Chapter 8:

A Truth and a Lie

Crimson Core

World Within.Bookmark here

[World Within] surrounds the spark and protects it from the outside world. It contains just enough Mana to keep the Spark alive.Bookmark here

When human being invests too much Mana (which is essentially the energy of their emotions), into the Spark, the Spark itself may refuse to turn into [Crimson Core], and instead it ejects all the [Loose Mana] into the world around it.Bookmark here

[Loose Mana] gives birth to ill-tempered creatures called Shadows that roam the [World Within] and clutter the Spark.Bookmark here

Their goal is to drain every last  bit of Mana  from the Spark, making it weaker and weaker with every sip, until eventually the Spark gives in and turns into a nesting ground of dark thoughts.Bookmark here

They may take the advantage of The Bridge and spread their disease to other [Crimson Cores] as well.
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Spark finds comfort in being weak and recognizes these foul creatures as it’s guardians.Bookmark here

That is why trying to make a change in our lives is so hard.Bookmark here

We enjoy the company of the Shadows.Bookmark here

                                                                                                                                           Dr. Anro CynBookmark here

Cyn put down the magazine that was published by Lotus Medical Institute few years ago. She lit a cigarette near the window and enjoyed the transient company of the sun that was slowly setting behind the hills at far end of the school park.Bookmark here

“I should really quit smoking,” the smoke coming from cigarette fluttered on the gentle breeze.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Shiki was pulling out the pieces of the shell from his left hand using the glow on the right hand and soon built a sturdy bridge to cross the [Voidpool] river.Bookmark here

Ume stood in the middle of the bridge and admired the nature around them. After walking so long through the forest, they finally reached a place where trees refused to grow. Stars were so densely put together, it seemed like one was sitting on the top of the other. This river of [Voidpools] ended with a big lake of [Voidpools] in the distance and it looked like they gave birth to all the stars that twinkled in the night sky.Bookmark here

Shiki noticed that Ume enjoyed the scenery so he stopped building the rest of the bridge and decided to rest for a moment with her.Bookmark here

The noise that has been obstructing his fragile peace ever since they arrived in the forest  became intolerable so he pulled small pieces of shell and put them in his ears. It almost completely canceled the noise.Bookmark here

He wanted to test if he could hear Ume’s words, so he reluctantly decided to talk to her even though he had nothing of importance to say to her.Bookmark here

“Every time I pull a shell from my hand, this part right here hurts a bit,” Shiki showed around his heart.Bookmark here

“It’s not your heart that hurts, turtle’s shell develops from ribs, maybe that’s the reason,” Ume said while breathing the hard-earned fresh air that streamed from the distance.
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Luckily for him, he finally heard Ume nice and clear.Bookmark here

“You really are smart,” Shiki sighed out of relief. He was worried that his heart was in danger.Bookmark here

“I just read couple’o’ things, just like you did,” Ume said while turning her gaze towards Shiki’s chest.Bookmark here

“The air in here is much better than in the first world, right?” Shiki took a deep breath while  massaging his chest with right hand.Bookmark here

“Your ribs won’t fall off if you breathe, hottie,” Ume chuckled gently.Bookmark here

Shiki had something else on his mind. The short conversation they had led when they entered this world. He didn’t like how it turned out. For quite some time he was thinking how to approach Ume about that.Bookmark here

“So you think there will be more snake girls?” Shiki danced around the main subject nervously.Bookmark here

“Ya wish.”Bookmark here

Small colorful headbands that kept her twintails in place loosed up from all the jumping and crouching in the forest, so Ume pulled them out of her hair and gently played with them.Bookmark here

Pale rays of smeared white and grey bathed her long blonde hair that reached halfway down her back. Shiki stole couple of gazes towards her but couldn’t bring himself to act like the last time they were in a train. He was busy swimming through all kinds of subjects in order to figure out how to maintain a dialogue with her.Bookmark here

The truth was that the good old peace and quiet was all they needed.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry I reacted the way I did back at the entrance,” Ume sat down on the bridge.Bookmark here

“No, it was my fault I…” Ume quickly cut down in the middle of her own sentence, “you’re dealin’ with a lot of stuff and I, no, we didn’t even listen to you.”Bookmark here

Shiki dropped down beside Ume and looked straight at her eyes. Bookmark here

“Because I wasn’t talking,” Shiki chuckled nervously, “I had so many things to say, but I was afraid.”Bookmark here

Ume didn't want to reply straight away, which gave Shiki an idea that she is listening to whatever he needed to say.Bookmark here

