Redemption isn't an easy thing to think about.
Second chances aren't given away for free by most, and then there's always the point of who deserves them? It's a really sore subject for most, especially if you don't like to admit to your mistakes. I never really thought I'd be put in a position where redemption was... everything.
My life had been seemingly normal at first! I'm really a plain guy. I go to a high school in the Akita prefecture. Not to brag or anything, but the only thing extraordinary about me is that I'm in the top twenty students of my grade! It's not super impressive being number seventeen, at least, not like being number one is, but I like to think that since I work so hard, I can be happy with what I've been dealt.
My name is Arata Shoto. I'm a second-year guy with messy brown hair that can never seem to stay down. I don't think I'm in any place to pass judgment over anyone else. I'm just the average student of an average city. Of course, the only thing that explains my position right now is perhaps... the fire.
Two months into my first year, a delinquent student started a fire in science room. It spread really quickly, and soon half my school was ablaze. I was able to get out safely, but my mind kept going back to conversation I had overheard about a class trapped in the inferno. I couldn't take it. My legs moved on their own, and despite firemen trying to stop me, I ran back into the building.
I don't know how I didn't die that day. Maybe it was dumb luck. But the class, 2-C, got out safely thanks to the path I created. Of course, I have some scars to prove it, and I still have lung problems to this day, but I really wouldn't do anything differently.
I was heralded as a local hero of sorts. Honestly, it was nice at first, but it got really embarrassing. I like my privacy. I got a medal and stuff, too.
The school has gotten closer since that incident, I'd like to think. They caught the delinquent. Some third year involved with the yakuza. I made some friends, and was able to check in on some of the upperclassmen. It's been a good school career for me so far. But my actions during that fire... could that have lead me here?
In the beginning, there's always nothing...
I awoke with a start. Crap, what time is it? I'm going to be late for school...! I promised Yukimura-san to lend her my copy of the math notes, so hopefully I'm not too late -... huh? Wait, a minute. I feel around on a bed that's just a little bit too comfortable to be my own.
Arata: This has to be the comfiest mattress I've ever felt.
I flop back down onto it, and sink my head into the pillow. Wow! These are like, super fancy hotel-quality pillows. The sheer coziness of the bed catches me off guard and I roll around in it, clutching a pillow. The sheets are warm, but not too warm - yes. This is the perfect bed. It'd be a shame to get up...
And then the alarm of the situation hits me. This is DEFINITELY not my stiff mattress with one pillow and regular blanket set-up. I raise myself up so fast, I practically give myself whiplash.
Now that I have my eyes open, I can see where I am. It looks like the fanciest, most expensive room I've ever been in. I feel like just breathing in it will cost me ¥10000. The walls are decorated with lavish tapestries and beautiful paintings. Red - velvet? - curtains with a thick gold rope frame a metal panel where I'd assume a window should be. Huh. That's strange. There are no windows in here that haven't been sealed off.
On a wooden table in the corner of the room rests a vase of beautiful red roses. The vase is crystal, and sparkling in the light of the... c-chandelier?! Just where am I? There's two wooden chairs at the table, intricately carved, with a red velvet cushion to match the curtains. There's a large wooden closet as well. And beside me, there's a nighttable that matches the regular table with some sort of electronic... iPad knockoff?
When I move, it flashes once, as if inviting me to pick it up. The monitor switches on. There are four icons for what I presume to be apps. One is an icon of a bloodied knife. Ew, gross. I don't need a gore app. The next is a pixel magnifying glass. The third is what I presume is a messaging app, as it has a textbook messaging icon, and the last is blinking. It has the picture of a white glove on it. I try clicking app with the white glove, and the screen goes dark for a moment, before a video starts to play.
???: Hello! Protagonist-san, it seems like you've woken up! You've clicked this video, so you must be awake, kyahaha!
???: I know what you must be thinking! What is this place? Why am I here? Why did you call me that? Well, I'll answer those questions very, very quickly before my real appearance! It's no fun for the reader if the Protagonist is too confused.
My head hurts.
???: First of all, welcome to the Joker Manor! I'll be your caretaker during your indefinite stay here. My name is Maid-chan!
