Stella munched on a rice ball and tried to put the convention she was missing out of her mind. Helping Atria was more important.
She glanced around the restaurant. A couple of tables had been put together so that the five of them could sit and talk while they had lunch. A television mounted to the wall was showing some slice of life program. If it had been later in the day, she imagined it would have been tuned to a sports game of some sort.
At Kaguyama and Mitsubi’s insistence, last night’s dinner had been a social gathering. Today’s lunch was all about getting down to business.
“You foreigners are strange,” Mitsubi said in Japanese, stabbing a french fry. “We take you to a pub so that you will feel more at home in our country, and you choose the most Japanese things on the menu.”
Beside Stella, Adam chuckled. “We didn’t come here to eat North American food.”
At the end of the table, Atria had just finished explaining the situation to Kaguyama. Her hamburger lay half-eaten on her plate.
Kaguyama closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I understand the urgency,” he said. “I just wish I had something more helpful to offer. Without knowing the identity of this thief, we won’t know what he can do. Even if we knew what he can do, without knowing where he is, we can’t confront him and get the orb back. And if we do recover the orb, we still need a way to dispose of it without blowing up half the city.”
“And the only one who knows how to travel between worlds on purpose is the thief,” Atria added. “So, we either need to figure out how to do it ourselves, or convince him to help.”
“And we can’t go to anybody else,” Kaguyama said. “They just won’t believe us.”
“Do you have a picture of him?” Mitsubi asked. “That would be the first step to figuring out who he is.”
Adam shook his head. “I tried to rewatch the episode, but it isn’t loading properly,” he said. “There’s some problem with the file.”
“If we described him, could you sketch him?” Atria asked.
“I can try,” Mitsubi said. “But that has problems of its own. If I’ve only got a verbal description to working from, there will almost certainly be mistakes in the drawing.”
“I tried looking at all of the dark lord characters in the current season on AnimeWorld,” Adam said. “Nothing matched.”
“There’s a lot that airs on TV here that doesn’t make it to Western markets,” Kaguyama said. “And that’s assuming that he’s not from some previous season.”
“He didn’t look like he was from a good show,” Stella said. “His clothes looked like they were designed by somebody who just didn’t care.”
“So we’re looking for somebody from a show or manga that is likely not very successful or well known,” Mitsubi said. “That makes it harder, but not impossible.”
Kaguyama glanced at Atria, and then at Stella. “I still don’t understand how this is happening at all. And you’ve been here for five years? How long have characters been coming into the real world?”
Stella finished another rice ball. “I think it’s been happening for a long time,” she said. “I’ve got a theory, but it’s a lot of complex quantum physics stuff that you wouldn’t understand without having a background in it. The short version is that when enough people imagine a created world, the ‘information’ this imprints onto the particles escaping from their brain reaches a critical mass and creates that world as it is imagined. Under very rare circumstances, somebody like Atria or I can travel back along that pathway, arriving here.”
“So why haven’t we known about this before now?” Mitsubi asked.
“Why would you?” Stella replied. “Most of us probably don’t last very long – this world is so alien that we just don’t know how anything works. If Adam hadn’t found me when he did, I would have died.” She squeezed Adam’s hand. “The ones who come from a story close enough to this world to survive the first few days probably figure out what’s happening and just blend in. Besides, if you don’t have some special power from your story, how would you ever prove that you are a fictional character and not some crazy person? And if you do have a power of some sort, it starts fading as soon as you get here, so after a few months you’re just ordinary. Ordinary and lost.” She felt Adam squeeze her hand back. “Frankly, it’s a miracle that we’re sitting together having this discussion at all.”
“We know that the thief can travel to created worlds at will,” Atria said. “Perhaps there are others who can do that too who have already blended in.” With a couple of bites, she finished off her hamburger.
“That assumes they haven’t already gone back home,” Stella said. “And it assumes that we can find them before their powers have faded, if we can find them at all.”
“So we’re left with trying to convince the thief to not just give back the orb, but to take it and me back to my world,” Atria said. “That seems a big ask.” Atria glanced at Kaguyama. “Something’s bothering you – what is it?”
