Chapter 1:

Digital Devil Story


God, I love the look.

Just imagine someone walking in on me right now. My phone’s in the corner, screen on full brightness so I can still find it if I look down, as it’s sending a signal straight to the buds in my ears. These cheap little things blare music louder than a damn Rob Zombie concert straight into my brain (Hellbilly Deluxe level at least) and they won’t fall out no more cause I taped ‘em in there this time. In the meanwhile, my TV’s on too. The room would be pitch-black, but then my VISTA wouldn’t be able to see where I was in regards to it, and I couldn’t play. But the white bulbs over my head would look like a doctor’s office, so’s why I got the TV looped on the seizure-lookin’ scene sixty minutes into End of Eva. In practice, it’s about the same as havin’ strobes or those strips of LED lights on your walls, ‘cept this don’t make me look like a fuckin’ twitch streamer.

Then there’s my headpiece. You can’t just own one of these quite yet- not as a respectable person, anyway. It’s either a conversation starter used by weirdos with too much disposable income or you’re a real hobbyist like me. Can’t believe my mom let me get the drills for it. Trepanation ain’t cheap, but when your F-student daughter makes all A’s for a semester, you gotta do something to reward her. 

I wouldn’t normally want any sticks going into me, but I must admit, the feeling of two metal rods penetrating my forehead is pretty sick. As the screens cover my eyes, the many thin vibrating links delving further into my head let what I imagine must be my nigh-exposed brain know everything they can’t, like the feel of Dylan’s body as I punch his avatar, or the faint smell of smoke coming from the virtual gun in my other hand.

 Yeah, I’m all set here. I’d look super cool. Not to mention I don’t got clothes on. Not an exhibitionist, just tryna bring the Elfen Lied or Ghost in the Shell image of a crazy naked bitch with wires coming out her ass into a reality. Course, a VISTA wouldn’t normally have wires, but I got a few add-ons so mine stands out. Mainly the high-density cable I hooked up to the PC in my ceiling so I can get a higher resolution. The performance boost’s incredible, and the rig hardly even limits my movement. It’s great!

Inside the VR headset, I’m looking at the temple again. This is where we always play. Where we always go. Not ‘cause it’s the best map in the game or anything, but ‘cause it’s my project. And if it works, I gotta be here to see it.

“Molly!” The girl in front of me says, his voice artificially echoing across the virtual surface as his mic picks it up and sprays it to me. I can hardly hear him with the Trial of the Golden Witch that’s pumping through my eardrums right now, but I’m used to this sort of thing. “Any signs of uh, progress…?”

“No, not really.” I relay. “Did another ritual last night though and I think I shut the servers down for a second.”

“Bullcrap. As if Lilith or whatever had anything to do with nuking a VRchat server.” The bleeding anime girl in front of me says, recovering painlessly from our last duel.

“Invoking Hecate now, actually. And again, you gotta remember we ain’t exactly playing VRchat at this point.”

“Even if it's modded, it’s still the same game, right? Not like we actually did much.”

“That’s what you think.” I suppress a cackle. “But you’ll see any day now… this PSICO shit works, I’m tellin’ ya. Soon enough, Elopas will be real as you and me. Maybe more.”

It’s been two months since Dylan and I joined a niche community of people experimenting with running a VRchat server on a PSICO biocomputer located somewhere in New York. Those things are so powerful, some deviants like me across the net think they might be able to use code to influence the physical world. Dylan isn’t one of those deviants, but as his childhood friend, I’ve taken the liberty of wrapping him up in my conspiracy. It would just be a basic tech geek thing, but I’ve thrown my witchcraft into the mix to make the situation that much more insane. Will it get me any closer to accomplishing my goal? Fuck if I know, but there’s no use in not trying. I swear to god I will become a real-life Akemi Nakajima one way or another.

“I still don’t understand what exactly you’re even trying to do.” He shrugs. Ohhh Dylan. Poor, sweet, innocent Dylan. Even after all these many years by my side, he is still but a child. I figure I’ll indulge him in explaining it once more, if only so he will later be able to grasp the full breadth of my accomplishment when I achieve it. “I am creating the ultimate art. A piece of fiction that exists in our corporeal world, a person who is also a story.”

