Payton couldn’t focus on anything. This game was messing with her head and she wasn’t sure if she could handle it. As the girls were introduced once again Payton did her best to ignore it and focus on trying to work out an escape route.
However, no matter how hard she thought, she couldn’t think of a way to escape. She had worked with computers for years, but she had never been inside one or even considered it to be physically possible.
After a little pondering, Payton decided her only option was to sneak into the Newspaper clubroom. The game’s normal functioning wasn’t designed to let her out, so she had to exploit any issue or fault she could find.
As she committed to the plan, the void crashed over Payton again. She didn’t resist and let it carry her away. Within moments Payton was back in the common room with the girls milling around.
Payton knew exactly what she had to do. She quickly ran up to Micchi so she could be there when the blurry faced person arrived, hoping to get another look at those strange menus.
However, to her surprise, the menu appeared the second Payton made contact with Micchi’s body. “More time,” grinned Payton as she started to look over the different options.
Payton decided to skip Girl Location, presuming that it would be the exact same thing it was last time, with several girls in the common room and Purin still broken.
She also presumed that Loaded Areas would show the same thing she saw in the cloud. Payton pondered for a few moments before shrugging to herself.
“Path State,” she mumbled as she hit the option.
Instantly the window changed to display a bullet-pointed list. The first point, “Welcome to Sagi Academy,” had the word “Completed” written next to it.
However, it was the second point that caught Payton’s attention. The flashing text declared that “Nana’s Big Show” was currently in progress.
“Oh great,” sighed Payton as she rubbed the bridge of her nose, realizing just why she had been part of the eavesdropping scene the night before and that she would have to spend a lot more time with Nana.
Payton scanned her eyes over the other options, keen to see if she could find one that would help her work out how to escape. However, all the options just filled her with confusion.
“A broken girl, born on the fourth of July, hidden in plain sight, bound by sadness, news of the world,” mumbled Payton as she looked over the options, unable to find anything that seemed directly helpful.
As the blurred face person walked into the room Payton quickly went back to the first screen and selected the “Other” option. A small flash of pain flickered and fizzed inside Payton’s head as a box appeared in front of the blurred figure.
The “Other” option seemed to be half finished, the text was scattered all around the box and the formatting was totally broken. However, Payton’s eyes instantly locked onto the “Brainwave Implementation” option.
As she reached forward and pressed the option, Payton’s heart increased in pace, her mind racing with possibilities. The box slowly filled with flickering and half-corrupted text that seemed to be constantly changing, almost as if it was a live feed of something.
“Imprint corrupted. Process interrupted,” declared the feed every few lines. “Brainwave states unstable, diagnostics online, scan pending.”
“Scan pending,” pondered Payton, wondering if the odd place was where the game did its scans. It would make sense, it would be hard to run diagnostics while the game was in progress, but why would a visual novel need active diagnostics? It wasn’t like it was a multiplayer game connected to a server where hacking it would get you a tangible benefit or advantage.
Payton kept her eyes on the flow of data, spotting a few other options as they scrolled past. In the mass of text, Payton noticed that “Subject Status” was marked as “missing” while another option, referred to as “Brainwave Synchronization” was warning of failure.
This whole thing was a mess, none of the code flowed well, in fact, it was so clunky that Payton started to rule out her coma explanation. She had never written code this terrible and she presumed her brain respected her enough to not fill her dreams with garbage.
However, the more Payton thought about the code, the more links formed in her head. The subject was missing because she was where Purin should be. The lack of Purin was causing the game to go haywire and it was doing its best to find out the issue by scanning.
Of course, that still left the question of just why this game was talking about brainwashing. Why would this game be trying to brainwash anyone? The odd place had tried to make Payton think she was Purin and it certainly felt like she was being brainwashed. But why brainwash a character? Was that even possible?
As Payton continued to consider the situation the blurry headed figure moved away from Micchi, causing the box to fade like mist in the wind. “Well, good while it lasted,” nodded Payton as she walked to the exit, hoping she could find a way into the Newspaper Clubroom.
As she pulled the door open Payton quickly realized she was about to make a mistake. Her eyes caught a quick glimpse of the void beyond the door before her hands reflexively slammed it shut.
“Not doing that again,” said Payton as she breathed a sigh of relief. While she wanted to go see what was happening in the Newspaper Clubroom she didn’t want to risk that place again, she had come very close to giving into its whispers last time and wasn’t confident in her chances if it occurred again.
Before Payton could start to think of a plan, the blurry faced figure walked past her and out of the door, causing the void to crash over her once again, sending her dropping into the darkness.
Almost as quickly as the void hit, it lifted, dropping Payton back into the dorm room. “Oh great,” she muttered to herself, realizing that she was going to have to deal with Nana’s bet once more.
