The GameCola staff must band together if they want to survive Zero-Two’s most dangerous game.
(Inspired by the hit DS visual novel 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.)
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8
Michael, Daniel, and Matt walked down the dark passage to the right. “Hey, do you see that?” Matt asked, pointing ahead. Sure enough, an orange glow awaited them. They hurried toward it, gathering around a torch on the wall.
“Who uses torches?” Daniel asked incredulously.
“Look at that,” Michael said, removing a sticky note from beneath the torch. It bore no instructions, just a simple phrase.
Seek a way out.
“Look, there’s another one up ahead,” Michael said, gesturing to another faint orange light in the distance. They moved quickly toward it, all unwilling to admit that they found the inky darkness just a bit unnerving. The floor was covered with a dark red rug and the walls, visible by the flickering light of the torches, were made of smooth gray stone.
They followed the line of torches, zigzagging along the hallway until it ended in a narrow wooden staircase leading up. The trio looked at each other, then began to climb. At the top, the hallway continued, but it was now made of wood and the right-hand side was open, revealing the room below over a waist-high railing.
It was a library. A huge, multi-roomed library. The rooms were connected by the walkway that they were now standing on, which appeared to be about twenty feet in the air. The same red carpet covered the floor beneath tall bookshelves reaching up to the balcony where they were standing. It was lit by moonlight spilling in through two enormous glass windows directly in front of them and a few dim lamps on top of the bookshelves.
“There is no way this is on a ship,” Matt muttered.
Michael, Daniel, and Matt continued down the hallway, sometimes pausing to look over the railing at the huge library. Finally, after passing through a wooden arch into yet another room of books, they reached the abrupt end, with no apparent way down.
“Well, what now?” Daniel asked. Michael was looking at one of the shelves next to them.
“What’s this?” He picked up a magnifying glass that was simply sitting on the shelf. It was a little dusty, but Michael just blew it off, revealing a purple lens with a strange red design. “The Lens of Truth?! What is this doing here?”
“Well, look through it, I guess. Maybe we’re missing something,” Matt said half-heartedly.
Michael held the lens up to his face, looking around the small wooden square they were stuck on. He almost dropped the lens as a ghost appeared, perched on the railing. She seemed to be looking straight at him, an eerie smirk on her lips.
“Hello?” Michael said hesitantly.
“Michael? Who are you talking to?” Daniel asked nervously.
The ghost’s creepy smile faded and was replaced with a bored expression. There was something disconcerting about her. Her ghostly dress and hair floated around on an unseen breeze. “Bearer of the Lens of Truth,” she droned, clearly rehearsed. “Long have I waited for one who could see me to appear.”
“What was that?” Matt said quickly, looking around.
“Can you show us the way out of here?” Michael asked quickly. Her smirk returned as she nodded.
“That is my purpose,” she replied, standing on the railing (or rather, floating a few inches above it). “Follow me.” She floated over to the top of a nearby bookshelf and turned to face them, waiting.
“Michael, what’s going on?” Daniel said. Michael turned around.
“There’s a ghost here. She just went over there,” he told them, pointing to where the ghost was now floating.
“And how do we get over there?” Matt asked a little irritably. They all looked over at the bookshelf. It was wide enough for one person to stand on and about fifteen feet long.
“Well, I think we only have one option,” Michael replied, beginning to climb on the railing. But as he did so, golden light spilled onto the carpet as a door beneath them (previously invisible) opened. A stooped old man holding a lantern came in, followed by a small animal of some sort. Closer examination revealed it to be a cat. Michael quickly dived back down and the trio hid in the shadows.
A creaky old voice echoed through the chambers. “What, my sweet? Intruders in the library? Well, we’ll find them, won’t we? They won’t escape.” There was the sound of the door locking and footsteps beginning to patrol the room.
“Well, what now?!” Daniel asked in a frustrated (and hushed) tone.
