Chapter 2 – event
In this city called ‘Tokyo’, it’s impossible to know how many ruins exist unless you’re a maniac. Even now, the castle of dreams continues to become a ruin. Those who gather at abandoned sites in the dark of the night are the drifters who wander this world without seeing dreams.
The number of youngsters all dressed in blue who gathered at the vast floor of an abandoned building exceeded a hundred. The metal drums that stood on the ground here and there illuminated the darkness of the night with their rising flames. The facial expressions of these youngsters, illuminated by the rising flames, looked somewhat excited. Footsteps could be heard from the stage at the far end of the floor. At that moment, the rowdy youngsters instantly silenced themselves and directed their eyes toward the source of that noise. Standing between two metal drums on the stage was a young man in a blue suit. He wore blue coloured contact lenses, and his hair was dyed the colour blue as well. His well-shaped face had a white complexion. He seemed to be in his early twenties.
The youngsters called the man.
“You have done well to gather, [Blue Knight of the Round Table].”
After a momentary pause, Arthur raised the edge of his mouth.
“The preparations for the [Event] are complete.”
As he said that, cries of delight were raised from the youngsters. There were even voices of madness.
“—A single word of warning before we proceed. The aforementioned [Vampires] have begun to move. Absolutely do not engage in battle with them. —That is all. Now, let’s get excited for our biggest event, shall we?”
The floor became a swirling vortex of ecstasy as the youngsters dressed in blue partied all the way until dawn broke across the horizon.
There are users who may rate a game as a ‘shitty game’, yet also other users who may call it a ‘good title’, are there not? Is it a good production if the sales are good? Is it a good production if it has an innovative system? Is it a good production if it’s the sequel to a major title? There are a countless number of conditions for something to be considered a ‘good title’. —One of those is whether or not a user calls it a ‘shitty game’. There are just as many people who may consider something to be a ‘shitty game’ or a ‘good title’ — it’s easy when you think about it that way. Indeed, it does seem to be true. And so both the players and the producers are satisfied, and they crave the next game. However, regardless of how much something is a ‘good title’, the drawback is that it can become a ‘shitty game’ in an instant. —It’s called ‘boredom’. Human beings repeatedly experience ‘boredom’ and then try to consume the next thing in order to satisfy their greed. Even the games that are known as ‘good titles’ cannot win against ‘boredom’. Then, is a game that can never cause ‘boredom’ perhaps the greatest of the ‘good titles’?
“Team [Cú Chulainn] and Team [Endless Heart] have entered the field!”
In response to that announcement, the three-man team [Cú Chulainn] which stepped forward with momentum soaked in all of the cheers that they received. The leader, a Fighter, used his professional wrestling skills to splendidly overwhelm his opponents with a superb combination of power and technique. At the same time, a young lady dressed in black covered him from behind as a Hunter. Her precise sniping was able to reliably deal damage to the opponent. And, the young male Knight who defended the vanguard of the team advanced onto the field. Although his movements were still somewhat awkward, he had definitely become a reliable force within the team.
—It was Mitsuya. A month and a half after his debut match, his level was already over twenty after having made a steady climb in terms of progress. The Fighter who used professional wrestling skills was Dojima. The girl who was a Hunter was Momiji. The three of them didn’t have overlapping classes, they had great compatibility, and they also complemented the shortcomings of each other — with all of that, they had steadily been gaining momentum. Once Mitsuya reached level twenty, they began to enter party-battles. The battles in the underground carpark were organised so that individual fights and party-battles were held on alternate days. Unlike individual fights, party-battles were twice as big — this meant that the barrier was expanded in order to create a larger battlefield.
There wasn’t really a deeper meaning to the team name of Mitsuya and the others. Dojima simply decided on a name that wouldn’t have sounded strange in a game. The members of the opposing team, [Endless Heart], lined up in front of Mitsuya’s group. It was the party of Beat whom they had met before. Beat was accompanied by a male and a female player whom Mitsuya had not seen before. One of them was a girl around Mitsuya’s age with braided hair who wore a blouse and hotpants while the other one was a boy in a hoodie who looked like he was still in his fifth or sixth grade of elementary school. Neither of them had been with Beat when Mitsuya first met him.
“What’s this? Gotten back into your old habit, have you?”
Dojima asked with a mischievous expression.
“Haha, I guess it’s something like that.”
Beat returned a wry smile as he scratched his cheek. It seemed as though both the girl and the boy had been tempted by Beat’s invitation much like Mitsuya was, and they ended up joining his party. In other words, did Beat break up with that woman who was there when they first met?
“Well, I think it’s time to get started!”
When the man acting as the announcer declared so, Dojima and Beat shook hands with each other as the representative team leaders. Afterwards, both sides moved back, and everyone took their mobile phones out.
Parties can be formed with a maximum of four people and the same party members share experience points and abilities, though there are many players who ignore this condition. But even so, experience points can only be shared when in a party of up to four people. Moreover, once you leave a party, it’s impossible to team up with the same members again for a month.
As the announcer shouted for them to begin, both parties quickly began to enter commands into their mobile phones. Mitsuya was already capable of entering commands into his phone without looking at it. The game known as [Innovate] had the same kind of automatic character conversion functions that were used in normal mobile phones for typing. To some extent during battle, just hitting one character on the keypad could trigger the in-game conversion function to derive the desired final word. In Mitsuya’s case, when entering in [use my belt as a weapon], simply hitting the key for [b] would automatically lead to the word [belt]. Thanks to this functionality, input time could be shortened, and abilities could be utilised in battle much quicker. This also meant that it was a lot easier to prevent typing errors as well as input conversion errors. If a typing or conversion error occurred, an error sound would be emitted from the player’s mobile phone.
When the girl belonging to the opposing party moved behind her team members and held both of her hands up in the air, all members of the opposing team began to glow. It was magic that raised their defence — the girl was a Mage. Support magic was somewhat troublesome to deal with as its effects were sustained even when the caster shifted to use their next spell. There was no Mage in Mitsuya’s party, meaning that no one could provide support magic. The Mage in the opposing party was the most troublesome obstacle for them. Even though Mitsuya wanted to defeat the Mage first, it was difficult for his attacks to reach her since she stood behind her party members. Just as Mitsuya felt like he had hit an impasse, he heard the sound of the wind tearing apart beside him, and that girl let out a mild shriek shortly afterwards. She was hit by an attack that belonged to — Momiji. As usual, she was dressed in black and she held in her hands an improved version of a traditional Japanese bow. At the tip of each arrow was a rounded arrowhead made of rubber, and that was what had hit the girl’s shoulder, causing the Mage girl to clutch that side of her shoulder in pain.
The abilities of a Hunter — they are activated when an object is released from their hand. The released objects carry power within them and are capable of causing damage to opponents. This is the exact opposite of the Knight class which only activates their ability while an object is in their hand. Hunters are also characterised by the extreme elevation in their visual prowess during battle. This enhancement of visual acuity is highly effective in a wide range of battle scenarios.
Momiji had practised archery since childhood, and she was one of the most skilled even among the high schools in the metropolitan area. Because they didn’t have a Mage in their team, she acted as the team’s rear support with her bow from behind. Although the arrowheads were made of rubber, they were actually hardened, so they were capable of more damage than one might expect.
As Mitsuya shifted his gaze, he found Dojima and Beat engaged in battle. The Fighter Dojima used light and nimble movements to get close to the Beat. However, Beat was equipped with rolled-up posters that he held in between each of his fingers on both hands. Although it looked like a somewhat doubtful idea from an onlooker’s point of view, the eight posters which were like claws had been infused with the power of the game, turning them into a formidable asset suitable for both offense and defence.
