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Oh, it’s a pi-pu-pe-po-panic~!
I realized I was back in front of the metered parking lot, where Emu’s family’s house was.
I reorganized my thoughts and went back through everything that had just happened.
First, Emu and I started the Mighty Novel X cutscene.
Then, we opened up the Game Area, which was Emu’s old house, and we met kid Emu.
After that, the visual novel gave us a decision point, and the adult Emu answered the question.
And then, after that, I heard a “Game Over!”, and then the adult Emu disappeared…I think.
And then after after that, I came back from the Game Area by myself.
That’s what happened…right?
I looked around to make sure, but Emu was nowhere to be found.
“Emu? Emu! Where are you? Answer if you can hear me!”
But I couldn’t find Emu anywhere, no matter how much I called out…so did that mean Emu hit a Game Over and disappeared?
No. Something’s off. He didn’t actually fight anyone in the Game Area, so it’s hard to believe he’d disappeared. What on earth is going on~?!
Just then, I could sense someone behind me.
I thought it might be Emu, and turned around — and Kurotobleep was standing there.
“Keh heh heh…hahahahaha! I’ve finally beaten him. I’ve beaten Genius Gamer M!”
“Wait, what do you mean!?”
“It’s just as I said. The greatest game I have ever created in my career as the Game Master, Mighty Novel X, has defeated Emu Houjou and sent him into a Game Over!”
“Why?! He didn’t fight anyone!”
“Oh, Poppy. You’ve got one thing wrong. Mighty Novel X does not determine victory or defeat through battle. Emu Houjou made a mistake at one of the story’s decision points, and thus reached a Game Over.”
“So…Emu’s really disappeared…?”
“Yes. And now, he has been imprisoned in the world of Mighty Novel X. Forever.”
“No way…give Emu back!”
“You already know what destiny lies in store for a player who has reached a Game Over, do you not?”
I know. But I wish I didn’t know.
“The only way to save him is to successfully beat Mighty Novel X. But I highly doubt there are any players who could succeed in that.”
“Why are you doing this?! What are you trying to do!?”
“I’m the Game Master, and I give my players games to play. That’s all.”
“As if! You sent Emu Mighty Novel X because you were targeting him from the very beginning!”
“Everything began with me and Emu Houjou. This is merely an inevitable destiny. Bwahahahahaha!”
With a disturbing laugh, Kurotobleep vanished.
“…We’re in trouble…I’ve got to let everyone know!”
Back at Seito University Hospital, in CR.
I went to the ward and explained the situation to Piiro and Piriya, who were keeping an eye on the unconscious Parad.
…Sorry, no, I mean, Hiiro and Kiriya!
Whenever I get all p-lustered, I start turning things into pa-pi-pu-pe-po.
But unlike me, Hiiro and Kiriya were still very calm as they heard about the situation. At first, I was wondering how they could possibly be calm at a time like this, but then I remembered, they’re doctors, they have to always have their heads on straight, no matter what.
At the very least, I felt a little better after getting them to hear me out.
“But I gotta say, I’m surprised Emu would get a Game Over.”
I was in total agreement with Kiriya. Emu, of all people, shouldn’t be messing up a game. That’s why we all thought we could let Emu handle his own operation.
“I have a relative grasp of the situation. This means we have only one thing we can do: get through Mighty Novel X as quickly as possible, and save the pediatrician and Parad.”
“But y’know, this is a pretty huge operation, right? It’s a lot, even for the good doctor here.”
“Indeed. To be honest, I have never experienced a case like this before.”
Hiiro and Kiriya fell silent.
“Huh, why!? You’ve operated on so many patients! There’s nothing you can’t cut, right?!”
“I would like to say that right now, but…this is a very different operation from any I have ever done. Mighty Novel X is a visual novel that tells the story of the pediatrician’s life. In other words, it is a story that goes very deeply into his life. I don’t expect we can use our usual game treatments for this…”
I didn’t want to hear such a genius surgeon saying p-rightening words like those.
I mean, it wasn’t like him to say that kind of thing at all.
“Yeah. I’ll be honest too, the good doctor and I aren’t really trained in this kinda thing.”
Kiriya’s tone was around an octave lower than usual.
He was the kind of person who was always clever enough to come up with a solution on the spot, but…
Both of you are acting weird! Why?
“What’s wrong with both of you!? It’s just game treatment, right?!”
“No, that’s not it,” Hiiro interjected.
He began explaining his diagnosis, with a scary look on his face I’d never seen on him before.
“The biggest difference with this case is that on top of the pediatrician being infected with the Bugster virus, Parad was also infected at the same time.”
Right. We’ve never seen anything like that before…
“Parad was outside Emu’s body at the time. It should be physically impossible for them to be infected simultaneously. It’s a total mystery,” added Kiriya.
“However…if my presumption is correct, there is only one possibility that would lead to such symptoms occurring.”
“What is it? Hiiro!?”
“The pediatrician and Parad always share one thing between them, even when they’re physically separated.”
Something Emu and Parad share…wait, that means…
“Ah, there we go. The good doctor’s still got it. That would solve the puzzle, wouldn’t it? The Mighty Novel X Bugster virus didn’t infect Emu’s body, but his mind and heart, so Parad’s heart was also infected, right?”
