Chapter 1034: Revelations

Because of her arrangement with her sister, Maya worked another shift that night, taking over for the time when Michelle would have normally worked. As she had expected, there was another missing person’s poster up on the wall near their house after she had returned home earlier in the day. At this point, Maya was certain that the beast that she had to track down was made more obvious due to the simplicity of her request.

She wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, though. After Michelle took over for her the next day, Maya cast a simple energizing spell on herself so that she didn’t have to go home to sleep. Afterwards, she walked towards the alley that she had been keeping her eyes on. This would be her only real chance to solve the riddle of this simulation.

To avoid being labeled as suspicious, she used an invisibility card to hide her figure, staying at the entrance of the alley and waiting. She kept staring into it, watching for any kind of change. There was the chance that the alley had a way of luring other people in, so she had to keep reminding herself not to enter the alley for any reason, even if it seemed important.

One hour passed, and then two… once the time hit eleven in the morning, Maya’s eyes were already drooping. If she were watching paint dry, at least she’d be watching something happening. However, just as she was thinking that, she heard something that sounded like a whisper in the air.

Maya looked around sharply, her eyes widening when she saw the pigment on the wall shifting. A painting of a brown-haired kitsune girl appeared, fully animated as she walked deeper into the alley along the wall. Maya felt the urge to follow her, digging her nails into her palm to resist. Someone that had been walking down the sidewalk, however, was not so aware of the danger.

“Huh?” A middle-aged man spoke up when he saw the movement, turning to enter the alley to investigate. Maya wanted to shout out to stop him, but she needed to see what was going to happen.

As the man entered the alley, other kitsune figures began to appear on the wall. Maya could recognize some of them from the posters outside her house, and assumed that the other faces had been similarly abducted. She brought her hand up, covering her mouth to stifle a gasp.

At this point, the man was bewildered, trying to talk to the paintings. However, they just watched him, smiling. The moment he turned, saying that he was going to go get some help, his body vanished, reappearing depicted on the artwork along the wall.

Maya’s eyes trembled, and she gulped, squeezing her eyes shut to focus. When she opened them, she involuntarily took a step back. All of the figures in the artwork were now on her end of the wall, seeming to be staring at her. Cici, I-I want to submit my findings! Maya called out, knowing that she only had this one chance. If she tried to leave, she would vanish, just like the man just now.

Go on? Cici asked in a gentle tone, and Maya took a deep breath to organize her thoughts.

The void beast has a limited activity window of two hours. While it is active, it manifests images of people it has trapped along the wall it infects.

After saying this much, Maya had to make a decision. Did the void beast kill its targets, or merely trap them in its artwork? The fact that they were actively luring people in hinted that they did not retain their original minds, at the very least. Biting her lip, Maya decided to risk it. The images it manifests lure new prey into the infected zone. If the prey makes any attempt to leave, it is instantly consumed and added to the collection. It is… incredibly likely that the prey is killed immediately, fueling the growth of the void beast. At the end of its activity period, all of the manifested images disappear.

There was a long pause from Cici, and Maya was worried that she had gotten a critical detail wrong. How exact was she supposed to be when determining the rules of the void beast? In most cases, it would be incredibly difficult to determine a beast’s rules without falling victim to it personally. Even then, you may only get a small fraction of the rules governing the beast.

Thankfully, Cici’s voice spoke up a few moments later. You are… correct. She said, the images staring at her from the wall melting away. Would you like to end the simulation now, or continue?

Maya let out a sigh of relief, shaking her head. Continue… please. There was something that she had to do now that this was over. And thank you.

I’m happy to be of service. Cici said as Maya turned to walk home. When she arrived, her mother was pacing back and forth in worry, her father sitting down on the chair with his brows knit together. At the sound of the door opening, Claret jumped, turning and running to pick up Maya. “You’re home!” She said in relief. “Michelle told us that you found a void beast. When you didn’t return home, we were worried sick!”

Her father, Martin, nodded his head, letting out his own breath of relief. “Don’t worry us like that again, Maya. I don’t want to have to go out there and put up your poster, too…”

Maya felt her eyes watering, and quickly shook her head while buried in her mother’s arms. “You… you won’t. I think the temple took care of it. I saw it… but it disappeared, so I think it’s gone now.” In fact, she was certain that it was gone, but couldn’t say that just yet.

“Still, that was very reckless of you, Maya.” Claret scolded, finally setting Maya down on the floor. “Promise you won’t do something like that again.”

“I… I promise.” Maya nodded her head, biting her lower lip. “But… is it okay if we close the store for today? Just for today… there’s something that I want to talk about. But I need everyone here first.”

Martin arched his brow for a moment, Claret looking confused. After a moment, her father nodded and called Michelle, telling her to close up early, and make sure not to take any shortcuts coming home. As a twenty-four/seven shop, it was rare for their business to ever close, aside from special holidays, but Martin seemed to realize how important whatever Maya wanted to talk about was.

