TLNC Chapter 21 – Death is Certain, Its Hour is Uncertain

Death is Certain, Its Hour is Uncertain

Sweat trickled down my neck as I opened my eyes once again in the bed in the dormitory room. I touched my neck and chest to confirm that my head was still connected to my body.

Hisao who was seated reading a book by his shoulders and shouted in his face.

I woke up abruptly and asked him how long I’d been in bed.

Hisao looked up at me with surprise.

“I don’t think I have introduced myself yet. Did Misa mention me in her email? You weren’t in bed for very long, just a few hours.”

What was he playing at? 

“Misa’s email? Didn’t I tell you I didn’t read that? That’s not the point. Today, at the lesson I –”

I hesitated to say I was decapitated with a beam and Hisao cut me off before I could finish.

“Right. Exactly. We should be getting there. Here put on this uniform. I’ll explain to you things on the way there.”

I got ready and Hisao handed me a folded piece of paper on the way.

“That’s a map. It’ll help you get around until you get used to this place.”

I needed to leave this place, not get used to it. Yes, especially after that violent stunt Akane pulled yesterday.

“Just let me off of this island!”

I grabbed his shoulders and shook him hard but he easily prised my hands off of him.

In a fight with Hisao I’d probably lose, so maybe I ought to calm down because it wasn’t working.

Hisao smiled like a salesman.

“Ah don’t be so hasty now, you should at least attend some lessons before making a big decision like that. There’ll be a ferry in three months which will take you back to the mainland.  For one hundred years, the island has been dedicated to the education of a select few individuals. Think of this as an opportunity.”

“You always say that. It doesn’t mean anything. What exactly will I gain by attending this school?”

“You will gain whatever you put into it.”

It seemed like all I’d be getting out of him were platitudinous excuses, he had no intention of just letting me off this island. What did he want from me?

We were walking towards the courtyard where it seemed students were preparing for morning assembly. I was reminded of yesterday’s student induction which nearly turned into violence. The Student Council President’s minions were setting up the stage.

“Do we have an assembly every morning?”

“No. This is a student induction.”

Well, that’d make three student inductions which I recently attended.

Behind the stage, the school nurse, Dr Fulvio, was leaning back on the red brick wall of the school. Was he the one who had fixed me up? Maybe I should thank him but how did he fix me up when I was hurt that badly. Then again how was Augtustine able to pierce my chest with a beam out of her hands anyway.

Dr Fulvio noticed my gaze and smiled at me. I waved at him lightly cause it was too late to pretend I wasn’t looking at him. The students from my class were also gathering in the courtyard.

With all of our class’s students except for Tanaka gathered, the school assembly began. Melena’s Defence Forces were as obnoxiously conspicuous as the last I had seen them with their headbands and armbands and flag. Did they never get tired of this act? Were they also students who had been kidnapped to this school? It didn’t make any sense. The students looked restless except for Hisao. President Matthews began her speech standing in front of the stadium.

“Ah-hem! Attention please!”

Then she crossed her arms and glared at us silently while slowly looking from side to side until there was pin-drop silence and everyone’s attention was on her, even the light breeze had stopped. 

“Thank you for coming, today I have been given the opportunity to welcome you all to our academy. For over a century, this academy has been dedicated to raising the world’s best and most influential minds. You will be no exception. Be grateful.”

I was hit by a sense of deja vu for a while now but this familiar scene confirmed it.

“Many of you might be confused at this moment but rest assured that the Great Oracle has never once made a mistake.”

I don’t know what overtook me, maybe it was the overconfidence from having overcome death once, but I raised my hand above my head timidly, even if it was risky I needed to push ahead or else I was never getting off of this island.

“A question? Normally I’d tell you to wait until my speech was over but shoot ahead. It better be worth my time.”

Alright I needed to word this so that I won’t get beheaded again, assuming that it was not a dream. No, even if it was a dream it was too realistic so I just couldn’t let that happen for real.

“Miss President Matthews –”

She raised her palm to speak. Was I a goner?

“President Matthews will suffice.”

“I see. President Matthews, may we meet this Great Oracle by any chance?”

“Are you doubting the judgement of the Great Oracle or just the truth of my words?”

“No! Of course not! It’s neither. I just want to meet the Great Oracle and ask it some questions.”

“The Great Oracle is not an it. It’s her. Very well I’ll see what she says. Student, you knew my name before I introduced myself, what is your name?”

“I am Ishikawa Isshin.”

“Very well. If you or any other students have other questions you can meet me at the Student Council Room on the top floor after school. Now I’ll get back to the main point of today’s meeting. I will not tolerate any more interruptions. I am Melena Mathews, president of the Student Council and as students of this school you must be aware of my authority. ”

It looked like other students, although they probably had things they wanted to ask from Melena, my preemptive questioning and Melena’s dominance had closed the door on that line of questioning. The meeting proceeded without any incidents and Dr Fulvio did not have to intervene to prevent a clash with Melena or her “Defense Forces.” In fact, he was nowhere to be seen. 

