Your name is Sabitsuki, and you and your world are terminally ill.
You wake up in your bed, slowly opening a red eye. You honestly have no idea what time it is, or even if it's night or day. You got used to sleeping in your bed in the flow once you got trapped in it. And, of course, many things come along with being trapped in your flow. Most of them aren't that good. Your disease has been acting up recently, and by acting up, you mean that sometimes you have total flares of it and almost behaviorally turn into one of the Kaibutsu that plague the flow. You also start to bleed spontaneously, which can prove a bit troublesome as you sometimes become delirious from blood loss. But usually, that's what snaps you out of your state of rage caused by the disease. There are other direct side effects too, but you can't exactly remember them at the moment.
In your groggy state, you almost thought you were back in the real world, in your bed. You almost thought that you could hear songbirds chirping up a melody outside. You almost thought that you could feel the sunlight as it struck the blanket you were under.
But you couldn't. You drowsily pushed the blanket off of you and sat up in your bed. From outside the balcony doors, you were greeted by the familiar landscape of your dark flow, which let off an eerie aura. Your computer was still on, but you couldn't use it. You then turned your head to look over at the television and the door to the Nexus. The television never played anything. Just static for the most part, but occasionally you got the ghost signal of the old and dilapidated radio tower that the Kaibutsus had made a long time ago. It was barely even standing, as the metal was weathered and beginning to corrode. But nonetheless, every once in a while, a spark of electricity hit the tower and let off a weak radio signal.
You almost forgot why you were still in the flow in the first place. But your mind instantly answered that question for you, even if you were half-asleep and couldn't really think straight.
You were trapped. And you have been trapped in the flow for at least two years.
This wasn't an easy fact to swallow. Never being able to go back to the real world. Never feeling the warm rays of sunlight hit your face and greet you, waking you up. You never again will wake up to a bright and cheery scene with birds chirping and the sun shining. But to be honest, you didn't even like these cheery scenes. They irritated you. You guess that's why the flow really called to you. It was dark, creepy, and in a sense, dangerous.
But you didn't like being in it twenty four-seven. You can never forget what had trapped you in the first place. Not even if you bonk your head too hard with your pipe on accident and get amnesia. (That's actually happened once, but you don't want to admit it. Smile will laugh at you.). No, you will never forget the reason why you're stuck in this infernal world.
You don't know how long it was ago for sure, as your sense of time had been lost after the first year or so. And you certainly weren't about to use a piece of chalk and make tallymarks on your wall. But anyway, according to you, it had been roughly two years ago. You were just in the flow, as usual. The real world was beginning to lose its appeal to you, and the flow sensed that. You started to prefer the dark atmosphere of the flow over the world you had been born and raised in, which was apparent, seeing how you had turned into a shut-in and spent your entire time in the flow.
You were just aimlessly wandering. As usual. There was almost no place you hadn't seen in your flow. You had met Smile, Gabe, Oreko, all the people who lived there. And it seemed to be just a normal session. You were trying to get the signal to the old radio tower again, just to assure yourself that the TV actually picked up something other than static. Eventually, you got it, and just nodded with a little smile on your face. You felt achieved, in a sense. But this was probably just sarcasm.
But as you were looking at the TV, things started to go downhill. You started to hear the rumbling sounds of rock, and the black sky started to go a dark red. This was new to you. Something you hadn't seen. And you did have a fear of the unknown, especially when it happened in your world. When you got scared, though, you got defensive. And you had pulled out your pipe, ready for something to attack.
But nothing did. Right as you thought something was going to attack you, or something was going to happen in your flow, you just simply seemed to have passed out. The session had been forced to shut down with you in it. That incident had integrated you into the coding of the flow, making you a permanent resident. Like Smile and Oreko and everyone else. You didn't know it at the time, though.
After that, you had woken up right in the place where you had passed out once the session had finished rebooting. You were still in the flow, and you were curious and a bit frightened at what happened. The familiar dark sky and barren landscape of the flow greeted you from outside your balcony doors, but that did nothing to comfort you right now. You wanted to know what the hell happened, and you wanted to know now.