“Is it possible to enter your own [World Within]?” Of all the things he could say, he ended up blurting the simplest of questions.Bookmark here

“Of course, silly,” Ume smiled, ”remember your first day? You and Ren entered your [World Within] that day.”Bookmark here

Shiki remembered never asking how they had pulled that stunt exactly, so without asking a specific question he stroke his chin with shell-covered hand.Bookmark here

“They told ya how Omi dropped a prism inside your pocket, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

“Well ya have Shard type 1, which has the ability to pull you into hmm.. let’s just call them “simulations” for now.”Bookmark here

“That’s why Ren said, simulation over…” Shiki replied.Bookmark here

“Yup. Omi was stabilizing your world while Ren got rid of couple of shades that your raging emotions created.”Bookmark here

“Ok… and the difference between [World Within] and simulation is…?” Bookmark here

Silence sneaked between the two of them and created a challenging feeling they had to endure in order to resolve their issue.Bookmark here

“Simulations are test drives, I guess” Ume decided to finish with the simplest of explanations.Bookmark here

“So is it possible to enter that test drive completely alone?”Bookmark here

“Dunno. That would be really unstable and dangerous.”Bookmark here

Shiki dropped down his head towards the endless [Voidpools] that surrounded them and sighed.Bookmark here

“But hey, ya did that on your own, it probs means you’re really really strong or somethin’ like that!”Bookmark here

Ume surprised herself with the power of her tone. Shiki smiled at her and decided it wasn’t worth it to think about that for now. She jumped quickly onto her feet and distanced herself from him.Bookmark here

“So..who was the girl I transformed into?” She asked quietly.Bookmark here

“I don’t know,” Shiki gave a quick answer.Bookmark here

That was a lie.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Shiki had built the rest of the bridge before they reached the end of the forest. They arrived at big clearing. Green-lit torches surrounded a giant construction that resembled some sort of temple. It was consisted of series of heavy rock platforms thrown one on top of the other. On the temple’s top there stood a statue of a giant lotus flower. In it’s base was a crevice that served as an entrance to the temple.Bookmark here

“We have to reach the top?” Shiki asked.Bookmark here

“No, we have to look at it, until it collapses.”Bookmark here

Shiki detected a heavy dose in her sarcasm but still offered a few looks around the temple in case it really starts to collapse.Bookmark here

“No time to lose, start climbing the stairs,” Ume pushed him towards the temple.Bookmark here

“I’m going, I’m going.” Bookmark here

Shiki calmed down the tremor in his legs as much as he could as he was trying to climb big boulder-like stairs in front of him.Bookmark here

When he turned around to check on Ume, she was simply leaping from one stair to another without using her hands.Bookmark here

Why do I always have to go first, he wondered.Bookmark here

More importantly, loud drumming completely seized when they reached the lotus flower on the top. They looked into the distance and admired the nature around them.Bookmark here

“Umm…Ume?” Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“Why is that forest so…”Bookmark here

“So non-existent?”Bookmark here

They expected to look back at the dense jungle they had traversed for hours before they arrived at the temple top, but instead what prostrated before them were couple of trees and [Voidpools] that were disappearing one by one.Bookmark here

“Can’t do nothin’ about it, let’s jump in” Ume pointed her head towards the crevice.Bookmark here

“Wh…What if I fall down and die?”Bookmark here

“You’re a turtle! Turtles can’t die!” Ume spoke nonsense while slowly pushing him towards the hole.Bookmark here

Shiki gulped down heavily and started to coat his body into a shell.Bookmark here

“There we go, safe travels!” She gave a final push and dropped him inside.Bookmark here

Shiki screamed for couple of seconds as he was free falling into the temple. It was completely dark around him with only few green-lit lights that illuminated his way down.
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Shiki passed out.Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tapBookmark here

Sound of tapping on a smartphone filled a roomBookmark here

Tap, tap, tap, tapBookmark here

It followed a rhythm of a rain drops that hit the roofs outsideBookmark here

Tap, tap, tapBookmark here

Even the heartbeat matched the sequenceBookmark here

Tap, tapBookmark here

Two letters to finish the messageBookmark here

TapBookmark here

Upon clicking “SEND”, a lightning flashedBookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Hey Kap?”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“Ya actually passed out after dropping like what, one, or two meters tops?” Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

When Shiki looked up, the crevice he fell through was right above him.Bookmark here

“I swear I was falling for hours”Bookmark here

“Poor turtle, let’s get goin’ come on,” Ume gave Shiki a hand.Bookmark here

They stood in a long cold hallway that had myriad of narrow paths on the sides. The ceiling wasn’t very low so they could stand normally while walking.Bookmark here

