Chapter 7:

Trust Fall (2)

Glitches in the Digital Afterlife


Soft snores filled the pitch-black room in steady increments.

The light weight of Sylas’ arm draped over her torso should have been enough to lull her to sleep, yet Yume remained wide awake under the soft covers, itching to twist and turn.

Things were being left unspoken, unsettled. She felt unsettled.

There was no amount of self-assurance that seemed to dispel the guilt that weighed deep within the pit of her stomach.

Sylas had chosen to withhold his end of the exchange for reasons she could surmise on her own, but she still vied for the reciprocation, for validation.

In a world where everything was not as it should be, the last thing Yume wanted was to be left alone in the midst of it all.

Yume finally gave in to the urge and gently shifted under Sylas’ arm, turning away in hopes of also turning away from her thoughts. Her fingers toyed with his as she tried to draw him in closer.

Blue eyes fluttered shut, searching for sleep behind the tired lids. She tried to mimic her partner’s breathing pattern but found herself unable to keep up with the rather fast pace.

Yume shimmied into a comfortable spot on her side with a pillow between her legs. She let her mind wander, thinking of plots for her next short story. It had been a while since she last updated her platform with a new short.

Maybe that will help.

It has been a while since she last updated her platform with a new short, but if there was one safe space to be found away from the physical objects and familiar people, it was her imagination.

She stowed away in the creative part of her overworked mind, replacing all the intrusive thoughts about the Compound and the traumatic spiral of events with the design of her unnamed protagonist.

A female protagonist with white hair who—

Sylas pulled his hand away, and the weight on the bed shifted as he rolled onto his back with a quaint sigh.

A female protagonist with white hair… Who lives a double life?

Yume dramatically sighed into her pillow, now conscious that she was falling back into the habit of projecting herself into a character, creating a plot to navigate her tumultuous reality.

It was said that inspiration from personal and second-hand experiences often created the best stories—something about it being relatable—but Yume wanted to find comfort away from the very things that reminded her of her incertitudes.

As she continued to craft her new muse, the white noises of the Compound’s gravitational device and the electricity within the walls trapped her into a slumber.

Of pristine castles and marble structures in a kingdom far off into the skies, Yume’s peaceful construct was short-lived, her slumber interrupted by familiar voices.

“Nee-chan… Nee-chan! Seriously, she won’t wake up.”

“Yeah, of course she won’t Aiko. Her consciousness is stuck in the program you created.”

“Don’t use that tone with me, I’ll tell Yume when she wakes up.”

“That’s if she wakes up. Just go to class. I’ll watch over her and see if my coworkers say anything.”

“I don’t think you should be asking them for any help. I don’t trust anyone at Nicemann Corp.”

“I work at Nicemann, Aiko.”

“Yeah, well that’s different. You’re my sister’s boyfriend, plus you two started dating long before you got the job there. Before she even got sick…”

There was a pause. One long enough to pull Yume away from the unclear conversation, but her mind registered a soft sensation against her hand. She tried to move, to respond to the feeling but everything in her body started to feel like cement.

Great, sleep paralysis too? No, no. Stay calm, Yume.

Sylas sighed. “Yume, if you can hear me, just hang on. I know you’re probably afraid, but I’ll get you out, I promise. This isn’t your end, just find a way to wake up ... You have to wake up.”

His last words echoed, growing louder with each repetition until it finally jolted Yume awake into a seated position. The duvet bunched into her lap, and the ringing started to clear. Yume looked down to find Sylas unbothered by the harsh movements.

She quietly called out for her partner, eyes scanning for any signs of consciousness, but Sylas remained fast asleep and unknowing. Her hand hovered over his shoulder as she hesitated to wake him up and ask him why he had been fighting with Aiko recently.

The mattress dipped under Yume’s weight, fingers stretching into the darkness to blindly find some light source now that sleeping was off her list of things to do. She tapped around until she managed to light up the tablet on the little shelving unit in the wall.

Her eyes adjusted to the harsh light that assaulted the darkness and cast eerie shadows around the small, unfamiliar room. A shiver ran up Yume’s spine which caused her to tug on the hem of her black long sleeve.