“And you’re doing this… through a video game.” He doubts. Very well then, Dylan. Just you wait. Your skepticism only serves to drive me.

“Anyway, I should probably get off.” The now healed but contorted body of an anime girl speaks as he lies his controllers down on the ground, elongating her arms unnaturally as the rig curls up into a strange flesh orb. “We still got school tomorrow.”

“Ha!” I tease. “Sleep if you must. I will remain in this reality. She will be brought to fruition, I swear it.”

“Yeah, okay. Whatever. Goodnight, Molly.” He glitches out, his avatar ceasing to exist. I half-despise him for taking me out of my fantasy. The hard truth is that even though right now I’m a total newtype cyberjunkie, I’m still a high school senior living in the disappointing future year of 2023. I can make it work, telling myself I fall into the trope of being a normal student by day and a total badass by night, but really, I’m just a student full-time who happens to have strange aesthetic sensibilities and is a little too into VR games. Of course, that dream of being Iwakura Lain doesn’t have to end just yet. I turn my earbuds off, but don’t remove them, as I still want the sound reduction. I approach the magic circle at the center of the map, surrounded by prefabs of every occult object I could find on Sketchfab or convince Wire to model for me, and sit cross-legged in front of the ritual space.

I meditate for a few minutes. Then, I begin to manifest her.

As a kid, I always wished I could live inside my favorite anime or something. I thought it was so boring how in the real world, you couldn’t do so much as have a Pokémon battle. Not a real one, at least. I thought long and hard about what it would be like to live in a world where you could. Why did it seem so amazing to me? If Ash Ketchum saw our world, what would he think about it? Would he feel the same as I do? Nobody here cares about anything as much as the people in his world care about Pokémon. We really have no equivalent to that. The only things certain in life are death, taxes, and wishing you were anywhere or anyone else than you are right now.

Elopas is what would make this life worth living. She’s what would make it special, for me, at least. She’s my life’s work and everything I hold dear. I can hardly remember much of my life up until the point four months ago when I started trying to manifest her. So little happened. So little mattered. I didn’t understand a thing going on around me, and sure as shit didn’t care to in the first place. I wasn’t really alive yet. That wasn’t my life. This… this is my life. This is what I’m working towards.

She will be beautiful, and she will be everything. She will be god, satan, and my bride. She will be an idea turned into a body, a painting turned into a brain. The ultimate art, Elopas. A living story.

It came to me in a dream. She was there, in a field that looked like the Windows background. I can hardly remember what she looked like now, but I’ll never forget her name. She didn’t say it herself. Rather, I looked at her, and understood. Elopas was the name of my dream. And somewhere out there, in some dimension, or even created by my own will… she has to exist. I know she does.

It’s time. Tonight, I can feel it. Calling upon the goddess Hecate in my heart, I open the source code in front of me. I take in as much of it as possible, the information density enrapturing me as my mind stretches to comprehend and remember it all. Like Father Pucci recounting prime numbers, I recite it… all the laws of the fake world I inhabit, laid out in human language… what a powerful feeling.


But before I can get too far in, I hear her calling out to me. She has already found me, and I have finally realized we were both looking for each other all along. Of course. When a string is pulled, whatever’s on the other side has to feel it eventually, even if it is countless miles or another reality away. Why would I want her so much if she didn’t in turn feel the same way of me? Of this world? That’s it- she wishes to be summoned. Our dreams are two sides of a single sheet of paper, only now being folded, reuniting us into the complete whole we were always meant to be. This is my destination. This is my destiny.

“Molly… goooo tooo bedddd….”

I curse my own obsessed stupidity. That is not the divine call of Elopas, but rather the mocking tone of my mother Elaine, goofier than usual for some reason as she makes a bad impression of a vengeful Elopas-hating spirit. In shame, I decide to admit defeat for now and rest up to try again tomorrow.

“Sorry.” I lie. “‘Night.”

I remove the plugs from the holes in my forehead, taking the VISTA off my face. It would be chrome silver, but there’s so many stickers on it now that it doesn’t particularly register as any one color. The giant metal skull prongs are thankfully all clean this time. My surgery’s more than healed, so not even a bit of blood on my tech today. They say you’re supposed to insert covers into the holes when you’re not playing, but I want people to be able to tell what I’m into from a glance, so I never bothered buying them, unlike my cowardly underlings.