However, as the scene play out once more, Payton started to wonder. The menu had said that the game was currently on Nana’s path. This would explain the bet and the blurry face eavesdropping on them. But, when Payton had pulled the door open, she had been dropped into the void.
Payton’s brain went through the same practiced patterns it did when she was at work, doing its best to pick apart what the game was trying to do. “The scene faded out once Nana finished,” she said as tapped her finger on the chair. “The player’s area was unloaded from memory to facilitate a transition. We were going to unload next but I was able to get out before the room unloaded. So, some areas remain loaded even when not in use to speed things up or to prioritize the movement of the player.”
“Bedtime for us!” Shouted Nana as she wrapped her arms around Payton and shook the girl from her thoughts. “Night night Name!” Exclaimed Nana as Payton tried to recover from the shock.
As Nana once again launched into her conversation about the bet Payton did her best to ignore it. Part of her wondered if she could use this moment to shunt the game onto another path, however, she didn’t want to risk running into the void again and thus just let everything play out as it had before.
As Nana finished her sentence the void once again came to embrace Payton. She did her best to push through it, hoping that she could get a little bit more information without risking another meeting with motorcycle jacket girl. However, within seconds of the sensation starting, Payton saw colors starting to form near her. She instantly surrendered to the darkness and let the world shift once more.
The world quickly came back into focus, revealing that Payton was back in the classroom. “Not again!” She shouted as she slammed her fists on the desk, preparing herself to sit through the introductions all over again. “Wait, I wasn’t woken up!” She gasped, realizing that Nana wasn’t in front of her.
Payton quickly looked around the room, quickly trying to work out what was different from last time. She quickly realized that all the girls were sat at their desks and that the blur faced figure was sat at a desk behind Micchi.
“I’m so excited!” Giggled Nana. “So many new classes today! Are you excited Name?” She asked as she turned to the figure with a wide smile. After a few seconds, the older women entered the room and stood by the blackboard.
“Today, we’ll be starting classes, however, this first period is dedicated to selecting your clubs for the year. Please remember, Sagi Acadamy policy demands all students join at least one club. I know some club heads and representatives are here so I will give them each a few minutes to speak.”
“Yes,” smiled Micchi as she stood up. “The school newspaper is always looking for photographers, reporters, writers, editors, circulation managers, and typesetters. If you would like to apply our clubroom is always open.”
The second Micchi sat down Akiko quickly rose from her chair and pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket and started to read from it in an overly theatrical tone. “Our club based on the poetry. Your membership would make us exult. Together we will commune with poets, from brightest morning to darkest coasts. For an experience that is almost spiritual, we request you join our circle.
The other girls smiled and clapped politely as Akiko sat back down and smiled to herself. Once the ripple of applause had died down, Yui stood up and bowed.
“Hello, I’m Yurin and I’m the representative for the Good Deeds club. We aim to make the world around Sagi Acadamy a better and happier place.” She said gently, her shyness poking through her rehearsed words.
Payton found the speech amusing, the idea of there being a world outside of the school seemed so silly, was everyone in this world as hyper-focused as the girls here?
“The Art Club is looking for members,” said Kirika as she quickly rose from her chair. “All of you are likely aware that the Fine Art club and the Art Club merged last school year and thus all art styles and mediums are welcome in the new unified club”
After another ripple of applause, all of the girls turned to face Payton. She quickly looked around, wanting to confirm that something wasn’t going on behind her. When this proved to not be the case Payton shrugged.
“I guess Purin is meant to talk,” she mumbled before starting to tap her fingers on the desk, waiting for everyone to start talking again. She was curious what kind of club Purin would represent, however, before she could give it much thought the girls started to clap.
“Oh wonderful,” smiled Micchi. “If I wasn’t head of the paper I would love to join your Cookery Club!”
“Makes sense that Purin would be head of the cooking club,” muttered Payton as she rolled her eyes. “Everything points to me being the submissive housewife type, likely why I like Nana so much, she tells me what to do and orders me around.”
Suddenly, Payton gasped and shook her head. “I mean Purin! Purin is the submissive housewife. Purin likes Nana!” She said as squeezed her arm. “I’m Payton, not Purin. I’m Payton!”
“Thank you,” grinned the older woman as she turned towards the board, totally oblivious to Payton’s shouting. “I’m sure you’re all aware, but let me quickly run you through the process of how to join a club.”
The second the last word fell from the woman’s lips, Payton felt the world changing around her again. She let it happen, quickly falling into the darkness as the world twisted and warped.
As Payton’s eyes opened and focused, she found she was in the common room again. Unlike last time, all of the girl’s were present and all of them were stood around the strange faceless person.
“So Name, what club are you joining?” Asked Nana excitedly. As the rest of the girls looked on with interest a box appeared in front of the figure and flicked between several options before one started to flash.
