A Tale is Told
Rin was not good with technology. Modern dvd players confounded her intensively and she could barely work a cellphone. This made her think… unpleasant but promising thoughts. Amami City, the City of Paradise. She barely paid attention to it due to the fact the ‘Paradise’ aspect came from technology. What had surprised her was the fact it only erected itself in 5 years… and that the clocktower never took action against it. It stood as the antithesis to magecraft and yet the clocktower seemingly left it alone. So she thought. She overheard a conversation earlier. She remembered it clearly. It was between an enforcer and Lord El-Melloi II.
“As you suspect sir… I intentionally misfiled my report to get an audience” the enforcer stated “It was… vital that we meet face-to-face”. “Hmm. So? What is so important that you risk your life? Surely you know falsifying records as an enforcer will not lead to a long life…” El-Melloi demanded. “It’s mainly because… what I saw… what I experienced… if the higher ups learn, I legitimately fear it could lead to the dissolvement of the clock tower” the enforcer stated “You are one of the more discreet lords and your students trust you, even in this environment. I chose you explicitly. Execute me after my report if you must, but please keep this confidential”. Silence followed for several deafening minutes before El-Melloi sighed and asked “What is so terrible it requires my attention?”. The enforcer took a deep breath before saying “I have reason to believe a rogue mage group is attempting heresy. They may be trying to combine magic and technology. A new… I think the term is ‘program’... has been leading to several people falling unconscious. An examination of the victims led to discovering their souls were gone”. Rin contained herself but felt panic for a moment. “Are you certain?” El-Melloi II asked “If what you say is true… yes I see now. This is a problem... “. “Indeed. Those responsible for that city must be killed and their research destroyed. We cannot let out the successful merging of magecraft and technology” the enforcer stated “The results would be disastrous to both mankind and magic societies everywhere”. Rin chose that moment to leave. She had a different conclusion, one that upset her greatly.
As Rin recalled that, that anger rose. After hearing that, she researched where that enforcer went and found Amami City. After researching it more, she discovered why it was so troubling. Further, it cemented something for her. If her experience was anything to go by, this more likely was the result of a Servant. However, ever since the Greater Grail was dismantled, that should have been impossible. Yet she couldn’t shake how similar the report was to incidents of gas leaks in Fuyuki City during the Fifth Holy Grail war. As she contemplated her next move now she knew it was going there herself. However, the question was who to involve. If she let slip to El-Melloi II about her plans, he’d stop her. On the other hand, that limited her pool of potential help to only two people; Luvia Edelfelt and Shirou Emiya. Frankly, she wasn’t sure why it was a question. She disliked Edelfelt a lot so the choice of Emiya was obvious. With that decided she stood. She had a ‘hero of justice’ to talk to. The thought made her groan a bit.
“Let’s do it here,” A girl's voice stated, moving towards one of the many PC booths that dotted the cityscape of Amami City. He smirked however because he was at this one for a reason. It had yet to be patched so it could properly use the newly updated firewall of Amami City. As such, it was the most vulnerable terminal in Amami City. He pulled out his tablet and booted up one of his hacker programs, aptly titled ‘Spookies.exe’. Plugging his tablet into the terminal, he saw various screens and codes begin to run. He knew what they were. Spookies.exe was working its magic on the terminal, using old logins to get access. “Don’t forget where the Leader said the Winner’s List was. We just gotta get into that Paradigm X Beta!” the girl said again. “I know Hitomi, jus’ relax. I got this” He stated, watching the program work. Then it happened. He saw a server list. He selected Algonix and watched as it broke its way deeper in. Then he selected the registrant list and scrolled through the entries. Finally, he saw one particularly bland individual and selected it. His program deleted all the information on the individual and instead began to insert dummy info. He repeated this process a few times, putting his info in the middle selected. The dummy info was legitimate, but it was of people who either weren’t in Amami City at the moment or would never come but had an ID ready. Either way, it was used so he could get a nice pass into the beta and wouldn’t be suspected at all. Once finished, he navigated out of the servers completely before the firewall realized something slipped through. “Done” he stated “Now we just gotta wait for them to update so they can see their ‘oversights’ and issue our beta codes”. The girl smiled happily and said in a high tone “Great! Then let’s hurry to your place! It’s gotta be in by now!”. As he unplugged his tablet, a voice rang out from the terminal, catching them both off guard “Bearer of a strong soul. We meet at last”. “Wh-what!?” He cried out, backing away. “There is no time for greetings. The authorities are on their way… be aware though, you are in danger. We will meet again”. He didn’t hesitate, turning and walking away. Hitomi followed him, saying “Man… weird. To think a hacker was on the same time as us…”. Nodding, he stated “Yeah… let’s ask the leader about it. Maybe he knows”.
