Yukio strained his eyes in the darkness.
"Hello! Anybody there?" Yukio shouted. He sensed, could actually feel his voice travel down an enclosed passageway and echo back after seconds of delay. "Akinei… Aki?"
Where the hell had that genie gone? What if it had been its idea of a practical joke, and countless other humans had fallen prey to the same tactic, and were now stuck in this forsaken place?
"Aki, this isn't funny at all. Come on out!"
Ooouuuutttt… his voice replied like a ghostly moan.
"I knew that I shouldn't have head up to the roof," he chided himself. "In the first place, I headed up to the roof because I called Mayu. Why did I call Mayu? What's the point…"
"Would you stop your teenage angsting?" A voice interrupted him. It sounded awfully close, as though the speaker was talking into his ear.
"No, it's your favourite DJ on radio 64," the voice replied. "Just wait for a little while. The initialisation process is almost complete."
"Don't ask so many questions, you are making my head spin."
"Aki," Yukio swallowed. "You sound very different. Are you using a falsetto?"
"What? I'm not using… you are right, I do sound different. And I do feel different. Not good, I don't have a good feeling about this at all."
Aki's voice lowered to a incoherent mumble. Once in a while Yukio heard words like "fatass cat", "rat" and "a monkey on a trapeze".
Yukio shared the same sentiments. He knew, on some basal instinct, that he had changed as well, in the manner in which his five senses couldn't detect. It had came at the moment when he stepped into the circular portal. The light from the bedroom had enabled him to see that his limbs were disintegrating and being replaced by something else.
What was that something else, he didn't know. The darkness appeared unwilling to let him find out.
Before he could mull over the issue and let the building terror consume him, the lights came on.
Yukio shielded his eyes from the sudden glare, before realizing that the glare wasn't that strong.
Mounted on holders, candles lined on both walls of the passageway. Their dim flickering light limited Yukio's field and scope of vision.
Yukio thought they looked extremely familiar. And then….
Aki's death cries killed his ears for a good minute.
"Aki, would you stop your scream queen acting?" Yukio turned and saw a magical girl hovering above his shoulder, weeping into her hands.
"Aki?" Yukio scratched his head. "You are Aki right? Or is this one of your forms you take when you feel sorry that you have screwed up and want to make up with your girlish charms?"
"Like hell it is!" Aki looked up and Yukio felt his breath stolen away, literally. He resembled the girls he saw in the animes. In fact, he(or should it be a she?) could easily play the main protagonist in any of them, with her captivating emerald eyes, pert nose and of course that light pink dress which ended alluringly at her thighs.
"Hold on, you are a cartoon!"
"So are you," Aki said, and then stopped to stifle a chuckle. To continue the trainwreck of cliches, her face resembled the sun peeking out after a thunderstorm, with a rainbow decorating the backdrop. "Look at the wall and the candles again."
Yukio followed suit. He finally understood.
"They are pixelated!"
"So are you, Yukio," Aki the magical girl reached into the pockets of her dress and fished out a cat-shaped mirror. She handed it it over to him.
Yukio struggled to keep down his perverted urges.
A while ago, she was a he! Remember before you descend down to the path of no return!
"What's going on Yukio?"
"Nothing," Yukio replied and looked into his mirror. The reflection stole his breath away for the second time.
"I am…" Yukio's words got stuck in his throat. "I am R."
"You certainly are," Aki giggled. "At least way better than the one that I saw on the computer screen."
Yukio shook his head, dazed, and looked at the mirror again. That R, that dark brooding hero that he has envisoned in his dreams, was no longer a pale ugly imitation.
But a cartoon? He ran his fingers along the wool of his tunic and gripped the hilt of the sword which hung from his right hip. The roundness and the solidness of the touch confused him; he associated those senses with a three-dimensional reality. And then, the important question came.
"Why is this happening? Why am I in my own computer game?"
"Beats me," Aki fished into her pockets again and took out a wand. "I simply grant the wish. What happens behind the wish, I don't know and I don't care."
Yukio returned the mirror to her. "So you don't care about the fact that you have transformed into a magical girl?"
Yukio covered his ears. Cute as she was, her screams matched the ferocity of a wailing banshee, intensified tenfold by the echoey nature of the passage.
"Why do you like to torment me so?" Aki said, floating up and turning upside down. "I have been a rat and I have taken it like a genie. And now you turn me into a fantasy of disgusting otakus? I'll never be able to face the girls at Kawaii resort again! This is my worst nightmare!"
"Aki," Yukio said, his discomfort increasing with Aki having no clear idea that she was tempting him with an unintentional upskirt pose. "You might want to come down now. I am feeling very confused right now."
Aki realized what she had been doing.
"Don't, you idiot!"
Yukio found his head facing the wrong way. He pulled it right back, and gulped when the furious Aki came into his field of vision.
Yukio being Yukio, he had to continue opening his mouth the wrong way even in his fear. Except his fear, wasn't exactly all fear.