“Of course we’ve decided!” Laughed Nana.
“But we’ve had longer to think,” interjected Yui. “Most of the clubs were running last year. Only the art club has really changed.”
“I don’t mind it changing,” huffed Kirika. “Didn’t want those fine art people involved anyway! Bunch of elitists! ”
“You’ve told us,” nodded Micchi.
Suddenly the box appeared in front of the figure again. The box scrolled through what seemed to be several new options before another one started to flash. After a moment of silence, Micchi nodded and smiled.
“Well obviously, I’m head of the Newspaper, it takes up all of my time.”
“I’m part of the Good Deeds club with Yui!” Grinned Nana as she bounced on the spot.
“And Yui is also part of the baseball team with me,” interjected Ashely. “She is always a home run when it comes to scoring home runs.”
“I’m the head of the Poetry Club,” said Akiko softly.
“And the only member if the records are correct,” chuckled Kirika, only to jump as Akiko glared daggers into her.
“Oh you’re right,” smiled Micchi as she looked towards a gap in the crowd. “Technically Purin’s club changed as it was the Home Management Club last year, but this year it is the Cooking Club.”
“Of course,” sighed Payton. “Who would join a club about chores?”
“You could always sample each club before you picked!” Gasped Yui. “Everyone runs an intro during the third period, so you could go to each clubroom and see just what they are doing!”
“That is a wonderful idea!” Smiled Micchi, “the form isn’t due in until the end of classes today, so you’ll have plenty of time to sample each club. Do you like that idea Name?”
As the box appeared once more Payton’s head throbbed. She did wonder if her lack of baking knowledge was going to cause the game problems. If it expected Purin to make a cake, then she would be going straight to the void, as she could hardly make a sandwich without injury.
However, before she could debate her cooking skills the world started to grow dark again. As it wrapped around her Payton could have sworn that she felt something in her mind, almost like something was trying to probe her thoughts. Part of her wanted to fight it, but by the time she realized what the sensation was, it had already passed.
Payton blinked her eyes as another annoying ukulele track started to fill the air. A small part of her was relieved that she was finally in a new room, while another part was worried by this development. At least when she was stuck in the loop she knew how to avoid falling into the void, but right now she had no idea what was coming and no way to prepare.
She quickly started to spin around, trying to make sense of where she was. Thankfully, the room’s function was rather obvious as it had ovens and worktops lining the walls as well as knife blocks, pans, and other cooking utensils scattered around.
“Cooking club,” sighed Payton as she leaned up against one of the worktops. “Must be a scene where the player gets to visit each club. That did seem to be what the last segment was foreshadowing.”
As Payton looked around the room she spotted a window through which she could see Nana and Yui stood inside a room across the corridor.
“Wait, all of the rooms are loaded in?” Blinked Payton as she stared at the other two girls. Suddenly her brain kicked into overdrive as a revelation hit her. “When I tackled Nana I was able to throw her out of the room and into a corridor. The corridors are not flat images stuck behind the windows, they’ve actually modeled them as three-dimensional spaces!”
Payton took a deep breath and quickly moved to the door, grabbing it firmly before slowly pulling it open, silently praying that the void wasn’t on the other side.
Despite her fear, the door seemed to function as a normal door, opening out onto a totally normal corridor. Payton stepped out of the room, trying to sense if anything felt amiss. However, nothing felt wrong, everything felt totally normal.
She moved towards the room with Nana and Yui, presuming it had to be the Good Deeds club that they had mentioned. As she got closer to the door, Payton spotted Micchi and the blurry faced figure stood in the center of the corridor.
“Feel free to visit the various clubrooms!” Smiled Micchi. “I’m sure every club would be happy to show you around and give you a sample of what they do!”
Just as Micchi finished speaking, a box appeared in front of the figure, along with a handful of options. Payton smiled to herself as she watched the figure choose.
“Everything is loaded in so the player can choose which clubs they visit, and see other girls doing things in the other clubrooms!” She smirked as she quickly ducked inside the Good Deeds Clubroom.
As she moved into the room, Payton spotted the girl in the motorcycle jacket stood inside the Cooking club room. However, before Payton could react, the girl vanished into thin air.
Payton shivered, that girl creeped her out, but at the same time, she didn’t seem to be able to alter the game while it was in progress, if she could do that, she wouldn’t have let Payton get this far.
“I would already be Purin,” said Payton to herself as she winced. She shook her head and tried to clear the cobwebs, this wasn’t the time to be focusing on what-if scenarios, right now she had to work with what she had.
The Good Deeds room was as plain and dull as the club name suggested. It was obvious that this room was an overflow classroom when not used for the club. In fact, it seemed to use the same graphics as the classroom Payton woke up in. Not that it mattered, a club dedicated to doing good deeds didn’t need anything specialized.
