#1 – Pr
LEVEL 1 : A Whisper, an Aria, a Prayer, an Awakening
It was as if he could hear someone calling to him, and the boy opened his eyes.
It was dark. Nighttime maybe? But it wasn’t pitch black; there was light. A flame—above his head. A flame had been lit. A candle. Not just one candle, but a series of small candles spaced in even intervals in a line along the wall that seemed to stretch on forever. Where was this?
It was hard to breathe for some reason. He touched the wall and found it hard and rough. It wasn’t a wall really, it was rock, and, like what one would expect from sleeping on rocks, his back and bottom were sore. Maybe he was in a cave? It sure felt like it. A cave? Why was he in a cave?
The candles had been placed fairly high above him, but if he stood up and stretched out his hands, he probably would have been able to reach them. However, it was dark enough that he could only see an arm’s length in front of him and almost nothing beneath his feet.
He could sense other presences there with him. If he listened carefully, he could hear the faint sound of breathing. Other people? What would he do if it were something else? He didn’t know but it would be terrible. But in a way, the sound seemed to be that of other people.
“Is there someone else here?” he called out, tentatively and a bit fearfully.
“Yeah.” The reply came immediately. A male voice.
“I’m here,” another voice, female, answered.
“Um,” another male voice said in response.
“I thought so,” someone else said.
“How many are here?”
“Why don’t you try counting?”
“More importantly, where’s here?”
“Does no one here know?”
“What the hell is this?”
He was confused. What was this? Why was he here? Why? How long had he been here already?
The boy clutched tightly at his chest as if he were trying to tear something out. He didn’t know. How long had he been here, why was he here? When he thought about it, it seemed like some part of his brain was close to grasping the answer, but it would quickly vanish before he could catch hold of it. He didn’t know. It irritated him. He didn’t know anything.
“Can’t just sit here forever,” someone said. A male voice, husky and low.
He could hear the sound of pebbles being ground underfoot. It seemed like the speaker had stood up.
“Where are you going?” a female voice asked.
“Going to try following the candles down this wall,” he replied, completely matter-of-factly.
Wasn’t the guy afraid? Why wasn’t he more upset? The man, standing two candles’ distance away, was quite tall. He could see a little of the man’s head, illuminated by the candlelight. His hair wasn’t black—it was silver.
“I’m going too,” one of the girls stated.
“I guess I’m going too,” another person said. A male’s voice.
“H-hold on! Then so will I!” Another boy said.
“There’s also a path the opposite way,” someone else said. The voice was a little highly pitched, but probably a guy. “No candles though.”
“If you want to go that way, no one’s stopping you,” the silver haired boy said dismissively, walking on.
It seemed like everyone was following the silver haired guy. If so, the boy should too. He had no desire to be left behind alone and hurriedly got to his feet. He walked along stiffly, one hand feeling along the stone wall. The ground wasn’t smooth, but somewhat uneven, though it was still relatively easy to traverse.
There were people in front of and behind him, but he had no idea who they were. From their voices though, he was guessing that everyone was rather young. Even if it’s just a person or two, maybe there’s someone here I know… he thought.
Someone he knew? An acquaintance? A friend? Odd. No one came to mind. No, that wasn’t it. More accurately, it was as if the faces connected with the words ‘acquaintance’ or ‘friend’ were just about to surface in his mind, but vanished before he could grab hold of them. He didn’t know. It wasn’t just his friends, but even his family. It didn’t feel as if the memories were lost to him. It felt more as if they slipped his mind when he should have been able to remember them.
“…Maybe it’s better just to not think about it,” the boy said to no one in particular.
A reply came from someone behind him. Definitely a young girl’s voice. “Not think about what?”
“No, nothing. Nothing really. It’s…”
Nothing? Really? Was it really nothing? What was “it”?
The boy shook his head. At some point, they seemed to have stopped moving. Keep walking. They needed to keep walking. It was better not to think about anything. He got the feeling that the more he tried to remember, the more he would come to forget.
The row of candles continued. When they would end, he did not know. How far had they walked? Probably a good distance. Maybe not far at all. He couldn’t tell. He had lost all sense of time and extent.
“There’s something here,” someone ahead of him said. “It’s bright. A lamp?”
“It’s gated,” Silver-Hair said, to which someone else replied, “Maybe it’s the way out!”
Instantly the boy’s feet felt lighter. Even though he couldn’t see anything, he had a feeling they were going the right way. Everyone’s pace quickened and soon enough they could see it. Brighter than any candle, it was a lantern hanging off the wall. The light it gave off was illuminating something that indeed looked like a gate.
Silver-Hair placed a hand on it and gave it a hard shake. On top of his hair color, he was dressed like some kind of teenage gangster too. “I’m gonna open it,” Silver-Hair stated, and when he gave it a yank, it opened with a creak.
“Whoa!” several people cried at once.