Pulled from my sacred temple, I can now see the familiar room outside me. It looks like a bomb went off in here, just in the direct center of the room so that everything got pushed to the sides and stuck there. The space in the center of the sanctuary is for VR and VR only, so it’s spotlessly neat- not a thing to run into and the carpet there is significantly more worn than the rest of the cramped bedroom, which is a mess of wires, books, games, consoles, and Blu-Ray cases. I dive into bed. Never slept in the nude before, so I’m excited to get at least one new experience for the day. At midnight, I lay down my head, and by four, my thoughts have calmed down enough to where I can manage to fall asleep.

One hour later, I’m up again. “Time for school, bitch.” my brain prods me. I check my calendar to see when I last faked sick. Shit. It’s really only been eight days? Hardly have any excused absences left. Might have to consider actually skipping for once… but that can wait. I’ll tough it out, for today. I’m a tough girl. I can take it. I’m the best there is. My hand’s on the wardrobe. What’s it gonna be today? Working with a clean slate here. Underwear- green. I love green. Color of my soul, green. It’s the color of circuit boards. The color of tennis courts. More tennis balls if we’re talking about this shade. Christ, I don’t even like tennis. What am I thinking about? It’s 5:30. I stop caring so much. Player One color it is, then. I draw for my default outfit, a pair of black tights to go under my bulky cargo shorts that I for one think pair quite well with my lime tank and black arm socks. You gotta admit it’s a look. I wish cybergoth was still a thing, though I’d sooner die than be born in a generation other than this one.

I always make the mistake of brushing my teeth after I dress. S’why I try to match what I wear with what I scrub- the green mint toothpaste is hardly visible on my top. I don’t do makeup (can’t risk any getting on the VISTA) but I peek in the mirror before I go. My hair’s dyed that exact same eye-bleedingly acidic shade of green, and as I smile, I see my face curl up into this look of mischievous joy it always does whenever I’m well and truly ready for something. Yep, still me. God, I love this bitch.

I slip on my crocs as I step out the door (guess what color they are) and follow Elaine to the car. “No, I don’t drive. Yes, I call my parents by their first names. No, it’s not out of spite. Yes, I do know you’re watching me.” I think to the fake audience in my head. I would be my own favorite character if I was in anything. Kinda wish I was in something. I mean, my thoughts could easily fill a book- no, a game script. If I could only code everything I thought automatically, I’d have a full trilogy of groundbreaking immersive sims made every afternoon. Sure, they might not be any good, but I can think of a few people who’d at least play them out of morbid curiosity. My choice of music for the car ride is Clown Core and my choice of view is directly behind the car, watching things as we pass them. I always try not to think too hard about how close we are to getting there. The only things that stand out to me on the way there are a sex shop and a few graveyards. If this was a different route than usual, I wouldn’t even know.

Even then, it’s over in a second. After all, if I’m moving, my endless thoughts always seem to pass the time faster. But as soon as I’m sitting down, they drag it out to turn the hours into days. Not peaceful Sundays, but more like Mondays in a courtroom. A really loud courtroom. Full of pretentious lesbians with green hair who all look, and sound, exactly like me.

“Molly Hitchcock.”

The classroom is laid out straight like in an anime. I wish I had a window seat. Then again, I guess that would be too “normal” for someone so protagonist-y. I’m too weird for that. I’d be like, the antihero of antiheros. The punk of punks. But if that were the case, wouldn’t it be more punk to have the window seat anyway despite my archetype? Fat lot of good it does thinking about it. Nope, today I’m dead in the middle of the room, sitting by Dylan, the quiet, annoying boy in a maroon hoodie twice my height trying to pull on my shoulder, except not actually touching me ‘cause he’s too shy to poke a girl even though he inhabited the digital body of one not six hours ago. What an asshole. If you want my attention, just yell at me or some shit. I ain’t your mom.

“Molly Hitchcock.”

I bolt up as my full name suddenly appears from Mr. Palpe’s mouth. The fuck? I didn’t deserve this! It’s the start of the day! Ah, Jesus this sucks. This sucks ass. This just-

“I-I-I’m here..! S-s…..sorry.”