The ability of a Fighter is simply to increase the offensive and defensive power of one’s own body. Even if a Fighter picks objects up, they don’t have the same hardening abilities that Knights do, and they don’t have the power to strengthen the objects that they let go of like Hunters either. Furthermore, Fighters are unable to handle magical power like Mages can. Their only ability is to strengthen themselves.
When Beat crossed his arms so that the posters in both of his hands intersected, they acted like a shield. —But, a single punch from Dojima’s fist was harder and more powerful than the posters, generating a fist-shaped dent in the posters.
“…So you exceed even the hardness of my posters, huh?”
It seemed as though Beat had once again recognised the abnormal hardness and strength of Dojima’s fists. Mitsuya had heard that Beat’s level was around fifty five. Since Beat had above average ability as a player and was somewhat unique in the way that he used posters, his name was thrown around a fair bit in the underground carpark. Meanwhile, Dojima’s level was fifty three. Even though Beat had a higher level, how did his posters get dented by an attack of that extent?
Momiji fired an arrow at Beat’s leg in order to upset his balance, and Dojima did not miss the opportunity when Beat momentarily staggered. Following a single deep step, Dojima thrust his fist up diagonally at Beat from below. Beat also reacted by attempting to use his posters as a shield — and the sound of a sharp impact echoed out. Beat was struck by a single blow as the posters slammed against his face, and he instantly dropped to his knees as he collapsed on the spot. He tried to get back up again, but it seemed clear that his eyes had lost focus. He had been hit right in the jaw after all. Dojima suddenly put his foot on top of Beat’s knee, and then applied force to his leg while kicking upwards to strike the side of Beat’s head with his right knee at full throttle—. [Shining Wizard] — it was one of his professional wrestling moves. It was a deadly knee blow with far more destructive force than was necessary for an opponent already on the verge of defeat. Naturally, Beat was knocked unconscious with that move.
Is a Fighter who can only increase the strength of their own body weak? The answer is no. Though, even if an amateur in combat becomes a Fighter, it’s meaningless unless they can master how to make use of their strengthened body. So, what if a person skilled in the martial arts becomes a Fighter? The difference is clear. For those who have honed their fighting skills in karate, boxing, taekwondo and so on, that strengthened body becomes a deadly weapon. Even professional wrestling skills can be employed so long as they fit the situation. In conclusion, the Fighter class is simply strong.
While Dojima landed the deciding blow for the match, Momiji continued her long-distance fight with the other girl, and Mitsuya engaged in a defensive battle against the Hunter boy who held a toy water gun with both hands. Thanks to Momiji’s early assault, the girl was unable to support her teammates and had to expend all of her effort on protecting herself from the arrows with magic. Meanwhile, Momiji was able to properly support her teammates — after pulling arrow after arrow from the quiver at her waist, she unleashed them at high speed. Her technique was godly. Maintaining an emotionless expression, Momiji continued to fire off arrows like a precise machine. Even though Mitsuya had been fired at by the water gun, it was all thanks to Momiji’s support that he could continue to fight. It was only a matter of time before the skirmish between Momiji and the Mage would be settled. After all, Momiji’s attacks had already begun to hit the girl’s body, and it was likely that some mental factor from losing their leader, Beat, had weakened her defence.
The problem however, lay with Mitsuya. The bursts of water that gushed out from the water gun were surprisingly fast, and upon getting hit, Mitsuya took damage and also got wet, making his body both heavier and slower to react to each successive shot. Mitsuya knew for a fact that his battery was being consumed. If he lost, then he wouldn’t gain any experience. Even though experience points were shared within a party, those who had been rendered unable to fight would not receive anything. His teammates were winning, thus he couldn’t afford to be defeated himself. Moreover, it seemed like his opponent was still in elementary school! Pain coursed through Mitsuya’s body with each and every impact. Even though it was only water, it had been imbued with the power of a Hunter, so a considerable amount of damage could be dealt through repeated hits. While aware of his increasingly tormented expression, Mitsuya continued to edge closer to his opponent, step by step. However, it seemed as though Mitsuya’s battery would run out before his opponent could be caught within the range of his belt-sword. Suddenly, something entered Mitsuya’s field of vision — it was Dojima! The boy was startled upon noticing that as well, and he instantly pointed the muzzle of his water gun at Dojima instead. In that moment, Mitsuya endured the pain and charged forth at once. Thanks to Dojima defending against the bursts of water with his arms, Mitsuya was able to get within attacking distance of his opponent. When he swung his belt, his body wobbled due to the pain that ran through it.
His opponent pointed the muzzle back at him, and the moment the trigger was pulled—
The boy squealed because an arrow had struck his arm. —It was Momiji. Her battle against the Mage was already over. The very instant that the boy lowered the muzzle, Mitsuya planted his belt firmly into his opponent’s shoulder, and the boy dropped his water gun as an agonised expression rippled across his face. Mitsuya pointed his belt straight at the boy’s head, Momiji aimed at the boy with an arrow from the rear, and Dojima stood next to the boy whilst flexing the muscles in his arms.
“So, what are you going to do?”
In response to Dojima’s question, the boy quietly took his mobile phone out and switched the power off.
After the battle, Mitsuya went to the bathroom in the carpark to wash his face. Reflected in the mirror, his face had become slightly swollen.
(Even though it’s water, you can still cause this much damage depending on how it’s used…)
Once again, Mitsuya was surprised by the abilities that each class possessed. Even plain water that was familiar and indispensable to daily life could be made into a powerful weapon in the game. Out on the streets, some battles were actually fought with sharp knives and various other dangerous weapons. Just imagining that instilled fear in Mitsuya. As Mitsuya repeatedly fought in battles, he saw various different attack methods. Some people used towels as weapons, while others hardened CDs and threw them. Everyone played with the attack methods that best suited them.
Mitsuya suddenly glanced at his mobile phone. Aside from its actual use in real life, how comfortable someone was with using it as a terminal during battle was a matter of life and death. Buttons that were hard to press could result in potentially fatal typing or conversion errors. Depending on the model of the phone, there were differing degrees of ease in pressing buttons and viewing the screen, and there were also flip or slide types to consider as well. However, players who had poor results and those who didn’t mesh well with their mobile phones seemed to be given a remedial measure by [Innovate]. It was said that a mobile phone among the existing models that were compatible with the player would suddenly be selected and sent to them. Was it supposed to be some kind of ‘service’ from a game where the concept of ‘death’ existed?
There were also rumours that the game collected data about how users handled their phones. Although there were uncertainties about whether this was related to the nature of the game, it seemed that it was impossible for players to use models which were yellow in colour. Players who had a yellow model would be sent the same model in a different colour. Also, whenever a player changed the model of their mobile phone, they seemed to incur some kind of penalty. Although Mitsuya was rather shocked upon learning of this, he felt relieved when Dojima explained to him that this was permitted to some extent for level one players who had not fought in a battle yet. It seemed like players who had raised their levels weren’t supposed to change mobile phone models of their own accord — the penalty for doing so was also classified as severe. Fortunately for Mitsuya though, he had good compatibility with his mobile phone, so there was no need for him to change the model and run the risk of incurring a penalty.
Even though they were all at the mercy of these unreasonable rules, everyone still played. By stumbling around and finding a play-style that suited them, the players in this game learned to survive. Thus, the attacks of each player were unique with their own individuality, yet also powerful. Mitsuya was also trying to find his own unique way of using his ability, but everything still felt the same as it did before. It happened just as Mitsuya wet his handkerchief and applied it to his bruise while stepping out of the bathroom.
The Mage girl who had been one of those on the team he fought against earlier stood at the entrance to the bathroom. Just as Mitsuya lowered his head and tried to hurry along, she called out to him.
“U-Umm…. Are your wounds okay?”
“Are you free right now?”
The girl asked with a hint of shyness in her expression.
“So, that boy from earlier is your little brother?”
