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Re: Danganronpa F6: Beneath the Surface (Chapter 5 Tribunal)Topic%20Title
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The apparition of an amazingly sexy, clean, and of-legal-age ghost appeared. It was almost unreal how hot she was. Curves in all the right places. Large breasts and a large ass, or small if that’s your thing! Her face was that of an angel, almost like a marble statue carved in a museum. A long white dress flowed behind her.

“Carrie. Live.” She know what was going on and instead floated somewhere deep in the caves.
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The spirit of a man in their early fourties, with balding grey hair flutters down from behind Ivan. As best as it could the spirit places a ghastly hand on Ivan's shoulder, and with part of it clipping through.

"You did what you did, Ivan. Dwell on your past too much and you'll end up like me. You don't want that, do you? You were right for resenting me. I only knew what I became when it was too late. Do what it takes to put yourself at peace."

The spirit removes its hand and looks away, beginning to fade away. "God knows I didn't."
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Ivan rushed a hand to his shoulder where Daniel's was, unable to feel a thing.

"...What a disappointment you ended up being," Ivan said softly. "But to the people, you are a hero..."
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One of the ghosts seemed to be keeping her distance from everyone, as if she were embarrassed or ashamed to show herself. Between what she'd done before her passing and her generally being a nuisance - albeit unintentionally - during the whole expedition, it was easy to understand why. Still, this was likely the last time she'd get a chance to be helpful to the Stars, if not the rest of the world.

She summoned up her courage, silently drifted to her podium, and clumsily smiled at the survivors as she voted and faded back into the ether.
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"It isn't as you think", Belphegor chuckles. "I did not force them to vote, I simply told them they could vote and they did. I'm glad you appreciate the surprise, however."

"Anyway, A MAJORITY HAS BEEN REACHED AT SIX VOTES TO SEVEN. Please wait..."
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Spoiler: Closing Argument
The ghosts of the past slowly fizzle away. Bennett, Charlie, Matt, Ciro, Klifford, Daniel, Shizune, even Carrie... They fade till no more presence of them even remains. People remain eerily silent, unsure of what they just witnessed.

Then... a bit of mischevious laughter.

"Hey guys..." Enola cracks a strange grin. "I think I was off a bit on my last recap of the case. What say you that we... repeat this again, properly?" Her eyes glinted excitedly. "This time, let's get the real killer correct as well."

Her words click instantly with everyone.

"Right", Sebastian nods. "Let's start this, one last time!"

"It all started from the beginning... the very beginning, in fact. The killer in this case was also the mastermind who started the killing game, and presumably also the person who trapped us in here. They're known for disappearing and reappearing quite randomly, so it would have been easy for them to trap us within these caves. The altar would have provided us with great tension."

Brandy takes over from Seb, nodding. "I'd assume they were relyin' on us to commit murder, which ended up happening soon enough... Though in Lavender's case, it wasn't quite really related to the killin' game itself... Anyway, the noises coming from the caves, especially poor ol' Charlie gettin' knocked out, woulda alerted them. So they came out at 7 AM and had a chat with Daniel b'fore goin' to 'do their business'... or at least that's what they told 'im."

"Yes, in reality they were going to check on the deceased", Oliver says grimly. "He would have been too tall to fit into the tunnel where Carrie was, thinking back on it... but She wasn't- not without her heels anyway. With a simple tranformation, they could have been able to fit inside and obtain some blood from the poor girl... And then they stepped back into the altar and sacrificed it to summon Belphegor... All while Micah was sleeping away in the corner. In any case, that's how the killing game got started."

"Well, I don't really give a shit about that", Enola replies bluntly. "What they really were responsible behind here was Daniel's murder. Let's think about that. The crime committed in my own house... It was all a trap set up by the mastermind to manipulate everyone's actions and to move everyone along to their demise. I assume they chose Daniel as a victim due to his laziness, which made him an easy target. And they chose Ivan to do the deed himself... the newspaper article we found on Daniel in the living room would have been enough to make him sick of him. Perhaps they wrote the red truth as well, seeing how they're apparently capable of it now. They also set up several components of the trap- the rat they took to possess, the glue on the lamp, the magic circles over the books, and of course... the main trap itself."

"The machine would have been activated when someone was making tea, hence why they requested some from Oliver", Sebastian says. "The teapot had a small metal ball lodged in the spot held in place by friction. As the tea boiled, the metal ball would launch from the teapot due to air pressure and strike a large tin of oatmeal on top of the fridge. The oats would have then fallen off the side of the fridge and onto a loose floorboard between the fridge and the wall, making the floorboard drop down just enough to release a fishing line on the other side of the wall in the bedroom. The fishing line went up into the attic where it held a vial of acid up, positioned such that it would pour into a track around a bunch of... well, random attic stuff. The acid would have then eaten through the boards along the track, causing all the stuff to fall into the room, along with the live main wire."

"An' not just that", Brandy continues, a bit furious. "They also set up a distraction trap for me an' Seb, intended to steal our attention as well as preventin' us from helping Daniel. The trap was that one of the books in the library glowed in the dark with the cult symbol. Seeing it in the dark, I was brought right to it. Then, behind it was a bear trap which... clamped down on my free arm and rendered me useless. An' that ain't even all of it... Then they wired the bear trap so it woulda shocked the hell outta me when the power came back on. They ran the wire up into the ceiling, plugging it in there. They probably relished the idea of my insecurities bein' on full blast... I was lucky I didn't die from that!"

"Then on the day of the murder, they ordered us all around in our respective positions. We didn't think much of it at the time but now it's apparent they were manipulating us into taking our required positions for the trap. It was all a giant scheme by them, and we didn't even realise", Oliver says scathingly. "Then they locked themselves in the bathroom with the books with the magic circles on them. I'm not sure why they love using the bathroom excuse for concocting their plans, but regardless, once they were inside they took out the books and then used the possession spell to possess the rat to cause the blackout. And then after that, the trap took effect. It went off perfectly. I ducked out of the house like a coward, Brandy was caught in the trap, Ivan and Enola got into a scuffle, and Daniel was stuck to the lamp..."

Enola taps her head. "Then they probably used the night vision circle to give them sight and exited the bathroom. They knew Ivan was going to kill Daniel, but they had to cover up the signs that it happened near the lamp. They needed to move the body. They left the books back in the library, unnoticed due to Brandy's struggling and checked back on Daniel. They saw him lie dead on the floor with his neck horribly bruised. After Ivan replaced the floorboard, they went to work, cutting the chain from the lamp free with the help of some pliers."

"Of course, then the unexpected happened", Sebastian adds. "They underestimated Oliver, and he showed back up to by the bedroom window, trying to enter so he could save us all, so they had to go close the window to stop him from entering. And as they held it closed, Enola tried to come in through the door, so they stretched over and held it shut with their foot. And thanks to both of them, the stuff from the attic fell through onto the bed before Daniel could be moved onto it. This was also why the megaphone and hat were undamaged."

"'Course, Oliver gave up so he went over to the library window 'nstead, so the mastermind could finally make space for Daniel on the bed and move 'im over", Brandy says. "And as they put 'im under the covers, Enola finally entered. They remained quiet but told 'er to get some rest, putting her over onto the bed, before going back to the bathroom and locking 'emselves in once again."

"And then they stayed quietly inside till the lights came back on, at which point they exited again and pretended to 'discover' the body with us", Oliver finishes. "They thought they could get away with simply masterminding the crime and not directly murdering anyone... They thought that Ivan would take the fall for them and they'd get away scott-free... Well, that's not going to bloody happen today! Isn't that right, everyone?!"

"O' course!" Brandy yells. "Sorry, Shitan, but your reign of terror ends 'ere!"

"Your biggest mistake was underestimating our friends and how much they care about us, even beyond the grave", Sebastian says coldly, though his grip on Claudia tightens as he speaks. "It's only thanks to them that you could be exposed... Exposed for the murderer you are."

