The sunset was dying together with the crows that announced its farewell. That monochrome day was coming to an end, dying just over the tall house the girl could see behind her bedroom’s windows. Yellow and crimson were sinking into the heavy mist, melting to create that majestic orange. She was still sitting on the PC’s chair as she made delicate noises out of nervousness. Her medium-length dark chestnut hair swayed side to side when she decided to twirl in place.
Looking at her phone, she noticed her mum had left a message. She was doing the monthly grocery shopping, so she would be a little bit late. With an almost unperceptible sigh, she lifted her head.
The fair maiden's hair moved much as soft beach grass in the wind, back and forth, revealing and hiding the meadowy green of her light-brown eyes, meeting a wonderful dark, hypnotizing hazel.
“Perhaps taking a walk might help,” Macchan suggested.
The girl was unable to mutter a word. Holding Macchan’s hand and feeling her world floating as soft feathers and cotton candy, she was now outside.
The sight of a palm tree can summon a tropical scene in one glance. Whether marking the site of a spring in a desert or clustering along a humid coastline, they tend to be an arresting and dominant visual component of their environment. However, the palm trees here were nothing of the sort, almost bending due to lack of proper care. The small town she lived in could be seen as a place for wealthy people due to the fact that most, if not almost all, houses were ridiculously big, or the condominiums were full of medium-sized modern houses to the brim.
On the other hand, her little house was more rustic, with the roof made out of terracotta and white walls. The overgrown bougainvillaea could be seen from the outside, giving it a fairyland touch. The magenta leaves fell with the soft windy caresses of the salty ocean wind, reminding her of the unbearable humidity and heat. It was summer, after all. Even if January was the tamest month when it came to the sun showing its full potential, covered by smokey clouds, the thermic sensation was unparalleled.
She felt that judging this place as a site where rich people lived was completely discriminatory and judgemental. You never know what issues each household is having. Not all the houses are fancy as well, most of the older ones had kept that rustic, away from the city-style she came to love.
They walked in silence for about 15 minutes, when the girl slowly changed the common route they took after passing the nearest bodega.
The dull light of the sun somehow managed to kindle her senses in a way she had never seen or felt before. Everything felt like it came to a standstill and the effect of the light made the scene look like one in a painting. The waves break gently into white foam on the dull beach. The small crystals in the sand glimmer and twinkle brilliantly against all odds. The seagulls ride with the wind and the soft sand cushions her toes.
Fortunately, the beach was clean, which was a novelty. Normally she found diapers, used condoms, tires and, what broke her heart the most, dead sea creatures like ocean dolphins. It would’ve broken her more if one of those things caught her sight. Away from the immense sea, white foams from the waves gather gently onto the brown shore. Now, half of a glowing, radiant light looms across the water's horizon.
The nightfall creates a sensation of joy and tranquillity inside the fair maiden’s heart. Every sight and sound stimulates a sense of composure and serenity; and the effect is heightened by the absence of the noisy bustle of her own mind, only to be exposed to the never-ending music of the waves, and to breathe the fresh air instead of the stale atmosphere of her thoughts. It is not easy to describe the effect of this sight; it can only be strangely deciphered by living in that precise moment. It is, however, a very tangible and distinct emotion, though its allure really depends upon the reality of the world from a further point of view, away from the definite predictabilities of it, all in which an instant becomes like a translucent drape which almost consents her to catch a glimpse of an ideal and more breath-taking reality.
No star was in sight, nor the moon.
“Are you feeling a little better?”
“The anxiety eating me is going away but,” she bit her lower lip. “I have this excruciating sensation that forgetting who this Wolfy person is is the cruellest thing for me to do.”
Macchan tightly held her hand.
“It reminds me when… I couldn’t remember my other self. Remember? Prism?” Her eyes were starting to get a little watery. “It was hard to deal that I had a second personality, and even up until this day, I don’t even know if it was a way to cope with stress or loneliness but… I felt so distraught when I had forgotten all about her, and the friends online she made were asking about her, I just couldn’t take it. I feel the same, almost.”
Once that first tear broke free, the rest followed in an unbroken stream. The girl bent forward where she sat on the sand and pressing her palms to it, she began to cry with the force of a single butterfly stirring a hurricane in a far off corner of the world.