Nana and Yui moved around a little bit, their mouths moving silently as Payton investigated the room. She presumed that this idle animation existed to make it look like the girls were not just stood around waiting for the player to turn up.
Once she was sure there was nothing useful in the Good Deeds clubroom, Payton quickly moved back into the corridor, looking to see if she could find any other clubrooms.
It didn’t take Payton long to find another clubroom, mostly because only one other door was open. As she stepped inside the room Payton spotted Kirika standing behind a large easel and canvas.
“Art club,” nodded Payton as she looked at the various pictures stuck on the wall. They all looked like stock images and none of them seemed to feature the girls or any part of the school.
As she turned to leave Payton pondered something for a moment. “I wonder if the developer put something on her canvas?” She mumbled as she quickly turned and walked behind Kirika.
To Payton’s surprise, the canvas did have something on it. It seemed that Kirika was painting an image of the blurry headed figure. It looked like the picture had been made specifically for this scenario, as it looked nothing like anything else Payton had seen in the game.
“Maybe for later,” shrugged Payton as she wandered out of the room and quickly looked for another unlocked door, however to her surprise there didn’t seem to be any other open doors.
While she could understand there not being a room for the baseball team, both Micchi and Akiko had mentioned there were other clubs and the code fragments had said that the Newspaper Clubroom was having issues.
Payton wandered through the corridor, looking to see if she could see anything that would point to where the other club rooms could be. As she walked, the blurry figure walked past her and into the Good Deeds club’s room.
At the far end of the corridor, Payton spotted a door with a plaque attached to it. She quickly jogged over and spotted that the sign declared that this room was the home of the school’s newspaper.
“Great,” grinned Payton as she grabbed the door handle and took a deep breath. She was slightly worried that the strange brainwashing room would be on the other side of the door, but she didn’t have any other leads right now, so she had to take the risk.
She attempted to twist the handle, only to find that it refused to move, almost like it was just glued to the wood as opposed to actually being built in.
“Damn it,” sighed Payton as gave the handle one last push. “I bet Micchi needs to let you in.” She said as she let go of the handle and looked around.
Payton ran through her options in her head. She could wait around and hope that the figure activated the trigger that made Micchi open the door, but there was a risk that would cause her and everyone else to be unloaded, preventing her from exploring the error.
As Payton considered her choices, she tried to step back a little bit. She attempted to ignore her captivity and the strange room and to just focus on this as if it was a programming problem at work, just another bit of broken code that needed a solution.
“So, to work this out,” said Payton as she tapped on the door. “I would give it to the testers and they do everything possible to break what I’ve made. Like speedrunning!” She exclaimed as her tapping grew faster. “So I need to approach this in a way that would make no sense, outside of what you would test for!”
Payton nodded to herself and quickly turned away from the door and ran at it backward, only to just slam into the wood. She quickly turned around and started to walk into the door at odd angles, hoping to clip through the level geometry.
However, her pushing seemed to be futile. It felt exactly like running into a door in the real world and she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was just wasting her time.
Payton continued to ram against the door until her shoulder grew too sore to continue. She wanted to give up, it was obvious this wasn’t working, but she didn’t have any other plan.
Out of the corner of her eye, Payton spotted that some of her hair was phasing through the very top part of the door.
“They can’t jump,” panted Payton as she stopped hitting into the door. “They can’t jump!” She shouted again as she quickly ran back to the Good Deeds room and grabbed one of their tables. “No need to have collision detection in a place the player can’t even reach!”
Payton quickly pushed the table into the corner of the door, hoping to line it up with the spot her hair phased through. As the edge of the table made contact with the edge of the door frame, Payton felt a strange force push the table down.
Suddenly, the table made a strange noise as it started to vibrate intensely. Payton fell to the floor as the table continue to thrash and slam into the door and floor. After a few seconds, the table tilted downwards and lodged itself in the floor, its vibrations coming to a sudden halt.
Once she was sure the table had stopped thrashing around Payton slowly made her way towards it. As she got closer she realized that the table was clipping through both the door and the floor.
“Broke your hitbox,” chuckled Payton as she gently climbed up onto the table and pressed her palm to the door. Just as she suspected, the very top of the door gave way as if it was nothing but smoke, allowing her hand to pass through with ease.
Payton took a deep breath and clambered through the gap, slightly worried about what she would find on the other side. As her torso moved through the door, Payton felt herself tumbling forward.
Payton hit the floor with a thud. She quickly jumped to her feet and started to look around, hoping to prepare herself in case the strange motorcycle jacket girl was in there waiting for her.
The room itself was very strange. It did partially resemble a newspaper office, with computers and desks scattered around the room. However, the walls were made up of flashing lines of code, making the room look like some sort of apocalyptic rave.
