|The Misadventures of a Quirky Cast|
|Preceded by: |
|RomaDura||Succeded by: |
Izaya woke to feeling hard ground beneath him. Sitting up, he found himself sitting near most of his companions, save his sisters, the Heiwajima brothers and Celty. All of them were asleep.
"Guys? Guys, wake up!" Izaya begged.
"They won't hear you," came a cold voice.
Izaya looked up to see someone just like him in appearance, save that the newcomer had a marking on the back of his hand shaped like a black chess piece.
"Who are you?"
"I am VIRUS, and I am your creation, Izaya Orihara."
"VIRUS…where are Shizuo, Kasuka, my sisters and Celty?"
"They are safe with me. I have a proposal, Izaya: simply surrender to me, and I'll let your friends go."
"So we're in the game itself. VIRUS, I won't surrender. Just give them back to me."
"No. If you choose to fight me, I would just like to hand these rejects over to you~"
Several shapes dropped from the ceiling. They all had Izaya's hair color, but different outfits, ranging from a king's to one similar to Sebastian's.
"Rejects? Who are these people?"
"They're the clones. They have no use in my army. Have fun trying to fight me~"
A bright light surrounded Izaya, and he had to blink. The informant found himself in another castle, this one with a lighter color scheme. Standing up, he observed his surroundings.
The whole castle was lit by daylight, candles hanging off the walls and a chandelier above the carpet leading into the castle from the entrance. Halls led to other sections of the castle, a stairway leading to upper floors. A room made for healing lay on the second floor.
"Shizuo, you would be oh so helpful right now," Izaya muttered as he began dragging the unconscious upstairs, failing to notice that two people didn't belong in his group. Once his task was done, he collapsed on the floor.
"Another foreign place. At least Steve's dead," he muttered. He lay in silence for an hour or so, trying to work out what had managed to send him into Japan's video game, until he heard someone drowsily wake up.
"Where am I?"
Izaya sat up to see Mikado struggling to get out of one of the beds, until he managed to do so by falling out, the covers coming with him.
"Very graceful, Dollars leader," the informant commented.
The younger male sat bolt upright, throwing the covers off him.
"Izaya, what the hell?" he questioned.
"Just testing to see if you were awake. And before you ask, no we're not back in the mansion; no, being taken to the hospital was not a dream; and yes, we're in a video game," Izaya responded.
"That was helpful…and where are Shizuo, Kasuka and your sisters?"
"It's a long story. I'll tell everyone once we're all awake and accounted for."
Slowly, the others awoke, with Izaya quickly realizing there were two others who did not belong in their posse: a black-haired man with bright gold eyes who bore a slight resemblance to Kasuka, and a blonde man who kept his eyes shut.
"I don't believe I've seen this place before," the gold-eyed man noted.
"Hey, look, it's Maiza!" the blonde pointed out.
Maiza, who had been waiting for everyone else to awaken, tensed a little at the sound of the others' voices. Czeslaw looked at them with a wary look in his eyes.
"Hello, Huey, Elmer."
"Hello, Czeslaw. Fancy seeing you here," the black-haired man, presumably Huey, greeted.
"And you as well. How did you and Elmer find your way to the hospital?"
"Alfred F. Jones called us to that hospital because of Nebula's operations as of late. I would not want to make him late."
"Oh, yes, Namie. The little idiot who decided to try to sell me to Nebula," Izaya recalled, glaring at the brunette. She made no attempt to respond.
"Okay, where are we, and please, no one say the mansion," Shinra wondered.
"We're in Japan's video game—and my sisters, the Heiwajima brothers and Celty have been kidnapped," Izaya informed.
"Mind giving us the whole story?" Kida questioned.
"Isaac and Miria showed us that zapper on top of one of the machines in the hospital, but it teleported us inside the game. I met someone who looked exactly like me who called himself VIRUS, but…basically a lot worse. He wouldn't give me the five missing from our group, gave me these clones of…well, me, and sent us here," Izaya explained, gesturing to the five clones nearby.
"They look harmless enough," Anri noted.
"I bet a year's supply of Russia Sushi they attack us at first sight," Kida muttered.
At once, the clones woke up. The one dressed in the fluffy white-and-pink coat and bore pink headphones had pink eyes, the one dressed as a king had gold eyes, the clone that wore a pink kimono had soft brown eyes, and the other two, one dressed similarly as Sebastian and the other wearing a black-and-crimson coat bore the same crimson eyes Izaya possessed.
"You're on your own for this one, Izaya," Kida informed, ducking behind his bed.
"Yaaay~! Iza~!" the pink-eyed clone cheered, running up to Izaya and hugging him.
"Iza? Who are you and why did VIRUS give you to me?" Izaya questioned.
"Oh! Hang on a moment~!" the pink-eyed clone responded, hurrying to stand by his brothers.
"Psyche of Psychedelic Dreams, reporting for duty!"
"Ignore Psyche, he's the idiot. I'm Hachimenroppi, leader of the Hachitsuki Delivery group, but please call me Roppi," the black-and-crimson wearing clone informed.
"My name is Hibiya, the would-be king of this land," the gold-eyed clone explained.
"I'm Sakuraya. It's very nice to meet you," the pink kimono-clad clone explained.
"I am Sebizaya. It is a pleasure to meet you all," the butler-like clone informed.
"Psyche, Roppi, Hibiya, Sakuraya and Sebizaya. Why did VIRUS hand you guys over to us?" Mikado wondered.
"Eh…? You've met VIRUS? A word of advice: don't trust anything he says. He was the worst roommate ever," Hibiya warned.
"Where's Gauken? And Toki, Diamonds, Miraiegou, Tsuppari, Linda, and Rouge?" Psyche wondered.
"Who are they?" Erika asked.
"They're our fellow alternates, of course. Alternates are," Sebizaya explained upon seeing the lost looks on the others' faces, "just as the name implies: alternate versions of Izaya, Shizuo, Mikado, Kida, Anri, Celty, Shinra, Kasuka and Kyohei. There are others somewhere in this world, but because of VIRUS's violence, we're the only ones who either can't or won't go into hiding."
