Shin had been tasked with caring for Luca; they knitted and took naps together, surprising everyone around them with how well they got along.
Marino and Emil would sometimes drop in to check on them, but Luca was never unmanageable.
Although she was a bit shy at first, by the afternoon she had completely opened up to Shin.
“What can I say? It’s pretty surprising.”
Holly, a female player, expressed her surprise upon seeing Shin interact with Luca. As one of the advanced players who collaborated with the orphanage, she was also on friendly terms with Shin. Soft-spoken and serene, she was especially popular with the younger children.
“Eh? What is?”
“Well, kids like Luca are pretty hard to care for if you’re not used to it, you know? Especially for a man, like you. Or so I thought anyway.”
It was now an hour past noon, signalling nap time for the children.
Lying down together with them, Shin watched over the sleeping Luca.
“Yeah, that could be because I have a little sister too.”
“Oh really? Ah, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry into your real life circumstances.”
“That’s all right. I have two brothers, one older and one younger, and a little sister. Looking after our little sister is our duty, right? My brothers and I took turns taking care of her. Compared to Luca, however, my little sister was quite the handful as she was always wandering off.”
Perhaps due to similar ages, Shin’s little sister was most attached to their little brother. Despite that, Shin was relatively experienced in taking care of children because of her.
“You said it before, right? That your brothers never played THE NEW GATE?”
Marino, who was caring for the other children, noted that she had heard about the topic before.
“My little sister did. But luckily she wasn’t involved in this mess.”
“If she had, I bet you would have rushed to look for her.”
“Oh, I’m sure she could survive easily, so I wouldn’t really be worried.”
“Is she really strong too?”
“Frankly speaking, yes, very much so. Not only are her level and stats high, but she also has high movement speed.”
Shin’s little sister also played THE NEW GATE, and because of her ability, had become rather famous. The two siblings had kept their distance within the game, so few knew of her connection to Shin.
“She can make even you say something like that? Is she as powerful as my husband?”
“Yes, well you could say that I’m biased since she’s family, but my sister is probably superior, as far as player skill is concerned. Though, Shadow’s player skill is amazing too.”
Shadow was Holly’s husband and also famous for his skill.
Shin’s words surprised Marino.
“Better than Shadow? Your little sister is amazing too, then, in a different way from you. Are your other brothers this special too?”
“No, they don’t even play THE NEW GATE, after all.”
All of Shin’s siblings loved videogames, comics, and animation, but his oldest brother was busy with work and did not partake much in such pastimes anymore. Shin’s little brother liked comics more than videogames, so the only one to play the same games as Shin was his little sister.
She wasn’t that interested in comics or animation either. Even within the same family, likes and hobbies were all different.
Shin looked back towards Luca, who shifted slightly in her sleep, and realized that her right hand had somehow started gripping his left. She was still asleep though.
“Looks like she wants to keep you close even while sleeping.”
“My, I’m afraid you won’t escape easily, big brother.”
Marino smiled and Holly lightly teased Shin.
With an embarrassed laugh, Shin’s gaze turned towards the hand Luca was holding. He could have escaped her grip all too easily, but he did not feel like moving away anytime soon.
“Holly and I will take care of the other kids, so Shin will stay with Luca. Is that ok?”
“Of course. And Shin, when Luca wakes up, be at her side, ok? This morning she threw a fit because you weren’t there.”
This was what Teppei and Ryohei had mentioned when Shin and Marino arrived at the orphanage.
Luca had lived alone for about 2 months after her brother and his party disappeared. There was no one she was familiar with among the people around her, so she was deeply afraid of losing someone she knew, as Emil had told Shin in secret.
Emil had slept with her the previous night, but had woken up early to prepare the children’s food, leaving Luca alone in the process. There was no one with her when she woke up, so Luca started loudly crying.
“OK, got it. If I have to go somewhere, I’ll let someone know first.”
There were other players in the orphanage other than Emil, Marino and Holly. Shin was acquainted with them all, so he wouldn’t have trouble calling someone if necessary.
The game world did not require using the toilet so unless there was an emergency, Shin would have no trouble staying with Luca until she woke up.
“OK, I’ll leave her to you then.”
“Take good care of her, all right?”
Shin watched them head off, then looked again at Luca’s face and her hand, still holding his. He then added a little more more strength in his grip.
As if in response to that, Luca’s expression became more serene.
Luca opened her eyes around thirty minutes later. Naptime was always half an hour, so apparently her body had memorized it.
She was still in a daze at first, but when she saw Shin next to her, she felt slightly embarrassed to have her sleeping face exposed, despite her very young age.
“Afternoon is free time, right? What do you want to do?”
Making children work too much felt wrong, so either mornings or afternoons in the orphanage were always free activity times. Today, they all did as they pleased after waking up from their afternoon nap, given that they had already worked in morning.
Incidentally, the energetic group Shin had “fought” in the morning would help with simple jobs in the afternoon.
“I want to take a walk.”
“Outside then? Well, staying cooped up inside all day would be boring after all.”
The orphanage was pretty vast, but even going slowly it would only take a minute to walk a lap around it.
