Chapter 6:

chemical composition of an otome game

A Study on the Stand-In Love Interest

Even with a darker setting like this, Orion thought wearily, the flood-torn landscape was a little too detailed for an otome game.

Halie remained mostly silent on their journey, aside from being an occasional tour guide and relishing in his incompetence. It gave him the opportunity to take in everything at his own pace.

Every pool of water they came across, no matter how small, was always carefully and meticulously roped off like a warning. Orion knew better now to heed that warning. Even with waterproof boots, gloves, and a raincoat, he was never going to willingly spend more than three seconds near the contaminated water ever again.

The great flooding took place several decades ago, scarring the land with its flesh-eating water (“first of all that’s completely wrong?” Halie had said indignantly before launching into a graphic description of exactly how the contaminated water ate the human flesh). The water of death that remained now was just runoff, remnants of an apocalypse that had ended a long time ago. How long would it take for the world to return to normal again?

Even Halie didn’t have the answer to that.

As the cityscape on the horizon drew nearer, rubble turned to ruins turned to partly-intact buildings sinking into the ground. The more obvious it was that the floodwater had left behind the wreckage of a destroyed civilization, the heavier each step felt. Once, Orion had thought this setting was pretty cool, especially for a genre that wasn’t even his thing. But then he saw a tattered stuffed bunny peeking out from under a pile of rocks, and something in his heart wrenched.

He pressed on, letting the rubble on the landscape blur into the distance, where it clashed against the faint orange sky.


“It’s clay,” Halie said matter-of-factly. “You can probably guess where it’s from.”

There were heaps of it as they approached the outskirts of the city, flat ground transforming into what looked like piles of sand and Orion could barely see the shape of the ruined buildings buried underneath. But it wasn’t sand at all—the ground was much softer, the soles of his boots sinking slightly with every step. But like sand, there was an odd uniformness to it, as if the surface was painted in a single colour.

A deep orange, reflecting the unchanging sky.

“Clay,” Orion repeated, doing a slow, awkward spin to get the full panoramic view of everything around him. Halie made a small noise under her breath that sounded like a cross between a muffled scream and a cough, and he turned sharply to her.

“That was…oh my god, that was so cute,” she said, gaping at him like she was studying him under a microscope. “Orion Magnaolia, my beloved. That little twirl. Oh my god. I can’t.”

“Affection levels have increased to 6%.”

Orion nearly choked. He was no stranger to fangirls—a number of his coworkers spent their breaks squealing over their favourite characters exactly like that. But having it directed to him…well, not exactly, but it felt every bit as uncomfortable as he expected.

And he didn’t know what to feel about the rising affection levels that resulted from that. Wasn’t this basically cheating? But it was better than her complaining about everything he said. If it made her happy, he could use this. Probably.

With a sigh, Orion shook his head to dislodge the hair getting in his eyes, trying to remember what he was thinking about before he got sidetracked.

Right. Clay. Why did that sound so familiar?

“The water is contaminated with a substance that binds to the cell membrane to breach the lysosome, rapidly initiating cell death. Plants, insects, and soils can be similarly decomposed at an accelerated rate. 

The process then forms a compound similar to orthosilicic acid, redepositing silica regardless of the original composition or biological source. This phenomenon is comparable to biomineralization in nature.”

Thanks, very helpful. Orion barely understood any of it, even though he could still see the lasting afterimage of the wall of text in the back of his mind. What was he supposed to do, recite it out loud to impress the girl?

“Silica…?” he said aloud, pulling one of the few words that he actually knew out of all of that. That was the stuff in those little packets to keep things dry, right?

Halie nodded vigorously. “So you were listening to what I was saying! Silica is one of the main components of clay. You know, that clay. ‘Cause the flood deleted everything, and turned it all to clay.”

Orion slowed, a strange feeling building in his chest as he glanced down at the crumbling clay coating his boots. In the orange light, it was almost the colour of rust—the colour of blood.

“There's a compound that binds to organic matter dissolved in the groundwater, which decomposes the flesh and recomposes it into clay. Pretty neat, right?”

His stomach lurched. In the next moment, he tripped over his own foot, fell flat on his face, and nearly swallowed a mouthful of clay, like it was a divine punishment or something. He spent the next five minutes retching and gagging and trying not to think about anything while Halie patted him gently on his back.

It was an uncharacteristically kind gesture, because there was a part of him that expected her to stand over him and just laugh. She seemed like the type, but maybe he was too quick to judge.

“Oh, Orion,” she was murmuring, stroking his shoulder. “You’ll be okay.”

“Affection levels have increased to 8%.”

Yeah, no. He could tell she was pretending he was Magnaolia again.

Well, two could play at that game. As he spat out the taste of clay and wiped his mouth, he imagined the gentle hand on his back was Eilah’s. Truthfully, she wouldn’t do something like this for Orion Magnaolia, either. She was always so careful to avoid taking away what was rightfully the heroine’s, staying an arm’s length away from the love interests.

But right now, outside of the fringe of the city, it was just the two of them here.

“Affection levels have increased to 10%. Halie Viriadian is the protagonist.”

Way to ruin the mood. Orion spat on the ground again, weakly. His mouth was too dry to produce enough spit to get rid of the metallic taste seeping into his throat. He tried not to gag as he exhaled a shallow, shaky breath.

“Better? You do realize it’s not allllll corpses, right?” Halie drawled, and the hand on his back was starting to feel more threatening than comforting. “Soil. Plants. The timber used to construct homes. Even poop.”

Orion felt like throwing up again, but her smug grin made that feeling go away. Just a bit.

“An apocalypse happened, remember?” she reminded him. “This is what it means to live in a world that’s still trying to recover from a disaster. Grit your teeth and bear with it.”

Despite everything, Orion could not help but recall that Eilah had said something similar once. That was why she was such a ray of light, in a world that was slowly healing from the damage of the floods. How could someone like that ever be a villainess?

He supposed that didn’t matter anymore.

This backdrop—it was something Orion had always wanted to know more about when he was reading the webcomic. And he got what he wanted. Flesh-eating water, the corpses of their ancestors turned to dust at their feet, and an eternally orange sky. And in the midst of it all, there was a sweet love story between Halie and four handsome men who only had eyes for her.

How in the ever-loving hell were these people able to focus on romance in this kind of setting?!

“The other love interests,” Orion said abruptly, standing up. “What are you going to do about them?”

The last thing he wanted was to have to fight them for Halie’s affection like in the comic. He had the upper hand right now, with Magnaolia’s face and all. But once the other dudes started to seriously try to win her heart with all the genuine adoration of a 2D character written to fall in love, would Halie still choose him?

“What am I going to do?” she said, giving him an exasperated look. “Nothing, of course. I’ve played their routes already, why should I play them IRL too?”


“But those guys have to fall in love with you,” Orion said. “You’ll reject them, just like that?”

She really liked Orion Magnaolia that much to cast aside the rest of her anime boy harem? Aside from gushing over his face, it didn’t seem like she had any feelings for him at all.

Halie sighed. “Relax. They don’t have to fall in love with me. You read too many otome villainess manga.”

It was his coworkers that read too much manga, but Orion kept his mouth shut. No need to waste the affection levels he worked so hard for just to refute her. Still, the more he learned about this otome game, the more confused he felt. What kind of broken dating sim was this if those guys weren’t going to be head over heels for her?

Well, that worked in his favour. For the first time since waking up here, he was glad to have been transported to this world as Orion Magnaolia.

Lucid Levia
Dhamas Tri (dmz)
MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon