"How could this be possible...?" I heard the president muttered underneath his breath as he adjusted his glasses. Everyone was silent as I spoke.
The look on their faces were of shock, as if I had thrown them an unbelievable bombshell.
"You've got to be kidding me.
You're telling me, after all this time, there was some mastermind behind all of this?!" The lights in the room began to flicker as Mitsuhide-senpai shouted, almost if they were reacting to his anger.
"Mitsuhide, calm yourself." The president spoke in a commanding tone as he adjusted his glasses again.
"Tch..." Senpai clicked his tongue as he backed down.
The president then turned to me. The moment our gaze met I felt a shiver go down my spine from his scary eyes.
His face was calm yet from the furrowing of his brows, I could easily tell he was also angry, but he was suppressing his emotions and that somehow made him even scarier.
"Takatora, this Alma person.
You said that they were the one to lead you to a channel and caused what happened to you? That they appeared before you again earlier today and even offered you "more answers" ?"
"Please... I know it sounds crazy. I can scarcely believe it myself, but what I'm telling you is all true." I said desperately. "You must believe me."
"It's not that we're doubting the truth of what you've told us but, still, all of this isn't something that we can simply take in just like that."
The president sighed as he rubbed his head in distress. I looked around to see the rest of the boys doing the same.
Was it truly so hard to believe what I've said even after all they had gone through? Was the club not meant to research and find the truth of this fake world?
I began to feel a sense of frustration and loneliness as I looked down to my left arm. On it still, was the red mark from when Alma grabbed had me.
I could still feel a sting of pain with every little movement.
"Takatora, your arm." Hideyoshi said as he noticed it.
"Huh? Here, let me see." The president reached his hand out to check but a sudden frightful memory came across my mind, causing me quickly pulled my arm away.
"NO! Please don't touch me!" I cried as I hid it from sight.
Everyone was quiet from my sudden outburst. I could feel their piercing gaze as I cowered in my seat.
"Sorry..." I heard the president apologized as he receded his hand. His face looked hurt as he turned away.
"Prez, I do recall something similar to Takatora's case." Hideyoshi suddenly spoke up, as if trying to change the subject. We all turned to him in surprise.
"Do you remember when... "it" came back? During that time, I heard it. There was someone, or something, that was laughing at us from a distance."
"Hey, hey, Takuya. Are you serious? Why didn't you bring this up earlier?" Senpai asked.
"It slipped my mind."
"You useless bastard. You knew the rule was to report any and all irregularities!"
"Enough!" The president immediately stepped in and broke the two up. "If what Hideyoshi's saying is true, then there is no doubt anymore.
There is someone behind everything within Artificial and we now have a much bigger problem in our hands."
I watched as they argued among each other, not knowing how to interject. I was confused about what they were talking about, but it sounds as if they've finally believed me.
"Alma said, I have three days." I spoke up loudly, trying to get back their attention. "That I have to go to a specific location in "Eden", that place before, outside of Artificial.
If I don't they... they..."
"What? Tell us!" Senpai demanded. The president immediately threw him a dirty look.
"It's okay, Takatora. Take a deep breath and speak calmly." He reassured.
I steadied myself and took a deep breath. My heart was beating rapidly. The event from earlier was still fresh in my mind and was pressing down on me. I'm scared. I'm worried.
After all, it will be all because of me that...
"They are threatening the people of this world. Alma... is going to do the same to the people what they did to me, lead them to that terrible place and get them killed."
I forced the words out of my mouth, despite my reluctance.
"What?!" Everybody gasped. Their eyes were widen and a look of shock and fear were spread across their faces.
"Takatora are you sure that's what he said!?" The president asked, bursting out of his seat. His huge body overshadowed me, like a mountain, as I slid back in my chair.
Noticing his outburst, he quickly composed himself. "Ahem... Is that really what he told you?" He asked in a more calmer yet rough voice while adjusting his glasses.
"That's what they were implying, yes. I'm sure of it." I nodded my head. "Alma spoke of "channels" and how anyone can go through them if led to."
"He knows about the channels too!?" I heard Senpai cried out in surprise.
"What are these channels they spoke of? Alma called them passages to "Eden", that going through them will lead to paradise and back.
Senpai, did you not warn me before when I stood in front of those strange doors? So you do know something about them don't you? Did you also not say that there was no way in or out of Artificial?!"
"Whoa, whoa! Take it easy there, girlie!" Senpai threw his hands up and reeled back from my sudden barrage of questions.
"S-sorry." I apologized but when the thought of why I did not know about any of this information came to my mind, I began to feel angry.
"Were you not supposed to have given me answers to my questions? Yet why is it that I knew nothing about all this? Why were you withholding information?"
"Wha? No!. No, no, i-it's not anything like that. It's just...errr... never came up? Not to mention you left in such a huff. But umm...
sorry?" Senpai scratched his head and laughed nervously as he gave me a haphazard apology, making me even madder.
"You've got to be kidding me-!"
"Takatora, please do settle down. What Mitsuhide is saying is true. We are not purposely withholding any information from you."
The president replied to me gruffly as he noticed my growing frustration.
I sighed and sat back down.
"There really isn't much to the channels. Whatever that Alma told you, is pretty much it." Senpai began to speak again.
"Artificial is supposed to be completely closed off yet these..."doors" do somehow still appear."
"We had first assumed that it might be just an anomaly, an error within Artificial.
Where tears in the weaker area of Artificial's barrier, creating a sort of unstable passage outside of this world. It's why we call them "Channels"." He explained.
"Channels are rare occurrences, usually appearing in very remote and at edge of the cities and only last briefly before being closed up again.
