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BEGINNING NOTE

Why does humanity exist? A question that has been a most frustrating topic among members of the human race since its beginning long long ago, and every man, woman and child has had their own unique answer. To the religious, they thought God had created mankind in His image. To the scientific, humanity is naturally superior in the ongoing race of evolution and survival. To the average everyday individual, the human exists for no other reason except just because.

Humanity truly is a very interesting creature. Centuries ago, we figured out how to make wonders of art, and how to hurt another with a weapon. Thousands of years later from now, we'll have mastered interstellar travel, and will have extended our existence across the stars, maybe even beyond. And yet, we have a lot of flaws in spite of our apparent brilliance.

For many centuries, we've prayed to an invisible deity, we've hated and raged against each other for reasons big and small, we've expressed absolute happiness and sorrow. We cowered in irrational fear and every action we've ever made spawned from some kind of innate desire within all of us.

Maybe they have their own unique reason on why we exist. Maybe they want to educate and guide us to a bright future, maybe they want to destroy us, see us as a threat. Or maybe they don't care much for us, see us like insects, and thus don't pay us any mind. Or maybe someone wants us. Maybe there's someone, or something out there right now looking at us, desiring us, like a child would at a toy store. Maybe they think the reason we exist was so they could own us.

This is a story of such forces existing outside our world. A unknown darkness, a nightmarish evil, that hungers for humanity. As you read the first part of this saga, you'll be taken into a world of paranoia, mystery, and madness as you follow the adventures of a single young man, who inadvertently thrusts himself into something unexplainable, and discovers parts of something that utterly defies all reasoning within him, and forces him into a desperate struggle for survival.

1

Carlos Rodríguez, a young lad just starting out a second year in high school. Carlos, or Carl, was pretty much your average, run of the mill high school student. Handsome, Latino American, dark hair, always liked wearing a jacket over his T-shirt, and of course a kind-hearted intellectual with average grades and just eight friends.

Carlos had just returned to his dorm room, where he lived alone, after finishing up his lessons for the day. Just like any other day, Carlos's side of his school was a relatively quiet one, just the way he liked it of course. He was never truly one who enjoyed a lot of noise going on around him, and preferred this year of high school to be a relaxing one for at least the most part.

It was Friday and the weekend had started, for Carlos this was always a perfect opportunity to hang out with his friends. After putting down his backpack and kicking his shoes off, his cellphone buzzed, one of his friends had sent him a text message. Pulling the phone from his pocket, Carlos read the message. It was from his pal Mike, who had messaged, "Yo, man, so we still on 2nite?"

Carlos texted back, "Oh for sure dude. Been lookin’ to play some more Street Fighter with you."

After a few minutes, Mike then replied, "Awesome. BTW have u heard from Antonio yet?"

Antonio was Carlos' older brother and best friend. Antonio had always been sort of a reckless type -- more reckless than Carlos might've been, anyway -- but Carlos always personally thought it was Antonio's way of being adventurous, and had even poked fun of his recklessness time to time.

However, for the past three weeks, Carlos had not seen or heard from Antonio. He hadn't even seen him during classes. From time to time, Carlos had tried to contact him to see if he was busy or not, and at first, Antonio DID sorta respond to him via text, though it was usually in short replies of one or two words. But eventually, Antonio just stopped responding altogether. Carlos had assumed that his friend was just busy with something, but for three weeks?

Carlos replied, "Not yet. I'm gonna try again in a little bit. If he doesn't respond this time I'll check up on him tomorrow."

After waiting a couple more minutes, Mike replied. "LOL K".

Carlos sat down on his couch and looked out the window showing the rest of the college campus, thinking. He thought about what to say when he texted his bro, wondered if Antonio will finally respond to him. He first considered texting him again, but then changed his mind, deciding to instead try to call him. So he brought up his phone, found his brother's contact and dialed him. Bringing the cell to his ear, he waited as it was ringing.

No response. Then came Antonio's message, "Hey there! This is Antonio. I'm not here right now, but go on and leave a message!" After that, the beep indicating that you could leave your message.

Carlos hesitated, but then spoke, "Hey bro, it's me, Carlos. Just checking up on you again...For the 36th time probably. Listen man, it's been like, almost an entire month since we last spoke. Where are you? Anyway, me and a couple of the guys are gonna play some SF Switch later tonight, and I'd think it'd be cool if you tagged along with us. I really hope you get this. See ya."

He ended the message, put the phone aside and then looked at a framed picture of him and his brother, back when they were having fun at the party.

Antonio in the picture was a bit taller than Carlos, wore a blue shirt with black jeans, along with a red hat. In the photo, Carlos and Antonio smiled at the camera and bro-fisted each other during the party.

Carlos, looking back on that memory kind of made him feel a little sad, not because of the memory itself, but because of Antonio's current absence. Carlos resolved to check on his friend if he didn't show up tonight.

After looking at the photo, he turned to look at his shelf which was lined with some of the video games and movies he owned. Carlos loved video games, and was a bit of a Indie-game fan like a lot of other people.

After looking at his collection, he saw Street Fighter Switch among them. He got up and pulled the game out, looked at it and then placed it in front of the TV, for when his friends came over. After that he grabbed his laptop, sat back down on the couch, and did a little bit of studying for next week.

Later that evening, Carlos' friends Mike, James, and Derek showed up, and just as planned, they started playing Street Fighter together.

Mike asked, "say, Carlos, Antonio's still not showing up, is he?"

Carlos sighed. "Yeah, I'm actually starting to worry. I'm gonna go to his place tomorrow to see what's up."

"Good idea," James explained, "if he hasn't been responding to yer calls, then he should at least give ya a good reason for it face to face."

"Right..." Carlos then picked up the phone to order pizza for him and the guys. The next day, Carlos started walking down the hall to go meet up with Antonio, just as he promised. Antonio's dorm room was a floor below Carlos , so it was normally easy for the two of them to meet up between classes.

With his hand in his pockets, he headed down the stairs and continued down another hall of doors until he reached the door that led into Antonio's dorm room. He knocked on the door, hoping that his brother was in there.

"Antonio?" Carlos called out, "You there, bro? It's me, Carlos."

Silence. Carlos knocked again.

"Antonio? It's been almost an entire month, man, c'mon!" No response. Carlos gripped the door knob and tried to turn it. It was locked. He then pressed his ear against the door. Nothing but absolute silence coming from the room.

"....Maybe he's not in there." Carlos thought conclusively. "And he couldn't have gone to class. It's Saturday. God's sake, man..." Groaning in frustration, he decided to head back to his own dorm room.

Heading back up the stair and down the hall to his room, Carlos stopped and saw something sitting on the floor right at the door to his dorm room. It was a small package, with a note attached to it.

Carlos looked at the package on the floor before picking it up, looking around as if to see if whoever left it was still around. He went into his room looking at the package. The folded note taped to it had his name on it. This package was for him. Taking the note and opening it up, he began to read the letter.

Much to his surprise, it was a letter written by Antonio, or at least, he thought it was from Antonio, he saw the name on the bottom first, but wasn't sure if it was his handwriting. Despite the both of them being brothers, Carlos couldn't for the life of himself remember what Antonio's handwriting looked like. Regardless he continued reading.

It started off pretty normal, a hello, a how are you, a regards to their friends and such. A rather lengthy apology regarding Antonio's absence was also included.

As the letter continued, the writing seemed to grow more jittery, as if Antonio was writing the letter in a hurry. He talked about why he was absent, explaining that he found this great game he bartered from someone online, and has been spending several days playing it. He said it was a video game that nobody had ever seen before, and that he figured he'd share this so-called wonderful game with Carlos. He greatly emphasized that Carlos should play it just to see how fun of a game it is.

The letter ended abruptly. There was no goodbye, no say hi to their friends, no write back, or thank you. Nothing like that. It was just his name. "Antonio".

Carlos scoffed bitterly. "Almost an entire month of not speaking to me and THIS is your excuse, Antonio?" Tossing the letter aside he unwrapped the package and opened it.

Inside it was a CD-Rom disc still in it's case. There wasn't a cover or a label on what kind of game this disc was supposed to be. The case looked a bit worn out, but the disc itself looked clean, well-polished, no scratches. It looked completely brand new.

It didn't have a side that had a cover describing the game, on both sides it was just that reflective plastic side, except upon closer examination, Carlos could faintly see lines faded into both sides. Under the right light, one could see these four thick, slightly dark lines that went from the side of the disc to the center. They were faint, barely noticeable, but Tom saw them. It wasn't like someone drew these lines with a marker, or carved them into the plastic of the disc.

If anything, it seemed like the disc was just naturally made with this design. The way they were positioned and came together at the center of the CD before being cut off by the hole made it look like there was an "ARRIVE" on the CD.

"ARRIVE...?" Carlos thought. With a scoff, he put the disc down. He was sure Antonio was just pulling some kind of prank on him. Whatever this disc is, it probably didn't even work. Carlos felt angry. For nearly a month Antonio hadn't spoken to him, and now he wanted him to play this game disc that most likely didn't, couldn't even do anything?

"Damn you, man," Carlos said to himself, crumpling the letter up and throwing it away, leaving the disc on the table as he went to go take a shower. Suffice to say, he was at his limit with Antonio now. And why not? Antonio was practically being unreasonable with him, wasn't he? Not speaking to him or anyone else for that matter for weeks, and now this?

He couldn't even talk to Carlos himself if he really wanted him to play this so-called "great game"? Nope. Carlos wasn't gonna play along with this. Not this time.

These thoughts buzzed around in Carlos' head as the hot water washed him. Never had he felt so angered or betrayed by his own brother...But that anger started to subside after a while in the water, before being replaced by a new feeling: concern.

The more he thought about it, Carlos began to realize the strangeness of it all. For as long as Calos remembered, Antonio was almost never busy for him, and practically hung out with him almost every chance he got. The idea of Antonio being too busy for anything outside his dorm room was starting to sound more ridiculous, let alone being too busy for his friends.

More concerning thoughts began to pop up in Carlos' head as he continued washing himself: what if something really WAS keeping Antonio busy?

What if he was studying for extra credit? Carlos corrected himself as he knew Antonio wasn't exactly the ambitious brother, so it couldn't possibly be for that reason.

Maybe Antonio had life problems? While it seemed more likely than extra credit, it also couldn't be the case, as Antonio never did seem to have a close relationship with his own folks, at least not enough to leave college to help them out.

Maybe he was seeing someone? A date perhaps? Carlos never bothered to look into Antonio's personal life but it'd be amazing if Antonio actually DID find love.

Darker thoughts began to appear in Carlos' mind the more he thought about it...Did something happen to Antonio?

No, that couldn't be the case. If he was found in a ditch somewhere it could have at least hit the news. Still, the idea that something happened to Antonio lingered in Carlos' mind.

He remembered the letter that came with the disc. As he dried himself off, he began to realize how weird it all was. The way it was written seemed...off. It was like Antonio had completely lost his mind as he wrote it, the way it kept going on about "how great the game is" and how jittery the handwriting seemed....

Carlos had thought about going around campus to ask if anybody who knew Antonio noticed if he was being strange three weeks prior, but he decided against it as he began to consider the possibility of getting no leads out of it, Antonio wasn't exactly Mr. Popular in High School. Hell, he didn't even gain any notoriety in middle school.

The next day, Carlos sat in his dorm room thinking about what could have happened to Antonio. However, all thoughts about the letter and Antonio's disappearance went by the wayside as Carlos heard a knock on the door. Thinking it might've been one of his friends, he walked toward the door and opened it. It wasn't one of his friends.

It was a woman. An average-sized, somewhat lanky-looking woman somewhere in her early 30s. She had brown, long hair and a five o' clock shadow, and wore an blazer, white shirt and a green necktie, hands in her pockets, looking a bit disgruntled.

The woman looked at Carlos and then spoke. "Carlos Rodríguez?"

Carlos hesitated and responded. "Yes?"

The woman then pulled out what Carlos could identify as a detective's badge. "Detective Emma Johnson, city precinct. Are you brothers with Antonio?"

Carlos froze, and his concerns began to resurface. "....Antonio?? Uhh, y-yeah. Yeah, I am."

The detective sighed and bit her lip, as if he was trying to find the right way to say something to Carlos. "Look, uh...It's probably best if you come with me".

With that, a very confused Carlos followed Detective Johnson down the hall.

Without even looking at Carlos, Johnson then asked, "When was the last time you spoke with him?"

Carlos was growing more worried and confused. "A-almost an entire month, ma'am. Umm...listen, what's going on?"

Johnson pulled out a small book and started writing into it as they continued walking down the hall. As she did so, she continued to speak to Carlos. "We had a call not too long ago today about an unsanitary odor going on at Dorm Room #153, Antonio's dorm room. The door was locked from the inside, so somebody had to bust it down just to see what was causing the smell."

As they went down the stairs, Carlos asked, rather reluctantly, "and why did you come to me about it?"

Johnson then spoke a bit more grimly, more hesitantly. "Well...You're brother and....It's probably better if you see for yourself."

By the time they reached the corridor that had Antonio's door, Carlos could see several police officers, students and a few reporters. "He's with me," Johnson said to a couple cops as they headed toward Antonio's door. Sure enough, it was busted open. Inside, Carlos saw a very unsettling sight.

Antonio's dorm room was a mess. It looked like it hadn't been taken care of in weeks. It was dark, several pieces of furniture had been knocked over, mold was growing in some areas, the food in the fridge was rotting terribly and the overall room just stank something awful. Carlos could spot Antonio's computer sitting on his desk, open, turned off and with the screen cracked.

A photographer was taking pictures of the whole scene, and two other people were managing a gurney that had a body laying on it, a white sheet draped completely over the body. The Newspaper Club has finally got an interesting story to write.

Carlos' blood ran cold when he saw the body on the gurney. Johnson walked him toward it, stopping the two men from carrying it away to show Carlos. He stared at the covered body, dreading upon dread on who could be under that sheet.

Johnson looked at Carlos' face, and with unease within himself, flipped the sheet over and revealed the corpse that stared mindlessly back at Carlos. The skin was pale,, eyes wide and foggy, the short dark hair on his head unkempt, and his bloodstained mouth agape, as if the jaw bones had been snapped off.


It was Antonio.