“Infecting a mind and heart…is that even possible!?”
“Yes. Mental illnesses are very common in modern society. In other words, this version of Game Syndrome is psychogenic. Therefore, we need someone with psychosomatic treatment skills to do this operation.”
Now that I’d heard the diagnosis, the reason Hiiro and Kiriya were struggling with Emu’s treatment hit me with a ping.
I’d been fighting alongside Emu for a long time now. We’d been friends and allies with similar goals and thoughts.
But now that I actually thought about it, there were so many things I didn’t know about Emu as a person.
What kind of family did Emu grow up in, and how was he raised?
What kind of people were his parents, and did he have any siblings?
What kinds of friends did he have in the past, and what did he do in his free time?
He was always kind and always thought about his patients, and he only ever acted differently when he played games, but…what kinds of thoughts was Emu actually holding in his heart?
I found myself clutching my skirt with anger and frustration — at myself.
If I’d known this would happen — no, that’s not it. No matter what, I should have gotten to know Emu better, and talked with him much, much more.
Not just at work, but also as a personal friend in his free time.
Not just with Emu as a doctor, but also with Emu as a person.
“It looks like we’ve got no choice but to find someone else to come help us.”
“But who could come and help us!? Kiriya!?”
“Someone who’s probably a lot more familiar with Emu’s past than we are…by that, I mean Nico. She knew Emu back when he was in high school. There’s a high possibility she’ll know something that’ll help us beat Mighty Novel X.”
“I agree. It would be good to have her come as quickly as possible. Of course, it will depend on how severe her cold is, but if the practitioner is with her, I imagine it should be long gone by now. If we let them know about what happened here, they should easily agree to assist us. I’ll go ahead and contact the practitioner.”
Yeah, if Nico is here, I’m sure she could help.
“I’m gonna try and get through Mighty Novel X!”
“Hey, wait, Poppy. It’s dangerous to go alone,” said Kiriya, trying to stop me.
“But it’s gonna take a while for Nico to get here from America. We’ll just be waiting around twiddling our thumbs…”
“Calm down, Poppy Pipopapo. Treatment for mental illness must be handled extremely delicately. We have to prepare carefully.”
“I know that, I do. But that’s why I have to do something only I can do.”
“You look like you’ve hit on a clue,” said Kiriya, with his usual sharp intuition.
See, Bugsters like me have memories from the original hosts we infect.
My original host, Sakurako Dan, should have memories that’ll be important clues for Emu’s treatment.
“I have Sakurako Dan…Kuroto’s mom’s memories. I might be able to figure out something about Kuroto’s childhood.”
“The god’s childhood? Oh, right, Emu and the god had some contact back when they were kids,” said Kiriya, piecing it together with his reasoning skills.
“Yeah. Kuroto was the one who read the fan letter Emu sent to Genm Corporation back when he was a kid. If I go back through Kuroto’s childhood, I might be able to find something.”
Hiiro and Kiriya realized I’d already made up my mind, and didn’t bother trying to stop me anymore.
Emu…Emu is the one person I would do anything to help.
I’m a Bugster, and Bugsters weren’t originally supposed to be around humans.
Emu was the first one to accept me despite all of that.
Emu was the first one to tell me that I could be with everyone.
Emu was the one who granted my wish to play DoReMiFa Beat with everyone.
If it weren’t for Emu, I wouldn’t belong anywhere in the world, let alone at CR.
I’m here because Emu was there for me.
So…I don’t even want to imagine a world without Emu.
Hiiro and Kiriya seemed to be trying to tell me something.
They were probably saying things like “don’t do reckless things on your own” or “let us know right away if something goes wrong.” But my head was full of Emu, and whatever they were saying went over my head.
I made bare minimum gestures to indicate I heard them and teleported out of the CR office.
I hadn’t thought I’d actually need to come back here again.
It was the hideout Kuroto used to use whenever he took off the mask of being Genm Corporation’s CEO — the former Genm Corporation office building.
The place was so deserted it made it look bigger than it actually was, and Kuroto’s belongings were still there, left behind by the Ministry of Health.
Fragments of Gashat manufacturing parts, desks and chairs, a deflated soccer ball, all of them with a layer of dust on them, and cobwebs here and there.
The room was so dusty that I coughed a few times.
This is my second time here…
The first time was when Parad had taken over Emu’s body, and I followed Sakurako’s memory here to find the Proto Mighty Action X Gashat to save him.
This place is full of Sakurako’s memories.
Of Genm Corporation, back when it was stlil a thriving game company.
Of Kuroto, back when he was still a child.
Of Masamune Dan, her husband.
And of Emu’s fan letter.
I slowly closed my eyes and looked deep into my heart.
I looked deep into Sakurako’s memories within my heart.
I had all of my original host’s memories, but that didn’t mean I could easily recall Sakurako’s memories at any time. In the same way people’s memories fade as time passes, Sakurako’s memories were fading away within me.
I need a trigger to awaken her memories.
Words, places, sounds, or something like that.
Something linked to Sakurako’s experiences from when she was still alive.
