Part 26: MEltdown
content warning: mention of pedophilia, weird gender stuff (brushes up against transphobic stereotypes), physical assault, implied threat of sexual assault (does not happen in any capacity), general manipulative/predatory behavior, suicide
(Seriously, this update's a rough one- if you read these content warnings and don't want to read the update, skip to the end. I've written a broad summarization so you can still get the important plot beats without having to read the specifics.)
One minute later, the door to the nearby classroom opened. Out came Luxuria first, and then Avaritia, who carried in her arms a shotgun.
Figured there was more than one firearm here...
Insurance? For what?
But don't worry, I don't intend to do anything with it unless we really need it. You're still the guy with six bullets.
Five, now. Which is still enough to kill everyone still alive, even myself.
If the timer came to a close? Maybe. Better to end it quickly than make it last out in agony, no? That's what you'd assume, but I don't know. Maybe not. I've never been put in a situation where I have to make that choice.
Everyone's way too calm around these guns... They're guns!
Ancora's outburst caught everyone's attention.
They're firearms... They can kill us if you pull the trigger. Kill, you know? That's the end! You're dead! Why's everyone so calm around them?
Maybe it's because... today has already been so hectic... Guns aren't so special compared to getting your head, you know... exploded.
Yeah, it's probably something like that. Speaking of this situation, where's Vidi? Is he still not out?
The timer read 40 past the hour. Soon, he was going to run out of time...
The girl walked towards the bend in the hallway, yelling for Invidia to hurry it up. Not only did his survival depend on it, but all of theirs depended on it too, as they needed the ME-card inside, and the key from that room as well.
Isn't it strange how our rooms only contained one ME-card, too?
Tristitia was showing off the one he got from the room he explored alongside Ancora. From what the girl caught of their discussion, it seemed as though Avaritia and Luxuria also only found one of them.
It doesn't add up. With all these reooms, we're only at 24 ME-cards... but we need 15 more...
The group arrived at Invidia's door. Ancora watched the timer go up. 41 past the hour... 42 past the hour... 43 past the hour... At 44, she banged onto the door with both fists.
Hey! Vidi! Hurry!
The rooms aren't really soundproof, so he should be hearing this. Unless he's in the second room.
Sorry, I don't think I'm coming out.
What?! Are you stuck? We can help, tell us what-
No, I'm not stuck. I haven't solved anything in the room so far, because I don't want to.
That's right. I'm staying and dying here, and no one will be able to get the ME-card from this pair of rooms. That's... my choice.
You'll die too! This doesn't make any sense...
Why does he want to die so badly like that...?
I've made up my mind. It doesn't matter for me. I'm dead now. All of us... All of us are dead. And we're going to save them, but I need to die to break the pattern...
You don't mean...
Avaritia's tone changed. She was horrified by what he was implying.
No, you can't do that! You can't die now, we need you!
The timer read forty-eight. In one minute, Invidia was going to die.
Well... There's no point now. With only one minute left, he couldn't solve the room anyway.
This won't change anything! You're damning all of us!
And that was it. Invidia's last words hung heavily in the air as a clunk echoed from the inside of the room. That was most likely his head falling, due to the helmet doing its thing.
Well... that was that, I guess. Now we're stuck here. Without that ME-card, we can't stop the console from killing us all in eleven minutes.
No one answered Ancora, though. As she looked at them, she noticed they all had their shoulders slumped. None of them seemed in any mood to talk, or even move. That's why Ancora pulled onto Avaritia's arm, but the woman only grabbed the shotgun she had and pointed it straight at the smaller girl.
We're all going to die now. It doesn't matter what we do. And in fact, you know what? When the bomb inside of that console explodes... it's going to disintegrate all traces of this place. Everything we did will become a secret.
The mood stood still as those words were spoken. Ancora shook her head, denying what Avaritia was saying.
No way, we might still have a chance. I need to get out of here. Think of your relatives. There's gotta be someone... I have someone, and they're precious to me.
Yeah... I had someone...
Her tone made it clear she didn't want to talk about it. The question was, when did she no longer have that someone? Was it just now? Was it earlier this day? Was it months ago?
Ancora took the lead, waving the others over to come with her. There was still stuff they could try. It was better to die trying than going out like a flame in the wind.
But that noise made her abandon all hope. She froze in her tracks, just like everyone else. Before anyone had the time to move, an explosion came from within the group- another one of them had lost their life. Normally, Ancora would have screamed, but the suddenness of the event left her completely stunned.
Can things not go badly for five seconds?
The blast had also helped in stunning the girl, as she'd been sent down to the ground. It took a few seconds for her to rise back up, looking at what exactly happened.