Mitsuya and the girl sat down next to a vending machine in the carpark as they began to converse with each other. The name of the girl who wore a blouse and hotpants was [Mii]. Of course, that was only the handle name that she used in the game. She had long hair that was tied into three braids, and she was about one head-length shorter than Mitsuya. She turned her face toward Mitsuya with a kind-looking smile. Mitsuya thought that she was a pretty cute girl. Her younger brother’s name was [Yu], and she mentioned that he seemed to have gone off somewhere with Beat. After exchanging a light self-introduction, Mitsuya realised that she was the same age as him.
“—So, what did you want to talk with me about?”
Since it didn’t seem like she would get to the point that easily, Mitsuya decided to cut in and hasten the process. Mii pressed her hands against her cheeks and laughed awkwardly as if she was cornered.
“How do I say this…umm…. I’ve been watching you for a long time.”
Mitsuya’s chest suddenly jolted. Surely, that couldn’t have been a sudden confession—
“Ah, I don’t mean it in a strange way.”
His hands trembled.
“Ah…I-I get it. Of course…”
The pitch of Mitsuya’s voice was a tad higher than usual.
“So the thing is…I’m curious. Dark-kun…even when you win battles, you’re always gazing somewhere far away, aren’t you?”
Certainly, even though he won battles, he didn’t feel completely happy about it. He always felt empty, as if some of the emotions born in his heart had been denied.
“—That’s right. Maybe it’s because I never wanted to play this game, and I feel like I want to get out of it as soon as I can.”
Mitsuya bitterly said.
“…I see. I don’t like it either. Death is a possibility after all.”
“Are you scared, Mii? Of fighting, I mean.”
“I am scared, of course. It’s only natural given that it’s possible to die, but it’s not like that here.”
After all, the players who gathered here were fighting against their fears toward the aim of clearing the game. That idea was once again renewed in Mitsuya’s mind.
“But, I have to fight…”
When Mitsuya asked, Mii smiled as she glanced over at the battlefield.
“—Parents. We don’t have them…. So in order for us to live on our own, we need money.”
“What about relatives? Do you have any?”
Mii’s expression became somewhat lonely as she listened to Mitsuya’s question.
“We get passed around between our relatives a lot. It’s pretty common…”
Mitsuya was unable to respond. Mitsuya who was born and raised in an ordinary household had no direct experience with such things, and it was something that he had seen only on television.
“You see, the reward for clearing the game is said to be vast sum of money, so that’s pretty awesome, don’t you think? So when I clear this with my little brother, I’m going to buy a house for the two of us. With that, we can probably live well. Do you think that’s strange?”
Mitsuya shook his head.
—There seems to be some kind of commonality among the people who received the email invitation.
That was what Dojima had once said. If that was true, perhaps these siblings had been chosen by the game, and that was why they received the email.
“Dark-kun, do you have anything that you desire?”
For a moment, everything in his mind went blank. It was the most difficult question for him to answer. It was a question to which he did not have an answer prepared. In any case, he didn’t have even the slightest speck of desire for a clear reward or anything like that.
As Mitsuya looked toward the source of the approaching voice, Mii’s younger brother, Yu, approached them.
“Beat-san is calling for you.”
Beat stood a short distance away from them, and when their eyes met, Beat waved. Mitsuya also bowed his head slightly.
“Ah, okay. Sorry, let’s continue next time—”
After Mii clapped her hands together and apologised to Mitsuya, she walked off with her little brother to where Beat was. Left alone, Mitsuya simply stared up at the ceiling. He actually felt relieved that he was freed from the obligation of answering. What would he have said at that time? He didn’t know. Why was he here? Why was he so immersed? Just a few days ago, he had wanted to escape from the game as soon as possible…. However, there was one thing that he understood, and it was a stupid thing. It was something unpleasant that he wanted to deny — he was enjoying the fights in this game. Even though he won, he suppressed his feelings and denied them, but he actually felt joyful on the inside. He knew all of that, and he knew for a fact that he was on the cusp of addiction—.
Mitsuya returned to his comrades who had been waiting for him next to one of the pillars in the carpark. Dojima was absent, while Momiji who was draped entirely in black clothing sat down on the floor to read a book.
“Huh? Where’s Dojima-san?”
“He went over to an acquaintance’s party.”
Momiji answered without removing her eyes from the book.
After searching around visually for Dojima’s figure from their location but to no avail, Mitsuya sat down a slight distance away from Momiji.
The pain of his injuries from the water gun earlier still rippled through his body, and there were a number of light bruises on him. He removed cold patches from the medicine box that he had brought along and tried to apply them to the affected areas, but he simply couldn’t muster the strength in his fingers to do so, causing him to drop the cold patches onto the ground numerous times. Apparently, these weren’t ordinary cold patches. It was one of the items that had been distributed to players who battled in this underground carpark. It seemed to be a special cold patch that had been produced by a Mage which had the effect of improved healing for a few days after application. Mitsuya had received good treatment here so far, and its effects had been tremendous. After sticking it on to the affected areas, the damage would disappear with incredible speed, usually within ten minutes or so. Momiji suddenly closed her book up and picked up the fallen cold patch.
“…Take it off.”
Upon suddenly hearing such a phrase, Mitsuya couldn’t help but doubt his ears.
“I can’t stick it on you otherwise.”
He had never taken his clothes off in front of a girl before, so he naturally felt quite embarrassed and hesitant about it.
“It’s not like I haven’t seen a man naked before, so you don’t really have to worry about it.”
He was mortified. He had never imagined that he would hear a confession like that from someone who was younger than himself. Mitsuya was made even more aware of the fact that it wasn’t possible to judge someone by their appearances. But—
“Stop imagining weird things. You just get used to treatment like this.”
Momiji defensively said with a slight blush.
Mitsuya took his jacket off and showed her the affected area which had turned red. Momiji gently touched it.
Mitsuya’s body reacted to it with a twitch.
Withdrawing her hand, Momiji picked up one of the cold patches. Mitsuya’s heart was throbbing because Momiji’s fingers were unexpectedly cool and her touch against his skin also felt pleasant. If she found out about his indecent thoughts, she would probably never treat him again. Mitsuya desperately tried to stop his heart from pounding against his chest. While Mitsuya focused on the cold patch, a thought suddenly crossed his mind.
“The [-san] is not necessary. You’re the one who is more senior than me.”
“Then, Momiji…chan…why are you playing this game?”
After his earlier conversation with Mii, he had become curious about it. Since Momiji was in the same party as him, he felt somewhat guilty that he didn’t know her reasons. For once, Momiji made direct eye contact with Mitsuya.
“You mean my purpose?”
“…I see. We are in the same party, so I guess it’s only natural that you would ask.”
“Can you tell me?”
After Momiji went silent for a while, she opened her mouth.
“—I want to know.”
“You want to know?”
“My older brother…I want to know what my brother who died was looking for in this game…that’s what I want to know. I got an email from Shintaro-kun explaining it, and that’s the conclusion I came to.”
“Brother? Your older brother played this game?”
“Shintaro-kun didn’t tell you?”
Only when Momiji said that did he remember. Dojima had previously mentioned that his friend died in the game.
“So you’re his younger sister?”
He didn’t know. But now, he finally understood the nature of the relationship between Dojma and Momiji. It had been on his mind for a long time. Why did the two of them form a party? It didn’t seem like they were looking to recruit more members, and they also seemed to have a strange relationship of mutual trust. He had thought that there was something else between the two of them.
“I still don’t know yet though…. I plan to find out before I clear the game. So, what about you?”
“Is it bad for me to be like this? After all, when it comes to a goal, a purpose or a dream, is it strange that I don’t have one?”
Mitsuya said with a wry smile. Surely, those who had found a goal or purpose looked down on him. Up until now, he hadn’t cared about such things. He simply thought that he was a human being who didn’t have any dreams. However, ever since he started participating in this game, it had been weighing on his mind since he had been told that there was meaning in the game’s guidance. Why did he start to participate? Why did he register instead of ignoring the email?
