Chapter 13: The Survival Game
To Yukiteru, the speed with which events occurred was highly dizzying.
Just a moment ago, he was lying down in his bedroom, trying to get some sleep after all that happened today. Next thing he knew, he was here in what looked like an underground vault, or otherwise the ruins of some temple, together with ten other people who were all clad in identical, pitch-black robes, all of whom faced each other in a circle. As he looked around him and took in the sights, he had more than a vague sense he was dreaming – actually, scratch that, I know I'm dreaming – but that did nothing to make the whole experience feel any less real to him. If this was all just a dream, then it happened to be the most lucid of lucid dreams – and all the more disturbing for it.
And after several moments had passed, during which he'd been able to take in the surreal sights surrounding him, a female voice broke the silence.
At the greeting, Yukiteru blinked; next thing he knew, there was a woman in a long, flowing white dress standing in the empty space before them, her face obscured from view by a white veil.
"All of you have been chosen for this Game."
There was something in her words that set him off.
"Perdonate, signorina, but might I ask just what the hell that's supposed to mean?"
Today hadn't been one of his better days, to say the least. For one thing, he'd been forced to kill someone who he wasn't convinced deserved it, and a fellow Assassin at that. Not to mention there was something about this woman that gave him the creeps, too. Try as he might, Yukiteru couldn't shake the nasty feeling in his gut that this woman was bad news.
And given how his gut feelings usually turned out to be right…
"Surely you all realize what has been happening, and that all of you now possess the power to comprehend the calculations."
It was at that moment that Yukiteru chose to speak up. "Calculations?"
"Those who comprehend the calculations are the masters of their fate. Thanks to the Diaries you now hold, your futures will never again be hidden from you. A gift from me to you, you might say."
"Wait a minute, hold up," came a gruff, skeptical voice from Yukiteru's right. "I'm guessing this gift isn't for free?"
"Now that you hold my gift, you need only prove yourselves worthy of it," said the woman in reply. "He who fights and wins the Game shall have a grand destiny ahead of him."
"A game, huh?" came what was unmistakably a child's voice, this time from the smallest member of the unlikely gathering. "What's it about?"
"Allow me then to explain the rules of this Game," the woman nodded, acknowledging the query. "Because of my gift, the Future Diaries you now hold will provide you a window into the future, up to no more than 90 days."
"Alright, about that…" began yet another of the gathered Diary owners, "Are our Diaries supposed to be able to rewrite themselves?"
"As I said, all of you are the masters of your fate. You may choose to act according to your Diary if it suits your purposes, or to go against it in order to avert disaster. In case of the latter, all your future calculations will be overwritten accordingly."
"Yeah, well," piped up Yukiteru once more, "I've seen this thing rewrite itself without me doing anything. I mean, I didn't know about this serial killer trying to kill me."
The woman turned to face him at the inquiry; though the veil prevented him from getting a good look at her face, Yukiteru nevertheless thought he noticed a bemused smile on her part. "The calculations can and will change – not just according to your actions, but also in response to the choices of those around you. Such is the nature of the Survival Game, after all."
She paused to look at each one of them in turn before continuing:
"He who moves to kill anyone among you shall invoke a Dead End warning for the would-be victim. Should that happen, it falls on your shoulders to consider the information in your hands to identify your assailant, and then decide on a proper countermove. Bring your enemy towards his Dead End while avoiding your own."
"Let me get this straight," spoke an obviously female voice in response, "We're to identify each other based on what the Diary says, and then take it from there?"
"Indeed. Only by knowing yourself and your enemy can you then act accordingly," the woman in white nodded once more before turning to Yukiteru. "Just like First here."
"'First'?" the youth echoed. "You mean me?"
"It was written that you would meet your end at the hands of Third," she explained evenly, though Yukiteru detected just a hint of approval there. "Instead, you managed to defy your fate and bend it to your will. Continue on your present course, and the grand destiny I spoke of could very well be yours."
"And with that," she called, this time addressing everyone for the final time as darkness began to fall, "I call upon all of you to prove your worth. He who survives to the last shall receive a great boon. There can be no room for weakness or petty sentiment if one is to triumph in this Game."
"After all," she added just before everything went black, "I chose you all for a reason, and I chose all of you expecting that you would not disappoint."
Yukiteru Amano sat bolt upright in his bed, panting and gasping for breath as he woke with a start.
As he'd gotten home rather late last night, having been treated by an insistent Itachi Yukishiro to a ramen dinner – Minerva's gonna get on my case for ditching that acquaintance dinner, too, but I'll just have to deal with it – the first thing he did was head for his room and go straight to bed. At the time, it seemed like a no-brainer; while Hiyama hadn't injured or hurt him in any way, that showdown back there still left him physically, mentally and emotionally drained in a manner he only remembered being once before. As such, he thought the best course of action in that case would be to lie down and rest a little.
And then he had that dream.
I've had some freaky dreams before, but that one took the cake.