"The ones Psyche mentioned are some of our closest companions before VIRUS arrived. He took us out by surprise…" Roppi began before cutting off.
Izaya thought on their explanation for a moment before saying, "Alternates, I'll have a word with you guys outside the room. The rest of you, try not to kill each other." The alternates went with Izaya outside the room.
"Alright, I need an explanation. Are you guys really clones of me?"
"We are. Is that so hard to believe?" Psyche asked.
Izaya sighed. "Then let's see if you really are me."
Psyche nodded enthusiastically.
"What was mom's name?"
"Why did I start hating Shizuo Heiwajima?"
"Because he was really annoying!"
"What is my favorite food?"
The others looked out the shared room, observing the conversation.
"What was the one magazine we read before Mairu and Kururi went to school when there was nothing to do?"
"What was the best prank we ever pulled in elementary school?"
"We tricked Shinra into believing the world would end!"
Shinra gaped at Izaya.
"Oh, thanks a lot, Izaya!"
"I was 8 then, I wasn't right in the head."
"Are you sure you still aren't?" Kyohei muttered.
"Make this harder, Iza! I'm bored!" Psyche complained.
"Fine. What is the name of our mother's killer?" Izaya questioned.
Psyche's smile seemed to drop.
"Yadogiri Jinnai," he responded, quietly.
"Correct. You are me," Izaya concluded.
"H-Hello? Izaya, can you hear us?"
The informant stood up and headed back into the resting area to see a floating monitor with America, Japan and China onscreen.
"Uh…hi," China greeted.
"Japan, was that zapper on the machine your doing?" Kyohei asked.
"No. We suspect a spy within the hospital. We had warned the other nations to stay away from the machine, but either they didn't listen, or something else went wrong entirely," Japan responded.
"Well, can you get us out?" Huey asked.
"Well..." Japan began, nervously.
"We don't know how to get you guys out without bad things happening," America curtly finished for the older nation.
"Bad things? Like what, dare I ask?" Huey asked, sounding impatient.
"Well, there's a chance that...oh, I don't know...accidentally trap your mind within the virtual world forver?" America suggested, weakly.
"Then find a way to get us out before we have to live here forever," Huey ordered.
"Huey, I ask that you be patient. Nothing of that sort will happen as long as no hackers try to disrupt the code," Japan pointed out.
Huey gave a small huff before sitting back down on the bed.
"Izaya, I need you to head over to your foe's castle and get Shizuo, Kasuka, your sisters and Celty back. Take everyone with you, and just try to survive the wilderness," Japan advised.
"Even the alts?" Izaya asked.
"Yes. Shizuo has his alternates as well, as do Kyohei, Mikado, Anri, Kida, Celty, Shinra...let's just say there are a lot of alternates," America explained.
"Izaya, we promise not to hinder you...right, Roppi?" Hibiya asked, glancing at the alternate.
"I'm not the one who gets in the way. It's Sakuraya's fault," Roppi blamed.
"Is not," Sakuraya quietly responded, but was drowned out by Hibiya's rebuke.
"Roppi, for heaven's sake, your siblings are not people you can just put blame on."
"I don't recall you ever becoming my father, stupid prince."
"Before this turns into a fight," Sebizaya quickly intervened, "I would like to ask Japan something."
"Go ahead," Japan encouraged.
"What will happen once they escape?" Sebizaya asked.
A long silence followed, with Hibiya and Roppi still glaring at one another, until the nation responded, "We programmed you and the other alternates to be characters supporting the main characters...i.e., NPCs. It may be possible we can transport you and the other alternates out of the game, but...we simply don't know what it could do."
Sebizaya let a long sigh pass his lips in response.
"Well, on the bright side, at least you can be their guides. We'll give you advice when needed, but when it comes to your foe's castle...we'll have to keep silent on that," China informed.
"Understood," Izaya reported.
"Then we'll see you guys tomorrow. Try not to die, okay?" America asked.
"We'll try not to," Shinra responded.
"Oh, before I forget, I also have a surprise for Isaac, Miria, Erika and Walker," Japan informed.
10 seconds passed before several people appeared in the room. Isaac and Miria's eyes widened in disbelief.
There were a lot of people now in front of the immortal thieves, too many for Izaya to identify correctly. Erika started squealing "Sebastian~!", while Isaac and Miria ran up to a couple within the small crowd.
"Jacuzzi! How…how are you and Nice alive?"
"Why exactly am I here, again?" someone muttered.
"We gathered enough data from what Firo, Isaac, Miria and Czeslaw said about the people they remembered the most from before the mansion to recreate them within the game. Just try not to get them killed," Japan clarified before the hologram vanished.
Isaac and Miria stood back from Jacuzzi, eyes brimming with tears. Izaya could see a jagged sword tattoo on the young man's face, already beginning to cry.
"Aww! Jacuzzi, don't cry! It'll be okay!" Miria comforted, hugging him again.
"So, uh…Miria? Isaac? Care to introduce us to your friends?" Mikado asked.
"Oh! Meet Jacuzzi, Nice, and Chane!" Miria introduced.
"I'm Claire Stanfield. Hey, Firo," a man with reddish-brown hair greeted.
"I'm Ladd Russo. Pleased to meet ya."
"I'm Graham Specter."
"My name is Rachel."
"You all speak English, then. I'll introduce all of us later, but for now, I'm glad to see you're all on our side…I hope," Izaya concluded.
Meanwhile, in the castle where VIRUS lurked, Shizuo woke to find himself in front of a fireplace, Izaya sitting nearby with bandages wrapped around one hand.
"Izaya? What happened, and where are the others?" the blonde asked, sitting up.
Izaya stiffened, then turned around.
"Shizuo…they took nearly everyone, leaving my sisters, you and your brother, and Celty here. This man who looked exactly like me, calling himself VIRUS, stabbed me in the hand while we were fighting and took the others," he explained.