With my eyes still closed, I spent some time trying to focus, but I couldn’t bring up anything within Sakurako’s memory very well.
I was so impatient that I started losing focus, so I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.
The thought of Emu suddenly floated through my mind.
It wasn’t the usual kind Emu, but a somewhat lonely Emu.
When I’d first met Emu and saw his personality changing when he played games, I’d thought there might be something dangerous about him. It was like the doctor Emu and the gamer M were completely different people, like a split personality. Then I learned that he’d grown up under Parad’s influence ever since he was a kid, so I’d accepted the explanation that it was all because of Parad.
…But that wasn’t the only thing.
I’d never been able to tell anyone about it before, but sometimes, even when he was acting as a doctor, there was something distant about Emu.
I’d felt that the hardest when Emu had used his Invincible powers to completely decimate Parad.
Emu was always a very kind person whenever it came to patients. His heart was so kind that he even felt a little too upright and pure-hearted, like a freshly washed lab coat, and would even get a little stubborn about it.
Of course, I knew that he was just doing his job as a doctor. He was doing his best to save patients, and he had to think and worry about billions of times more things than I could even imagine, and do all that while seeing patients every day.
But I’d think, isn’t he a little too dedicated to medical treatment? Whenever he made a clear decision, he’d go right ahead and follow up on it without talking to anyone about it. Was that really okay?
Whenever that happened, I felt a little sad.
I wanted to tell him, you don’t have to tell me everything, but please, at least let me talk it out with you.
I wanted to ask him, do you not trust me enough as a friend?
My head was pi-voting around as my thoughts wandered.
I snapped out of it and pinched both of my cheeks, trying to get my head to stop pi-voting around.
No, no. Emu didn’t do anything wrong.
I was the one who was being greedy.
I wanted to be more of someone Emu would rely on.
I wanted to be closer to Emu.
I felt a little uncomfortable with my own self-centeredness.
As I was thinking about that, the sensation from the pi-voting in my head started coming up in the back of my chest.
What’s this feeling? I’ve never felt this kind of pi-voting in the heart.
That was when it all suddenly came flooding into me.
The image of the old Genm Corporation popped back into my mind.
It didn’t make sense.
Or rather, it shouldn’t have made sense, but…I had a feeling why.
The pi-voting in my heart was linked to Sakurako’s memories…
I concentrated all of my feelings on the sprouting pi-voting feeling in my heart, closing my eyes and trying to keep it alive.
“Please, Sakurako. Take me back.”
There was a very clearly different feeling from before.
There was a sensation running through my body, something very different from memory.
It was something that embodied everything about even my own identity.
I’d felt this sensation before.
It was back when I was experimented on for the Let’s Make a Bugster! raising game.
Back then, the experiment was an attempt to recover Sakurako’s genes from my body.
It felt a lot like that. No, it felt even stronger than that.
I could sense what it was, not with my head, but through my heart.
All of Sakurako’s memories were awakening within me.
I could feel it. All of her emotions. Everything within her.
At that moment, I began my newfound journey through her memories.
When Kuroto was born, my world changed.
He was like a part of me. One half of my soul.
It was a miracle for such a precious existence to be born safely into this world.
Why, you ask? Because when he was born, he didn’t cry.
I was told that if a newborn baby didn’t cry, it meant the baby was in critical condition and couldn’t breathe through its lungs. But according to the nurse who witnessed Kuroto’s birth, he was breathing properly, and he had no sign of any problems.
Even when he was born into this world, he’d already been a fairly unprecedented case.
Kuroto was a very well-behaved child.
Since he was an only child, the house was always quiet, and he was diligent about his studies without anyone needing to nag him about it. He was a boy full of intellectual curiosity.
Once he reached elementary school age, he was already academically talented enough that he could take university entrance exams, and his IQ was unbelievably high. He was so smart that I almost doubted he was actually my child.
There was no doubt about it; he must have inherited it from Masamune. My child had inherited the genes of the person who could grow Genm Corporation into the game company with the largest market shares in the country.
Once he entered middle school, Kuroto began assisting his father, Masamune, with his work.
Masamune had been so busy with his work that he’d left the job of raising Kuroto to me, and the only thing he’d done for his son was give him Genm’s games to play.
That was probably one reason Kuroto began absorbing himself in game development.
I also loved watching him grow. I was so proud of him.
But during the second term of Kuroto’s first year of middle school, I started to sense that something was wrong.
Kuroto’s time in high school seemed to be almost completely meaningless to him. The teachers were only ever teaching him things he’d already mastered on his own, and none of his friends seemed to really be his friends.
“Everything around me is so ordinary and boring. Not a single thing seizes my interest.”
I was a little surprised to hear those words from Kuroto, but I didn’t scold him for them.
Every day after school, he would take himself to Genm Corporation and absorb himself in game development. Every time Kuroto came up with an idea no one else could, Masamune and I would raise our arms in joy, and would shower him with praise.
As far as I knew, Kuroto had never been scolded or given warnings by anyone. He grew up constantly being praised by everyone around him.
And because of that — he became a terrifyingly prideful child.
