An iron door closed behind him. The sound of it brought him back to consciousness. No - that wasn't the right expression. Vincent was inside a dream. If anything right now, it would be more accurate to say that he had completely lost consciousness.
A strong wind blew up from below. His surroundings were almost entirely enshrouded in darkness. His appearance was the same as always. All he wore was his boxers, with a pillow in one hand.
Apparently, his real-world characteristics were reflected in this world, too. Vincent was the type who couldn't sleep soundly with a different pillow. In other words, this pillow, appearing in the nightmares, might be a symbol of Vincent's dislike of changes in his environment.
For some reason, he was annoyed. Vincent tossed the pillow to the ground. He didn't intend to pick it back up.
"But anyway, what is this...? I can't see a damn thing."
He was reminded of the previous nights. There was an enormous, prison-like room, and there was a room like the inside of a clock tower, and an abnormally chilly room with its incessantly falling snow. This was the first time one had been pitch black, however.
"Hey, Mutton!" he called out into the empty space. "If this is your doing, I know you can hear me! At least answer!"
A huge laugh boomed throughout the whole area. It was almost as if the voice was coming from the very earth itself.
"Of course I can hear you. I can even see every inch of your pitiful form."
He certainly was pitiful, and completely unreliable.
"Welcome to my domain," came the echo of Mutton's voice once more.
The next moment, an intense, sublime light shone down from the ceiling. He reflexively shielded his eyes with his arm.
"For you, a mere human, to have made it this far - goodness. You are worthy of my admiration."
"Where the hell are you watching from!?"
Vincent slowly lowered his arm. Illuminated by the light from before, he could see his surroundings. As always, he was in a terrifyingly wide expanse. Vincent was standing on the lowest row of countless cubes, stacked irregularly but forming basic stairs. The layers of cubes floated, unsupported, in mid-air.
On all sides were walls that reminded him of the interior of a cathedral. Of course, their scale was far more humongous than that of a real cathedral. There may have been a hundred metres - perhaps even several hundred metres - or more between the layers of cubes and the walls. They were so large that he couldn't grasp any sense of proximity.
Beams extended here and there from the wall faces, with chandeliers containing candles suspended from them. Even the flames of the candles alone were probably several times larger than Vincent.
Stained glass windows were inserted into the walls. He couldn't see what was on the other side. The windows looked to be about the same size as a small sports stadium.
The area made no sense. It would have been an impossibility outside of the dream.
"It matters not. I own this world, after all. Whether I kill you or allow you to live is up to me," Mutton said in an enraptured tone. "However, where is the fun in killing you with a snap of my fingers after inviting you here? First of all, allow me to observe the spectacle of the skills that have allowed to you survive thus far." Suddenly, the tone of Mutton's voice changed. "Just try to reach me!" he almost barked.
"I'll climb up there. Just watch me!"
He couldn't sit around chatting idly forever. Along with the passage of time, these cubes would plummet into the abyss. He had seen it over and over during the previous nights - sheep being dragged along by the falling blocks, too.
Vincent clenched his fists. His nails bit into the palms of his hands. First of all, he jogged over to to the cubes and hopped on. Repeating practised movements, he climbed the blocks in order. Finally, he exited into a wide area. To his right, he could see another pile of blocks stacked up into stairs.
Without a moment's hesitation, he approached them. Suddenly, he heard a groaning from above. The voice didn't belong to Mutton. An upright sheep was wandering around aimlessly. Its fleece was dark and dirty, and its horns were twisted in odd angles. In one hand, it grasped a brutal-looking hammer. It seemed to have lost its sanity completely. Grumbling something to itself in a mutter, it came and went between the same places.
The sheep must be another of the men who had been plunged into the nightmare. For him to show up here meant that he must have overcome the same struggles as Vincent. He couldn't tell, however, whether this had caused him to lose his mind, or if it was because he was mad that he'd managed to make it this far.
Vincent chose a place as far away from the sheep as possible, taking a roundabout path. As he passed diagonally above the sheep, he smelled a stench that was exactly like that of livestock. Perhaps he exuded the same odour. Perhaps to others, he looked like the crazed sheep.
"Sorry. I'm going on ahead."
Shooting a sideways glance at the wandering sheep, he climbed the blocks higher. At the cliff he pulled a cube out from the wall, creating stairs. As he created them he momentarily descended to a lower position, then climbed back up, repeating this over and over.
"Not bad," came Mutton's voice from the void.
"Are you surprised!?"
He looked up. The room had no ceiling. The windows, beams and chandeliers continued infinitely upwards, the levels of cubes at their centre. It didn't seem like he could make it to the top, but what choice did he have?
"Very well. Then allow me to offer you a smidgeon of information."
The remark intrigued him. He could only imagine that he was trying to shake Vincent's concentration.
The instant he set foot on the adjacent block, he sensed an ominous presence approaching from directly below. Reflexively drawing back his foot, he returned to the previous cube. There was the shriek of metal, and sharp spines protruded from the block he had been on moments before. Their shape and length reminded him of tusks. Tens of them jutted upwards. He had almost been skewered.