At the time, prioritizing sleep and being in the company of someone seemed better than a shower alone with her thoughts. Not that it mattered because the thoughts still pestered her in bed.

Maybe a shower would have been nice...

Yume resigned the fight to get some decent sleep and slowly inched out of the shared bed, careful not to stir her partner with her movements. The knuckle-white grip on the tablet only loosened once she cleared from the room. A dim light greeted her from the lounge, drawing the sleepless woman down the stairs in her black socks.

It felt odd to wander around a uniformed place in grey sweatpants although everyone was probably still asleep.

As she walked around the lounge, her finger traced the varying surfaces from the stair banister to the cushions of the sunken living room. Eyes danced along, engraining every inch of the space into her memory as a distraction. However, it wasn't enough to take her mind away from the mismatched conversations that kept invading her mind.

Quiet steps wandered out of the lounge and down a cold corridor where Kagehisa had pointed to earlier, informing her of a training facility she could visit. Despite not having done anything strenuous in years due to her condition, there was an indescribable urge to exert her pent-up frustrations.

Yume stopped at a large window, gleaning into a clean, spacious room with a console at the front. She shrugged off and guesses as to what it was and continued down the hall. She by another set of windows to a room on the other side, but this time, it was occupied by various gym equipment. None that she felt comfortable using without someone to accompany her.

A set of doors at the end of the hall halted the woman in her steps. She was hesitant to go any further in fear she might have been overstepping boundaries she wasn't made aware of, but the small waver in her movements set off the sensor.

The doors slid open with a small hiss, causing her to jump back.

It was dim inside with only the backlight of the hallway helping her discern a small set of stairs that seemed to lead further into a daunting corridor. Yume took an apprehensive step forward, testing for any additional sensors, but nothing happened.

Returning to the lounge seemed like a sound idea, but the thought dissolved as she admired the taunting pale glow of the lights lining the wall, drawing her in like a hypnotic trance. She placed one foot on the step and then another. Once far enough from the entry, the doors closed behind her, enveloping the lone woman in darkness.

Her eyes traced the lights down until a moving body of water was the only light source. The waves glimmered, catching her attention within the darkness. She used the walls to guide her way down the short stretch until a cold, wet feeling seeped through the bottom of her socks.

Great…

She had reached the edge of a pool, only to grimace at the disturbing feeling of wet socks against her skin. Slowly, she leaned over the body of water, eyes widening at the sight below.

Glass replaced the common tiled floors of the pool, like a window into the clouds. A glimpse of Neo-Tokyo's skyline was also visible in the distance. The sun was slowly rising, and the city lights seemed few and far between. The refraction of atmospheric light through the water projected a lovely wave of teal green onto the ceiling.

The sight was almost too intimidating to convince Yume to swim in. It sent a shiver down the back of her spine as it reminded her of the optical illusion of falling from see-through material.

“So do you plan to hop in with your clothes on or are we skinny-dipping?”

Yume jumped at the sudden voice, fumbling for the tablet before it cracked against the hard tiles beneath her feet. Her heart pounded in her ears from the near-disastrous incident. She glared daggers at the surprise visitor until the intruder stopped in front of her with their arms crossed.

Even under the faint glow of the waters, Yume could make out the pink head of hair pulled into a high ponytail with light bangs that framed their slightly pointed face.

“Rosie? I didn’t hear you come in.”

Rosiel huffed as she scratched at the side of her head. “Not hearing me is one thing. Not taking the time to see me when you come back is another.”

“I’ve been… busy.”

The reflection from the water cast a shadow along Rosiel’s soft features, making her seem more agitated than earlier.

“Sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t be in here—”

“Let’s talk.”

Rosiel swiftly turned, leaving Yume behind as she marched off towards the door. Yume trailed helplessly after her best friend, trying to ignore how her socks clung to the bottom of her feet. The two left the pool and headed to an empty training room.