“I tried to tell you he was calling on you, but you didn’t…” Dylan starts. I don’t care. I was not distracted. I was just… being a rebel. Yeah, a rebel. I’m a tough bitch. A real hardass. Gotta put the teacher in his place sometimes, you know…

“Next time, how’s about you listen to your friend there? Seems like he was trying to help you out.”

The whole class laughs. UGH. Day RUINED. I better summon Elopas tonight or I’m for SURE skipping school tomorrow. That’s a Wednesday. Best day to skip. Then the two chunks of your week aren’t any longer than your weekend, really. Yeah, that sounds like a plan. After homeroom’s over, I think I’ll-

My thoughts are interrupted again. Everybody’s getting up. Okay, time to go, hup hup. We all grab our bags as we kinda stand by our desks getting “straightened out” or whatever and then move ahead to the door waiting to be let go.

“That was really fun last night.” Dylan tells me, openly drawing the gazes of many of our nearby classmates as he reflexively adjusts his dark bangs. “T-the game. We played. I mean.”

“Yeah. Mhm.” I respond as jaggedly as possible, staring daggers at the wall. Sometimes I wonder if I’m bullying Dylan, but I think I’ve known him long enough to were that ship has sailed. This is just our dynamic at this point.

“You… got your next class with Wire?” He asks shyly, as if it’s an affront to speak to me two times in a row. “He said… he uh, had some “intel” for you…”

“Yeah, I’ll catch up with him there. You need me to give him any love poems or anything?”

“I told you I’m not gay!”

“Yeah sure, and I know how to dress. See ya at lunch, Dill.”

Exiting the class without another word, I’m stuck behind the massive wave of people who got out the door first. This wall of flesh clogging the hallway is pretty suffocating for someone coming in around 5’2”, but I kinda dig it. Feels sorta like I’m on a different plane of existence than everyone else… which I guess I might as well be.

Math class is a different story from the home room layout. Ms. Junes is windowphobic and the desks aren’t lined up anyway, just kinda laid all about the place, some pushed together to make groups. One such group is at the very back and consists of two seats- one empty, one filled by the first student to get to class- this lanky, (though not particularly tall) glasses-adjusting, nerd-lookin’ nerd of a nerd. But like, in a cool way. This is one nerd-ass motherfucker. He’ll grow up to look like a twink Gendo Ikari, more likely than not. This’s Wire. My guy. My man.

“So how’s it goes?” I slide into the seat next to him, looking down to see the same black pants and white polo as always, the only color on him hidden in the cyan frames of his glasses just below his partially-shaved, no-upkeep-needed “hairdo.”

“Not any one way in particular. I do have the intel you’ve been informed of, though.” He lets me know in a tone that would be pretty soft were it not for his flat-out tropey smart-guy radio chatter inflection.

“So what is it?“ I ask immediately. “Stuff for Elopas?”

“Precisely.” He answers plosively. “Somebody in this very school is correctly in possession of an indispensable tool for your project.”

“You don’t mean a…”

“Yes. The target has a Maxfeel, just like you’ve been searching for.”

“No fucking way.” I’d have gasped if me and Wire weren’t both such fast talkers. “What’s a high-schooler doing with an illegal chip?”

“You say that, but nobody’d bat an eye if they knew about you having them.”

“Well, a normal high-schooler. Didn’t think anyone else was as crazy as me.”

“Don’t call yourself “crazy,” it’s embarrassing.”

“Sorry. So, what’s this kid’s name? You… want anything in return for all the intel, by the way?”

“No, I don’t care.” I knew he’d respond like that, I just feel bad not asking. Guess I should be over that guilt by now after he did all my schoolwork for a whole semester to get me that VISTA, just for the hell of it. “Her name is Debby Vincent.”

“What’s she look like?”

“Oh, yes... I almost forgot that you don’t know much of anyone here. She is most easily identified by her purple clothing and the crutch she always uses. I am not aware of what injury or disability she has sustained. If you would like her detailed physical information, her hair and skin are black, her eyes are brown, and…”

“That’s fine, thanks. I think I can spot her. What grade?”

“Junior. You may need to do some class-hopping. I’m sure you still have the document, it won’t be hard to find her.”

“Shit… ah, alright.”