You had gripped your pipe that was laying on the floor next to you and rushed to the computer. Since the flow program had probably caused this, the computer was the first place to look. You opened up the flow program, seeing all of the different scrips, coding, etc. You didn't understand any of it, so you didn't fiddle with it. You didn't want to accidentally kill Smile by changing a code.
But something on there had been new. You noticed a little script, titled RUST.exe. You tried to open it up, but your computer had refused. It was just one of those mysteries that begged to be solved, but you were exhaused at the time. So you just had gone and talked to Smile about it. After that event was a blur, because you didn't remember every single second of your eternal stay in the flow.
The flashback abruptly ended, and you came to. Still a bit groggy, you hopped out of your bed and looked over at the computer. As expected, it was still writing jargons of code for the flow. But you still didn't know what that RUST.exe file did. But you didn't even really care at this point. When you were tired, you hated everyone and everything. Other things were stupid.
Of course this attitude would change a bit when you woke up. But you would still be a grump. It's just in your nature, really. You get irritated easily nowadays. Actually, not even nowadays. You've always been an irritable grump, and it's certainly not going to miraciously change today. You just aren't a peppy kind of person, and it really showed. You talked with a tired, monotone, and bored tone of voice. It always seemed like you were uninterested when you spoke, and in most cases you actually were. But that's just you, and you're not going to change your personality. It's not on your to-do list. You aren't planning on it.
But your curiosity was starting to get the best of you with the little file mystery. You had to figure out what had happened. And even though your mind was a blur, you remembered that when you went to go talk to Smile, he had said something important. And since your disease hopefully wasn't going to act up anytime soon, you decided you were going to drill Smile for that information again.
You pulled out your pipe and opened the door to the Nexus. It opened with some eerie creaking, leading to a cracked and reddening floor. It was odd, as you had never seen that hue on the ground before. It also might have something to do with your diease or the Kaibutsu or RUST.exe or Smile...
You caught your mind before it wandered and shook your head a bit. 'No distractions', you thought to yourself. 'I have to find Smile and ask him about this file again. It's gotta be something big. I know it.'
So, you went. You started the trek to the school, going through the many worlds of the flow too. And of course, the damned Rave Maze always gave you trouble. No matter how many times you have gone through it or will go through it until you die, the maze will always be a pain in the arse to navegate. The psychadelic colors just disorient you, because you're not used to bright colors like that. It wasn't like the rest of the flow.
You exited the Rave Maze after what, a half hour? Again, your sense of time had dwindled ever since you were first trapped in the flow, and by now it's completely gone. Time was a lost concept to you. But all that walking and the doors made you a bit tired. The Rave Maze never ceases to irritate you every time you try to go through it. Every time, you end up getting lost in one place or another and next thing you know, you're back at the entrance to the maze. You're just sick of the world altogether. But it's a way to get to Smile, whom you sometimes like talking to.
Smile...ah, he's one of the tolerable inhabitants to you. There aren't that many of those. Doctor Ochki is just plain intimidating with his medical tools and glasses that glint in the fluorescent light. He just looks like one of those mad doctors. Oreko...well, Oreko's cool too. The Kaibutsus, to you, are mostly assholes. But you still talk to the one that sometimes hangs out in the Sugar Hole, which is where you were heading now.
After going through the Abandoned City, you ended up in the sewer. It still reeked with a foul smell, as with most sewers. You just wanted to get out of there and into the Sugar Hole. So you did.
The Kaibutsu wasn't there. There was just that man in the black suit that was always there, and dropped money for you when you hit him with the pipe. Like you just did now. Hit him with the pipe, receive money. It was a pretty simple concept. And he respawned too, so you could just keep getting money from him. And you're only really using it on the Sugar Hole anyway, so his placement is convenient.
You sit down on one of the barstools with your newly acquired 100 yen. The Sugar Maid looks over at you, obviously looking a bit tired. Her gas mask, however, hid her real face. You don't think you've ever seen her face. It's always been under that damned mask. There are so many things that you just don't know about this flow, and this irked you a bit. You've been here for what, two years now? Two years, and you still don't know everything about your flow. Besides, it's your flow. You should do what you want with it, right? Yes. Control your flow.