Little by little, he became less and less satisfied whenever Masamune and I complimented him.
At first, I thought he’d just gotten too used to all of the praise, but by the time I’d realized this had spiraled into a far worse problem than I’d thought, it was already too late.
It wasn’t that he’d gotten used to the praise. He’d stopped finding any meaning in getting anyone’s approval in the first place.
Kuroto eventually got to a point where he looked down on all other people, focusing only on his own talents. Other than the bare minimum necessary to survive, he spent every moment and every ounce of energy on nothing but game development.
He didn’t even let me spend much time with him as his mother.
But Masamune never scolded Kuroto, and he let him do whatever he wanted. He bought him any equipment he needed to develop games, and hired tons of subordinates to take care of Kuroto’s everyday needs so he could be in the perfect environment to concentrate on game development.
Kuroto created many smash hit games, and he became one of Genm Corporation’s most indispensable game creators.
Around that time, I started getting into more and more fights with Masamune about how we should be raising Kuroto.
I was still proud of Kuroto’s brilliant talents, of course.
But life wouldn’t always be smooth sailing for him.
I was afraid that if he hit a wall or ever experienced a huge mistake or disappointment, he might break.
I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted him to broaden his horizons beyond just game development. I wanted him to experience things the way other kids his age would.
I wanted him to make friends. To join school clubs and understand the importance of working in a team. To try out new things through gut feeling and instinct.
But Masamune never tried to get him to change his way of thinking.
One day, I hit my limit and started begging Masamune to reconsider.
“Aren’t you just exploiting Kuroto’s talents for the company?”
Masamune refused to budge.
That day, Masamune said the words he’d started saying like a mantra.
“The greatest sin would be to crush the buds of Kuroto’s talents before they can sprout.”
Of course, all of this was partially my fault. I should have been able to put Kuroto back on the right path before he turned out this way.
But as an average person, I didn’t have enough knowledge to guide Kuroto.
I didn’t even know how to discuss company management policies with Masamune.
Ultimately, all I could do was listen to what Kuroto said when he showed me something he was proud of, and smile and nod.
One day, my worst fears came true.
Kuroto’s destiny was changed when Genm Corporation received a certain fan letter.
The letter was from “emu houjou”.
Masamune was the first to read the letter.
On the night he read it, Masamune called me up to discuss what was written in it.
Apparently, it had a message from one of Genm Corporation’s fans, along with an idea for a new game.
Masamune was impressed that this “emu” boy, who couldn’t even write his own name with proper capitalization1, had such ample creativity.
“I will show this letter to Kuroto. He’s gotten too comfortable with his own talents, so this should be good stimulation for him. His commercial value will increase even further.”
“Masamune, Kuroto is our precious child! He’s not a company product!”
“Sakurako. How many times must I tell you? We are not the same as the ordinary families around us. We are a chosen family. Kuroto is our pride. The more we polish him, the more he will shine. Kuroto’s talents will help Genm Corporation grow even bigger.”
That was when I realized the truth. Masamune only saw himself as Kuroto’s “company president”. He didn’t see himself as “a father to his only son”.
But I couldn’t do anything to fix the strain in our relationship as a married couple.
I could only pretend it didn’t exist.
Masamune’s management skills were supporting the lives of Genm Corporation’s hundreds of employees, as well as their families.
Masamune never made mistakes.
Except for one thing: his way of raising Kuroto.
The next day, Masamune instructed his subordinates to show Kuroto the fan letter in question.
I was worried about what might happen, so I visited the company grounds and watched Kuroto fro ma distance.
As Kuroto read the letter, he began to tremble.
In that moment, Kuroto’s face was full of emotions I’d never seen in him before.
Jealousy, of the talent this boy named “emu” had.
Humiliation, of the sort he was feeling for the first time in his life.
Anger, at his own insufficient talents.
Panic. Fear. Frustration that this boy “emu” might someday become talented enough to compete with him.
Kuroto’s heart had gone from ecstasy to feeling torn and stomped on. He started convulsing and violently tossed the fan letter away.
I couldn’t bear watching Kuroto in this state.
As his mother, I wanted to say something, anything I could. I wanted to gently embrace Kuroto’s heart. But I couldn’t. I didn’t have the right to.
I’d known something was going wrong with Kuroto this entire time, but I’d looked away and pretended not to see it. I didn’t know what was the right facial expression to have, or what words I should even say to him.
But at the same time, I could hear another side of myself saying something in my heart.
“Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe Kuroto can change.”
Kuroto, who normally found no worth in other people’s approval, had been agitated by someone else’s idea. He was experiencing defeat.
Perhaps, if he knew how it felt to be defeated at something, he could become more considerate of others…
That one fan letter had presented Kuroto with his life’s greatest trial.
Kuroto can overcome this. I wanted to believe that.
Once Kuroto had left the room, I picked up the scraps of the fan letter he had torn to pieces. I wanted to see this letter with my own eyes, this letter that had fascinated Masamune and driven Kuroto to defeat.
I fit the scraps together like a jigsaw puzzle and taped them together.
The many sheets of papers were full of an innocent boy’s dreams.
Before I’d realized it, a tear was falling from the corner of my eye and running down my cheek.
