the reason for asking is because he wanted to trade his A key for her G key; she accepts this trade, because (after he leaves) she uses said key to unlock the door leading to another stairwell in what previously was just a dead-end hallway. As she enters, a bit of graffiti on the wall strikes her as odd...
There's a strange graffiti on one of the walls. No one can see it unless they walked in here... it says: midair avionics, and nothing else. But what does it even mean?
It likely was...
Our mistake last time was obviously thinking this was an anagram.
It sounds like the name of a company. What would Midair Avionics have to do with anything? And also, I don't recall ever hearing of something like that. Maybe it's a prank. Someone sneaked in here and put this up as a joke. The place hasn't been on complete lockdown for a while, so it's possible it has nothing to do with anything.
Ancora decides to take this bit of privacy while she can, and prepares to hack one of the other helmets. She is given the options of Invidia, Superbia, Avaritia, or Gula. She attempts to hack Invidia, but is unable to connect; shortly thereafter, ME appears unprompted and reveals that Invidia has been executed due to breaking the rules of the game and leaving the game's boundaries through some unintended way. This leaves Ancora with three options to choose from...
Right now, I need to hack someone, especially because tensions will be at an all-time high due to someone surrendering their right to live. For now, I'll be hacking...
Well, the directives were for Gula, so I guess we should hack her
BGM: Mens Metis
Just like before, the directives we received, order by table, are the directives needed to solve the puzzle. As for the solution...
Yeah, good fucking luck solving this one without doing some Googling What the directives mean by table is specifically the periodic table; each letter in this puzzle is also a symbol that corresponds to an element, and you have to sort them in the order they appear on the periodic table. Thus, the solution above.
Gula and Tristitia were sitting together onto some benches in the Crossroads. After a few more seconds of this awkward silence, Gula had finally broken it, prompting Tristitia to reply, suddenly interested.
So, what do you make of that? You seem to have spent a lot of time thinking about it before confronting me on that.
Well... to be completely honest, I am entirely unable to understand your macabre interest on the subject of eternal darkness.
Tristitia was going to answer, but at the last moment, he stood up. Following him, Gula did much of the same. The two of them began walking around the consoles with no clear goal in particular.
Not gonna lie, I don't know. This weird... interest of mine, I don't know where it's from. I guess a part of me is just.... unable to stop thinking about life and death.
Ever wondered what happens to you after you die?
Perhaps, perhaps not. I deduced it won't truly be my concern once I've reached that outcome.
I don't mean just about yourself. The world's a strange place, and so much of it is weird. What if our deaths affected it way more than we originally thought?
I'm afraid you've lost me.
Gula was tampering with the portraits on one of the machines. While she spoke with Tristitia, her hands were busying themselves, changing the Avaritia portrait with her own.
Oh, she figured out that she could change the portraits, didn't she? No, wait. She was doing it on her own right off the bat. Someone most likely told her. But who?
What is consciousness? What determines that I am something that sees and thinks? Are my thoughts not just the product of my experiences based on pattern recognition? It's not a question that can really be answered, I think. Life's... strange. Do we exist because the world let us exist, or does the world exist because we let it exist?
In a moment of attention, Gula shrugged, before pointing over to the empty spot that once housed Ira's body.
The irate entity which once resided in that very location has obtained the status of deceased, and I considered them as alive as you and I.
Did their perspective matter? Does yours matter? Does mine matter? Who actually is the important life, here? Is there even an important life, or does the perception of reality constitute only a baseline element, and none of us actually matter...?
Tristitia sighed, launching himself into a new monologue while Gula was busy with the consoles. As the horse-masked one spoke, the two of them moved around the room again, switching from console to console.
Is she changing all of them to manipulate the vote?
Take a video game for example. If we humans have created video games based on systems that can only exist in reality, then life isn't so different. If we die in a video game, we start back at the beginning. When we die then, does life restart?
These concepts are... so alien to me, to you. To all of us who are still alive, in fact.
I suppose you are not wrong on some level, but determining which elements are falsehoods and derisions, while ascertaining the truth, will prove to be more difficult then you can ever imagine.
Gula was clearly not paying too much attention, considering the flowery vocabulary she used as part of her normal pattern was just vague enough. Even Tristitia noticed after a moment.