Your mind wanders off with these thoughts, leaving you unable to really pay attention to the annoyed Sugar Maid trying to talk to you. To bring you back, she had to lightly tap your face.
"What can I help you with today, Sabi?" She asked with a little sigh.
"Ah...just...Just the normal drink." You reply with a bit of a pause. Your mind is still elsewhere, but you still slide the 100 yen across the counter to the Sugar Maid. It had a little too much power in the slide, though, and ended up sliding right on into one of the shot glasses with a clang.
"Heh. Do I get a goldfish?" You jokingly ask with a bit of a chuckle. The Sugar Maid giggled a bit too.
"This isn't a carnival, Sabs." She replied, passing the drink to you. "Here, you get this."
Still smiling a bit, you go ahead and down the drink. Sure, it wasn't exactly good for you. But hell if you cared. You liked it, and the Sugar Maid was sometimes chatty as well. Maybe you could add her to your list of tolerable inhabitants. Who knows.
You slide the now empty glass on over to the Sugar Maid, getting out of your bar stool. You've been here a ton of times, so your tolerance to the bar's drinks makes you almost immune to them. Mostly because you don't usually have enough yen to buy ten at once, which at the same time is a blessing and a curse. You don't want to drink all that and then just do things you wouldn't normally do, but on the other hand, you want to know what'll happen.
"Hey. You sure you're not going to stay?" The maid questioned as you neared the exit.
"Yeah, pretty sure. I gotta go talk to Smile about something." You reply flatly.
"Ah, Smile. He's always up to some sort of hood rat shit. What's he doing today?" She asks you. This was getting annoying, but it was still a bit amusing to you.
"Actually, he lives in the basement of the school now. Don't know why he made the move, but he just did. Not going to question it though." You say. You honestly don't know why he moved down there. It might be a foreshadowing thing, but when you asked him a while ago, he just gave an indirect answer and changed the subject before you could react.
"Don't let him be a bad influence on the kids. I don't want to get robbed by a gang of first graders." The Sugar Maid said with a chuckle. You laugh too. Smile often rounded the kids up in one of the classrooms and told them stories. Any kind of story, really. Ghost story, story about his past, other stories...None of them were true, though. Smile just got a kick out of filling the kids' minds with stories and then watching them talk about it and do little activities based on what happened in the particular story.
With that, you waved goodbye and headed out. You wanted to get out of the sewers as soon as possible, so you tried to haul ass out of there and towards the pipe that contained the lamp post to the slum. Of course, you didn't enter the pipe without jumping up and giving the colossal slime guarding it a big high-five. It has almost turned into a tradition to you. Give the big slime a high five before entering the pipe.
You then did enter the pipe, waving goodbye to the slime. The lamp post was in its usual place, and you went to go stand in its dim lighting, which transported you to the slum. It was where Smile and Sister's house was, but only Sister was there now. You had no idea why Smile would leave a timid little girl alone, especially without protection. But there obviously was a reason, and maybe you could ask Sister herself. So before going to the school, you took a turn and walked into Smile's grungy house. Sister was still there.
"Hey there, kid." You say with a wave, putting your iron pipe away so you didn't scare the poor girl. She was already high-strung as it is, and it just got worse when Smile moved to the school.
Sister jumped up with a little "eep", not expecting any visitors. And especially not Sabi just strutting in like she owned the place. She really wished Smile would lock his door, as one time, a corrupted Kaibutsu burst in and had almost killed Sister. Thankfully, Smile had that 'sibling sense', so he knew when Sister was in trouble and disposed of the Kaibutsu. But that incident still haunts her, so she's afraid of anything that comes through the front door that isn't Smile.
"U-Uhm, hi." She sheepishly replied.
"What's new? No Kaibutsus, right?" You asked. You actually really cared about Sister's well being. Not because you liked her, really. Mostly, it was because you didn't want to see Smile's reaction to his precious sister's death. He would probably completely lose it. His world would shatter around him and he would act like a cornered animal out of fear and rage.
Sister shook her head and looked up at you.
"H-How's big brother doing? I haven't seen him i-in a while..."
