After their journey to recover for the Five Supreme Blades in the island country of Hinomoto, Shin’s party returned to Black Priestess Shrine’s guildhouse.
Shin and Tiera shared part of their memories when they purified one of the Five Supreme Blades, 『Dojigiri Yasutsuna』; this spurred Shin to decide to talk about his past to her.
Tiera spoke while looking straight into Shin’s eyes.
“….tell me. I want to know more about you.”
“Got it. It’s going to take a while, but please hear me out—-at the time, I still didn’t know how evil people could be. I didn’t know that you could lose something important all of a sudden.”
Shin continued talking while also looking straight into Tiera’s eyes.
“What I’m going to tell you happened before the “Dusk of the Majesty”. When we used to call this world a “game”.”
One year passed since the MMORPG “THE NEW GATE” had been transferred to virtual reality.
What was supposed to be a game had become reality. There were two big changes that had affected the game.
Logging out was not possible and death in the game meant death in real life.
Very few could handle this absurd situation with a cool head.
It was said that the chaos and confusion caused more than 500 casualties, but no one could understand if that figure was high or low.
It all happened suddenly, but fortunately -if one could say so- the players’ stats had not been reset.
The stats and levels the players had spent long hours raising, powerful equipment and rare items, guildhouses, methods of contact with friends, all of those remained.
Hoping to put an end to the death game, one man was, today too, challenging a dungeon.
A crimson flash lit up the darkness of the dungeon, following the man’s war cry. It had been created by the swing of his blade.
The blade pierced the void, severing the right leg of the giant-type monster Gigantes Moss.
Having lost everything below the right thigh, the gargantuan monster fell to the ground. Its body extended for more than 5 mels and was studded with rocks and boulders, which caused a small tremor as the monster tumbled down.
The shaking ground limited the player’s action and prevented him from continuing the attack.
“30% HP left. About time it changes attack patterns.”
The man mumbled to himself while keeping the collapsed monster within his field of view.
His name was Shin.
His opponent was the boss monster that awaited players in the deepest reaches of the dungeon.
As Shin had predicted, the monster’s HP gauge had fallen into the red zone of less than 30%, causing certain changes in Gigantes Moss’ body.
From the base of its 2 battleaxe-wielding arms, a new set of arms grew out. At the same time, the ceiling of the boss chamber crumbled, bringing a longsword and a spear to the room below.
“So that’s your game.”
After calmly concluding that the change was a physical one, Shin activated a magic skill.
“Just in case, I better check if your weak points changed.”
Magic skills of all seven elements struck the monster after Shin spoke.
Bullets of fire and water, spears of light and thunder, and claws and fangs of wind and earth.
Seven spells that were usually cast on their own struck all at once. Too much for even the now four-armed Gigantes Moss to handle.
Shin had activated the skill 【Magic Boost】, to increase the offensive power of his magic, and the 7-type combination magic skill 【Elemental Blast】.
It was a combo attack used to determine the monster’s weakness while inflicting a certain degree of damage at the same time.
Depending on the elemental properties of the monster the spell is used on, it might end up healing them, but Gigantes Moss suffered damage. Based on the differences of inflicted damage, it was clear that the monster was strong against fire and wind but weak against thunder and darkness.
The problem was that the damage itself was infinitesimal.
“No changes in weak points, I see. Magic defense shot up though.”
Gigantes Moss was originally a monster strong against magic attacks.
For Shin, continuing this one-sided attack from a distance was not impossible, but because of the monster’s increased defensive power, triggered by the HP loss, even Shin’s spells could not inflict decisive damage.
The only method left was close combat.
“Well, so be it. I wasn’t thinking of whittling you down from a distance anyway!”
While keeping the monster busy with multi-hit magic spells, Shin grasped his trusted weapon, the katana 『True Moon』. The skill activation caused the blade to emit increasingly bright red ripples, before being covered in darkness. The next moment, deep red lightning shot forward.
Triple combination skill 【Black Flower Flash】.
Using the magic barrage as cover, Shin drew closer to the monster in a flash and circled behind its back.
Thanks to the high speed movement made possible by the combination of Movement-type skills 【Ground Shrink】 and 【Mirage Dance】, the Gigantes Moss lost sight of Shin.
Another probable cause was its limited movements, caused by the loss of its right leg. The monster, ignoring the spells striking its body, looked for Shin with its eyes.
Shin focused without letting out a word, then swung 『True Moon』 down on Gigantes Moss’ back.
The blade, clad in scorching hot darkness, rent the monster’s rock hard skin. Immediately after the slash, thunder struck the same point.
Gigantes Moss lost its balance and fell forward from the blow.