2 Shock. That was all Carlos had felt as he sat in the quiet interrogation room, alone. Numb with shock. As he sat in the silence, his mind tried to reel back and remember what had happened more than an hour ago. A detective named Emma Johnson had visited him, he was brought into Antonio's room, which the cops had to break into and had turned out to be completely derelict for nearly a month, and he, Carlos, had seen what had become of his brother. He could still vividly remember the look of horror upon Antonio's face, the jaw hanging uselessly from it's sockets and the eyes wide, dead and empty… After that, he was brought to the police station by Detective Johnson, who told him to wait in the interrogation room, promising him he wasn't in any kind of trouble. Carlos had been sitting in this dark quiet room, looking at the polished table ever since.

He still couldn't well register what he had seen what felt like minutes ago. How did he not see the signs? How did he not consider the possibility that his own brother had been dead for these weeks? He believed, probably hoped, that Antonio was merely busy, that something kept coming up and he had to cut classes in order to deal with it...But no. Antonio was not busy at all. He was dead. Carlos snapped out of his increasing depression as he saw the door open. Detective Johnson walked into the room, carrying a cup of coffee. Following behind her was a blonde-haired man that looked younger than Johnson wearing a blue vest over his white buttoned shirt and black ripped jeans. Johnson gave the coffee to Carlos. "Here, you look like you needed a pick-me-up." As Carlos took the cup and sipped it, she and the man sat down with him, Johnson across from him and the man beside him. "All right, introductions. Carlos, this is my brother Mason." she paused as Carlos shook the man's hand. "He's part of the investigation I'm working on." "A pleasure to meet you, Carlos," Mason Johnson said. Then, with a tone of warm concern, he asked, "are you feeling okay?" Carlos couldn't respond. He felt his face heat up as he looked at his coffee cup. "I'm sorry about what happened to your bro, Carlos," Mason gave his condolences, putting a hand on Carlos' shoulder. "We both are, honestly," Emma responded. "Now listen, Carlos. The reason you're here isn't because you're in trouble. We don't suspect you had anything to do with what's happened to Antonio, so you don't gotta worry. We DO however need your help." "My help?" Carlos said quietly and shakingly, not taking his eyes off the cup, he felt his grief just starting to spill out. "My Bro is dead. He's freaking dead, and I..." He felt his eyes welling up, his voice breaking. "I had no idea, nor did I do anything to help him. I should have read the signs the minute he stopped responded to my calls. I should have been there! I should have friggin' done something..." He wiped his eyes, sniffling. Mason handed him a box of tissues, which he took a couple from. "Now Carlos, this isn't your fault," Emma tried to assure him. "I mean, there wasn't really much of anything you or anyone else could have done. You're not at fault here, I promise you. If anyone should be guilty of this, it's whoever killed your brother." Carlos quietly asked, "who would wanna kill Antonio? I mean, I know he was a bit of a reckless dick, I even poked fun at it with him, but he was never one to make enemies." Emma and Mason exchanged looks, and then Mason turned to look at Carlos and informed him, "we have evidence to believe that Antonio's death wasn't just some random murder." Carlos looked at him. "What..?" Emma then pulled out a folder from her coat and handed it to Carlos, who quickly took it and opened it to look at its contents as Emma spoke. "Over the last couple of months, numerous bizarre deaths have been happening. Not just in this city, but in neighboring communities as well. They all have been the same thing. Homes left unattended, computers broken in some way, and the bodies..." Carlos felt his insides turn as he saw the photos. All of them, the same way as Antonio. Pale, eyes wide in horror, jaws snapped off, blood staining the inside of their mouths... Mason then spoke up. "We checked the autopsies and they all said the same thing, the esophagus and the inside of the chest were completely ruptured, like something large forced its way down the victims' throats." Carlos shook a bit, unsettled by the sight of so many people being killed in such a gruesome manner. "Who...Who would do this? Who COULD do this???" "We don't know," Emma replied, "which is why we need your help. We need you to tell us if Antonio said anything before his absence." "I...I don't..." Carlos stopped himself, and tried to think about it. Did Antonio say anything before he disappeared? He sat there trying to remember, and then it hit him. The last time Carlos saw Antonio three weeks prior was after a weekend party he threw with him and his friends. He had asked Antonio if he wanted to watch a movie with him at his dorm room, but Antonio declined, saying that he wanted to try this new video game he bought online. "Uhh...I remember asking him if he wanted to see a movie with me after a party, but he said no, and that he wanted to try out some new game he got offa eBay or something. But that was it, really. After that, I haven't seen him for three weeks." "A new game?" Mason asked. "What kind of game?" "I dunno," Carlos answered with a shrug. "He never said. I just said okay when he told me and...That was literally the last time I saw him." He sipped his coffee some more. "Well, it's unlikely a video game could have killed Antonio," Emma shrugged, straightening her coat. "Anyway, you can go now, Carlos. You look like you need some rest." As she, Mason and Carlos got outta their chairs, Emma handed Carlos a piece of paper. "Thank you for your help. Here's my number. If anything happens, call me. Alright?" Carlos took the paper with a nod. "Yes ma'am." As his hand touched the door, he stopped, then looked at Emma. "Detective Johnson? What do you make of this?" "What do I make of this?" Emma parroted back. "Well, I say what happened to your brother and all those people is a horrid thing that should never happen to any human being, even if any of them are criminals." Emma looked at her brother who looked back at her, and then looked at Carlos. "Way I see it, whoever is doing this is pretty much a fucking psychopath." It had been a week after Antonio's body had been discovered by the police. The school was rather shaken up by the news and the day after they found his body, the staff gave the grievous announcement to the students, and within time rumors were spreading like wildfire regarding what had happened to him. "I heard he killed himself!" One Pink-haired girl said. "No way, he was murdered!" Came the exclaim of a blue-haired boy. A glasses-wearing boy worryingly questioned, "do you think the killer's still out there?" "I hear they found his body a complete mangled mess!" A jock proclaimed with excitement. Carlos sat miserably in the cafeteria with his friends, Kristen, Laura, Alice, The Twins (James and Mike), Gabe, Max, and Derek, just looking at his food while his friends chattered on. "Hey," Max spoke, putting a hand on Carlos, shoulder, "you all right, man?" "Probably dumb of me to ask, but yer still upset about what happened to Antonio?" Mike asked. Carlos merely nodded. "Yeah, yeah I say we all are." James replied. "What do you think happened to him?" Alice asked. "Who knows? One thing's certain, whoever killed him still hasn't been caught," Derek said dissmissivly. "Ugh, way to make it creepy, jackass." Kristen groaned, folding her arms in disgust. "Pft, just saying." Derek muttered. "In any case," Max spoke up. "We're all here for you, Carlos. you know we are." "Thanks, guys." Carlos said, smiling a little bit. "Tell you one thing, least they're finally getting around to cleaning Antonio's room up," Gabe continued as he ate his roast beef sandwich. "About time too." Kristen responded, "Ricky lived next door to Antonio and he said he couldn't STAND the smell that kept coming from his room through the vents." "Do ya think they got rid of his stuff?" Laura asked. "Either that or gave it to his parents. Though I doubt that computer's gonna be of any use to them," Max replied. "Computer..." Carlos muttered. The laptop he saw in Antonio's room, he gave it to him as a graduation gift. For some reason, he felt it wouldn't be right for that thing to just get tossed. He stood up from his seat. "I'll be right back, guys." He ran down the empty halls, hoping the laptop was still in the room. When he reached Antonio's door, he saw that it was open, and there were black plastic bags on the side. Inside, he could see the room had been emptied out and cleaned, and he saw a short, middle-aged woman wiping the windows. "Hey, uh, excuse me?" He asked walking in. The lady turned to look at him. "Oh! Hello, dear!" she responded in a kind, Midwestern voice. "What can I do you for?" "Oh, not much, it's just..." Carlos explained. "The guy who lived here was a friend of mine. I gave him this laptop, and I was kinda wondering if I could get it back. Y'know, to honor his memory and such." "Is that right?" The lady asked. "Well, you're in luck, dear. I put it over there." She pointed to the bed which had be freshly made, sitting on it was Antonio's laptop. "You can go on and have it. Though the screen's cracked and I couldn't turn it on." Carlos looked at the laptop and then picked it up. "Thank you, ma'am." With that he bid her goodbye and left to put the laptop in his room, and headed back to the cafeteria before lessons continued. Hours later after class, Carlos had returned to his room to get a good look at Antonio's laptop. It appeared to be in somewhat decent condition, if a little dusty. The only damage it seemed to have is that it's screen was slightly cracked in a couple places, the cracks were only minor, but Carlos wasn't sure if the screen was still functional. Carlos looked into the blackness of the cold laptop's screen. It had been turned off, he remembered it had been off since the last time he saw it, in Antonio's room. Carlos leaned in and pressed the power button. No response. He didn't want to assume that it was broken just yet. Grabbing his charger, he plugged the laptop in and waited. A few minutes of waiting later, a small icon appeared on the black screen, the indication of battery power. Carlos let out a sigh of relief; it was still fully functional, it just needed a full recharge. Turning off the cracked screen, he closed the laptop and then texted his friend, James. "Hey, James, R U and Mike still on for later today?" James responded, "4 sure man. BTW did you get that laptop?" Carlos replied. "Yeah. It's only cracked and it needs a recharge, but other than that it's still in good condition." "Cool man," James texted in return. "Whaddya gonna do with it? Gonna pawn it off or somethin'?" Carlos paused for a moment and pondered that question, but immediately responded with, "nah. It was Antonio's laptop, plus I was the one that gave it to him as a gift. So it wouldn't be right to just get rid of it y'know?" "LOL I hear ya man. Anyway, gtg. Me and Mike'll cya later." The weekend came again after that. That Friday night, Carlos was alone in his room on his computer studying while Antonio's laptop was still busy charging up. It seemed like it was taking a very long time to get to full power, and there were times Carlos had to remove the charger plug in order to keep his own fully charged. Right now Antonio's laptop was at 11% power, not enough to do much on it. As Carlos typed away in his studying, he began to remember when Antonio died. He still felt a nasty pang of guilt every time he looked back on that day. Even though Johnson had told him that it wasn't his fault, he still believed he should at least have done something to prevent it. He then remembered seeing the photos of all those bodies, all dead in the same way as his friend, his guilt fading into dread over the thought of the culprit responsible for those murders still being out there and not behind bars. He HAD given thought about finding and confronting the bastard that took Antonio's life away, but ultimately he decided to let Johnson and her brother find the murderer. A job much easier said than done clearly if they still had no leads, however Carlos felt he could trust Detective Johnson on this. From their last conversation Carlos was pretty sure that Johnson was a good cop. "She'll catch the creep," Carlos said to himself. "Quit your worrying. Johnson's GONNA catch him." He tried to redirect his thoughts onto the last time he spoke to Antonio; how Antonio had said he found some 'really cool game' that he wanted to try out. Carlos had already concluded that the ARRIVE-marked CD disc Antonio had sent him was the very same game he had bought before his disappearance, though why he sent it to Carlos before his death, Carlos couldn't well figure out. The more he thought about it however, the more he began to wonder: what WAS so great about this game Antonio had bought? Was this game really so good that it required Antonio to not attend class for weeks or see his friends or, Carlos dared to think, not know he was targeted for murder? Carlos turned to look at the game disc that still sat on his table, the faint CALL mark on the plastic of the disc shown by the light of the room. Carlos just couldn't stop wondering... ...What was so great about this game? 3 Carlos picked up the game disc and looked at it for several minutes as he sat back down in front of his laptop. Since Antonio's laptop was still at 11% power, there was no way Carlos could see the game downloaded on it, so he had only his own to rely on. He opened the CD drive and placed the disc in, closing the drive and waited for the installing notification to show up. After a few minutes, the notification appeared on the screen. "Do you want to install "ARRIVE.eXe"?" "ARRIVE.exe...?" Carlos read the name again to see if it was correct. He felt a small twinge of disbelief creeping up within himself: Really? The "really wonderful, never-before-seen" video game Antonio had found and spent weeks playing before he died was a horror game? Carlos felt his anger rising, but he suppressed it. He couldn't bring himself to curse his friend for such stupidity, and who knows? Maybe Carlos was being too quick to judge this game. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt in the honor of his brother, Carlos clicked yes. A standard Installation Wizard popped up for "Call.exe" and Carlos went through the process. He directed the game files to Program Files, checked to add a thumbnail on his Desktop, and of course, agreed to the Terms of Agreement. The window changed into the progress bar. After several minutes it was at 1%. Realizing it was going to be a while until the game had fully installed, Tom decided to order some takeout and watch a movie. While the game was installing, he went onto Domino's website, made his order, a medium-sized pizza with pepperoni and a two-liter of Coke, and then went to his couch and turned on his TV and PS4. After the delivery man came and Carlos got his pizza, he got a dvd copy of Aliens in the Attic and just enjoyed himself as he waited for the game to install. As soon as the movie reached the scene where the Sparks falls out of the vent, Carlos' computer had suddenly went black -- it had shut down. Carlos heard the faint clicking noise that indicated it's shutdown and he turned his head to see the black screen. Pausing the movie, he got up to investigate. It didn't seem to have overheated or anything, so he assumed it was one of those kind of games that required a restart before installation was complete. He waited for the computer to start back up, and when it didn't Carlos grew restless. Surely his computer didn't experience an error or a virus installing this game, did it? After immediately pressing the power button, he let out a sigh of relief when it turned back on after a couple minutes of no response. He waited for the computer to start back up, signed back in and checked his desktop. There he saw it, sitting at the very center of his desktop was an icon that appeared to be a black eye with a red pupil with a faint cat-like slit, there wasn't a name anywhere under it. He right clicked to check on the properties, he was rather surprised to see that there was literally nothing there, no type of file, no description, not even anything describing the location, size or even the dates of when it was created. "Huh, bit of an odd choice for an icon..." Carlos muttered to himself. Satisfied that the game had installed itself, Tom closed the laptop and sat back down on the couch, wanting to finish watching his movie before playing it. Once Aliens in the Attic had finished, Carlos turned the PS4 off, got up and grabbed his laptop and got himself back on the couch. "All right, Antonio." Carlos said, moving his mouse toward the icon and double clicking it. "Let's see what's so great about this game of yours." Carlos waited until his screen went black, this time he knew the game was starting up. After a while, he heard his phone ring, it looked at it, it said "unknown", and had no decline option. he had to answer. by the time he did, an female voice spoke up. Carlos had jumped, startled from how sudden the voice came from the phone. It was a strange voice. It sounded like a young girl's, at least somewhat younger than him, except it sounded...off. It wasn't just the fact that it spoke in a friendly, almost child-like manner, but Carlos could tell by just listening to the voice that there was something not right about it, like it sounded....fake. "Hiya~! Do you wanna play a game with me?" Carlos said "Uh... sure.". The voice spoke again. "Awesome! I already got the perfect game we can play. One of my favorites!” The screen changed into what appeared to be a dimly lit room, with three large old TV screens lined up on the floor. A yellow arrow blinked toward the right next to the third TV, showing more TV screens. Captions were above the screens reading, "Choose a player". Carlos was rather surprised by the selection of characters for him to choose from. Looking through the selection using the arrow keys he stopped to Hiro Hamada. "Hiro, huh? Is that your favorite?" The "Yes" and "No" options appeared again. With that resolve, Carlos selected "Yes". The voice laughed as the screen faded to black. The laugh made Carlos tense up; it was an unsettling, unfitting sort of laugh, sounded almost like Junko Enoshima’s laugh from Danganronpa: The Animation. "Glad I guessed right! Okay, The first game we're gonna play is "Hide and Seek". All you gotta do is remain hidden...and don't let me catch you~." Carlos had noticed a growl under the excitement of the female voice. The way it had said "don't let me catch you" sounded almost too excited. Almost predatorial... The screen faded and Carlos saw he was playing as the noob from Roblox. Carlos looked at the screen in confusion -- didn't he just pick Hiro to play as? Why was he playing as the Noob instead? Already this game was giving off very weird vibes for Carlos, but his curiosity remained steady. The game's graphics were 3D, and looked very good too. A small message popped up, saying "it's probably better if you play this with a controller." Carlos promptly grabbed his Wired Xbox 360 Controller and plugged it into his laptop, and after fiddling with the options to make the controller work, he started moving the Noob around and looked at the environment he was in. Noob was in a city; one completely devoid of life, and appeared to be somewhat in ruins, giving off a kind of dystopian kind of feel to the overall place. The sky was a perpetual cloudy dawn. Carlos was amazed at the amount of detail of this empty ghost town he had the Noob run around in, exploring districts and entering buildings. Carlos’ amazement slowly changed to uncertainty and then worry the more he explored the city. He couldn't find a living soul anywhere within this quiet, bleak world. He was alone. Suddenly, Carlos' concern about finding any inhabitants in the ruined city was soon replaced with an increasingly overwhelming feeling, an ominous feeling he didn't think he'd feel over playing a video game. Carlos couldn't put his finger on it, but he started to get the feeling he wasn't alone at all, that there was something...out there, in the same area as Carlos. It wasn't like he was being watched, but more like something was out there in the ruined city looking for him. Carlos felt fear welling up inside himself that he had never felt before. He couldn't explain it, but he felt like he personally was in some kind of danger. He had the noob run down streets because he didn't want to enter any of the buildings, fearing he'd be rendered helpless to whatever he was terrified of. Carlos had also started to notice that it didn't seem like there was any way out of this huge empty city, either. If anything, it seemed like he was looping back to the same districts, the same buildings the further tried to go away from them. By the the time Carlos had entered the district that had plaza in it, the fountain being dry and one building nearby bent and on the verge of collapse, Carlos had seen something nearby. Walking around the plaza rather casually was a young girl, except the more Carlos looked at her, the more he began to notice how different the character model was, or at least more different. The more Carlos looked at the girl, who kept walking everso leisurely with her back towards noob, unaware of Carlos’ character being in the same area as him, the more confused Carlos was at. She just looked wrong. She stopped in her tracks before he could take another step, her pose frozen in mid-walk. That overwhelming fear for his own life came back within Carlos the more he stared at her. She was standing there, her back towards the noob, in that frozen walking pose. She then slowly turned to see the noob, and for the first time Carlos got a good look at the creature's face. This strange-looking girl looked at the noob for a moment and then, to Carlos' shock, slowly moved her eyes towards Carlos. He couldn't believe it -- this girl was staring directly at him. The girl smiled a cartoonishly wide kind of grin, and then spoke in the same voice he heard earlier on. "Wow, you're not very good at this game, are you?" Carlos couldn't believe what he was seeing or hearing, his breathing increasing in speed as he stared at the screen. There was no way this creature was talking to him, looking at him. The creature laughed that Junko laugh, then spoke again, her voice more childish, more mocking, as if she was a kid bullying Carlos. "What's wrong? you act as if you never saw someone like me before!" The girl took a step towards the noob. Carlos then to his horror saw black irises spreading over her white eyes like holes crackling and increasing in size until the eyes were completely black, her smile widened more and Carlos could see the creature had fangs. Large, sharp fangs, more fangs than what would normally fit in one's mouth. Her brown hair changed to a blood red, and grow. Carlos immediately made the noob run from the creature as it continued to transform. Carlos didn't stop to look at the creature as it transformed, he didn't want to see it. He had to get as far away from this thing, this monster... Carlos had made The Noob enter a hotel, desperately looking for a place to hide. But then when he opened one door and ran inside, to Carlos' surprise, he had ended up someplace entirely different. He could see flames burning all around The Noob. This time he was in a large forested area, fire everywhere. As Carlos moved the camera to observe the inferno all around him, he could see the trauma and despair on Noob's face, refusing to come more toward the flames no matter how much Carlos made him move. This disturbed Carlos, he felt an odd sense of pity for the poor noob. Then the voice came again, that teen voice. "This room? Pfft, funnily enough this is his favorite place to be." Carlos moved the camera to see where the voice was coming from. He noticed, poking out from a bush, what appeared to be the girl’s head, except pale, long dark red hair, and with an odd looking face. The eyes are now just tiny black pinprick dots, and the smile was just a wide, black, curved line, like someone had drawn it on there with a marker or crayon. Carlos looked at the head in confusion. It seemed rather surreal. The way the head looked was like it could've been the head of a puppet. The head rose up and Carlos saw it ended on a thin, pitch black tendril of sorts, rising up from the ground like some kind of flower. The puppet head bobbed and swayed it's head rather lazily. Tom would have percieved it as harmless if not for the overwhelming terror he had been experiencing thus far, and he could see The Noob was on the verge of tears as he cowered before this strange being. The puppet head spoke in the creature's voice, except now it's voice had changed, it was much more young, much more like a child's, and Carlos could see that even though it spoke, its mouth didn't move at all. "This adorable little cutesy just loves to play with the fire here, don'tcha?" Carlos saw the nob shake his head so desperately. The puppet spoke to Carlos, it's voice sweetly but just as mocking. "What's wrong, buddy? Don't you like playing with me?" The noob furiously shook his head in refusal. The puppet head giggled, a hint of the Junko-laugh under that child's giggle as it swayed it's head more. It then responded in a condescendingly singsong kind of voice, a much more noticeably audible growl on the last word as it stared down at him. "Liar, liar....PANTS ON FIRE.” Suddenly, something erupted from the ground and wrapped itself around The Noob's neck. The noob oofed in pain as Carlos realized that it was barbed wire. While this was going on, fire began to spread around him until he was engulfed in it. Carlos could do nothing but watch as the noob oofed in the flames. He watched as the noob’s yellow skin begin to blacken and burn, his eyes becoming bloodshot. Carlos then screamed as the puppet head suddenly creeped up from the side of the screen dangerously up close, obscuring what was happening to the Noob and looking directly at Carlos. He could see the smile was becoming more real, and opening up to show those huge fangs. The tiny dots for eyes were growing in size and forming cracks on the doll's face, and two red dots began to glow from within the blackness of the widening eyes. That Junko laugh was present with the screaming, even though the doll's lips still didn't move. Carlos had enough, this was too much. He immediately slammed his finger onto the power button and shut his computer off. A ringing silence came as his screen went to black. Carlos sat there panting, drenched in sweat. He could still hear the demonic creature's laughter and Noob's oofing in his head before ebbing away. "What...what the hell, Antonio?" Carlos sputtered in disbelief. What kind of game did Antonio buy? Carlos was convinced that the demonic creature he saw in the game was not a human girl at all; not just by her behavior, but also because of how the model looked, how she started to turn more monstrous and that puppet head that he saw minutes before the noob got incinerated, everything about the girl in that game was just completely wrong. Carlos runned his hands along his face with a sigh, feeling sleep overriding his stress over what had just transpired. "Ugh...It's just some freaky hacked game. It's gotta be." He said to himself. Deciding to deal with it in the morning, Carlos got up from his desk and went straight to bed, not even bothering to close his laptop or clean his mess. Tomorrow he would talk to his friends about the game and maybe continue playing it.

Hoping to shake off the feeling of dread and uncertainty, Carlos slowly drifted to sleep.

4 "Maybe it was made by a some asshat who hated Roblox." Mike reasoned, as he, Carlos, Kristen, Laura, Alice, James, Gabe, Max, and Derek had lunch together the next day. "I mean, I can name quite a few people who don't like some of the more recent Sonic games." "God, I sure hope so..." Carlos muttered as he ate his nachos. The memory of seeing the Noob’s body get burned alive and then that Puppet head's horrid smile was still fresh within his mind still. "I will say this though, whoever made this game's got one hell of an imagination." Max drank his soup and then asked, "are you gonna play more of it later? Maybe we can watch you play it just to see what it's all about!" "Oh no," Laura interrupted, "I'm not gonna watch you guys play a game where the thing is killing people and crap." "That's the thing though," Carlos explained, "I dunno if that character really WAS human." He looked into his nachos as he continued eating, vividly remembering how the demon transformed. "...It's like it was someone pretending to be human like the girl I saw was just some kinda costume the character was roaming around in." James chuckled. "What is she, some kinda yandere?" Before anyone could continue with the conversation, a loud scream broke out somewhere in the cafeteria. Carlos, his friends and pretty much everyone else in the cafeteria spun their heads looking around for who was screaming in terror, and then Carlos saw him; hall monitor Daniel Paul had bursted into the cafeteria sobbing hysterically for help until he collapsed to the ground, one of the teachers present in the cafeteria, an elderly woman of Japanese origin, rushed to him and helped him up. Murmurs and whispers were all around as everyone watched the teacher tried to calm Daniel down. "What's wrong? What's going on, Mr. Paul?" She asked. Carlos got up with his friends and they pushed through the crowd to see what was going on, Carlos saw Daniel as the teacher tried to comfort him, Daniel was in tears and was struggling to form speech in him hysteria. "IT'S-IT'S MR. ALEXANDER!!!" Daniel sobbed, "HE'S...HE'S DEAD! HE'S DEAD!!" Carlos' brain jammed for a moment as gasps of shock and more frantic whispers began to escalade. The Japanese teacher looked quite shocked herself. Mr. Alexander was the new teacher for Math, having applied for the job two days after Antonio disappeared. He was quite a kind young man that got along with nearly everybody. "Dead?" The teacher asked, her voice shaking. "Are you sure, sir?" "YES!! YES!! I SAW HIM! HIS MOUTH, HE...!!" Daniel sputtered. Carlos' jaw dropped the minute he heard "mouth"... No...Could it be...? "It's all right!" The teacher desperately told Daniel, before addressing the cafeteria, "All of you, return to your dormitories! Somebody get the principal! We need to call the police and an ambulance!" All the students were escorted straight to their dormitories. Carlos had to bid his friends farewell during the commotion, and immediately pulled out his phone, searched through his contacts until he found Detective Johnson's number and dialed it. As he walked down the hall he waited until Johnson answered. "What's up, Carlos?" Johnson asked. "Detective Johnson, there's been another murder, and it's the same as everyone else." Carlos explained as he entered his room, closing the door behind it. "Wait, seriously?" Johnson asked quietly, a hint of fear in her voice. "Yes," Carlos confirmed, "a boy named Daniel just came into the cafeteria screaming about the body he found. The high school is calling your station right now." "I see..." Johnson muttered. "All right. I'm on my way over there. I already know where your room is so I'll pick you up there and we'll check it out, okay?" "All right. See ya then," Carlos said. With that he hung up and sat down looking up at the ceiling, trying to process what was going on. Has Mr. Alexander really been murdered? Had Antonio's killer really returned to the high school to look for another target? If so, why? Why this high school of all places? Carlos thought about what Johnson said, that the killer had to have been a psychopath. He tried to imagine the murderer, an insane individual that got his thrills just randomly killing anyone he wants, and somehow giving the cops the slip ever step of the way up until now.

Carlos shivered at the thought and tried to take his mind off the killer by turning to his laptop, open and its screen black, just as he left it last night. He got up to turn his laptop on, but when he did he spotted two things.

The first thing was the icon on his screen. He was sure it became slightly bigger than the last time he saw it. The next was his battery, his battery was originally a good 95% when he played the game last night, but now it was at 36%. This confused Carlos, because a computer battery wasn't supposed to go down go down when the computer was turned off. However, he assumed it was just a minor fluke and paid it no mind. Turning his laptop off, he looked at Antonio's. Still at 11% like he left it, so he decided to unplug his charger from his laptop and plugged it into Antonio's to charge it. After that, he got up and turned on the TV to watch some episodes of Lucky Star and FLCL while he waited for Johnson to show up.