"Ah, he's doing good over there. The school's a nice place. You should go visit him in the near future." You say with a little smile. Sister stiffens a bit, a scared look on her face.
"U-Uh...! No thank you! The Kaibutsus t-think I'm an easy picking, so I r-really don't want to go out in the open." She stammered in her usual small voice.
"Aw, c'mon, kid. Where'd you hear that? Most Kaibutsus are nice unless angered, y'know. They're like bees. Don't bother them and they won't bother you, for the most part." You lied. The Kaibutsus in your flow had gotten violent recently, and lash out at almost everything. You don't know why.
"...It w-was when a Kaibutsu broke into the house...H-He was looking for me...and he had a friend...a-and they were talking about me...and..." She trailed off.
"Shh, shh. It's alright. Believe me, I'm not gonna let them eat you. Remember, I have protection. And I can spread my protection bubble over to you."
"...R-Really...? I g-guess I can go see him..." She replied. Your reassurances worked for once!
You then lead her out of the house, and she hid behind you like she did with Smile. It was really cute, but also really nice, because it showed you that she trusted you almost as much as Smile. It was odd that she even trusted you at all, with your intimidating look and the pipe and all. But your pipe was out, and she was actually hiding behind you instead of running away.
But you didn't focus on this too long. You had to escort her to Smile, and that was your number one priority. Because if Sister was hurt and you were in the general area at the time, Smile would obviously blame you. And then the consequences would be disasterous. Even if you had your respawn scripts since you were fused into the coding of the flow, the emotional trauma after having your best friend, your 'bro', kill you and scream at you would be too much.
The school was bustling as usual, the school kids' laughter echoing throughout the area. The pitch black sky wasn't the most fitting backdrop, but for the most part, it was the typical sky for the flow. None of the school kids really noticed anything like that either. They were too busy gossiping about fellow classmates or playing zany and random games on the playground.
However, even if everything seemed to be as normal as it was going to get, you couldn't shake the feeling that something was amiss. Something was going to happen. You had felt this ever since you finally collected your twenty-fifth and final effect about two weeks ago, but it hadn't been this prominent ever before. The uneasiness made you a bit sick to your stomach, and you even started to get a bit dizzy. But you thought this was going to be a flare-up of your disease, because those were the first two signals.
'Please, no. Not with Sister here. Please.' You thought, not knowing who you were praying to, but praying nonetheless.
But it wasn't the disease that was causing it this time. It was just the uneasiness and the development of something big in the flow. You didn't know about the latter, but something was forming. And it had been forming ever since you entered the flow. Once you collected your twenty-fifth effect, it had been fully formed and had just hidden itself. Waiting for the perfect moment. It had been eyeing you, studying you, figuring out your strengths and weaknesses. It had been watching you ever since you entered the flow. It tracked your every move, your every interaction. It knew everything about you.
And one could also say.
It WAS you.
Sister tugged on your hand a bit, but you didn't feel it at first. She had been gripping your hand so hard that you had almost lost all feeling in it. But the sound of her small, high-pitched voice got your attention.
"W-Well, let's go then, Sabi!" Sister piped up excitedly. She was definitely ready to see her brother.
"Yeah, let's get moving. And by the way, I can't feel my hand." You state. The nausea and dizziness were starting to get a bit more intense. You felt like you were going to vomit any second now.
"Oh, s-sorry." Sister said in an undertone, loosening her grip on your hand. Finally, blood was circulating through it! It felt fuzzy at first, almost like static. It was what happened when a person's extremeties 'went to sleep'. But soon enough, it felt normal.
As you were about to walk up to the main entrance, a hunched figure walked out of the double doors. It took him a while to push open the door, which was a bit odd, because almost all the school kids could do it with no problem. You recognized him at once.
It was Smile.
He slowly hobbled over to you and Sister. What was odd is that none of the school kids even seemed to notice him, or you and Sister for that matter. Even when they turned their heads and looked right at you, they just kept turning their heads to where they were going to look and completely ignored you. It was like you and Sister were invisible.
As Smile approached you, Sister had some feelings of internal conflict. She was happy to see her brother, but she was scared for him because of his deteriorating physical state. She gripped your hand a bit tighter, a bit scared. She didn't even know if this was her brother anymore. Maybe his mental health went down the drain along with his physical health. Both you and Sister hope this wasn't the case.