The monster tried to counterattack, screaming in pain, but its movements were even more stiff because of the short-term paralysis caused by the thunder element from the attack. The desperate attempt to attack made the monster fall to the ground again.
Shin would not let such an opportunity go. He had instead predicted the situation, and struck the monster from behind again.
It would not take much time for Gigantes Moss to be back on its feet. But Shin moved behind the monster and activated another skill much faster.
“This is the end!”
An orange-colored aura now enveloped『True Moon』; it was the Sword-type Martial skill 【Tyrant Beat】.
Many Katana-type and Sword-type skills could be used as long as one wielded a bladed weapon. Using Sword-type skills with a katana would cause their offensive power to drop slightly, but Shin focused more on skill effects, so he had stopped using only Katana-type skills even when wielding a katana.
The strike, aimed at the monster’s weakpoint -the back of its neck- saw its damage increase thanks to a critical hit. The skill’s effects also allowed Shin to continue a one-sided offensive.
It was just a matter of time until Gigantos Moss’ HP reached zero.
“Ngh! I shouldn’t be tired, but my shoulders feel stiff!”
With a yawn, the tension left Shin’s body.
After defeating the boss and clearing the dungeon, Shin returned to the entrance. He had been fighting in the dungeon since the morning, and when he went outside, he realized that the sun was setting already.
Physical exhaustion existed as part of the system, but it was already completely recovered.
Rather than that, he felt more mentally tired.
Even if the avatar was fully recovered, the mind of the player controlling it was not.
Death in this world meant death in real life. “THE NEW GATE” was now a death game, there was no turning back after dying.
No matter if the opponent was a boss monster or some small fry from beginner-oriented areas, the player’s life was on the line in every fight. It was obvious that long engagements would cause mental distress.
“Phew. With this, about half of the dungeons are left.”
The condition for clearing the death game “THE NEW GATE” was to defeat the boss monster in the last dungeon, “Gate of the Otherworld”. It wasn’t a certainty that they would be freed from the game or not, but all players made that their objective for now.
In order to enter the final dungeon, one was first required to clear a series of other dungeons. Clearing them would unlock sealed areas, allowing the player to get gradually closer to the final dungeon.
At the start of the death game, all players had been gathered in “Kalkia”, one of the hometowns, and could only move in its surroundings.
Shin’s map had already registered most fields’ geographical data. Looking at the map revealed that around half were displayed as transparent, which meant impossible to travel to.
The unlocked fields were proof of the courage and sacrifice of those who, like Shin, had cleared dungeons. It had already taken 4 months to reach this point.
“I can still do it alone. But the second half won’t be that easy…”
Shin sighed, then checked the items dropped by the monster. In some cases, items useful to clear the next dungeon could be found.
The items dropped were rare, but Shin’s equipment had higher specs, so they were of little use to him.
“….nothing special this time.”
His hands stopped scrolling the display and closed the menu screen. The items, other than equipment, did not seem like they could be particularly useful in the next dungeon.
Proceeding from the dungeon to the teleport point, Shin handled any attacking monster with just one hand, then looked up to the sky. The clear, cloudless sky brightened his spirits, if just a little.
“Oh! He’s back! How did it go?”
Once he returned to Kelgunsk, one of the hometowns, Shin was greeted by voices impatient to see him back. He had not hidden the fact that he had gone out to clear a dungeon, so they had likely obtained the information from somewhere.
“Finished without problems. We can go to the next field now too. I’m sure you know already, but be extra careful if you proceed. The dungeon boss changed in a way I never saw before after all.”
Shin answered while looking at the emblem engraved on the gauntlet worn by the young High Beast man he had become acquainted with a long time ago now, Lao.
The emblem, depicting a lion crushing a long sword with its teeth, symbolized the guild with the most clout at the time, “Savage Lions”. Shin remembered that the guildmaster was a lion High Beast.
“Sure thing. I’m not part of the Savage Lions’ Explosive Legs corps for nothing. If worst comes to worst, I’ll just hightail it out.”
Lao chuckled heartily, his cat-like ears pointing up, as he spoke, then disappeared into the bustling crowd.
The Savage Lions guild was composed of the Explosive Legs corps, who handled scouting and information gathering, and the combat-oriented Explosive Fists corps.
As fas ar Shin knew, Lao was a warrior not inferior in any way to the captain of the Explosive Legs corps.
Shin had no idea why such a person was awaiting his return though. He thought it was a job one of his subordinates could easily do, but would not stick his nose in the affairs of other guilds.
“Guess I’ll take a walk in the city.”