“A labyrinth? Again?” Shiki whined.Bookmark here

“Ya know what they say, love is like a labyrinth”Bookmark here

“Who says that?” Bookmark here

Shiki had accidentally hit the wall on the side and created a few green stains that emitted a pale light which started moving towards the nearest narrow path on a side, revealing the symbols on the wall.Bookmark here

“What’s this? Some sort of gibberish?” Ume stared at symbols.Bookmark here

“Touch me,” Shiki said.Bookmark here

Ume jumped away from him while clenching her right fist.Bookmark here

“Ya wanna d.d…die?” She stuttered.Bookmark here

“No, it says touch me. I can read this,” Shiki explained as calmly as he could, but in reality he expected a burrowed fist in his face, or worse.Bookmark here

“Then say it like that in the first place, moron,” Ume crossed her hands and turned her head around so Shiki doesn’t notice red spots on her face.Bookmark here

“We have to abide the rules of the paths?” he asked.Bookmark here

“I don’t wanna! Let’s check the other paths maybe they have something normal written beside them.”Bookmark here

“Kiss me.”Bookmark here

“Lick me.”Bookmark here

“Tame me.”Bookmark here

“Embrace me.”Bookmark here

Shiki received a punch every time he opened his mouth. They ended up at the path they chose first, but this time he had far more bruises all over his face.Bookmark here

“What’s with this perverted temple!?” Ume complained.Bookmark here

Shiki treated her question as rhetorical and stood in silence, afraid for his dear life.Bookmark here

“Fine, touch me,” Ume commanded him while averting her gaze.Bookmark here

Shiki nervously grabbed her hand and closed his eyes. Nothing happened.Bookmark here

“Stupid temple! Touch me somewhere else!”Bookmark here

Shiki was on a brink of falling apart. He had already imagined himself as a pharaoh, and this temple being his eternal resting place.Bookmark here

He slowly touched her cheek. Tiny sound escaped from Ume that resembled a boiling tea pot.Bookmark here

The path started shining in bright green nuances and shortened severely. Bookmark here

“’s probably infinite if we don’t do what it says, let’s go,” Ume quickly explained and ran past Shiki.Bookmark here

He stood there for couple of seconds and proceeded as well.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry,” Shiki continuously apologized to Ume.Bookmark here

“Not your fault, just treat it as a game.”Bookmark here

Where all these bruises part of the game as well? He wondered.Bookmark here

They reached a new hallway that had only two paths at it’s end.Bookmark here

“Left one, maybe?” Shiki asked as if he was searching for a permission from Ume.Bookmark here

“I don’t care,” there was still lingering anger in her words, even though she treated this temple as a game.Bookmark here

“Tell me the truth,” Shiki read the symbols after touching the wall near the left path.Bookmark here

“The other one says, lie to me.”Bookmark here

“How imaginative. Now this feels like a [World Within] of a girl in love,” Ume rolled her eyes.Bookmark here

“So which path should we take?” Shiki laughed nervously.Bookmark here

“None, stand in the middle and let’s talk. We’ll see which path turns to green,” Ume said and added, “I’ll start.”Bookmark here

“I love carrots,” nothing happened.Bookmark here

“I like… strawberries?” nothing happened.Bookmark here

“Maybe it needs to be somethin’ specific, relationship related,” said Ume.Bookmark here

“I’ve never kissed a girl!” Shiki shouted, but nothing happened.Bookmark here

Ume ignored completely his confession which shook him greatly, but there was nothing he could do about it. He wasn't sure what he was expecting.
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“M... maybe we need to say some.. to each other” Ume gulped down the words.Bookmark here

“I love your hair! It’s gorgeous!” Bookmark here

Shiki shouted even louder than last time and nothing happened except a new bruise beneath his eye that was bigger than the others.Bookmark here

They became aggravated and impatient so they just began to blurt out sentences.Bookmark here

“I like your smile!”Bookmark here

“I like your arms”Bookmark here

“I like how smart you are!”Bookmark here

“I like your strength”Bookmark here

“I love the way you talk!”Bookmark here

“I like how quiet you are”Bookmark here

When all hope was gone and they felt burnt out from all the compliments they gave and received, there was only one thing left unsaid.Bookmark here

“I love you!”Bookmark here

“I love you.”Bookmark here

They both said the words almost at the same time. To their surprise, big green spots started filling both of the corridors and offered the way deeper into temple.Bookmark here

They quickly realized what this meant so Ume silently walked through the left path and told Shiki to follow.Bookmark here

One told the truth, and the other lied.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.