Fluorescent lights flickered on with Rosiel’s command at the lone console, fingers tapped around the screen to unlock hidden storage units in the walls. The little doors piqued Yume’s interest. She padded along the firm material of sparring mats and peered into one of the exposed storage units to find several weapons neatly organized by their type and size.

“We got a new assortment of kunai in while you were away. Here,” Rosie chirped, brushing past the dark-haired woman to pull out a bladed weapon for Yume. “Saw-toothed dai-kunai. No one’s even touched this yet, we were waiting for you to break it in.”

Blue eyes flickered between the ragged blade that weighed heavy in her hand and her best friend, “This looks dangerous, to say the least. I don’t know why I would need it.”

Rosiel wrinkled her nose at her words as Yume went to place the throwing knife back in its place. “Yeah, dangerous is the point. We’re not playing flag football here, Yume. We’re well-trained assassins.”

“Assassins, what?! I thought you wanted to talk!”

“Yeah, this is how we always talk,” Rosiel stated matter of factly.

She replaced the tablet in Yume’s hand with the same weapon before shutting the unit of throwing knives to access another door. She pulled out a short staff with a sharp blade on one end this time.

“With weapons? Are you sure about this, Rosie? I don’t even know how to use this!”

“Kunai is your specialty. Just because it’s saw-toothed doesn’t mean you gotta use it any differently—just do your thing.”

Yume shook her head. “What thing?”

Her question fell upon deaf ears as Rosiel returned to the control console with her weapon of choice. Whatever she pressed next commanded the units to close and the console to lower to the ground.

Yume’s protest was strung together incoherently, unsure of how to tell her best friend that sparring might just be the last thing she should do with someone with a chronic illness.

A leer toyed at the corner of Rosie’s lips as she twirled her bladed pole around her wrists for a show before she dropped into a fighting stance. “Alright, let’s do this.”

Yume’s eyes widened at the blurry head of pink hair charging towards her unprepared form.

Where was the warning?

She yelped as she narrowly dodged Rosiel, but the sudden change wasn’t enough to faze the athletic woman. The shorter of the two pivoted into a wheel kick, aiming straight for Yume’s trapezius.

Confused but still not wanting to sustain any unnecessary injuries, Yume deflected the harsh contact with her forearm. She shoved Rosiel backward with enough force to cause her to stumble, “I really don’t think this is a good idea, Rosie!”

“Why? Has time away from the Compound made you weak?”

The usual playful tone that Yume was familiar with didn’t convey from the woman who jumped back from the moment of vulnerability with triple kicks—one of which managed to knock Yume over.

The weight of Rosiel’s words came off with a belittling attitude. It dripped with irritation and maybe a hint of malice. Just as the navy-haired woman recovered from the harsh blow, the glimmer of a blade passed under her chin.

“Again, I thought you wanted to talk!”

“I do,” Rosiel smiled calmly before a threatening look overshadowed her features. “LEVEL ONE!”

Yume ducked at the next swing, rolling off to the side to buy herself some distance, but the sudden shout from Rosiel manifested a wall in her path. The harsh collision with the semi-transparent block elicited a sharp hiss and agonizing pain in her nose. She wiped at a trickle of blood with the back of her hand.

This is starting to feel personal.

Yume was ready to ask Rosiel for a moment to catch her breath, but the lodging of a blade followed a sharp sound into the surface next to her face. Its sudden appearance interrupted her question, and wide eyes scanned the weapon's length that only narrowly missed her.

The fear started to bubble into adrenaline.

They briefly made eye contact, but with the kunai still in her hands, Yume uses Rosiel’s embedded weapon to climb up onto the block. She wasn’t sure what she expected, but Rosiel followed suit, pulling her bladed pole out before bouncing off the nearby wall to face Yume on the floating platform.

“Have you seriously lost all your skills in combat? I already downgraded to a naginata out of consideration.”

“And? Rosie that doesn’t make it any less scary or pointy!”

“The hell are you scared for? We’ve fought with worse!”

Irregular swings and jabs emphasized each syllable from Rosiel that forced Yume to deflect the attacks with her much smaller blade. She started to twitch at taunts, eyes scanning Rosiel’s frame for weak openings or a chance to knock the naginata out of her hands but her best friend was too skilled. It left little room for Yume to attack.