It was painful to see her like this. All Macchan could do was embrace her and let the torrent of her tears soak through. Feeling her clench her fists, not knowing whether to be mad or to give up hope altogether. Hearing her silently screaming, suffocating with each breath she took holding onto her small pride. Running fingers through her hair, time and time again, in an attempt to calm the silent war within her mind.
“We’ll find them.”
Her sobs diminished, just a little bit.
“Just like you were able to find closure with Prism, I’ll do my best and everything I have at my disposal to help you with this. I’d like to say we have all the time in the world but, if your dream is a premonition, time is of the essence.”
The wind greets just the same, yet the girl felt blessed to feel it. Its giddy currents flow through the beach, unaware of how its song soothes those who can hear. She had always thought of the wind as so free, chaotic even, yet it too has its path, even if there are infinite possible destinations. It is air with passion, a drive that powers onwards, every direction an option just like Macchan.
Nothing more could be said, nothing more could be done.
“Hi, mum, we’re going upstairs!!!!”
Those were the first word the girl mentioned once they made it back to her place.
“Good evening, ma’am!” greeted Macchan with extreme politeness, as always.
“Oh, hello!” The girl’s mother was calmly watching what seemed to be a series’ on Pineapple TV. She had a membership in almost all streaming platforms. However, only with Pineapple TV, she was a little stingy, just paying when a new release of her favourite series happened. “Did you go on a walk? I called you to your phone in order to park the car inside and for you to hold onto Doremi but you never replied.”
“I think I have it on silent.” The girl shyly confesses.
“Why am I not surprised.”
“Anyway, we’re gonna be streaming some games.” Rapidly, she closes the door to her room without waiting for another sarcastic comment from her witty mother. In fact, she ended up sighing and resuming her binge-watching. “Alright, so what’s the plan?”
“I’m still surprised your mother lets you do this.”
“Just like she says, you have 365 days a year to do stuff with your significant other why, the risk. I believe the same thing.” Perking up, the maiden sat down on her white alleged gamer seat and stared at her desktop wallpaper. “To be honest, I am quite scared.”
“I don’t blame you.”
“Look, if you really, really wanna go with me, I won’t stop you. However…” The long-haired girl stared at the VR visor. “I only have one of these.”
“That is quite a pickle…” Macchan sighed. “Alright, let’s do it in baby steps shall we?”
A hand stretched out and took control of the mouse. Clicking the main browser, Macchan typed Phantasia’s website and pressed enter. After a few seconds, a black screen greeted them with tons of little details. The webpage showed the supposed main characters of the game, or in this case main NPCs that played a vital role in the story.
Phantasia had especially hired a renowned artist who had worked on many Light Novels and had a unique take and style when it came to bringing characters to life.
Migi’s distinctive style—at least so far as it’s seen in Phantasia—featured highly expressive, boldly defined characters with elaborate outfits, coupled with a somewhat dirty, grainy look that gives the whole thing a somewhat aged, decayed feel to it. This isn’t to say it’s unpleasant to look at; rather, it provides a sort of nostalgic air to it all; looking at the art for Phantasia feels like looking at old photographs that have been stored in an attic for many years alongside a watercolour hint.
The main NPC, Emine herself is a pretty good example of Migii’s design philosophy. She’s a character absolutely packed with detail, and one who rewards those willing to contemplate her in her entirety and consider what each part of her design might “mean” or at least represent. Most notably, she’s the personification of one of Phantasia’s main recurring visual motifs: the idea of nature enduring even in a world that appears to be on the road to certain ruin, typically represented by the growth of flowers in unexpected places.
The easiest way in which this is seen was Emine’s basic dress shape, which is clearly designed to resemble a blooming flower in the way it flows out from her hips, and how it features a distinctively “petal-like” design around its hem. Overlaid on the flower-like skirt of her dress is a flowing, lacy layer that sweeps out behind her, culminating in something that looks distinctly like a pair of fairy wings. This gives her a somewhat otherworldly quality; a sense that she’s somehow extraordinary—and a sense that she’s something you don’t see all that often.
Her black hair flowed as sweetly as a poet's ink and quill. It gave contrast to her face, sweetly dark upon soft porcelain skin. It’s woven into the beauty of her outfit rather than a thing apart.