While waiting for Michelle to arrive, both of Maya’s parents tried to ask her what kind of thing she wanted to talk about. However, Maya firmly shook her head, refusing to say anything about it until everyone was present.

Once Michelle got home, she looked around, seeing everyone in the living room. “Hey, what’s going on?” She asked, their parents looking at Maya once again. Maya hesitated, reaching into her card pouch and pulling one out that she had prepared overnight at work.

“D-Dad… can you confirm the effects of this card for everyone?” She asked, passing it to him.

Martin blinked, taking the card and examining it. “This is… a zone of truth. If anyone in this zone speaks a known falsehood, the light filling the zone will turn red, and they will be subjected to pain matching the severity of their lie.”

Maya nodded her head as the others looked confused. “Please… please use that on me. I need to tell you all something, but I need you to know without any doubt that I’m telling you the truth.”

“Oh, honey, you know we’ll believe you if you just tell us…” Claret said, but Maya shook her head firmly. This was something too unbelievable without proof. However, the only proof she could show was something like this.

“Please…” Maya emphasized again. Martin hesitated, before nodding his head. He flicked the card at Maya, activating it in midair. A bright, green light descended from the ceiling around her.

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Maya took a deep breath, centering herself. She had decided to be honest with them. She wanted a family life, but that life could not be built on a fundamental lie. “This world… is a game.” She said, while the light remained green. Her family watched her uncertainly.

“What do you mean?” Claret asked, Maya turning to focus on her.

“This entire world… it’s a simulation… In my world, it’s a game known as Codex Chaotic. A new game that was just released. My name isn’t Maya, it’s Mara. The point of the game is to create a new life, with people created by the game. Somewhere in that new life, there will be the threat of a void monster. In order to beat the game, you have to find the void monster, and identify the rules that if abides by. If you do, the monster is defeated.”

“So, when you said that the beast disappeared…” Martin began, Maya nodding her head.

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“Y-Yes. I watched to identify its rules. I… I don’t know if the setting of the game has it so that the temple killed it or not, but it is definitely gone now. That’s why I know it won’t come back.”

Michelle blinked, looking at the green light. “Does that mean that the simulation is over? That you’re going away?”

Maya shook her head quickly, almost shouting out. “N-No! I don’t want to go! I… I asked for this simulation… to have a family… because I don’t have any memories of a family in my world. I come from another world, even outside of this game. In my original world, I had some problems with my memory, so I can’t remember who I was or what sort of family I had. That’s why I wanted to know what having a family really felt like.”

“After clearing the simulation, a player has two options. They can either end the simulation, or keep it going without further threat from the void. I don’t want to lose the family that I just found. But…” Maya lowered her head. “I… I couldn’t live a lie. I didn’t want to continue this simulation without you knowing anything. So, I made that card. If… if you don’t want me to keep it going, if you don’t want me to stay, I’ll… I’ll understand. But I wanted you to know the truth.”

Claret looked like she was about to throw herself at Maya, but Martin put a hand on her shoulder to stop her. “Can you tell us about your life on the outside?” He asked, Maya gulping and nodding her head.

“I’m… a Goddess. Originally, I was in an invasion force sent by another Keeper to attack the world. However, the Keeper I was supposed to kill called out to me, and showed me more kindness than any of my allies ever had. He welcomed me, and offered me a chance to live in his world. I… I accepted, and helped him fight.”

“Right now, I live in a dungeon world known as Fyor, where a lot of different races live. I don’t really have many friends, and I live alone in a big house. I spend most of my time either playing games or just wandering through the streets of different worlds. Whenever I am in a game, I always change my name to Maya. That’s where the name came from for this game. It makes me feel safe, so I don’t lose more of my identity.”

Martin nodded his head, doing a far better job of keeping himself calm than either Michelle or Claret. “Are you not worried that you’ll lose your identity if you stay here with us?”

Maya quickly shook her head. “I-I thought I might. But, after entering the simulation, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. It does a good job of separating my offline identity and memories from what I experience here. Does… does that mean you want me to go?”

Seeing Maya lowering her head, Martin let out a sigh, finally releasing his wife. Claret lunged forward, sweeping Maya up in her arms again. “No matter what else may be the case, you are still my daughter. I would never ask you to go. Game or not, you can stay for as long as you want.”

“R-Really?” Maya asked, her eyes watering once again. “It’s fine if I stay?”

Claret nodded her head fiercely, Michelle choking back a sob as she nodded as well. Martin simply smiled. “You can stay, naturally. But, make sure that you log out often enough to take care of your health in the real world. If you wither away out there, goddess or not, you’d still disappear on this end, right?”

- my thoughts:
Thank you to Nathan Avery and Victor K for joining the Patreon!
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