"A judgement? What judgement?"
Nao's voice echoed through the room and the dark tunnel. She was confused.
"Kuro? Why are you a... skull?"
"This is my true self. Just a skull. That's how miserable your subconsciousness is."
Nao was dumbfounded.
"But why are you a skull? What does that mean?"
"Your stress, your fears, your tears, your sadness, and all your pain. Your memories. They're all inside of me. You're a sad sack. You're a pathetic human being. No wonder you're so lonely. You're a failure. You can't even protect yourself. You're not even good enough to die."
Nao was surprised.
"That's how strong your negative emotions are. The weak are always defeated. You're not even worth dying for. You're a waste of life. You're a parasite that will never succeed. All of these negative emotions were devouring my body, turning me into a skull. And now they've reached their peak. Now I'm a skull. A mere skull. Do you understand what this means?"
Nao wasn't able to process what was happening.
"At least, as a part of you, I have the right to influence you. To make you change. Right now, you're in such a bad state. You're so depressed, you're so hopeless, you feel like you're worthless, you're so lonely."
Kagami appeared at the scene in front of Nao. She was wearing a black dress with an elegant design.
She stood like a doll with her arms crossed over her chest. Her eyes were closed and her pale white skin had the look of porcelain. She wasn't moving even for an instant.
It made Nao wonder if she was even breathing.
"Everyone deserves happiness. Everyone has dreams. You've got potential. You're special. But you're just too weak. You're scared. Scared of everything. You can't stand people's hypocritical opinions and judgements and hate them for what they say behind your back. You're afraid of failure and terrified of not having any friends." Kuro continued talking.
Nao was speechless.
"Don't worry. I don't care about your failures and I don't give a damn about your weaknesses or fears. I just want you to live. I'm going to help you accomplish your goals. I'll show you how easy it is to achieve your dreams."
Nao was still speechless.
Kagami suddenly opened her eyes.
She looked down at Nao and started walking towards her.
Nao couldn't take her eyes off Kagami's face.
"I'll show you how to conquer your fears. How to stand up to people. How to fight. I'll teach you everything you need to know. Everything you can do to overcome your fears. And you'll become stronger. Stronger than you ever imagined possible. And when you get there, you'll realize that you're amazing and that you deserve better. You'll learn how to accept yourself. And you'll be happy."
Nao had no idea what was happening. As Kagami moved closer to her, Nao felt herself growing weaker and weaker.
She opened her mouth finally, but nothing came out. She was unable to speak.
"You won't speak until I allow it," Kuro said.
He paused for a second, then continued talking.
"You just need to become Kagami. Look at her. Isn't she beautiful? Isn't she perfect? She's a perfect doll. Wouldn't you love to be like her?"
Nao tried to move, but her whole body was numb.
"Kagami is your reflection, your opposite. She's the ideal. The goal. You need to become her and be the slave of the world. You'll obey its rules and follow the path laid out for you by others. You'll be its puppet. And if you're lucky, you might find a purpose in life. With that, you'll forget social anxiety. You won't feel like a failure anymore and you'll stop caring about the stupid things people think about you. You'll start living. Life will become meaningful again. You'll live happily ever after. You'll meet someone nice. Someone who will love you for who you are. You'll find happiness. It's possible. I promise."
Nao kept on trying to talk.
Her voice wouldn't come out.
"You can't speak because you're not allowed to. You only have to make a choice. You can either listen to me or you can go back to that miserable existence where you suffer every single day. Take Kagami's hand and let her take over your body. Let her dominate you. Give in to the darkness. You'll end up getting what you wanted anyway."
Nao was lost.
She didn't know what to do.
All she knew was that her head was spinning.
"Just decide, Nao. Choose to be Kagami. Then you'll be free from all your worries," Kuro continued talking. "Or choose to be Nao. Be the real you. Live the way you want to live. Make your own choices. Your destiny. No one else can decide for you."
The world seemed blurry in Nao's eyes.
"Choose!" Kuro yelled.
She felt a hot tear rolling down her cheek.
It took her a few seconds to realize that she had been crying.
"You can't hide your feelings in the world of dreams. They always show themselves," Kuro said.
Before the perfect doll, Kagami, what did Nao see? What was she thinking about?
What was going through her mind?
She saw herself as Nao, but she also saw herself as Kagami.
And she realized something:
If she could see both of them at the same time...
Then maybe she had become Kagami?
Maybe she was Kagami now?
She turned around and looked at the girl in front of her.
Her heart started racing.
For once in her life, she felt so close to finding the answer.
Nao was finally able to speak.
"Are you real?" She asked.
"Of course I am! Why would you ask such a silly question?" Kuro said with a sarcastic smile on his face. "Do you doubt my existence?"
Nao felt some confidence running through her veins, just like the tears running down her cheeks. She wiped them away and smiled.
She was starting to believe in herself again.
"I," Nao whispered.
"I can do this."
She stood up straight and stared at Kuro.
"I can be strong and defeat my fears."
She paused for a second and then added, "...and I can be both Nao and Kagami!"
Kuro's eyes widened, and he grinned.
"Kagami was never meant to be my opposite. I always blamed the world for making me what I am. I thought I needed to change myself to fit in. But now I understand that it doesn't matter what other people think about me. All that matters is what I think and feel. Because even though they might judge me, the truth is that I'm still the same person inside. They don't define me. The world doesn't define me. Only I do."
Nao felt like she could conquer anything. As she talked, Kuro's appearance was changing. His skull was slowly morphing into a more human-like shape, while his skin and muscles started to appear. He grew taller, and his hair became shorter. And soon enough, he looked like a normal boy.
The dark tunnel disappeared, and the light from the sun shone through the hole.
"I will do everything," Kuro said. "To keep the world where I live happy and safe. The sun doesn't shine in my world when you're depressed."
"I—" Nao started speaking.
But then she stopped.
Why was she stopping?
She wanted to say something important. Something that would change her destiny.
She tried to speak again.
But she couldn't find the words.
She fell silent.
She didn't have the strength to speak.
"Thank you," Kuro said.
The sun's heat slowly grew stronger.
And the gentle wind caressed Nao's cheeks.
"Thank you," Kuro repeated. "It's about time..."
He let out a deep breath.
"Huh?" Nao gasped.
Kuro kept looking at her silently. As time passed by, she started hearing her name being called.
"Nao!" A familiar voice echoed through the air.
She turned around and saw nothing.
Nao stood up and walked towards the sound of the voice, trying to find its source.
"Nao! I am back! Sorry!"
The voice grew stronger and stronger until she finally woke up...
"Nao!" her father's voice echoed throughout the house.
Nao opened her eyes.
Her father was standing next to her bed with a smile on his lips...
"I am back," he said. "Sorry I missed..."
Before he could even finish, she threw herself at him and hugged him tightly.
Her eyes filled with tears, and she began sobbing uncontrollably. Her body shook violently, and she buried her face in his chest...
That day, Nao cried her heart out...