"You could have woken me up. I could have taken him on in a fight."
"Oh, please. He was about to slit my throat when I woke up. Shizuo, can you, Kasuka and Celty please help me?"
"I still haven't forgotten the treaty. Can't believe Namie, though…selling you out to Nebula."
"Hey, Izaya…do you regret anything you did back in the mansion?"
"A lot. A lot of things."
"Like not saying how I truly feel."
Without warning, Izaya kissed Shizuo. The blonde was surprised, pulling back after a few seconds.
"What? I thought you liked me?"
"I didn't expect that, for crying out loud. What are you up to?"
"Nothing. Can't I do what I want?"
Hesitantly, Shizuo let Izaya kiss him again.
"You're the weirdest person I've met, Izaya."
"Thank you, Shizu-chan~"
Evening swooped down over the land, and Izaya had gathered a few of the group to discuss strategy.
"If you can't be patient for more than five minutes, consider yourself confined to outside the resting room until further notice," Izaya had informed everyone with a deadpan expression on his face. The majority of the group, even Namie, surprisingly, had gone with Izaya back into the resting room, leaving Isaac, Miria, Firo, Kida and Psyche outside.
"So, Psyche…who created you?" Kida asked.
"I don't know…that guy with brown eyes said something about us being NPCs, which sounds like we don't get the honor of having a backstory," Psyche responded, frowning.
"Are there other alternates?" Firo questioned.
Psyche's face lit up.
"Tons of them! There were so many, we had our own town to ourselves! Well…up until VIRUS came here…"
"What happened the day he arrived?"
Psyche's face drained of all color.
"He gave us a choice—either cooperate with him and what plans he had, or die…we chose to resist, but with that, he began trying to slaughter the town. We managed to escape in time, but he…captured us. I haven't seen any of the Shizuo alternates or…well, any alternates besides us."
"How do you know Shizuo and Izaya's names?"
"Just before we were knocked out, VIRUS mentioned giving me and the other Izaya alternates to his rival, and said both their names."
With a long sigh, Psyche pulled his knees up to his chest.
"There were so many of us before he came here. I'm just frustrated…I want news of the others…even a recent picture them would calm me down. I was friends with a lot of people back in Synchronicity Town…"
"Psyche, I'm sure whatever Izaya's got planned, it'll work! He got us out of the mansion, and he'll find a way to beat VIRUS and get the others back!" Miria encouraged.
Izaya opened the door at that moment.
"We have our plan."
When Izaya had finished, Psyche was shaking his head furiously.
"No, no, no, NO! Iza, we should go through the country and get allies first before taking VIRUS on!" he protested.
"No, Psyche. I want to get out of here and drive my knife through VIRUS's heart as soon as possible," Izaya denied.
"At what cost, Izaya? What will happen if it turns out we're outmatched?" Firo questioned.
"Given how many people he kept for himself, the only problem we'll have is Shizuo," Izaya pointed out.
"That's your sisters, Shizuo, his brother and a Dullahan we're talking about here. Meanwhile, you have six immortals, a few teens still shaken from a haunted mansion, a bunch of adults who have some degree of fighting skills, and a bunch of clones. The most we could do to Celty is try to kidnap her back," Kida pointed out.
"And do you know what VIRUS has done to them? Because I don't. Maybe they still see us as our friends or they've been hoodwinked to believe we're the evil ones," Izaya rounded on Kida.
"I at least know VIRUS wouldn't kill them if he knows he can get a game out of them."
"Oh, please, like he could."
"Izaya, look at yourself. You went through hell to get us out. You can't say you didn't end up becoming somewhat-friends with us. If I was in his position right now, I would think in the same vein as he did."
Izaya's blood seemed to turn ice cold at that statement.
"I'm not friends with Shizuo!" he protested.
"And yet he has a crush on you. Let's face it, Izaya: we can be used against you if VIRUS ever gets his hands on us."
The room fell silent, save for those who had been at the meeting to quietly file out and look for food, until Isaac cleared his throat and asked, "When are we leaving?"
"Tomorrow at dawn. Roppi guessed it would take a few days to travel straight towards VIRUS's castle."
"Until then…?" Miria prompted.
"Just…prepare yourselves for a few days travel and make sure you're ready to divulge your tales of fighting aliens." And with that, Izaya made his way to the kitchen to make sure the food was edible at least.
At VIRUS's castle, Celty, Kururi and Mairu were staring outside a castle window.
"So…an evil version of Iza-nii kidnapped the others?" Mairu asked, nervously.
[That's the story he's told us. We're at a disadvantage with only Shizuo, his brother and us on our side.] Celty acknowledged.
"It's just not fair for Iza-nii. First turning back time, then having to rescue the others from an evil version of himself in a video game. Will he ever get a break?" Kururi mused.
"I just want to go home. I've had enough fighting to last me a lifetime," Mairu admitted.
[I know how that feels, girls, but the way things have been going, I'm not surprised if this isn't the end for our trips. Don't worry, I'm sure we'll be safe and sound before long.] Celty comforted.
"Celty, Izaya has news," Shizuo informed, approaching the Dullahan.
"What is it?" the sisters asked.
"Apparently, the guy who captured the others is coming here. We have a few days to prepare," Shizuo relayed.
[We'll try to be ready, then. No promises.] Celty responded. Shizuo nodded and headed away again.
"A few days? What if we aren't ready by then?" Mairu questioned.
[We will. We just have to subdue the immortals and keep the evil Izaya tied up.] Celty assured.
The stars were just beginning to show when Nice found Isaac and Miria outside on the castle's roof, 13th floor. The towers raising up from the fortress more or less faded into the night sky, save for faint pinpoints of light showing their outlines.
"Oh! Nice!" Miria greeted with a falsely cheery voice.
"Hey, Miria, Isaac. How come you guys aren't with the others?" Nice asked.
"We're ready to go, of course!" Isaac responded.
Nice frowned slightly.
"Are you guys sure on that? It's going to be dangerous…are you guys sure you don't want to stay—?"