“Can we get out from there?” said a girl, directly behind the guy. Her attire was rather flashy, gaudy even.
Silver-Hair took a few steps forward through the gate. “Stairs. We can go up.”
The stairs led into a narrow, moldy smelling corridor that further led to another stone staircase. There were no candles, but light was filtering in from somewhere above. Everyone formed a line and ascended one step at a time. At the top there was another gate, but this time it wouldn’t budge.
Silver-Hair banged on it several times with a fist. “Anyone there? Open the gate!” he bellowed. He sounded quite angry.
The Gaudy-Girl behind him joined in, shouting at the top of her lungs. “Is anyone there?! Open the gate!”
“Hey! Open the gate!” The person behind them, a boy with short, messy hair, shouted as well.
Something happened shortly after. Silver-Hair took his hand off the gate and backed away slightly. It looked like someone had come. Gaudy-Girl and Messy-Hair had also fallen silent. The sound of tumblers falling into place could be heard, and the door opened.
“Get out,” someone said. Somehow, the boy knew it belonged to the man who had unlocked the gate.
The stairs led into a room built with stone. There were no windows, but lamps kept the room brightly lit. Along with the stairs that had led up here, there was another set of stairs that went to another floor. The room itself had an overall primitive appearance and smelled of must; it didn’t look like anything out of the present day and age. The man who had opened the gate was dressed strangely as well. And by strangely, it meant that the things covering the entirety of the man’s body weren’t clothing. They were made of metal and… Was that actually… armor?
And the thing that was covering the man’s head… the boy really wanted to call it a war helm. The object hanging at the man’s waist, it wasn’t a stick. Possibly a sword? Armor, helm, and sword. What time and age was this? Or considering everything else, should that have been the least of his worries?
When the armored man pulled on something mounted to the wall, the walls and floor trembled slightly, and a heavy sound reverberated throughout the room. A portion of the wall moved, opening up slowly. The stone of it sunk away and a rectangular hole appeared in its place.
“Get out,” the armored man said once more, thrusting his chin towards the other side of the opening.
Silver-Hair went first, followed by Gaudy-Girl. Everyone else followed in succession, as if being pulled along, stepping outside. OUTSIDE. This time, they really were outside. Was it dusk or dawn? The dimly sky stretched on endlessly in all directions. They stood on a moderately high hill, and behind them, a huge tower soared aloft. Was that the building they had been in only moments before? Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that they had been underneath it…
Counting the number of people present, there were eight boys including Silver-Hair, Messy-Hair, and himself, and four girls including Gaudy-Girl for a total of twelve in all. It was still dark so he couldn’t quite make out everyone’s features, but build, clothes, hair styles, and general facial features were visible. The boy didn’t recognize a single person here.
“That looks like a city,” someone said. He had silky hair and a slender physique. He was pointing to something beyond the hill.
Looking in that direction, the boy could see buildings clustered closely together. A city. It certainly looked like one, at least. It had to be a city. Surrounding it was a tall fence—no, not a fence. A towering, sturdy looking wall.
“It looks more like a castle than a city,” a skinny boy wearing black framed glasses said.
“A castle,” the boy whispered to himself. Why did his voice sound like it was not his own?
“So… where is this?” a petite, shy seeming girl directly behind him inquired, nervously.
“No use asking me, dunno,” the boy replied.
“Ah, sorry. Does anyone know? Where are we?”
No one knew anything. Unless everyone was conspiring to give Shy-Petite Girl trouble or was hiding the information for some reason, no one had the slightest idea.
“Seriously?” Messy-Hair said, sifting his hands through it.
“Ah!” said another boy wearing a striped jersey, as he clapped his hands together. He had a sort of happy-go-lucky air about him. “Why don’t we ask him, the armored guy that was standing guard?”
Everyone turned their attention to the door. It was then they all noticed. The doorway was getting narrower and narrower. Stone was rising from the ground, sealing the opening off bit by bit.
“Hold on a—” The Happy-Go-Lucky boy rushed over to it in a panic but didn’t make it in time. The doorway disappeared and it was now impossible to tell it apart from the rest of the wall. “Hold on, how’s that possible? Whoever’s doing this, just quit it already…” he said, brushing his hands over the wall’s surface, banging on it with both fists. Nothing happened.
Soon, he gave up and slumped to the ground.
“This can’t be good,” a girl with long hair tied into twin braids said. She pronounced her words slightly off, with the accent on the wrong syllables.
“Is this for real?” Messy-Hair was squatted down, head between his knees. “Seriously? Seriously…?”
“And, there they are, perfectly on time!” A girl’s shrill voice echoed around them.
Who was that? There were four girls. Gaudy-Girl, Twin-Braided Girl, Shy-Petite Girl, and finally a girl even smaller than her, probably less than 4’9”. The shrill female voice didn’t seem to belong to the Gaudy-Girl, Twin-Braided Girl, or the Shy-Petite Girl. It probably wasn’t Super-Small Girl’s voice either.