Payton glanced around the room, trying to see if anything caught her eye. She didn’t know how long she had until something tried to stop her, so she knew she had to act quickly.
Most of the code seemed to focus on normal things, such as keeping track of the girls’ relationships and drawing the different environments. As she read through the code, Payton noticed something odd, Akiko was apparently loaded and in an environment referred to as “Clubroom”. However, Payton hadn’t seen Akiko around and all of the other locations were named after the club that resided there.
Payton’s eyes then locked on a piece of code that made her smile. It appeared to be the text that was going to be displayed during the game’s end credits. “Made by Fugetekku, eh?” Grinned Payton. “When I get out of here I’m going to make you wish you have never been formed!”
Knowing the name of her captor made Payton feel oddly more confident, it gave her someone to direct her anger towards and that was an excellent motivator.
As her eyes danced across the text, Payton spotted a reference to another figure being loaded into memory. “Err.or,” smirked Payton. “I guess you’re my spooky friend.” Payton read through the code and quickly realized that the girl was linked to the game’s debugging feature, she seemed to exist to decorate the loading screens and to fill in for unloaded models.
This did explain why she kept turning up whenever Payton went rogue, she was obviously being loaded in to cover for the fact Purin wasn’t where she should be.
However, it was the code linking to the Brainwave Implementation and Personality Imprint that really confused Payton. It looked very different from the rest of the game’s code. While most of the stuff was messy and inefficient, this section seemed professional, almost like something Payton would write.
Despite it being more professional, Payton was hardly able to understand what the code was trying to do. It seemed to be using information from a database to activate components within the game, but Payton had no idea what those components were or what the database could even contain.
The more she read, the more Payton realized this wasn’t an accident, this whole game was built from the ground up to brainwash the player. She had no idea why that was the case, but it did strengthen her resolve to escape as quickly as she humanly could.
Suddenly, the walls wobbled and flickered. Payton gasped and pressed herself up against a wall in the hope it would prevent someone from sneaking up on her. Another flicker shook the room as the walls slowly dissolved into nothingness.
In the distance, Payton could see the blurry figure stood next to a glitching Nana, her voice echoing across the empty space of the unloaded corridor. “Did you make a cake Pu,” she started before her voice broke up into static.
Payton started to look around. She knew what was coming and wanted to have the advantage this time. Nana once again tried to ask Purin for a cake, only for her whole body to fizzle away in the static.
“I know you’re coming,” shouted Payton. “Come on Err.or, I know you’ve got to try and bring me back in line!” She continued, her body shaking as she tried to spot the strange girl.
Suddenly the motorcycle jacketed girl appeared inches away from Payton’s face, her blank artificial smile the same as it always was. Even Payton’s anger didn’t seem to phase the girl.
“Hase Purin,” whispered a voice.
“We’ve had this conversation before,” smirked Payton. “As one unneeded model to another, I’m not who you are looking for.”
“Hase Purin likes baking,” whispered the voice in Payton’s brain. Payton grabbed her arm and dug her nails into her skin.
“We’ve done this, this doesn’t work!” She shouted.
The whole world started to flash and shimmer with bright neon shades that burnt Payton’s eyes. The colors started to twist and move, forming patterns that drew Payton in despite the pain they caused.
“No, no, no!” She shouted as she pinched her arm harder, her eyes watering as the visual assault grew in intensity. “I’m not going to let you do this to me!”
“Hase Purin,” whispered the voice. “Hase Purin likes baking, Hase Purin likes to bake cakes and give them to her friends.”
“No, I can’t bake! I don’t know about cakes!”
“Hase Purin is the girly girl.” Continued the voice as the lights continued to scramble and confuse her mind. “Hase Purin loves being pretty and baking cakes, she loves her kitchen.”
Payton’s brain throbbed as the colors continued to flash and spiral. She tried to turn her head, but wherever she looked there were more colors and more patterns, each one trying to scramble her mind.
She tried to fight back, to force her body to move or cover her eyes, but she couldn’t do it, it was like her body had been hijacked by some outside force.
The spiraling colors seemed to move closer to Payton, growing both more mesmerizing and more painful as they did. However, the more Payton stared, the smoother and prettier the colors became, almost as if they were rewarding her for looking.
“Hase Purin loves baking,” whispered the voice. “You are Hase Purin, the girly girl. Hase Purin is the head of the baking club, she loves doing household chores, she enjoys cooking and cleaning.”
“No,” whimpered Payton as her brain stung. “I’m not, I’m,” she started, only for her thoughts to fizz and tingle away. She knew there was something she had to say, something she needed to fight, but she couldn’t remember what it was.
“Hase Purin,” said the voice. Payton wanted to doubt it, but she couldn’t work out how to respond, she knew there was something she wanted to say, but it kept slipping from her mind.