"Yes, it's as the old saying goes", Oliver grins. "Teamwork makes the dream work!"

"And our teamwork's lead us to this conclusion. So, demon fuck", Enola says coldly. "I don't give a shit what your name is. Satan, Lucifer, Nail, Haley... it doesn't matter. What matters is..."

The entire group points in unison straight at Him.

"You're going down!"


Spoiler: Results
"H-h-h... INCORRECT. I'm afraid He is not the killer. IVAN IVANOV IS THE TAINTED IN THIS CASE", Belphegor announces. "Since He has secured a majority though, He shall be executed, and your friends' souls taken away. The rest of you shall be left free, however... Including Ivan."

"Haha.... AHAHAHAHA!" He laughs with glee, not even deterred by His defeat. He claps with great pleasure. "Well done, all of you! This was an outcome even I could not see coming! Very well, then! I shall accept defeat today. I see that your friendships were powerful enough to transcend even death, who am I to get in the way of that?"

He gets up from his throne, standing at His full height. "Anyway, before I get 'punished', I suppose now would be a good time to clear up all loose threads. The game will still be ending, no worries! But I assume you have some questions you wish to ask Me... as well as him, if you'd like."

He points to Ivan, who's still looking down at the floor in a mixture of shock and shame.

"Let us get this over with, shall we?" He says.


Star Detective: Enola (Honorary Mention to all the Spirits who cast their vote)
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Last edited by Southern Corn on Sun Sep 22, 2019 9:37 am, edited 3 times in total.
Re: Danganronpa F6: Beneath the Surface (Chapter 5 Tribunal)Topic%20Title
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"It's finally over... We'll all be able to go home soon enough," Oliver happily remarked, beaming with pride after the group accused Him. However, his expression then hardened as he turned towards Lucifer. "Before we ask Ivan why he murdered Daniel, I believe you owe us some more answers. Since you're seemingly all-knowing, here's my first question, and I'm sure it has been weighing on everyone's mind throughout this whole twisted game -- who is the bastard that ran over Lavender? And why did they do that?"
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"So...that's it?" Enola said, "We're just having a Q&A session now? ...Fine."

She sat down, resting with her back against a podium. "What happens to my brother, asshole?"
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"It's over... finally..." Brandy muttered. "We really did it, together."

She turned her back to Him and assessed her bloodied arm. She was still pissed about that. "I ain't got any questions for Lucifer; He ain't worth any more of my time. I jus' wanna see 'im crumble at this point."
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"To tell you that, Sir Oliver, first you must understand something else.

"To put it simply, I did not name myself in this role. Humanity put me into it, with a vast amount of names, and a vast amount of people who only worship one name or another.

"So, to answer your question with an honest one, Lavender was the target of one of the cultists who worshipped one of my names. They had apparently decided that the best way to show their devotion to me was to murder an innocent life." His lip curled, and he shook his head. "The only one I know that wants that to happen is Lucifer, but he hates all of humanity anyway, so he'd do it himself if he could. But we don't always agree."

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She sat down, resting with her back against a podium. "What happens to my brother, asshole?"

His eyes flickered with something completely alien to him. Regret? Pity, perhaps? Or maybe even pain? But he still drew breath, and so he sighed, slumping over.

"No more secrets. No more lies. You have all made it through the game, so you at least deserve that."

He looked directly at her, with a sad smile on his face. "I know not of what happened to him, beyond his end. All I know is that he... took his own life in the castle with a knife. I couldn't tell you why he was here, nor what he was looking for, but... well, that doesn't much matter now..."

He already looked rather tired, a man who had seen countless eons turn under the same gaze, instead of an all-powerful godlike being.
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"IT'S TIME."

"That which has dwelled for all ages shall cease to be. It played a part in your history, your lives, and your very worst moments. Destroying it will change not just Rattlewater and the World Above, but the Entirety of Everything."

"I have thrown so much into the void, but never have I thrown something into the void that never existed to begin with."

Belphegor's voice sounds like a distant echo, rattling through a forest of trees.

"Good luck."

Spoiler: simply, "him"
The ceiling breaks apart and light begins to shine through. It is not the light of the surface. However, it is the light of all eternity.

The spirits, Klifford, Shizune, Carrie, Charlie, Bennett, Matt, and Ciro appear and surround "him."

They tug and pull on the old-looking man and try to take "him" up. His weak body folds at their push and pull, but it resists the call of the vast light.

In this moment, "he" looks shameful and begins to bleed pathetically at their touch.

Suddenly as Ciro and Shizune try to lift from the stomach, Charlie lifts the chest, Matt and Klifford pull at the neck and Bennett and Carrie are, most gruesomely lifting on the skull, "his" feet leave the ground and all resistance stops as he and the spirits drift upward.

They disappear far beyond sight or comprehension.


Spoiler: The Forest
The five stand in a clearing in the forest. Birds sing above and around them. The light of the sun fills them with warmth. It is the world they yearned for. It's here.
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"It's over... It's over!" Brandy cheered. "We made it, you guys! We really made it..."

She could feel the warm sun's touch upon her skin. It had been a while and a half since she felt that, so it was certainly refreshing. Her hand was still all kinds of screwed up from the bear trap, but that didn't matter.

"I s'pose we should wrap up any loose lil threads we've got lyin' 'round..." Brandy said while glancing at Ivan, signifying that they should talk about the elephant in the room, or forest, I guess.
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Ivan looked up at the canopy of leaves cascading the sky. He almost didn't hear Brandy's remark.

"...Must you really know?" Ivan said with his eyes closed.
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"Considerin' the circumstances that led to this whole thing, yes," she replied. "I think we're owed an explanation for the killin' that led to a dance with the devil."
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Seb had dried tears on his cheeks as he looked around the forest in clear disbelief. "We're really... out? This is it? We got out?" he mumbled, looking dazed. He'd smiled tearfully when Shizune appeared, wanting her to see that he was keeping their promise, but now that he was really outside the caves he was too stunned to even be happy about it. He had to squint against the brightness of the real sun.

"...we really did it. And we escaped with more than just 3 people, too," he noted quietly. Just then he was brought back to reality by Brandy's words, and he turned to look at Ivan expectantly. "Concealing the truth won't help you in the long run. Take it from me."
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"..Consider it a bout of hysteria," Ivan said, still looking up. "I've grown so tired and confused over the course of the killing game, and about my town, no less. But I think I'm cursed to my home. When I heard Rattlewater could be cleansed and destroyed, I needed to rescue it..."

"I couldn't lose what I needed the most. Rattlewater and its people. And as for Daniel, well...as you know, he was a selfish man."

Ivan sat on the ground and smiled in disbelief. "But then again, so am I. I'm the most selfish man I know. So...I guess I got lucky, huh..? Honestly...I was manipulated by that demon so easily. It makes me sick to my stomach."
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Enola wasn’t paying attention to the others anymore. She silently walked out into the clearing. Slipping out of her shoes, she felt the warm grass between her toes. She stared with eyes closed up at the Sun high above, hands stretched up to the heavens, as if she was calling out to God.

“The Sun,” she giggled, “I haven’t felt it’s touch...in so long. I’d forgotten how warm it felt...”

She wandered over to the edge of the clearing, where a bush rested surrounded in flowers. She pulled some off their long stalls, and held the dark blue blooms to her face. Taking in the sight and the smell.

A faint smile appeared on her face. For the first time, anyone could remember, she looked truly happy.
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Oliver sharply inhaled the fresh air, closing his eyes to take it all in. The sun, the fresh air, the warmth... all of it made him smile. He felt... alive again. Invigorated. "We're finally free..." he happily muttered, slowly fluttering his eyes open. "Haha, at long last!"

He couldn't help but dance and frolic around a bit before suddenly skidding to a halt to add to the conversation. "Well... now, the least you can do is atone for your sins, officer," he said. "How you plan to do that... well, I guess that's up to you, isn't it?"
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He sat in his chair, awaiting his execution. Such an... odd feeling, being the one executed. But he had to hand it to those humans; the survivors had exceeded every single one of his expectations, even the ones he didn't think he had.