I couldn’t understand why I was crying.
But I at least knew it wasn’t because the contents had moved me or anything like that. I was too much of an average person to understand whatever was so brilliant about it.
I couldn’t put it into words, but perhaps I was crying tears of regret and despair at everything that was lost.
I thought about the mysterious boy who had written this letter.
Had he grown up with proper love from his parents?
Had he lived his life without needing to worry about company management or other things adults would impose on him?
Was he living bright and dazzling days full of hope for the future?
Did this boy have everything Kuroto didn’t?
I finished reading through the last paper and wiped the tears from my face.
No, it doesn’t matter. That boy is that boy. Kuroto is Kuroto. That’s all.
Kuroto’s games had gotten this boy to send a fan letter.
Sure, he was lacking in friends. Sure, he might have some problems with his personality.
But Kuroto had touched someone’s heart, even from far away.
His games had created dreams for a young boy out there.
I couldn’t ask for anything more.
What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t have faith in him? What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t support him with love?
Kuroto was my pride.
Because he was a miracle born into this world.
I snapped back to where I was.
I was back in the old Genm Corporation office buliding.
…My jaw was p-lopped.
Right. I was going through Sakurako’s heart.
It was like having a long, long dream.
I suddenly felt a tear running down my cheek.
A single tear. It hit the ground with a plop.
And then, all of Sakurako’s heart started overflowing within me.
It felt like it would all spill from my own heart.
Sakurako had put everything she had into thinking about Kuroto.
She’d drifted further and further away from Masamune Dan.
Emu’s fan letter had changed Kuroto’s destiny.
All sorts of thoughts and feelings were mixed and mashed together into a pi-pu-pe-po-panic.
One thing stuck out to me most deeply.
Sakurako had thought “Kuroto’s talents created dreams for Emu.”
Of course. Back when he’d written his fan letter, Emu hadn’t been infected with Parad yet.
In other words, he hadn’t been in that car accident yet, so he hadn’t met Councillor Hinata — or, to use Emu’s words, Dr. Kyoutarou — yet.
He still hadn’t considered the idea of becoming a doctor yet.
Wait. Emu should have known that best of all.
Why did he pick the answer about wanting to be a doctor, then…?
Had he misremembered his own childhood…?
No, this isn’t the time to be thinking about that.
I have enough clues to get me through Mighty Novel X.
I’m ready now. I’m sure of it.
I rushed back to the metered parking lot.
Once upon a time, a boy named Emu had lived in a house here.
I approached the metered parking lot, took out the Buggle Driver II, and put it on my waist. If Emu could do it with a Gamer Driver, then…
Mighty Novel X! Cutscene Start!
I was right. I heard the system voice announcing the start of the cutscene.
I’ll be sure to save Emu, no matter what.
The area around me distorted like a pixel mosaic, and I entered the Mighty Novel X Game Area.
It was the same Game Area I’d visited with Emu.
It was the house where Emu had lived, with its three rooms and living room.
All of the furniture in the living room. The clean living space free of dust.
This was the second time I was seeing this, but somehow, I felt something was off.
I didn’t know exactly what it was. As far as I could see, the living room was exactly the same as it was the last time.
But I just felt something weird about it.
Oops, this isn’t the time to be worrying about that.
I had somewhere I needed to be.
I stopped looking too closely at everything around me and headed right for the stairs.
I went up the stairs and opened the front door to see kid Emu’s room.
Emu started talking about his game ideas in an excited voice.
Oh, I see. If I restart the cutscene, I have to reenact the same things all over again.
I repeated the same conversation I’d had with Emu the first time, and finally made it to the decision point again.
Emu spoke the words casually, like a child hitting piano keys without thinking too hard about them.
“Hey. What do you think I want to be when I grow up?”
Emu froze in place like a music box that had finished playing.
A hologram monitor was projected in front of me, with three choices on it.
It’ll be fine. There’s only one answer I can think of.
(Doctor) | (Pro Gamer) | (Other)
My answer is…
“A pro gamer…right?”
Emu’s eyes suddenly unfroze and looked straight at me.
Please. Say I’m right.
It probably wasn’t even a full second of time, but I was so nervous that my heart felt like it was about to beat out of my chest.
The silence tormented me so much that I started ranting.
“You sent that fan letter because you wanted Genm Corporation to make even more fun games, right!? You wanted to play that game yourself, right?! You had a dream you wanted to come true, right?! You wanted to be the player who got to beat that game!”
Kid Emu responded with an innocent smile.
“Yeah! So I wrote my game idea in a fan le-tter!”
I was right after all. Thank goodness.
The game’s system voice echoed throughout the room.
Just then, I heard some all-too-familiar laughter from outside the room’s window.
I looked outside to see Kurotobleep standing in the garden.
I teleported myself there and looked directly at him.
“Impressive. You used Sakurako Dan’s memories within your body as a clue. You would be the only one who could make use of that strategy guide.”
“Give Emu back!”
“Did you think you would beat Mighty Novel X with only one cutscene? You’ve only reached the beginning of the game. Don’t expect to finish this game with so little effort.”