As he got home, he saw his sister and father talking. She looked at him and he internally groaned. He didn’t hate her, but he did find her annoying. Anytime he upgraded his PC, she fawned over it like a grade schooler and always talked his ear off. Despite this, he always listened and engaged because he found it refreshing. Perhaps a few years ago he found it highly annoying. However, when he started hacking that changed. The world had grown darker and his sister and hitomi were lights in that darkness he could rely on to cheer him up when he fell down. Of course, only one was privy to his activities. Putting on a smile, he simply said “Hey, I’m home”. His sister ran over, almost yelling “Bro, bro! Guess what came in the mail! A license for Paradigm X!”. He put on a shocked face and said “Wow! Really?”. “Yes” his father stated, taking his glasses off as his mother came in from the kitchen with dinner, “We got it in the mail today. In fact, you probably walked by the mailman”. Smiling himself, he looked at his sister and said “Well this is great news… after dinner wanna try it out?”. Nodding enthusiastically, his little sister was about to say yes as his mother sat down, asking “Tomoko… did you finish your homework yet?”. His sister stopped, turning slowly with a smile and was about to say yes as their mother’s face slowly turned stern. Tomoko sighed and muttered “No…” to which their mother said “Then… finish it. Then you can watch him play”. As Tomoko sighed and sat down to eat, his mother looked at Hitomi and said “You can join us too. More company at the table leads to a happier home”. “Thanks miss Tsukamoto” Hitomi said, taking her shoes off with him as they joined the family for dinner.
Once dinner was over, Tomoko went to her room to finish her homework. While his mother cleaned up from dinner and his father watched television, he went to his room to try out Paradigm X. However, Hitomi commented as the program loaded. “Hey, you have a new message… oh! It’s from them!”. Sighing, he pulled up the message and pulled out his tablet. Hitomi went to the door and kept an ear out while he connected his tablet to it. He pulled up his decrypter program, Taxes.exe, and ran it. The message that once held random characters, for example the sender was xyz1110982ffty5595@ParadigmX.com, now was legible. The sender was Spookies@ParadigmX.com and the message was informing him of a location change. Shimahama building 3’s parking garage to be specific. He didn’t show it but he was worried. He wondered why the leader decided to move the base so soon. He had to go see. He canceled Paradigm X’s loading and stood up, saying “We gotta go”. Hitomi looked at him, frowned, and asked “Why? What do they want?”. “He moved,” he answered “Wouldn’t unless something’s wrong, not this soon. We’re gonna go check it out”. Groaning, Hitomi stated “Great… but alright. I agree”. He left, his mother asking “Leaving already? You just got home”. “I know ma, but work called. Something happened and they need me. I’ll be back in a few hours” he said. “Alright… well, just be to bed on time… and call if you’re sleeping out! I’ll worry otherwise” His mother replied as he left “What a responsible young man”.