His head was gone, and from the neck, red spread out. Clear, red liquid covered the surface of the floor. It was blood. And his head was gone. The one who held his gun was Luxuria. It appeared she took it from him, before she stuffed her hand into her hoodie's pocket.
He was dangerous... And now we... we have six deaths... right? We're three left...
Avaritia didn't seem to care about shooting her for doing it.
Yeah, I suppose so. I guess I won't need my insurance anymore, now.
And now we can...
Ancora saw all of it happen, but she was too surprised to say anything. Luxuria moved forward and aimed the revolver against Avaritia's back.
By the time the woman could register what really was happening, the girl already pulled the trigger again at point blank range. Pretty much immediately after, Avaritia collapsed, leaving only Ancora and Luxuria on their two feet.
Ah... we're going to die, aren't we? So it doesn't matter if I have my fun...
L-Lux... what are you...
Oh, stop calling me Lux already. I'm Nico. Nico Hope, that's my full name.
In the same instant, Ancora's body hit the ground as the pain became unbearable.
Well, this is clearly bad. I can't do anything about it, though.
Nico stepped onto Avaritia's fingers to make her release the shotgun before firing again, this time into her hand, causing her to shriek out in pain. The girl with the revolver kicked the other firearm away.
Really sorry, Ava. I truly like you because you're not like everyone else, but, I can't have you interrupt this. It's all about Cora and what she did. You're just like all the others, aren't you, Cora?
Ugh... what... do you mean...?
Like everyone else, you're always mistaken! Gee, how much of an idiot do you have to be to not get it yet?
The small girl walked forward, finding the discernable uncertainty emanating from Ancora rather infuriating. The blond girl was puzzled over Nico's choice of words. Something didn't add up.
Cora...I can't move... Watch out...
Of course you can't. I shot you right in the spinal cord. Your legs are now worthless. Not that it'll matter because we're all going to die in ten minutes anyway.
Nico grabbed Ancora's helmet and shoved her back onto the ground, causing her to emit a loud groan of pure pain. Then she felt Nico grab her arm and pull her along the floor. She kicked with her uninjured leg to fend off her aggressor.
Another gunshot sliced through the air, and at that very moment, pain crushed Ancora's poor head. The bullet had gone straight through her hand, fired by Nico to force Ancora to calm down. While the blond stopped her struggling, she didn't stop shouting.
AAAHHH!!! Help! Ava!!
I can't... I can't do anything...
Crud, he must have cracked under the pressure. Everyone mistakes him for a girl, huh? I guess that plays into his sin a little, even though it just means it would be the opposite way since mainly guys would try to get into his shorts...
You took me for a girl from the beginning just cuz I look cute. But, I thought you had me figured out earlier, when we were walking towards the voting machines. You saw me staring right at you... And then it didn't change anyway, you still treated me this way, even though you looked like you knew! Boys can be cute, too!
Maybe I'll make you pay for the entire ten minutes we got left. At least Ava, of everyone else, already knows I'm a boy, though. Yeah, she had an affair with a student, do you believe that? With me!
He fooled even me, but it was kind of hard to imagine him otherwise. He did have a feminine voice and appearance. Ugh, that's actually terrible, though, he's snapped and I can't do anything to stop it.
Scared? Welcome to the real world, Cora. But I'm generous- you won't actually know what's going on until you die. I just hope you can feel every last bit of this pain I'll give you, for all the pain I endured too.
With a loud, reverberating noise, he slammed his fist in against the side of Ancora's helmet. Within the next moment, everything piling up caught up to her. The pain, the noise, the dizzines... and then something else happened, but Ancora didn't catch it too well.
Ancora barely heard a strange noise, and then, there was darkness.
Cora, you okay?
A voice was calling to her. Cora breathed hard, breathed fast. She breathed, and panted, and shuddered, and shifted, and pulled herself back onto the ground. In the classroom, not too far away, was Nico. He was on the ground, too. His head was gone, much like the others before him.
It's my fault. I should've seen this coming...
Ancora's hands patted herself, looking upon her body, touching to make sure she felt nothing... gross. There was nothing- just the slight lingering heat from Nico sitting on her. The torture hadn't happened. What she hoped for was true. Hope?
Hope? Are you okay? You might take a while to get back from it... Unfortunately, we don't have that time...
Ancora, it's okay, you don't have to worry about him. They're dead now.
No, not dead. Not now, not dead. Please. Not her.
Ancora didn't say anything else. She was still under shock that someone would do this to her. It was one thing to participate in this already traumatic experience, but this was something else. It was too... personal. By one of the girls she trusted the most, too. No, it wasn't a girl- it was a boy. A boy who looked like a girl, who dressed up cute, who had been completely different than she expected. Who snapped to make her pay.
