Chapter 1 – Omens
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Death flags make the game more interesting. But it’s only interesting inside the game.

Coco abruptly opened her eyes with the discomfort of having something weighed on her body. She scrunched her brows and forced herself to sit. Her skin brushed past the coarse blanket while she tried to fix her bed. Until she saw the source of her looming dread—her down pillow.

Its feathers interlocked into an intricate circle, forming a death crown. That’s how she started her day with a death flag.

        [Death Flag Count: 1]

It ticked her off, so she tore it apart with all her might. The feathers tickled her skin as it fell on the floor. Before long, she heard three loud knocks on her door. Her gaze went to her broken clock. It was only 7 am.

“There’s a no-life who visits at this hour?”

Wait, broken clock?

        [Death Flag Count: 2]

When you see a death flag, you destroy it.

The neighboring tenants awoke from the banging sounds next door. They covered their children's ears from the string of curse words that followed.

"Honey, change our wifi name to Shut up, or we're calling the cops."

But Coco only had an outdated Mokia 3210 phone, so she wouldn't notice even if she had the time.

She cautiously approached the door, feeling the cold floor on her bare feet. Her hands turned the rough, metallic doorknob, “What do you ne—?”

She stopped her tracks. There was no one…

        [Death Flag Count: 3]

…but an ominous black cat sat in front of her door, an owl flew around and black crows—rested on a dead cedar tree—glared at her with their bright red orbs.

        [Death Flag Count: 7]

Animals have heightened sense, and to them, Coco reeked an aura of a demoness. The owl and the black crows flapped their wings and hurriedly flew away instinctively. However, the black cat did not budge. Crap. It’s used to people.

She mercilessly chased it away with a stick, “Fetch!”

It took the bait. However, the death flags showed no signs of ending.

All of a sudden, her vision was covered in darkness. A total solar eclipse emerged outside her apartment somehow, along with Halley’s comet. Was it 76 years already?

In other parts of the world, scientists marveled at the sudden appearance of two celestial events at the same time, while ordinary people merely posted it on pixtagram.

        [Death Flag Count: 9]

She sighed helplessly at the rare astronomical sight, unable to deal with it. She slammed the door shut and locked it. Out of sight, out of mind. 

“GYAH!”

An eerie shriek escaped her mouth. A girl with exact, same clothes appeared before her. The girl had a deathly pale complexion and dark circles under her black eyes. Her doppelgänger has come. At this point, her heart finally began to pound faster than the development of events.

        [Death Flag Count: 10]

But after careful observation, she sighed in relief that it was only her reflection in the mirror.

        [Death Flag Count: 9]

The count decreased, unlike her paranoia. It enveloped her whole being, feeding on her soul. She felt safer as she sat at the corner of her small apartment, without her back exposed to danger.

Coco bit her nails as she fiddled with her phone. Her eyes flashed a complicated expression. She contemplated whether to call her adoptive family or not. But she steeled her heart. If she’s going to die, she should at least take them with her.

Six months ago, they had a major fight. As a result, she had to move out. They never really mixed well. At first, she thought that it was because of her shitty personality. Later, she confirmed it. The books were right. Like repels like.

Since they were so alike, they might as well share the same karma.

But then, she paused. Actually, there was another name in her contacts. Eva. But she couldn’t bear to call a friend to die, even if the other was also a demoness.

Her keypad sounded in the silent room. She was about to press the contact of her adoptive mother when she heard clanking sounds outside.

It was as if everything moved in slow motion. Her grasp on her outdated phone tightened. She slowly stood up and watched the doorknob slowly turn clockwise with a click.

A woman dressed in black came into view. The woman had short hair, an unsettling smile, and a box of pizza on hand. Without doubt, it was her friend, Eva.

Coco just turned 18 when she moved out. It was tough for an undergraduate high school girl with zero social skills to land a stable job. Her savings were also not enough to get her by.

It was Eva who helped out. Because Eva worried that she would die without anyone knowing, she came to check on her at her apartment from time to time.

“Ah. It’s just you,” Coco straightened up and brushed the dust off her pants.

“Is that how you talk to a woman ten years older than you? You should kowtow in front of me to show respect, brat.”

Unlike most women, Eva loved flaunting her superior age to Coco. And she had no inkling why.

Still, her appearance calmed Coco. She put down her phone and poured a glass of water for the two of them.

When she came back, she saw Eva had set up the otome game Heartstrings: Sweet Lullaby. One of the reasons why they clicked despite their age gap was because of this.

She enjoyed playing the game and had a lot to talk about with Eva, the game designer. She could clearly remember Eva’s nostalgic eyes as they talked about the plots of the game the first time they met.

“It's loaded. I kind of missed playing this,” Eva sat on her bed.

The opening song of the game played. It had a sweet and engaging tone. It's a song that takes you to the spring of life.

“Let’s play later. I’m starving,” Coco’s stomach grumbled.

“Tch." When Eva opened the box, a mouthwatering aroma assaulted their nose.

Coco grabbed a slice, “Bon appétit!”