“That’s weird,” the girl muttered. “In my visions, I don’t remember this character. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing the promoted main cast of NPC’s.”
“Let’s keep on looking, shall we?”
Next up was the one called Apoca.
Meru Kishida, who at this point had not previously worked on any video games, but whose artistic creations encapsulated the kind of aesthetic Phantasia creators wanted to pursue for the game outdid themselves with her design as well. Meru, if you’re unfamiliar, tends to draw images with a somewhat ethereal quality to them—an effect created through a combination of soft, pencilled outlines, pale pastel colours and elaborately detailed outfits—and this was very much in keeping with the kind of atmosphere feel the creators were going for.
Apoca is a young, somewhat clumsy and naive aspiring alchemist. She means well and is very sweet and caring. She depends on the support of others but eventually grows to be a strong and dependable alchemist, making many friends along the way and spreading her name throughout Phantasia.
The dress she was wearing covered her shoulders entirely and flowed down into a tasteful semi-sweetheart neckline. It's was a relaxed fit which makes the dress look comfortable, yet elegant and stylish. Her arms had been covered all the way down to her wrists. The sleeves are a loose fit from top to bottom, giving the dress a slightly casual look.
The dress' waist is thin, but it's a loose fit. A bow has been wrapped around her and rests gently on her lower back. Below the waist, the dress fits snug around her and has a mermaid style. The dress reaches well above her ankles and is the same length all around.
She's wearing t-straps, which matches the dress perfectly. To top it all off she's wearing a subtle necklace and small, stylish earrings.
Finally, you could see a young, tall man who went by the name of Lypse, who was designed by someone inside Phantasia themselves. Having three character designers for the main NPC trio was going out with a huge bang.
Lypse is an alchemist like Apoca, as well as a new government official working for the development team of the Sylveria Branch. He was officially assigned to the team at the same time as Apoca, and the two work together. Lypse is a serious and "down-to-earth" person but is also very kind. He has a burn scar on his right arm, and he seems to avoid talking about his past. He is also somewhat of a perfectionist, sometimes being shown organizing things often and cleaning the workshop from top to bottom. He makes free use of the latest style of an "alchemic sword", an improved version of an artefact that was excavated from the ruins that combine the art of swordplay and alchemy.
The sword he had on the Promotional Art was a short, narrow, jagged blade made of crystal held by a grip wrapped in dull, brown smooth leather. Because it only has a razor-sharp point this weapon would cause enemies to leak from thousands of holes before they even know what happened. The sword has a small, straight cross-guard, just large enough to give the blade the perfect weight balance. The cross-guard has a jewelled sphere on each side, marking the Branch it belongs to.
Lypse also had some flasks hanging from his pants, which held unknown liquids.
The girl snapped out of her musings.
“Sorry, Macchan, I was just taken aback by all these gorgeous designs.” She excused herself. “Now, time to make you an account.”
A few clicks later, everything was set. Macchan promised to come the next day with his own VR Set, so they could embark on this perilous searching mission.
Lying now alone in her bed, after taking her medicine, the girl wondered if things would turn out alright. If her dream was a premonition of the future or just a simple dream. After tossing and turning, she finally was capable of shutting down her convoluted mess of thoughts.
Stars light the sky like snowflakes in the night, yet appear still, like an old photograph. The constellations, who'd witnessed centuries and millennia just the same, watched over this tiny moment.
In the maiden’s dream, there are lights, too many to count, dancing on an ocean too vast to envisage. Each one is brilliant, each one unique. She wants to look at each one for the marvel it is, for no matter how many there are no two colours are the same. The light that comes from within is purer than gold, more light than air—each one a small piece of heaven. She tries to reach out to them, who wouldn't want to touch something so pure? But the lights recoil in fright, they don't even know who she is. They chant that they feel ugly on the outside and worse on the inside. The girl can't understand until she takes a look at the water, it looks fine but smells like something she wouldn't want to drink. But they're swimming in it, bobbing in it like it's a fine day at the beach. She wants to tell them it's poison but they'll never listen. They laugh and carry on just as before, each one just as beautiful as the last but disconnected even from their inner light and beauty.
However, that poison slowly transforms into scarlet.
The girl grabbed one of those lights, fragments of a long time forgotten flooding into her.
«So, I take it you know what decision you want to make.»
