It was Wednesday 15, 2437. The Jinnouchi siblings were in school and time went by in a flash. As lunch break started, Nana sat at her desk and opened up her bento [Japanese lunchbox] and began to eat until a girl pulled up a chair in front of her and sat down.
“Aww, you starting without me?” the girl whined.
“You were late, Seiko,” Nana replied as she ate her rice.
“Well, I couldn’t help it. The concession line was already packed so I had to wait a bit.” Seiko made herself comfortable and ate her own lunch. “Oh,” Seiko continued with a full mouth, “What are you doing this Friday? I wanted to ask if you wanted to come stay the night at my house and have fun.”
“Sorry, Seiko,” Nana responded, “I am studying for an exam for a university I want to go to in the fall. But if it’s okay with you, I am free on Saturday.”
“That’s perfect! I have to babysit my little cousin on Friday anyways and he may annoy the hell out of you.”
“You should’ve just said Saturday, then…”
“I just wanted to see what you would say is all.”
“You’re hopeless, Seiko,” Nana giggled and the both of them shared a laugh.
After finishing their lunch, Seiko started another conversation, “So…”
“Have you made any progress with Yamatai-senpai?”
Nana reacted and coughed on her drink she had aside, “What?!”
“Well you guys DO study together during the study sessions after school. Don’t you guys talk?”
Nana paused for a moment before answering, “Well, we just help out each other when one of us has a difficult problem. He’s…nice and all, but I doubt he thinks of me any more than a friend.”
“Poppycock!” Seiko nearly shouted as she slammed her palms on the table. “What you need is a refresher. Doubting what he may think of you isn’t the problem here. It’s that confidence of yours.”
“Have a little more faith in yourself, Nana. Like when you do your morning routines with that sword of yours. Remember: Roses and Thorns. You have the softness and elegance of a rose, Nana. A true beauty. Yamatai-senpai is the thorns that bind and protect you from the outside world. He will help you bloom to your full spirit. You just have to plant that first seed.”
Nana was moved and shocked at the same time at Seiko’s response, “I’m surprised you can make so much sense and reason from all that.”
Seiko blushed, “D-don’t say that! You’re supposed to say ‘you’re right’ and chase after him!”
“We’re in the middle of the school day. That would be irresponsible.”
Seiko whined, “Awww, it’s always the timing!”
“Hey,” Kizami greeted as he walked to Seiko and Nana, “What are you guys talking about?”
“Kizami-san!” Seiko yelled as she grabbed him by his shirt collar, “Great timing, we need your help!”
“Seiko!” Nana panicked, “This is none of his business!”
“He knows Yamatai-senpai! Of course this is his business!”
“That doesn’t make it okay!”
“Are you talking about Kazuma-san?” Kizami asked.
“What’s taking you so long, Jinnouchi?” an upperclassman questioned as he came into the classroom.
“Oh, Kazuma-san,” Kizami said. Nana and Seiko jumped in surprise, frozen near the windows.
Kazuma looked at the two girls who kept their distance as he blinked with confusion and resumed towards Kizami, “Class is about to start, Jinnouchi. We should get going.”
“Ah, alright,” Kizami said as he and Kazuma headed for the door. Kizami then stopped, “Oh, I almost forgot.” He walked up to Seiko, “Could I borrow a little money for a drink, Ushiama-chan?”
“What do I look like, your damn maid?!” Seiko rhetorically yelled, still holding the position when they came in.
“You could’ve just said no,” Kizami said with a calm tone. “Let's go, Jinnouchi,” Kazuma called. Kizami caught up with him and they were on their way.
Seiko looked at Nana, “You shouldn’t have weirded him out with that pose of yours. That’s gonna lower your chances, now.”
“You were doing it too!”
On their way back to class, Kazuma resumed the conversation, “I’ve made up my mind.”
“I’ll buy the game.”
“Don’t think too much on it. I’m just doing this because we got to help each other out.”
“That doesn’t sound like something you’d say,” Kizami said as if unconvinced of Kazuma’s reason.
It was Thursday 16, 2437 in South Run, Serco as Aevella and Maria accompanied each other in Maria’s room. Maria was refining and setting up both hers and Aevella’s Neuro Band set.
“We can connect together in the morning if you want,” Maria offered as she finished adjusting her settings with her set.
“How about we go to the café for breakfast and then start? And once we’ve played for an hour or two, we can go get new outfits for the trip to Azure.”
“Sounds like a plan!” Maria smiled.
In Kinotochi, Anaj, Kizami led Kazuma to the Hex Store downtown.
“I’m pretty sure the freshly bought Neuro Band sets will have already been calibrated so all you need is that and the game.”
“Whatever you say,” Kazuma bluntly answered. As they made it to the store and walked inside, there stood a very long line waiting for the Hedra-Hex game release. Kazuma made an annoyed look at the sight of a long wait.
“Umm,” Kizami hesitated, “Tell you what, you go and get yourself a Neuro Band set and I’ll get the games for us. Fair?”