An hour later, a knock on Carlos’ door prompted him to get up and answer it. To his relief it was Johnson and her brother Mason. "It's a good thing you called me, Carlos," Emma said as she, Carlos and Mason walked to the crime scene. "If the high school called first, it would have taken a while for just the cops to issue a warrant." "Believe me, I wanna see this guy caught just as much as you guys do," Carlos said flatly. "He's already taken Antonio, last thing I want is for any of my other friends getting killed." "You're welcome to participate in the investigation if you wish, Rodríguez. Of course, you'll have to stay outta our way sometimes for your own safety," Mason explained as they took a turn, "and normally we don't allow citizens to get involved, but we're very low on leads as you already know." "Yeah," Emma said. "And you look like a smart kid so as of right now you're our only lead on this situation. " They eventually reached the crime scene, which was in the classroom Mr. Alexander taught Math in. Before any of them could enter however a cop stopped them. "Hold it right there, Joshson," the cop said putting a hand up. Carlos got a look at the officer, dressed in typical police uniform. He didn't look like a very friendly looking cop. He seemed a bit older than Johnson, black-haired, sharp-faced, pointed-nose and moustache, and had a bit of a sneering grin lingering on his face, Carlos could see the prominent lines on the cop's face. "This is a crime scene, not a daycare center. That kid can't come in here," he said rather off-handedly. "I'm aware of that, Officer Carter," Johnson said steadily, looking at the cop with obvious annoyance in her eyes. "However, he's with me. He's a witness to the last victim, and--" "And because you don't got any leads he's basically all you got, huh?" Officer Carter interrupted, he chuckled. "Are you really so desperate to catching this guy that you gotta scrape the bottle of the barrel or something, Johnson?" Carlos saw Emma's fists clench. It became clear to Carlos from the conversation that Johnson and this cop did not see eye to eye. "Look kid, here's some advice," Carter continued, looking at Carlos now, his smug grin showing more. "You don't wanna get involved with this girl. She thinks she's some hero, but truth is, she's just a rookie on a wild goose chase." Carlos felt the annoyance that Johnson was feeling. Immediately he looked at Crarter in the face and said, "at least he's out chasing the bad guy instead of sitting around at his desk annoying everybody around him." Carter's smile dropped at that remark, Mason tried to stifle a giggle and Carlos could sense Johnson was smiling himself. "All right. Excuse us, Officer Carter," Johnson said as she, Mason and Carlos walked past Officer Carter, who was red in the face, hotly looking at the trio. "So who was that guy?" Carlos asked Johnson and Mason. "Officer Noah Carter" Johnson answered. "He's been harassing me and Mason ever since we took this case.” Mason then said, "we suspect he's jealous of us trying to solve this case. To him, catching this psychopath is like winning a gold medal at an Olympic sport." "Jeez, I musta been right on the nose with that remark then," Carlos said, looking back to see Officer Carter back at his post. "You've no idea," Johnson stated bitterly. "But don't worry, he's pretty much useless. Anyway, here we go." He gestured the two toward the crime scene. Mr. Alexander's classroom was for the most part intact, though his desk was a mess. All that was on it had been knocked off and in their stead, lying flat on his back, was Mr. Alexander, just as Daniel described and just like Antonio; deathly pale, a look of shock on his face, his mouth wide, caked in blood, his jaw hanging uselessly. Carlos' stomach almost turned looking at the poor man, seeing his corpse like this reminded him of how Antonio died. "All right," Johnson began calmly, walking around examining the scene and the corpse, "so this one's more recent than the last one obviously. Judging by the state of things, he died sometime around 2:30 to 3:30 am last night." "What was he doing here?" He asked, standing next to Mason as they watched Emma. "Most likely preparing to head home," Emma described, pointing at a folder containing today's homework and a suitcase. "He was preparing to leave the room before he was assaulted." Johnson knelt down looking at all of the books, papers and the school laptops that were scattered on the floor around the desk. "The killer easily overpowered him. He couldn't even put up much of a struggle. They pretty much did their thing in no time flat." "Jesus..." Carlos whispered as he looked at Alexander's corpse. "What kinda maniac is capable of such brutality?" "A freakin' animal, that's what," Johnson answered flatly. "But what's weird is that there's no signs of any entry or intrusion prior to the death." "Wha...?" Carlos looked at Johnson, surprised. "That's another thing about the victims," Mason explained. "Prior to all their deaths, there haven't been a single sign of entry; the door or windows weren't open or unlocked, we even scanned for fingerprints. Nothing. Not even on the victims." "Wait, seriously?" Carlos asked, unsure if he heard correctly. "You guys saying this guy just appeared out of nowhere and killed people without touching them?" "Well I mean, we don't wanna draw to any conclusions yet." Emma responded. "Point is, somebody is in fact doing this, as bizarre as it looks. There is one other thing, though..." Emma motioned to one laptop laying on the floor, it's screen black and cracked. "In every single one of the murder we've investigated, we've also noticed that the victims' computers are also damaged in some way. Usually with laptops it's just the screen being damaged and the battery completely dead." Thinking about it, Carlos then inquired, "do you think the killer's destroying computers because they contained something he didn't want known?" Johnson shook her head. "No, I don't. I mean, we originally thought that was in fact the case with the first murder. But all these deaths are just random civilians who have no association with one another. Not to mention when we repaired some of the laptops, they appeared to be completely free of any suspicious files. So that theory I'm afraid is out the door." "Damn..." Carlos cursed. It really did seem like they hit a dead end; a killer had been able to invade people's homes without leaving any signs of an entry or in fact any trace of his existence. Whoever this murderer was, not only was he a deranged individual, he was also very good at what he was doing, too. "Detective Johnson," a voice from behind called out. The trio turned to see a cop at the door. "Principal West's looking for you, he said he needs your help with the assembly". "Ah jeez..." Johnson grumbled. "I always hate having to be a part of such announcements." "You better head on back over to your dorm room, Carlos" Mason suggested. Carlos nodded. "All right." "And Rodríguez" Emma spoke up before Carlos turned to leave, "Remember you're a part of this investigation now. It's up to you to look for anything you think might help. If you find anything or if anything happens..." "I'll be sure to come to you straightaway," Carlos immediately finished. "This guy killed Antonio, I'm not taking any chances and let him kill anyone else." With that he bid Emma and Mason farewell and headed straight back to his dorm room, thoughts of what had transpired swimming through his head like a whirlpool in the deep, deep ocean. A lot of things didn't seem to make sense to Carlos. He tried to examine all that he knew so far about the murders. One, the killer had somehow entered the victim's home without leaving any traces of his presence or a break-in. Two, he had been pulling open the victim's mouth to the point of tearing the jaw off almost completely, as well as severely damaging the inside of their throats and chests afterward. And three, the computers were ending up broken during the time of murder, with their screens cracked and their batteries dead. Carlos did not want to imagine the possibility of there being any supernatural forces at work, despite the rising amount of evidence to the contrary. It just seemed too ridiculous and perhaps too horrifying for Carlos to think about. He always believed that the world we all lived in was a world of reason. There was always a justifiable explanation behind every occurence, event or action, always a means to an end. Everything had a reason. Hoping to find answers through Antonio's laptop, he returned to his dorm room and plugged the charger into it. The assembly began about an hour later. Carlos, among many other students looked up at the stage in the attrium while other quietly chatted amongst themselves as Principal Dylan West, a man that looked to be in his forties, walked up to the podium, a solemn look on his face. Carlos could also see Detective Johnson on the stage as well, sitting next to several teachers. "Attention students," West spoke before clearing his throat. "As I'm sure several of you are aware, we have lost a recent and valuable member of our faculty. Math teacher, Chris Alexander… was confirmed deceased earlier this morning, possibly murdered by the same unknown assailant that had taken the life of Antonio Rodríguez." Several students chatted in surprise and shock amongst themselves, while others called out to the stage, demanding an explanation. Carlos remained silent with his friends watching Principal West quiet the entire student body to continue his speech. "Now I know this seems like quite a terrible shock, and a tragedy," West continued, "But let us not feel discouraged. We will have time...to mourn the loss of a fellow teacher in this faculty, and I assure you the police are doing everything they can to search and catch the killer. The one leading the investigation, Detective Emma Johnson..." He gestured for Johnson to take the stand, "...would like to say a few words with you all. Please give her your undivided attention." The principal stepped aside and allowed Johnson to come up to the podium, testing the mic, Johnson began talking. "Greetings everyone. I just want to say that I deeply apologize for the recent couple of tragedies that have taken place. No decent human being should have to suffer to such a barbaric manner, let alone murdered at all. That is why I want to assure you that we are doing everything in our power to find and arrest this person before he gets away with any more murders. Even though you are all sleeping, eating and are being educated in this establishment, like any other ordinary high school… the fact still stands. A killer is still out there and you are all not safe. If any of you see anything suspicious, go to any of your teachers that are nearby straightaway. Whoever this killer is, it's likely he'll come back to continue his work, but know that you have the law on your side. We won't rest until we've found and apprehended the murderer. I cannot promise you the guarantee of your safety. But I will promise you this: As long as the law exists on this planet somewhere, somehow, this man will be brought to justice...and it will be certain that he won't hurt another innocent human being ever again. Thank you for your time." As Johnson left the podium, Carlos felt a strong feeling of confidence in his heart as he watched her take her seat. Johnson's speech brought confidence back to Carlos. Even though the situation as of right now seemed troubling, Carlos was no doubt certain that the chances of the killer succeeding in another death had gone slim. Everyone was prepared for his return this time. "That will be all for now, students," Principal West stated. "You may all return to your dorm rooms. And remember, be careful." "Do you guys think the killer's really gonna try to come back for another round?" Laura asked with a tone of deep uncertainty as she, Carlos, Kristen, Alice, James, Mike, Gabe, Max, and Derek walked down the hall. "Of course he's gonna!" Mike scoffed. "He's already iced Antonio AND Alexander, if he's able to sneak into this school twice it'll pretty much be a cakewalk the third time." Carlos shook his head, "Nah, I don't think he's gonna risk it. If everyone's now aware he's been targeting this college, chances are he's gonna lay low for a while....I'm kinda HOPING he shows up so we can catch him." "Wouldn't it be insane if any of us actually caught the bastard ourselves?" Gabe asked. "That'd be cool," James said grinning, already imagining the scenario in his head, "I mean, there's only nine of US and only one of HIM! Plus I'm the class baseball champ, he'd HAFTA think twice before trying to kill me!" "Pfft, I don't think the killer's gonna care if you play ball James," Carlos admitted. "From what Detective Johnson's told me, the dude's crazy enough to kill anyone he sees, and from what I seen in the photos..." "Don't say that!" Kristen snapped, hugging Derek who put his hand on her arm. "That creep isn't going anywhere NEAR my Derek!" "Baaaaabe..." Derek groaned embarressedly. "Don't worry guys," Carlos assured them looking at all three of them as they took a turn down the hall. "I'm not gonna let this asshole get you guys. It's bad enough Antonios gone, but I'm gonna see to it this guy is behind bars before he so much lays a finger on any of ya." "Heh, thanks Carlos" James said appreciatedly, putting his hand on Carlos' shoulder. "Ohhhh Carl!" Alice tearfully exclaimed, running over to Carlos to hug him. "Goddamn, dude..." Mike said quietly, almost chokingly. "You really know how to move a guy with yer words..." As they reached the door to Carlos' dorm, Carlos then said, "Heh, anyway. I'm probably gonna continue playing some more of that weird game Antonio played in a bit, anybody wanna watch?" "Sure, you can count me in!" Gabe said enthusiastically. "Hell yeah, dude!" Mike agreed, "I wanna see what this freaky ass game's all about." "...Meh, I've got nothing else better to do, and I kinda need something to help me get all this murderer talk off my mind, so I'm in too." Kristen shrugged with a smile. "Oh hey!" Derek interjected before Carlos put his hand on the door, "Why not make this more fun? The classroom for the Film Club's still open right now, why don't we link Carlos’ laptop to the projector and we can watch his game on the projector screen!" "Are we allowed to do that?" Laura asked. "Probably not..." Carlos answered, unsure of himself. "Aw, come on." James nudged Carlos in the shoulder with a sly grin. "Yer only gonna play the game for a little bit today, right? We'll be outta the Film Club classroom before anyone has a chance to spot us!" Carlos thought about it. Perhaps if they were only in there for a little while... "...Ehh, all right. I'm sold." Carlos stated. "Lemme go grab my laptop and we can get going." With that, his friends patiently waited as Carlos ran into his dorm room and grabbed his laptop, and together they set off to the classroom. 5

Sure enough, the door was open. Carlos, Kristen, Alice, Laura, James, Mike, Gabe, Max, and Derek entered the classroom. The classroom that the Film Club took place in was a fairly large room found on the first floor of the college. Carlos placed his laptop on a desk while Max searched for the projector. Kristen sat at a desk while Derek pulled down the projector screen.

"Ah! Found it!" Max pulled out the projector as well as the cable required from the closet and brought it over to Carlos, who looked it over and worked on it as Max plugged it into the wall to power it, using the remote to turn it on.

After getting everything plugged in, Carlos looked to see his desktop on the projection screen. "All right, we're all set. You guys ready?"

"Yeah." nodded.

"Hell yeah, man." Derek agreed, sitting next to Kristen.

"That's a weird looking game icon you got there, Carl," Laura commented, pointing at the icon. "I know right? It's totally freakin’ w--" Carlos's voice halted as he looked at the icon on his screen... Was his eyes playing tricks with him, or was the icon even bigger than the last time he saw it? The lines looked as if they had lengthened slightly, a few more cracks forming from the fissure.

"Hey....Does...Does that icon look bigger to you guys?" Carlos asked quietly.

"Whaddya mean?" James asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"Yeah, I mean this IS a pretty big projection," Derek said cluelessly.

"Huh..." Carlos was feeling that old sense of dread from before the last time he played this game. He was worried about what this could all mean, what might happen.... would he see that creature again? Would they see it? Carlos ultimately decided to suppress these doubts, for the sake of entertaining his friends with this game and to see for himself what else this game had to offer.

"It's....Nevermind. Let's just get to playing." He moved the mouse over to the icon, clicked it, and then waited, watching the screen on his laptop as his friends watched the projection screen sitting ahead of him while he sat behind them with his laptop.

Just like last time, the screen went black, then silence. but instead of hearing the music box like last time… And then, once again, that demon's voice.

"Hiya! Glad to see you're back."

They weren't with him the first time he played the game. Hearing that voice already sent a chill to Carlos, he was worried about what might happen, but he wasn't going to back out now. He continued listening to the voice as it continued talking.

"I haven't decided on a new game this time, I've had a bit of a busy day. Feel free to explore! No one's going anywhere, after all."

The screen faded to a new location. Carlos wasn't sure if this was still part of the ruined city level; It looked like a long hallway lined with many doors. The overall bright theme of the place made it look like this was a hallway in a hotel.

Carlos meanwhile was unsure about which door to enter. He didn't want to risk falling for a trap, but at the same time he wanted to see what else was in the game.

Derek then spoke up. "Go through that door!" Carlos looked up to see Derek was pointing. Tom moved to the door,

Kira had entered a strange room, it was a large room, except it seemed....Distorted. Furniture looked like they were slanted or twisted, deformed, and on the walls and ceiling, both of which seemed crooked and bent in bizarre ways.

If Carlos wasn't unnerved by the whole experience, he would have assumed this room would have belonged to a funhouse at a carnival. Carlos heard Mike comment with a loud, "duuude, this is awesome!" as he had Kira explore the distorted room for another door.