At least it wouldn't kill you to listen to what I'm saying, Ula... Even if you don't believe in any of it, I think it's important to have different opinions on existence.
Very well, in that case. What I believe is that time is a river, always flowing towards the same side. To suggest existence renews itself upon someone ceasing their biological activities is preposterous.
Then how do you explain existence? How are we all even here? All of us can affect how the flow goes.
Nobody can answer that question. This is all just a hypothesis... but if I had to guess, someone on the planet has the ability to keep the universe rolling. And the rest... they're all just non-playable characters, or NPCs. They exist, they think, they act, but it's just programming. They don't actually exist. All of this is a worrying thought.
Based on that sordid thought, you have much higher chances to be an entity without free will, as the odds are not playing in your favor.
Exactly that. Exactly that...
After a short silence, Tristitia turned around and began walking towards the meeting spot. Gula took only a few moments before deciding to follow after him.
On another subject, who shall we be casting our ballot for?
That's for the group to decide. This time, we're not pressed for time at all, so we can easily think about it.
Some of the other voters will possibly organize themselves in a similar way.
Tristitia scratched the back of his head, seemingly worried.
I believe it originally was Lux's idea. Trist, we should vote for her this time.
We'll see... but I do take this in consideration.
Okay, that's enough information. Time's ticking.
The feed cut at that moment, restoring vision to Ancora's helmet.
From here, Ancora leaves the stairwell she was in, rounding the corner just in time to encounter Superbia. She lies about not having found a ME-card yet, and the two muse about why they've found so few despite needing a large amount to be able to successfully exit the game. Upon returning to the Crossroads, it is revealed that Lux has volunteered to be voted out- seemingly wishing to become a martyr rather than have to continue a game where they commit murder. Ancora confesses that she does, in fact, have a ME-card so she can vote, and lied to Superbia to delay the vote because she wasn't prepared yet. With this, the group prepares to begin the second voting round...
We can't keep bickering like this. We need a plan, and we need 39 ME-cards, or everyone dies!
Reminding everyone of that fact, Tristitia caused a ripple of panic to spread across the group. Ancora found it a nice way to remind everyone of their current predicament.
Ahh, you're right... we're going to die... Even bigger of a reason to begin at once.
That's why we should get the vote over quickly! Just vote for me...
Yeah, just, let's just vote, get this over with.
The portraits are all switched around. They need to be convinced of that fact.
I have no idea why, but I feel like... this isn't correct. It's not the way to go.
That is correct. It is our designated plan for the time being, unless you propose a change, which would be ludicrous at this stage of our debate.
Ancora shook her head before walking over to the console.
No, look, it's... it's not the same. We can't vote for Lux right now.
I concur. Bia, you've been the biggest pain in the ass since the start, and with what Ira told us, you don't exactly look like an angel... In fact, due to his involvement, I think you're more than just a prissy bunny girl. I think you're a decent candidate for the mastermind behind all this.
No fucking way. I'm not voting for myself, are you out of your goddamn mind?
Ira was your accomplice. He felt guilty, so he sacrificed himself to atone. The only people rich enough to do everything we've seen here- all these replicated rooms, and the lockdown of the school- that's you, Superbia.
No way, that's not me. It can't be me! I'm not rich!
Her words caught Tristitia by surprise.
My parents are rich, but I ain't touching a single bit of that goddamn money until they pass away, and as far as I remember, they are very well alive and healthy. I can't have made this whole shit here. I'm not any wealthier than anybody else.
I very much doubt that statement.
That's not what I meant, anyway. But it's good that those doubts were dispelled. What I meant was... look at the consoles.
BGM: Memini Meminisse
What's so different?
She's right. Something's off, I think.
Gula made an exaggerated motion with her hands to catch everyone's attention.
There is nothing different. You are all being misled by this little girl. I think she wants to buy some time for herself for some reason, so don't let her cloud your judgment.
Wait a second; we can at least take a minute to hear what Tristitia has to say. We have plenty of time this session, so we should make use of it to its fullest.
And Gula's speech has reverted to less flowery words, huh? I think she does that when she gets stressed out... which means she's walking on a tightrope.