Kazuma nodded, relieved that he didn’t have to wait. With Kizami covering their spot with the line slowly moving, Kazuma explored the fascinating, high-tech store that emitted a dark neon light around the large open room and brighter neon lights on the trimming of corners and walls. He checked out a poster that advertised the Hedra-Hex Unlimited title. Kazuma read the slogan on the poster, Create a new you in the new world! Made possible by Takeo Kammamoto. Kazuma studied the name, where have I heard that name before? He then checked out the selections of previous VR games at the wide booth that lied near the back of the room. Many of the games were shooters, RPGs, arcade, and racing genres. None of which had been produced by Takeo Kammamoto or the project team in which he was associated with. He figured that Hedra-Hex Unlimited would most likely be the industry’s first major production but the feeling just didn’t sit right with Kazuma. He didn’t even find an address of the game’s production headquarters whereas the rest of the games did. He looked back at the poster to find anything else. There read a small quote at the bottom of the poster: You have three chances to change everything.
Three chances? Kazuma thought, of what?
After a while, Kazuma decided not to get too deep into a theory and grabbed a new Neuro Band set from a stack on the wall and checked out at the register near the entrance. The cashier greeted himself, “Konnichiwa. My name is Irma and welcome to the Hex Store. How may I help you?”
Kazuma was less than thrilled, “I’d like to buy this.” He handed the Neuro Band pack to the cashier as they rung the product up. Suddenly, a chime was sounded and the cash register lit up for a few seconds. Kazuma was confused as he took a step back.
“Congratulations!” Irma said with a smile, “You are our 1,000,000th customer! As our prize to you, you get a second Neuro Band set and a free copy of the new Hedra-Hex Unlimited VR game!” The cashier rung up a second gaming set with an exclusive copy of the game and gave it to Kazuma in a bag. “And,” the cashier said in a firm tone, making eye contact with Kazuma, “I hope you enjoy your experience.”
Kazuma simply nodded and went to find Kizami, who soon found him also. “Hey! Sorry for the wait. I got you your copy.” Before Kizami handed Kazuma the game, he noticed a second item protruding from the bag Kazuma was carrying.
“Um,” Kizami resumed, “What else did you buy, Kazuma?”
“Well,” he began, “the front end said I was the millionth buyer and they gave me a copy of the game and another set for free. Sorry.”
“WHAT?! But I just went through all the trouble of getting us these!”
Kizami sighed. While his friend was moping, Kazuma thought of an idea. “Hey, Jinnouchi.”
“Why not give the extras to your sister?”
Kizami was surprised by his friend’s answer, “But she doesn’t play games. And she never really accepts anything from me of all people.”
“You said that you can do more than just games on this. Have her give it a try so that extra copy and set don’t go to waste.”
“I told you, she won’t take anything from me.”
“Then tell her it’s a gift from me.”
Kizami sighed again, “I’ll try but I doubt she’ll be convinced.”
Nana made it home after getting food from downtown. “I’m home,” she called out as she took off her shoes. She then grabbed a towel from the laundry room and head for the bathroom to take a shower. As she stripped down, there was a knock on the door.
“Nana?” Kizami called.
“I’m taking a shower. Go away.”
“Okay but I have something for you.”
“There’s nothing I want from you.”
“But it’s a gift.”
There was a silence for a few brief moments as the door slightly opened far enough for Nana to poke her head out, “Yamatai-senpai?”
“Yes. It’s just a little something we ended up picking up on our way back from uptown.”
Nana thought for a second, “Leave it on my bed.” And she closed the door and started her shower. As she showered, she thought about what Kizami said. Yamatai-senpai got me a gift? She blushed at the thought of such consideration as a warm feeling built up in her chest. Nana soon finished her shower, wrapped in a towel and raced to her room, closing it shut behind her. She saw a green-wrapped package sitting at the edge of her bed with a sticker that wrote From Kazuma. She didn’t recognize the handwriting so she knew it wasn’t Kizami’s. She sat down and opened the present, revealing the Neuro Band set and the game copy.
Another note fell out as she picked up the game. She read what was on it: We should hang out some more. Nana blushed, her heart pounding for seconds.
In his own room, Kizami readied up his Neuro Band with the game inside it and made himself comfortable. His clock said 22:01 PM as he took a deep breath, calming his excitement.
Maria and Aevella finished eating at the café the next day and headed back to Maria’s room at home.
“Did you see the look on that waiter’s face?” Maria asked with a flustered face, “I think he liked me!”
“He might,” Aevella smiled.
“You think so?”
Back into Maria’s bedroom, Maria helped Aevella put on her Neuro Band with the game and her own. “I hope we have fun together!” Maria stated.
“Me too.” Aevella agreed.
Kazuma lied in his bed, staring at the Neuro Band he held in his hands. He was unsure if he should connect or not. The idea made him uneasy every time he looked at the game case. He sighed, “Well…nothing ventured, nothing gained.” He then wore the Neuro Band and turned it on. A chime had beeped and waited for an action.
Nana had no trouble setting up her Neuro Band with the game. She wondered if she could meet up with Kazuma in the game and the thought only made her more curious as she was willing to give the experience a try.
The world seemed to stand still as time kept running. Little did anyone know that what was about to unfold would change their lives forever. The Neuro Band waiting for one word to permit it into action. A split second was still and everyone was ready.