The scene was a lavishly decorated room. In this exaggeratedly luxurious chamber, two young men could be seen.
One sat on an ornate chair, a glass of wine in hand. His intricately decorated clothing suggested that he was a member of monarchy or nobility, and on his hand was a ring with a large ruby sparkling.
A longsword with a gemstone-studded scabbard was propped against the man’s chair. An expert would have noticed that it was the unupgraded version of the Ancient-grade weapon 『Excalibur』.
The man’s name within the game was Aldo.
“So, where’s that guy fighting now?”
“It appears that as of yesterday, part of the Houzand continent has been liberated. At present, roughly 40% of the continent has been liberated.”
The other man answered, while kneeling before the first. Based on his dark green hooded mantle and easy-to-move-in boots, his job appeared to be a hunter rather than a magician.
His name within the game was Robin Hood.
“Tch, his clearing speed really dropped this past month. What’s he wasting time for? He’s supposed to be a maniac whose only talent is playing games!!”
Aldo shouted while pounding his fists on the chair. His brownish blonde hair became slightly disheveled.
“Considering the increase in difficulty, I would not consider it to be strange that his clearing speed decreased, sir.”
“Player skill means being able to do something about that, right!? Hmph, even with all the money and time they waste, this is all they can do, I suppose.”
Aldo clearly looked down on players. The reason was that he was not a “pure” player himself.
The avatar Aldo used had been created and provided by the management. It used data from an event monster, Arthur Pendragon.
Its stats were 800 on average, and its equipment -while of basic rank- was all Ancient-grade.
It was something completely excessive for a THE NEW GATE beginner.
(The last dungeon too was usually conquered only in parties… he really has no idea how incredible it is to clear it solo.)
Robin mumbled to himself. Having played normally, he fully understood how incredible Shin’s feat of clearing the dungeon on his own was.
Unlike Aldo’s avatar, Robin’s avatar was an ordinary one. He had focused his stat points on AGI and DEX and specialized in reconnaissance. His fighting style was mainly attacking from a distance with his bow and poison.
Even so, while he could sneak into dungeons, he did not think of challenging bosses. He had no chance of winning.
“Hey, Hagiwara!! Are you listening??”
“Ah, yes, my apologies. I am. However, even if we wanted him to hurry up, it would be all for naught if he ends up dying.”
Robin gave a serious answer, keeping his annoyance at being called with his real name to himself. Aldo insisted that they should just push him harder, but anyone would understand that such a method would not increase the dungeon clearing speed.
Aldo and Robin’s relationship, simply put, was that of superior and subordinate in a company.
Aldo was the son of a patron of THE NEW GATE, who provided the game’s management with capital. Thus, Robin was once again forced to listen to Aldo boast about the avatar that the management had prepared for him.
Aldo had overheard Robin talk to other players about the game in the company and coerced him into becoming his attendant.
Robin never regretted his carelessness more than that time. How liberating would it be if it was only the death game trapping him. His stress level was high enough to make him think such ridiculous thoughts.
“Hmph. Bring him here then. If he’s a gamer, I’m sure dangling some kind of clearing reward in front of his eyes will make him work harder.”
“Would it not be easier for us to just let him proceed as he wants?”
“I’m getting sick of waiting. I want to return to the real world. Do you know how many months have passed since this situation started!? I can’t even enjoy a woman with this body. The alcohol just gets you halfway drunk, and the cigarettes are terrible too. Who could put up with this crap!!”
Aldo became irritated while talking, and pounded on his chair again.
Robin gritted his teeth, barely managing to avoid shouting, “You go and clear dungeons too then!!” to the man on the throne, and let out a small sigh without Aldo noticing.
“I will try to talk to him, but please remember that I can’t do anything if he refuses.”
“Do SOMETHING! Or you’re getting demoted! No, fired!!”
“U-understood, I will go convince him!!”
Robin left the room, cursing and lamenting his relationship with Aldo under his breath.
He wanted nothing more than to tell Aldo to go do it himself, but he could not afford to go against him now. In the real world, Aldo was a high-ranked executive whose word had great importance within HR, while Robin was nothing but a rank-and-file employee.