Eventually, Carlos found one after wandering through the room, and so he had it opened and then he found Kira entering another room, one that for some reason disturbed Carlos even more. It was another large room, except it wasn't all distorted or deformed like the previous one. Instead it was a nice looking, dimly-lit room.

Carlos and his friends were in shock. The room Kira had entered was not the room he was in before. It was a disturbing looking room, far more surreal than the distorted room from earlier. Spatious, many-angled, the spatial or geometrical logic of this room was completely wrong. Tom had felt like he was looking at M.C. Esher's "Relativity" painting with this room, with the stairs and doorways all being in places they couldn't, shouldn't, have been in.

"Whaaaaa the fuuuuck...?" Mike exclaimed breathlessly, looking at the strange sight of the room was currently in. "Weren't we just in that funhouse room not too long ago??" "This is getting goddamn freaky...I dunno if we should keep playing this guys..." Laura said, an obvious hint of fear in her voice.

"Just what the hell is this game...?" Carlos thought, as he had Kira traversing the room. He watched as instead of going up one of the stairs, the stairs looked like they were going sideways instead of up, towards a door that looked like it was upside down.

After opening the door, Carlos and his friends became even more confused as Kira had entered another completely different room, this one not as distorted or many-angled, but instead he entered a dilapidated street. Carlos was back in the ruined city area.

"Whoa...Talk about yer fixer-upper, this place," James commented as Carlos had Kira traverse the city.

"This game is REALLY weird..." Derek mumbled, sitting back with a sigh.

Carlos was on the alert by this point, the last time he was in the ruined city he stumbled across that creature. Thankfully his fears subsided as it felt like the creature wasn't here this time as he explored it.

Suddenly, those fears immediately shot back the minute he heard the Junko-like laughter again, echoing across the silence of the city, the sudden abruptness of the laughter making all his friends jump.

"What the hell…??" Gabe gasped.

"Who the hell's laughing???" Alice asked in a demanding tone.

Just then, Carlos' screen froze and suddenly started to glitch and distort. It also started to heat up at an alarming rate, withdrawing his hands from it he looked up at the projector screen, his heart momentarily stopping the minute he looked.

The girl was in the projector screen, facing a brick wall, his back towards Carlos and his friends, and Kira was nowhere to be seen. This confused Carlos as the projector screen was running perfectly fine even though his laptop screen was getting eaten up by pure glitch.

The girl's head slowly turned....and turned....and turned until it was looking directly behind her, looking at Carlos and his friends who were now looking at this creature face to face. The girl was smiling a demented smile, and spoke in that fake teen voice, which was now a slow, airy, eerily perverted tone, as the rest of her body twisted until her whole front side was facing them.

"Heyyyyyyy…."

And then, the creature began to transform again.

Carlos's friends shot out of their seats and backed themselves towards Carlos in fear as they watched the demon's eyes blacken and bleed, her smile widening and showing fangs. Carlos could see her was growing taller and lankier, her limbs looking like they were stretching out of the skin, revealing nothing but black and dark purple, as the the skin became more sickly pale.

Her clothing became a collared black and red cape with two golden pauldrons that covers her dangerous armor. Her horns grow and then set aflame. Four large dragon-like wings and a long tail emerge from her back. Her hat becomes a black crown with a red jewel, and she’s wearing an eyepatch that reads her real name “Pepper”. The sight of this thing was truly monstrous.

"What the hell is that?! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!" Derek screamed, clinging onto his terrified girlfriend as he saw Pepper transform.

"I DON'T KNOW!" Kristen yelled in response, who was clinging onto Derek herself, eyes wide with shock.

Carlos was at a loss for words as he looked at Pepper's smiling face. Two red dots faded into view on her black eyes as her head tilted slightly and it spoke again, her voice more feral, more vicious.

"...Such fragile creatures you ALL are..."

Pepper then began to reach her hand towards them, as if she was planning to grab them, and Carlos could see her hand was dark purple and black, ending in long, sharp claws.

"Carlos, turn it off! TURN IT OFF!" Kristen screamed, and as everyone was backing away and screaming in terror Carlos began to see why. The hand looked like it was actually coming out of the projection screen towards them!

In a moment of fright and instinct, Carlos lunged toward his laptop and slammed his finger onto the power button regardless of how hot the computer was, shutting it down as he unplugged it from the projector, which also turned off. The giant black clawed hand that was in the room with them was gone. Silence.

Carlos was sweating and breathing quickly as he looked at his laptop's black screen, Derek had fallen over a desk in his panic and Kristen was on the floor with him, hugging him while looking at the blank projector screen. Gabe was backed up against a wall.

"....You all saw that right?" He shakingly sputtered. "I mean...It wasn't just me, you all SAW that right??"

"God I hope we didn't..." Carlos muttered in response.

"What...the Hell was that???" Derek asked a third time as Kristen helped him up.

"Carlos what the hell kind of game did Antonio give you?" Laura demanded to know, desperate. "I don't know!" Carlos responded defensively.

"Yeah!" Max groaned.

Suddenly the classroom door opened before anyone could say anything and then a teacher came in. "What the hell is going on in here?" The teacher demanded. "You nine shouldn't be in here during the evening, especially when there's a killer on the loose!"

Carlos and his friends tried to explain the situation to the teacher, but he wouldn't have any of it.

"Enough excuses." He grumpily stated. "Just get back to your dorm rooms and don't let me catch any of you out of your dorm rooms."

Without saying anything they left the room, Carlos carrying his laptop. After a while they began conversation. "Jesus, that was weird," James spoke up.

"Do you think we all just imagined that hand coming out?" Laura asked, a hint of worry in her voice. "How could we all imagine it?" Alice asked in return, a look of doubt on her face. “This is so not happening.” Kristen responded.

"I dunno! But there's NO way that coulda been real. We HAD to have hallucinated it." Carlos was sure Mike was in a small state of denial from what had just happened, but he didn't feel like calling him out on it. Right now he had other things on his mind…

"Anyway, we should probably head back into our dorms. That was a weird game Carlos, but it was fun hanging out with you during it," Max said.

"Yeah, you too, man," Carlos responded. "See you guys later." With that, everyone went their separate ways in the hallway and Carlos went to his own dorm room, placing his laptop on his desk and sitting on his bed, looking back on what had occured moments before.

Did he and his friends really hallucinate it, or did that creature actually try to grab them? Carlos honestly couldn't think of a way to rationalize what had happened, as much as he deeply wanted to.

He didn't want to admit what he had experienced was something supernatural, and that there wasn't a rational way to explain what had happened. That scared him, as he also began to think of how coincidental this all seemed, a killer was targeting the college, and now this...

Tomorrow was the weekend, as Carlos settled for bed, he resolved to look more into the case Green was investigating.

The next day, Carlos headed for the library, hoping to find something that could prove useful to the investigation. After signing in he looked through the books first on his way to the computers, after a short browse he stumbled across probably one of his more favorite books, Beneath the layers of Reality - by Jack Cranely. He was a fan of Jack Cranely's novels and thought about checking out a couple copies himself once he was done.

He sat down in front of a computer, logged in using his student ID, and began his research. He went on Google and then searched up on the murders, being sure to specify the snapped jaws and the broken laptops as he did so. Not surprisingly, a lot of articles regarding the murders came up.

Carlos looked through one, same details as what Johnson told him; people found in their homes, mouthes ripped open, their esophagus torn apart on the inside, their laptops damaged in some way, everything.

He looked through several more articles. He was still quite surprised at how many people had been killed in such a cruel and monstrous way, but nevertheless he continued reading. Eventually he came across peculiar unrelated stories in these articles, particularly ones about a cult that seemed to have become active around the same time the murders started. Carlos thought of this as odd, but he figured he'd ask Johnson about it when he called her again. Then, Carlos began to wonder something.

Remembering Emma saying how the computers were always found with their screens broken and their batteries completely drained, he then proceeded to look up on how it was happening. Unfortunately, to his disappointment, most of his searches ended up resulting in the usual articles regarding computer's batteries dying, such as old batteries, poor CPU design, or overall negligence.

When he Googled souls, he found an interesting article called the "21 Grams Experiment", a scientific study back in the early 1900s, theorizing how human souls had mass.

A soul is believed to weigh specifically twenty-one grams, and when the body dies and the soul leaves the body, the body itself loses at least three-fourths of an ounce of it's own weight, or twenty-one grams, just like the soul.

However, before Carlos could continue reading any more, he heard the college intercom go off. His blood ran cold the minute he heard the announcer's voice, unnerved and slightly shaken. "Attention all students. Th-there's been another murder. All students report to the attrium immediately."


6


The assembly this time was regarding the murders that had been announced. Three people had been found dead this time: two students and another teacher. The college was in a state of panic from this revelation, but the Principal tried his best to quell the fears and questions of the student body.

"Because of these recent kills, these new rules will be put into effect as of right now," he explained with a look of minor dismay and frustration. "Firstly, all students are to return to their dorm rooms by 6 pm every evening and they are to stay there. Secondly, all students are to be taken to their classes by a teacher, no exceptions. I know these rules seem unreasonable, but I promise you they are for your own safety. The police are still doing everything they can to capture the killer, please remain calm."

"Yeah right," Mike grunted as the assembly ended. "This college is gonna get closed faster than Marvin Roberts breaking his marathon record."

Carlos' worries, meanwhile, were starting to increase by the hour. He couldn't stop thinking about how the computers during the murders always had their batteries die as well as what he Googled about bodies losing weight when the soul leaves. After the assembly, he sat on his couch watching Antonio’s laptop charge up. 36% power.

Because of what he had researched, he wanted to call Johnson about the autopsies to see if it was true. So he dialed up Johnson.

"What's up Carlos?" Johnson asked when he answered.

"Hey...Sorry I didn't talk to you when the bodies were discovered," Carlos admitted.

"It's no trouble, that's work for ya honestly," Johnson responded assuringly. "Anyway, what's on your mind?"

"Umm, I wanna ask you a question...About the bodies," Carlos began. "When you had all the autopsies performed. Was there anything in the reports about their body weight?"

"....Ummm...There might be. I'll have Mason bring the autopsy report real quick," Johnson answered, and then asked, "why do you ask? Did you find something that might help?"

Carlos was not sure about how to explain himself to Johnson. He wanted to tell him about what he found about the 21 Grams theory, but he didn't want to seem crazy. So instead he said, "sort of. I might have found something that might be somewhat useful if not at the very least informative. I also want to ask you another question."

"Sure thing, what is it?"

"Well...while I was looking up old news articles about the murders you covered," Carlos explained, "I also found a couple articles about some whackadoo cult. Said they were founded sometime around the time the murders happened. Is that true?"

"Ahh..." Johnson responded, her voice sounding like she knew exactly what Carlos was talking about. "I had a feeling you'd come across that. Yeah, sometime after....Maybe the first 5 or 6 murders? This group started popping up all over the media. A bunch of psychotic oddballs, but they don't seem crazy enough to warrant an arrest compared to this case, though I have my suspicions about them. They call themselves the Cult of Satanica."

Carlos froze. Surely, he didn't hear Johnson right... "....I'm...I'm sorry I didn't get that," Carlos spoke breathlessly. "What did you say they were called?" "The Cult of Satanica," Emma confirmed in response. "Again, a bunch of crazies."

It felt like Carlos’ brain was going numb, he was looking at his own laptop like he was looking at that monster that he had seen once again. He felt his heart pound in shock as realization began to run him over like the world's most harshest sledgehammer.

When Carlos spoke up again, his voice was quiet and quivering. "Satanica...Y-you don't say..." "Something wrong?" Johnson asked in a tone of concern.

"It's uh....It's nothing," Carlos cleared his throat. "I just had a thought, is all. Did Mason get those reports yet?"

"Uhhhmmm..." Emma trailed off before, "Ahh, yeah he did. Lessee...weight, weight, weight...Here we go. The latest victim originally weighed 150 pounds before she died."

Dread built up within Carlos. He then calmly asked, "did he lose weight or something?" "Uhh...Yeah, about 21 Grams, actually," Emma answered.

Carlos' breath was shallow. He was in shock, he couldn't believe what he was being told. Fearing upon fear, hoping against hope his next question wasn't answered correctly, he then asked, "D-Did all of them lose 21 grams in weight?"

He had to sit down as soon as he heard the response.

"Errmmm.....Holy shit...Yeah, they all did." Johnson said in surprise. "How did you...?"

"Part of the research I looked up," Carlos interrupted. "Are you familiar with a theory called "the 21 Grams Experiment"?" "A theory by Duncan MacDonald in 1907. He believed the human soul weighed 21 grams, but what does that have to do with this case?" Johnson asked, a tone of doubt in her voice.

"I'm not 100% sure," Carlos answered honestly. "I mean, I don't want to assume anything supernatural is happening, but...That Cult of Satanica you mentioned? I think they have something to do with the murders."

"....That seems like a bit of a serious thought you got there, Carlos," Johnson said, concerned. "Do you got any evidence to support that?"

"Not just yet, I'm operating on a hunch." Carlos had his eyes deadly set on his laptop, closed and sitting quietly on his desk.

"But still, it seems weird doesn't it? I mean these murders start happening and then suddenly this cult starts showing up? That just seems a bit too coincidental." A brief pause, and then Emma spoke up again.

"....Now that you mention it, the timing does seem rather odd. I'm gonna talk to Mason about it and we'll look into it. I'm trusting you on this theory of yours Carlos, you understand what that might mean, right?"

"I know. To be honest, I WANT to be proven wrong," Carlos admitted, genuine worry coming from his voice as he spoke. "Something weird's going on here, Detective Johnson, and I'm starting to worry about the safety of everyone here, especially my friends. I honestly don't know if I'm going crazy from Antonio being fucking dead or this whole serial killer shit, but I'm starting to get scared..." Another pause, and then Jonson responded, his tone more calm, more assuring than it ever was, an almost caring tone.

"...Carlos, please calm down. I know you're afraid right now, but you need to be strong, especially for your friends. I'll get to the bottom of this for you. I dunno how, but I promise you, I'm gonna find this guy and I'm gonna stop him."

That calmed Carlos down significantly. Johnson's words renewed his confidence in the detective, deep breaths, he said in a breath of relief, "all right. Thank you, Detective."

"You're welcome. I gotta get going. Call me if anything happens alright?"

"I will. Again, thanks. Cya." With that, he and Johnson hung up. Carlos sat back on his couch, trying to recollect his thoughts.