“You really hate breaking the rules, don’t you?”

“It’s just… embarrassing, is all. Getting caught.”

“So don’t. You could easily pass as a freshman. Just go blend in. Despite your unique appearance, hardly anyone knows who you are here.”

“True.” I say. “Okay then. Thanks again Wire. I’m out.”

“Good luck.” He wishes me as I stand, swallowing hard. Time to get that Maxfeel.

The VISTA headset, developed by multimedia supercompany FRiDAY, is a modular system capable of many things its creators may have not necessarily intended. Custom-made chips and software mods are everywhere, some technically legal, many not. It’s pretty clear the CEO, Martin Tollbridge, hates the things, but that’s really only ‘cause people like me use ‘em to bypass his mandatory integration between the headset and his social media platform FRiDAYLaND. It’s an open secret it tracks you, and though I don’t have much to lose from that, it would go against my personal values (my aesthetic) to let a megacorp use me for my information. Anyway, that’s to say Martin probably doesn’t even specifically know what a Maxfeel is and probably wouldn’t care if he did. Only reason they’re illegal’s ‘cause the legislation hates fun. All it does is amplify the biorhythmic capabilities of the headset’s skull prongs to such a degree that not only can you feel outside objects in the virtual world, but your own virtual body as well. So if your avatar’s got a tail or something, you can really feel it attached to you, like it’s really there- your body becomes whatever you want it to be, tricking your senses perfectly. As such, its only real demographic is trans people (instant body dysphoria relief) and VR addicts like me who are way too deep into the hobby. Wonder which this “Vincent” kid fits into.

I ask the teacher for the bathroom. The less you do it, the more it works. As someone who never invites attention from even my instructors, they let me leave without a second thought. I speed-walk out of the room and open my phone. Wire got me set up last week with a spreadsheet of everyone in the school’s schedule. It was originally so I could track down a kid who supposedly stole one of Dylan’s bags, but it turned out he’d just lost it. Here’s hoping this mission actually comes up with some results. After much anxiety-inducing scrolling, I find the info I need- Debby should be in class 1108 right now, Ms. Jackson’s first-period Economics. I hop down the stairs to get there, making my way down as fast as I can without tripping or catching someone’s attention.

The whole reason I want this chip so damn bad is because it might just be the closest I’ll get to summoning Elopas in the event a digital-to-real world incarnation just isn’t physically possible. Even if that’s the case, my hypothesis is that this chip would let me have Elopas- even if she were just a digital conscience- influence and take over a human body, like possession. Maybe it’s far-fetched, and I dunno who the sacrifice would be, but it at least sounds more reliable than my main method. If you really want something, after all, you gotta be ready to try everything to get it. And I want Elopas more than anything.

I find the class at the back of a hall, just beside a corner. After double-checking the number on the door, I slip in. They’re talking. Nobody notices at first. Not even the student in the back holding onto a crutch as they stare out the window longingly. Well, would you look at that? There’s the real protagonist, I chuckle to myself. Found you. I walk up to the seat, putting my hand on it. I don’t intend to take the thing by force… just charisma.

“Hey there. Sheesh, look at you. Can I ask how you feel about girls? Specifically the standing-right-in-front-of-you variety? Cause I’m quite fond of the sitting-right-in-front of me variety of whatever you might be.”

“Uh…” my kouhai starts to blush. Gotcha. Wait, no. Their mouth downturns. It’s not arousal, just embarrassment. Shit. I shot my shot, now time to state my business….

“So. You got the Maxfeel chip on you?”

Their eyes spark. Uh oh. The junior clutches onto the crutch and pushes me away, hobbling straight across the room and out the door. They’re proficient with the thing, heading far out of sight in moments. I dash to catch up.

“Hey!” I order, gaining on them quick. I don't care how much taller you are than me, being restricted to one functioning leg is a major disadvantage. I get right up to their back, stretching out my hand to pull on the cut of their purple polo shirt-

“Dammit!” The panicked voice of the student ahead bursts.

Clattering metal falls below me.

The crutch descends to the ground. The target flees on both legs, far outpacing me.

What the shit?

I get Wire on the phone.

“CHARLIE! We’ve got an unexpected conundrum here! The bitch- the bastard’s got two of ‘em!”