Surviving in this world was important, but so was keeping his career in the real one.
He had a family to sustain; for their sake, Robin had no choice but to swallow his pride.
“But there’s nothing I can do about this…”
Robin had heard much about Shin, who stood on the frontlines of dungeon clearing.
In the first month after the Death Game began, it was even possible to visit Tsuki no Hokora, but now, it had changed locations and no one knew where it was. The only options were to find him in a city and talk to him, or to ask an information broker.
“I want to see Rie and Emi…”
Whispering the names of his wife and daughter, Robin’s silhouette was lost within the town’s crowds.
On the other hand, Aldo was now alone in the room, still indignant.
He gripped his wine glass with a bit more strength, and shattered it. Thanks to the room’s self-cleaning function, the spilled wine and glass fragments sparkled and disappeared.
“Shit!! And after I managed to use my connections to play easily!! What the hell’s this death game!!”
Aldo still didn’t regard the game world as reality. Despite his high level stats and equipment, he had left dungeon clearing and boss fighting to others, so he had no idea that fighting on the frontlines meant to stake one’s life.
He had only ever fought low-level monsters, such as slimes and goblins. Because of the stats difference, even if he received an attack, the damage would be zero, while the damage he inflicted was completely overkill.
Such one-sided beatings would have never made him think that the risk of death was very real.
“Okay then, what to do until he comes back… hm?”
Out of the blue, a bell signaled the arrival of guests. The maid he had created as a support character had already gone to greet them.
Aldo’s menu displayed two individuals.
One was a savage-looking man in dark brown armor. The armor and its decorations were riddled with cuts and damage that increased his wild appearance even more. His hair and beard were unkempt. He looked just like the boss of a band of thieves or mercenaries.
The other was a handsome-looking man in silver armor. With blonde hair tied behind his head, and with features normally only seen on TV or in magazines, he has the appearance of a knight, completely contrasting with his companion.
Looking at their strangely realistic faces, Aldo thought that they might have used the full scan avatar feature, which replicated the players’ real appearances.
No matter how one looked in real life, however, they wouldn’t stand out much in the game world. Handsome or beautiful characters were a dime a dozen, to the point that some players even deliberately twisted their looks.
The menu screen displayed names, levels, and jobs of the two men.
“Gargalla and Vlad? Never heard of them before. Both level 255. Jobs are Magic Swordsman and Dragon Knight, huh? They seem to have pretty good gear, I guess they’re game maniacs too.”
Players could pay real money to obtain equipment, but such gear came with the penalty of never matching the players’ level and stats.
Aldo’s 【Analyze】, also provided by the management, showed that neither Gargalla nor Vlad’s equipment had such penalties.
(“Shall I let the guests inside?”)
“I guess they’ll suffice in killing some time. Yeah, let them in.”
Aldo chose “YES” from the “Authorize entrance? YES/NO” window that appeared on his menu. A short while later, the two guests entered the room led by the maid.
“I thank you for allowing us to visit you. My name is Vlad, pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“No need for useless greetings. What do you want?”
Aldo replied in rude manner to Vlad’s smiling greeting and Gargalla’s cold self-introduction. It was hardly proper behavior to welcome guests, but Vlad did not seem offended in the least.
“I saw Mr. Robin leave here with a rather serious expression, you see. I was wondering if we could assist you, good sir.”
“You should have just asked Robin then.”
“I thought talking with the person giving orders would be quicker. Besides, I might be more useful in case of secret orders, you see.”
A friendly grin appeared on Vlad’s lips.
Secret orders. Aldo’s eyes narrowed at these words.
“Please, don’t be alarmed. I apologize for gathering information without permission. But my comrade and I share the same goal as you.”
“Indeed. You wish to go back to the real world quickly, yes? And for that, you want that man, who’s taking his sweet time, to hurry up. Am I wrong?”
Aldo did not think it strange that another man thought the same thing as himself. On the contrary, he thought that it was absurd that other players didn’t say anything to Shin.