"N-No!" Miria interrupted, before covering her mouth out of embarrassment. Nice raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"I…uh…I mean that…everything's okay," the brown-eyed blonde explained, face slightly red.
"I see…you guys do realize you can talk with us if things aren't going well, right?"
"Y-Yeah. We're good."
Nice didn't seem convinced for a few moments until she finally left, leaving Miria to sigh heavily.
"I can't believe I acted like that just now."
"We never told them our secret, did we?"
"We didn't until they were on their deathbeds. That was difficult to explain…"
"It'll be easier this time, as long as cars, guns, and gangs don't exist…"
"Gangs at least will. Guns and cars…well, guns will obviously will. Japan has to keep some weapons for us to make sure we live."
"How well do you think they'll take it?"
"Hopefully not too badly. Maybe Jacuzzi will take it well?"
"I don't know…he was pretty calm when we told him when he was alive…"
"Yeah, about five seconds before he was shot."
"…points for trying?"
Dawn covered the sky as Izaya's 'army' trudged out of the fortress. Mikado was more or less carrying Masaomi and Czeslaw, eventually just falling on the ground while Maiza hauled the small immortal in the blue-eyed teen's place and Anri helped both her friends up.
That has to be the most pathetic thing I have ever seen from anyone like Mikado. Ever.
"You know, I'm a bit more comfortable to waking up later in the morning. Preferably when we probably don't know what time it is," Kyohei commented.
"Oh, shut up," Masaomi muttered.
"Not even Isaac and Miria are pretending to be upbeat. Was there any alcohol in the kitchen?" Izaya asked no in particular.
"Closest thing was grapes. Can you get drunk off grapes?" Firo responded.
"Unless they have been aged enough, no. Please tell me you're just tired and not actually drunk or suffering from a hangover or something," Izaya pled.
"Just the tiredness speaking, I think," Firo guessed, nearly stumbling over a rock in his path.
"Since we all seem to be wide awake," Hibiya remarked, a bit scornfully, "we'll be heading to the village of Risembool as one of our stops on our trip. And can we all act like we're not hung over?"
"No promises," Psyche called after his fellow alternate.
Hibiya rolled his eyes as Izaya took the lead and led them towards the forest. The group was a little livelier as the sun rose higher into the sky, with Kida poking fun at some of the odd things around Ikebukuro.
"…I mean, come on! Flying vending machines! You have to admit, at one point, one of those things will just release a bunch of soda cans at once!"
"And…how does he not get away with attempted murder on a daily basis?" Rachel inquired.
"If you want to try to arrest the strongest man in Ikebukuro, be my guest," Kida responded.
"No thanks," Rachel quickly replied.
"Aww, come on, are you scared of him? You've never even seen him…" Kida commented.
"Masaomi, lay off. Shizuo is pretty scary if you've only heard of him and never see him," Mikado ordered.
"I wonder if Japan or any other nation will give us a few hints on how to beat VIRUS," Anri commented.
"They have to. Otherwise, they're going to have a hard time explaining why a bunch of people suddenly have gone missing. It's been at least a week since we left Ikebukuro," Izaya pointed out.
"A week? No…it couldn't…we spent three days in the hospital, then three days…?" Kyohei wondered in a quiet voice, trying to sort out the time.
"Four days. We were awake for 24 hours after you, Kasuka and Kida got captured. We finally got some sleep in the safe room after a bit, but…" Izaya dropped off the conversation there, aware of the others behind them.
"We'll talk once we're in Risembool. Right now, though, let's just act like nothing's wrong," Kyohei advised.
"Hey, why did you guys get quiet?" Nice asked.
"No reason. Just a quick little discussion," Izaya responded a little too quickly.
The rest of the trip to Risembool was quiet after that.
Risembool was a slightly small, peaceful village. Herds of sheep grazed in the pastures, the sky was a peaceful blue, and people were milling about.
"Looks decent so far…you know, Izaya, you could take my advice from last night and try getting the village to be an ally," Hibiya pointed out.
"Hey, Mikado, did you hear someone talking? Because all I heard was—"
"GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW, ELRIC!"
"I SAID I WAS SORRY!"
A short, blonde teen wearing a red coat darted towards Izaya's group and hid behind him.
"Hide me! A deranged woman who uses a wrench is out to kill me!"
"W-What?" Roppi questioned. At that moment, a teenaged girl about the other's age, holding something behind her back, approached the group.
"Hello. You haven't seen anyone with gold eyes and hair with a red coat, have you?" she asked.
"Right here, actually," Izaya responded, stepping aside.
A total of .2 seconds passed before the girl whipped out a wrench and proceeded to clobber the blonde male with it. And .8 more seconds passed before Nice and Psyche could hold the girl back.
"Let me at him!"
"What for?" Nice questioned.
"He broke his automail yet again!"
"We'll let you go if you explain to us what automail is and why you want to kill him!" Psyche promised.
The girl stopped struggling as Nice and Psyche let her go and the blonde boy got up, shakily. Sakuraya was trying to tend to his head wound, only to be waved away.
"My name is Edward Elric. I'm an alchemist. And the woman who tried to kill me," he explained, gesturing to the other, "is Winry Rockbell. Welcome to Risembool."
"Nice to meet you, Edward. I'm Izaya," Izaya informed.
"Where are you guys headed?" Winry asked.
"How did you guess we're not staying?" Shinra asked.
"Not a lot of people stay in Risembool for long," Ed informed.
"We're heading east to see a few of our friends. How many days would we have to travel to get to this spot?" Psyche questioned, showing a map to Ed and pointing at a place in the map.
"Three days at least just to get out of Amestris into Xing. Then past Xing is Pasloe and north of that is Yoitsu…"
"I'm sorry, but I understood nothing. Please repeat that," Izaya appealed.
Ed stared at Izaya, then shook his head.
"It'll take you three days to get you out of this country, Amestris, into the neighboring country, Xing, on foot. By train, it'll take you a day to get past Xing into Pasloe Village if you're still early enough to catch the train," the blonde explained, a little more slowly.