Suddenly, I heard someone else’s footsteps approaching.
From the outer wall of the hose, from within the shadows — it was the adult Emu.
Is it just me, or is he glaring at me? Something was wrong. I couldn’t even process any relief at him being back.
“Poppy. I can’t allow you to get any further in this game.”
Emu put the Gamer Driver on his waist.
“Can’t let me go any further…? Huh? What do you mean? Why!?”
Emu would never say something like that. He’s brainwashed, I’m sure of it.
It was like when Lovelica had brainwashed me to kickstart Kamen Rider Chronicle.
Kurotobleep noticed that I’d caught on, and began talking.
“Emu Houjou has been reborn. After his Game Over, the Mighty Novel X program altered his thinking pattern. He is now an enemy character meant to stand in the players’ way.”
I knew it. Emu’s been brainwashed.
“In other words, he is now the guardian who protects his own truth.”
Emu held up the Gashat in his hand. I could see an Ex-Aid doll (or at least that’s what I personally call it, but it’s actually a small Ex-Aid Level 2 object) on the Gashat.
Emu pressed the startup switch on the Maximum Mighty X Gashat.
A game startup screen with a stylish Maximum Mighty X logo appeared behind Emu. On it was a picture of Mighty riding on the Maximum Gamer giant robot.
Emu muttered with a deeper voice than I’d ever heard from him before.
Emu inserted Maximum Mighty X into the Gamer Driver slot and pulled the lever.
The greatest megaton powerful body! Boom and kerblam! Whoosh and a bang!
By the way, I know this probably isn’t the right time, but it’s always bothered me.
What, exactly, is the whole boom-and-kerblam-whoosh-and-a-bang supposed to mean?
Is it just supposed to be a big and powerful noise or something?
Different kinds of Kamen Rider selection screens rotated around Emu, and Emu stuck out his right and to pick Ex-Aid.
Emu transformed into Ex-Aid Action Gamer Level 2 as Maximum Gamer appeared above him.
Ex-Aid hit the Armor Ride Switch holding the Ex-Aid doll with his fist.
Maximum Power X!
The switch could transport his reinforced armor anywhere at will, so when he pressed the switch, the reinforced armor latched itself onto him.
Ex-Aid jumped up, and Maximum Gamer swallowed Ex-Aid with a pi-pu-pe-pa-pop!
Giant limbs and Ex-Aid’s head sprouted from Maximum Gamer, transforming Ex-Aid into Ex-Aid Maximum Gamer Level 99.
“Emu! Snap out of it!”
I knew yelling at him wouldn’t actually do anything.
I knew, but I couldn’t help myself.
Because…I didn’t want to fight Emu if I could avoid it.
“Oh, Poppy, you’ve never truly played against Emu Houjou, have you? Enjoy it as much as you can. This is Genius Gamer M’s true power.”
I have no choice after all.
I took out the Heartthrob Crisis Gashat, took a single deep breath, and pressed the startup switch.
The game startup screen with the cute Heartthrob Crisis title logo appeared behind me. Its lovely and cute picture depicted the game’s protagonist, a girl with fluttering pink hair.
There was no way I could win against Emu in terms of sheer power, but if I could at least take Emu’s Gamer Driver away from him, I wouldn’t have to fight him.
I inserted the Gashat into the Buggle Driver II slot and switched it on.
A dreaming girl, a romance simulation! A maiden’s always weak to a Heartthrob Crisis!
The cute, maidenlike music played as I transformed into Kamen Rider Poppy Heartthrob Crisis Gamer Level X.
Ex-Aid wasted no time in rushing at me and punching me with his huge fist!
I barely managed to duck and dodge.
Ugh, his body’s so big, but he’s moving so fast!
I removed the Gashacon Bugvisor II from the Buggle Driver II around my waist and tried shooting warning shots at Ex-Aid with its Beam Gun Mode.
But Ex-Aid managed to brush all of them off with his reinforced armor.
No…he’s too strong!
Ex-Aid pulled out his Gashacon Key Slasher and slashed it at me.
That’s more than I can dodge!
I took more “HIT”s than I could count, falling to the ground as all of the slashes hit me.
Kurotobleep, who’d been watching the fight, approached me and looked down on me from above.
“Poppy, you should take the time to withdraw. I have no intention of seeing you get hurt.”
“…You still don’t understand, do you? Mighty Novel X contains a story that Emu Houjou has never told, and a truth that even he himself does not know.”
“A truth even Emu doesn’t know…?”
“Indeed. It is the darkness within Emu Houjou’s heart, which he has been so desperately trying to conceal. Are you prepared to approach that truth, even if it means crushing his feelings?”
“I may not know what kind of story is in there, but I’ll accept the truth, no matter what it is! I’ll accept Emu, no matter what! That’s how important Emu is to me!”
I gathered the energy to stand up again.
My body really hurts all over, and my knees are shaking.
If I keep this up, I may not make it out alive.
But I have to save Emu!
“Then enjoy it to your heart’s content. Behold, the story of the day Emu Houjou’s destiny changed!”
Kurotobleep disappeared, leaving things off on that note.
The day Emu’s destiny changed…?
Does that mean…?
