Chapter 9:

eye of the storm


I wake to the sound of static. My consciousness is hazy, and I feel pain coursing through my entire body. I’m being pulled out of the crashed car by my arm. The hand pulling me isn’t gentle or careful at all, and I’m thrown into the ditch where the car had crashed.Bookmark here

My vision is blurry, and I can’t remove the haze from my head. My consciousness withers as I’m picked up and carried down a short road leading to a large Japanese-style mansion. The name spelled out at the crest of the black stone archway over the front door stirs my memory.Bookmark here

Shibutani: the name of the influential organization that took interest in my weakened heart, and stole my freedom from me. My dread builds as I’m taken inside and the door slams shut behind me.Bookmark here

I can’t make out much other than the velvet carpet and blood red walls, and the black suits of the men carrying me. The sweet melody of a piano echoes throughout the mansion’s halls, stark melancholy blooming from the rhythmic keystrokes. I’m beginning to feel numb to the wounds that continue to open throughout my body thanks in part to the serene soundwaves.Bookmark here

How many times must I repeat this cycle? Is there any point in continuing to struggle, only to end up at their mercy? If I’m going to be bound by these shackles forever, wouldn’t it be normal to give up on becoming free? How many times have I overcome and moved forward, only to have them remind me of this unending dread? I can’t justify fighting anymore.Bookmark here

My dreams have convinced me of something I was always afraid to admit to myself: I’ll never be free. No matter how important I become, they will come for me when the rest of my heart is needed. That’s what this is all about, after all. My heart has been held captive ever since they first took me. Even if they let me taste freedom, they never truly let me go. I’ve lived a farce of a life, trying to fit in with normal people; though in reality, I’m just a doll pretending to be human for as long as I can, under their watchful eye.Bookmark here

A doll, which overstayed its welcome and revolted against my fate just to feel human for a little longer. So, just a little longer. They can have me once I’m satisfied with living a lie. That’s what this dream world is, isn’t it? Just a vehicle of sweet ecstasy I latched onto to drag things out just a little longer. Long enough to see her one last time, or at least hear her voice. They can have me after that, I promise. I’ll let myself become nothingness if I can have that one pleasure. The fake me can win; so just let me talk to her, let me be with her for a bit longer.Bookmark here

“Mary.” Is that a voice? It surely resembles a voice, carrying like a reverberation in the same dull sound waves coming from the piano. “Mary, I’m so afraid of dying. There’s nothing I’m more afraid of.” The voice has a familiar ring to it, its tender tone cutting through the pool of dread flooding my thoughts.Bookmark here

“You’ve been fighting for so long, and I'm just hiding, praying that I might live.” The piano’s beautiful voice rouses me from my virtual brain-death, but the suits aren’t reacting to it at all.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry about finding me anymore, okay? You’ve struggled more than you had to because of me, but you don’t have to do anything but find your heart now, right?” Her voice pierces my soul, like a requiem of encouragement made to heal all my ailments.Bookmark here

“You’ve wanted to become whole and live freely, right? I want that for you, too. So, maybe I can be found where your heart is.” Her light fills me with a warmth that soothes me and relieves me of the cold, hollow dread that had consumed me. How many times has she saved me? I have a feeling it’s been more than I can count.Bookmark here

“So, go get your heart back, and I’ll see you after that, okay?” I feel the life returning to my limbs, energy jolting through me; I look down at the suits carrying me, as if they’re ants who’ve stubbornly hauled off more than they can handle. How many times must I repeat this? This is the last time. I just need to fight a little longer. After that, I’ll be satisfied. I’ll accept my fate head-on. I won’t live in fear anymore.Bookmark here

The suits dissipate around me as I land out of a spinning kick. The carpet feels snug on my bare feet, and the archaic hallway design comes into full focus. With it, the trail of the piano’s melody opens to me, and I follow it to a door. When I open it, static swarms me, and I return to the backseat of the car JC is swerving mercilessly.Bookmark here

Only a light rain is falling now. Dark clouds hang overhead, an orange glare reflecting off the opaque gray from the fire raging through the industrial district. My hand moves toward my phone sitting on the floorboard, before I pull it back.Bookmark here

“Hey! Were you in the deep dream world? Did you see Mirei? Do you know where she is?” JC urges upon noticing my movement, but it just worsens my headache.Bookmark here

“Give it a rest. I didn’t see her, but I know where I need to go.”Bookmark here

“You do?” he asks, turning all the way around in his seat.Bookmark here

“Hey, keep your bug eyes on the road, will you?” I chide with a glare.Bookmark here

“Right... but, you know where Mirei is, then?” he asks, turning around.Bookmark here

“Listen, the fake me has half of my heart,” I answer seriously. “The half that this Shibutani Group took from me. She wants me to meet her, and I think I should do it. I’ll get my heart back and have the strength to find Mirei and end all of this.”Bookmark here

“What?” he shouts in a panic. “You want to rush into the enemy headquarters with just the two of us? That’s crazy! We should keep trying the deep dream world. You’ve surely shortened your wavelength enough to find her more easily, so maybe you can bring her back from there.”Bookmark here

“JC, this is the answer I’ve reached,” I respond calmly.Bookmark here

“What answer?” he cries, turning back again with a desperate expression to match his pleas. “I told you the surest path to victory is to bring us all back to an even plane, right? I don’t know about this stuff with your heart, but what if you’re running right into the trap the dreamscape set for you?”Bookmark here

“I think you know this is the only answer,” I say, looking him in the eye through the rearview mirror. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t still be in front of me here, would you?"Bookmark here

He sees the determination in my stare and clicks his tongue while turning back to face the road. “Alright, I’ll bring you there, but it’s going to be up to you to make sure we don’t both get killed.”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, I have a plan,” I reply with a smirk. “It just so happens that risking my life is our best course of attack. We’ll live because we’re willing to risk our lives.” JC cranes his neck, having gone pale, and blinks at me with fearful skepticism. I broaden my smirk in response. “It’s time for me to show Aku my victory.”Bookmark here

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