"There's another reason for crossing the country, isn't there?" Winry guessed.
"Have you guys ever heard of the Black King?" Psyche inquired.
"You mean the jerkass who destroyed that town? Yes," Ed bitterly responded.
"I'm guessing you mean Synchronicity Town?" Psyche guessed.
"Yeah. Why do you want to see him?" Ed inquired.
"We have a bone to pick with him. He took a few of our friends and now we want to kill him," Shinra filled in.
"His place is really far east. He has a lot of supporters in the cities near him, so I suggest being really careful when you reach Noct Town," Winry advised, marking a spot on the map near the edge of the continent.
"That's where all those nobles live, right? We'll be careful," Hibiya promised.
"Don't you come from Noct Town?" Ed questioned.
"No. Synchronicity. Noct Town disowned me," Hibiya explained, frowning heavily.
"In that case, careful they don't see you. They're not very kind to anyone who doesn't support the black King," Winry warned.
"Already know that…"
A train whistle nearby alerted the group the train they needed would be taking off soon.
"You guys need to go!"
"Wait, what's automail?" Anri asked.
"Metal prosthetics. Now go!" Ed ordered.
Izaya's group hurried to get onto the train.
The train departed Risembool quickly, with Izaya sinking into a seat.
"When we get into Pasloe or whatever the village we're going to is, I'm asking for a train map," he vowed.
"Good luck with that. Say…have you guys ever heard the legend of the Rail Tracer?" Claire asked. Isaac and Miria instantly paid attention, eyes widening a little.
"What about the Rail Tracer? Is it some sort of monster?" Mikado guessed.
"More or less so. It's said the Rail Tracer targets a train and slowly begins to eats its passengers, starting from the caboose, as it makes its way towards the front of the train. When the conductor is eaten, the train is left to run on its own, until it's eaten as well. They say the Rail Tracer nearly ate the Flying Pussyfoot…" Claire began, but stopped when he noticed Czeslaw, Isaac, Miria and Jacuzzi staring at Claire with wide eyes.
"Is everything okay, you guys?" Psyche asked.
"We were on the Pussyfoot when the Rail Tracer appeared. How do you know the legend?" Isaac questioned Claire.
"Well, you could I say I was the Rail Tracer himself…" the redhead began, a grin on his face.
"D-Don't joke about that! Nice and I saw him on the Flying Pussyfoot a few years ago! You don't seem like the kind of guy to just kill people, Claire…" Jacuzzi pointed out.
"People can change depending on the circumstances. Lovers become killers, psychopaths become heroes, and allies can backstab you," Izaya commented.
"Okay, if we can take our minds off the Rail Tracer for five seconds, does anyone know any town by the name of Pasloe at all?" Ladd asked.
"Oh! Oh! I do!" Erika responded.
"It's from Spice and Wolf, this series about a wolf goddess and a merchant!" Walker explained.
"…and explain to me how that's relevant?" Kyohei asked.
"Pasloe is the town Lawrence finds the wolf goddess in! Oh my gosh, Walker, we could be seeing Holo!" Erika squealed.
"Crud. I was looking forward to a fan girl-free time in a video game," Kyohei cursed.
"On the bright side, Pasloe does sound pretty interesting," Jacuzzi offered.
Izaya noticed how little Isaac and Miria were contributing to the conversation. Miria looked slightly pale, forcing a smile, while Isaac was staring out the window, pretending not to hear anything.
"You know, if what they're saying is bothering you, you could just say so," the dark-haired informant reminded them.
"That isn't who we are, though. We're Isaac Dian and Miria Harvent—the two idiotic lovers who grin and bear everything," Miria responded.
"So you're going to pretend all of this is okay?"
Miria looked at the floor.
"Why not? It's better than correcting them and letting everything go to pieces."
A sudden thunk on top of the train alerted everyone.
"What was that?" Rachel wondered.
"Probably something like the Rail Tracer coming to finish us off," Graham guessed. Izaya was surprised to hear the blonde for the first time completely normal.
"What? I can't speak as normal people do here?"
"No, it's just—"
Another loud thunk broke off the conversation. Isaac leapt back from where he was sitting, accidentally knocking Miria back as well.
"Isaac, what's wrong?" Nice asked.
"I saw the Rail Tracer!" the immortal responded, scrambling to get up with Miria.
"Are you sure?"
Isaac looked back at the window. All that remained was a few red spots that were beginning to be washed away by a just-starting rainstorm.
"Isaac, maybe you're just stressed and seeing things?" Jacuzzi guessed.
"No…I'm sure I saw him!" Isaac insisted.
Izaya sighed and shook his head.
"If the Rail Tracer is on the train, then we're getting off as soon as possible."
That night, Izaya stayed awake, waiting for the announcement that they were arriving in Pasloe. As it turned out, Central—Izaya's intended destination for them to get off and continue to VIRUS's castle on foot—was in the middle of a situation with a terrorist killing members of the military, and Reole and Youswell were just recovering from tyrannical rule under a priest and lieutenant from said military.
"Citizens will be hostile in those areas, and I'd rather not be suspected of working for the military, whatever it is," Izaya stated.
Firo had suggested stopping somewhere in Xing, but it was quickly agreed that Pasloe would be a better place to stop, probably because of new interest in the wolf goddess, Holo.
"She does sound a bit like Ennis, actually. She's this great wolf who can make crops grow—maybe we could use her as an ally?" Walker had suggested.
"Using a goddess to do our dirty work sounds great in context. Have fun negotiating with her," Izaya joked.
"Izaya, Holo isn't a copy of Namie, she's really nice—"
"Gee, thanks for showing so much faith in me."
At that point, the conversation degraded from talking about a wolf goddess's possible help to Namie refusing to believe Walker was just joking, until Rachel finally broke the argument up and they went to bed.
Izaya found himself about to doze off when he heard the door open. A dark figure stood in the doorway.
"Who are you?"