I’d lowered my guard for a moment, and Ex-Aid took the opportunity to rush at me, readying his huge fist.
I can’t dodge that…I’m done for!
I flinched and heard the boom of an impact.
…Huh? Wait, I’m still okay…?
I lifted my head to see two Kamen Riders guarding me, holding Ex-Aid’s punch back.
Brave Legacy Gamer Level 100 and Laser Turbo Bike Gamer Level 0.
“I say no thank you to the idea of another emergency patient, Poppy Pipopapo.”
“We told you not to get yourself in hot water when you’re alone, and now you’re about to crash, see?”
“Hiiro…Kiriya…watch out, Emu’s being controlled like an enemy character!”
“Yeah. I figured that’s what happened. Anyway, Poppy, hurry up and get out of here.”
“…Okay. Leave the rest of Mighty Novel X to me!”
“Wait! After all this, you still plan to continue the game?” yelled Brave.
“I’ve got an idea!”
I remembered what Kurotobleep had said before he left.
If I was right, I knew where the next Mighty Novel X Novel Spot was.
I’d talked big at Kurotobleep earelier, but I’d be lying if I said I weren’t scared.
Is there something Emu’s been refusing to tell us?
Is there some kind of truth even he doesn’t know?
Is there actually darkness in his heart that he’s been trying to hide…?
I thought about whether I should tell Hiiro or Kiriya about this, but in the end, I decided not to.
Because even I didn’t know what the truth was.
I didn’t want whatever it was to ruin his relationships with everyone.
But if I were the only one to know, things would still be fine.
I’ll accept anything.
No matter what kind of truth it is, if it’s about Emu, I’ll accept it.
I released my transformation and pulled the Buggle Driver II off my waist.
Since I no longer fulfilled the requirements to participate in the game, I was kicked out of the Game Area.
I was back in the real world, in the metered parking lot.
Now that I was back, I pulled out my super-accessorized phone and made a call.
The call was for Kyoutarou Hinata, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Health.
“Councillor Hinata! It’s me, Poppy!”
I heard a stern voice from the other side.
“Poppy Pipopapo? What’s wrong?”
“Um, well, we’re in an emergency right now, so I need to ask something about Emu!”
Councillor Hinata’s voice started picking up in speed.
“Did something happen to Emu?”
“I don’t have time to give all the details right now! Hey, can you tell me where Emu’s car accident was!?’
“The one he was in when he was eight! You operated on him after that and saved him, right?”
Councillor Hinata seemed to have figured out what kind of situation we were in, and he wasted no time in telling me where the accident was.
It was fairly close to where I already was.
I’d figured. It had to be fairly close to Emu’s family home.
I thanked Councillor Hinata, hung up, and headed up the slope towards a busy street.
It took around five minutes for me to get there.
It was a road flanked by lush trees and grass.
I prepared myself and placed the Buggle Driver II on my waist.
On that day, at that time, if it hadn’t been for that accident, Emu probably wouldn’t have even considered becoming a doctor.
A boy who wanted to be a pro gamer when he game up…had his destiny changed on that day.
There had to be an important story about Emu lurking around here.
I clutched my chest with both hands as my heart began to pound.
I slowly headed forward, step by step, approaching the destined place.
Mighty Novel X! Cutscene Start!
The system voice announcing the start of the cutscene echoed from nowhere.
I was right. My hunch had been pu-pi-pa-po-perfect.
There was no room for failure.
Whatever story was p-lurking in there, I had to tread carefully.
I’ll make the right choices and finish this game.
The visible area around me distorted like a pixel mosaic.
I had entered the Mighty Novel X Game Area.
Once everything had cleared up, I realized I was in the exact same place.
The only difference was — it was raining.
The rain was cold, as if indicating that a tragedy was about to take place.
Raindrops were hitting the ground at an irregular rhythm.
On top of that, the sound was punctuated with the sounds of cars skidding on the road, adding an indescribably ominous dissonance.
I looked around and saw a young boy with a bright yellow umbrella at the end of the sidewalk I’d just run there on, walking towards me.
He was wearing a yellow T-shirt, dark blue shorts, and blue boots.
I ran right up to him.
“Hello again, Emu.”
Emu raised his umbrella and looked up at me. His height only went up to around my chest. He seemed to be on his way to school, since he had a black school backpack on.
Somehow, back when I’d seen him at his desk at the house, I hadn’t realized he was so small…
Well, of course he was. He was only eight years old, after all.
“You don’t have an um-bre-lla?”
He was worried about me be being in the rain.
Emu, you were such a kind person even back then…
“Are you going to school?”
He didn’t seem very happy.
It was like he was a completely different person from the boy who’d been writing his fan letter and cheerfully talking about his game ideas.
“Is it okay if I come under your umbrella for a bit?”
Kid Emu raised his umbrella as high as he could.
I belt down a little and got under his umbrella.
Now that I was at Emu’s eye level, I continued the conversation.
“It’s always a pain when it rains, isn’t it?”
“You don’t mind the rain?”
“I don’t mind. It should rain more.”
“There’s no school when it rains too much.”
“…Do you like it when school closes?”
