Chapter 0:

The Catacombs

Mutual Monster

In his childhood, Kanda Shinjiro liked to imagine he’d change the world. When that didn’t happen, he liked to imagine achieving something, anything, even if it meant stumbling upon it by accident. He hadn’t expected it to happen so soon – on his sixteenth birthday.

The day began normally, in the same way it did for his peers. He rolled up his bedding, got changed in the dark, and collected his pick axe from the corner. The automatic fluorescents lit up in the hallway outside. Industrial beetles scuttled in the gaps, casting a mild green, bioluminescent glow. Shinjiro nudged his sister until she stirred. She didn’t want to get up, citing how the heating pipes were warmer than usual. Shinjiro handed her a canteen of cold water, which she splashed onto her eyes and gargled. She rolled off her bedding with a groan.

The pair went to the mess hall via a narrow metal hallway. The City was quiet at that hour. They chatted with their peers along the way, a mix of older and younger people, blurring the lines between siblings and parents. Their group of miners in the south-western region, on the City’s first level, found kinship in their work, for equal parts practicality and necessity. They occupied a part of the City called Thao’s Hold, named after a soldier from a bygone era.

During breakfast, Shinjiro’s sister asked what he wanted for his birthday. He joked about wanting to visit a scented bathhouse on the sixteenth-level, before stating that he wanted some corn. He’d have asked for nothing, but his sister wouldn’t have accepted that; better to ask for something minor and achievable.

After breakfast, the miners marched from the mess hall without prompting, as if a single entity. Some took the spiral staircase, while others risked the elevator. Down in the mineshaft, work began. Swing. Dig. Shovel. Shinjiro didn’t mind the monotony. He had enough experience to let his mind enter a tranquil, distant state, letting him imagine other circumstances, like being a Venator, wandering the world, or—

Shinjiro’s pickaxe impacted rock and kept going, plunging into emptiness. Momentum carried him onward, down and into a dark pit. Drawn to his scream, Shinjiro’s sister and other miners rushed over. Soon, they’d gotten a rope ladder and descended with lights. Shinjiro was unharmed and, more importantly, he’d discovered a grand expanse below the mineshaft. Tunnels snaked in various directions, each tall as two men, wide as six stood shoulder-to-shoulder.

The miners’ excitement was short-lived.

As were they.

From the darkness they emerged. It was over in minutes. Screams of slaughter echoed abound. Shinjiro searched for his sister but lost balance and hit a wall. Shining, malice-filled eyes filled the darkness. Death would have come for Shinjiro, had Venators not been returning to the City from a scavenging run. They heard the screams, reached the mineshaft, and repelled the attack.

When the dust settled and new lights were brought, Shinjiro discovered two things:

First, his wounded sister.

Second, a boy around his age with unblemished skin, black hair, and peculiar clothes. He was lying on the ground and resembled a child from the upper-levels.

Shinjiro had certainly stumbled upon an achievement. But, in spite of the boy’s innocuous appearance, a wretched anxiety settled in Shinjiro’s gut. He had discovered the tunnels and the boy.

…Only time could reveal if they proved blessing or blight.