Hearing the words “go back to the real world”, Aldo was now convinced that he understood the reason why Vlad had shown up.
“And you people are able to do that?”
“We can. We have reached a rather high level, if I may say so, and therefore if we contact him as “dungeon clearing partners”, I doubt he will ignore us. And if he does, we have other ways to force him to listen to us. Gargalla here is an expert in such methods.”
What Vlad alluded to were unsavory methods. As Aldo glanced at Gargalla, the latter cracked a slight grin.
“I’m a specialist in that field. Plenty of experience, yeah?”
Gargalla’s expression brimmed with confidence.
Normally Aldo would not have had the guts to dirty his hands with illegal activities, however having been trapped and unable to log out for such a long time, what little patience he had quickly ran out.
Aldo thus nodded without hesitation, sparing no thought to the fact that this would pass the burden to someone else.
“Leaving this to just Robin will accomplish nothing so I’ll be counting on you two as well. And so, what do you want from me?”
Even if their goals were the same, Aldo didn’t believe the two guests wouldn’t ask for a reward.
The two guests’ smiles widened at his words.
“Please let us take care of the dungeon clearing affair. As for the reward, I would like you to procure some weapons. Of course, that is after we succeed in spurring that man to action.”
“Hm? You have yours already, don’t you?”
“It is embarrassing to admit, but there are few blacksmiths capable of forging rare weapons. And that man is the most skilled of them all. I also do not have a death wish. I apologize for such a rude request, but could you please accept it?”
Vlad gave a courteous, deep bow, which pleased Aldo very much.
“So be it. But it will only be done if you succeed, remember that.”
“I am very grateful. We will act right away, so if you will excuse us.”
Vlad bowed again, then headed towards the exit of Aldo’s home.
“Wait! I have not heard that man’s request yet. I don’t want to listen to any illegal requests later. So, what is it?”
“Hm? Ah, me.”
Gargalla turned only his head back and smiled defiantly.
“I just want to fight against Shin. Not his current half-assed and slacked self, but when he’s really serious..”
Gargalla said nothing else and followed Vlad outside.
“….tch, creepy fellow.”
Gargalla’s smile had given Aldo chills.
Outside Aldo’s home, Vlad quickly hid his face with a helmet. Gargalla then caught up to him.
“Hah, to think that he’ll let us handle the case with an explanation like that. Having a superior like that would surely be tough on the subordinates.”
Vlad knew about the relationship between Aldo and Robin. They had visited while Robin was absent precisely because he had collected this information.
His words of understanding towards Aldo’s plight concealed Vlad’s disdain for the man. Gargalla also shared similar sentiments.
“That Aldo too, if he acted himself, the dungeon clearing would surely become at least a bit faster. That avatar is such a waste on him. If only there was an avatar exchange function available, I’d make very good use of it.”
“Right, the guy inside is total shit. Nothing remotely interesting ‘bout him.”
Someone with a powerful avatar, equipped with Ancient grade equipment, that had not participated in clearing any dungeons.
For players who were earnestly striving to clear the dungeons, Aldo was an infuriating existence.
He could have at least been more helpful with clearing the dungeons that were currently being conquered.
Instead, Aldo spent his days doing nothing, entrusting even the smallest tasks to Robin.
Vlad had concealed his feelings in Aldo’s presence, but he despised him. Gargalla, on the other hand, found him utterly boring.
“Well, since we’re going to use him, the dumber he is, the better.”
“Yeah, for your actual job.”
Vlad was a scammer in real life. Because of this experience, he knew that Aldo planned to use him and Gargalla.
I would never be cheated, I could never be used by others. Vlad had seen through the fact that Aldo was rife with such groundless confidence.
“Well then, time to start then. My just duty is to set him free, after all.”
“As creepy as always, man.”
“I’m not seeking your approval.”
With those words trailing behind, Vlad disappeared into the bustle of the city.
“Haha, a High Human…! I hope this will be a lot of fun…”
Gargalla then walked away, in a different direction than Vlad.
Unbeknownst to Shin, ominous shadows were drawing closer.