"Oh, me? Just a figment of your imagination."
"Very funny. How about telling me your name?"
The figure walked forward, reaching the other end of the car.
"I'm afraid I cannot tell you that, or anything, really…except for one thing. You won't get any farther than Noct Town because of your status in this world."
"Because I'm the Black King's foe."
"Yes. Have fun beating him."
"Wait, why are you on the train?"
"I said I could only tell you that one thing. I don't go against promises, White King."
Before Izaya could question him any further, the mysterious person left the area.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Japan and America had dozed off at the control panel, as France found out.
"You know, it's a wonder how we'll even survive the next few days while they're stuck inside a game!" the blonde remarked, loudly.
America sat upright, half-awake.
"You both fell asleep. About two days have passed in the game," France informed.
"Crap," America swore, pressing a few buttons. An overhead, onscreen map showed that the party was already passing Xing's easternmost city and was about to arrive at Pasloe. An exclamation mark marked a spot where an event had happened.
"What happened while we were out?"
"I don't know. I've been busy."
"Trying to explain to Sealand and the other micronations about the whole mansion fiasco. You know, I need to have a word with England and Austria about the words they say around them. Kugelmugel and Ladonia already called me out with a lot beginning with the word 'A'…"
"What about finding out who sent them into the game?"
"I wish I found out anything. At the moment, we're going over security cameras. Nothing yet."
The screen transformed from a map to a town surrounded by pale golden fields and bright blue skies. Izaya's party departed from the train, Izaya's character looking quite stressed.
France pressed a button and asked into a speaker, "Izaya? Is everything okay?"
A textbox appeared onscreen, Izaya responding, [Yeah. This town is Pasloe, right?]
"Yes. Where are you guys heading?"
[VIRUS's castle. He has Celty, my sisters and the Heiwajima brothers.]
"VIRUS? Is that the name of the character that's supposed to be the enemy?"
[Yes. France, can you give me directions on where to get to VIRUS's castle from here?]
"You'll have to get over a mountain before you can even get into Noct Town, and from there, it's just a train ride away to Noir City. His castle is positioned exactly opposite of yours, so you should know what the setting should be."
[And how many days will it take?]
"In-game? Hopefully no more than three. In the real world, maybe the rest of today and a little bit of tomorrow."
[And will we encounter anyone who will resist us?]
"Just…try not to stand out when you reach Noct Town. All places past the mountain are loyal to the person designated as the Black King in the game. With any luck, though, you'll only be chased out of Saliber City."
[Gee, isn't that great. Thanks, France. Oh…and what's the situation in the real world?]
"We're going over video cameras right now. We're bound to find whoever sent you guys into the game."
[Good. Thanks.] And with that, Claire approached Izaya to talk to him. France stayed only to see Claire's question before leaving America and Japan to their work.
In all honesty, Izaya would have preferred being asked about the mansion rather than what Claire just inquired:
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
With a bitter scowl, the informant responded, "I considered someone, but she went and stabbed me in the back. Repeatedly."
"It couldn't be this Celty chick, could it?"
"No, she's Shinra's. The guy with the glasses and physician's coat."
"Then who is it?"
"I never asked for you to start prying in my life."
"Sorry. Just wondering."
"I'm not a guy who just gives out personal information."
Izaya casually strolled away from Claire and to Shinra.
"Oh, Izaya. What's up?"
"Claire thinks I like Celty."
"…I'm sorry, what?"
"…so how long do you think we can keep the secret?"
"I bet VIRUS boasts it on the castle walls. And then when we fight, he turns everyone evil."
"Do you think he could control a dullahan?"
"Maybe. How well do you think our chances are on finding other alternates?"
"Not good. Their main town was destroyed, they might have scattered and some were captured by VIRUS."
"I hope Isaac and Miria have ones we can rely on. Another few immortals would probably scare VIRUS, wouldn't they?"
"I have no idea."
Pasloe wasn't a big village, but it was enough to impress Izaya: the whole place was surrounded by fields of golden wheat, and rudimentary paths connected houses and other buildings. A young man with silvery hair and indigo eyes was standing near a wagon cart of some sort several feet away, chatting with a pretty woman.
"Welcome to Pasloe, where we'll hopefully find Holo if Jap—"
"Erika, we're going to use their human names among others," Kyohei quickly corrected.
"Fine. We'll hopefully find Holo if Kiku set the game during the events of the first chapters," Erika explained.
"And where would she be hiding?" Miria asked.
"In the wheat fields, of course! If not in Lawrence's cart…" Walker added, quickly.
The group proceeded to search for the wheat fields for, as Erika and Walker explained, "A really cute girl with long brown hair, red eyes, wolf ears and a voice similar to Ennis's".
"We look stupid. I never imagined the day I had to search for a fictional character in a field of wheat," Namie declared after a few minutes.
"Wait until you meet Holo! She's this really, really cool person who speaks like a noble and she can make stuff grow!" Erika was boasting to no one in particular.
"Do you think she can make Czes grow a few inches?" Claire joked.
"Hey! I am not that short for my age!" Czeslaw protested, partially muffled by the wheat.
"Sure you aren't? You sound 10 years old, but you look like a 8 year-old," Claire went on.
"Go die in the deepest, darkest place there ever was, Claire."
"Erika, are you sure we'll find Holo here?" Kyohei inquired.
"I think…Walker, when did Holo appear?"
"After the Harvest Festival thing."
"And when is that going to happen?"
"End of harvesting season?"
"Oh, for the love of…" Namie began.
"Now, now, Namie, have a little faith in Erika! Holo sounds legitimate…I think," Isaac piped up.
"A wolf girl doesn't sound that farfetched!" Miria agreed.
"And what sounds farfetched to you guys?" Namie questioned, cynically.
"Aliens," Miria responded without hesitating, a grin on her face.
"…you are the weirdest person I've ever met."
About an hour passed before the group gave up their search and camped out nearby. Czeslaw was still taking offense to the short joke and huddled near Firo, glaring directly at Claire.