“Everyone appeared, huh, came to visit, huh. Where, you say? Here, I say!”
“Where?!” Happy-Go-Lucky shouted, jumping to his feet.
“Doooon’t rush, doooon’t shout, doooon’t let your hair down, doooon’t pull your hair out!” For some reason the voice seemed to be coming from behind the tower. “Cha-lalalalalaaan, cha-lalalalalaaan, lalan…” Humming a tune, another girl poked her head out from the side of the tower. Her hair was tied into bunches, in a kind of country-girl fashion.
“Hello. How are you. Welcome to Grimgal. I’m Hiyomu, please allow me to be your guide. Pleased to meet you. Nice to meet you too? Kyapeeeee—”
“The way she talks pisses me off,” a boy with a buzz cut said, his jaws clenched so hard his teeth ground together.
“Wah!” Hiyomu shrank back for a second then popped her head out again. “Very scary. Very frightening. Please don’t be thaaaaaaaat mad. Okay? Okay? Okay? Okay?”
Buzz-Cut boy clicked his tongue at her. “Then don’t piss me off!”
“Unnnnnderstoooooood—!” Hiyomu leapt out from under the tower and curtsied in front of everyone. “Hiyomu will mind her manners from now on! Carefully mind her manners! Is this okay? This is okay? Kyoheee—!”
“You’re doing that on purpose!”
“Oops, they figured it out! Whoops, oops, please don’t get mad, please don’t hit, please don’t kick, Hiyomu doesn’t like pain, in general she wants to be treated kiiiiiiiiiiiiindly. So, can I go on with the conversation? Can I do my job?”
“Hurry up and get on with it,” Silver-Hair said in a low voice. Unlike Buzz-Cut boy, he didn’t look obviously angry; however, the sound of his voice was rather threatening.
“Well then.” Hiyomu smiled broadly. “I’ll get on with my job, okay?”
The sky was getting brighter with every passing moment and it was already much brighter than just moments before. It wasn’t dusk; it was morning. The night was turning into dawn.
“For now, pleeeeeeeeease come with me. Or I’ll leave you behind—”
Hiyomu’s ponytails swung from side to side as she walked towards them. A road led from the tower to the bottom of the hill. To either side of the well-trodden black dirt road were clumps of grass, and in the grasslands around the hill, a great number of large white rocks lay strewn on the ground. Their quantity was excessive and they looked like they were organized into some sort of pattern, like someone had purposely placed them there.
“Hey, are those…” Messy-Hair pointed to the rocks. “Would those happen to be gravestones?”
The boy shuddered. Now that Messy-Hair had mentioned it, it did seem that there were letters carved into the stones. Some stones even had flowers placed in front of them. Graves. Could this entire hill be a cemetery?
Hiyomu, making her way to the front of the group, didn’t bother to turn around to look at him. “Hehehehe,” she giggled. “Maybe. Who knows. But no worries now, no need to worry now. It’s not anyone here’s time yet. It’s great that it’s not anyone’s time yet, right? Ehehehehe…”
Buzz-Cut boy clicked his tongue at her again and kicked at the ground. He looked pretty angry, but seemed to intend to follow Hiyomu wherever she was leading them. Silver-Hair was already following behind her and Glasses-Boy, Gaudy-Girl, and Super-Small Girl were following.
Happy-Go-Lucky shouted, “Oy! Oy! Me too, me too! Me too!” And began chasing after Silver-Hair, only to trip and fall.
It didn’t look like there was any other option but to follow, but where was Hiyomu intending to take them? Where was this? The boy sighed and turned his gaze towards the sky. “Wha—” He squeaked.
What was that?
It was hanging pretty low in the sky, but it couldn’t have been the sun. It was too big to be a star and besides, it had already begun to wane. The shape was something between a half-moon and a crescent moon. Speaking of which, maybe it was the moon. But if it were, that would be strange too…
The boy blinked several times and looked again. No matter how many times he looked, it was the hue of red ruby. Behind him, Shy-Petite Girl gasped. He looked back and saw that she was gazing at the moon as well.
“Wha—” Twin-Braided Girl seemed to have noticed too. She forced herself to blink a few times then chuckled softly. “O moon-sama, you’re so crimson red~yan. So very beautiful.”
The silky-haired boy looked up at the crimson moon hanging in the dawn sky and his expression turned to one of amazement.
“Whoa,” Messy-Hair said with a wide-eyed stare.
An excessively large but seemingly mild-mannered boy grunted in a low tone out of admiration.
The boy didn’t know where this was, where he was from, or how he got here. He couldn’t recall anything related to that. But there was only one thing that he was absolutely certain of. Where he was from, the moon wasn’t crimson. A place that was not here.
A moon that was crimson was… unearthly.