Also, you had just barely recognized Smile. He looked almost nothing like he once was. The jovial, joking, sarcastic, and daring healthy boy had been reduced to not even a shell. He seemed to have lost at least 20 pounds and was rail-thin, and his hair had gone from shiny and vibrant to messy and dull. His skin was now sickly pale, and his eyes were bloodshot with bags under them. The gauze on his arms was coming off, and his jacket was all battered and worn. You were taken aback at the change.
When Smile was right in front of you, he grabbed onto your shirt with his long, sharp nails and collapsed, bringing you down to your knees with him. He looked you right in the eyes with his reddened and lifeless eyes and began to speak.
"Sabi." He croaked. His voice was raspy and harsh.
"S-Smile? What happened to you?" You replied, still staring at him wide-eyed.
"Sabi...You know when you first got trapped in this flow and..." He burst into a coughing fit before resuming. "...and I told you...about that RUST.exe file?"
"That's actually what I was coming here to talk to you about, Smile. Sister tagged along because she wanted to see you."
Sister peeked her head out from behind you to sneak a peek at Smile.
"B-Big brother?" She stammered, obviously scared and worried for him.
"It's fine, sis...Big Bro Smile's fine...I'm just...a bit weak right now is all." Smile said to Sister. He just barely managed to crack one of his trademark grins and give Sister a thumbs-up with his bony hand.
"Anyway..." He started, turning back to you. "Sabi...that file...that RUST.exe...it created something. I don't know what, but you must not collect all twenty-five effects...trust me on this. Don't."
"Uhm, Smile...you're a bit too late for that. Why don't you want me to collect all twenty-five effects?" You asked, a bit concerned and frightened at his words.
His eyes widened, and he dropped his grip on your shirt and stumbled back a bit, landing on his spine before sitting up and staring right at you again.
"You...you...YOU ALREADY COLLECTED THEM? OH, NO, NO NO NO NO. NO NO THIS ISN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN NO. NO I WILL NOT BE SICK. I WILL NOT RUST I WILL PROTECT SISTER I..." Smile suddenly shouted in an outburst. He looked at you with wide eyes, the eyes of a wild animal. He scooted back on the pavement rapidly, and it seemed like his bony limbs would break from the sudden pressure.
"Give...give me Sister. I will...try to protect her from what has been unleashed." He said.
You thought about this. Smile's mental health seemed to be deteriorating, and it didn't seem like the best idea to give him Sister when he couldn't even seem to take care of himself.
"But..." You started to object.
"GIVE ME SISTER!" He suddenly shouted at the top of his lungs, his voice full of rage. You took a step back and, after you got a moment to recover, you nudged Sister over to Smile.
What you didn't know is that something was starting to walk up behind you. It was the same thing that had been formed after the last effect was collected. In fact, it was once a part of you. It was once a part of your mind, nestled deep inside your thoughts. But as you collected the effects, it used the power to form a body of its own. The process took time, but it was finally finished. And now that it was its own person and not connected to your mind, it had no further use for you.
"Smile, what're you staring at?" You asked him, but he just stared behind you with his wild eyes and frightened animal look and scurried back into the school with Sister in tow.
"Wait, Smile! Smile! You still haven't told me about the file! You still have to tell me about what it cr--" You shouted after him. You were interrupted by the feeling of sharp nails pushing against your cheek and the sounds of someone breathing behind you. It spoke, and its voice was full of malice and sent chills down your spine. It only said three words.
"Hello, my host."
The double whammy of Smile's doomsaying words and now the thing behind you was enough to scare the living daylights out of you. All the color seemed to drain from your face. The kids were still frolicking on the playground, ignoring you. They weren't going to help you. They didn't see you. You were almost invisible to them.
"You're alone, Sabi." It said from behind you, almost like it read your thoughts.
You really, really didn't want to turn around. But the clawed hand pushed harder into your cheek and tried to turn your head around for you. And if whatever was behind you was hostile, you weren't about to let it manipulate you like this.