“Pleased to meet you all.”

Misa’s words and polite bow did not match her unemotional face.

Misa, the maid/vice president, took down our attendance by walking up to each of us and having us sign next to our names on a piece of paper.

The boys in the crowd got slightly excited while the girls looked on just as equally coldly back at the maid as she looked at us.

When Misa finally approached me she asked me a question.

“How did you know Ojousama’s name?”

“What do you mean? She introduced herself to us yesterday.”

Misa dropped the pen and clipboard. I bent forward to pick them up for her but when I straightened up and reached out to hand back her stationary a sharp object silently passed through my abdomen. This time it was my turn to drop the clipboard and the pen. The short girl with the bob-cut who yesterday had asked whether she could be the class rep let out a scream realising what was happening. A commotion was building up with Melena’s Defense force & co climbing down from the stage. Misa pulled out the knife making a trail of my blood spurt onto her white apron. I staggered back in an unbearable pain trying to stop the flow of blood with my hand and barely managed to croak out, “But… Why?”

Misa’s face contorted to one of disgust and insanity.

“You make up the stupidest lies.” She smiled. “I know everything that my Lady has been up to and she did not meet you yesterday. Anyone who is a threat to Ojousama must die!”

Saying so she plunged her knife into my chest repeatedly. I wanted to protest that it was Hisao who had told me about Melena but my ability to form coherent words was gone.

The Melena Mathews Defence Forces prevented any of the boys from coming to my help but Hisao punched one of them out of the way and made his way to him, however I could see from the look on his eyes that it was too late. Dr Fulvio was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he left when he mistakenly thought there wasn’t going to be any violence or maybe he thought it was too much trouble to save me.

Melena Matthews on whose behalf this murder was taking place looked on from the podium in mild annoyance. With the last of my strength I reached out up to her with my bloodied hand.

“There was no need to kill him. I would have found out what that boy was hiding but now that you’ve gone ahead and badly hurt him without my orders it’s too much work to keep him alive. Finish him off.”

Misa was too much in a murderous frenzy to hear her master’s words anyway.

I fell off of the bed while clutching my chest with my hands. This time it was Hisao who grabbed me by my shoulders and helped me to sit down on the chair. He came back and handed me a glass of water and a peeled apple. The pain which assaulted me was gone like it had never been there.

Despite Hisao’s fishiness, he was the only one who had been mildly helpful so far so I told him what had happened so far.

“So you had a realistic nightmare where you would get killed by Misa for knowing about the president before the morning induction at the courtyard. It certainly sounds like you know too much information about this place for it to only have been a dream.”

“Realistic is an understatement, but then if it wasn’t a dream what the hell was it?”

“Normally you’d be able to escape this place by dying but if my guess is correct the power you have is somehow interfering with your exit. Unfortunately it seems that unless you figure something out or become the first transfer student to survive the whole semester then you won’t be able to leave here but will be stuck in a cycle of death and revival.”

I looked at Hisao with horror.

“Hey, it’s not all bad. It’s rare to have such a skill which guarantees you can pass this semester as long as you don’t give up, even rarer still a skill which reverts time. Don’t take my word for it though, I think you should confirm the nature of your skill at the Oracle. I don’t want to worry you anymore but you need to confirm whether there is a limit to the number of times you can die and then plan accordingly.”

I see, so if I die enough times then I might be able to escape this place but what if…. What if I don’t revive after running out of tries?

“How do I get to the Oracle?”

Hisao handed me the map to the island. 

“The oracle is a hikikomori who lives in the Fukugawa Radio Tower Building. She normally refuses to meet anyone but it’s worth a try. Maybe if you are persistent enough she’ll let you into the radio building. If you go there you’ll need to bring some kind of offering but as for her tastes I think you’ll have to ask about it from President Matthews.”

Melena offered to take me there but I don’t want to risk getting skewered by Misa again by asking about it again at the morning assembly.

I didn’t really ever want to talk with those two.

“Also, I think it’s better for your own good if you don’t reveal to anyone what your skill is because they might be able to counter your skill. Only reveal your skill to those you can trust. Others might also have skills of their own which they also keep secret.”

Did this mean that Hisao himself had a Skill like mine? In any case I had already decided not to reveal my ability to anyone else. Now that I revealed my skill to him, did that mean I trusted Hisao then? I still didn’t trust him but I guess the shock of being murdered by Misa loosened my mouth. Besides, if I wanted something out of him I needed to tell him something in return.

Hisao and I headed to the student induction for the third time, however by the time we got there it was already over because we had talked for too long. 

I didn’t speak a word in Augustine’s class this time. Although I was barely listening, the content was essentially identical to last time.  Vance McMahon fanboying with a side of lost continent conspiracy theories.

