He was confused. He couldn't comprehend what was occurring. Steve had indeed threatened them, saying that he would kill them if they didn't break up with Catherine, that much was true, but he had no recollection of actually going through with it. As far as he could tell from listening to the news, they all appeared to have been victims of the incidents of deaths from weakness that had been rumoured of lately...
Steve had no method of killing people with frailty.
"Then maybe Catherine... No, that's stupid."
What method would she have? She didn't even have a reason to be killing them in the first place. Or wait - did she? What if she wanted to be with Steve and only him and the other men had been in her way, so she killed them...? He wanted to believe this. Considering her behaviour earlier, however, he knew that it was impossible.
Her words played back in his head. He makes me do it, so... Who was 'he'? Had someone instigated her to meet with the men and kill them? If that was the case, why hadn't she killed him? Had she simply not got around to it yet? Would he be dead before long?
Or maybe Steve wasn't one of her targets. Maybe they had simply met as a man and woman, with no ulterior motives...? He didn't know.
Steve rose sluggishly to his feet. For now, he returned to the clinic.
Sure enough, he couldn't get any work done that afternoon. The staff all seemed more uneasy than concerned. They were probably thinking that the director was mad; whether it was okay for them to be working there; if they should start searching for another job. They could do as they pleased.
Having finished work, Steve did an internet search to learn more about the deaths from weakness. He learned that in the past month, the number of confirmed deaths alone totalled twenty. The majority of the names were ones that had been in Catherine's phone. Of course, there were also many names he didn't recognise. On the contrary, there were a few men who were still alive, despite having met her.
How about Vincent?
But he had said something about it being a case of mistaken identity or something like that; that the Catherine he knew was white. He had been shaken when he'd heard this, but it didn't seem like he had anything more to do with it.
How about the man she'd met at the aquarium?
She had immediately vanished afterwards, so Steve had been forced to tail the man instead. Thanks to this, he had been able to determine where the man lived. He had pried open his mailbox and rifled through his mail, which had also told him the man's name. Despite having been in direct contact with Catherine, he was still alive - just like Steve.
So was he in the same position as Steve, then? Or was this the 'guy' who was ordering Catherine to kill a bunch of men?
He would meet him and find out.
"...So, did you meet up with him?" Vincent asked after Steve had finished telling his story.
The pair had gone ahead, creating a stairway so that they could climb higher up. Katherine - the one who was Vincent's girlfriend all along - followed with an anxious look on her face. She seemed to be too frantic in her scaling of the cubes before her to be able to catch any of their conversation. Steve surveyed the situation above, then grabbed onto one of the cubes.
"Yeah, I saw him."
"How did it go?"
"Disappointingly. He wasn't some kind of mastermind. He was just like us."
"Thought as much..."
"I learned a fair bit from him, though. Seemed like he was putting a lot of effort into running around investigating it."
"The dream, you mean?"
"The dream, and Catherine."
Vincent's face seemed to stiffen.
Steve took a detour around the block he had just pulled out, circling around to the side opposite Vincent. He could hear his voice from the other side of the cube.
"What did he tell you?"
"Many things. Like... the fact that she's aware of this world. She knowingly seduces guys, and anyone who succumbs to her charms gets tossed in here."
"Into... this dream...?"
"But that means there's someone making her do it, right? He told you that, right?" His voice sounded pleading.
He knew all too well how Vincent felt. He must not want to believe that Catherine was completely at fault. Steve was in the same spot.
"Yeah. He said something like that."
"What else, then?"
"He told me something about Catherine looking different to everyone, but that there's only one of her."
Steve looked up at the cube he had just moved around. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see something writhing around in the abyss. Another monster was approaching.
"Seems like she appears in the form that's most tantalising to the man. Sounds stupid, doesn't it?"
He recalled her girlish image with the bob and smattering of freckles. She truly was his ideal type. It wouldn't even be an exaggeration to call her a work of art...
Vincent dangled by his arms next to him, moving around the cubes piled above. His girlfriend, however, seemed to be having trouble imitating him.
"I can't do it, Vincent! Don't leave me behind!"
Vincent stood next to Steve, peering down into the abyss. Steve could hear a faint groaning. The monster was steadily gaining ground on them. Vincent sighed and crouched back down.
"I'm gonna have to go back around that way."
"And do what?"
"She can't climb up here. I'll make another path on the other side." He dangled his legs back over the edge, looking up at Steve. "You go on ahead. It'll be easier to move if we're split up, anyway."
Steve looked beyond the wall of cubes. Vincent's girlfriend was shouting something like, "Come back, quickly! What are you doing!? Where are you!?" Noticing where Steve was staring, Vincent's expression abruptly softened.
"It's not like we can betray or abandon you or anything, you know."
It was curious. In any other situation, Steve would despise Vincent. He had been seeing Catherine in the real world. And yet in this moment, they felt like comrades who had been fighting side by side for many years.
"When we get back to the real world," Steve said, "You're not having Catherine. You will see her again and send her my way."
"You're making me jealous. I wish I was as prepared to face it as you are."
The two exchanged smiles.
Vincent hung from the cube and went back in the direction from which he had come. Steve turned around, beginning to progress upwards. An instant later, he was struck by lightning.