Maid-chan: You're here because you share something in common with all seventeen other high school students that have taken up residence here.
Maid-chan: Your first task is to find that out! I suspect you'll do this easy-breezy though, kyahaha!
Maid-chan: Though I have to warn you about some of the rules of this "survival game". The first and only rule for now is: do not reveal your true name! That's right. Arata Shoto, you are no longer Arata Shoto.
Maid-chan: In this house, you're going to be Protagonist-san.
Maid-chan: The gravity of the situation is weighing in on you, huh? I wouldn't break that rule! It could mean death for you!
Protagonist: Wait, death-? Hold on, please explain-
Maid-chan: Nope! No time to explain! This is, after all, only the first task. Remember! Task one is to find out what everyone has in common with each other.
Maid-chan: Are you ready? My heart is absolutely pounding... You're going to meet all sorts of characters....
I stay quiet.
Maid-chan: I'll assume you said 'hip-hip-hooray! Let's do this, Maid-chan!', and let you get on your merry way! Transmission, end!
I'm sitting up on the bed, trying to process what just happened.
Here's what I've got: I'm in a place called 'Joker Manor', being taken care of by an eccentric lady named Maid-chan, and my real name is off-limits... and this is... punishable by death? I lay down. Fuck.
No! I can't stay moping. I have to get up. I have a task. Like Maid-chan said. If I want more information... I'd better do what she says for now. I get up and sit on the edge of my bed. Oh, I'd better check out the other apps first. I hesitantly click on the bloody knife... and -.... Nothing. It doesn't open. Huh, weird.
Next is the magnifying glass. I click on it, and it opens a dark blue screen. There's a list of names here, though each one's been greyed out. There are two other tabs, but they're also greyed out so I can't click on them. Actually, there's one name here I can click on. I count them. 17/18. Protagonist. I click the name and... - A password? I try entering 'protagonist' on a hunch.
It doesn't work. Oh, that's as far as I'll get right now I guess.
The next app I try is chat. There's a group chat with 19 members including myself and Maid-chan, and a private messaging chat between Maid-chan and I. I wonder if I should send a message...?
...Failed to send.
Huh. I guess I can't send messages yet. That's all the apps then.
I get out of bed finally, and give the room one last look before I head to the door. In the reflection of the ID, I can see I'm in regular clothes and shoes, and my hair is still as messy as ever. I can't help but smile. At least I can find comfort in one familiar thing. My hand turns the handle, and I take a deep breath in. There's no telling what could be beyond this point. I have to remain on guard at all times, and make sure everyone around me is safe, just like me.
Come on Arata...no, Protagonist, you can do this. Or at least, I think I can. The door opens and I'm confronted by a hallway just as beautiful as the room I'm staying in. It seems to be empty for now. There are doors that line either side of this hallway, and at the right end, there is a grand set of stairs heading downwards, and one heading upwards. I assume this floor must be for bedrooms...? Or private rooms at least. Mine has a nameplate and a device to scan something beneath it. The nameplate reads Protagonist. The scanner must be to open up the door again... I look down at the electronic ID in my hands. It has a barcode. I scan it, and my room pops open. Oh, handy! Alright, time to head off!
I close the door again, and start heading down the hallway. My hand trails against the wooden siding against the walls. It feels nice and smooth to the touch. If this were a hotel and not a kidnapping situation, I'd be overjoyed!
...And probably broke.
I laugh a bit at that thought, and just as I head past the last door - WHAM!!!
I'm knocked backwards by a door hitting me in the face. Man, that hurt! I check to see if my nose is bleeding... or anything else. Well, it doesn't appear I'm too badly hurt, but I groan and cradle my head anyway. What was that...?
A girl is standing over me, and suddenly gasps. She brings a hand to her mouth and crouches down quickly to my side.
???: OHMIGOSH, I'm like, totally sorry- I didn't get you too bad, right? Talk about bad timing!
Protagonist: ...No, no, it's fine... ergh...
She's pretty well-kept, I note. Her nails are perfectly manicured and long, she's wearing a fresh face of makeup, and she smells... really nice. It's a sweet scent, like cotton candy. ... Am I being creepy? She looks at me expectantly.