It was all starting to make sense now: there was a killer going around brutally murdering people and somehow getting away with it. How was he killing people? Somehow, as ridiculous as Carlos percieved it, he was stealing their souls. He couldn't figure out how the killer was doing it but somehow it involved forcing open their jaws to the point of breaking and their insides getting ruptured. How was he getting away with it? He never had to enter or leave the crime scene, he was always already there.

The computers were damaged and lacking battery power because that was where the killer was hiding in, and that was how he had gotten away with killing all those people, Antonio and those who died at the school. All the murders that were taking place within the college all started with Antonio's death.

That letter that came with the game disc, Carlos had realized, was not written by Antonio. He had to assume that it was done by the Cult of Satanica, the fanatic group that suddenly appeared as the murders started many months back, which meant Antonio had to have gotten the game from the Cult somehow, albeit unwittingly.

The "eye" of the Cult...Carlos was sure it was the same as the icon on his desktop, and the same as the it burned onto the game's disc.

"Pepper..." Carlos whispered.

He grunted in frustration as he clutched his head. It ached as more unanswered questions formed in his head. The idea of a video game being taken around stealing people souls was beyond anything Carlos could accept as rational for a murder case…

Carlos stopped and then slowly looked at his laptop. And then he began to harvest a very dangerous thought… Maybe he'd get some answers by confronting the killer himself.

Carlos could feel every second of hesitation as he sat down, eyes locked down at his closed laptop. It had remained shut down since Pepper tried to grab him and his friends back in the Film Club room.

His heart pounding, he felt like he was preparing to open Pandora's Box, but taking in a deep breath, Carlos opened up his laptop and turned it on.

He audibly groaned in shock and outrage when he saw the two things on his desktop. First was the icon on the center of his screen. It had certainly grown noticibly larger this time, he was sure of it, a large, dark, cracked, eye-shaped fissure. The second thing Tom spotted was the battery power. It was at 3%.

"God dammit!" Carlos shouted in anger at the laptop, like he was actually speaking to the demon that was hiding inside it. Frustrated, he yanked the charger off of Antonio’s laptop, now at 57% power, and jammed the charger into his own to charge it back up. "The one time I actually wanted to FACE you, dick!"

He jumped back up from his chair and stormed out of his room, leaving the laptop to let it charge back up and for him to cool off.

Carlos, and his friends were sitting in the cafeteria during lunch. Carlos had explained to them both on what was going on and what he had pieced together.

"Whoa...Dude what the hell are you smoking?" James exclaimed, dumbfounded.

"I ain't smoking anything, dumbass," Carlos retorted. "I think that THING we all saw in film Club...I think that's who's been killing everyone."

"Goddamn...Well, when you bring in the timing of it all, the cult, not-Antonio's letter, and how easily the psycho is getting away with killing everyone, it does actually seem to make sense," Max said, clearly thinking it over. "Jesus, he's been killing right under everyone's noses and nobody even suspected it."

"Man, screw that," James scoffed. "I'll believe the thing is trying to steal people's souls when I actually SEE it. I mean, we don't even know HOW he's doing it!"

"I know, and that's what worries me," Carlos replied, concerned. "We have an inhuman killer in this college and we've NO clue what he's capable of."

"Do you think we should tell somebody about this?" Laura asked. "Oh and what, make us all look like a buncha crazies?" James asked back. "Hell, I betcha people would start thinking we're the killer!"

"...I wouldn't worry about that honestly," Alice quietly said. "It seems like less and less students are coming to class." She gestures all around the cafeteria, prompting them to look around. Carlos was rather surprised he hadn't notice it, but indeed. The number of students present in the cafeteria seemed to have reduced. Carlos did a head count to confirm it.

James shrugged. "Maybe they're all at a club, or maybe they're sick." "James you better hope yer right about that, or I swear to God, someday I'm gonna strangle you," Carlos said in his most serious tone as he did another head count.

His head counting was immediately cut short the minute he saw Kristen running toward them. "Hey, Kristy's comin, guys." This prompted Derek to shoot back up to greet her.

"Hey baby! What's--" His voice falters when he sees the look of worry on her exhausted face, she looks at the them.

"I can't find Mia anywhere!" She gasped in desperation.

"What?" Carlos asked, standing up as well.

"You serious?" Mike asked.

"Yes! I went into her room to come visit her, and she was gone!" Kristen shouted, "Do you, do you think she's...?"

"Don't think that, Kristen," Carlos stopped her. "We'll find her. Come on!" He starts running, his friends immediately following him.

"Wait, won't we get in trouble for being outta class?" Laura asked worryingly. "Screw the rules!" Carlos shouted. "They don't mean ANYTHING if your life's in danger!"

Carlos and his friends searched through Mia's room to look for anything that could explain her disappearance, but unfortunately, they couldn't find anything.

"Think Kristy, where else could Mia be?" Carlos asked Kristen.

She put her hand on her chin in deep thought, and then... "Oh! She always liked to hang around in the computer lab!"

With that, they ran down the hall to look for the computer lab, Carlos praying that he'd find Mia there safe and sound, in his worries he thought he saw something small and blue in the window of one of the classroom doors. For a split second he thought it was that Puppet head, smiling from behind the window, but as soon as he slowed down and turned his head to see, it was gone, as if it slipped back out of view. Trying to keep it out of his mind, Carlos continued running with his friends.

Eventually they found the door to the computer lab. It was empty, quiet, the lights turned off and all the computers turned on and the screens all glowing brightly in the dark room. "Mia....?" Carlos whispered as he and his friends slowly snuck into the room, searching every part of the room for any sign, any sign for Kristen's friend. "Mia are you in here...?" Max whispered, a hint of fear in his voice, "do you think that freak went and took her soul too?"

"What??" Kristen asked loudly, her head zipping to Max.

"Ugh, fuck off with that, man," James said impatiently. "There isn't some monster going around stealing people’s souls, dammit."

"What the fuck are you guys talking about???" Laura desperately asked.

"James, I'm telling you it's the only--" Carlos tried to reason, but James wasn't having any of it. "And I'M telling YOU, Carl! There is NO fucking monster here!"

"Ohhh yes there is."

7

All of them jumped in shock upon hearing that horrifyingly familiar, mocking teen voice from behind them. Carlos and his friends frantically whizzed their heads around to search for the source of it within the large dark computer room.

"The fuck...You all heard that right???" James sputtered.

"Yeah, we ALL did," Gabe answered.

Carlos tried to muster up whatever courage he had left, trying to speak in a brave, commanding tone as his eyes shifted. "Who are you?"

The room echoed with her Junko-like laughter, and then the voice responded in the surreal, child's voice he heard it speak in as the puppet head.

"What's wrong Carl? Don'tcha recognize meeeeeeeee~?"

Carlos felt his blood run cold. She knew his name.

"Q-quit playing around!" Carlos, trying to ignore his growing fear of meeting her. Pepper's voice turned back into the teen, a now bored tone, but still taunting, condescending.

"Pfft, killjoy..."

"It's been you this whole time, hasn't it?" Carlos demanded. "You're the one that's been killing everyone and stealing their souls. You're the one that killed Antonio!"

James, Mike, Derek, Max, Kristen, Gabe, Laura, and Alice look at their friend as he said that. To their surprise the creature spoke in a voice that completely threw them all off; it sounded genuinely offended, emotionally hurt even.

"Wait...You think...I'm going around killing people? You think I'm a murderer???"

Carlos wasn't sure how to respond to this, he was interrogating a supernatural entity about murder and here it was acting like a child that was in trouble with her parents. But then her tone changed to a more annoyed, matter-of-fact one.

"Don't make me laugh. I've never murdered a single human being in my life!"

"Wha...?" Carlos was confused. "What do you mean you never...?"

"Exactly what I mean! Why would I wanna waste such a perfectly good toy?"

Carlos' brow furrowed in confusion, and he was sure his friends were just as clueless as he was. Just what was going on?

"....."A perfectly good t--" What the hell are you talking about?!" Carlos demanded in frustration and fear. Carlos and his friends then saw something beginning to form on the wall across from them. The space on the wall began to distort and deform, as if its very reality was being torn to shreds as something very large moved it's way out.

What stepped into the computer lab from the distortion on the wall made Carlos' skin freeze, his stomach churns, and his friends recoil.

Tall, lanky, with long thin arms and legs that appeared to be stretching into black sharp claws, long red hair, skin grotesquely pale and purplish black, pitch black eyes with red glowing irises with cat-like slits staring at them, with blood with purple veins across the eye and into the skin, her scarred left eye, wearing her collared black and red cape with two golden pauldrons that cover her armor, Flaming horns. Four dragonlike wings and a long tail. Wearing her black crown with a red jewel, and her namesake eyepatch, and an unnaturally wide smile, with more fangs than there should be in her mouth…

Carlos noticed that the outline to her entire body seemed odd, distorted even, like this thing wasn't even in sync with the space she was supposed to occupy.

As Pepper floats closer to them, the computers that were near her started to go haywire, and Carlos saw, to his surprise, that they started to shut-down due to the batteries running out of power. At that moment, Carlos realized that the battery power was being siphoned by this creature's very existence.

In her left hand was a girl, struggling in the air to be free from Pepper's grip. It was Mia. Pepper spoke, Carlos saw her wide, drooling mouth move as she spoke in that teen voice, an apparent hint of a growl lying under.

"What I'm talking about is that I haven't been killing anybody. I've no reason to! If I kill someone then that'd be one less human for me to play with and torture, pure and simple! and I wanna own every single one of you."

Pepper shifted her attention to Mia, who was whimpering in fear in her desperate struggle. Kristen let out a cry as she put her hand on her own mouth.

"Take this sweet lil miss for example! She's a bit of a dork with computers. Just imagine the kinda fun I could get having someone like her around."

As Carlos saw the creature's expression turn into a hungry, predatorial look as he looked at the terrified Mia, Carlos muttered out, fear and anger rising within him, "Let her go. You leave her and my friends alone, goddammit."

Pepper shot her look back at Tom and her predatory smile changed into a kind of smile as if she just got some kind of sick joke. And then she tossed her head back in laughter. The Junko-like laugh angered Carlos more and more as it rang across the room.

"Or you'll do what? Truth be told, You've been the most fun I've had in months, Carl! Your insecure desire to keep your friends safe, Wanting to play the hero role... It's been a while since I've met such an adorably delusional human like you! that look on your face when you saw what I did to your brother...priceless! HA!"

"You MOTHERFUCKER...!!" Carlos yelled furiously. The minute Antonio's name was mentioned, it was like something inside him snapped. He ran toward Pepper against his friends' protests to strike at her, to hurt her.

Unfortunately it seemed reality struck first as Carlos was sent flying back. Pepper had knocked him back with her free hand, the amused look on her monstrous face stiffling another hateful laugh.

As his friends rushed over to him when he landed on the floor, Carlos struggled to get back up, not taking his eyes off the monster, anger still lingering. "Why?!" Carlos demanded, "Why are you doing this?! What did we humans ever do to you?!"

Pepper looked at Carlos and then answered, casually speaking as if she was completely oblivious to the fact that Mia was still struggling in her hand.

"Oh, you didn't do anything to me at all, In fact the human race are the most amazing thing I've ever come across in this boring multiverse. I was bored outta my mind when I first came here but then I saw your kind, and I felt like I had to have every single one of you, to do as I wish, to play with however I desired! Granted it's taking me a while to complete my collection, but--"

"That's FUCKED UP!" Alice yelled. "The way you talk about humans is like you think we're nothing but toys!"

"Ohh but you are. You all exist for my amusement and my amusement alone."

Pepper returned her predatory glare at the terrified Mia, but then her smile widened as she looked at Carlos and his friends one last time before saying matter-of-factly, her growl more prominent.

"Besides...It's not like you guys are gonna stop me."

What happened next was something that had vividly burned itself into Carlos' memory to this day. Whatever horrors he was imagining before what the creature did, he could never recall. A monstrous, snarling rattle was heard as Pepper slowly began to pull her entire head back, and Carlos and his friends watched as his mouth began to stretch more and more open.

The fangs more exaggeratedly popping out, Mia screamed as she looked into the vast maw, and for a moment Carlos thought the creature was going to eat her… But then the hands came out.

From within Pepper’s extremely wide maw, Carlos saw hands immediately snake their way out. Long, black, writhing. As many shadowy hands grabbed a hold of the screaming Mia, Carlos could also hear the girls screaming in terror. A few of the hands grabbed Mia's arms, shoulders and neck, while another pair was working with her mouth. Mia shrieked and struggled to keep her mouth shut, but the hands latched onto her jaws and began to force her mouth open.

Carlos’ brain was jamming as he helplessly watched the hands pull her mouth open, the sound of bones snapping. Mia's body convulsed as an extra hand forced its way down her throat, disgusting sounds of flesh tearing and squishing inside her. Carlos was beyond horrified, he couldn't think...

After a few seconds, all of the hands let go of Mia, who had gone limp at this point as the arm that went down her throat began to pull itself back out. Mia's body dropped to the floor when the hand yanked out of her mouth, taking with it something unsual. Within the hand's claws was a small orb of bluish light, its glow layered and seen through Mia's blood. To Carlos, the sight of this orb was surreal, otherworldly.

The hand placed the orb onto Pepper's normal hand and then retreated back into her mouth with the many other fiendish arms as her maw shrank back to its "normal" wide grin, a greedy, perverted look on her face as she stared at the glowing orb in his hand.

"Holy crap...You killed her!" James choked out, his face pale with horror. Pepper's eyes moved toward Carlos and his friends, an annoyed look on her face, his voice back to that bored tone.

"Jeez, how dense are you, dude? I told you I don't kill humans. Your friend's still alright."

Turning to face them again, Pepper grinned again as she then held her hand out, showing them the orb caught between her claws, like it was some kind of prize for her to show off, her voice that teasing child voice again.

"See? She's riiiiight here..."

Realization hit Carlos, and he quietly asked, "you mean that's...that's her...?"

"Her soul. Correct. Just like ALL of my other playthings, your friend is still alive and well right here. Because the soul never dies, like, ever."

Pepper’s claws opened up, and then the soul sank into the palm of her hand, until its blue glow disappeared. She closed her fingers again as she licked her lips, a long, purple snake-like tongue sliding against her gleaming fangs.

"And now it's all mine. To take home with me just like the rest of you..."

"H-Home?" Gabe asked shakingly. "What's "Home"?"