It took a bit. The trains ran slower at night so those going home could stress less. However, he arrived on time and looked around. He didn’t see the base anywhere. “Are we early?” Hitomi asked. “Maybe… or maybe-” but was cut off as he saw it coming and said “There he is”. The semi pulling the trailer that contained their base pulled to a stop next to them, opening the passenger door. On the driver’s seat was the boss of their small group. “Yo” he called out “On time. Always been a good little ‘employee’ haven’t ya?”. Smirking, he responded “Course. Someone has to be the responsible one” as he walked forward to the semi. “Come in. I’ll explain. Others should be on their way” his boss said and put it in park. As he walked he examined the base for what had to be the thirtieth time in his life. The sleek design was common in Amami City, the ‘City of Paradise’ but the emblem on the side was unique. He watched as it went from a stereotypical corporate logo for Algonsoft to the logo of their hacker group, known as the Spookies, named after their leader Spooky. As he walked in, his leader finished connecting a gun to the on-board computer and said “So. Here’s the deal. I bought this PC from a pawn shop at the Amami Bay and ever since some suits have been tailing me. I managed to lose them but it’s got me a bit spooked. So I moved the base here”. Nodding, he asked “When did you buy it?”. “Tonight… why?” Spooky answered, asking a question to which he responded “Well I did a hack tonight to get into the beta but things sorta went south. A hacker was also on and he announced himself…. Start’in to wonder if the two aren’t connected”. Their boss shrugged, saying “Dunno… I’m gonna try to get some answers though. Watch the place while I’m gone. The others should be here soon enough” and left. He sighed but nodded and walked inside. He already knew the deal. Spooky was going to go the pawn shop and follow whatever leads that dragged up. Meanwhile, he had to be here to keep an eye out and move the trailer if needed. Spooky had all the equipment needed so even a kid like him could do it. He just had to punch in the codes and the base would move itself to the next designated hiding spot. Additionally, it would alert him when the decryption on the gun was done… well it was more of a gun-shaped PC.
As he thought, Hitomi suddenly gasped and asked “Hey, hey! This rig has super good comps right?”. He nodded as he sat at it, saying “Yeah. Boss took out a loan to buy it. He bought top of the line stuff and upgraded it constantly… plus the software is homebrewed so Algonsoft can’t peep”. “Then… you think we can login to Paradigm X!?” Hitomi asked. That program. He scarcely believed its promises himself. It was an ambitious project. He had to see it for himself so he said “Sure. Let’s try logging in” and pulled out his license. He inserted it into the on-board card reader and Paradigm X downloaded onto the computer. Unlike at home, which had taken some time, this program downloaded in seconds. Additionally, the launcher loaded immediately once finished and auto-entered his credentials. Once in, he was asked if he wanted the VR or Desktop experience. There was a third option however that allowed both so the family could watch as well. He stood up, heading to another part of the trailer. “Hitomi, click that third option would you? I’m diving in”. Smiling, Hitomi nodded and did just that, saying “Alright Tsukamoto! Done and done!”. With that, he put on the VR gear they had. It was useful for 3d servers that Algonsoft often used. However, it had gameplay capabilities and as expected it was upgraded recently. Likely due to Paradigm X’s release. He put on the visor, connected the set and the gloves. Once everything was ready, he dived in.
As he floated through virtual space, he didn’t feel anything. He only saw white. Then he saw a dark void ahead. He knew what it was instantly and floated there. As he landed, the world around him shaped itself. He was in a single room with a column of light in the center. A screen appeared in his FOV that showed an attendant in blue clothing that said “Welcome to Paradigm X. Since you are recent to our records, you are flagged to watch a video. It will explain the basics of our program. Show the video now?”. He nodded, saying “Yes”. The attendant nodded, and the environment changed instantly. He was in a conference hall and ahead of him was Paradigm X’s mascot, Captain Paradigm. The imposing figure, dressed like an american superhero, stated loudly “Welcome one and all to the one and only Paradigm X! This ambitious project seeks to turn the real into digital and the digital to the real! This is all thanks to the Algonsoft Corporation! With its massive server farms around the city, Paradigm X seeks to be a digital paradise for anyone interested! Using your city-issued computer and your new beta license, you can be the first to test and enjoy it! You can live as yourself, your ideal, or something new entirely! The choice is yours! Simply go through the character creation process!”. With a flex, he continued, saying “For those with the funds, we even allow the purchase of multiple characters! So you can not just be one person, but many if you desire! This city is about living as you wish!”. The mascot posed and flexed this time, finishing with “Now go, enjoy the City of Dreams, and live your life how you want!”.