???: Um, like... so, you're here too, right...
Protagonist: Uh, yeah. I take it you watched the video on the ID-things too?
???: ... Yeah, I did. Maid-chan, huh? That's kind of tacky.
???: I'm going to give her a piece of my mind once we get this task over, right!? You'll have to hold her down for me~, I'm not too strong...
???: But don't be mistaken! I can fight like a champ! Hiii-YAH!
Oh, she's super refreshing in weird way.
Protagonist: Haha, I'm sure. Though, I don't think fighting her is a good idea... just because she's our captor, and we don't know what she's capable of yet.
???: Humuuu. I guess you're right.
She sighs and sits back, looking at me for a long moment.
???: Okay! I've decided I can trust you! My name here is Killer!
Killer: It's really strange... but I'm a detective, and a detective named 'Killer' is kind of-...
Protagonist: Killer, huh? I'm Protagonist! Or at least, that's what Maid-chan said.
Killer: Protagonist.... Protag-kun, huh? I wonder if these names have any signifigance.
I guess I'm getting a nickname already...
She gets up to her feet and brushes herself off. Looking down at me, she offers a hand. I take it, and she helps me to stand.
Killer: Let's work together right now. I think I could use some help on this one.
Protagonist: Uh, sure!
Protagonist: Hey Killer-san, if you don't mind me asking...
Protagonist: Where did you get those cosmetics? They seem pretty.
Protagonist: I mean, pretty fresh.
Killer: Uh-huh, haha! They were in the belongings in my closet. Did you not have a closet in your room?
Protagonist: Oh, I had one, I just didn't check it out.
Killer: Then you've probably got stuff in there too!
Protagonist: That makes sense...
I look down the hallway again, and survey the rooms. Nothing else seems to be down here... But that's strange... there are supposed to be seventeen others besides me right? Sixteen that I haven't met. Have they all left their rooms already...? Or are we the first ones awake?
Killer cocks her head at me and clears her throat. How long have I been staring absently? I jump back to look at her.
Killer: Are you sure I didn't hit you too hard, Mr. Daydreamer? Hehe.
Protagonist: No, I'm sure I'm fine.
Protagonist: Should we move on and look for others?
Killer: I think that's a good idea. Our task is to find out something we all have in common, right? Shouldn't be too hard.
She starts walking towards the stairs, but before she gets too far, our IDs let out a high pitched beeping noise. We look at each other, and each of us unlocks our own ID in silence. The white glove app is blinking.
Maid-chan: I see you've made a new friend! Once you meet someone, their profile becomes unlockable in the Connections App! Or the app with the magnifying glass! Well, toodle-loo~ happy hunting!
Killer looks up at me after her transmission ends, and shrugs.
Killer: Guess I get to know some cool facts on you, Protag-kun! Jeez, I just hope they aren't creepy facts like our measurements.
She chuckles slightly, and I laugh too. I open up the magnifying glass app, which I now know as the Connections App and sure enough, Killer's name has been made clickable. I steal a glance at her, but she's too absorbed in what I presume is my profile to notice. Oh well, let's click her name.
Height: 165 cm
Weight: 76 kg
Personal Quote: "There's a lot of wild things out there, huh? It's weird, but I want to experience them all."
I'm kind of glad they don't have invasive measurements, but I'm more concerned about the Alliance and Identity sections... I'm guessing Identity refers to her real name, but I wonder what Alliance could be. Maybe we'll be put into teams?
Killer: Hey, hey! Protag-kun, why are you 5 cm taller than me? Unfair~.
Protagonist: I-I, uh. I think you can blame genetics for that.
Killer: Our families must be really worried about us.
Shit, I hadn't even had time to think about that in the confusion of this kidnapping. Sadness washes over me as I think of what my little brother must be wondering about me...
Protagonist: I'm sure we'll get to see them soon.
Killer tucks her ID into her cardigan pocket and I do the same. She hums and stretches, and starts walking towards the stairs again.
Killer: Should we go up? Or down?
Protagonist: I think we should go up first. Let's start upstairs and then work our way down.
Killer: Hmm, I wonder if that makes you the type who likes to hear good news first~. Oh well! Let's go up!