'Truly, something remarkable worth noting,' Ha-Satan spoke in his head, 'her' arms crossed. 'We presented them with an adversary of such unequaled power and might... and they didn't just win, they took their own fates into their hands. Something you wanted to see, Satanael.'

Satanael, the one sitting in the chair, smiled softly. '... Yes,' he whispered. 'All along, all I wanted to see them do was face their own ends, their own choices, with heads held high. Fearless, unwavering, and willing to admit whether it was the fault of their own decisions or the fault of another's... and more often than not, it is their own. I wanted to see them lay claim to their own fates, to declare that not even I, a facet of Satan Himself, could take that away from them. Their own freedom.'

Lucifer was silent a moment longer, his foot tapping. 'So the point of this... was to make humanity closer to perfection?' He shook his head. 'Such a thing will never happen.'

'No, it will not,' Satanael agreed, Ha-Satan nodding alongside him. 'But that is the beauty of it. That humans, such imperfect beings as they are, can, and would, challenge a perfect being... it is admirable, and worthy of praise. That they even wished so hard to see me fall that they willingly sacrificed their own spirits to see it happen... could you see any other beings doing that?"

Lucifer considered it, then shook his head. '... No,' he admitted begrudgingly. 'Only humans would have the guts and temerity to challenge something even resembling one of our kind.'

'And that makes them all the more perfect.' Satanael closed his eyes to the light. 'That they, in their imperfection, would cause me to fall... it's almost like the ending of a storybook...'

Ha-Satan frowned. 'One question. What... happens to us next? Do we... actually die?'

Satanael smiled at the spirits as they came for him. 'I suppose we'll find out, won't we?'

The last thing to cross his mind as the light filled him was a regret. A regret that now, he couldn't ask a favor of these humans, whose wills were strong enough to make even a god bend the knee.

That they stay strong. That they make Rattlewater a better place to live in, free of all the things that made it so horrible in the first place. All the secrets, all the lies, all of it... wiped clean, through their actions. And...

'That we have reason to have faith in humanity, and there would no longer be a reason for a Satan.'
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A chill ran through Enola's spine.

Her head perked up as if she was listening to something, but the chirps of birds in the treetops was all that remained audible.

"That's right...Rattlewater..." she eventually mumbled.

"Ivan...you saw all of its secrets and loss firsthand. You're its only protector now," she replied, "You can make it the place you always imagined it to be. Make sure Satan never returns..."

She stood up, placing a hand on the trunk of a nearby tree. "I guess that's some way to atone...I don't know."
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"..."

Ivan nodded at Enola's suggestion.

"...If that is what I must do, then I give you my word. I will make Rattlewater a safer place...this cloud of illusion will no longer hover over my head."
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"That's the spirit! Rattlewater needs you while it's still got you, Ivan." Brandy chirped while also acknowledging the issue of shortened lifespans. "Say, when we get back into town, can I treat y'all to a meal? Any place y'all want. I jus' wanna express my joy at, well, actually bein' alive 'fore we all get bogged down in the aftermath of this whole thing..."
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"A meal sounds lovely, Brandy," Oliver replied, looking thoroughly reinvigorated due to the sun's rays hitting him after so long. "We all deserve a nice, long break after being down there for so long..."

They also probably need years of therapy, but Oliver chose not to mention that.
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"I think we'd all enjoy that..." Enola said, "The chance to live...laugh...breathe in fresh air..."

"Down there, everything was so lifeless...No sense would return anything more than a deep darkness...decaying into deepest emptiness..." She looked at the ground, or perhaps only toward herself.

Enola ran both of her hands across the trunk of the tree and pressed her forehead against it. "But now...I can feel the Earth beating. Like endless souls swim in currents beneath. Like the tree that sprouted from the corpse of the white rabbit...All life emerges from beneath the surface and returns once more within..."

"Of course, all of us will join it one day," Enola giggled to herself a little somberly. "Maybe...that's alright."
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As everyone was getting used to their surroundings, they suddenly heard something... the sound of some vehicles approaching. They turn over and see several cars arriving. They drive over and park nearby. A man comes out of the car. It's the mayor!

"W-what the...?" Sebastian murmurs, caught off guard.

"M-Mister Mayor...?" Ivan gasps.

"Oh, thank goodness", the mayor sighs. "You're alright after all. We managed to come and retrieve you just in time."

"W-what? In time?" Oliver asks.

"Yeah, we got a call from one of your friends", a man by the mayor's side says sharply. "Yellow hair, looked beat up. Told us you were in trouble."

"Oh, thank the lawd", Brandy sighs. "So he did get help after all... Wait a second though, how did the mayor not know about this? He literally gave a huge press conference sayin' we were all fine!"

"B-but I did think you were all fine..." The mayor replies, surprised. "Nail came to meet me and told me you were all doing good... I didn't see any reason to doubt him. Where is he, anyway?"

"...So he fell for Goliath's lies", Enola summarises simply. "We shouldn't be surprised. I doubt the emperor's directly complicit with him anyway... He's just a cog next to a pit."

"Ah, you found her, too! Thank goodness!" The mayor realises, noticing Enola. "We need to get you back into town this instant, so you have to come back with us."

Everyone looks at each other quietly. It really doesn't seem like the mayor is involved in the grand scheme of things more than just being manipulated by the devil. They all agree to get into the car. They're quite tired of everything and just need some rest now...

As the cars drive by into the sunset, they all think of all they've learnt through this terrifying tunnel trip. They've all changed considerably now, and for the better. Their friends' memories stay in their mind as well... Ciro, Carrie, Lavender, Bennett, Charlie, Shizune, Matt, Klifford, Daniel, Benjamin, even Bruce... Are they forgetting someone? ...Probably not, actually. But they'll remember them forever just for helping them in the final vote. Truly, it's proof that no matter how people seem, they're always hiding something...

Beneath the Surface.


[Survivors: Sebastian, Brandy, Oliver, Enola]
[Successful Escapees: Benjamin, Ivan]


Spoiler: Meanwhile, back in the caves...
There was darkness within. The killing game was over. Belphegor had disappeared diving into the pit of leeches, deep into the chasms of earth once more. Ready to bide his time till he next got summoned, if there ever were to be a next time.

But despite the emptiness, the cave was not entirely abandoned. A creature flapped its wings, soaring through the tunnels with glee. Its role in the game was over. It had been freed from being a demon's apprentice. So it was free to itself, to its material pleasures. Nothing could stop it now from relaxing within the caves, relishing the fruit growing from the ceilings.

Its eyes shone as it bit into the fruit. Despite being let free now, it still had some aftereffects left on it.

"Kee kee kee!" It chirped with pleasure. "I hope the others are doing well now!" It spoke in perfect English.

...

At the foot of the caves, where the entrance used to be before it caved in were some ripely picked flowers. They seemed to be left in a bundle there for someone. Carved nearby into the stone is a marking.

Rest in Peace, Dizzy.
You were there for me when I needed you,
But I'm free of need now.
The wings of this angel have been returned.
There's a world outside for me to soar through.
-Enola

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Re: Danganronpa F6: Beneath the Surface- EpilogueTopic%20Title
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Max-imise Marmalizing!(Avatar by Doot*3)

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Epilogue

Spoiler: Sebastian Torr- END
“You have one hour,” the stone-faced prison guard informed Sebastian as he held the door open. The man kept up the poker face for a few more moments, before stealthily flashing a sympathetic smile. “Rules are rules. I don’t see the harm in giving you longer visiting hours, personally, but we need to set a good example for all the other kids.”

“It’s fine,” Seb replied with a simple smile. He’d been smiling more naturally lately. “One hour is plenty.”

He sat down at the booth. Across from him, on the other side of a simple pane of bullet-proof glass, sat two students around Seb’s age, a boy and a girl. Matching phone-straps could be seen dangling from pockets: they were presumably a couple. However now their attention was directed at Seb; the girl apprehensive, the boy nervous. Seb smiled again, hoping to ease the atmosphere.