“Kagehisa was right... You have gotten weak,” Rosiel advanced on Yume, moving the pair closer to the platform's edge. “Stop holding back; trust your instincts like you always tell me to!”

What instincts?

“You’re supposed to be our captain. Stop acting weak and defenceless!”

Agitated by the unsolicited physical and verbal attacks, Yume ducked under a particularly high swing and finds herself behind Rosiel. “It’s not an act!”

“THEN TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!”

A fiery gaze ignited in her best friend’s rosewood-coloured irises and it frightened Yume more than the unfair battle she had been roped into. Yume could sense some pent-up rage rolling like heatwaves from the swift change in Rosiel’s stance. It encouraged Yume to zero in on the way her arm was pulled back, the blade of the naginata now pointed up at the ceiling instead.

Yume’s jaw tightened at a sudden thought, one where a figure closed the gap with a flashy twirl of both body and weapon.

This was a form of distraction.

Rosiel executed the predetermined steps flawlessly, using the tips of her toes to guide her closer to her frightened friend. If it wasn’t for the dangerous naginata propelling at an immense speed, Yume might have found herself applauding her best friend’s performance.

She scrunched her face with an exasperated whine, trying to remind herself that BFF did not stand for Best Foe Forever. She analyzed her opponent’s moves and concluded that Rosiel will strike diagonally. If Yume wanted to close the distance, she just had to make sure to grab the right part of the pole.

Miss it, and that’s goodbye to thy precious fingers.

Rosiel’s distracting display ceased only for a split second before she cried out. The pink-haired woman brought her bladed pole down, but Yume managed to catch the staff just short of its blade. The two tugged on the weapon, but Yume’s sudden strength caught Rosiel by surprise, sending them spinning.

Yume harshly pulled Rosiel in, jabbing the blunt end of her kunai into her sternum. Rosiel choked at the sudden force, but her grip remained tight on her weapon. “So you still have it in you, huh?”

Yume cocked her head at the question and missed the way Rosiel shifted her weight. The shorter of the two sunk her foot into the back of her friend's knees, which reminded Yume of how she did the same to Kaito at the warehouse.

Dammit, not this again…

The passing thought left Yume vulnerable to yet another attack that nearly sent her over the edge of the block. She didn’t want to fight her own best friend, but Rosiel was leaving her with no choice with the persistent attempts at her life.

“Focus on me, focus on the fight! Stop thinking about everything else!”

Yume kicked herself up in time, dodging the next upwards strike. She was more shocked to find that nothing in her body had given out yet, despite the erratic breathing. 

Rosiel finally stopped in her tracks, scowling even more than ever as she angrily chucked her naginata over the platform without so much as batting an eye.

“Fine, you won’t use your dai-kunai? Prove to me with your bare hands that you still have it in you to be the damn captain!”

Yume glanced down at the saw-toothed throwing knife in her loose grip, now tasked with weighing whether she would fare better against the competent fighter without any backup.

Rosiel scoffed. “You leave us for three whole months to get married and to live your happy fantasy on some stupid little honeymoon. Now that you’re back, you’re still doting on your civilian husband instead of returning to your duties.”

“I-I’m not doting on Sylas! I don’t know what duties you want me to return to—why are you so hellbent on this?”

“Because I’m not fit to be the captain, Yume! Being a leader was never my strong suit, and you just left the entire Compound in my hands, leaving me to be your stand-in. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but those are some pretty big shoes to fill.”

Yume remained still, the words slowly registering in her frazzled mind. The kunai sat idly in her hand as she pieced everything with Rosiel together, so that’s what this is all about?

Rosiel continued her belligerent rant, showing abhorrence towards Fujioka in particular who seemed to have a hard time accepting orders from the current captain. As Rosiel’s voice finally slowed, Yume tossed the throwing knife between her hands, appreciating the brief pause in their fight.

“Trust my instincts, right?” Yume murmured, chucking her weapon over the platform as well. “Fine.”