“But,” stuttered Payton as a wave of color washed over her mind, dissolving her thoughts.
“Hase Purin, would love to bake a big cake for her crush.” Explained the voice, its words sounding more like Payton’s own internal monologue with each passing second.
“I,’ mumbled Payton, her thoughts giving way and collapsing under the waves of color and static, her eyes totally fixated on the pattern in front of her.
She knew deep down that there was something she needed to do, but for the life of her, she couldn’t work out what it was. She knew there was something, but it seemed so far away and so foggy, like a long lost memory.
“Hase Purin loves Nana and baking cakes. They’re her two favorite things,” explained Payton’s internal voice. “You love Nana and baking cakes. Maybe if you bake Nana a nice cake she’ll go to the festival with you.”
“Bake a cake,” nodded Payton as a smile formed on her face. “Nana will go to the festival with me,” she said, watching as the spiraling pattern took on a pretty pastel hue.
The new colors were both mesmerizing and calming, Payton felt right, she felt at home. This was what she wanted, she wanted to make Nana a big pastel pink cake covered in Strawberries. Payton knew Nana loved Strawberries, but she wasn’t totally sure how she knew. Had Nana told her that?
Before Payton could question her desire, the spiral flashed, sending another wave of color through her mind, causing her to totally lose track of her thoughts and objections to what was going on.
“Hase Purin, the baker. You are Hase Purin,” said Payton’s brain.
“I’m Hase Purin,” giggled Payton in response, her mouth hanging open as she stared at the pastel light show in front of her. Her whole mind felt like it was wrapped in a pink blanket that was squeezing out all of her thoughts.
Everything felt so simple, so easy. She was Hase Purin, she only wanted to bake a cake. Nothing hard or complicated, she could just focus on her kitchen and not have to worry about anything else.
“I’m Hase Purin,” said Payton’s mental voice.
“I’m Hase Purin,” slurred Payton.
“I want to make Nana a cake.”
“I want to make Nana a cake,” nodded Payton drowsily, her eyes still fixated on the undulating pattern before her.
Payton’s eyes fluttered as the pink enveloped her, wrapping around her and plunging her into a pastel painted sleep. Payton felt the world moving, but she was content to just float along with it.
Payton blinked her eyes and looked around the room. Her stomach was full of butterflies, she was so nervous about today, she had never talked in front of this many people before!
She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. Everyone liked her and they would love her baking club, whenever she made anything people begged her for the recipe, so why would they turn down the chance to learn with her?
Despite that, Payton’s heart continued to beat quickly, her anxiety overriding the logical parts of her brain. However, as she turned her head, she spotted Nanapon♥.
Almost instantly her heart slowed down, Nanapon♥ looked so cute that Payton couldn’t help but blush. She could never work out just how Nanapon♥ kept herself looking so great, no matter the time or the weather, she always looked dreamy.
As she continued to stare at Nanapon♥, Payton felt her confidence grow. If Nanapon♥ could sing in front of her thousands of fans, then she could do her silly little talk about the baking club! She just had to think like Nanapon♥!
As the other girls promoted their clubs, Payton kept her eye on Nanapon♥, and mentally practiced her speech, preparing herself for when it was her turn.
“All of you are likely aware that the Fine Art club and the Art Club merged last school year and thus all art styles and mediums are welcome in the new unified club” Announced Kirika, shaking Payton from her thoughts.
She clapped along with the other girls for a few moments before taking a deep breath and rising from her chair. “Hello, I’m Purin and I’m the head of the Cookery club! Last year we were the Home Management Club, but the decision was made to change the name to better reflect our activities. I look forward to you joining us so we can make all sorts of delicious meals together and learn an important skill that is key to a successful household.
“Oh wonderful,” smiled Micchi. “If I wasn’t head of the paper I would love to join your Cookery Club!”
Payton blushed as she sat back down and accepted the applause. She felt wonderful! If this is what performing felt like she totally understood why Nanapon♥ loved it so much!
Payton was floating on a cloud of joy, one that made the day pass so easily. Even though the teacher was talking, she didn’t really hear a word of it, she was just replaying her speech over and over in her head.
The joy was so fulfilling that she was still riding the high during her free period. As the other girls tried to convince the new student to join their club, Payton just waited quietly, she didn’t need to try and win them over, who could resist cake?
However, when Micchi suggested going to taster sessions Payton’s ears pricked up. The best way to give the new student a taste of the baking club would be to bake some cakes, and she could “accidentally” make too many, and then give some of them to Nanapon♥!
Payton’s heart fluttered as her brain sparkled with joy, it was truly a perfect day, she got to give a speech, bake a cake and give Nanapon♥ a gift! It was like something out of a fairytale!