"MY place of course! where all the souls I've collected are at. To do whatever I want with, to mold and break as many times as I desire. An eternity with me awaiting every single one of you humans!"

Pepper laughed again. Carlos felt terror more than he ever did as the demon took another step forward, more computers dying in her wake as she took a more predatorial stance. An excited and sadistic grin looming on her monstrous face, drool and blood beginning to seep from her mouth as she spoke, growling rising in volume in her voice, with each slow step she took they took a step back. She looked like she was about to lunge at them.

"Already I've started my little shopping spree with this school of yours. An entire smorgasboard of entertaining souls all to myself! What're the odds of that?? Ha! And it looks like I've found myself nine lucky souls for the price of one right now!"

Pepper got down on all fours in a pouncing position, she licked her fangs some more, her red eyes gleaming in the dim room. Her voice changed to a more creepy, beastly tone.

"Today is a REALLY good day for me~."

Carlos' heart pounded, he saw the door to their right. It was now or never.

"Guys....Run. NOW!!" He suddenly yelled. They all jumped out of the way as Pepper leaped to grab them, crashing into the wall and snarling in pain as she missed them. Carlos and his friends ran out the door and started running down the hall, hearing Pepper’s laughter from within the computer room.

"We gotta get anyone that's left in the school out of here, and then we gotta warn Johnson!" Carlos shouted as they continued running.

"How?!" James squealed.

"The intercom in the offices! We can warn everybody there!" Derek shouted.

With that, they entered the administration offices and found the intercom mic. Carlos turned it on and then, calming himself down, he spoke into it.

"Attention all students. This is not a drill. The killer is in the building right now. Please evacuate the high school right now and get as far away as you can. I repeat, this is not a drill. There is a killer inside the school right now! Please evacuate and get as far away as you can!"

After a few minutes, They heard a commotion going on outside. They had succeeded, people were starting to leave! "Ha! we did it!" Mike exclaimed, he and James happily high-fiving each other.

"Phew...Suck on THAT, you psychotic freak," Carlos whispered to himself as he triumphantly sat back....But then his relief began to diminish the minute he began to notice the commotion outside not dying down.

"...Why are there still people here?" Kristen asked, quietly.

Dread returning within them all, they all left the offices and headed toward one of the entrances, where a good number of students and teachers were trying to fight their way out, with zero success. On the other side of the doors was what looked like wooden boards. Someone had barricaded them in!

"No way...No fucking way!" Carlos repeated in dismay. There was no way this could be real.

"Yo! THIS entrance is sealed off too!" Gabe said in a shocked tone, he was checking one of the entrances nearby. "Someone locked us in!"

The teachers tried to calm the students down. Then they tried to lead them to any other ways out, but Carlos wasn't sure if that would mean anything at this point.

Tom tried to call Johnson, but the minute he pulled open his phone....No service.

When his friends saw this, they tried to use their phones too. To their shock and horror, their phones had no service either.

"That's...That's not possible," Laura whimpered.

"What the hell is going on?!" Derek yelled desperately.

And then that voice again, that teasing singing child's voice. Coming somewhere from the ceiling.

"Uhh oooohhhhh...I forgot to tell you guys..."

Carlos and his friends shot their heads up to see the Puppet head danging from the ceiling, smiling down at them all as it swayed lazily like a pendulum under the black appendage it was attached to. The head spoke again without its smiling mouth moving.

"I have a few friends that like to make sure my collecting goes off without a hitch. None of you are going anywheeeeere..."

Anger rose up within Carlos as he looked at the wretched puppet head smiling that mocking smile down at him. "That wouldn't happen to be the Cult of Satanica by any chance, would it?" He snapped.

"Oh! You know about the Cult already?"

Pepper laughed as the head swayed more.

"Yes. They've been helping me with my little collectathon ever since they found out about my existence. Imagine that! a group of humans that actually want to play with me! Squeee~! The rest of you humans all should learn from their example. They all think of me as a god because of what I could do!"

"What the hell kind of crazy assholes would wanna think of THIS thing as some kind of god???" Mike asked, utterly baffled. The creature continued to speak.

"Sadly, I can only do so much in your world. For some reason, my powers are limited every time I cross over. I can't even change the reality of any of the rooms in this dull ass place… But ahh well. That's not important right now. what is important is me getting to snagging your souls!"

"You're not stealing anymore souls, tonight!" Carlos yelled defiantly. "We're gonna find a way to contact Detective Johnson, and then the whole world's gonna know about you!"

Pepper only laughed as the puppet head began to transform, the tiny black dotted eyes widening and crackling as red dots began to appear, her mouth opening up to show her fangs.

"Well, go on and bring her over! All the more souls for me to collect and play with!"

The puppet head then split almost in half as its mouth opened up, an unearthly snarl was heard as the multitude of arms springing out once more, this time for Carlos and his friends. The hands went straight for Kristen, who fell to the floor screaming and shielded herself, but Derek jumped in the way and started to wrestle with the arms that had grabbed him, preventing them from grabbing a hold of his girlfriend.

"DEREK, NO!!!" Kristen screamed in shock.

"The hell you doing you idiot?!" Carlos shouted in protest as he helped Kristen.

"Don't worry about me, dipshit!" Derek yelled back and grunted as he struggled and tried to overpower the arms that now had his attention. "Just get outta here! GO!!"

Not seeing any other option, Carlos dragged the crying Kristen as he and the others started running, hoping to find another way out as Derek continued to fight back.

By the time they had reached a classroom, Carlos' heart plummeted as he heard Derek screaming far behind them before eruptly stopping. Kristen sobbed in his arms in response.

Trying to fight back tears himself, Carlos looked around the classroom. Already, students had been taken as well. More screams were faintly heard all around them. Pepper was taking all of their souls, one by one.

"We gotta hide somewhere," Carlos muttered, trying to suppress his grief and anger. "...The cafeteria kitchen. We'll hide in the food storage!" Mike said, breathing heavily.

As more screams were heard all around them from multiple places around campus, Carlos continued to run down the halls for the cafeteria. Kristen was lagging behind, no doubt exhausted and traumatized. After Carlos, Mike, and James through an open set of double doors as they entered the cafeteria, the doors suddenly slammed shut and locked themselves, preventing Kristen from following them.

"What the fuck?!" Carlos shouted as he turned around to see the doors shut, he rushed back and tried to open them, but to no luck. James joined him. "Kristy, open the door!"

"I'm trying!" Kristen wailed. She banged her fists on the door sobbing. "Let me in there!"

"How the hell did these close on their own?!" James demanded as he tried to kick the doors down.

Carlos froze. Through the window, he saw the demon in her lanky beastly form standing behind her as she obliviously struggled to get the door open, smiling evilly at him. The Demon raised a finger and waved it, doing a 'no no no' motion before bringing it to her curled lips as if she was shushing Carlos . "Kristen...Kristen get outta there!" Tom started to say. "Get the hell outta here Kristy!!" Kristen looked at him with a confused look before turning to see the monster. She recoiled and slumped against the door, sliding down until she was on the floor as Carlos, James, and Mike were banging against the door and screaming for her to run.

"Carlos! CARL HELP ME!! HELP ME!!!" Kristen screamed and sobbed, the grinning demon casually strolled toward her and smiling her fanged smile down at her, very clearly enjoying the terror she was inflicting on her. James was trying to break the door down while Carlos was yelling desperately and banging his fists on the door.

"Leave her alone, you goddamn monster!!" Carlos screamed, tears of rage were streaming down his face as Pepper drew closer to her, she then stopped and moved her eyes toward the angered Carlos, amused by his anger and his helplessness. "Goddamn you! I swear to God I'm gonna kill you! YOU HEAR ME YOU SON OF A BITCH?! I'LL KILL YOU!!!"

Pepper flashed an amused grin at Carlos before opening her mouth wide again. An unnatural growl was heard once more in combination to Kristen's screams of terror. Carlos could only scream in despair as he watched the monster sadistically lift Kristen up with the many arms that shot out of her mouth, holding her in place to pull open her own. With a choked sob Carlos forced himself to shut his eyes and look away as he heard Kristen's jaws break and the grotesque sound of the demon's hand forcing it's way down her gullet to rip her soul out.

"Tom, we gotta keep going...C'mon, we gotta hide dude!" Mike spoke in a pained voice, shaking Carlos’ shoulder to get his attention. Opening his eyes, Carlos saw Pepper had vanished.

Now only Carlos, James, and Mike remained, as they ran down the cafeteria to head for the kitchen, running past the dozen dead bodies that laid here and there on the floor and tables. It was dead silent all around. Carlos was numb. He didn't speak as Mike found the steel door to the food storage and pulled it open. He, Mike and Carlos walked right in and Carlos and Mike sat down as James pulled the door shut.

"Okay...We....We should be safe here for a while," James panted. "We just wait until it's safe to head back out and find a way to get outta this school."

"I couldn't save them..." Carlos muttered quietly as he sat.

"What?" Mike asked. "I couldn't save them, guys," Carlos said more loudly. "Derek… Max… Laura… Alice… Gabe... Kristen… Antonio...I couldn't save anybody..." Tears formed in his eyes as he said that.

"...Dude, look." James sat next to him. "It's not your fault this thing is after everyone. And we can still try to stop her."

"How though?" Carlos asked desperately. "The Cult of Satanica has sealed every way out and they probably cut the wifi to the whole school too."

"Well...There's always the fire exit, which is like, somewhere on the roof?" Mike innocently answered.

Carlos sat there silently and then chuckled, wiping his eyes. "At least you're trying to be optimistic about all this, man."

"Well as long as there's still somebody in this college, we can put an end to this somehow. He hasn't caught us yet, and we're not gonna let him," James assured.

Mike sighed as he sat back. "No, we're not. We're not gonna let him win."

"Still...I wonder what he meant by "her Home". Did she mean like the game is a portal to the nightmare dimension?" James asked.

"I don't know. Probably," Carlos answered, sounding tired. "It's pretty obvious this thing isn't of this world, and wherever she came from isn't a home I wanna be in."

"No kidding," Mike agreed, sitting back.

"So, what do we do now?" Carlos asked.

James looked at him then at the door, then finally him again. "We make it to morning. If it's safe then, we'll start looking for a way out."

8

In the morning, Carlos awoke from his sleep in the food storage by the sound of his phone ringing. Last night was absolute hell for him, and he was sure he, James, and Mike were the only ones left in the school. The creature probably had taken all the souls of everyone left in campus by now.

Lifting his head, Carlos' sleepiness dropped significantly when he heard the ringing again. He sat back up and pulled his phone out and answered it. It was Detective Johnson.

"Carlos? Carlos are you there?" Johnson's voice asked, her voice sounding concerned.

"Johnson! Oh thank God!" Carlos choked with relief.

"Thank God indeed. I've been trying to call you for hours but the wifi was down. What's going on?" Johnson asked.

"Johnson, you gotta get us out of here," Carlos said urgently. "The killer's here in the school...They...They murdered everyone. Only me and the twins are left."

"Wait...Are you serious? The killer's at the school right now?" Johnson asked. "Yes! And they killed EVERYONE!! Please, you gotta get us outta here!" Carlos desperately pleaded. "The Cult of Satanica is also involved, they sealed every way out of the college and they were the ones that jammed the wifi!"

"Oh Christ..." Johnson muttered, sounding rather horrorstruck, then tried to maintain her composure. "All right, sit tight, Carlos. I'll be on my way ASAP. Just hold on for just a little while longer, okay?"

"Yes, thank you!" Carlos exclaimed, relieved that hope was not dead yet. "Please hurry, I dunno where they are or what they're doing, but I'm...I'm terrified." Carlos’ voice started to crack as tears welled up again, indeed, Carlos was feeling fear. "I just wanna go home detective, I just wanna go home and not be here. Please..."

"Okay, okay, just calm down..." Johnson responded. "It's gonna be alright. I need you to be strong right now, okay? We're going to get you out of there. But please remain strong for just a little while longer until I arrive okay?"

Carlos calmed down as he was told and responded. "...Okay. Okay I will. Thank you, Detective."

With that they both hang up. Tom stood back up. "Guys?" He said. "Guys where are you? Detective Johnson was on the phone! She's on her way right now, we're getting out of here! Guy--" His excited voice faltered when he saw the steel door out of the food storage had become ajar....Was it always open...?

"Uhhhh Guys?" Carlos asked, confused. "The door's open..." His voice trailed when he turned to see James' and Mike’s legs sticking out from behind a stack of boxed foods one side of the room.

"Guys?" Carlos called out again, walking toward the stack as a familiar dread began to creep back into him.

When he turned around to look the other side of the stack, he felt his legs go numb and his heart break. He fell onto his knees, numb beyond belief. There sitting on the floor before him was the twins. Lifeless, pale, eyes blank and his mouth ripped open, blood oozing from his jaw as it hung uselessly from his face.

Carlos let out a long drawn out scream of pain, sorrow and agony, not taking off his tear-filled eyes off what had remained of his final friends, an empty, shell of a corpse. Robbed of his sense of self, robbed of his soul.

Carlos crumbled to the floor and slammed his fist repeatedly on the ground, screaming in despair and so much hatred for the one who had cruelly taken away all of his friends; the horrible, other worlding monstrosity that so selfishly viewed humanity as nothing more than property to be owned, toys to be endlessly played with until they broke. Never had Carlos felt so much anger or hatred for another living being, and he had lost all rational thought in his despair as he immediately ran out of the storage and out of the cafeteria.

He didn't care if the creature was still out and about or not, he didn't care if he himself was out in the open to be caught like everyone else. He had enough. He ran and he ran until he reached his own dorm room.

He breathed maniacally looking at his laptop that sat on his desk, he looked at it with such a mad, hateful look in his eyes as if he knew just what to do to end this. As if he had been meaning to do it from the very beginning.

In a maniacal rage Carlos grabbed his laptop and slammed it on the floor, then slammed it again. Kicking it, he then grabbed a hammer and started smashing the screen and bottom half of the laptop. He screamed, laughed and cried as he continued destroying his own laptop, hysterically pretending he was actually hurting Pepper, who was hiding inside it. Then, with one final swing, the black, fully damaged screen shattered.

It was done. He had done it. The bridge between worlds had been demolished. If Pepper was already back in her realm, there was no way she was gonna cross back over now, and if she was out in this one, she was trapped, unable to return to the nightmare realm that was her "home".