The environment returned to normal as the attendant asked “Was that an adequate explanation?”. “Yes” he answered “Can I leave?”. “Through that door sir. Welcome, to Paradigm X” the attendant answered, gesturing to it. It opened on its own and he walked through. He saw the city he grew up in but… different. Everything was neon colored and many of the buildings had different aesthetics. It was then he remembered its tagline; the city of dreams. “So… they altered the city huh…? Guess the users are given some freedom” he muttered, beginning to explore. After a solid thirty minutes of exploring, Hitomi suddenly exclaimed “Hey! There’s a theatre here! Let’s check it out!”. He laughed, saying “Wow. This city of dreams and the theatre’s got your gig? Alright. Your call” as he walked over and entered. He saw someone in a strange getup greet him. The woman was working on some seats as he entered but she turned and said “Ah! Welcome to the VR Theatre! Sadly we’re closed but we’ll be open soon!”. Nodding, he said “Ah. Sorry to waste your time. My friend was just excited”. “It’s no problem. This is going to be the first immersive theatre ever. I’m excited too” the girl said “We’ll be open in three days. Please, wait until then”. Nodding, he left and suddenly Hitomi said “Hey, find a TV! They’re gonna broadcast something soon if my phones right!”. Nodding, he went into the street and looked around. He saw a blimp in the distance with that very conference on now. He quickly navigated towards it.
As he watched he listened to the two men on-screen that he was familiar with. Nishi Akuma was the mayor of Amami City and the man behind everything. When he was elected, he began sweeping changes to the sleepy country town. He had the help of the now famous Kadokura Tensei, the CEO of the corporation Algonsoft. What started as a simple software corp became a hardware manufacturer under him and eventually evolved into becoming integral to everyday life in Amami City. No one else knows how much though. As he listened to the two gush about Paradigm X and the perfection of both with its development, he could only think how integrated Algonsoft was to Amami City. Officially, they were responsible for both the city-wide free internet access, personalized free computers, firewall security for all internet accessible systems, and paradigm x. Unofficially, from what he’d seen, a lot of their hardware showed up in unexpected places. The portable terminals, cars, even TV Screens had Algonsoft-made technology. It’s why he accepted Hitomi’s invitation to join the Spookies. He was curious how deep the rabbit hole went. His desire aligned with the groups. They wanted to know the full depth of the conspiracy going on. Once it finished, Hitomi stated “Oh hey, the PC finished decrypting it! We can open it now! Log out and we’ll check it out!”. Nodding, he opened the menu and stopped. He couldn’t move. He looked around the alley as he tried to move. He found he could but it was slow. Like he was in thick tar. Then he stopped moving as a ball of light turned the corner and floated towards him. “H-Hitomi…!?” he cried out “Help!”. “I’m trying but the system’s locked! I can’t-” but stopped talking as a voice emanated through the base stereos and into his headset. “SOULS” it said “I NEED… MORE SOULS”. It began to approach him, keeping him locked… no… he was passing out? He began to feel light-headed, then dizzy, then his vision spun and began to go black.
“Do not fall, Arata Tsukamoto!” a voice cried out. A coyote leapt at the ball, roaring as it did. The ball cried out and flew high into the sky, disappearing from sight. The coyote watched it before turning to him. Freed, he gasped deeply and panted hard. “Holy crap are you okay Arata!?” his friend cried out, grabbing him. “He is fine, child” the coyote stated “Recovering from his soul being grasped”. “S-soul…? Wh-what?” Hitomi stuttered as he yelled “What the hell do you mean!? Are you saying that wasn’t a hack!?”. “No” the Coyote calmly responded “It was not. That creature was a being beyond mortal comprehension. It is devouring souls to sustain its existence… and this electronic paradise is full of ideal targets… like yourself”. “What are you waiting for, get out Tsuk- I mean Sanaga!” Hitomi cried out. “Fear not, it will not return while I am here… but you should return. Destiny calls for you and you must answer. When the time is right, we will meet again” and the coyote turned to leave. “A… are you even… human?” he asked. It stopped, turning and answered with zero hesitation or reluctance “What made you think I ever was? I am not…. Ah! My manners escape me, apologies. My name is Kinap. Remember it, for it is the only way we will recognize each other… for now, return to the real world and master the basics of that weapon you hold by you. We will meet at such a time”. With a swish of its tail it turned and left. It left him with many questions but he showed zero hesitation. He opened the menu and navigated to logging out. He wanted nothing to do with that strange light.