“Two of what? Don’t forget I’m in class right now, Molly.” He whispers, lacking any of my urgency.

“LEGS! Working legs, Wire! They ain’t hurt or disabled or nothing!”

“I see. Why don’t I call Dylan for you? He’s the muscle of the group. I don’t see how my brains are supposed to solve the issue of your speed on such short notice.”

“What are you, my receptionist? F-Fine! Just get him here, stat!”

In the meantime, I try to keep up with my underclassman so I can keep an eye on their position until Dylan arrives. All the while, I look to the classes to the left and right of me. Some of the doors are open. The longer I chase this person, the more likely I’ll get spotted. And I do not want that.

“Hey! You! Vincent! Slow down! Lemme talk to ya!”

“I don’t know you! I don’t know you!”

“I said stop! We gotta talk!”

“This chip… it’s mine! I won’t let you have it!”

They turn a corner faster than the guy from Initial D. Shit, what was his name? I watched that back in 7th grade… why can’t I remember? It was like, a K… no, a T… wait, fuck, I can’t get distracted now! Where the hell’s Dylan, for crying out loud?!

I turn the same corner. Two way hallway, and they're nowhere in sight. Damn… looks like I actually lost the little bastard. I could go looking one way… but if they took the other, I’m screwed. Either way I won’t have time to get back to Ms. Junes, and I’ll get punished. Maybe it’ll just be an embarrassment… or maybe Elaine will take my VISTA away. Bottom line, mission failed. Better get back to class…

Just then, Dylan’s tall frame walks out of the right hallway, carrying the kid’s crutch and leading them back to me as he nervously holds their shoulder.


“I-I’m sorry… I’m really sorry…” the target whines. Geez. I hate to see ‘em cry like that. Even if it is a little funny after them outpacing me for so long.

“It’s gonna be okay.” Dylan assures them. “Molly’s just… strange, alright? She won’t hurt you. A-And neither will I. Obviously.”

“I’m scared… just… why do you want it so bad? Why do you want my Maxfeel?”

“You sure you wanna know?” I question. “It’s pretty complicated. Of course, I was about to ask you the same thing. What’s your reason? You an addict like me? Or…”

“It’s… a secret! It’s… nothing you’d get. It’s… I need it, okay… I need it…”

“Listen… if you don’t wanna be a chick, I really don’t care. You’re not doing a great job hiding it anyway.”

“I-I’m not trans! It’s… it’s worse… oh god… so much worse…”

“Well shit, now you’ve gone and got me interested. You really are bad at this.”

“I’m sorry!” She screeches. “It’s just- I don’t know how to explain! I don’t- I don’t want to explain!”

“Can’t be weirder than my reason.”

“It… can’t?” She asks, tears in her eyes.

“Listen. I hate the whole damn world, cause it’s boring. All I like’s fake shit… nothing but fiction, heaps and heaps of it. One day I’ll have seen it all. So what I wanna do… is work all the meaning of a fiction work into a person. A perfect person- somebody who holds within herself every experience imaginable, and is capable of imparting that meaning on to others. That’s what… a living story would be. And that’s my one true desire… Elopas.”

She laughs.

“That… makes no sense. I don’t even get what you mean by that.”

“I told you it sounded crazy, did I not? Now you wanna spill? I could always help you myself, you know. I’ll admit I’m a bit above the average high schooler in terms of problem-solving.”

“Well… it’s just…”

She cradles… no… strangles her left leg.

“I want it off.”

“You what?”

“My leg. I want it gone.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t… want it.”

She starts cry-laughing.

“Oh… geez… you must t-think I’m crazy, huh…? I’ve never… told anyone… but my therapist! Ha… ha… she knows everything… and nobody else does! Until now… eheheh… I hate the thing… every night… I curl up into a ball.. and hold my thigh like this until the leg loses circulation. I want that chip… so I can feel the body of an avatar without this leg.” She forces out a laugh. “It’s crazy. I’m… crazy. If I’m not crazy… nothing is. Life… life is crazy.”

“You aren’t crazy, dumbass.”

“Huh?” She seems mildly offended.

“Don’t say you're crazy… it’s embarrassing. Anyone saying that can’t possibly have lost it completely.”

“But… I wanna… I want to be disabled!”