But because of its rarity and abnormality compared to the rest of this world, it's quite easy to detect if there is one. However..."
"Now that we know of there being someone who might be behind the scene in all of this, there is not a doubt in my mind.
The fact that you were so easily led to a channel, the fact that this Alma person knew so much about them and even threaten to lead more people through them.
He is the real cause." Senpai voice suddenly got low as the lights in the room start to flicker again.
"Senpai, don't blow a fuse." Hideyoshi warned.
"Shut up, Takuya."
The president let out a sigh as he turn back to me. "Hmph... Takatora, you said you were sent a strange app, correct? May we see it?" He asked me.
"Y-yes!" I replied as I quickly pulled out my cellphone and slid it across the table. He looked at it closely before placing it near his cellphone where Senpai was.
"Mitsuhide, can you hack into it?"
"Leave it to me!" Senpai replied with glee. I watched as he suddenly disappeared from his live chat and reappeared within my phone. "Huh? What the-?!"
"This app... what in the world-?! AH...ARHHHHH!" Senpai let out a scream.
We leapt out of our seats in a panic as electrical sparks flew out from the cellphone.
"I'm... I'm okay! Ow..." He reassured, his voice coming from the president's phone as he was back on the live chat. He was in pain, almost as if he had been electrocuted.
"What the hell happened?!"
"Kenjirou, this app, it's encrypted in such a way that I even can't break in. Like a door that's been bolted shut a hundred times over. And when I try to access it, it threw me out! It's crazy."
"Take it easy, don't push yourself."
"Yeah, I don't plan to any time soon after that debacle. Ugh, ow..." He chuckled.
"If even Senpai can't touch this thing, this is serious. Prez, the people in this world are in serious trouble." A sad look spread across Hideyoshi's face as he spoke.
"People are going to be killed, but also... they might even end up like us. Such a thing..."
"...I know. And there's no way we can let that happen." As the president spoke, his voice was emotionless yet on his face was a terrifying scowl.
"And we're the only ones who can do anything about it."
His response took me by surprise. "Does-does this mean you'll help?" I asked nervously.
"Of course. We can't let innocent people get hurt. As the A.R.C., the only ones who know the truth of this world, we have a responsibility to protect everyone." He declared.
His voice was rough, yet he spoke in a reassuring tone. Although scary, the look in his eyes were calm and gentle.
"Well said Prez! Count me in as well!" Hideyoshi said proudly as he slapped the President's back.
The two then turned their eyes toward senpai who was still nursing his injuries.
"What? What are you looking at me for?" He asked as he noticed they were staring at him.
"Senpai, you're really spoiling the moment."
"It's not like I have a choice in this, the way I am. I thought it would go without saying that I'll have to watch over all of you anyway!"
"Ha ha. Senpai, the only time we want you to talk and you stayed quiet. You really have no tact." Hideyoshi sighed.
“What do you want me to say? I’m in? Well, I’m in like double chocolate chip ice cream mint!”
“What the hell?”
"Is... is that not popular anymore?" He asked nervously.
I watched in shock as they joked around. I was in awe. They had nothing to do with any of this, and even after all I had said to them, they were still willing to help.
A sense of gratefulness swelled within me, as I looked at each of their determined faces.
“Um... I’m sorry about what I said before!” I gathered myself to speak.
“That I called you all monsters... that you were crazies. I’m really sorry!”
“Well, it’s water under the bridge. You weren’t exactly wrong anyway...” Senpai replied shyly.
“Senpai, reel it back a little. Don't cry now.” Hideyoshi snickered.
“Oh, shut up.”
My heart felt at ease. Maybe... maybe I can trust them...
“And... umm... please, let me help as well.” I firmly requested.
Everybody looked to me in surprise.
“My friend... I believe Alma is going to target her specifically. Asumi, she’s the only one...
She’s all I have left in this world. I... I can’t lose her.” Just the mere thought of it was draining all the energy from my body.
“But Takatora, you will have to go to that world again.” Hideyoshi responded. “You went through all of that just recently. Will you be able to...?”
I could hear the concern in his voice as he try to say it the best way possible. He wasn’t wrong.
Memories of that nightmarish world is still fresh in my mind and every time I try to recall them; I could feel the sweat running down my neck. It was terrifying.
And now, yet again, I would have to go back. My body was shaking uncontrollably just from the thought of even stepping foot there, but...
“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice, Takatora.”
I looked up from the President’s response.
“The truth of the matter is, all of this, Alma is doing it with you in mind. The way he spoke of us, we really are nothing more than a sideshow to him.
Even if you are to stay behind and we went, Alma, without a doubt, will somehow drag you out as well. You, unfortunately, are the focus of his madness.” He stated.
He was right. From the beginning, Alma wanted me. Even if I let only the A.R.C. go, there is no telling what would happen.
For this I must... for Asumi's... for the people’s sake... I...
“Damn that bastard. To do all of this. Is this all but a sick game to him? It is just inhumane!” Hideyoshi cursed.
“With all the description of this "person", there is no way that he's a normal human being. Heh, I won't forgive him for this. For all they have done.”
Senpai snickered but his voice was cold and angry. “Just you wait, you asshole. I will find you.”
I clenched my fist so hard, I felt my nails digging into my palm.
“Yes, I too won’t forgive them.” I said firmly.
“I won’t let them toy with us or anyone else anymore! I will go! Whatever might come to be...,"
“I refuse to be subjected to that psycho’s whims!” I declared with every ounce of courage I had.
I looked to see that everyone was smiling warmly towards my newfound determination.
"Well said, Takatora. Then let us get prepared. We have three days, let’s do this.” The president announced as he adjusted his glasses.