She spent every moment until third period plotting out just what cake to make for Nanapon♥. It would obviously be frosted in he signature colors but she couldn’t decide on a flavor.
She did consider making one batch of every flavor but quickly realized that it wouldn’t look like an accident if she gave Nanapon♥ four hundred cakes. Even if Nanapon♥ did deserve at least twice that many.
Eventually, Payton decided on red velvet cupcakes. Nanapon♥ was soft and pretty like fine velvet, so it only made sense for the cakes to match her.
Payton set the oven to pre-heat before going and grabbing all the ingredients she would need. As she did this she whistled a happy tune to herself, at that moment there was no outside world, the only thing that mattered was pleasing Nanapon♥.
When the oven beeped, Payton quickly reached inside to get her baking tray. However, she was so focused on her cake, that she totally forgot to put oven gloves on.
The second Payton grabbed the tray she let out a yelp as she felt the metal burn her skin. It was like a switch flipped in Payton’s brain, the pink pastel illusion instantly fell away as she realized what she was doing.
“No!” She shouted as she started to shake. “I didn’t, I,” she mumbled as she tried to work out what was going on.
A wave of anger washed over Payton’s body. She grabbed the bowl of half-made cake batter and threw it across the room, watching as it bounced off the window with a soft thunk.
“I can’t let them do this to me!” Screamed Payton as she ran out of the room, her heart pounding in her chest. “I won’t let you do this! I won’t let you do it!” She continued to scream.
As she panted, she spotted Nana in the Good Deeds room. A wave of calm washed over Payton, but it felt wrong. Artificial. She felt her cheeks going red as her eyes traced Nana’s body. She couldn’t help but think about how much she wanted to see Nana smile, how much she wanted to make her happy, how she wanted to feel the other girl’s lips against hers.
“I’m not her,” whined Payton as she pulled her hair. “I’m not Purin! I don’t like her! I don’t like her.” Payton’s bottom lip wobbled as she looked at Nana.
She was developing feelings for the girl and she utterly hated that fact. She wanted to be angry about it, but she found Nana’s presence oddly comforting and right now, her need for comfort outweighed her rage.
“No,” she growled as she gritted her teeth. “I’m going to fix this, I’m going to work this out.” She shouted as she grabbed a table and ran towards the Newspaper room.
However, just before the table hit the doorframe, Payton’s brain filled with doubt. Was it worth risking trying this a second time? Every time she encountered Err.or she became more like Purin.
She had no idea how long she had spent as Purin this time, but if she had not messed up the cake, she likely wouldn’t have returned to her normal self. And even then, her normal self was starting to act more and more like Purin.
“What to do,” mumbled Payton as she looked at the door. “I was fine until Nana asked for the cake. People will talk to the thin air where Purin should be, the issue comes when someone needs to interact with a model that isn’t present, so I just need to get in, find the cake trigger and activate it.”
Payton nodded to herself as she committed to her plan. She quickly lined the table back up and rammed it into the same spot as last time.
The table suddenly stiffened and vibrated so hard it flung Payton upward, sending her sailing through the non-solid part of the door and into the half-broken Newspaper clubroom.
Payton didn’t even wait for the pain to subside, she pushed herself up off of the floor and started to furiously scan the code. “Where is it? Where is it?” She panted as she glanced at the text, looking for a solution to her cake dilemma.
After a few minutes of scanning, Payton spotted a script that seemed to explain what was going to happen. The game wanted Purin to interact with the oven, as the cake object would spawn inside it.
Payton quickly scanned the rest of the code, hoping to find something useful. Once again, it said that Akiko was in her own clubroom. However, this room didn’t seem to have any triggers attached to it, meaning that it couldn’t be opened from the outside.
She read a few more lines before deciding that she couldn’t risk waiting any longer. Payton quickly climbed over the door and back down into the corridor, just in time to see Nana heading towards the Cooking club.
Payton sprinted into the kitchen and yanked the oven open, her heart pounding in her chest as she did. On the second shelf was a perfectly baked and frosted tray of cupcakes. Payton pulled the tray out and quickly put it on the worktop where the trigger was.
“Did you make a cake Purin?” Asked Nana as she walked up to the counter.
“Yes, I did!” Chuckled Payton.
“For me! Oh, Purin you’re so kind!” Smiled Nana as she picked up the cake. “This is the best thing about the baking club, free cake!” Beamed Nana as she offered one to the blurry headed figure.
Payton didn’t wait around and quickly ran out of the room and headed back towards the broken Newspaper room, hoping that she could quickly get back inside.
However, just as she put weight on the table, it started to thrash and vibrate, almost like a hyper-active rodeo horse. Payton tried to hold on, however, the vibrations were so intense that they threw her to the floor.