Whatever it was, it certainly had worked. Looking at the timer, Ancora despaired; only three minutes remained until her demise. That fact grabbed her to pull her back into reality.
Three minutes... three minutes! Do... we have to do something!
Ancora noticed Avaritia wasn't standing up. The older woman was still on the ground. At first, she planned to do something... but now she saw no reason to. And besides, she was right. There was nothing else to do now.
Is that the end of this path, then? This path I've chosen? Just... dying, with nothing else? There's gotta be something else. After all that trauma...
So you really can't... But how did you get in here?
I pulled myself across the ground. While he was dragging you in here, I was trying my best to reach this door. When he closed it, I thought it was over. I can't reach the handle from the ground. I also took the shotgun with me. I'd kill this little piece of shit if it was the last thing I did... Because... I did want to save you.
The door flew open under my weight. He noticed me, stood up, and he was about to kick the shotgun away when I blasted him almost point blank. I think I got his helmet, since he was beheaded right afterwards. Then I just waited, and you came back to reality a minute ago. Speaking of... time's almost up.
Yeah... it almost is.
Only two minutes remained now, after all that. If there was anything else, now was the time to ask. Ancora decided to go for the obvious.
What's your name, then?
Ancora thought about it, since Ityne Icofilm wasn't the name of any teacher she knew. Something was wrong with that name, but she couldn't put her finger on what.
Is that so...? That's a really strange name... I've never heard of the Icofilm family before.
Do you want to spend your last minute making fun of my name, or do you want to give me your name, too?
Oh, sorry... I guess I can return the favor. My name's Penmill, and my first name...
Something flashed inside of Ancora's head, interrupting her words. Something like a set of directives.
And that was it. A single sentence flashed through her head. She attributed it to last moment insanity while Ityne said something she only caught the last part of.
Penmill, Penmill... That's your last name, isn't it? I've only ever seen two names like that.
A short pause followed. The timer hit six hours.
And now, we're all dead again...
Tristitia directives acquired.
TL;DR for those who want to avoid reading the update itself due to the spoiler warnings:
Tristitia and Ancora leave their puzzle room with plenty of time to spare, finding that they are the first team to exit. A minute later, Avaritia and Luxuria exit their own room; Avaritia found a shotgun in there, and is carrying it over her shoulder. Ancora is put off by how cavalier the others are with the firearms, but the group is distracted upon realizing Invidia hasn't left his room yet. They all make their way over to his room to find out what's taking him so long, and after a brief pause, Invidia finally answers from within: he intends to commit suicide by failing to solve the puzzle in time. The group is unable to get an answer from him as to why, and the sound of his helmet going off confirms their fate: none of them will be making it out of the game alive, due to being unable to retrieve all of the ME-cards needed to disarm the bomb.
After some coaxing by Ancora, the group decides to return to the Crossroads to see if anything can be done, but before they have even left that section of the ward, a gunshot rings out- Luxuria has stolen the pistol from Tristitia and shot him in the back of the head, causing his helmet to explode which, in turn, knocks both Ancora and Avaritia to the ground. Luxuria states that he was a threat and that the only way they could have a chance of escaping is if only three or less of them remain; however, as soon as Avaritia lowers her guard, Luxuria shoots her in the back as well while kicking her shotgun away. Luxuria shoots Ancora in the leg to disable her permanently, before giving their full name- Nico Hope- and revealing that they've been a boy this entire time; everyone immediately defaulted to treating him like a girl because of his stature. He shoots Ancora again to prevent her from struggling, and drags Ancora into the nearby classroom. There, he throws the gun aside and pins her to the ground, revealing that he knows Avaritia from before the game- specifically, that the two of them had a romantic relationship despite him being a minor, and that she never drew attention to the fact he was male (which is implied to have allowed him to prey on other women who lowered their guard around him). He expresses his intentions to torture Ancora during the last ten minutes they have alive, starting by slamming her helmet so she loses consciousness, but as she drifts off another gunshot is faintly audible.
While she is out, a voice reaches out to her, telling her this is why she has to find and execute the traitor, because of how much betrayal can hurt. Ancora struggles to comprehend what is going on, and as she slowly regains consciousness she begins to panic at the mention of the word hope- synonymous both with her name and with the name of her assailant. However, upon regaining her vision, she sees that Nico is dead nearby- murdered before he could do anything to her. Avaritia managed to retrieve her shotgun and make it into the room in time, but she is still fatally injured on the ground- as is Ancora. The two commiserate for a moment, and Ancora asks for Avaritia's name. Avaritia states that her name is Ityne Icofilm, and Ancora manages to give her own last name- Penmill- before a directive manifests in her helmet briefly, cutting her off. Avaritia notes that she knew two students with the last name Penmill, but before she can finish her thought, the six hours are up- as are their lives.