“I think that’s perfectly fine, don’t you?”
It was an answer that exceeded his expectations.
“Even if you can’t find a purpose in this game now, I think it’s inevitable even if you don’t try because things like goals are often born out of nowhere. It doesn’t matter how big or small it may be.”
“You think so?”
“Everyone here suddenly received an email and got caught up in the game. All players eventually think of something like a goal while they play the game. That’s why I think that you’ll also find something that you want someday, Kanzaki-san.”
Momiji’s words gave him a bit of comfort as an answer. It was something that Mitsuya could resonate with.
Although her voice was so soft that it was barely audible, Mitsuya smiled.
“There seem to have been a series of party-hunting incidents lately.”
That was something which a solo-type player who was an acquaintance of her had mentioned the day before. Kirino had been attacked earlier by those guys who were all dressed in blue while she was on her way home from school near the construction site of a building. As usual, it wasn’t a thoughtless or indiscriminate attack, it had been a party that specifically targeted fights against high-level players. It was a party of four youngsters who were all dressed in blue. Two of them were low-level players who acted as the vanguard, a Knight and a Fighter. There was a mid-level Hunter. And there was also a high-level Mage who assisted them with support magic. The high-level player in the rear of the party had balanced the team composition by making up for the low-level players. Support magic from a high-level Mage was extremely effective and powerful. This helped to enhance the abilities of the Fighter and Knight who were of a low level. That was the reason why a party of four players were able to fight against and even defeat high-level players, and Kirino had realised this after about two of three exchanges of blows during that battle. A section of Kirino’s blazer had been torn as a result.
“Witch-san, you’ve really done quite the number on me this time. Look.”
The youngster dressed like a teamer revealed a vulgar smile as he showed her the burn on his cheek.
“Oh my, were you playing with fire somewhere?”
Kirino joked back with a smile of ridicule. The young man’s smile soon morphed into rage as he grasped his wooden sword. Of course, that wound had been given to him just moments ago by Kirino.
“You piece of shit…I’m gonna kill you!”
“I’m looking forward to what comes next. After you’re out cold, that is.”
From behind him, the youngster’s comrades followed with light-hearted banter.
“Is that so…? I’m glad. It does seem a little less crowded around here.”
Kirino said with relief. The construction site seemed as though it was closed, and there was no one else present.
“Ooh, what’s this? You actually sound pretty eager.”
The youngsters jived and laughed along with each other.
“No, it just means that I don’t have to hold back here against you—”
Kirino’s fingers swiftly shot into action while she maintained a sneer on her face. The very instant that the youngsters shivered — every part of their bodies other than their faces had already become encased in ice, turning them into human icicles.
“…I can simply freeze you all into ice.”
Kirino then received an email which said [You Win!].
It was a blow that had instantly extinguished the batteries of all of the youngsters. Kirino scoffed as she gave the youngsters once final glance. —However, the youngsters had already passed out, and they remained only as pillars of ice. Breathing out a sigh, Kirino walked away from the construction site.
(…If ‘he’ is their leader, then there’ll probably be a limit as to how much I can do as a solo player…)
Just as Kirino gave the matter some serious thought—.
Glancing toward the direction of the voice that she heard, she found a boy in uniform standing there. He was holding his mobile phone.
The instant that thought crossed her mind, she recalled the boy’s face—.
Momiji was the first one to arrive in front of the train station that the party had agreed to meet at. Momiji had gone home from school to get changed, and she currently donned her usual black outfit. Although that made her give off a somewhat unapproachable aura, there were occasionally still a few youngsters who called out to her. It was only after the second or third time that someone spoke to her that she came to realise that she was wearing an aura that differed from her normal self. Momiji definitely wasn’t the type of girl who gave off a flirty impression. However, she wasn’t a nerd or a rich-girl type either. She was simply an ordinary girl, one no different from those around her. Then—.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Dojima appeared with a dry smile plastered over his face. He was the friend of her brother Yuji — Dojima Shintaro. Because Yuji and Dojima had known each other for a long time, Momiji had also known Dojima for quite some time as well. There was a mutual friendship between them. —But, the feelings between them weren’t romantic, it was more like the warmth between two relatives. Momiji felt as though Dojima was like a second older brother to her, and perhaps because Dojima treated her like a brother as well, they had an amicable relationship with each other — Dojima wasn’t overprotective of her, and simply treated her appropriately for her age. That was one of the factors that had allowed him to gain Momiji’s trust.
As the two of them met up, they waited only for their companion Kanzaki Mitsuya in order to complete their group. On this particular day, Mitsuya was late. Students returning home from school piled into the train station one after the other.
“He sure is slow…”
Dojima complained as he glanced at the time on his phone.
Dojima answered in response to Momiji’s call.
“What about another person?”
Momiji’s question was along the lines of ‘what are you going to do about our fourth team member?’. Due to the dangerous player-hunting incidents recently, most of the players around them had temporarily joined up into parties consisting of the maximum size of four people in order to bolster their defences. Dojima’s group was no exception to that, and they also sought another member. However, their acquaintances already had parties of their own, and those that were left over came in groups of two or three. Dojima shifted his gaze away from the clock on his phone to the wave of people entering the station as he replied
“What am I going to do, huh…. To be honest, I don’t have high hopes.”
“Did things like this happen when you and my brother were in a party together?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Things like this happened pretty frequently. There are some distasteful guys who got roped into this game, and they start [Events] and act as though they’re chosen heroes or something.”
“They frequently appear in RPG-style games — guys who try to advance the story.”
Dojima sighed as he continued
“Those guys come out and create a situation where you can’t tell what part of it is reality and what’s part of the game. Ironically, these incidents within the game can cause reality to be affected by the game, and they can also influence the game itself. I don’t really get it myself.”
“…I wonder which event my brother died in.”
As Momiji murmured that, she stared toward the ground. After taking a brief glance at Momiji, Dojima cast his eyes back toward the wave of people again.
“How ironic. Even though it’s a game, the magic to revive people in the game doesn’t exist.”
It was the seventh party-battle in the underground carpark for Mitsuya. The gallery surrounding the battlefield began to stir. Mitsuya’s party stood on the field, and so did the opposing party. —But, the opposing party was clearly distraught, and even the staff seemed somewhat hesitant on when to begin the match.
“—Are we not going to begin?”
One of the members in Mitsuya’s party dauntlessly asked the staff — no, everyone who was present. With those words, the staff member quickly raised their arm.
The staff member swiftly escaped out of the field’s boundaries. A howling wind suddenly raged through the carpark—
Along with those screams from their opponents, all members of the opposing team were immediately slammed against the invisible wall of the barrier that surrounded the field. Shortly afterwards, Mitsuya and his team each received an email informing them of their victory. Everyone watching from the gallery had become deathly silent.
A delicate whisper resounded from the gallery, from a voice so quiet that its source could not be determined. There was a player known as the [Witch] in this game, and her handle name was Able. She was a solo player who had never joined a party, and as one of the strongest in the game, she had inspired awe in so many other players that they claimed that she was in a completely different realm. Yet, Kirino Shizuka had most certainly joined their party as [Able].
It was something of a chance encounter. Yesterday, Mitsuya had heard from Dojima that ‘a clique of extremists is hunting players down’, and that it was probably better if they had a party with four members. Increasingly, the players who came to the underground carpark had also begun to raise the number of friendly players in their teams to four members. Even though Mitsuya’s group tried to imitate this, all of Dojima’s acquaintances consisted of pairs at the least, and so the chance of forming a group of four was low because people disliked being separated from their friends. In the midst of this, Mitsuya happened to chance upon an encounter with Kirino. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Mitsuya had casually invited Kirino.
“Will you join our party…?”