"Wow, looks like this place follows anime logic. And you are playing the conventional tsundere role pretty well."
Yukio pulled his head right back.
"And now you are following the teachings of Jesus."
SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!
"I tink you cam top nao," Yukio said. He wondered why anime protagonists were such mascochists. He didn't like the pain very well.
"Why should I? I am just starting to enjoy this," Aki smiled, crackling her knuckles. "As a matter of fact, I am planning to try out a Daisuke punch. They feature a lot in your memories, and they are pretty epic all right."
"Oh, you can keep them to yourself," Yukio said. His face had already recovered.
Bloody anime logic!
"Oh no, you are very much welcome," Aki said. She arched her right hand back, her position akin to drawing a giant arrow.
"Come on, Aki. We don't have time for this."
Yukio rolled and hit headfirst into the walls, shaking the candles in their foundations.
"Strange, it's not as epic as I thought," Aki considered her wand. "Maybe I should try using this instead."
She froze when she heard a roar. It originated from the passageway ahead of her. Thumping footfalls followed, each step a mini earthquake in itself.
"What's going on?"
"I'm in my game remember?" Yukio stood up. "This is the first monster that R encounters, Big Foot."
"Big Foot? In a dungeon? And why does the game start in a dungeon?"
"There's enough games starting in villages. And there's a long story behind it."
"When I was playing it, you were at the mountains."
"Oh, that's at the midpoint of the game."
"This is an insane difficulty curve."
"Don't worry, Big Foot isn't that hard."
The monster let out another roar. It was increasingly getting closer.
"I am not so sure about that."
"You can help me if I get into the rough," Yukio showed Aki his puppy eyes. "You will… okay okay I stop now."
Aki lowered her wand.
"It's your game. I am not having a part of this."
"Who got me here in the first place? You were supposed to be granting my wish…"
Yukio stopped his protest after Big Foot emerged from the darkness.
Aki rolled her eyes.
"Rrrriiiggght. Big Foot."
A frog with enormous Yeti feet in place of the usual webbed ones glared at them with marble eyes.
"Played around too much with the seventh sanctum monster generator?"
"That was my own creation!"
Big Foot roared.
"Frogs ribbit, my dear R."
"This is a fantasy game! And stop making stupid remarks if you aren't going to help!"
"Says the one who is the master of them."
Big Foot leapt forward, kicked Yukio in the shin, and returned back to its original position. From nowhere, the words "Big Foot attacks R for 5 damage" materialized between the two battlers. The health bars and Yukio's current level appeared as holograms on both walls.
"Hold on. I am supposed to fight it in a turn-based manner?"
"That's the mechanics of your game isn't it?"
"This is ridiculous."
"RPG games are ridiculous."
"Don't insult my favourite genre!"
Big Foot roared.
"You might want to change the sound file for this monster when you get back."
"No need," Yukio unsheathed his sword and pointed the purple blade at his foe. "I am going to instant KO that fool with my nameless move."
A few seconds passed. Yukio was still pointing his sword at Big Foot.
"I can lend you my wand if you want," Aki said.
"No." Beads of perspiration streamed down Yukio's neck. "This shouldn't be happening. I am quite sure I have programmed this move into R. It's his best move, his ultimate move if he has to have any chance of beating the dark lord."
Aki smacked her forehead.
"Tell me. What level are you at now?"
Yukio referenced the hologram.
"Oh," he bowed his head. "Right."
He raised his sword. "But still, my basic slash will be more than enough!"
He did a couple of somersaults, bringing his blade down at Big Foot's cross section. In his mind eye, he could see the splattered remains of the monster smeared on the walls and candles. He could see himself smirking as Aki puked herself sick upon witnessing the uncensored violence.
You have no idea how good R can be when he's serious.
The blade missed Big Foot completely and hit hollowly on the dungeon floor.
The bewildered Yukio attempted to bring his sword up and make contact, but he was whisked back to his original position before he could do so.
As if to taunt him, the words changed to "R misses Big Foot completely. WTF is going on?"
He remembered typing those words in as a joke during the earlier days of programming the game. In all the uncountable times of playtesting, he had never once missed a hit. In fact, he had planned to increase the attack and defense statistics of that poor creature a few days back.
That condition was an "else" clause that was never supposed to be evoked.
Big Foot leapt forward, and instead of kicking him in the shin, delivered a series of roundhouse kicks to his neck.
The words changed to "Big Foot attacks R for 17 damage. CRITICAL! Seriously, WTF is going on?"
Another impossible condition evoked.
Yukio's health bar dwindled to a dangerous red.
"I told you that it is an insane difficulty curve!" Aki said.
"The game is cheating!" Yukio supported himself with the sword. He felt his knees buckling and his strength ebbing away.
Big Foot looked pleased with itself and roared.
"Do you have a potion?"
"No I don't!" Yukio said. "None of this was supposed to happen!"
"You'll have to instant KO it in your next turn. Otherwise, you are gone."