"I was joking, you know," Claire reminded after a few minutes.
"I refuse to believe that. Erika, Walker, is this close to the end of the harvest season?" Czeslaw questioned.
"It looks like it. Maybe today is the day?" Erika responded.
"I don't want to get people's hopes up. There's a chance we're a month off," Walker admitted.
"Then that's just great. Meanwhile, VIRUS could—"
"You know what? Shut up about VIRUS. I'm just as worried about him as you are, Izaya, but I don't mope every five seconds about him," Nice pointed out.
"Nice, don't…" Miria began, but Izaya interrupted her.
"You haven't just had your siblings and friend's lover kidnapped."
"I've already experienced the worst. Played with too many chemicals, and here I am today," Nice dismissed.
"U-Uh, changing the subject…Isaac, Miria, what happened, exactly, after the Flying Pussyfoot?" Jacuzzi asked.
Isaac didn't respond for a moment before replying, "You don't remember the magicians?"
"No. Were there any on the train?"
"Jacuzzi, what are you talking about? We visited the Genoard family, didn't we Miria?" Nice inquired.
"Yeah! We did!" Miria confirmed.
"After getting off the Pussyfoot, I don't remember much. Just Graham trying to kill Claire," Jacuzzi admitted.
"That wasn't the only thing that happened. There was…oh, where to begin…" Miria began, breaking off as she tried to think.
"Look, they're starting to harvest!" Erika pointed out.
The others looked in the direction of the fields to see the harvest festival beginning. The man they saw earlier was now watching the harvest, his eyes occasionally darting towards the group.
"He thinks we're weirdoes," Namie muttered.
"You could stop being so negative all the time, too," Nice pointed out.
"It's true. I bet I could walk up to him right now, and he'd agree with me," Namie bet.
"Not true. If this is set like…a year after the first chapter in-universe, he's not going to see us as weird—oh, and here he comes," Walker realized as the man approached them.
"Excuse me, but where are you people from?" the man asked, sounding a little like Isaac.
"We're from the far west," Claire responded.
"We came to see a few friends near Noir City," Izaya added.
"Are you sure that's a good idea? If you come from Amestris or Xing, Noir City will not take too kindly to any of you—even you," the man pointed out, gesturing to Izaya.
"We're not aiming to cause trouble. We'll be out of there before there can be any trouble," Izaya informed.
"I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Kraft Lawrence, a merchant. And you are…?"
"Izaya Orihara. We were looking for that wolf goddess earlier. Would she be in the wheat fields?" Izaya asked.
"Depends on whether or not you believe those stories. Personally, I'm not sure," Lawrence admitted.
"Is that so? In that case, how long are you staying in town?" Mikado asked, quickly.
"I'm leaving tonight. I'm heading to Pawa," Lawrence explained.
"And that would be…in the south?" Psyche asked, opening up the map.
"Near the forests, yes. To be honest, I'm a little nervous. There have been reports of ghosts lurking on the trains."
"Ghosts? Like…the Rail Tracer?" Miria asked.
"Rail Tracer? What's that?" Lawrence asked in turn.
"Nothing, never mind. Do these ghosts have an official name?"
"No. To be honest, we…don't really name them. Why would anyone want to name creatures in the first place?"
"You named a goddess. Who's apparently a wolf," Izaya pointed out, smirking.
"Religion is different than reality," Lawrence reminded, glaring at the informant.
"Really? That's not true for many people. They believe a god can appear and solve all their troubles if they pray hard enough, and you certainly seem like the kind of guy to do so."
"Izaya, don't, please," Ennis quietly pled, but Lawrence seemed offended.
"Well, if you'll excuse me…" he began, walking away stiffly.
"Nice, Izaya. It seems religion is his weakness," Roppi commented.
"I didn't mean it…" Izaya protested.
Late that night, the group proceeded onwards east again, giving up on Lawrence or Holo for now and having to go on foot as no train found a safe passage through the mountain.
"Forget it," Japan had dismissed when Izaya had given his report earlier to he, England and France.
"You can recruit him later if possible, but you probably should leave recruiting up to Walker and Erika, or Isaac and Miria if that's possible."
"You know, England, wasn't there an Unforgiveable Curse in one of your wizarding books that could control people?" France asked, a sly smile on his face.
"Are you suggesting I allow them to use spells Death Eaters used regularly?" England questioned.
"Well, that Killing Curse could have easily done the job with VIRUS…"
"He's a boss character, France. Avada Kedavra will not work on him. I doubt he even plays by the game's rules."
"Still, it wouldn't be a waste of time to make a spell book for the game! You and Shinra—"
"One more word about that place or anything even remotely connected to it, and I'll use the Unforgiveable Curses on you."
"But I thought it was just fiction~"
At that point, Japan had to end the conversation there before the two nations could spill any secret revolving around their trip through the mansion or Izaya's. Meanwhile, the group was furious at Izaya for driving Lawrence—and extremely likely Holo as well—away from them.
"You are an idiot, Izaya. Even more so than I thought was possible," Kida had remarked.
The only relief from the stream of reminders was when Maiza, Elmer and Huey finally declared they had to rest for the night, with Izaya taking the watch as punishment.
"In return, however, we have to stop reminding Izaya of that little…incident. In all honesty, I think we've done enough for one day," Maiza reminded.
So now Izaya was keeping watch around the campsite, making sure no one popped up and tried to kill them during the night. The mountains were now huge masses, featureless against the night. Trees were sparsely scattered across the landscape past Pasloe, with all its lights on as the festival continued. The dark shape of Lawrence's wagon had disappeared an hour or two ago, heading south of the village towards whatever Pawa was.
"Pawa is this place where they make most of the kingdom's sweets and raise the majority of the horses used for royalty. They've been loyal to both the Black King's character and the White King's character for a while now, but anything could easily make them change their minds, and Lawrence may end up discussing you with them," Hibiya had explained.
Izaya sighed heavily.
"This is what, the tenth time I've nearly screwed everyone over? What am I going to do?" he wondered.
