Phantasmagoria

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The Third Level - The Alternate Chronophile

''ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!'' Russell Crowe screams into my ears. What? Why am I hearing him? But...it sounds familiar. I know this...

I hear the line from the film Gladiator being repeated again and again as I awake to find myself in what I can describe as a...university lecture room. The seats are red, and they are set out in a semi-circle, almost like a coliseum. I can see that I have been put in a seating position. I look around, and I can see other people. I don't recognise anybody...oh, no, wait. I think I can see...

Vaughan Davenport!

What's he doing here- Oh yeah, duh, I forgot. Dimple said that this level keeper can allow us to see each other. So these are the other participants, huh? I know we will only be seeing each other for the third level keeper's enjoyment. I worry about what it is she will get us to do. I wonder if the other participants got the same information from her as I did.

I look around to see the other participants are sat in various places in the room, and I count 8 of us in total. I wonder how we will be challenged. Some of them are looking as oblivious to what is happening as I am. I see one contestant to my left...who looks strangely like...

Jayden...

It can't be him.

My mind is playing tricks on me. But...from the side, he looks exactly like him. Not unless...

Could one of the other level keepers infiltrate a level and pretend to be someone else?

Could it possibly be...Mathilde?

She's the only one who has seen into my dream...

''Mina-san, yookoso!'' I hear a a girl say in Japanese. I immediately snap my head forward and clamp my eyes on what I perceive to be the third level keeper.

''Hey, you're a cartoon!'' I hear one of the participants say aloud. He's right. She looks as if she's from a Final Fantasy game. It's obviously an avatar, though. She has lilac-white shoulder length hair that comes down in slightly flicked-out strands, and her face looks very smooth. She looks as if she is wearing a space suit that also has elements of a knight's armor, and I think I can see a samurai sword tucked behind her back in its sheath.

''Hai, sodesu,'' she speaks. When she speaks, subtitles in English appear above her head, reading 'Yes, I am'.

Well, this is new.

Translating her speech is a good idea, because I will have no idea of what she will be saying in future. But I've got to pay mind to her head closely, otherwise I might miss something important.

''Watashi no namae wa Rieko Saya desu,'' she says, which I see above her head as meaning 'My name is Saya Rieko'.

''Cool!'' the same participant says. This dude sounds like a 5 year-old kid.

''What's the challenge?'' I hear Vaughan speak. This guy is pumped, isn't he? Can't wait to get stuck in. On the other hand, I think I'm going to imagine peeing my pants. The avatar looks at him tentatively.

''Tell me the time,'' we read above her head as she speaks in Japanese.

'Tell me the time'...?

What does she mean by that?

We all look around for a source of time-telling: a clock. We find one situated above us in the auditorium.

''8...25?'' Vaughan estimates the time. We all stare upwards at it and see if he's right. It's a large white circular 3D analogue clock that had swords for the minute and hour hands. The numbers are spinning on the spot, some faster than others, and I have to keep blinking to make sure I don't become dizzy.

''Machigatta,'' the avatar said. We look down at her and see above her head is written the word 'Wrong'.

''Wrong? How is that wrong?'' Vaughan questions the avatar. The avatar just smiles at him, and doesn't say anything more.

''5:40, then,'' I hear another participant say.

''Machigatta,'' the avatar says again. I look up at the clock, scrutinising the spinning and vibrating numbers and sword hands. The swords look pretty much the same length, so it does look hard to tell what the time actually is. I try to figure out whether the question she asked was a trick. I observe the other participants with their eyes glued to the virtual clock, and then I look at the avatar. She is smiling ever so much. She seems to be enjoying this.

It must be a riddle.

I look at her while the others are umm-ing and ah-ing, and I think deeply about the question.

'Tell me the time'...is it literal?

Is it figurative?

I glance up at the clock, and the hands are definitely pointing towards a spinning 8 and a vibrating 5.

''I got it! They're positions! Of where we are!'' I hear Vaughan shout ecstatically. He shoots up automatically from his chair and startles the other participants. Gives me a fright too.

''Look! The '5' is where...Nash is, and the '8' is where...you are, Kevin,'' Vaughan says while he points us out.

What?

I'm slightly puzzled as to his reasoning, but the closer I look at it, the more the clock makes it seem that way. Indeed, it does look like I am in that location corresponding to the number 5, and the other guy called Kevin is approximately where the 8 is.

Vaughan sure likes to show off, huh?

He even made it his priority to get to know who the other participants are. I think he has me singled out, though. Doesn't like that I got 1000 points in the last level. But I wonder where he is going with this?

''I think that you guys have to fight each other,'' Vaughan says as he looks at me.

Where on earth did he get that conclusion from?

He has a smug look on his face that I would love to wipe right off right now. He begins to smirk as he believes he's got the riddle right.

''Machigatta,'' the avatar repeats.

''What! That can't be wrong! I got the coordinates perfectly!'' Vaughan shouts angrily at the avatar.

Haha, look who's gonna get creamed now?

I smile slightly as I revel in the fact that he is wrong. Vaughan flops back down to his seat in anger, and folds his arms. He is acting like such a child. But this only puts us back to square one. What on earth does it mean? I look up at the clock for some sort of time, and, for some reason, I keep concentrating on the sword hands. Maybe it's because it's an unusual design for clock hands, but I'm mesmerised. I'm completely taken in...by the swords.

The swords.

Swords are to do with...death.

I think I know what the answer is. As I slowly begin to look up at the avatar, she begins to meet my gaze as she gradually turns her smiling face towards me.

''Well, what is the time then?'' Vaughan questions the avatar in a moody way.

''It's time...to die,'' I answer back in a near whisper. I don't take my eyes off of Saya, but I can feel all the participants plant their eyes on me. Saya broadens her smile.

''Tadashi,'' she says happily. I don't even need to look up at her head to know that I'm correct.

Sometimes I hate being right.

It can lead to bad things.


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