The ones that were switched were... I think they're Bia's and Cora's?
Huh?! What does that mean, Cora? Explain yourself right now! You wanted to get me voted out by having people want to vote you dead, is that it?
No, I wouldn't do that! Why would I change them, then bring attention to it? Does anyone remember what the layout looked like?
What do you mean by that?
If two portraits were switched, maybe they weren't the only ones. Is there a portrait that's in a different spot on every console now?
Further examination showed that all of the consoles indeed had their portraits in the same spot.
So it's not an attempt at manipulating a group to vote for someone, while the other would vote for someone else, and all votes would end up pointing to the same person...
No, wait, no... something isn't adding up. There's more that was switched. I'm utterly convinced. I don't know why, but I'm convinced of that.
It's because I saw it, of course. It's going to be very hard to get them to buy it, I'm aware.
And also... before that, earlier when Ira died... I had this weird vision, too... I was talking to him, and he- no, wait, I wasn't talking to him; it was like I was someone else talking to him...
Surprise, Ancora tries to pull this off on this side of the flowchart, too!
You aren't making any sense.
What in God's name are you talking about? Vision this, vision that, portraits being switched... This is fucking insane!
The rest of the group watched, a little uneasy about the exchange.
I don't think mine was changed, anyway... so just vote for me, I'm okay with it...
Do you hear this, Cora? Lux is willing to go instead of you, despite the fact you're clearly off your rocker.
Let's vote for Lux, then. Cora, I'm sorry to say, but you are being very... I don't know, I don't know if I can trust these visions.
Better her than me!
We could also vote for Bia, you know.
It's also a valid option. You've been a serious pain this whole time, mastermind or not.
No, the one they have to vote for is...
It's possible to get to this point without seeing what happened last update, hence why they're giving you the ability to choose wrong here. That said, obviously, we know the right answer....
No, no. I understand now.
The girl walked towards a random console, bringing a finger to run along the portraits while pensive.
Wait. If you vote for anyone, you'll kill an innocent. Well, okay, maybe not for an innocent in the grand scheme of things, but you won't vote for the person you want dead. I know what's been switched now.
All eyes were riveted on Ancora. The others who had been in a hurry to vote before were now considering her words, given their natural curiosity being piqued. The only one who wasn't interested to hear any of it was Gula.
This is clearly a waste of time.
It is not! It is a waste of time for you, yes, because you're the one who's got it all messed up! You're the one who changed the portraits. If everyone votes for Lux right now... Ava will die. The portraits were changed twice, in fact! I get it now, Bia's and mine were switched, then whoever did it also switched Lux and Ava's portraits. It's a triangle of switching!
Avaritia shuddered slightly, uncertain.
Are you absolutely sure of what you're saying? I don't especially feel... appeased to vote for myself, you know.
If you don't, you'll die!
I did not do any of this!
Do you think you can get away with manipulating me?!
That is not good, Ula... you can't do that kind of thing...
You're taking her word over mine?! What is this world coming to? She's had visions, she's seen this, seen that, and she's got no proof at all! D'you think that's fine? Huh?
Shut up, everyone! Ula... when you get stressed, you start talking strangely.
I didn't put much mind to it before, but now it's clear. Ancora knew this, too. We should vote for Ava.
Slowly, Ancora's vision was coming back. Next to her was Luxuria, who was checking on her. Near her was Gula, who was being held by Superbia and Avaritia.
The hit probably came from her. Knocked me right off.
Ugh, the reverberation that happens in this helmet when you get hit is really awful...
Right? It's fucking hell!
Anyway... bring her to the console, and let's vote for Ava. Remember, vote for Ava.
No! I'm not dying because of this! I have to get out of here!
BGM: Mercedis Mellitus
The group all voted almost in unison. Gula thrashed and screamed, but she couldn't get out of the hold. By the time the limit was almost up, Gula smashed her fist onto the console ona random portrait. Ancora also put in her vote. The screens above the voting consoles settled onto Gula's symbol. It was clear what was to follow: it was her execution. Every shotgun but the victim's released their hold, leaving the participants to witness the macabre outcome.
Time slowed down. Eventually, everything froze.
Lock #3 obtained.