"I don't need you to tell me that," Yukio gritted his teeth. "But a level one R isn't that strong. The chances aren't pretty high."
"Take the gamble," Aki said. Her voice lowered to a murmur. "And lose like every single time. His luck is going to be terrible with me around."
"What did you say?"
"Couldn't you help me out a little here?"
"Well, it's worth a try," Aki raised her wand. She unleashed a rainbow burst of magic.
Which was deflected by an invisible forcefield surrounding Big Foot.
"Hmm... it doesn't work," Aki shrugged. "Looks like you are on your own then."
"Why is there a forcefield in my game?"
"I don't know."
"Why are you here in my game then?"
"I don't know either."
"For a genie, you don't seem to know a lot of things."
"Let me repeat myself," Aki said very slowly. "I am not Lord Zeus. Pronto?"
"Why don't you just turn yourself upside down and let me relive my last living moments in joy?"
"Say that again?"
The squabbling pair stopped and stared comically at Big Foot. The latter nodded its head in acknowledgment.
"Yes, it is I," the words tumbled out in a deep garble. "I have decided to speak because one, I am sick of your lovers' quarrel. Two, I want to finish this and end my losing streak."
Yukio got back his focus. He lifted the sword with a fluorish.
"I have one thing to say to you. You are not going to end your losing streak. Not a chance."
Aki poked him in the ribs. Hard.
Yukio coughed. "And we are not lovers. Damn it, I was about to say it anyway. Why would I fall in a love with a genderly confused genie?"
There was a short pause.
"I'll pay you back later."
Yukio ignored her comment. He sized up the frog (he admitted inwardly that the monster was a lazy creation with just a little difference. Toddlers could do better with their fairy tale monsters. Which reminded him, had Daisuke and Mayu…?) and its inflating abdomen. Confirming it to be the most vulnerable spot, he approached the enemy with his weapon outstretched.
"What are you doing?" Big Foot said.
"This is turn by turn. I can do it in my own sweet time. That way, I can't possibly miss." He reached within metres and pressed the blade on Big Foot's stomach.
"Ready for my slash?"
"Wait a minute, we can talk," Big Foot said. "I can let you flee for free alright? I'll take a draw, I'll give you my hot collection that I stocked up in my room, I'll…"
"Goodbye Big Foot," Yukio raised the sword high up above his head. "This is loss number two hundred and counting."
Big Foot let out a frog cry.
The blade came rushing down. Yukio let out a triumphant battle cry, only to be disappointed by the lack of blood. The fallen enemy simply disintegrated into pixels and vanished. The hologram updated Yukio's accumulated experience points. The words in the air crystallized and brightened into a reflective gold , proclaiming simply, "R has defeated Big Foot."
Yukio found himself uncontrollably pumping his fist into the air.
Note to self, reprogram R's victory pose to something that reflects his character.
Yukio also noticed the small words written on the bottom right corner of the statement.
"Disclaimer: Due to the PG nature of the game, the vivid expressions of blood have been censored."
"I didn't program that!"
The words and the holograms disappeared, returning the dungeon back to its former solemnity.
Yukio started pacing up and down the passageway.
"Okay, let me get this straight. I made a wish to complete a computer game. And instead of having it finished, I find myself inside it. Why is that so?"
"And on top of it all, I am playing the main character, R and starting from the beginning of the game."
"Could it be," Yukio snapped his fingers repeatedly. "That by living through the game myself, I'll be able to experience the journey and torments R goes through and connect the pieces together? And then I'll complete the game, and it'll be a self-fulfilling wish!"
"This is brilliant Aki! Instead of providing an instant gratification solution, you have provided a wonderful platform for the wisher to shape the outcome of the wish as he pleases!"
Yukio realized that he had been performing an unintentional soliloquy. He looked at the magical girl, who had her head bowed. He touched her trembling shoulders.
"Aki? You all right there?"
Aki lifted her head, her expression inscrutable. Her wand danced around in the air in circles.
Yukio saw a rainbow flash of light illuminate his chest.
"What is that for, Aki?" Yukio asked, and then his eyes widened as his chest began to expand and take on a womanly form. "What are you doing that for?"
Aki's wand continued to dance, this time like a conductor raising the tempo of the orchestra. At the same time, Yukio found his voice pitch increasing in octaves.
"Stop that Aki, this is no joke," Yukio said, and then stopped to cover his mouth. He was starting to sound like a man high on helium.
Finally Aki finished her ritual. She appraised Yukio with approving nods and a few rubs of the chin.
"I like your new look R," Aki said, emphasizing the 'R' with an Indian accent.
"Why did you turn me into a woman?" Yukio yelled.
"No I didn't," Aki replied. "At least not completely."
In a hurry Yukio checked his pants, uncaring about decorum and dignity. He had the best of both worlds.
"I told you that I'll pay you back later," Aki finally smiled, leaving the victim behind. "You look genderly confused right now."