“That’s the simplest damn thing I ever heard. Tell you what… I’ll make you a deal. You want that leg off, I’ll cut it off for ya, in exchange for the chip. Then both our dreams… can become reality, and not just in a virtual world. Deal?”

“You’d… do that?”

“Yeah I would. I just said I would. You need me to say it again?”

“No… uh, no! That’s… that’s incredible… I can finally… breathe… I can finally be… me.”

“So can I have it?”

“S-sure. Not like… I even have the headset for it yet anyway.” She puts the small thing in my hand. It’s a nice shade of green… I smile.

“Where the hell did you get something like this?”

“It was… a gift. From a friend of mine.”

“May I have their name?”

“They don’t… live here.”


“They… go by Gormage. Online.”

“I see… thanks for that. We’ll talk again, Debby… when I get that limb off you.”

“Thank you… so much.” She stands back up on her crutch. As I walk back to class, Dylan follows for a bit.

“You really gonna do that for her?”

“Yes, I am. Can’t believe you’d doubt me.”

“Wow… you really are something, Molly.”

“You too, Dill. You too.”

The remainder of Math class is spent with Wire. He already did my work for me before I sat back down, so I don’t have to sweat anything else before the bell. Him and I have a conversation of sorts.

“Do you think secrets make somebody more interesting… or less interesting?” I ask.

“Hm… less. Anybody can say they have a secret. It’s not a real personality trait unless you can see it.”

“I dunno… I kinda love secrets.”

“‘Cause they’re fun?”

“Yeah. ‘Cause they’re fun. You get me, Wire.”

“I know.”

The rest of the day is boring as balls. Heading home’s the only good part of it. On the bus, I’m listening to Kobaryo. Shit, if I I’d had this on during the chase, maybe I’d have caught up to her even without Dylan’s help.

By the time I step up to my front porch and walk back into my front door, Elaine is there impatiently tapping her foot as she waits for my dad to get home and cook dinner.

“How was school?” She asks, a hint of frustration bleeding through in her tone, I guess from work or something.

“Normal.” I answer, before heading up to my room. Should have just enough time to test out this bitch before Huey gets to cookin’.

Lights off. TV on, volume down. Headphones in. Voodoom playing. Headset plugged up and plugged in. Time to do some serious Cathedral of Shadows shit.

The temple itself is quiet outside my music. I stand by the circle and put my chip in. Fuck that’s weird. I feel so warm. My model is now me. I’m so tall it feels gross, and my hands are too big. Wouldn’t be surprised if this is more or less how Debby feels. Makes me wonder why even the furthest reaches of the hobby would do this for kicks. That said… test complete. Now to see… if maybe, just maybe, I can channel her for a bit. I have her in my mind… maybe, if only for a second, I could let her have my body. Then we’d see where we could go from there. It’s a very abruptly formed plan, but… I’m gonna try everything else sooner or later, so why not start with the most obvious thing?

I do my rituals again. Reciting code. Calling out for her in my heart. Wishing her into reality. Just throwing shit at a wall, really. Maybe this is childish, but I’ve convinced myself so deeply in it being possible that there’s no going back now. Elopas is my everything.

I start to feel a cherry blossom in my soul.

What is this… deep, red feeling?

A searing heat… in my chest… no… in my head…

Next to my head.


The chip is smoking. Totally burnt up. I eject it.

“What the…?”

It’s ruined. The circuitry destroyed, and for nothing. How? That doesn’t make sense… I mean, it’s just a microchip I inserted into the port I got Wire to install! What even did this? Fuck…

I curse my whole day away. All I did was for nothing. This really was just another shitty Tuesday.

Before I take the headset off, I look around the temple. This place is so familiar now. And that’s just what I hate about it. Not one thing has changed. Even though the rules of this world are nothing like my own, I haven’t been able to make even the tiniest thing happen here. In that sense, it’s no different from our own reality, despite everything. It’s exactly the fucking same, and I despise it.

Someone giggles behind me.

I rip the headset off so hard that I nearly open my surgery back up.

No one there. Not in the real world.

I desperately cry, shoving the headset back on.


Did I- did I miss her?!

Nothing there.

Still all alone.

But does this mean… was that her?

Could my dream be… real after all?