Michael stuck his head over the railing and held the Lens of Truth up to his face. The ghost was still waiting, looking a little impatient now. “We jump.”
The other two looked over the railing. The jump was easy enough, but the pool of golden light moving in a square formation around the room added more than a little stress. “Are you crazy?” Matt asked in a furious whisper.
Michael climbed so that he was standing on top of the railing. “Maybe,” he answered in a cool way as he leaped. He landed squarely on the bookshelf, which rocked a bit, but stayed fairly stable. He took a look around the room from above. Two more bookshelves created a pathway to another section of the hallway, with at least another room beyond that. They had a long way to go.
Michael balanced himself carefully and walked down the bookshelf to the ghost, who was sitting on the bookshelf, her feet dangling over the edge. “We’re right behind you,” he told her. She stood up, that same smirk on her face, one eyebrow raised. “Do you have a name?” he asked half-heartedly at her silence. Her face changed for a second to complete surprise.
“No one asks me that,” she said quietly, regaining her haughty expression. “But it’s Justine.” She looked around him to the other two guys, heads visible above the railing. “Are they coming?”
He turned around and gestured for them to come on. They looked at each other, then Daniel climbed up on the railing and, after looking below for the old man, jumped. As soon as his weight made contact with the bookshelf, it began to rock dangerously. Michael and Daniel exchanged a silent look of horror before Michael made a flying leap for the next bookshelf. He barely grabbed it and pulled himself up.
There was laughter from beside him and he met Justine’s ghostly eyes as he clambered to his feet. “Oops. Forgot to mention that, didn’t I?” she asked. “One at a time, boys. One at a time.”
“Just keep going,” Michael told her. He jumped to the next bookshelf and heard two thumps behind him, indicating that Matt and Daniel were both making progress. He lunged for the railing, grabbing it with the tips of his fingers. He struggled to pull himself up frantically as he heard a terrifying sound from beneath him: meowing and the slow sound of footsteps getting closer.
“What is it, my sweet?”
Fear gave him an adrenaline rush and he managed to get onto the walkway, breathing hard. Justine was sitting on the other railing, watching him. “Why didn’t you help?” he asked.
She blinked innocently back. “I’m a ghost. What could I do?” she said.
He heard a noise behind him and Daniel, then Matt, arrived in the hallway. “All right, what now?” Daniel asked.
“We continue.” Justine floated to the first bookshelf in the next room.
Michael handed the Lens of Truth to Daniel. “You can go first this time.”
Daniel shrugged, taking it, but not really using it. He climbed on the railing, looking over the room. It was similar to the other room, three bookcases between them and the next hallway. However, this time, the bookcases were a little farther apart and there were two large lanterns on each end of the bookshelves. “Level two…” he muttered. Daniel made the leap, immediately going for the next one, thinking the faster, the better.
Matt came right behind him, but right as his feet touched the bookshelf, he heard a crash as one of the lanterns toppled to the floor. There was the sound of heavy running footsteps as the old man rushed into the second room, crouching beside the wreckage before beginning to pace around the perimeter of the second room.
“Matt!” Daniel hissed, turning around and glaring at him.
“It wasn’t me!” Matt protested frantically, gesturing at the place where the lantern had stood. “I’m not even close to it!”
Daniel jammed the lens to his eye and saw Justine quickly flying away from the first bookshelf, an eerie grin on her face. He watched her suspiciously for a second, then made the next jump, the other two following him. There were no more mishaps in this room, all three GameColers making it to the next balcony.
The final room looked much the same as the second room, with lanterns on the bookshelves. The only difference seemed to be the distance between each of the bookshelves—the jumps all seemed to be a little farther.
Daniel kept an eye on Justine as she flew over to the far balcony and sat on top of it, gazing around the room. “OK, one of us needs to watch her,” he told the other two, holding up the Lens of Truth.
“What? Why?” Michael asked in confusion.