Thinking that he couldn’t just stand around the teleport point like that, Shin headed towards the city. Maybe because he just returned from putting his life on the line to clear the dungeon, looking at the town scenery made him feel relieved.
“Oh, ain’t that Shin. How did things go in the dungeon?”
Shin was stopped by the voice of the man behind the counter of a skewer stall. It was a player who had purposefully created an elderly avatar and role played as a street vendor.
His tone was overly familiar partly because of his character, but also because Shin often frequented the stall.
“Hey there. A new area has been unlocked. You could get more types of ingredients soon.”
After the start of the death game, when new areas were unlocked, items and equipment thought to be still not implemented in the game were discovered. Among them there were materials of excellent quality, and Shin too had gathered some.
“Well now, ain’t that some real good news. Here, this is on the house for the hero that braved a dungeon all on his lonesome.”
“Please stop it with the hero talk, sir.”
Shin grabbed the skewer the man offered to him, with an embarrassed laugh. He knew the man would not have accepted no as an answer.
Hero was the word some players used when referring to Shin. At the start of the death game, the players noticed that their levels, stats and equipments had not changed, so they immediately went to look for advanced players. They thought that the cooperation of advanced players was vital in order to clear the dungeons.
It did not take long for them to find out that a certain advanced player surpassing all the others was still logged in.
A member of Rokuten, the guild said to be the strongest, and a blacksmith that created equipment of the highest quality.
Shin’s existence grew larger among many players, who found hope in him.
His power, incommensurable strength that no one could even get close to, did pose the problem that other players would just be in his way, but it was a small one: everyone had great expectations for Shin.
Cooperating with other advanced players, Shin had cleared beginner-level dungeons in a flash, moving on to mid-level ones. The speed at which he moved was more than enough to increase others’ expectations.
Shin managed to clear even advanced dungeons on his own, which other high-level players had trouble with.
The dungeon Shin cleared that day too had been too much for other advanced players. It would not have been so if all advanced players were logged in, at present Shin was the pillar of dungeon clearing.
Because of this, people used to honor him and call him “Hero”.
“First they get expectant, then disappointed, all on their own…now there’s jealousy and envy mixed up in it all, I don’t know what’s what anymore…”
Yes, people “used to” honor Shin and call him “Hero”.
After starting to challenge advanced dungeons, Shin’s clearing speed visibly fell. As the dungeons rose in difficulty the monsters within them grew stronger, the traps and gimmicks became more complicated, making them more dangerous.
Even for Shin, clearing advanced dungeons -transformed in unknown ways by the death game- at the same speed as low-difficulty beginner level dungeons was not possible.
There were players, however, that did not understand this. Or rather, did not “want” to understand this.
Shin’s clearing speed was falling because he was taking it easy. He didn’t actually want to clear the dungeons.
Groundless rumors such as these started circulating around 2 weeks after Shin started facing the advanced dungeons.
The “expectations” many players had towards Shin.
The players who purely thought that Shin could do it, that felt a “trust” equal to “expectation”, players who truly knew Shin, were very few.
The “expectations” of the many players other than these were just them running away from their responsibilities and pushing them onto Shin, thinking that they didn’t need to do anything, he would take care of it all somehow.
“Tch, must be easy for him since he’s the only one with good equipment”
These words reached Shin as he was walking and eating the skewers.
He could find the source at the edge of his line of sight. Without moving his eyes, Shin noticed a player clad in low level armor, leaning against a wall in a back alley. Level 40 was really low.
Shin immediately understood that he was a beginner.
“You think I can give gear to just anybody, huh? Materials don’t come free, dammit.”
Shin walked on, ignoring the man, then spat out his honest thoughts when he saw his favourite sweets shop in the distance. The words he mumbled were not heard by anyone, soon lost in the noise of the crowd.
As Shin was a blacksmith, many came to him to ask for equipment. However, he was always rather strict in whom to give weapons to.
One reason was what he had muttered, that materials were not free. But the first reason was something else.
That was the existence of PKs, players who had not stopped killing other players even after the start of the death game.
If he just gave out weapons easily and they reached PK hands, unfortunate casualties would increase.
For this reason, Shin supplied weapons only to a very limited range of players: guildmasters and party leaders. That was only temporary, however; he would lend gear, not give it away. If a PK had mingled among them, Shin would take the gear back.
From the standpoint of ordinary players, however, it only looked like he was stingy with his gear.
It would have been impossible for Shin to craft gear for everyone after all. Despite this, there were rumors that he and other powerful players wanted to monopolize equipment: Shin was rather sick of the situation.