A swish of robes alerted him, and his switchblade was out within seconds.
"You're pretty quick. I'm not surprised you're the one supposed to rival the Black King."
This wasn't the same person who approached Izaya on the train. This new person had a cloak as white as snow on, with a mask resembling some sort of reptile on.
"I suppose you're in league with the guy on the train last night?"
"Yup. We have a lot of colleagues over the continent, and you had the luck to have me being the keeper of this place."
"How is that lucky?"
"Because I'm not going to withhold information from you like Zero did. So, what do you want to know?"
"…you're an info broker, then. Very well. What am I going to expect in his castle?"
"He's going to blow your secrets sky high, if a slip-up doesn't do the job. Then he's possibly going to hypnotize your friends, and while he's at it, curb-stomp you and show you as an example to the rest of the world if they don't submit."
"And they're going to obey, I take it?"
"Not easily. See, the thing is that the White King is the fair leader, the one people want to rule over them. The White King's ancestors, in ancient lore, were heroes, tamers of mythical monsters, and creator of places to live in."
"So the White King is meant to be perfect?"
"No. In fact, the family line is cursed to suffer. What would have been your great-grandpa was crushed by an avalanche when he went to save the mountainous town of Perevella, then his son was stoned when he tried to convince Noir Town's staunchest supporters to support the current king at the time. The man who would have been your dad was killed just over a year ago by a werewolf…poor thing, lasted only a day before he transformed for the first time…quite painfully, I should add."
Izaya fell silent. The family his character had in-game was doomed, at least on the male line, and the details he could gleam about elsewhere within the continent was useful, at least.
"The name of the continent, by the way, is Twytil. The Black King's ancestors are way better off—the only ones recorded in history lived a long time. Up north, you'll encounter Drachma, and you don't want to mess with those guys…trust me."
"How do you know we're not natives?"
"The real White King is much older than you. And nicer. Pretty much Dumbledore."
"Fictional character who dies. I can't stay long, one of them is bound to find me if I stay here."
"The Black King's biggest supporters. He doesn't recognize them as his official allies yet, but they try to bring down anyone who's opposed to his ideas. So far, Aerugo, which borders Pawa, has been attacked by them, and Creta about a week after."
"Anything else in the south or north?"
"Past the mountains, the north nation is called Yoitsu, where Pasloe's harvest goddess came from. Sadly, though, as Yoitsu is heavily supportive of the Black King, it'd be much, much easier to try to get an audience with Amestris's dictator, Bradley. Look, I have to go now before—"
Suddenly, the world grew dark, and when Izaya dared to move, it changed into the mansion, where Steve was approaching Izaya, the bodies of his comrades behind him. Maybe, just maybe, it was all a dream—escaping, learning about Heiwa's killer, getting everyone safe and sound—
"Izaya, wake UP!"
A quick slap to the face, and the informant found himself on the ground, a few of his allies looking at him.
"Izaya, how many fingers am I holding up?" Shinra asked, holding out a few fingers.
"Yup. Izaya, what happened? You suddenly just collapsed while on watch!" Walker questioned.
"I…" Izaya began, but paused as he quickly scanned the faces as he sat up. The group sent to check on him was Walker, Shinra, Celty, Kasuka and Firo.
"I had a flashback to a time loop. Might have been the 9th one."
"What happened in that one?" Firo inquired.
"Steve was crabby in that one. He slaughtered Shinra, Kida, Mikado and Namie first before going after the rest of us. I never saw Isaac and Miria that time loop after we entered the mansion, though," Izaya explained.
"They could have been in hiding. As for Steve…well, he wasn't a very nice alien from the start, anyway."
"Those blue aliens mentioned having an original, though. I'm guessing they had him for a while, considering the nations went through the same thing a long time ago."
"If I'm getting our timelines straight, five years ago Ryuuzu went into the mansion and came out alone, then…maybe three years later the nations came in, and two years after that, us."
"I wonder what kind of person Ryuuzu was. He gave up eventually, and he died a year after the mansion…"
"Not a very strong one. He only went along with his friends before the time loops started because he was picked on so much at school, anything would be better. He got his wish, sadly."
"I received some of his memories when I used the journal. Ryuuzu never had an easy life, and he was pretty happy to die after leaving the mansion."
Firo did not question this, instead asking, "How many times did Isaac and Miria die, anyway?"
"Isaac died the second time on the 5th time loop, then Miria on the 6th. They managed to survive up to the 20th loop. Those, past the first time loop, were the only times they died."
"Wow. Didn't think they were so strong."
"Or smart, I think. I couldn't find them in a few loops. There was the safe room…"
"That could have easily been luck on their part."
"Hey, is he going to be okay, or do we need to hurry back to Pasloe?" Kyohei asked.
"He'll be fine. Come on, let's go back to sleep. Hey, Izaya," Walker asked as the others headed back into their tents, "were you talking with someone before you fainted?"
"No," Izaya responded.
"I thought I saw some guy in white robes talking to you before something came up and made you fall unconscious."
"Might have been a dream. I never saw anyone, nor spoke to anyone."
Walker didn't seem convinced, only going back to his tent when Erika and Kyohei called him over.
The following morning, Shinra was awoken by the sound of a heavy thud, and for a brief moment, he thought Izaya had fallen unconscious again.
"Hey, Shinra, some guy delivered this book just now!" Isaac alerted, which indicated the physician was to get up right away and see what was just delivered.
Heading outside, he saw Izaya looking over a book titled, "The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 7" with a horrorstruck look in his eyes.
"Shinra…wasn't this…" he began.
"It looks like it, but it isn't it," Shinra interrupted.
"I programmed it into the game," England's voice alerted them.
"You did it? Why?" Izaya questioned, fighting to keep calm.
"Because you guys will need to fight. Shinra, that book won't make you blind in-game. Izaya, just relax and leave everything up to us."
"In the meantime, Shinra, I suggest looking up the Patronus spell and working on that. Izaya's welfare depends on it at the moment," England advised before he was gone.