Although she looked momentarily troubled, Kirino nodded. He had no idea at the time that Kirino was apparently a celebrity in [Innovate]. In fact, he was rather surprised upon learning that she was strong enough to be considered one of the candidates for clearing the game. She was level ninety three, which meant that she truly was on the verge of clearing the game. He was rendered speechless by the skill that she demonstrated against a powerful party whose name was actually quite well-known in this underground carpark. Although he had anticipated a tough battle today — she had uneventfully defeated all of them (whilst holding back a fair bit) with only a single blow. The opposing party had no way of anticipating that Able would participate in today’s battle. She was on a completely different level. Staring curiously at Mitsuya’s party as they stood around one of the pillars of the underground carpark, various players continued to express remarks at Kirino such as ‘wow’, ‘she’s real’, ‘she looks cute’ and so on without end. The [Witch Able] who was renowned for not joining a party coupled with the rarity of her appearing in public had turned her into something of an idol. However, the person in question didn’t seem to care at all about how all of the other players reacted. Looking at Momiji continue to read her book in silence without even taking a glance up, Mitsuya thought ‘she’s not the least bit surprised’ to himself.
(But, how did you manage to bring that [Able] along, Mitsuya-kun…)
Dojima said in a hushed whisper.
(No, I had absolutely no idea that she was such a famous person…)
(Maybe that’s why she came along.)
Dojima mulled as he crossed his arms.
“—Is it okay?”
Kirino cast her eyes over everyone in the party as she attempted to broach the conversation.
“Ah, sorry. That topic from earlier, right?”
Kirino nodded in response to Dojima’s answer. Momiji also closed her book and turned toward Kirino.
“Yes. Although I have decided to join forces like this, it is only for a limited time. Once this series of player-hunting incidents is resolved, I will leave.”
“I don’t mind that. —But, whether or not this incident will simply go away is another matter—”
“I have a few clues about the mastermind behind this incident.”
Kirino interjected as she cut Dojima off. Everyone in the party was surprised by Kirino’s unexpected confession.
“With organisations like this, they’ll usually collapse as soon as the leader is defeated. So, if the mastermind behind this incident is defeated, then we can end this before a major incident occurs, you know?”
“Well sure, you might be right about that…. But, I would think that the mastermind behind all of this is considerably strong, right?”
“Yes, on top of having a short temper, that person is extremely talented in combat. I would not be able to win against them on my own. That’s why I want you guys to grow in a short span of time.”
Following Kirino’s declaration, Momiji raised her hand to ask a question
“What about the specifics? Are we going to fight here or on the streets?”
“If you engage in a high-level battle here, you won’t ever be able to fight here again, isn’t that right? Not that I personally care though.”
Kirino was indeed correct. As this was a conservative location, if they followed along with Kirino and fought a fierce battle, they would be labelled [Extremists], and they would no longer be allowed free entry to the venue. Following Kirino’s words, only Mitsuya’s face seemed clouded by doubt.
“—But, it looks like there are some people who just can’t be persuaded.”
Kirino looked at Mitsuya as she said that. It was something that struck a chord in Mitsuya’s chest.
“I know a few good places. For the time being, how about a mock battle with me? I think if you can get used to that, then you’ll be able to manage.”
The mock battle that Kirino mentioned was a feature of the game system. It was much like the ‘Practice Mode’ that could often be found in fighting games. There was no battery consumption limit, and it was not possible to win or lose in the game during such a battle. Of course, this also meant that no experience points would be received within the game. —But, it was best to consider it a method of gaining real-life combat experience.
This was the same type of mock battle that Dojima had used to show Mitsuya his abilities when they first met. It was a mysterious system that allowed players to fight with abilities whilst receiving no actual damage to their bodies which otherwise would have occurred. It was also possible to fight against party members in this mode.
Only recovery magic differed so that it was effective on damaged objects rather than injured players. This was how battlefields could be repaired after a battle. Besides, even if players didn’t repair things, it seemed that [Innovate] would repair such damage. By using this system, it was possible to change a particular area into a game-only space, such as during battles. Regardless of actual combat and mock battles, this seemed like something that had been set by the game so that other players and the general public could not intrude on a battle.
Between two unacquainted players, a mock battle could only be done once — though there was no limit for the purpose of recovery magic — and there was also no limit on how many times the system could be used within a party. In fact, Mitsuya’s party had always practiced like this before fighting on the battlefield.
“For the time being, I’ll be in your care.”
Kirino politely greeted everyone once again. However, her eyes seemed focused on the goal of the next stage, rather than on Mitsuya and the others.
Several days had passed since Kirino joined the party. Mitsuya and the others had carried out mock battles with Kirino late at night in places that were unlikely to draw much attention. Tonight, it was in an abandoned hospital. The mock battle began quietly in the open space of the second floor. As the party leader, Dojima used his phone to switch everyone into practice mode, and everyone’s phones correspondingly became charged.
It was three against one — Kirino alone took on Mitsuya, Dojima and Momiji in battle. Kirino began to press the buttons on her phone, after which several spheres of fire appeared and surrounded her. It was a number that far exceeded twenty. It was abnormal to say the least. For beginners, it took everything they had just to summon one or two, and even high-level players could usually only manage ten. The number of fireballs that Kirino could manipulate was on an entirely different level.
As Kirino quietly extended her hands forward, the spheres of fire flew toward the three of them. After the three of them readied their stances, Momiji quickly poured energy into her arrows to snipe them down. As soon as each arrow struck the spheres of fire, the flames scattered and disappeared — or so that was supposed to happen, but the spheres fragmented and morphed into a group of smaller fireballs which homed in on Momiji again, seemingly with no loss of momentum.
Momiji had already directed her aim toward the next target, but she was promptly astonished to learn that the flames didn’t disappear, thus causing the timing of her bow release to be delayed, resulting in a miss of her second target. As Momiji hurriedly tried to release her third arrow, miniscule flames converged before her eyes into a cluster of fireballs which struck her directly. It was a fire attack with no heat or damage, but it meant that Momiji would have been killed in the game. Mitsuya was struck speechless by what had happened in just a matter of seconds.
Dojima repelled each of the fireballs that came at him with a direct punch from his enhanced fists. Mitsuya also had a mop stick that he had injected his power into — it was something that he had picked up in the hospital and decided to use — and he chose to use it for a direct confrontation. However, as if they had a will of their own, the spheres of fire evaded right before the moment of impact, and they struck Dojima’s flank and Mitsuya’s arm instead. After a single blow broke his concentration, Mitsuya continued to receive continuous hits against his body from the fireballs. Mitsuya would have been killed with that, and just a few seconds after Momiji was taken down.
—I couldn’t do a thing…!
With Mitsuya chagrined and defeated, the battle between Dojima and Kirino continued. Dojima was somehow able to avoid subsequent attacks and rejuvenated his stance. Although he was able to scatter the flames several times with his kicks and punches, the flames transformed into a cluster of smaller spheres just like they did with Momiji, and he was left unable to extinguish them all. His targets had become much smaller and faster, making them even more difficult to avoid.
Kirino clearly seemed accustomed to the manipulation of fire, given that she demonstrated control over more than twenty fireballs after all. The manipulation of something created from magic by oneself, including flames, required a considerable amount of skill and sense. It was like the ability to freely move one’s limbs without feeling any sensations. For example, a substantial amount of time was usually required for people who had lost their legs in accidents in order to walk again with prosthetic limbs.
All things considered, Kirino’s skill and sense was truly outstanding. Even though everyone was given a somewhat similar set of abilities in the game, the differences arose when it came down to each individual player. Even among those who belonged to the Mage class, there were some who excelled with fire, while there were others who were proficient with ice. However, in Kirino’s case, she had managed to master almost every type of magic without exposing any weaknesses whatsoever. Just like in video games, this game also had various attribute adjustments so that those with an affinity for fire magic were usually poor with opposing types such as ice and water magic. Ordinary players had absolutely no way of dealing with every attribute. This was surely the result of her struggle to survive in this cruel game alone. And, she was attempting to clear the game with this power.