This stopped Rosie short of her rant, gauging Yume as she took a deep breath, eyes closed as if she was collecting her patience.

Of all the close encounters and fights she’s had in the last eight hours, Yume decided to trust herself. Not because her best friend kept demanding it, but because she didn’t quite believe her body would fail her. At least, not after all these… Weird instances.

“I'd prefer not to fight with you, Ro, but if this is what you want, I’ll indulge you this time.”

Rosiel smirked at the familiar nickname, dropping into another stance with her fists held out in front of her. “Finally…”

The pair continued to skirmish around for the next half an hour, making use of the vast space and the floating platforms for their game of cat and mouse.

Yume stopped trying to run from Rosiel, now fully engaged in the hand-to-hand combat so confidently, it was almost as though she had trained professionally for this moment. Her movements started to seem more familiar to her as they occurred naturally. There was little thought behind her choice in attacks since she was able to foreshadow Rosiel’s moves. They were like instructions for her.

At some point, Rosiel called for a change in the level of the platforms. They start to shift and move in varying directions with a set time that neither bothered to count.

Back on the ground, Rosiel rushed in on the discarded weapons, hurling Yume’s saw-toothed dai-kunai in her direction, “You’re getting too comfortable, don’t be afraid to hurt me.”

Yume caught the throwing knife with ease, spinning it around her index before she tucked it into her dominant grip. Rosiel lost her naginata within minutes of Yume joining her on a new platform.

She was less peeved than the taller woman expected. If anything, she was smiling from ear to ear—all while ducking under the directed slashes from the knife.

“So when can we stop— Oof!”

The shorter woman lunged at Yume, taking her wrist hostage in an attempt to knock the kunai out of her hands against the transparent surface. Yume struggled against the weight of Rosiel sitting on her legs while dodging her blows. She twisted back and forth until she gained enough momentum to nudge Rosiel off, sending the two of them on their sides.

“Sorry, Rosie,” Yume inhaled through her gritted teeth, pulling her legs up to her chest between them.

Yume didn’t expect Rosiel to sustain much damage from her kick, but she had poorly misjudged her strength, sending her best friend into the padded wall of the training room. Rosiel landed on the sparring mats with a heavy thud.

Yume rushed to the edge, peering down at her friend who remained unmoving, face firm into the mats below, “Bolts, Rosie! Rosie are you okay?”

Rosiel slowly raised her head, croaking out one final command. "End… program.”

“Wha— Hey!”

The platform beneath Yume vanished at her words, dropping the unsuspecting woman four metres onto the mat next to her best friend. Both women simultaneously groan from their impacts. Sweat droplets collected in Yume's hairline before she could lazily wipe at it.

“You really couldn’t have given me a warning first?” she panted between her choked words.

Rosiel chuckled into the mat as she slowly flipped herself over to stare up at the bright ceiling, hissing at the pain. “You’re a fat liar, Kagehisa. Yume’s not weak.”

Yume tilted her head back against the mat at the odd words. The blond man was standing at the resurrected console unit, arms crossed over his chest.

He tapped his foot against the mat, an unimpressed look rested upon his rather angelic features at the accusation, “I never said she was weak. I said she wasn’t ready to return to her position, there’s a difference.”

Rosiel let out a long yawn in response before pushing herself up to rest against her heels. She huffed on the stray cotton candy fringe tickling her eyelashes before glaring at the blond.

“You saw her. Aside from the initial hesitancy, her physical abilities are fine.”

“It’s not just about Yume’s physical abilities, Rosie.”

A thick tension blanketed the training room, leaving Yume to feel excluded as they argued about her like she wasn’t present and in pain. Yume brushed her hands and left Rosie's side, walking into a stretch that would ease the residual ache in her back and her shoulders.

Kagehisa turned his attention to Yume as she picked up her throwing knife and her forgotten socks. “You wanted to talk to me?”

He nudged his head towards the door, stepping out without any parting words for Rosie. Yume bowed to her best friend, leaving the knife in her care before catching up to Kagehisa.