Before Payton could pull herself together the table jolted to the left and crashed down on her. Payton screamed and braced for pain, however, none seemed to come, all she could see was the table twitching and crashing down on her.
She tried to move and get out of the way, but she couldn’t seem to avoid the table. Suddenly, an odd tingling sensation washed up her legs and into her hips.
As she looked around she realized that she seemed to be much lower down, almost like the table had flattened her. Payton quickly spotted that her arm was going through the floor.
“I’ve clipped through the floor!” Smirked Payton as she tried to center herself. Despite floating inside the floor, walking felt oddly normal.
Her thighs tingled as she moved through the floor and towards the door. “No hitbox above it means no hitbox below!” She smirked as she phased through the wood as it if it was nothing but fog.
However, rather than ending up inside the broken room, Payton ended up under it. She could see the world above her, all of the corridors just floating in a strange blank void.
Payton waited for a few moments, half-expecting Err.or to turn up. However, the girl didn’t seem to arrive, letting Payton inspect the layout of the area.
She had been mostly right, it looked like that the game only loaded in areas needed for the scene, so the strange feeling during the transitions was the world loading in and out.
Suddenly, Payton spotted something out of the corner of her eye. There was a small room floating in the void. However, it was seemingly unconnected to the corridor. Payton instantly decided that she had to check it out and see just what was going on with it.
Payton started to walk towards the room. However, it felt like she was walking through molasses, every step made her body tingle and everything felt strangely slowed down.
After what felt like an hour of walking, Payton phased through the wall and found herself in a little room. This room was decorated with flowers and shrines and only lit by candlelight.
Payton blinked and squinted her eyes, the low light making it hard to make out details. In the center of the room, Akiko sat in front of an ouija board, holding a cup of tea in her hands.
“Spirts hear my call,” she exclaimed, making Payton jump.
“What?” She mumbled as she moved closer to Akiko, only to realize that the board and the teacup were obviously unfinished models as they lacked detailed textures and looked more like vague shapes.
“Spirits hear my call,” repeated Akiko. “I Himemiya Elizabeth Camelia call you to this place.”
“Room is dumbed out,” nodded Payton. “Guess they decided to give her a poetry club as opposed to an occult club.”
Payton started to investigate the room as Akiko repeated her two lines over and over. Payton had to admit, she found it slightly creepy, but she tried to keep her nerves in check and focus on getting what she needed.
At the back of the room, Payton was able to find a mirror that had the same issue as the Newspaper clubroom. She once again started to read through the code, unsure of exactly how long she had.
While looking through the code Payton realized just how unfinished this room was, it was full of triggers and animations that the player could not activate during the game. Without thinking, Payton reached out to try and scroll the text, only to find that the words changed as she pressed them.
“What?” Mumbled Payton. “I can edit this? Who did this, why would you?” Payton shook her head, this wasn’t the time to question it, this was an advantage and she needed every single one of them she could find.
Payton quickly started to tap away at the code. Despite it being obvious that the editor was not supposed to work like this it let her move some stuff and change the properties of various items.
As she looked through the code, Payton spotted the code that operated Micchi’s debug menu. “I wonder if I could attach that to myself,” she mumbled as she started to drag blocks of code around.
Suddenly a debug box appeared next to Payton, it looked exactly like the one that Micchi had and it even had the same options. Payton smirked to herself, this was perfect, hopefully, she could use this to get the upper hand in the game.
“The spirits are with us!” shouted Akiko, making Payton jump.
“What?” Asked Payton as she turned around, only to spot the motorcycle jacked girl was stood right behind her.
Payton jumped backward. “But, you shouldn’t be able to,” started Payton, only for the debug menu to appear next to her. The menu had a flashing alert on top of it.
“Major error: Character brainwaves corrupted. Beginning imprint!” declared the box as Payton looked between it and the girl.
The girl showed no emotion as the room started to brightly flash. Every neuron in Payton’s brain crackled and burned with pain as she felt her legs go weak.
She tried to vocalize her pain but her jaw was slack and she couldn’t seem to get it to respond to her, no matter how hard she tried none of her limbs would move.
As the colors grew more intense Payton felt herself slipping, she tried to focus but seemed to be unable to, even the simplest thought felt impossible, whenever she tried to focus, another wave of bright neon color washed through her mind, obliterating anything in its way,
Payton crumpled to the floor, her body totally limp. She looked up at the motorcycle girl, only for the whole world to flash a burningly bright orange as Payton’s brain forcefully shut off in a futile attempt at blocking out the pain.
“Hase Purin.” Whispered the voice as Payton spiraled down into the darkness. With her last few moments of lucidity, Payton saw the text at the top of the menu change.
“Imprint complete,” read the text. “Character reset complete. Rebooting.” Payton’s fluttered shut as all the energy drained from her body, her mind falling into a deep dreamless sleep.