Seb spoke first, knowing he had the most to account for. “I’m sorry for what I did to your uncle, Jess. Nothing can take back what I did.”

The girl, Jess apparently, flared up. “Sorry? You’d better be sorry! Don’t you realise how worried I was about you?” Her boyfriend quickly tried to placate her; Seb found himself glad of the physical barrier shielding him.

Seb couldn’t help but laugh derisively at himself. “Of course. I really was a fool. I should have known, even after everything, that you’d care about me. What would our friendship even mean otherwise? But I shut you out for a whole year.”

“I, uh, hope I didn’t play a part in that,” the other boy spoke up. His name was Mike, and was classmates with Seb and Jess. “I knew you two were close, I didn’t want things to become awkward-”

“No, no, really, it’s all on me,” Seb interrupted quickly. “Truth be told I had similar worries. I told myself it was for the best if I started to leave Jess alone so I wouldn’t get in your way. But really, that was just an excuse, an easy out for me to not have to push myself into just talking with her about what was going on.”

“Well, we can talk now,” Jess said firmly. “We have a whole year to catch up on… not to mention whatever happened down in those caves.”

“You were only gone for a few weeks, but that time probably felt like another year…” Mike added uncomfortably. “You know, I can leave if you like, it was probably a harrowing experience and you barely know me.”

Seb shook his head lightly. “I don’t want to keep things to myself anymore. And you’re right, I barely know you, but a friend of a friend should be my friend too. Especially when we’re classmates. I’ll tell you up front that I’m not really used to making friends with other guys, but, I’m going to push myself. I want to change.”

“Yeah, well, don’t change too much, you hear?” Jess shot back. “You’ve been one of my longest friends Seb, you can’t imagine how much it hurt when you cut yourself off from me, and how much more again it hurt when I heard the rumours of what really happened in those caves. If you change too much you’ll no longer be the great guy I stuck with all those years.”

Seb was surprised by the sentiment. For a moment it looked like he would keep up a poker face, his long year as a serial killer’s assistant having given him plenty of practice at that, but then tears formed at the corners of his eyes and his reply got mixed up with some half-sobs. “You’re right… of course you’re right. I really have been an idiot if I thought cutting myself off from my friends would actually help me. No more of that.” He clenched his teeth in an attempt to calm down, before forcing a smile. “Now’s not the time for crying. This is a happy moment! So let’s talk.”

***

After the expedition was over, and Seb had parted ways with the other survivors and sorted some things out (including delivering Claudia), he’d promptly turned himself in for his crimes. He wasn’t sure if any of his actions down in the caves had any meaning or relevance up on the surface, but he couldn’t avoid punishment for the very real criminal activity he’d been involved in in the ‘real world’. In any case, he was the only one who knew the full truth of the serial killings that had been going on in Rattlewater, and that truth needed to come to light.

Being underage, he’d been sent to a juvenile custody centre. While he was adamant that he needed to serve his time seriously, the officials involved quickly saw that Seb had effectively been forced into committing the crimes he did, and were confident he would need little in the way of reformation. In any case they predicted he’d be a model prisoner, more than willing to perform community service (especially when it came to cleaning work), so they informed him and his mothers that his sentence probably wouldn’t be too long. Even still, Seb wanted to make the most of it. At least now he could be away from his grandmother for a while.

On his first day inside, he sat in a recreation room with the other juvenile delinquents as introductions were made. Once they were left to their own devices, Seb spoke up. “Having looked around, I’d like to make a suggestion. We’re all in this together, we need to have each other’s backs. With that said, maybe some rules would be in order? Such as: #1 - No Gossiping…”


Spoiler: Enola Gardner- END
Night had fallen by the time the mayor’s motorcade rolled back into Rattlewater. Only half an hour passed before Enola was gone again.

She found herself on the edge of town. The full moon in the sky reflected brilliantly off the gently flowing river here. Enola remembered coming to this spot when she was younger to work on her more permanent works.

A figure stood at the edge of the stream, hands folded behind his back. He had a faded aura to him, back bent in resignation. The young man had tousled brown hair that Enola would recognize anywhere. She calmly approached him.

“Dizzy,” Enola mumbled, “It’s been a while.”

The young man turned around and stared at his sister. He had no mask to cover his tired eyes, but he flashed the same smile he always had.

“Hey, sis. I know, it’s been too long,” he laughed, “You grew up to be a beautiful young woman. You know that?”

Enola’s expression didn’t waver. “Dizzy…why are you here? You slaughtered yourself, remember? I…saw what you left behind.”

“I just couldn’t leave you alone, Enola,” the man said, “I care about you. You know that.”

“But…why?” she asked. “Can’t I at least understand that…? Why didn’t you wait for me? When I found you, I…thought it was over for me. And hearing this…it’s too much…”

“I’m sorry, Enola…I just don’t think I can answer that question,” Dustin replied, shrugging. “But it’s fine. You don’t have to think about that ever again. I’m here now.”

“Dizzy, just…stop,” Enola began to tremble. “You’re not real…You never were real. Don’t play these fucking games with me anymore. I’m sick of it.”

“I’m not playing any games, Enola,” Dustin shook his head. “I just want you to be safe. And I don’t think you’ll be safe up here.”

“I will be,” she mumbled, “I have people here…friends. I don’t need you to look after me anymore…”

“What does it matter?” the man asked, “Nothing’s changed, Enola. You’re still the same sick girl. Just because you’ve known these people for…what, a few hours?…That doesn’t mean you’ve lost that darkness inside of you.”

Enola pressed a hand to her forehead. She squeezed her eyes shut, but her brother wouldn’t go away. Not as long as the regret lived in her heart.

“Look…just shut up. The real Dizzy would never say stuff like this,” she sobbed. “I don’t want to be alone again…”

“You don’t have to be, Enola!” Dustin spread his arms wide and smiled graciously. “You’ll always have me, and the rest of your family. We’re not like the others…We’ll always be there for you.”

“No…I’m sick of running away…” Even though her own tears were starting to fall, Enola could hear something else. Sobbing…desperate sobbing. It was the sobs of a man at the end of his rope. It was her brother…How much had he suffered?

“Look. It’s not just me I’m worried about, Enola,” Dustin explained grimly. “It’s everyone. All those people you’ve met…you want them to be safe, right? You don’t want to drive them away like you drove off your family. That would hurt so much. Maybe it’s better if you just leave them.”

Enola couldn’t take it anymore. All the crying pounding into her eardrums. Dizzy staring at her with so much pity. She was sick of it…absolutely sick of it.

She caught her breath in her throat. She stood up straight. She looked him in the eye.

“You’re not real,” she snapped. “The real Dizzy…he never would have let me go near those caves.”

“You really think so?” Dustin laughed with contempt. “Does it fucking matter? I’ll always be there Enola. I’ll follow you to the ends of the Earth. Because you need to remember how pathetic you are. You need to never see the light of day again. So I’ll keep coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“No…I’ll put you to rest.”

“What?!”

Enola’s face hardened in resolve. She pointed a hand toward Dustin, two fingers extended, one thumb pointed upward at the sky. It was a childish depiction of a gun, but it was all she needed. She screamed at him. “Bang, bang, bang, bang!”

Four bullets fired out of her hand. They pierced Dustin’s chest one by one. Blood soaked into his shirt and scattered behind him. His blue eyes opened wide, a look of surprise frozen on his face. And he collapsed backward, slamming into the current with an enormous splash, blood streaming from his wound and down the river, a beautiful trail of bloodshed into the distance.

Enola stared at the gruesome corpse. She blinked.

Dustin was gone.



“Enola…Enola!”

Men waving flashlights stumbled down the hill leading to the river. The mayor attempted to follow them but tripped and fell pathetically on the ground. The survivors stepped around him.

The beams of light landed on Enola as she knelt by the river. A vacant look was on her face as she felt the water slip between her fingers.