Kaguyama blinked. “How did you know?”
“You wrote me to be an expert at reading people,” Atria replied.
Kaguyama hesitated and stared down at his plate. “What I told you about why Abel had to die, that wasn’t the whole truth.”
“Everything I said was true. But, even so, his death, or the death of somebody like him, was necessary to the story to give it weight. Any character’s journey is given meaning by the sacrifices and struggles that character has to make – how much they lose, or nearly lose. If it’s not there, the ultimate victory feels cheap or unearned to the reader. That’s just how storytelling works.”
Atria took a deep breath. “So my best friend had to die so that whoever is reading or watching my story feels satisfied at the end?”
“I’m sorry,” Kaguyama said. “There’s no way to explain it that doesn’t sound terrible.”
“I think I’m going to have to hate you for this, creator,” Atria said. “I know that’s not all you’re hiding, but I’ll find that out later. I’m going to need time to get over this first.”
“I understand,” Kaguyama said. “I’m sorry.”
“Please be kind to Kaguyama,” Mitsubi said. “He just wants to tell a good story. We never knew that our characters could show up as real people or–”
Atria held up her hand. “Please stop talking. Nothing you say can make this better.”
Adam glanced at Stella, looking like he was about to say something. Stella shook her head. Adam turned to watch the television.
“Does this television have a DVR?” Adam demanded. Stella blinked.
“It might,” Kaguyama said. “Why?”
“I just saw him.”
“What?” Atria demanded.
“He was in the background of the interview,” Adam explained. “Excuse me,” he called out to the bartender. “Could you rewind the show?”
The bartender shrugged and pulled out a remote. After a couple of seconds, Adam called out, “That’s it - could you please pause?”
Stella rose to her feet. In the background of the interview was the thief who had invaded Atria’s world, the orb hovering behind him. Beside her, she heard Mitsubi grab her notepad and start frantically sketching.
“That’s him,” Atria said. “Do you know who he is, creator?”
“I’ve never seen that character before,” Kaguyama replied.
“Do you know where that place is on the television?”
Kaguyama nodded. “It’s close – not far from an old industrial park. The park isn’t used much anymore.”
“It’s live,” Mitsubi stated, still sketching. “We were talking about it yesterday over lunch, remember?”
“I guess,” Kaguyama said. “Sorry.”
Stella looked over to Mitsubi to see her staring at Kaguyama with concern.
“This is our first piece of good news,” Atria said. “I need to stop by the hotel room and grab my kit, and then we need to get to that industrial park.”
“We can use our rental car,” Stella said, glancing over to Kaguyama. “Once Mitsubi has finished sketching, you two go back to Kaguyama’s place. We’ll meet up there when it’s done.”
Beside her, Adam pulled out his wallet and dropped some yen on the table. “For our share of the bill,” he said in Japanese. “I’m sorry if it’s short. If it is, let me know, and I’ll cover the rest next time we meet.” He pulled up a map app on his phone. “Can you show me where this park is on here?”
As Adam got directions and Atria pulled on her double-breasted dark navy wool coat, Stella took a deep breath. For all she knew, she was about to go into combat with her fiancé at her side...and she was completely powerless.
For over a century, fictional characters have been falling out of their stories into our world. Some, like mech pilot Atria Silversword and isekai protagonist Daiki Yamato, want to go home. Some, like JRPG non-player character Princess Stellaria, want a new life. Some, like superhero Captain Infinite and devil king The Destroyer, want to meet their creators. Some, like monster hunter Jenny Calhoun and super-assassin Jack Death, want justice for their suffering.
And one will fight a bloody war to liberate them all.
New chapter(s) every Friday.
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Art by Foxtail: https://www.deviantart.com/wilsanne07/gallery/
Review by Josh Piedra at The Outerhaven: https://www.theouterhaven.net/2022/05/light-novel-review-reapotheosis/
Print and e-book editions, with a new afterword by the author, will be released on November 21, and are now available for pre-order!