Emu took a while to respond.
I waited patiently and continued watching him, trying not to force him to respond.
“…I can’t fit in class.”
Emu was eight years old, so he should be in his third year of elementary school.
Even if he’d changed class groups, there should have been at least some kids he’d have known since first grade. Was there a reason he couldn’t fit in class…?
That was when I realized.
The memory of Emu’s living room po-po-popped into my head.
When I’d visited it for the second time, something had felt off. That was why.
It was how clean the living room was. It didn’t even have a speck of dust.
Even considering it might be a family that liked to keep things clean, it was too clean.
But there’s always a short period of time when a family’s house is that level of clean.
That would be…right after they’d just moved in.
“…Because you’ve just moved into this town, right?” I muttered.
“Oh, I see. So that’s why you don’t know anyone in class.”
“But don’t worry. You’ll make friends soon.”
“I can’t. We’ll just move a-gain.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Daddy’s work has a lot of stuff. They trans-fer him a lot.”
His father was transferred often.
Which meant, of course, that they also moved often…
So that’s it. Even if he finally manages to make friends in class, his dad will get transferred again, and they’d have to move…
And if that keeps up, he won’t really be able to make friends. How sad.
“Hey, I just wanna make sure I’ve got this right, but the game you came up with had two orange and green heroes, right?”
“One of them is you, right? Is the other one your friend?”
Kid Emu looked at me with a facial expression that said “how did you know about that?”
“You wanted a friend to play games with…right?”
Kid Emu looked down.
A drop of water fell down his cheek, so pale white it was almost transparent.
For a moment, I wondered if he was crying.
But I realized Emu was soaking wet in the rain because he was holding out his umbrella for me.
I couldn’t tell if it was rain or tears going down his cheeks.
I used both hands to hold the small hand kid Emu was using to hold the umbrella. I pushed the umbrella back a little so he wouldn’t get wet.
Right. That’s right.
He wanted someone to play with because he didn’t have any friends.
That was how Parad was born.
“…I have to go to school.”
I stepped back and pulled myself out of his umbrella.
Still holding the umbrella, kid Emu walked by me and headed towards the other side of the road.
Don’t go! I wanted to yell from the bottom of my heart.
Because after this, Emu would…
I had to remind myself: this was just a part of the game’s story. It wasn’t real.
But even though it wasn’t real…I couldn’t stand to look at it.
I averted my eyes and heard the sound of Emu’s voice in pain.
I knew it had to be Game Syndrome. All from the stress of being left alone, with no friends.
Holding the bright yellow umbrella, Emu took a step into the road.
A passenger car was approaching, with the sound of a loud horn.
I was scared, too scared. I clutched the hem of my skirt.
I heard the sound of a roaring crash.
A nearby passerby noticed what had happened and started yelling for an ambulance.
I couldn’t bear the idea of standing there and doing nothing, so I ran up to kid Emu, who was lying on the street.
Blood was coming out from his tiny head. His eyes were unfocused.
The inner corners of my eyes were warming up, and drops of water were running down my cheeks.
I’d been pelted by the rain this whole time, but this was not rain.
I embraced Emu’s small body tightly.
If this were a real accident, moving a patient in critical condition was off-limits without knowing the proper rescue procedures, but this wasn’t real.
I couldn’t help it, I had to hold Emu.
Emu’s body was shaking weakly.
“…Was it my de-sti-ny for it to end this way?”
“Did I get a Game Over be-cause I’m so worth-less?”
Just then, Emu’s body stopped shaking.
He stopped moving, like a music box that had finished playing.
I realized I was at a Mighty Novel X decision point.
A hologram monitor was projected in front of me with three options.
(Yes) | (No) | (Other)
It’s awful. This story is so awful…
I don’t even need to think about my answer…
My answer is…
Even though Emu wasn’t moving anymore, I kept embracing him.
“…You’re not…You’re not a worthless person, Emu…It’s all his fault.”
Kuroto was the one who read your fan letter.
Kuroto was the one who was jealous of your talent.
He’d sent back a game as a response to that fan letter.
That game had a Bugster virus in it.
You were infected after playing that game.
If it weren’t for that, you wouldn’t have gotten in an accident.
If it weren’t for your Game Syndrome, you wouldn’t have jumped into the street.
All of this was Kuroto’s fault.
It wasn’t your fault at all.
It was Kuroto’s fault, and no one else’s.
You’re not worthless.
I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing out of my eyes.
In that moment, the game’s system voice echoed with its announcement.
The merciless tone rang through my ears, and I was at a loss for words.
I had no idea where and how I’d made a mistake.
I’d just spoken the facts.
Suddenly, I realized Emu, who should have been in my arms, had vanished.
The ringing of the dissonant rain in my ears had vanished.
I was standing in the pitch-black darkness, all by myself.
Had Kuroto just set up an unfair trap?
Was the story in Mighty Novel X just a lie he’d made up?
All sorts of thoughts ran through my mind.
But. No. I don’t even know anymore.
The next moment, my consciousness fizzled out.
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- The young Emu writes his name with hiragana as “ほうじょうえむ”, instead of the correct kanji “宝生永夢”. [↩]