There ya are!” Someone said, squatting beside the poet. “You shouldn’t go runnin’ off like that! Ya had us worried!”

“…What on Earth were you doing here?”

Enola sighed, “…Does it matter anymore? The past is such a boring place to spend an eternity in.”

“…Huh?”

“She’s lost it again…”

Enola lifted her hand out of the stream. Drops of water dripped from the tips of her fingers. They fell into the current with rhythmic splashes.

“No…you don’t understand,” Enola replied, looking up at the moon. “My brother…I loved him so much. But he’s gone…and everything here. This moonlight, this breeze…it’s real. You all…you’re real. Everything else…it just doesn’t matter. Not anymore.”

The clearing fell silent for a while. All that could be heard was the beautiful silence of the moonlight-bathed world outside Rattlewater.

“For the first time in so long,” she continued, “I feel like I can breathe easily.”

Slowly, Enola stood up. She brushed the dirt off her dress and turned around briskly.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” Enola said, “Let’s go home…”

She stepped forward, heading back toward the town. The others exchanged glances and followed cautiously, ensuring she didn’t get away again.

But Enola never even looked back.



……

………………

Many miles from Rattlewater, and many years after the killing game, a Mercedes sped down a public highway, the sound of clattering cans following closely behind it. Two newlyweds sat within.

The bride couldn’t shake her feelings of uncertainty. The groom knew exactly why.

“It’s not quite the same the second time, is it?” he asked politely.

“No, not really,” she replied, gently massaging a faint wrinkle on her forehead. “I’m sorry. It just seems like I’ve spent my whole life trying to escape the first one…”

The man fell silent. He drummed his fingers on the wheel. Then, within seconds, he jerked it to the right, and the car swerved into the exit lane.

The bride’s long, brown hair flew around her like a whirlwind. “Wh-What? Where are you going?!”

“Change of plans,” he said.

After a short drive, the two wound up seated at a picnic table in a park. They were certainly out of place in their tuxedo and white dress, but they didn’t care. The groom had brought a small, carefully wrapped package with him from the car and held it out to the woman.

“I was planning to give you this over the honeymoon,” he said, “But it hurts to see you so torn up…Especially on the biggest day of our lives.”

The woman gently unwrapped the gift. Inside was a small book.

“This thing…it sorta came out of nowhere recently and became a bit of a cult classic,” the groom explained, “But the moment I saw the author’s name…I knew it must be something special. ”

It was a book of poems. The cover had an ancient almost spiritual look to it. Neat, bold text printed the work’s bizarre title: “The Souls Who Would Vanquish Satan.” But what caught the bride’s eye was the author’s large picture on the back cover, staring back with bright blue eyes just like hers.

“I just want you to know that I don’t care about your past. Besides,” He chuckled. “It seems like something beautiful came out of it anyway…”

The bride could hardly believe it. She thought she would cry, but her tear ducts came up empty. All she felt was relief, shock, and complete elation.

“Good lord…I can’t believe you found this…I…” She reached across the table and grasped her beloved’s arm, caressing it warmly. “I can’t believe I found you…”

As she looked at the face of her only living child, she couldn’t help but feel proud. She was so far away now that they would probably never cross paths again. But perhaps, through these poems, she might get to finally understand her.

She really did look beautiful. Her dark brown, lace-covered dress accentuated her paleness. Her elaborately-styled hair cascaded in waves down her head. Her face was full of life, like she was experiencing so many vivid emotions that she wasn’t sure which to express.

She was dressed like a corpse—a corpse from a distant age with centuries of stories to tell.


Spoiler: Brandy Henn- END
“Ah!” a girl screamed, jolting awake. Running could be heard from down the hall, and the door suddenly swung open.

“Penny? What’s got you stirrin’ now?” a woman asked.

“I had a dream, mom. It was weird..”

“How so? Was it scary?”

“Kind of. You beat up someone in it...”

“What? I would never -- well, okay, I might. So long as I had a good reason, anyway, I s’pose. Did I have a good reason?”

“I think so. He wanted a thing with his name on it that you have.”

“Do you remember his name?”

“I think it was… Ala… Ala-something. I can’t really remember.”

“Well, that’s mighty odd, ain’t it? Anythin’ else happen in this dream of yours?”

“Well, you started talking to someone I couldn’t see. It wasn’t me, but you were talking to someone! And then you said that this is where the story ends, and that you hope they’re looking forward to the next game! Mommy, it sounded like you were talking to a bunch of people!” the girl looked at her mother with a perplexed look on her face.

“I, er, well, that’s a bit strange, too. But you know somethin’, I had a dream too.”

“You did?”

“Oh, yes. It was a mighty fine dream, for sure. I dreamt I had a beautiful little girl n’ a man who cares ‘bout me, n’ we all lived happily in a house on the edge of town where nobody could bother us. But, then I realized somethin’.”

“What was it?”

“I realized that I wasn’t dreamin’. So forget ‘bout any frightful dreams you have while sleepin’, ‘cause the life you live while awake is one to remember.”

“Mom, that was cheesy!” the girl giggled.

“Yeah, yeah I know. But that don’t make it any less true,” said the woman. She kissed her daughter on the forehead and wished her goodnight. However, before she made it to the door, the girl wished her a happy birthday.

“Huh? Oh, it’s past midnight. I s’pose it is my birthday.”

“Mommy, how old are you this year?”

“I’m twenty-nine!”

“But you’ve been twenty-nine for four years!”

She winked. “And I’ll be twenty-nine next year, too! Goodnight!”

“Wait!”

“What now, sweetheart?”

“Can you read Robin Hood to me again? I really like that story.”

“Well, it is only half-past two, so I s’pose I got time to read it again. But, I’ll only do it if you voice the characters with me, okay?”

“Yes ma’am!”

And so, the mother and daughter read the iconic and familiar story into the wee hours of the night. This is the end of Brandy Henn’s tale. Though she would only have a few years left with her daughter, her influence on Penny would last a lifetime. The end. Bye. Get out of here. Go read a book.


Spoiler: Benjamin Bledsoe- END
The following takes place between Noon EST and 1 PM
“Sir, are you alright?”

“Is he dead, Mommy?” Benjamin felt something prod his side painfully.

“Don’t touch it, honey. It could carry diseases.”

Benjamin flickered his eyes open and leaned his head up. A crowd had gathered around him and gasped at his sudden movement. He lifted his hand up to block out the sun, which was setting down over the horizon.

“... water?”

Benjamin had actually asked if he were in Rattlewater, but his dry throat fulfilled his next request inadvertently as a bystander handed him a canteen which he greedily drank from.

“Hey, I know him! This is that blonde kid who came on the expedition!”

“He’s a prisoner!”

“He cut off his foot to escape!”

He suddenly became aware that a mob was beginning to form around him, only for it to just as quickly get cut off by the voice of a boisterous man.

“Now, now.” The man said. Benjamin could recognize his voice as the mayor’s. “I’m sure Benjamin here wouldn’t do something so-”

Benjamin was fed up with how slow everything was moving so he cut to the chase. He explained everything that had happened since the expedition started, omitting some of the details of his escape. He explained how people were trapped down there, the mysterious circumstances, the demons, the cult threat. The mayor took everything Benjamin said seriously, and was already making calls on his behalf.

“You need a plane then, right? Where is it going?”

Benjamin thought about it. London was closer and he’d have more time if he went there. But if he were the cult, he’d target New York City. The virus would be able to potentially spread to many more people after all. He could fail immediately if he chose wrong…

“New York City.”

“Alright, your plane should be ready in less than an hour. I’ll send a medic with you for the flight. But I do wonder, your story is so strange. The tall one was saying everything on the expedition was going fine.”

“The tall one? You mean Nail?”

“Yes.”

“The one rumored to be Satan?”

“Yes.”

He quickly recalled everything from the expedition, and all of Nail’s mysterious behavior. His hand immediately went to his forehead. “Oh shit.”