It was the first time that Mitsuya had seen Dojima struggle against an opponent this much. The man who was known as a tough Fighter in that battlefield was being pushed to his limits by a single girl. In the meantime, fire continued to converge in a single spot, forming an enormous fireball.
“Do you think you can take this?”
Kirino fearlessly smiled. Could Dojima take it on as a Fighter? It looked like a clear provocation to Mitsuya. Dojima also raised the edges of his mouth as he replied
Dojima entered a stance in preparation to confront the head-on assault, keeping his body low to the ground whilst standing. When Kirino forcefully extended her arm forward, the enormous mass of fire flew toward Dojima at a tremendous speed and Dojima activated a command on his phone before focusing energy on his entire body. His muscles swelled and strength coursed through his body in anticipation of the impact. The gigantic mass of fire collided directly with Dojima who had become a steel muscle wall.
Dojima seemed to have caught and stopped the enormous fireball despite the fact that Kirino had attempted to push them further forward. He tightened his grip on the flames. However, it looked as though Dojima had not received any fire damage at all. Slowly and surely though, his phone’s battery would normally have been depleted. Would the flames disappear, or would his phone’s battery run out first? Dojima tightened his grip around the fireball even more, and with that, the ferocity of the flames gradually began to dissipate. Dojima’s face had disappeared into the overwhelming wall of fire, and Kirino revealed a smile upon seeing that. No, Kirino was not looking at Dojima—.
Dojima had realised that Kirino was in fact casting her eyes toward what lay behind him. As Dojima turned around to check on what Kirino was actually looking at, he noticed that a second cluster of flames had been created there. It was something that had been created by a congregation of smaller flames that Dojima had supposedly scattered just earlier. Dojima had thought that he destroyed those smaller fireballs, but they quietly regrouped behind him afterwards and accumulated power.
While Dojima made a bitter smile, another huge mass of flames crashed into him from behind. During that onslaught, Mitsuya’s group of three lost to Kirino without even landing a blow on her.
A few days later—.
Mitsuya was in the underground carpark. Even though it was not possible to die in a mock battle, Kirino’s abilities were so overwhelming that even the three of them combined didn’t stand a chance at winning.
Her fireballs could home in on targets even if dodged once, she could manipulate puddles of water to act as chains which entangled their legs, she could use ice to freeze all four of their limbs, and she could also produce gusts of wind strong enough to blow their entire bodies up into the air. Kirino handled all of those attacks freely and continuously demonstrated surprising methods with which magic could be utilised in actual combat.
In a battle against a Mage, Mitsuya learned firsthand that it was necessary to pay attention to any water, fire, and rocks near the field. If any natural resources were available nearby, a Mage could use them to their advantage. However, since a Mage was no different from an ordinary person at extremely close-range, this meant that it was possible for Fighters or Knights who specialised in close-range combat to take them down with a single blow. There were a few instances where Dojima was able to engage in effective close-range combat against Kirino. But in the end, he had still been intercepted and defeated by magic.
Although Mitsuya believed that he understood Mages through the battles that he had with them up until now, he realised that even extreme caution was not enough when facing someone of a high level or someone with superb control of their abilities. Without quick and sound momentary judgement, as well as the ability to think outside of the box, it was impossible to overcome an opponent’s abilities and defeat someone stronger than himself. This was the harsh reality that Mitsuya came face to face with during those brief mock battles. Although Mitsuya had tired himself out from all the practice mock battles, he still participated in party-battles in the underground carpark. Feeling unsteady on his feet after all the battles and levelling up, Mitsuya went to wash his face before sitting down in front of a vending machine. There wasn’t any magic which could help his fatigue. Although it was possible to heal injuries, the restoration of stamina was not possible. After returning home, he slept soundly until morning arrived.
A cold sensation was suddenly pressed against his cheek.
“I feel so tired today.”
As he lifted his face, Mii greeted him with a smile and a can of juice in her hand.
“I guess it looks that way too.”
Mitsuya’s accepted Mii’s juice and opened it so that he could hydrate his mouth with it. Mii always seemed to choose regular apple juice. Although Mitsuya actually preferred a sour citrus juice, there wasn’t any orange or lemon juice in the vending machines of this underground carpark. There was one particular type of citrus juice in a yellow can that he savoured so much that he could almost taste it on sight though…. Mitsuya and Mii sat in front of a vending machine and they continued to talk for a while. They seemed to get along fairly well since they were both of the same age. Mitsuya even felt as though it was the first time that he had been able to talk with a girl so naturally.
Mii gently asked while sitting beside him.
“Yeah. Well, I do gradually feel like I’m maybe getting stronger every day.”
“What do you mean by ‘maybe’?”
Mii giggled as she replied. Truthfully speaking, his training with mock battles was quite harsh, but for some reason, Mitsuya decided to act tough in front of Mii. There was no end to the topics for their conversation. They talked about things at school, about celebrities and about their families. They were even able to joke and speak about darker topics that two people usually would not touch on. Of course, they also gossiped about things related to the game. And when it came to that, Mii didn’t miss her chance to ask about Kirino. She began to quiz him on things like
“How did she fight up until now?”
“Why did she choose to fight alone?”
The expression in her eyes when she asked these things was serious. It was then that Mitsuya recognised once more ‘Mii is also one of the players fighting in this game’. Mii admired Kirino — Able. Even though they were both female, and still only girls, Able had been able to survive in this cruel game and gained immense power along the way. Moreover, she was also close to clearing the game. For Mii who had a serious dream of clearing the game and living happily with her little brother, it was absolutely necessary to obtain power. This game was not so generous as to allow a girl and a boy to survive purely through the power of a sibling bond. That was why Mii was interested in Kirino’s way of life, how she fought, and how she gained power. Mii had tried to ask Kirino directly once, but Kirino had refused to speak.
“You and I are different.”
That was all Kirino had said. Mitsuya had also tried to ask Kirino such things, but she paid no heed to him. Therefore, Mitsuya decided to teach Mii about what he had learned and experienced with his own body.
“I want to see you, even outside this game, Mii.”
Those were bold words that even Mitsuya himself felt surprised by. It was almost like a confession of love. But, as two people who fought within the same game, they were drawn together by a strange sense of unity, and feelings like camaraderie had been born between them. His words were like an invitation to an offline meeting in an online game. After giving it some thought, Mii exposed a wry smile as she said
“I want to see you too. But, I want to do that after I clear the game, Dark-kun.”
Indeed. As it should be. They were still residents of the game. They were linked to the game. And they were still stuck in the game.
“Yeah, you’re right. I think that’s for the best too.”
Indeed, their first step was to remove the chains that bound them. If they began to see each other outside the game now, the darkness of the game would surely still be there in their shadows.
It was the time of their usual post mock battle discussion between the party in the underground carpark. Kirino had devised a strategy to combat those who carried out party-hunting activities.
“With this arrangement, I’ll can defeat four party-hunting players.”
Kirino told them that she alone would take on four other players, causing them all to feel astonished.
“Something like that is unreasonable…. Our opponents will surely try to protect that leader, so they’ll have formed a party with extremely tough players.”
Mitsuya passively replied.
“Rather than moving together in one big group, I think it’ll be much more convenient to cut them down with a smaller number of elite parties. Besides, when that leader finds out I’m on the move, they’ll probably come forth directly. To be honest, there aren’t any players other than you guys whom I can trust and cooperate with. The other players I’m acquainted with seem satisfied with a watch-and-wait approach unless they attack over there.”