«She has someone waiting for her on the other side. I can’t say that of me. She’s better off in the real world than I am. For her, she would be able to go somewhere in life that I could never go. Even if I worked hard, my life would just amount to nothing. There is a chance she could go on and become a great artist or even a famous content creator. As for me, I’d just continue to typeset books for clients until either I died or my business failed. If I can give her a chance to reach those opportunities then I’ll be happy. I’m proud to see my little sister do so much with her life and as her brother I want to do what I can.»
«Wait… nii-nii… what are… you doing?»
The flickering of the lights goes berserk. There was no way to know if these sudden voices were in chronological order, messed up or just pure imagination. Nonetheless, she kept on grabbing them from the pool of blood.
«Don’t worry, sis. I’m going to take care of everything.»
«Anyway, I know what choice I will make.»
The girl was covered in sweat, her breathing erratic and ragged.
As her eyes open her limbs flex in shock. She wants to stand but for the moment her legs have given way to gravity, shaky, weak. The coldness of the air is more apparent, stealing the warmth given to her by summer heat that has swept over the room. She hugged herself, trying her best to not cry.
“Who is Wolfy? I want to remember but I… I can’t.”
In that shiver was a moment of truth, a story of the emotions that no mask could ever hide.
She looked at her mobile phone: 5AM.
Finally mustering the strength to stand up, her shaky legs made her open her curtains and see that the dawn wasn’t even near. Nonetheless, the playful birds were already chirping, a vague trip down memory lane was about to begin. Her heart throbbed, and she saw an apple shape in the endless sky. It twirled and twirled until it reached a hand. A very nostalgic hand.
“I promised to bake something healthy, didn’t I, Mr Apple?” The girl smiled towards the illusion, who kindly seemed to be nodding. “I need to get a grip.”
So she went back to bed, preparing herself for what was to come.
Hours passed by, she got ready, had some breakfast, wished her mum good luck at work, many different things while waiting for Macchan to arrive. Heck, maybe even that wasn’t the correct order but who cared anymore. Doremi was barking as loud as ever meaning Macchan had made it surprisingly in time, and their mission was about to start.
“Alright, now let’s get down to business.” The girl said in a serious tone, putting on her VR lenses once they were inside her room.
“I’ll be there for you.”
“I know. Now, let’s do this.”
Holding hands, they logged into Phantasia.
A breach in the system had been made, alas, they had no idea. The space they were floating in was somewhat in between layers of the Digital World. Amidst sky blue and hot green, particles of data surrounded them, making the moment even more so ethereal.
“What is going on?” The girl’s voice echoed.
“I have no idea!!” Macchan was starting to panic. “Aren’t we supposed to be on a starting village or something?”
“Don’t ask me!”
«You who can heal wounded hearts.»
“Hey, hey, Macchan was that you!?”
«You who can open a closed heart.»
“Wha? Wha? Who’s speaking then!?”
«You who can help others and yourself to overcome the past and move forward. Who can also hold back negative feelings. Regain peace of mind.»
“What’s even going on!?”
A bright light engulfed them.
Suddenly, they were now in barren terrain. Only kilometres of what seemed to be an everlasting desert stretched upon their view. The girl blinked and looked right next to her.
“So you went for a shape-shifter, huh?”
A lovely girl with bright green hair was standing by her side, her bright blue eyes lost into the distance. Her lynx ears looked fluffy and she wanted to touch them, but refrained from doing so. Wearing what seemed to be a white dress with blue accents and the girl’s first thought was of a maid-like uniform. Most indeed, since it consisted of a white and navy blue dress with large cat bells tied to her hair with navy blue ribbons. It appeared to be that some places were ragged, showing that under such a cute lady, a fiery personality could be expected.
“And losing the opportunity to transform into an animal? No way in hell was I skipping on that!”
“Well, now what, Aria?”
“Not using my name?”
“Let’s use your account name, you can do so with mine as well.”
“Well.. I can’t seem to do that. You see, your name is blurry.”
The girl checked her profile and quite indeed, her username was blurry. Thinking it was a glitch, she typed it again just to notice it turned blurry again. Something strange was going on. She shook her head and tried to think of another name to use. She had had a ton of handles in the past, but for some reason, not a single one came to mind.
