Diary Entry of Haku Sazuki, 3/26/18

Entry was written in a keylogged device and retained for usefulness. Edited for readability.

I just had the strangest day at work.

I was sent out on assignment to scope out an old structure they found. No signs of life, recent activity, or traps. Just go in, see if it’s worth sending more people in before it’s demolished, and go out. They’re usually dead ends, just abandoned storm shelters or cellars from before Strex came to the city. I usually go it alone, too, but today I got sent with Kendalan. They’ve started caring about safety, I guess.

I wouldn't say we're friends, but… we get assigned to a lot of things together, and we get along well. We chatted the entire way there about the latest Monster Crossing and our towns; he’s been caught up on balancing taxes and the economy, so I gave him a few pointers, and he gave me advice on decorating houses. He’s got Mina the Tarrasque, the lucky bastard. We exchanged numbers so we can send screencaps back and forth. That’s beside the point, I don’t know why I’m going on about this.

So we got there and everything seemed normal at first. We went down a short ladder, pretty common for storm shelters, and we started betting on what we’d find down there. Rotten cans of soup, or dead mice, or maybe even a bat skeleton if we were lucky. (We have found all of those things, by the way.) But it was weirdly empty - there was nothing but some cheap shelves and a broken chair, with this tacky multicolored polkadot wallpaper. Must’ve belonged to a holdout with bad taste. I was ready to just turn around, but Ken told me to turn off my flashlight. I did.

It took a few seconds for our darkvision to kick in, but then we could see patterns on the walls. Some of the colors were darker or lighter, despite the different shades, and they formed a rectangle behind some of the shelves. That was a really good catch. I told him so.

I wanted to let the guard handle it. The real adventurers. Puzzles like this are more their thing, and there might be monsters, anyways. Before I could even get a sentence out, Ken was already pushing aside the shelves and asking for my help. Despite myself, I sliced the wallpaper along the pattern and tore it down for him.

Behind it, there was a door made of ancient, well-preserved wood. It had to be a few hundred years old, at least. It was the kind we’d only seen in dungeons. I turned to him, and he turned to me, and without another word, he opened it.

It opened onto a long staircase, and we went down together. I took the liberty of using my flashlight again. He didn’t complain. There were no animals down there, and it didn’t even smell that musty. At the bottom, when we turned, there was an enormous room. I mean, probably three times the size of the HQ lobby and twice times the height. And it was gorgeous.

There was a magical light source somewhere, illuminating the room like there was a small skylight in the center of the ceiling. Along the sides, there were statues of trolls, tieflings, orcs, and icarians, all holding constellations on tablets. A yellow and blue tile path went down the center, chipped but clearly well-made, leading around a large metal bowl and to a massive mural that took up the entire back wall.

It showed a human paladin, a blonde man with light armor, holding a sword and gazing off into the distance. He seemed lost in thought. The sun was a halo around his head, with rays emanating from it to the sides of the wall. The entire thing was etched into white marble and accented with plated gold. I’ve never seen something so… monumental.

Kendalan and I walked over, slowly, as if we’d startle the man in the mural. He wasn’t commanding or intimidating so much as authoritative. Almost guardian-ly. Reaching the far wall felt like approaching a king.

Ken brushed his fingers over the marble slowly, reverently. Then he turned to me and spoke. "I think… I think this is the Impostor."

"What do you think they'd do with it?"

"Scrap it, maybe. Take the gold and marble and junk the rest."

"Oh."

We stood in silence for a while. Up close, you could see the filigrees in the armor and the sword.

Then he spoke again. "We shouldn't tell them about this place."

"What?"

"I know Mending, I can fix the wallpaper. It wouldn't be hard."

"It's our job, Ken. We have to."

"Have you ever seen something like this here? Something so massive and expensive and time consuming, for a higher power? Or its own sake? Even the temples don't look like this."

"It's not right to destroy it, no, but we have a responsibility to do what we're paid to do."

He went quiet for a moment, studying me and chewing on his lip. "Haku. I have a very important question for you."

"Shoot."

"Do you want to change things at StrexCorp? It's not a trick question. I won't tell anyone your answer."

That caught me off guard. I almost didn't respond, but I felt like I had to. I trusted him, somehow. "...Yes."

"Like, a lot of things?"

"That would be nice."

He turned to me fully, and something was burning in his eyes. "Help us, then."

"What?"

"Join us. Help the Elaidken overthrow Strex." He took my hand, gently but firmly. "You don't have to do a lot. You don't have to fight or carry messages or leave the city or do anything like that. There are less dangerous ways. But please, help us. You’re a good person, I trust you, and that’s the only reason I’m asking you.”

I was a little bit floored. Obviously. I blinked at him. “What?"

"I know it's a lot, and it's risky, and I'd understand if you said no. But I truly believe in you."

I thought for a long moment. I could see the slight worry in his eyes, and I had to look away. I stared at the ground instead.

"I can't. I'm sorry, Ken, but I can't. It's… I can't."

"Hey." He put his other hand on my shoulder. "It's okay. You've got a lot to lose, I understand."

I nodded, but I couldn't keep the shameoff my face. I don't have a lot to lose. I don't live with my family, I don't really like my job, and I don't have many friends that would get dragged down with me. I could help them a lot. But I'm too much of a coward. I don't even know exactly what I'm afraid of anymore, I just am. I hate myself for it.

"We should go," I said. He nodded and let go of me. We walked away from the mural, still quiet and slow, not wanting to disturb the Impostor. We crept up the stairs and out of the temple, then closed the door behind us.

Just as we were about to climb up the ladder and leave, I turned around. Kendalan watched me as I held up the wallpaper and cast Mending to seal it shut. I dragged the shelf back into place. Only after I was done did we leave.

We walked back mostly in silence. Both of us reported that it was just an old storm shelter, without even rotting provisions. We got our payment for the day and were sent home.

A few hours later, he texted me a screenshot of his Monster Crossing Town. His character was standing next to Raina the Owlbear, surrounded by meticulously tended flowerbeds. The caption said <my friend code's 194829-a82>. I texted him back with mine. At least he still wants to talk to me. I know it'd be dangerous, but I want to be friends with him. He's a good person. I hope this works out.

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