“She knocked over that lantern. I saw her flying away from it!” Daniel exclaimed.
“No, that can’t be right, she’s supposed to lead us out of here…” Michael mused.
“You didn’t see her face when I saw her afterwards,” Daniel told him. “Matt couldn’t have done it; he was too far away.”
“I don’t believe it,” Michael replied. “I’ll stay. Give me the Lens.”
“Fine,” Daniel said, handing it to him and gesturing for Matt to go first. They both began the journey across the room, taking their time this time around.
Michael turned his attention to the balcony. Justine was gone. He quickly looked around for her, finally spotting her holding a very heavy-looking book and aiming at Daniel’s head.
“Justine! Don’t do it!” he yelled, before remembering that he was supposed to be quiet.
“What was that, my sweet?” The old man came rushing into the third room, bringing the cat with him. He scanned the room, but all the guys had ducked into the shadows. “These intruders won’t get away, my sweet, I promise you that,” he told the cat in his arms, stroking its head.
After making sure that the old man was moving around the room again, Michael quickly moved out of hiding and looked for Justine. She was still floating in the same place as she’d been before, her mouth open, her grip on the book slipping. It tumbled from her grasp, landing on the floor in front of the now-very-surprised old man.
“What the devil is going on here?” he asked frantically, picking up the book and looking around above his head in utter confusion.
In the meantime, Matt and Daniel had completed their jumps. Michael climbed onto the railing and jumped for the first bookshelf. As he aligned himself for the second jump, he almost fell over backwards as Justine appeared in front of him, a pained expression on her face.
“I can’t let you go any further,” she whispered, looking him right in the eye and raising a hand. A shimmering ball of blue flame appeared in it.
“Justine, I know you don’t want to do this,” Michael told her quickly, keeping an eye on the flame. “You’re really a good person, I know it. So please, just let us go.”
She sighed, blowing on the blue flame, which split into many different parts and flew in all directions. “You know nothing about me. And it’s too late. They’re coming.”
“They? Who’s they?”
Justine looked down, then up, anywhere but at Michael. “I’m sorry. You seemed like a good one.”
“Justine, please-” he began, but Justine abruptly jumped in the air and flew through him. He felt like he’d been doused with icy water and he felt a split second of confusion and pain that was not his own. He turned around, but she was gone.
Michael successfully completed the jumps, but when the others asked him what had just happened, he couldn’t really explain it. All he could tell them was that Justine had just been following orders.
As there were no more bookshelves in the next room to jump across, Matt, Daniel, and Michael climbed down a ladder to the room below, relieved to see that there was no way the old man in the room next to them could get in (there was no door). They proceeded across the room with caution; for all they knew, the cat could still get in. Finally, they reached the opposite wall, where a large wooden door waited for them. Daniel tugged on the handle. It wouldn’t open.
“Well, it was worth a shot,” he told the other two half-heartedly.
“Let’s spread out and look for a way to open this,” Matt suggested. All three went off in different directions, examining the bookshelves. It was soon clear that this was the religious section, as old dusty texts of religions long forgotten dominated the shelves. It was a little intimidating. After about five minutes, Matt spoke again. “Hey guys, come check this out.”
He was near the right wall of the room, looking at what seemed to be four buttons. They each had a different picture on them. The first was a standing man facing the right, looking at a sun, the second was a sitting man, facing right with his head hanging low, the third was a kneeling man facing right with his hands in the air, and the last was a man standing facing left with his head in his hands. A poem of some kind was written underneath.
Are the men asking for forgiveness, or are they being blessed?
You must decide which is which, if you are to pass this test.
Never touch the forbidden fruit which was commanded not to eat
Hopes will be shredded and knowledge scattered like wheat.
“This has nothing to do with religion,” Michael said instinctively. “The author just wanted it to rhyme.”
“But still, what does it mean?” Daniel asked. As they thought, there was a terrifying sound: a laugh. But not just any laugh. A familiar laugh.