****

Benjamin hadn’t planned to do this until he finished his mission, but he had time to kill while waiting for the plane. He remembered well enough where the auto-shop was from the replica town of Rattlewater.

“Get out of here!” A little girl screamed at some ruffians. She was holding a broom, swinging it wildly at them.

The boys scattered quickly as Benjamin entered, and the girl just put down the broom and huffed. “Damn brats.” Her eyes flickered to Benjamin. “What do you want? I’ll call the police.”

He smiled slightly and knelt down. “I have a message for you. From your… from Matt.”

Her eyes widened in fear as she looked at Benjamin’s grim expression. “W-What? I-Is he ok?”

He lightly grabbed her, sitting her on a stool. He took a breath and then simply said, “He’s dead.”

Pat’s eyes went wide with shock. He was expecting tears, or screaming, or denial. But she just stared forward as if he were invisible.

Benjamin reached into his pocket, feeling the letter. And then… he stopped. “He wrote a letter for you, but I lost it. I’m sorry.”

She seemed to barely be listening, but her eyes did look towards Benjamin as he spoke.

“I remember what he wrote. He said he was proud of you. He said he’ll remember the good times, and that he knew you’d be brave enough to face what’s up ahead. And this shop, he’s giving it to you.”

Pat stood up very suddenly and threw everything from the nearest table onto the ground in a fit of rage. Tools, papers, and parts clattered loudly in a cacophony of noise.

“I don’t want the shop… I-I… I want him. I told him not to go on that stupid expedition so why…?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“… how did he die?” Her words were that of complete misery. “Why did this happen again?”

Benjamin stared at her. He had done horrible things, but he didn’t know if he could possibly justify lying to this girl’s face.

“It was a terrible accident. There was no reason for it, it just happened.”

The following takes place between 1 PM and 8 PM
Benjamin was on a private plane headed to LaGuardia. A medic was treating his leg, disinfecting it and wrapping it in proper bandages. He also put his foot in cold storage, but he seemed doubtful about reattachment possibilities since Benjamin was refusing immediate surgery.

Surprisingly, Beverly was on the plane with him. She was piloting it and seemed to have no problem with Benjamin’s sudden mission and she actually wanted to help him.

“How have things been at MI6 since I’ve been gone?” Benjamin asked.

“We’ve survived. I already told them what you said, and they seem to be locking down on any leads they can about an attack on London. So we just need to do what we can in New York.”

“Easier than I thought.”

“They also wanted me to arrest you immediately. But I convinced them to at least let you do this mission first. I promised to keep an eye on you, so don’t go running off or it’s my ass. Got it?” She glared at him as if she were prepared to snap his neck in that moment.

“... yeah, I got it.”

“Anyway, we got a contact in the CIA who might be able to help us with information of the cult. Butler--you worked with him, right?”

Benjamin nodded. He was surprised he landed on his feet after everything that had happened.

The following takes place between 8 PM and 9 PM
There was very little warm feelings or heartfelt reunion when Benjamin arrived at the CIA’s NY office. Butler seemed very uncomfortable by Benjamin’s presence, but ultimately accepted it. He said they knew about a possible attack on NY, and had a recording from the cult they were trying to decipher. They played it for Benjamin.

“It’s just a partial recording.” Benjamin shook his head. “They said ‘Row 25, Seat 4’.”

Butler nodded. “We believe the man in this recording is forging documents, so maybe he made a ticket for them?”

“I’ll inform London.” Beverly began to text. “Maybe it’s an attack on Wembley, or Yankee Stadium…”

“It’s too late for a football game in London.” Benjamin shook his head. “Assuming the attack is tonight that is.”

“There have to be hundreds of venues across both cities. This ticket doesn’t help us much.”

They took the info to a data analyst, who went through the capacities of venues and found the highest probable targets.

“We’re lucky the Yankees don’t play tonight.” The analyst chuckled. “That would really spread us thin.”

“LaGuardia, Madison Square Garden, Broadway Theater…”

“We’ll take the Garden.” Beverly decided for them. “I like the smell of that lead.”

“I’ll go with you two.” Butler said. “We’ll have to organize teams for some of these other locations.”

They brought the information to the CIA director. He wanted to order an evacuation of all the venues and warn about the virus, but Benjamin advised mass hysteria could make the situation much worse. The director also gave them several files--Benjamin’s information about Nail proved to be useful as they get photos of possible suspects. They were all people Nail had contacted, but it was unknown if they were involved in the cult or not. Still, the information could prove useful.

The following takes place between 9 PM and 10 PM
Upon arriving at Madison Square Garden, a choice had to be made. It would be another 20 minutes until the CDC arrived with the proper hazmat equipment. It was impossible to tell whether or not the virus had already been released as it wasn’t symptomatic until an hour or two after infection. If there was a chance the virus hadn’t been released yet, then every minute that passed was one that could cost millions of lives.

Benjamin, Beverly, and Butler unanimously agreed to enter. They faced surprisingly little resistance as they had the right credentials to get in pretty much anywhere they wanted. There was also very little activity in the lobby anyway since the game was just past halftime.

Beverly quickly informed security that there was a gas leak outside and under no circumstances were they allowed to let anybody enter or exit the building, including authorized personnel. It was clear she wasn’t entirely believed, but he followed her orders anyway.

“I’ll head to security.” Beverly decided. “You two head to the basement--they’re most likely to try and release it in the ventilation system.”

They were once again able to enter the basement with relative ease. Beverly contacted them saying that nobody was currently inside except maintenance men but she was still reviewing footage from the past hour.

Two people in maintenance uniforms--an older man and a young kid, rounded the corner of the hallway. Butler immediately stopped them.

“I’m going to need some identification.”

The two men immediately complied, having the proper credentials. Butler nodded and let them pass, but something was bothering Benjamin. The boy… he had seen him before. Where?

.... was he in one of the photos with Nail?

“Excuse me.” Benjamin called back at the workers.

The older man immediately pulled out a gun and fired, Benjamin immediately feeling the bullet whiz by his face and grazing the strands of hair on his head. As Benjamin fumbled for his gun, Butler fired back just as quickly and shot the older man in the eye. He collapsed to the ground like a deck of cards.

Benjamin ran forward and grabbed the boy by his arm, but he immediately got smacked in the nose with a wrench. He was surprisingly strong, and in Benjamin’s disabled condition he found himself quite easily overpowered.

The boy scrambled for the gun of his fallen ally, but Butler quickly tackled him to the ground and twisted his wrist, the wrench clattering to the ground. The boy shrieked in pain, bucking like a horse a bit before ultimately submitting.

A quick search of the bodies revealed that they had bought tickets to the game--the same seats they heard about earlier. They must’ve either killed the maintenance men, or stole their uniforms. Either way, there could be no doubt this was the right place.

“Beverly, we found the cultists. One of them is dead, the other is in custody.” Benjamin relayed.

“Great work. Do either of them have the virus?”

“Negative. But they were on their way to leaving--I don’t think it’s been released yet.”

“Should we order an evacuation?” Butler interjected.

“Absolutely not.” Beverly fired back. “We can’t risk it getting to the outside world--do whatever you can to find it.”

Benjamin looked at the boy--he couldn’t be older than 15. He pressed on his comm again, “What do you mean ‘whatever I can’?”

“Why do you think we brought you here?”

Benjamin felt uneasy. There was a pit in his stomach that just felt heavier and heavier. He had never felt this way before, for a decision that seemed so logically clear-cut. Why was he hesitating now?

“Benjamin, do it.” Butler nodded, looking just as uneasy. “We can’t afford to lose time finding the virus, and he knows exactly where it is.”

Daniel, Ivan, Brandy, Oliver, Seb… they all sacrificed for him to be here. Klifford and Matt died for this. They died so he could do the right thing.

The boy was a terrorist. He made his own decisions. This was the right thing to do.

Benjamin kneeled down to the boy. “Where is the virus?”