“What’s wrong, meow? Shimeow, you look down, meow”
Exhaustion requires sweet things. Shin was looking at cakes, trying to forget the rumors, when the owner of the “Lucky Cat” sweets shop, Catnip, called to him.
Cat like-speak was an unspoken rule of the “Type Cat Language Research Association” guild, apparently. Shin remembered refusing other acquaintances to call him “Shimeow”.
Catnip was Human, but thanks to an equipment set called “Beast Transformation” cat ears the same color as her orange hair sprouted on her head, as well as a cat tail, poking out of her miniskirt. She was a catgirl maid with high skin exposure, like you would find in a maid cafe.
All other clerks in the shop wore the same attire. Catnip was 160 cemels tall. Her clothes fairly exposed her bust, so from the height of Shin’s eyes it was hard not to look.
“Ah, nothing, I just came back from defeating a dungeon boss. That’s the reason, probably.”
“You pushed yourself too hard again, meow? You’re too reckless, Shimeow.”
While Catnip’s speech style did not make her sound serious at all, her expression was very much so.
“I know that. But if I don’t do this, we can’t hope to clear any time soon.”
“There’s no point in caring so much about what others say…but you’re so serious in a weird way, Shimeow. I suppose I meown’t have a choice…Shimeow, present for you.”
Catnip took out a card from her bosom. Item boxes could be used from anywhere, as soon as one focused, but Shin had never seen any player using it from that position. To him it looked simply like the card had come out of the cleavage of Catnip’s ample bust.
“Me-meow!! Catnip’s specially made cookies, meow! Eat’em up and cheer up, meow.”
“Thank you very much. I’d be happier if you gave them out more quietly, though…also thinking a little more about where you take them out of.”
“Did I do something bad, meow?”
Catnip was puzzled to see Shin sigh. It was clear that he wasn’t joking.
“People are looking at us weird. But maybe you did it on purpose?”
Her silhouette might be just an avatar, a temporary figure, but she was still a very pretty girl and would thus attract attention.
Most avatars were made by combining given elements together. It was something typical in many games, and of course did not mean that the players’ real appearance was anywhere close the avatar’s.
In contrast with such mass-produced avatars (albeit the large quantity of sample elements made it quite rare for two avatars to be 100% the same), some players used avatars reflecting their real appearance and figure.
Catnip was one of them.
The so-called “Full-scan Avatar”, real and fake at the same time, also presented the risk of the player being identified in reality. Most of such players, however, used the game as a tool to spread their popularity.
As far as Shin knew, such famous players had been scouted by corporations and debuted as idols. Catnip openly said that she aimed to do the same.
In “THE NEW GATE” the male:female player ratio was 7:3 or even 8:2; a truly pretty girl like Catnip was highly popular among all female players.
She was as famous as a real idol among male players. She had a fan club, though unofficial, and a slew of devoted fans.
Actually, even now Shin was being targeted by several hostile players. Several dots on the map had turned to the red color of hostility.
He felt bad for Catnip, who was worrying about him, but he prayed that no unnecessary trouble came up.
“Shimeow was my first, after all. You’re special, meow.”
Catnip held her cheeks with her hands, blushing.
Moments later, Shin felt fierce killing intent coming from the people looking at him. That was still supposed to be a game, but for some reason he felt something akin to an aura.
“You’re going to create even more misunderstandings…if I get ambushed it’s your fault, Catnip.”
“But I can’t think of anyone that could beat you, Shimeow.”
“It’s a game after all, if you find a hole in the system you could probably even beat more advanced opponents, and—-”
Shin stopped halfway through his sentence. Catnip had closed his mouth with one of her slender fingers.
“Don’t say that. I wouldn’t forgive even you if you made Marino sad, Shin.”
“Beat” was a word that, depending on the situation, could also mean “kill”. It wasn’t a problem before, but now things were different.
Catnip gave a stern warning to Shin for alluding to his own death, even speaking without the usual cat-like style. She didn’t like to hear anyone talk like that, even if they were joking.
“If you understood, then go home, meow. Today…hehe, something good might happen, meow.”
“I can’t say your expression doesn’t make me worry…”
Quickly shifting out of her serious expression, Catnip was now grinning. It was clear enough that she was plotting something, but she surely wouldn’t talk even if cornered.
Shin had a bad feeling about her last words, but left the store after buying some sweets to complement the Catnip cookies he had received.
Going back to the teleportation point, Shin headed to a different location: his home, Tsuki no Hokora.
“Welcome back. You have guests.”
Schnee’s usual greeting was a bit different this time. The “guests” Schnee mentioned were people allowed to enter the residential area of Tsuki no Hokora even if Shin was not present.
At present, there was only 1 person with such privileges.