They all slowly turned around. Boos surrounded them, all with their stubby arms over their eyes. “This must be what Justine meant by ‘them,’” Michael whispered. He fumbled, pulling the Lens of Truth from his pocket, looking for Justine. But she was nowhere in sight. “Justine!” he called desperately. “I know you can hear me!”
“Give it up, Michael!” Matt said irritably. “She’s not going to help us; she’s a traitor.”
“Justine,” Michael continued anyway, “I know it’s not you that wants to kill us! It’s Zero-Two, telling you what to do! But I know you’re really a good pers – er, ghost, at heart. Please, help us!”
For one heart-wrenching second, there was nothing. Then, out of the blue, there was a whooshing sound and through the Lens of Truth, Michael saw Justine fly quickly down from the rafters and stand between them and the Boos, stretching her arms wide. “Hurry up and solve the puzzle,” she told them quickly over her shoulder. “I can’t hold them back forever.”
“Wait, guys, I got it!” Matt said quickly, tapping some words in the poem. “Never eat shredded wheat! That’s how you remember the compass directions, right?”
“Yeah, and…?” Daniel asked curiously.
As all three turned around to study the wall again, the Boos began to laugh, but thanks to Justine, they drew no closer.
“Oh!” Daniel said, something clicking in his head. “The buttons! Each person is facing two directions!”
“So if we pick two that are facing the four cardinal directions, something will happen!” Michael exclaimed. “But which ones?” They examined the wall.
“Well, there’s only one facing left, so it has to be that one,” Matt said, pushing it. It sunk into the wall, but nothing seemed to happen.
“Try that one,” Daniel said, reaching out toward the button with the man sitting.
“Wait, what happens if that one isn’t right?” Michael asked nervously.
“Only one way to find out,” he replied, pressing it.
Nothing happened. The laughing of the Boos grew louder and Justine let out a shriek as one almost slipped past her defenses. “Hurry up!”
“OK, OK, not that one!” Matt said, turning to discover the buttons had reset themselves. He quickly tapped the other sitting button and the standing button they had hit before. There was a loud click from the large wooden door.
“Justine, it’s open! Can we, um, get through…?” Michael asked hesitantly, looking at her through the lens.
She mustered her strength and thrust her arms forward. The Boos scattered, their laughing continuing as they were thrown to the far reaches of the room. “Hurry,” she said, her breathing heavy. “That won’t hold them off forever.”
The trio ran for it, racing for the door as if their lives depended on it. It took all of their strength to open the large door, but eventually it was wide enough for Daniel and Matt to slip through. Michael looked back at Justine, who was looking around the room anxiously. “Come with us,” he told her without thinking. She looked at him and smiled.
“I can’t,” she replied sadly. “It’s my destiny to stay here. Or that’s what he told me.”
“Zero-Two.” She sighed, examining him. “You’re different from him, Michael Gray. He never told me I was good. He told me I was doomed here for eternity.”
“Can you tell me anything about Zero-Two?” Michael asked urgently, deciding to ignore the fact that she knew his name.
She frowned. “The only thing I can tell you is that he bears a great grudge against you and your friends. There’s a lot of anger in him.”
“Well, thank you,” Michael told her. He was a bit sad about leaving her here after all she’d done for them. She seemed to sense this.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ve been here for a while. I accept my fate.”
“Are you sure you can’t-”
She floated back a bit, raising a hand. “Goodbye, Michael. Goodbye and good luck.” She gestured toward the door and it closed in his face, leaving him in utter darkness.
He walked a little further and found Matt and Daniel standing in front of another door, a smaller wooden one, waiting for him. “It’s not locked,” Matt said in reply to his unasked question.
“And this was on it.” Daniel held out another sticky note.
You found it.
“Well, let’s go,” Michael said, opening the door. They entered a large room, looking around, their eyes immediately falling on…