Taking a deep breath and trying to suppress your fears, you quickly equipped your pipe and jumped away from the thing behind you, distancing yourself before going into a fighting stance and turning around to face it head-on.
What you saw stopped you dead in your tracks. Your mind couldn't form any words to react. You just gaped, your mouth opening slightly.
The thing that was behind you almost looked exactly like you. The same hair, the same clothing. The whole kit and caboodle. The only difference is that the other's bangs covered her face, and her skin was a bit paler than yours. Her mouth was twisted into a sickening grin, and a bit of blood bubbled out of it as she spoke.
"Are you surprised, Sabi? Do you know who I am?" It asked. You couldn't reply, so it just shook its head and laughed a bit. A maniacal, guttural laugh. It started to walk towards you, and you hoped it couldn't see that you were shaking a lot. But it more than likely did.
"Oh, Sabi, Sabi, Sabi. Always trying to control your flow, acting like it was yours. You got your little computer set up in your room, ready to delete anyone from existence that you didn't like. Oh, how it was easy for you to assert your place as a dictator over this place." It started. Its voice was cold and unfeeling.
"But, it's not as easy as you think. Every once in a while, Sabi, something will pop up that you don't know about. And you'll just turn yourself into Sherlock Sabi and try to figure out what it was. You were the curious one, but even still, you had a fear of the unknown. Like you're afraid of me right now. I'm new to you, and there is no possible way you can get rid of me."
"Every time a Kaibutsu went corrupt, every time you killed something, it sent that request to the flow so that the matching script could be used to fix the problem. It was simple. But it wasn't perfect."
"Every time a script was used, it created a small string of coding that the flow promptly put off to the side. Junk coding, you may call it. But in reality, it was the waste of the used code. Almost like a wrapper to a candy."
"But after a while, something in that code started to stir. As it grew, it gained sentience. And it was angry. Angry at the flow for just setting it off to the side and disposing of it. Angry at the inhabitants for their inability to stand up to you. But most of all, the code was angry at you, Sabi, my host, for being the one to make the flow use the script. You were the one who absentmindedly created that code from your own being. Every time you collected an effect, too, some more of that corrupted code was tossed off to the side."
"And, Sabi, your code was obviously the longest string in the flow, almost twice as large as any other inhabitant's code. The code that was dropped off to the side came from your coding. Essentially, you were using bits of yourself to form the coding into what it is now. A sentient being."
"Me." It whispered in your ear. It was right next to you now, talking right in your ear.
"Did you ever look into the cells in the Prison, Sabi? If you did, you may have known about this in advance. And that RUST.exe file you were asking Smile about? That was me. Using all of my power to force close the flow session and adding that file to your computer. That kept you from leaving and trapped you here. And after I used all my power, I just waited for you to collect effects, kill the inhabitants, the like. And I was waiting. Forming. Evolving."
"And now that I am separate from your mind."
"I don't need you."
You had listened to the thing's speech for the entire time, just staring at it. But now that it was over, it was your time to react. You took a step back and swung the pipe like a baseball bat, hoping to jar the thing's head loose with the power of the swing. But it had caught your pipe and crushed the metal in its clawed grasp. No being should be this strong. Maybe it was a mutation from all the coding it had absorbed into itself. You didn't know. It started to speak again.
"Ah, Sabi, you were always a violent one. Shoot first, ask questions later. However, Sabi, your philosophy was flawed. That little moral statement actually speeded my creation, as you were killing inhabitants like there was no tomorrow. And it eventually was going to come back to bite you in the butt. Your dynasty of oppression is over, Sabi. It's my turn in the driver's seat. I will be the one to kill the inhabitants, the one to rule the flow with an iron fist. I will replace you."
The other suddenly jammed a clawed hand right into your chest, ripping your heart free from its chains and crushing the organ under its foot. You made a little gasping noise, and then fell silent. It spoke once more, and it was the last words you would hear.
"The flow has had its revenge on you. For killing the inhabitants, for corrupting the Kaibutsu. And it has done it in the form of me. Rust."
She slipped her arm from behind your back, and your eyes started to close as you fell to the ground.
"Goodnight, Sabi, my dear host. You won't be waking up."