“Ah, Shin…er, welcome back…”
The guest noticed Shin’s return and greeted him from the kitchen. It was Shin’s lover, the female player Marino.
As she turned towards Shin, her two waist-length ponytails drew a brown arc in the air. Her sky blue eyes looked at Shin, with some hesitation.
Shin was slightly curious about her unusual behavior, but his attention was soon captured by her attire.
“Shin? What happened?”
Marino shouldn’t have heard what Shin whispered, but she was slightly blushing as she asked that question.
A white blouse and a blue skirt with a yellow checkered pattern. A short mantle covering her from the shoulders to her back was Marino’s usual look. As she was cooking, however, she had taken her usual mantle off and was wearing a red apron.
“Ah, er, I’m sorry. I’m home. You were cooking?”
Shin, entranced by the apron-clad Marino, hurriedly replied. She tilted her head at his reaction, a bit confused.
(I wonder how can a single apron make her look so cute?)
Maybe because he wasn’t used to seeing girls wearing aprons, or maybe because it was Marino. Shin concluded that it was probably the latter, and was about to talk to her again, but Marino spoke first.
“Ah, ehm….welcome back home.”
“Hm? Ah, er, I’m home?”
Shin thought that they had just had that exchanged seconds before, when Marino said something unexpected.
“A-a-a-are you going to have a bath first? Or dinner first? O-o-or!! M-m-me!?!”
Shin needed a few seconds to grasp the situations. Despite having said the line herself, Marino was blazing red and frozen in place out of embarrassment.
She looked quite different from her usual cheerful self and extremely lovely. Then Shin remembered Catnip mentioning that “something good would happen”.
“….hey, is it OK if I choose you, Marino?”
Shin found himself giving this answer.
What came back from her was a whispered consent.
The moment he heard that, Shin put his right hand on her cheek, turned her face towards him and pressed his lips on hers.
Engaging in R-18 actions was a taboo within “THE NEW GATE”. But after the start of the death game, there was no management or GMs to stop any transgressors.
Because of the system, it was not possible to engage in “advanced” acts, intercourse included, but for players in a relationship or married, kissing was an important act to confirm their reciprocal affection.
Maybe because she had been holding her breath, Marino inhaled deeply when Shin released his hold on her. Her face was bright red, beyond the possibility of making any excuse.
“Anyway, why did you say something like that? I enjoyed it very much, but were you always this forward?”
“I was really embarrassed too, you know!! Don’t look at my face!! Don’t looooook!”
Still blushing fiercely, Marino pushed Shin to make him look the other way. She pushed her face against his back, making sure that he couldn’t see it even if he turned his head.
If another person was looking, they would simply think that their flirting was continuing.
“….did you calm down?”
“Yeah…but you’re too unfazed, that’s kind of annoying.”
After around 5 minutes, Marino’s voice was back to its usual tone, even if it sounded muffled because her face was still buried in Shin’s back.
“So let me ask again, why did you do something like that? Was today a special day or something?”
“That’s not it. A little before you came back, Catnip contacted me, saying that you were tired. I also thought that I wanted to do something for you, since you looked kind of down lately. Then Catnip said that….a-any man would love that…so…”
Marino started blushing again. Because of one of the game’s effects, steam started rising from her head.
Shin thought he heard a cat-like voice chuckling in his head.
“I see…that explains Catnip’s evil smile.”
Shin did not neglect sending his gratitude to Catnip, in his heart.
“So…do you really feel better because of that?”
“Honestly speaking? I feel a whole lot better. Now if Marino hugged me, that’d be just perfect.”
“Wha!? Ah, ah….alright already! I c-came all this way, I’m not going to pull back!”
Shin had said that half as a joke, but Marino reacted more positively than he expected. She hadn’t really calmed down completely, it seems.
Marino spread her arms wide, as if saying “I’m ready when you are!!”.
(…..I could go like this, but maybe I should wait and…)
Shin, feeling mischievous, slipped behind Marino without a sound. She had closed her eyes and had not noticed his movements.
Feeling that she had already waited long, Marino opened her eyes: that moment, Shin hugged her tight from behind.
Marino ended up flinching from the surprise.
“Uuh, you meanie…”
Keeping that stance, Shin sat on the chair behind him. Marino was on his lap.
“This is so embarrassing…”
“Marino is going to spoil me today, after all. I’m going to enjoy myself today, to my heart’s content.”
“Why do you talk like that!? Aaah, don’t blow in my ears!!”
“It was on purpose, of course.”
“That’s even mean—-aah, no, I’m weak there… you’ll pay for this…”
For the following 30 minutes, the distance between the two was zero.
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