Neither Dojima nor Momiji objected to Kirino’s words as they listened to her without raising their voices. Both of them looked dead serious. Ever since they began training together, the entire party had grown stronger together. As a result of simulating various situations, the party had gained both strength and a solid relationship of trust. They had also tried to recruit various unacquainted players to cooperate with them. Unlike Mitsuya, the other two seemed like they had chosen to accept Kirino’s proposal.
It was just when Mitsuya felt uncertain about his feelings. Their surroundings became strangely noisy, and it didn’t seem like Kirino was the cause. Mitsuya and the others all turned their eyes toward the origin of the noise. It seemed as though a crowd had gathered in a place that was not the usual battlefield gallery.
“What’s going on?”
Dojima stood up as he turned to face the direction that the noise came from. Kirino also cut off her explanation and turned around intuitively to locate the source of the commotion, while the others followed her and noticed something. The crowd had parted slightly, and in the centre, there was a collapsed man who was receiving treatment from a Mage player.
Kirino asked a nearby player. Although they were somewhat surprised upon realising that it was Kirino who had spoken to them, they replied
“It seems like it’s somehow related to the player-hunting…”
The collapsed man groaned from the intense pain. Everyone came to the realisation that he was beyond saving — it was because the mobile phone in his hand had been destroyed. Damage received by a player’s phone during battle could not be fixed, regardless of the means used. Kirino approached the wounded man.
Kirino pushed the Mage who was treating the man aside and began to use her own mobile phone. Kirino’s magic then enveloped the man with an even stronger pale glow than before, and his wounds visibly began to fade.
“Who did this to you?”
She gently asked the man.
“…A lot of players…kidnapped…by guys in blue…. Black…. …Beat and the others…are still…”
The man showed her his broken phone. On its screen, something like a map was displayed, and there was a single point on it that blinked. Noticing that, Kirino did something on her own phone. The name ‘Beat’ which had come out from the man’s mouth caused Mitsuya to recall Mii and her little brother. He had not seen them today.
(It can’t be…)
A disconcerting premonition ran through his body.
“Thank you…. It’s all right now…”
As Kirino revealed a saintly smile to the man, he quietly closed his eyes. At the same time, the man’s phone emitted a small sound, as though it had been crushed. The man’s body was enveloped in a pale green light as he gradually disappeared. And at the end, the man turned into particles of light which faded away.
Mitsuya asked Dojima in disbelief.
“…Yeah, there are some exceptions, but most of the players who die in the game are erased along with all of their records. The memories and records of their existence are erased, and only we players will remember. —Death in this game is equivalent to a complete erasure.”
Dojima quietly explained with indifference. If one died, not only would they cease to exist in the game, they would also disappear from society. Even relatives would forget about them. That was ‘death’ in this game — Game Over. Kirino stood up and glanced at the players around her.
“Is there anyone who wants to help rescue the people who were kidnapped with me? Since I registered the location, you’ll be able to find it using search magic.”
Upon hearing Kirino’s request, the players all averted their eyes from her. Aside from Mitsuya’s party, no one else dared to lock eyes with Kirino. Kirino sighed as she said
“This is most certainly a ‘game’. However, you don’t fight with a handle name, an alter ego or a different personality. A ‘player’? How long are you going to keep yourselves trapped in this naïve game ‘setting’ for!? If all you want to do is play a game, then go home and play on your gaming console!”
After yelling out that tirade, Kirino walked over to Dojima.
“I’m sorry. Let’s talk later. I’ll be back soon.”
After trying to leave with that, Dojima grabbed hold of her arm.
“I’ll come along as well.”
Dojima said with a smile. Beside him, Momiji nodded. Kirino then shifted her gaze to Mitsuya. Because he had just witnessed the death of a player for the first time, Mitsuya was still dazed by shock and was unable to react properly. ‘Death’ — after coming to terms with the truth of a Game Over for the first time, he was unable to hide his distraught emotion.
When you die, you disappear…? You’ll be forgotten by your parents, friends and no record of your existence will remain in the world?
Just because of a Game Over in this game, the high school student called Kanzaki Mitsuya could completely disappear from the world. Mitsuya reaffirmed the unreal abnormality of this game.
“You don’t have to force yourself. It’s something that everyone understands…”
Kirino smiled gently as she spoke with a lonesome voice, and the three of them swiftly left. The players who remained behind unanimously began to speak poorly of Kirino behind her back.
“…There’s no need to worry. I’m sure Able will clean it up.”
An unknown player said as they pat Mitsuya’s shoulder.
—Someone will resolve it anyway. That’s right. I guess so. Even if you don’t do something, then someone else will. That’s how things work out. Isn’t that fine? You could face ‘death’, you know? Everyone’s afraid of ‘death’. It’s foolish to act knowing that ‘death’ awaits.
—If I didn’t think it was okay, then I wouldn’t have brought you here….
—All players eventually think of something like a goal while they play the game. That’s why I think that you’ll also find something that you want someday, Kanzaki-san.
—How long are you going to keep yourselves trapped in this naïve game ‘setting’ for!?
The words of Dojima and the others circled around in Mitsuya’s head.
—So when I clear this with my little brother, I’m going to buy a house for the two of us. With that, we can probably live well. Do you think that’s strange?
—Dark-kun, do you have anything that you desire?
—I want to see you too. But, I want to do that after I clear the game, Dark-kun.
(No, that’s wrong…that’s not it…I’m not [Dark]!)
“I’m Kanzaki Mitsuya!!”
Mitsuya cried out as he ran toward the exit of the carpark. Mitsuya still didn’t know what Mii’s real name was. And, Mitsuya hadn’t told Mii about his real name either.
I want to know your name. I want to tell you my name.
It was a trivial matter. It was trivial, but it was so irresistibly frustrating.
Around two hours before the injured player appeared in the underground carpark—.
In an empty warehouse near the harbour, approximately twenty members of the [Blue Knight of the Round Table] surrounded the players who had been kidnapped. The players were unable to escape due to a powerful barrier that had been cast by a Mage. There were close to forty people who had been captured. There were even some well-known and strong players as well as parties among them, but everyone had an uneasy look on their face.
The sky had already been masked by the darkness of the night, and not even the moon dared to show itself. The warehouse was deserted, aside from some rubbish which lay around. That rubbish was used as fuel for the bonfires that had been lit inside metal drums to act as a light source. A man in a blue suit approached the barrier that the players were trapped in — Arthur. Arthur’s blue contacts reflected the players’ faces on their surface, but those blue eyes did not reveal any emotion.
Arthur said with a smile.
“What are you going to do with us?”
Beat replied without giving away any signs of fear.
“Not much, I’ve just decided to gather everyone together for a little [Event].”
“Gather? Don’t mess around! You guys forced—”
Through the barrier, Arthur landed a direct kick on Beat’s face. Blood flowed out from Beat’s nose as he dropped to his knees.
“I haven’t finished talking, you know? You should listen to people when they’re speaking until the very end.”
Arthur pulled on Beat’s hair while smiling, and dragged him out of the barrier.
“I wouldn’t mind giving you a good thrashing—”
Arthur then tossed Beat over to the youngsters who were dressed in blue. Instantly, the youngsters commenced a physical onslaught against Beat. Beat’s agonised cries echoed through the warehouse.
“Hahaha. You know, regardless of how strong a player you might be in the game, if you can’t actually use your abilities, then you’re just trash. —But, did you know?”
Arthur questioned the players who trembled in fear.
“There’s an [Innovator]—”
Arthur’s words caused the players to look at each other with slight confusion. There was a rumour — there were supposedly some people who could use their in-game abilities in the real world. However, it remained nothing more than a rumour, and there had been no actual sightings of someone like that.
“I know right? That’s what you’d normally think. No one would believe a stupid rumour like that. —But you know what? Why do the people who’ve cleared the game disappear then? Did they die? I don’t think so. There are stories that say some relatives are searching for the people who have disappeared. At the very least, they didn’t incur ‘death’ in this ‘game’. …And this is what I want to find out.”