The boy looked away from Benjamin, but Benjamin roughly grabbed him so they could look eye-to-eye.

“I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have to. Where is the virus?”

....

“Bledsoe, hurry up!” Beverly yelled.

There was a horrible pounding in Benjamin’s ears. It felt like the air was being sucked away from him. He could do this. This was his talent, there was no way he wouldn’t be able to break a young boy…

“Start looking, Butler.” Benjamin ordered.

“What?”

“Go!”

“Bledsoe, if this virus is released-”

“Then we’ll deal with it. We’re not hurting this boy if we have other means available. Start with central ventilation and move to the other units.”

Butler seemed pissed off at Benjamin’s stubbornness, but he recognized there was no time to argue. He took off down the hallway, towards the ventilation units.

****

It was the fifth unit that Butler checked. A small vial of liquid attached to what appeared to be some kind of small, amateur explosive. A red light was blinking, but there was no apparent timer. Worst of all, it was on the other side of the industrial fan.

“I found the virus.” Butler relayed. “I repeat. I have located the virus. It’s on the other side of my ventilation unit--it appears to be set to release via timer.”

“Hurry up.” Beverly advised. “People are already trying to leave early--the Knicks are getting blown out.”

Butler nervously sighed and tried to remain calm. He reached his hand under the fan, trying to extend his arm towards the vial. The fan sliced the top of Butler’s hand and he snapped it backwards, clutching it in pain.

He shook his head, trying to ignore it. Once again, he reached his hand. Moving as slowly as he could, as the fan slowly sliced the top layer of skin off his hand. Just a few more centimeters--

POP

It wasn’t cinematic. It was no more dramatic than a kernel of popcorn. And just as suddenly, a cloud of dust blew into Butler’s face like someone had thrown a fisftul of sand. He coughed quickly, rubbing his eyes and immediately bring his hand to his comm unit.

“Quarantine the building. The virus has been released. I repeat--the virus has been released.”

The following takes place between 10 PM and Midnight
Butler’s first decision was to shut off the ventilation, but he knew it could prove as useful as sweeping leaves on a windy day. The best thing to do for now was to regroup with Benjamin and Beverly.

Once they had gathered, Benjamin thought carefully. He was surprisingly calm, despite knowing that all of this was his fault. Despite the unusual changes he had gone through, it seemed he still had a bit of his old self and recognized that he couldn’t change what happened, and there was no use in beating himself up. Especially since he was also confronting his own mortality…

“The virus has a 90% infection rate--it has a 100% mortality rate. Those infected take anywhere from one to six hours to become contagious and symptomatic.” Benjamin calmly recited what he had learned from the confiscated Rattlewater virus years ago.

“... so some of us have a chance?” Butler asked hopefully.

“Most of us don’t. Anybody who shows symptoms will die. Right now our priority should be making sure we don’t start a panic.”

There wasn’t much that could be done given the situation. The gas leak lie wasn’t doing much to hold things up, and people were getting restless. After an hour had passed, people began to get nosebleeds or cough up blood. Rumors began to spread, and it wasn’t long before an inevitable conclusion was reached.

“Oh my god!” A man screamed. “They’re lying! There’s something in the building!”

That was all it took to spark murmurs of panic into a complete uproar. Benjamin was pushed around, nearly trampled by the panicking crowd. Security by the exit was beginning to get overwhelmed, and it was clear they weren’t fully committed to the cause of keeping people inside--not at the cost of their own lives.

One of the security guards for the arena looked at the ensuing crowd, the sheer chaos around him--panic set on his face and he began to slowly slink to the exit. Benjamin shouted out, but his voice was drowned.

“BEVERLY!”

BANG

She fired in the air, the crowd began to panic even more. Benjamin covered his face, trying to avoid the tramples as much as he could.

BANG BANG

The crowd stopped as she fired two more shots in the ceiling. She directed her gun at the security guard--everybody’s eyes were trained on her.

“Step back towards the lobby.” Her voice quivered slightly. “Or I will be forced to shoot you.”

The guard’s knees wobbled. He took a gulp of air, looking between the exit and Beverly. Wondering if this gamble was worth it.

He bolted to the exit.

BANG

The following takes place between Midnight and 2 AM
Police, CDC, and even SWAT had shown up outside the building by this point. It was wrapped up completely in a perimeter, making it clear that escape would be impossible. Panic had spread for a while, but it seemed to calm a bit as more got infected.

It was no longer the fear of the virus that was gripping everyone, but the fear of the unknown. Nobody knew what was going on. Nobody was told anything. Absolutely nobody was allowed to contact the outside world or their loved ones.

Benjamin headed back to the basement. The cultist was still handcuffed, clearly looking terrified at the ongoing situation but Benjamin wasn’t concerned with him. He went into the storage area.

“Sorry, I know I said I’d be here ten minutes earlier.” Benjamin said.

Butler coughed blood into his hands. His clothes were completely stained with blood, pus, and mucus. His eyes were completely glazed, as if he weren’t even aware of Benjamin’s presence.

“It’s fine… I know how crazy it must be…”

Benjamin knelt down next to him, gun in hand.

“No.” Butler shook his head. “Not like that. I want this to be on my terms.”

Tears crawled down Butler’s face, washing away some of the blood. He breathed shakily, a chill running into the room. “I told my girlfriend things would be different. That this job would have me at a desk. That I’d be home more. That I’d take her more seriously. I guess you have a way of pulling me back in, Bledsoe”

Butler forced a weak smile that turned into a miserable grimace. “... I can’t believe it was until now that I realized how much she meant to me. All we did was argue-” He choked on a sob. “And for what? Just motherfuckin’ money.”

Benjamin didn’t know what to say. He just listened.

“I think about what you did to that woman a lot, Bledsoe. What we did. I know we saved all those people, but it fucks me up. I think that’s why I’m dying now. Because I stood with you then.”

Benjamin again said nothing. He didn’t believe in karma or superstition, but didn’t think his opinion would be appropriate right now.

“... why? Why didn’t you hurt that kid? We could’ve found the virus faster and maybe all this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe I’d...”

“... I always thought that I could make whatever choices I wanted as long as I could face the consequences.” Benjamin began. “I understand the law exists for a reason. I understand that the law is more important than those people in Rattlewater. I always justified it to myself, but I know that on some level I crossed a line when I killed that woman. That I was inviting others to cross it with me.”

He paused for a moment, averting his gaze from Butler. “I met some people during that expedition I went on. I even liked one of them in a way I hadn’t really felt for anyone before… but I killed him. I killed him to be here. And the others who I thought might be my friends, they looked at me like I was a monster. And what hurts the most is I knew deep down they were right.”

He looked back at Butler. “I wish I could give you a better reason. But the truth is, I just had to make a decision. And the decisions I had been making up to this point were ones I regretted--deep in my soul. I didn’t know that until recently. I wish I could say something to comfort you, but that’s all it is--I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with it so now I’m going to die here.”

Butler nodded slightly at Benjamin. He didn’t seem quite as angry, surprisingly. More resigned than anything. “I guess I’m just being an asshole. I could’ve hurt that kid too, but I didn’t. I was just putting all that on you. I thought you’d be able to deal with it.” He coughed up some blood again, it pooling into his cupped hand. “You’re different than you were before. I guess that’s a good thing.”

He smiled at Butler for that. “Yeah, maybe.”

“... one last thing. Can you stay here until I die?”

The following takes place between 2 AM and 4 AM
Butler’s death wasn’t the end of it. Beverly brought Benjamin more bad news--at least one person, one of the NBA players, had escaped. It was before the perimeter was shut down but when he was finally captured in the city he was already symptomatic. The CDC was doing everything they could to backtrace people he interacted with.

The area around Benjamin was deathly quiet. It was just murmurs, crying, and strangers trying to find solace in each other any way they could. Benjamin tried his best to stay strong, but felt he could collapse at any moment.

Maybe there’s still a way I can help.

Benjamin checked his gun and spare clips--he had 28 bullets total. He sighed wearily, and headed to the intercom.