“Anyway, why don’t you complement my outfit while I think here?”
“You know I’m not good with compliments but…” Aria looked away. “What class did you choose?”
“I went for an archer. Why?” The girl kept on pressing different buttons on her control panel.
“Well… then… how do I explain this…”
“Spilt it out, will ya?”
Aria blushed, the now cat-girl loved when the woman she loved got a little pissed off at her.
“Y-You see, there is… no change.”
“I’m sorry?” The girl came to a halt. Manifesting a mirror within her control panel, she saw her reflection. She was still wearing the same outfit she entered Phantasia with. In fact, not even her stats had changed. Heck, not even her class was determined. “Could it be that weird matrix-glitch thing we encountered?”
But before Aria could ask, something was approaching. Rapidly so.
It seemed to be a girl.
“Please, help me!!!”
Behind her, a strange black blob was making their way towards them.
Aria and the girl picked up the pace and ran for their lives with the girl behind them. They ran and ran, finally reaching what seemed to be an old town. Hiding inside an abandoned house, they finally took their breaths.
“What the hell is going on!?” The girl couldn’t hold it anymore.
I came into this nightmare of a game just to be greeted with abnormalities! I’m done! I don’t care who Wolfy is anymore, get me out of here!
“Aria, we’re logging out, I’m done with this!”
“Huh!?” The cat-girl seemed distraught. “But I haven’t even shape shifted yet!”
A murder induced gaze was directed to the green-haired girl.
“Yeah, let’s log out!”
Before the dark-chestnut haired girl could Virtual Out, the mysterious beauty held her wrist.
Meeting eye to eye, the girl’s breath was stolen. Not because the maiden was extremely beautiful, but because she resembled someone.
Her most, dearest, and beloved friend. Her other half. Her other me.
The scarlet eyed beauty blinked and smiled.
“Lieselotte von Feuerbach at your service!” She bowed. Then, she held the other girl’s hands. “Miss Ana, we have been waiting for you. There is no time to explain. Now put on this Communication Connector and transform.”
Nothing makes sense.
“Or else those things are going to delete us!”
How did it end up like this…?
“I’m sorry lady but…”
“Right, I forgot to mention, you can’t Virtual Out.”
In a panic, the girl and Aria tried to virtual out… and Aria disappeared.
“What’s going on here?!” The girl was mad. “Am I glitched or something? Was my dream a true premonition what is…?”
“You see, Miss Ana… When both of you did the Virtual In, I made it so you could enter Phantasia only using this little bracelet here called Communication Connector. So unless you have it on and use it, you won’t be able to get out.”
“I have so many questions right now.”
Before Lieselotte could keep on her rambling, Aria came back.
“What in the world happened? I logged out, I saw you sleeping even when I took your VR Visor! I came back in and you’re still here?”
“Nothing makes, sense Aria!” The girl’s patience was on thin ice.
“I can make everything make sense if you just use the Communication Connector!” Liselotte smiled.
The girl grabbed it, clearly angry.
“What the hell, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes to get me out of here. I don’t care about my search anymore!” She grabbed the bracelet from the scarlet-eyed girl and put it on her right wrist.
“Alrighty then!” Liselotte gave a happiness twirl. “Communication Connector On! Element Suit Download!”
A bright light emerged from her, and the girl became enveloped in a veil that shined like the sunshine.
I grow strong against this wind; muscles working all the more. It is the freshness over my skin, which makes a fine flag of my tousled hair. In the trees it is a gusting chorus, a song so confidently sung. There are times I feel it within, that push and swirl, that stirring to show what is solidly there. I'm okay with it; I am. For the calmness of sweet days ahead will be such plain sailing, as easy as summer daydreams.
All of the noise disappeared in an instant. It was like being stuck between two realities: one that was imperfect, but doable. The other was the vision where the girl pictured herself in, the one she longed herself to be a part of. Was is a possibility to make that world into reality? The only thing that separated her from achieving the dream was herself: Being completely honest, I do miss this Wolfy person. I want to find them. And tell them lots of things. And then smile, like if everything had been a bad dream.
Everything happened in an instant. So, so fast, that the girl couldn’t even bask in her new appearance. However, all she could say, was what her heart desired.
“Phantasm Hikari is here, and I won’t stop until I reach the truth!”