Arthur spread his arms open.
“Isn’t it just the best? Being able to use your powers even outside the game. I want to confirm this. What happens after you clear the game? You know, I’m actually a coward, so I’m not going to move forward until I can confirm this for myself. You see, it’s just like reading a strategy guide or a walkthrough in order to play a game, you know? Indeed. —And that’s why we want all of you to cooperate with us.”
One of the players gingerly asked. Arthur laughed a little as he replied
“Yup. I want you to lose. On purpose.”
He spoke in a frisky tone as he waved his finger around.
Everyone unanimously began to condemn him. It was only natural. Most players wanted to escape from the game as soon as possible, so something like intentionally losing and lowering their levels which they had worked so hard to raise was naturally unwelcome. Arthur pointed in Beat’s direction with his thumb, where the players could see that he was in pretty bad shape after that one-sided beat down.
“Wanna end up like that?”
As he said that, the players all went silent.
“Come on, I’ll give you both meals and access to a toilet. I just want you to start fighting. When fighting a battle, doesn’t everyone say stuff like ‘this feels good!’ in their minds? Sooo, this is going to be something that you can enjoy indefinitely, you know? It’ll be like a battle royal in the game.”
At that moment, the notification tone rang out on Arthur’s mobile phone to inform him that he had received an email.
“Oh. It seems like some more have been gathered in other places. Alright, you guys.”
Arthur’s call was answered by the youngsters.
“I’m heading over to a different location for a while, so you can do as you like. Let’s put an end to the rumours in this game, shall we?”
The youngsters laughed at Arthur’s words. Arthur gave one final glance to the kidnapped players as he left. Their expressions were all coloured with fear.
“Well, enjoy the ‘game’.”
Arthur said, and then walked off.
After Arthur left, the [Event] began. In order to challenge strong players such as Kirino, the parties had a similar composition to the one that had attacked her earlier (two weak vanguards, a mid-level player, and a high-level Mage). When things got dangerous, youngsters dressed in blue who were not part of the battle would throw things in from the perimeter to disrupt the opponent. In-game abilities had no effect on people who weren’t a part of the battle. —However, that was different for objects which weren’t associated with in-game abilities. Although no in-game damage could be done in this way, it was still effective for the purpose of disruption. When things got especially rough, they would take party members hostage, purposely make a flashy scuffle and then lose. A lot of experience points could be gained in this way. Similar methods were employed in party-battles to gain experience points.
They had no hesitation. Arthur’s goal was to make the subordinates who worshiped him clear the game, so that he could see what would happen afterwards. He also wanted to know whether or not they could use their abilities after clearing the game. Once that was confirmed, he planned to take action in the real world. All of the youngsters who dressed in blue deeply admired Arthur. To these youngsters who had no dreams or purpose, Arthur was sharp-minded, had strength that was on a different level to them, held some kind of large secret, and he acknowledged their existence. They were all attracted to Arthur’s charm as a leader, and they joined him in flocks. Arthur used his malicious charisma to manipulate his herd of subordinates, and made them act like his own arms and legs.
While unreasonable battles continued in a repeating cycle, a dark figure appeared at the entrance to the warehouse that the [Blue Knight of the Round Table] holed themselves up in. It was a slim man who wore a black shirt and black trousers. When one of the youngsters noticed, they yelled out with a menacing voice
“What is it, you bastard!? What are you looking at!?”
The man thinly opened his mouth and revealed a cold smile.
Mitsuya immediately joined up with Kirino and the others who had left just a moment before him to make their party complete, just as it had been during their mock battles. Kirino used search magic to locate where the players had been captured as they hurried toward them. Search magic was a map, so to speak. Locations that had been publicly registered in the game could be displayed. By selecting a destination, the magic could guide a player to that point, similar to how a GPS navigation system worked. A map was displayed on the screen of Kirino’s phone, and on it a warehouse near the harbour had been marked. It was the location that the player who died just earlier had informed Kirino of.
Dojima had used the excuse of ‘Momiji’s friend needs a lift home’ to borrow a car from Momiji’s house to drive to the warehouse which was located in a less noticeable part of the harbour. After parking the car nearby, they were unable to sense the presence of any other people around as they approached on foot. Kirino generated a pale light from her hands, using it as a light source to illuminate the road as they began to wade through the darkness. Mitsuya had a wooden sword in his hand, Dojima was warily vigilant, and Momiji had nocked an arrow on her bow. After walking for a while, Kirino stopped ahead of the others.
Everyone cast their eyes over to the warehouse that stood before them. Mitsuya gulped. He mentally prepared himself for a real battle, a fight with lives at stake. The wooden sword that he carried along was a symbol of his determination. Since it was a battle outside the underground carpark, both he and his opponents possessed the mindset that a fight was unavoidable. For a while, they hid in the cover of shadows as they stared at the warehouse from outside, but there were still no signs of life even though light spilled out from the door which had been left ajar…. As the vanguards of the party, Mitsuya and Dojima decided to move in and investigate the situation. If a battle commenced, support would arrive from the rear guard. They steadily approached without making any noise, and then hid behind the door as they fearfully peered inside. However, all they could perceive were the flames that arose from metal drums, and there were still no people in sight. When Mitsuya’s gaze met with Dojima’s, they both nodded to express their mutual understanding. Dojima gently threw in a rock that he had picked up nearby. The sound of the stone’s echo was hollow, and no reaction came from inside. —And then…
A faint voice was heard. When Mitsuya directed his attention to the source of the voice—
Mii had collapsed there. Mitsuya ran over to her without paying any heed to the rest of the unknown interior. She was covered in blood. Mitsuya held her in his arms.
“Mii! Please…tell me what happened!”
Mii clasped a mobile phone in each of her hands. As Mii gazed at the phone in one hand, she mumbled
“…Yu…Yuuta…I couldn’t protect him…”
Only a part of the phone’s screen panel remained in her hand. In Mii’s other hand, her own mobile phone was also in terrible condition. She was beyond saving — Mitsuya also realised that as soon as he saw her phone. As Dojima ran over, he quickly understood her situation.
“…Black…be careful of the person in black…they’re a…vam…pire…”
“Kirino-san! Recovery magic, please!”
After checking their surroundings, Kirino also ran over to her. She activated recovery magic, but the expression on Kirino’s face seemed to indicate that healing was of no use. At the very least, it would ease the pain and lessen the suffering while she passed away. It would be too sad to let her pass on whilst suffering in this crazy game. A gentle and pale light wrapped itself around Mii.
While covered in blood, she made a peaceful smile.
As Mitsuya spoke, Mii’s body was enveloped by a pale green light, and her weight gradually lifted away from Mitsuya’s arms. And then, she melted into particles of light and disappeared into the sky. She had tried desperately to survive, but she disappeared. In her final moments of life, her dream of living happily with her little brother also disappeared.
As Momiji entered the warehouse last, she became lost for words upon seeing what existed inside. Dozens of broken mobile phones lay on the floor of the warehouse — those were the only remnants which accompanied their sense of loss. Mitsuya began to shed tears. With his wishful thinking, he didn’t have any particular dreams, but he bore witness to her last moments. No, his dream was born just a while ago. It was a small seedling, but it had most certainly been born.
—I want to tell Mii what my real name is. Not my handle name [Dark], but my real name — Kanzaki Mitsuya.
It was the bare minimum that he had to tell her as an acquaintance and friend so that they could greet each other properly.
—I want to meet her outside. Outside the game. Freely and with nothing between us, just as friends.
“…Fuck. I…I don’t even know what your real name is…”
It was a wish that could no longer be granted.
(All 4 of 4 parts) (23/1)
Continues on to Last Chapter 3 – upset.