Eva was certain that Coco had been itching to use that phrase. However, she was not sure if her eyes were playing her, because, ‘Coco’s face morphed into an Italian face! How?’

She blinked. Her competitive spirit wouldn’t allow her to lose. With a deadpan face, she casually whipped out the only Italian expression she knew.

“Mamma mia!”

In their imaginations, Eva’s face also morphed into Italian.

Italian Coco flashed a smug smile, “Questa pizza è deliziosa (This pizza is delicious).”

‘How many phrases did this brat get from kookle translate?’

Eva finally got rid of her Italian face as she said in English, “Careful. That pizza might choke you. You might end up throwing it up. Then collapse in front of the TV.”

As if on cue,  something rushed from Coco's throat.

"Uuk," she covered her mouth subconsciously.

In her haste, she accidentally knocked over a glass of water. Its sharp, shattering noises entered their ears.

        [Death Flag Count: 10]

However, Coco had no time to spare a thought. She disorientedly made her way to the sink and tasted the food she already swallowed again. It was terrible. Her grasp on the sink tightened.

With a grave face, she wiped her mouth with her sleeves, “La pizza non è più deliziosa (The pizza is no longer delicious).”

Eva rolled her eyes, speechless.

Coco gargled and weakly dragged herself to the bed, but stumbled. She laid in pain before the television. Just like what Eva prophesied.

It was as if her soul was sucked out of her body. She couldn't hear anything except for the background music of the game that Eva set up. It had a sweet and engaging tone. It's a song that takes you to the spring of life. But now, it seemed like a song that takes you to the abyss of death.

When she raised her head, she met the disdainful eyes of the game's villainess, Colette Corliss. And it irked her.

Eva rushed to her side and took out a panacea that heals all known diseases—vapor rub.

“You better inhale as much as you can,” Eva rubbed it on her back, nose, and eyes, “Or I'll cover you with toilet paper, like a mummy.”

“Quit it!”

It stung so much that Coco regained her strength. It even had protective properties from death flags. As expected of vapor rub.

She wiped the excess vapor rub from her eyes, “And don't remind me of my dark ages.”

Coco shivered as she remembered her six-year-old self knocking door to door with only toilet papers as a costume for Halloween. And she had no idea where the heck Eva knew it.

“I also told you my darkest secret. I used to attack my brother with turd snowballs on winters.”

“But you don’t have a brother.”

Eva averted her gaze and secretly smiled, “Why don’t we get some fresh air outside?”

A walk doesn't sound bad.

They were greeted by the cold winter air when they stepped out of her apartment. Coco raised her head and smirked.

‘The total solar eclipse and the Halley’s Comet are gone.’

Indeed. The bad weed never dies. As if a few death flags would be enough to kill her.

It turned out that she celebrated too early because a black butterfly flew in front of her. Weren't butterflies supposed to stay as a caterpillar or hibernate during winter?

‘New species?!’

        [Death Flag Count: 11]

A crisp slap awoke Coco from her reverie. Coco rubbed her cheeks and glared at Eva, “Isn't it common sense to use the hand without an engagement ring to slap a person awake, duh?”

Eva’s eyes turned crescents. She covered her mouth with the hand where her engagement ring rested, “Oh. I felt like flaunting it.”

The gem embedded on her ring glimmered. Coco’s heart dropped as she recognized it—opal.

        [Death Flag Count: 12]

“Hey! Who puts an ominous gem in their engagement ring?”

Eva just rolled her eyes at her, “Why so superstitious?”

Coco harrumphed, “Roll your eyes forever. I always knew you had some sort of eye problem.”

‘One more death flag and it’s thirteen!’

But Eva paid no attention. Instead, she was talking to someone over the phone. The woman put it down and flashed an apologetic smile.

“There’s a problem with the plot of our new game. I have to go,” Eva hailed a cab.

Coco just waved her hands, “Get lost.”

Before the cab drove away, Eva opened the windows and decided to say some words of good will.

“Careful. You might end up being run over by a truck if you’re not attentive.”

         [Death Flag Count: 13]

For a moment, Coco really felt like dying.

‘Hold it, Nostradamus!’1Nostradamus is the 16th-century physician and writer, who many believe could see into the future.

“I better rush home,” she looked from left to right wearily.

She was about to cross the road when she heard a series of loud honks. When she turned her gaze to the source, her eyes met blinding headlights.

'Could it be... The Legendary Escort to Another World?!'

Up to date, these escorts never missed their destination. She was able to make out the appearance of the drunk driver, who seemed more and more like an emissary of death that came to fetch her.

Too bad, they came to fetch the wrong person.

She took a step back as fast as she could. Her hair fluttered as the truck went past, only an inch away from her face. Just when she thought that she narrowly escaped the calamity, the truck took a sharp turn towards her.

Whut.

 ‘I don’t study much, but this clearly defies the laws of physics!’

Everything went black.


Meanwhile, at Madison Soft game company…

“Should we decrease the death flags for our next game release?” The writer scratched his head.

Eva shook her head as she put down her coffee.

“Death flags make the game more interesting.”

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