He, Yukiteru, had had bad dreams before. After the incident at the Stadium – after Piero's death – it took quite a while before he stopped having nightmares all about what happened. Some nights he simply relived the events all over again, which was distressing enough on its own. Other times, though he envisioned Piero accusing him of getting him killed, as well as Yuno blaming him harshly for the deaths of her parents. However, he'd since come to the realization that such dreams were to be expected, given what happened to him.
More to the point, he knew that just as Piero would never have blamed him for what happened to him, so too was it unlikely that Yuno would never blame him for her parents dying.
Yukiteru wanted to just forget about the dream he'd just had, to write it off as a consequence of the stress of yesterday's events as well as the sheer volume of ramen he'd been treated to; unfortunately, he knew better. For one thing, he knew from the large amount of time he'd spent in the Animus that his ancestor had incurred the interest of the First Civilization, and had even communed with at least three of them during his lifetime. Going by the disturbing similarities between his dream and Ezio's experiences, thought Yukiteru, it was highly possible that that dream he had was his own personal encounter with them.
That woman sure looked like one of them, come to think of it.
And that temple we were in looked like one of theirs, too…
There was no denying it; when he thought of the woman and the temple from his dreams, as well as the so-called 'Survival Game' itself, Yukiteru was every bit certain that someone from the First Civilization was involved in all this. From what he knew of them, they'd proven themselves ready and willing to interfere throughout human history whenever they saw fit to do so; indeed, there was one among their number – a certain infamous member of the Capitoline Triad – who could arguably be blamed for having instigated and manipulated the age-old feud between the Assassins and the Templars, all so she could return to life.
Taking all that into account, thought Yukiteru, forcing unsuspecting individuals to kill each other definitely seemed like something they would do.
At the very least, it sure seems like something she would do…
As if on cue, it was then that the familiar message notification tone from Yukiteru's cell phone sounded, jolting him from his thoughts and bringing him back to reality.
Yuno sat by herself in the empty classroom as she waited for him to arrive.
"Buon giorno, Yuno. Is something the matter?"
And sure enough, he did.
After that disturbing dream she had the night before, the one thing Yuno wanted right now was to see him – first thing in the morning, before any of their classmates were present. It was with that desire that she sent him that text message the moment she woke up: Yukki. Could you come to school early today? I really want to talk to you about something.
"Yuno? Are you alright? It can wait if you like-"
"Yukki," there was a note of urgency in the way she said his name that told him something was wrong, "I had this dream last night…"
Don't tell me…
"This dream, were you in some temple with ten other people?"
Yukiteru supplied the words Yuno couldn't bring herself to say, even as he hoped against all hope that he was wrong. And when she nodded, he felt his heart sink a little. "And then some crazy lady started talking about this 'Survival Game' or whatever it was? Yeah, I had the same dream."
"Wait…" Yuno looked up, eyes wide as the horrifying implications began to dawn on her. "You did!? Then that must mean…"
Once again, Yuno's voice trailed off as she found herself unable to finish; this time, however, Yukiteru no long bothered to finish for her. He himself came to the same conclusion and found it abhorrent in every sense of the word. If he and Yuno had the exact same dream, it could only mean one thing.
We're both in this Survival Game together.
And if we don't do anything about it, we could very well end up killing each other.
Finally, after several moments, it was Yuno who broke the silence.
His eyes met hers as he looked up. "Yes, mia cara?"
"Don't worry, Yukki," Yuno's face lit up in what was clearly intended to be a reassuring smile. "It'll be okay. I'll always be here to protect you."
"I'll do whatever it takes to keep you safe," she added, drawing closer as she put her arms around him. "Because that's how much I love you."
And as he hesitantly returned her embrace, Yukiteru made a promise to himself in the silence of his heart.
I'll end this Game so no one else gets hurt.
Yuno finally let go just as the bell rang, signaling that their classes for the day were about to begin.
"C'mon, Yukki, let's go!"
And when Yukiteru followed her out the door, there was only one thing he could be sure of right then.
I'll end this insanity before any more innocents have to die.
And for you as well, Yuno...
"Well, well. So this is Sakurami High?"
The woman dismounted her motorcycle as she looked up at the school buildings, taking in every nook and cranny of the surroundings as she prepared to carry out the task at hand. She'd been contacted by no less than Mayor John Bacchus himself to perform a certain service for him, and to do that, she needed to seek out certain individuals of interest who happened to be at this school right now. In fact, the Mayor's secretary had even gone out of his way to give her everything they had on the individuals in question, the better to aid her work.
"Better get to it, then…"
Given what they hired her for, it was unsurprising that the compensation they promised her was as generous as it was. For anyone else, thought the stranger as she prepared her things, the material and monetary rewards alone would have been motivation enough; for her, though, there was a certain amount of professional pride as well. Whatever her faults were, she prided herself on the fact that she never failed at anything she set her mind to; this wouldn't be an exception, nor would there ever be one.
I'm not sure what he'd want with two teenagers, but oh well.
All in all, it took her not more than ten minutes before she finished her preparations.
Finally, with everything in order, the woman entered through the gates, determined to fulfill the duty with which she'd been entrusted.