At once, the spines crumbled like a sandcastle. Just like the cube itself, he couldn't tell what they were made of, but at the very least he was sure that they had the ability to kill. This reminded him anew of the powerful sense of malice that filled the area.
"First of all, the reasoning behind me giving you these dreams. It is a cull, to be sure."
"A cull?" he repeated.
"In short, yes. Perhaps I may put it like this: if the number of people like yourself who court the opposite sex for a long time indecisively increases, it hinders the improvement of the population model. Perhaps you could say that the number of people does not increase very much. To put it more bluntly, perhaps I should say that it affects my success. In any case, such individuals hinder the species from flourishing."
"So that's why you're doing this cull thing?"
"Don't fuckin' talk about people like we're weeds in a field." He was reminded of all of the men who had lost their lives thus far. "Just what am I hindering?" he asked Mutton.
"You have squandered the time of upright-thinking ladies. That is a great obstacle to the future of humanity."
"Making babies isn't gonna fix that, is it?"
Proceeding on, he glimpsed other sheep several times. Were they targets of the cull too, then? He wanted to help them all, or at least encourage them, but he didn't have the time. They must be in the same position.
"On the subject of my personage," Mutton continued sonorously. "You might say that I am on the side of virtue. I have been known to humans by many names since time immemorial."
"What the hell about you is virtuous? You're obviously the bad guy!"
He came to a standstill once more, surveying his surroundings. As he had suspected, above him was a precipice. There were no footholds. There was no sense in going back down, either. He would simply be going back the way he'd come.
To his left was a complete cliff. If he stepped onto it, he would fall headlong. There was a cliff to his right, too, but a new layer of cubes was only a block's width away. If he could get there, it looked like he could begin climbing his way up once more.
He would have leapt over if he could, but wasn't sure of the distance. If he messed up now, he might fall. He had better avoid reckless attempts.
Vincent turned back in the direction of the stairs, grabbing onto one of the blocks that formed the precipice and pulling it towards him. Losing his footing once more and being enveloped in a sensation of floating, he hung precipitously from the previous cube.
"Oh, yes. About her - the woman who guided you to this world..."
"Right. Catherine... She's real, right? She exists. I didn't imagine her."
"That she does. She is a being known as a succubus, seducing men with her flirtations and making my job a facile one."
So she was like a demon. A chuckle resounded from across the entire world.
"However, you shan't meet again. Normally, you would only have met her once. It appears as though she has taken a liking to you, though... But that is of no import. She has decided not to make your acquaintance again, after all."
Of course she had. She had been dumped one-sidedly by a man.
"It's my fault. I know..."
He gritted his teeth and shifted his body around to the left side. He clambered up on top of a cube with fissures running through it. The cracks grew larger. His skin was trapped in between, and he was wounded further by their sharp edges.
He pulled himself up completely and reached out for the cube he had just pulled out, pushing it with all his might to the right. The space really had been the width of a cube. At first it moved slowly, but gradually gathered momentum and moved, the cube positioned directly over the gap.
If the usual laws of physics had been in effect the block would have fallen, but it remained still and maintained its position. Braving his fear of falling, Vincent climbed onto the cube he had just moved. Moving around to the opposite side, he held onto the edge and cautiously descended, crossing over his hastily-constructed bridge.
Suddenly, the soles of his feet began to burn.
For the time being, he climbed down. He had ended up right next to the cube he had been on only moments before. The cube was flickering red. He knew exactly what came next.
He moved further to the right, frantically climbing onto another cube, moving over the top and dangling from the other side. With a thunderous roar the entire row of blocks shook violently, a heat wave passing above his fingertips at the same time. The flickering cube had exploded. The surrounded blocks had been caught up in the explosion and destroyed, the impact and heat disseminating. Even if he had been nearby he wouldn't have been hurt, but Vincent couldn't stand the sound and the shaking. It was bad for his heart.
It became harder to withstand the pain in his fingertips. Putting his elbows on top of the cube, he pulled up his upper body. Returning to his previous location, he continued to climb.
In one place, blocks were pushed into the void and plummeted in succession. Several cubes fell from above, as if trying to fill in the area. One by one they crashed into each other, letting off crashes and roars, but each one reconnecting at the end.
"Goodness me," Mutton said in a singsong voice. He seemed to be happy, or perhaps enjoying himself. "It seem as though a friend has appeared. I shall leave the two of you together for a while."
"What are you talking about...?"
Vincent proceeded in silence. Pulling a chain of infinite length, he climbed the stair-shaped cubes and passed over the landing. His surroundings changed sharply. This time, he exited into a place that seemed to overlook the cathedral from earlier.
Before him he could see an impressive building, with many spires towering over him. Each tower alone was roughly the size of a district of a city. The building itself must have been about the same scale as the city in which Vincent lived.
As he caught his breath, he could hear an eerie voice from above.
"I'm gonna kill you."
He looked up. A sheep, its body dyed a deep red, stood upright on a cube several levels above him, its upper body swaying steadily. In its right hand, it gripped an axe stained dark red.