Mephisto Pheles, Faust Academy’s principal and chairman, entered the classroom at exactly the same time as “yesterday,” bringing Tanaka with him and taking Augustine’s phone with him. This time I wasn’t going to scupper my chance to speak with Tanaka.

After classes I approached Tanaka. At first he was glad to meet me but then he guiltily looked aside from time to time. It looked like he knew what was going on. Honestly, at this point I wanted to figure out how to get out of here, if Tanaka was somehow to blame for this I’d wait until we were out of this god forsaken academy before taking it out on him.

It was morning break so we ordered some french fries and sat across from each other. At this point I felt like I had seen enough things that I’d consider believing any explanation he would give: Aliens, Espers, even Augusitine’s ancestral species from a lost continent.

“You mean you don’t remember how you got here, Ishikawa-san?”

“That’s what I said. What the hell even is this place?”

“Do you remember being in my room, I mean at my house?”

“Yes, but that’s the last thing I do remember.”

“I see. Well, what happened was that I got my hands on the prototypes for Elicom’s new VR console. As I told you back then, my parents worked for Elicom’s parent company. You and I put on the VR headsets and then… there was a powerful electrical surge and that’s when we ended up here.”

His voice grew quieter towards the end so I had to lean forward to hear him speak over the din of the cafeteria.

“Elicom? Didn’t that company go bankrupt after getting sued for releasing a kusoge that destroyed the player’s console if you lost the game? You decided to make us guinea pigs for an unfinished game made by those clowns?” 

I wanted to give him a clout but I reined in my urge and took back the conversation to the main topic.

 “More importantly, how do we get out? What the hell even is the goal of this game? ”

Tanaka sighed and drank down his maxcoffee in one go. It looked as though he had a lot to say.

“While rummaging through my father’s home office for a Momoko Kikuchi album called Adventure I had lent my father, I found a CD for a game called Furosato Program. I ran the program but never got as far as watching the PV (Preview Video) for the game included in the CD until you came. Here’s what I remember from the PV.  Furosato Program is a game that uses an experimental virtual reality AI that creates a temporary dream world, called a Furosato, based on the user’s desires. Of course I didn’t take it seriously and thought it was just some over the top marketing language…. To leave the Furosato, the players must solve some kind of problem or mystery. Namely they must figure out that their memory that this is a virtual reality world has been erased. Once they remember that then the dream comes to an end or at least it was supposed to do but there might be some kind of bug since this is still unreleased software…”

What a stupid concept for a game, once you realised that it was a game then the game would come to an end? I had a look at my status screen to find a logout button but of course there wasn’t any. Then I tried some vocal commands like “logout”, “system off”, “sudo shutdown” given that the menu had responded to my voice earlier, but nothing worked. Even if there was a voice command I wasn’t going to guess it by chance like this.

Tanaka stood up and bowed deeply, getting some student’s attention towards us.

“I am really, really sorry for getting you involved in this, Ishikawa-san. I promise I’ll find a way for us to get out.”

It didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere in terms of finding out how to get out of here but I now recalled putting on the VR headset at Tanaka’s place… Was my partial amnesia part of the game or had the VR headset already fried part of my brain?

“Just sit back down. What’s done is done. More importantly,” I lowered my voice. “What’s your Skill Tanaka? It could be useful to know how to get out of here. Also why were you late to class?”

Tanaka responded to me in a quiet voice too.

“It’s reading. My ability is reading. I am not sure what it means. I woke up in the dorms alone and I wandered about a while before entering the school.”

If he didn’t know what his ability was then this was one more reason to meet the jobless Oracle. Break came to an end and lessons resumed.

On the board it read: “All Art is Propaganda. All Propaganda is Art.”

“The history of art is the history of propaganda”

I was convinced that Augustine’s “lessons” were just a chance for her to pass off her trite half-baked hot takes as knowledge or wisdom of some kind but I wasn’t going to say this. 

At last, for homework, we were left with a sheet with lyrics to a rap song by … the “Wu-Tang Clan”? Anyhow the assignment was to write some literary analysis of its form, structure, and language.

“Class is dismissed, get out!”

With those parting words, we were made to leave the classroom. 

The Light Novel Club

The Light Novel Club

Status: Ongoing Author: Released: 2024
Ishikawa Isshin, a freshman at North High has decided to join his high school's Light Novel Club, hoping to get some inspiration and quiet, to work on his novel for a light novel writing contest. Unfortunately for Isshin, the club's non-talkative bibliophilic book girl and old-tech obsessed club president, Izumi, as well as other members of the school faculty are intent on getting in his way by dragging him off to participate in miscellaneous after-school club activities.  Will Isshin remain the reluctant member of the club and continue to regret his decision to have joined? Or will he come to love the club, and discover the true purpose of the Light Novel Club?  


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