Carlos laid there on the floor, letting out a sob. He sobbed and sobbed for what seemed like hours. He felt like he was finally free from a horrible horrible nightmare. Finally, the demon was gone. He wasn't able to save his friends, but now Carlos could rest, for he had saved everyone. Then he heard something.

"Battery Power at 100%"

Tom sat back up, and slowly turned, to see Antonio's laptop. It had fully charged. He immediately felt the urge to destroy it too, but before he could even raise the hammer to slam it down on the laptop, something stopped him. It was a voice. A familiar voice…

"...Carlos? Carlos are you there?"

No...It couldn't be…

Carlos dropped the hammer in shock and slowly he opened up the laptop.

On his screen staring back at him was Sans the Skeleton, except his hoodie was darker, his white iris color was instead brown, and he had a dismal look on his face that looked like he found relief in years. The environment he seemed to be in was Snowdin.

Carlos looked at the Sans that stared back at him. The Sans then weakly spoke up in that unbelievably familiar voice.

"H-hey C-carlos...What's up..?"

Carlos didn't want to say it, but he knew exactly who it was he was talking to, and as he felt tears return to him he slowly whispered the name.

"Antonio...?"

The pitiful skeleton nodded, also trying to keep himself from crying as well.

"Oh...Oh god..." Carlos muttered in disbelief. "What did she do to you...?"

"Heh..." The creature that was Antonio chuckled wryly. "I guess I really am as reckless as you say I am, bro..." Carlos couldn't say anything, he just looked at his brother.

"I'm so sorry dude...This is all my fault." Antonio stated miserably, closing his eyes and shaking his head in guilt. "I should have never have gotten this godforsaken game in the first place. I fucked up real bad dude...I fucked up real bad..."

"Don't," Carlos tried to calm him down. "You didn't know. There was no way you coulda known."

"I wanted to tell you, believe me, I WANTED to." Antonio desperately explained. "But...That thing...she got to me before I could even do anything."

"I had a feeling," Carlos stated. "She's already gotten not only my friends...She's gotten everyone here in the school. I'm all that's left here."

"Wait...Seriously?" Antonio asked worriedly. "Shit...No fucking wonder she's been in a good mood..."

"What do you mean?" Carlos asked.

"She wants me to convince you to give up your soul so you can join the rest of us..." Antonio admitted.

"What...?" Carlos asked, shocked.

"Yeah. But I'm not going to. It's bad enough he's gotten me and everyone else, but I'm not gonna let him get you," Antonio spoke up, his courage rising. "Carlos, you need to get out of the school, quick!" "But--" Before Carlos could say anything else, the screen glitched and changed, Antonio was gone as the screen became undescribable.

"NO!" Carlos yelled, clutching the sides of the monitor. "Give him back! GIVE HIM BACK DAMMIT!!"

The glitching subsided and then Carlos froze, he was now looking into what looked like a dark hallway. The walls were dark purple, lined with torches, and the floor was checkered, red and black, the hallways looked as if it was fading into darkness.

A piano started to play as Carlos looked at the hallway. It was an odd sort of melody, faint, distant, he couldn't tell if it was supposed to be somber or melancholic. As it continued to play, two red dots with catlike slits appeared in the darkness of the hallway and Carlos froze. He watched in horror as the demonic creature that had been haunting him these past months fliesinto view, smiling that wide, sharp-fanged smile as she came closer, closer still.

Carlos stumbled onto the floor and crawled back and watched as Pepper flies closer to the screen until her head was all that was visible. And then she raised a hand, and then the screen began to distort and deform, reality being torn and twisted as Pepper began to climb her way out.

Pepper crawled on all fours as she crawled out of Antonio's laptop, never taking her hungry, predatorial eyes off her latest prey. The demon girl then got up to her feet and towered over Carlos, before bending over a bit and spoke in a hushed voice that was a combination of her beastly growl and her mocking teenager voice.

"Time to go, Carl.”

With fiendish delight, the demon flies closer, causing Carlos to shuffle back in panic. The sadistic beast giggled that Junko-like laugh as she gleefully continued slowly flying towards Carlos, talking over him as she was indulging every second of the fear she was instilling upon the young man.

"You're the last one here, Carlos, and you've been the most fun I've had in years..."

Carlos helplessly crawled until he felt his back press against his bookshelf. He saw the demon's fangs glistening with her drool as she came closer toward him and was itching to grab Carlos. Pepper's eyes rolled back as she huffed and snarled pervertedly.

"ohhhh all the fun you and I will enjoy once I bring you home with me~"

"No...No please..." Carlos whimpered and begged, tears streaming down his face, Pepper growled and stared lustfully down at him, her fanged smile more maniacal than ever imagined. Carlos saw the knife-holder in the kitchen behind the monster...He had to be quick...

"...I dare say you might even end up becoming one of my favorites~!"

And then, as soon as the demon lunged in to grab Carlos, he dodged out of the way and then pulled the bookcase over the monster, causing it and all its contents to topple on top of her. The demon snarled in pain as she got partially buried in books and trophies while Carlos made a mad dash into his kitchen.

The minute Pepper pushed the fallen bookcase off herself and pulled herself out of the mess, she turned after Carlos but stopped when she saw Carlos pull out the largest knife out of the knife-holder and pointed it at her.

There was a very tense silence. Carlos was aiming his knife at the monster like a weapon, while the monster looked at the knife in confusion. "Stay back..." Carlos threatened quietly. "I'm warning you… Stay fucking back."

Pepper looked at the knife and then at Carlos, before throwing her head back laughing her mad Junko-like laugh, barely standing upright as she did so, as if this was the most funniest thing she had ever seen.

"Is that really the best you can do, kid?!"

Carlos felt extremely awkward as the demon said this. Truthfully, he didn't really think any of this through.

"Get real. Mortal weapons can’t hurt me. How do you even know if that thing's really capable of killing something like myself? Are you really willing to take that kinda risk?"

Carlos' knife hand shook slightly. He was really in a tight spot now. He wasn't sure if this knife was enough to hurt the demon girl, let alone kill her, and it's not like he could just run out the door and find a way out, the creature would surely catch her....and Johnson hadn't arrived yet.

Trying to think of his options while keeping his posture and gaze on the monster, not showing her any weakness, Tom suddenly paused.

Perhaps there was but one way to escape this, if it meant sparing himself from the same fate as all those this demon had taken away…

"No...No I'm not willing to take that risk. But I AM willing to take something else," Carlos quietly told her, his voice shaking, Pepper's brow furrowed, her smile fading as she had a look of suspicion.

"What're you doing...Wait."

Carlos immediately brought the knife towards his own neck.

"NO! DON'T!"

For the first time, he heard it. He heard fear in the demon's voice as she roared at him, her hand outstretched, a look of genuine panic on her face.

"Got your attention now, did I? Good." Carlos continued, keeping the knife at his own throat. "You're not getting me, goddammit. You may have gotten everyone else, all my friends, but not me. Either you let me go now, or I'm gonna become the one toy you can never have!"

Pepper's face contorted into that of rage, her voice much less that of a teen and more like that of a demonic monster.

"...That's not fair. So not fair… not fair, not fair, notfairnotfairnotfairnotfairNOTFAIRNOTFAIRNOTFAIRNOTFAIRNOTFAIR!! IT’S NOT FAIR, DAMMIT! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO LET ME WIN!!!"

Carlos watched as the demon childishly flailed and snarled angrily, smashing and knocking down several furniture in his tirade.

"YOU CHEATED, THAT’S NOT EVEN FAIR!! YOU’RE A ROTTEN LITTLE CHEATER, CARL!!!”

"And you're pathetic!" Carlos yelled, "You're not some all-powerful being that owns mankind, and next thing, the whole universe, you're just a psychotic, cowardly, spoiled little brat and a bully!"

Pepper growled as she paced the room glaring at Carlos.

"You took all my friends..." Carlos’ voice quivered with spite. "You torment and make people miserable for the fun of it. It's high time someone got a rise out of you for once, you sick freak." Pepper stopped, and then slowly looked at her with a sly grin, that teen voice once again regained.

"Your friends...? You care a great deal about them, huh?"

Carlos blinked, he was surprised by this change in behavior, steeling himself for anything Pepper might pull, he nodded.

"Well, how do you think they would feel about you wanting to take your own life right now?"

Pepper casually flies around the room, continuing her speech as Carlos watched her.

"I mean think about it, Carlos. You were supposed to be the hero of this story for them, weren't you? You wanted to save them. Doesn't it seem a little selfish to want to take your own life instead of being alive like them?"

Pepper's words struck a small blow to Carlos. It's true, he wanted to save his friends, but...

"Why, I'd even go so far as say that's unbelievably cowardly of you, Carl! Your friends are all still living in my realm, hoping that you'll come to save them, and yet here you are, choosing to abandon them, choosing death over seeing them again."

Carlos struggled to keep the knife at his throat, he didn't want to admit it, but she was right. He was outright abandoning his friends by choosing death. Guilt washed over Carlos as he began to realize how selfish he was, he brought his knife hand down as he stood there. Pepper's red eyes gleamed maliciously as she watched Carlos, he continued.

"Personally, I see no reason why you should choose death. When you're dead, you can no longer be with those you care about, you can't see those you love anymore. I mean, why do you think I'm collecting every being on this universe?"

Carlos looked up at the demon, unable to provide an answer, instead the demon continued to explain.

"Because the soul can't die. They continue going on even once they leave the body. This is what I do: I take the soul, I mold it into an appropriate shape, and then boom! You're now an immortal resident of my place! Think about it, Carl. By entering my realm, you're given the opportunity to never experience death. you can spend eternity with your friends...and only I can make that happen for you."

Pepper held out a hand to Carlos, as if giving him an offer. her smile seemed less vicious and more friendly, her teen voice overlapping the growl.

"I'm not asking much, really. All I ask is that you keep me entertained every now and then. It's only fair that way, right? You play whatever game I want with me, and you and your friends get to live and thrive at my place for eternity. You'll even get to go around being the character you love most! Doesn't sound like a bad deal, does it?"

Carlos stood there, taking in the creature's words carefully. The offer did sound tempting... But Carlos Rodríguez knew, from the moment he first saw this demonic creature that it wasn't some hero, It was just some monster.

Carlos took a deep inhale and looked at the monstrous entity, an air of confidence rising within himself as he saw Pepper Satanica’s smile dropping, as if she was beginning to know she wasn't getting through to him.

"Sorry, dudette. A nice offer, but an eternity playing with you? I realize now, you're not a spoiled brat...You're out of your goddamn mind!" Carlos yelled with courage burning within him.

Pepper's mouth twisted into an angry snarl as she raised her hand to strike at Carlos, but immediately froze, her black eyes wide and her red irises and cat-like slits shrunk, as Carlos immediately redirected the knife back towards his own throat.

Carlos then asked. "You have speed powers, huh?"


"Don't..."


"Like being quick, don't you?!"


"Don't you dare!"


"WELL, LET'S SEE IF YOU'RE FAST ENOUGH!!"


"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

As soon as Pepper roared and lunged forward to stop him, Carlos Rodríguez summoned all his courage and plunged the knife into his own throat.

9

Detective Johnson and her squad had arrived to the school, and broke down the barricades that sealed the entrance into it. What she and her team found was a horrific sight. Bodies, both teachers and students, found here and there in the quiet campus.

All of them dead, their mouths ripped open. Johnson had rushed down the hall with several cops to look for Carlos, with Johnson hoping the boy was still alive, and they entered Carlos’ dorm room. There, Emma Johnson stood in shock as she found Carlos Rodríguez, sitting on a chair. Dead.

The autopsy reported that the knife was half way stabbed into Carlos' throat was brought on by himself. Suicide. However, the wound done to his face, his jaws pulled open to the point of ripping, the report could not say. Johnson could only assume that it was done by the same killer that killed everyone else in the school. As with the other reports, Carlos' body was said to have lost 21 grams of weight.

Forensics also found Carlos' laptop completely destroyed, as if someone had taken a hammer to it. Surprisingly, the CD disc that was discovered inside the drive had remained intact, which Johnson had taken in as evidence.

Antonio's laptop had also become unusable as well, it's battery completely burnt out, and the screen had cracked so much that it wouldn't matter if one could turn it back on.

The incident was eventually made public. A few days later, Emma was sitting alone in a bar. She felt guilty about letting all those students down, Carlos especially. She drank her scotch as she remembered how terrified Carlos was when he spoke to him on the phone for the last time. As she sat there trying to drown her guilt, her brother Mason sat with him.

"I figured I'd find you here," he said.

Emma grunted with a shrug. "Surprisingly, I haven't handed in my badge yet."

"Look, I know you've had it rough, but you can't keep dwelling on the past. Carlos wouldn't want that," Mason tried to explain to him.

"Even so," Emma mumbled as she miserably looked at her glass of scotch, "our only lead's dead now. The killer's still out there, we have no evidence on the Cult of Satanica being associated with the murders, and I might as well throw in the towel...We're right back at a dead end, bro."

"Well...Not exactly," he reasoned. "The forensics had reported they found something within Carlos' trash when searching for evidence."

"Oh yeah? What?" Emma asked, looking at him with a raised eyebrow. With that he handed her a plastic evidence bag, in it was a letter, a crumbled up letter in jittery writing. It was the letter given to Carlos by Antonio.

Mason then said rather cooly, "seems our Cult of Satanica was quick to give the game they gave Antonio to Carlos once he was done playing with it."

Emma's eyes widen as she looked at the letter then at her. "How many times have I said I loved having you as a lil’ brother, Mason?"

Mason shrugged and responded rather slyly, "I'd say not enough times."

With that, Emma grabbed the letter and then they headed straight back to the office to look into it. Little did they know that a man, wearing all black wearing a fedora on his head, was watching them from a nearby table. He brought a hand up to his mustache as he watched the two detectives leave before dropping it and pulling out a cellphone to make a call.

When it picked up he spoke into it in a british accent. "Hello? It's me. ...Yes. They got the letter. Right on schedule. Yes....Yes, I'll talk to her about it. No, ma'am. I doubt she'll disobey. The Cult of Satanica will see to it she stays within her graces."

The man got up and started walking out the door. Before he hung the phone up, he then said. "Yes, ma'am. I won't disappoint you. I have been enforcing Satanica's desires for years. I am always at her disposal...Thank you. Goodbye… Mr. David Smith."



TO BE CONTINUED