“Attention. Attention. I have an announcement.”

The sobbing ceased for a moment. Everybody wanted answers--some meaning in their suffering.

“As many of you have suspected, a deadly virus has been released in the arena. Those of you have shown symptoms, there is no chance of survival.”

Miserable wails pervaded around the stadium. It was like Benjamin could feel the pain of each individual scream stab into him. But he stood still, and tried his best to stay strong. That was all he knew at this point--staying strong where others could not.

“I have a handgun with me. It has twenty… twenty-seven bullets. Those who are symptomatic will go through a horribly painful death--a suffering that no human deserves. For those who volunteer, I can end your life quickly and painlessly. I promise that you won’t feel a thing.”

It was an obscene suggestion. People looked at Benjamin, yet his stone-cold expression only communicated that he was completely serious. For a long while, nobody moved.

Then one person shaikly stepped forward.

Benjamin had planned a lottery if there were more than 27 volunteers, but it didn’t end up being necessary. It wasn’t an option most were willing to entertain, yet some did. And Benjamin did as he promised, one gunshot at a time. It was all he could do in such a hopeless situation.

Yet, he had saved one bullet. He knew why--for himself. It was cowardly, and something he would normally never consider. Yet with his newfound humanity came selfishness. And after watching Butler die, he knew that he wouldn’t dare go through that himself.

The night rolled on. Bodies continued to drop like flies. Feeling hot, Benjamin headed to the bathroom to splash some water on his face. In the mirror, he saw his own face staring back at him--a stream of blood running out of his nose.

The following takes place between 4 AM and 5 AM
The hysteria continued as usual, but Benjamin no longer felt he could help with any of it. Instead, his mind turned to much more introspective thoughts.

He always knew he’d die--eventually at least. He was always prepared for it to happen, and prepared to lay down his life no matter the cause. And yet it was right now where he felt uncertainty. How would he be remembered? A torturer? A murderer? A failure? Would he even be remembered?

He thought longer about the people he had come across in his walks of life, and the memories he shared. It had occurred to him that there was still probably things he could help with in the stadium, but he decided that he was going to be selfish for his last hours. Hadn’t he earned that much?

Yet as scared as he was, there was also something freeing about the idea. He had done his duty, done what he could. He had regrets to live with, but not much longer. The people he hurt would carry their scars, but he would fade away quietly with his regrets slipping behind him.

“Bledsoe.”

Benjamin looked up, Beverly standing near him.

“The doctor came back with my test results. I’m… well, I’m immune.”

Benjamin forced a smile. He was happy for her, or at least he thought he was. But really he wasn’t sure if anything that happened after he died would make a difference anyway.

“Is there anyone out there? Anyone you want me to talk to? Say goodbye to?”

Pat’s face flashed intensely in Benjamin’s inner eye for a moment. He clutched his head in pain.

“Bledsoe?!”

He felt like he was gonna cry. God, had he ever cried before? It seemed impossible, but he had no memory of it ever happening. Still, right now wasn’t the time.

“I have a letter.” He simply stated, pulling out the one that Matt had wrote from his jacket. “There’s a girl named Pat in Rattlewater--the town I was in. Make sure you get it to her.”

Beverly uneasily took the letter from Benjamin’s hands.

“And… tell her I’m sorry. Tell her that I don’t expect her to understand but the one who killed her father was… was me.”

Beverly’s eyes widened, the events of the day being given a new perspective. Suddenly she felt like the mysterious man in front of her wasn’t so hard to understand after all.

She handed the letter back. “I think you should do it.”

“But I’m-”

“A coward?”

“...”

“Look, Benjamin. I’m sure you had your reasons for what you did, you always do. But right now you’re just running away.”

“I’m not running--I’m dying.”

“I’ve seen you come out of worse. So once you get out of this one, be sure to tell that girl everything.” She leaned in close, hugging Benjamin’s head to her shoulder. “You don’t get to redeem yourself by dying. You’ll do it by working, and even then that won’t be enough. But it’s a start.”

She stood up. “I gotta go now… good luck.”

The following takes place between 5 AM and 6 AM
Benjamin eventually made his way down to the basement where the cultist was still chained to a pipe. He looked much worse than Benjamin, blood coming out of every orifice of his body. His eyes were glazed, and looked at Benjamin both pleadingly and with fear.

Benjamin sat next to him, silent for a moment before asking, “What’s your name?”

The cultist was silent for a moment too, as if he didn’t know whether it was a good idea to respond. “... Tyler. But nobody’s called me that for a long time.”

“Can I ask you something, Tyler?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“You ever meet a really tall man… or maybe a really tall woman? Did they lead your cult, tell you to do this tonight?”

Tyler laughed pitifully.

“Did they recruit you?”

He laughed again. It seemed like Benjamin was going to get the same non-response, but Tyler answered. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I was told that… we were the righteous ones. All the screams I heard today, the people who’ve died… well I guess it’s too little, too late, huh?”

“This is all it took?”

“I was born to this life. My parents were the ones involved in the cult--I just listened, guess I didn’t know any better. I thought that one day, this would all have been worth it. That we’d reach Paradise because of me. So I did what I was told, and hoped for the best.”

Benjamin talked to him for a while more, finding that they had even more in common than he first thought. Both born into their life, born into a life without choices. Born with a duty. Born not knowing any better. But that was the trick all along. They always had choices, they just refused to believe that.

He looked at the gun in his hand--the one remaining bullet he was saving for himself. This too, was just another choice.

He pointed it at Tyler’s head and fired.

The following takes place between 6 AM and 11 AM
The rest of the night wasn’t as panicked as the rest. As people grew weaker, there was much less fight. Much less energy. Everything became a sickening routine. Death, dragging bodies off, rinse and repeat.

By the time the sun rose, it was just Benjamin and a few others. Some were being discharged for their immunity, the others were so sick they couldn’t move and were knocking on death’s door. He simply just walked the halls (as well as he could with one foot), passing corpse after corpse dressed in a white sheet.

Physically he felt horrible, but he had felt that way all day. He was nowhere near as bad as the rest of the living who were infected. Could he be immune after all?

A twinge of hope filled his heart.

I could live… ?

And then despair.

The following takes place between 11 AM and Noon
It wasn’t long before Benjamin had his tests run and was found to be immune--his bloody nose was from his altercation with Tyler earlier that night. He probably needed to be checked into a hospital to deal with his other injuries, but he’d be fine.

He’d be fine.



Beverly reached out to him a bit later, telling him she’d been working to contain the outbreak on the outside and had been successful. They estimated the death toll on the outside wouldn’t even reach 1,000 but they still had work to do.

Benjamin sat in the front seat of Butler’s car after finishing the call. It was a long day, but it was over. Was it worth it?

He white-knuckle gripped the steering wheel, tears rolling down his face. Anguish completely enveloped his heart, and a chill ran through his soul. His breath was irregular and rapid, unable to keep his composure together.

Bzzt. “Bledsoe, are you there?”

The radio in Butler’s car buzzed through. Benjamin didn’t even notice. He just let out an anguished scream, tears and snot running onto his clothes.

Bzzt. “Bledsoe? If you’re there, copy.”

Benjamin looked at the radio, wanting to do nothing more than smash it into pieces.

Bzzt. “Bledsoe, come in.”

Benjamin grabbed it, pressing the button. “I’m here.” He choked the words out as best as he could.

“We have some other cultists we rounded up. We could use your help--can you make it to the office on 86th?”

Benjamin just stared forward. He stared at the world in front of him, trying to see it the way he did before. Trying to see it as empty.

“Bledsoe?”

He shook his head, wiping his face with his sleeve. “Copy. I’ll be right there.”

He started the car and stared out the window again, at the world. It was like he was seeing it with new eyes. The pain inside of him wouldn’t go away. Would it ever? Was he doomed to spend the rest of his life tortured?

Without another thought about it, he drove off.


[Other endings will be added as and when we receive them.]
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