In town, it was generally not possible to reduce players’ HP and kill them. But as was the case with everything else, there were exceptions due to which the orphanage made sure that when the children ventured outside, they were always accompanied by someone who could hold their own in battle.
“No, a change of pace would be nice, after all. Wait a moment, let’s try asking Emil.”
Shin contacted Emil via chat, and was asked to do some shopping as well. He agreed and raised a thumb in Luca’s direction.
Luca raised her little thumbs, excited.
Thanks to the item box, there was no need to physically carry things. If anything happened, Shin could react immediately, so there would be no problem.
Shin heard from Emil that the other children would stay within the orphanage grounds, so he and Luca left right away.
“Oh, you’re going out?”
The two bumped into Marino as they were opening the orphanage doors. Shin explained that he was going out for a walk with Luca and to do some shopping.
“She’s always been inside lately, now that you mention it. Yes, I also think it’s a good idea.”
Marino agreed with a smile, when Luca suddenly grabbed her hand.
“Marino come too?”
Marino looked at Shin, silently asking him if something had happened.
Shin shook his head.
“Hmm, okay, I’ll ask Emil. If she allows it, I’ll come with you guys.”
Unlike Shin, Marino was one of the orphanage’s central members because she often helped out there. She couldn’t just leave without a word.
Marino went quiet for several seconds to use the chat, then raised her thumb just like Shin had previously done.
Luca repeated the same gesture again.
“OK, let’s go. Luca, don’t let go of Marino’s hand, okay?”
Shin had Luca take Marino’s left hand, so she would not get lost in a crowd.
“The other hand is yours then, Shin.”
In response, Marino put Luca’s right hand on Shin’s.
With both her hands being held, Luca beamed with joy. Shin and Marino smiled at each other.
After leaving the orphanage, the trio first headed to the grocery street to procure meat and vegetables. The street was crowded with players who had agricultural jobs, offering the products they grew to other players coming to buy ingredients for dinner.
“—–yes, please give me the usual. Ah, but I need one more of that meat.”
Shin had been entrusted with the shopping, but Marino carefully selected what to buy. She always shopped like this for the orphanage, so the store owners treated her with familiarity and also responded well to her bargaining.
“Big sis Mari, wow…”
“Isn’t your bargaining skill already active when you start shopping? You’re also using a real negotiation skill.”
Shin and Luca were impressed by Marino’s skill.
“—-agh, I can’t just say no to you, can I! Consider this a thank you for always buying my goods! I’ll give them to you for 70. Now get lost!”
“Thank you very much!”
“By the way, are those two with you, missy?”
“Yes, they are, why do you ask?”
The owner looked at Shin and Luca, then grinned and whispered to Marino.
“Well ya see, shopping while holding hands with a kid… doesn’t that resemble a couple of newlyweds? You’re gonna make single dudes like me green with envy, darnit!”
“N-Newlywhat!? What are you saying!?”
Marino stuttered in response, unable to say the full word.
“Anyone would think so, little lady. But yeah okay, enough jokes for today.”
“You can’t just joke about things like this!!”
“You didn’t really hate it though, didja. You were grinning, missy!”
Marino abruptly hid her mouth with her hands. Incidentally, Shin heard everything.
He came closer, thinking it was time to lend Marino a helping hand, when the owner’s expression turned deadly serious.
“I’m not an information broker or anything, but you’re a precious customer, so I gotta tell ya. Make sure the little girl don’t hear.”
Shin gently pressed his hands on Luca’s ears, who had tilted her head after hearing the man’s words.
“Yeah, I’ll be quick. They say that a bunch of PKs started being active again lately. Ever heard of “Ouroboros’ Hollow?” Even some advanced players have fallen victim to them. We’ve been told to keep alert.”
“I’ve heard the name, yes. Their members all have pretty high stats, or so I heard.”
“Ouroboros’ Hollow” was composed solely of PK players.
The players who were only acting out that role in the game and had no intention of truly killing had long left the guild. The ones who remained were actual murderers.
The guild that killed players for fun had now turned into a true assassins’ guild.
“I have no idea what they’re thinking, but some of em’ even target small kids. Which yer’ orphanage has a whole bunch of. Better stay on your toes, ya hear me?”
“Thank you for giving us such important information.”
Marino thanked the concerned owner.
As the man had said, the orphanage was a prime target, because of the weakness of the players inside and the grave consequences such an act would cause. It was also a fact that there were those who preyed on the weak with no particular reason.
“Don’t mention it, missy. It’d be really sad for a face I know to disappear…ah, you can let her go now.”
After the owner’s words, Shin took his hands off Luca’s ears.
“You finished talking?”
“Yeah, sorry for covering your ears all of a sudden.”
“….no, I have been defaild*…you must take responsibility!”
(T/N: defaild* Defiled was misspelled on purpose, Luca is supposed to not know what she’s saying)
To Shin’s apology, Luca put her hands on her hips and puffed up her chest in protest. The gesture itself was quite comical, in complete contrast with the very serious tone of her objection.
“Hey hey man, what are you teaching to a little girl like that…?”
“Like I would!! Really though, where did you learn that…?”
“Teppei said it’s a good thing to say to boys. It isn’t?”
“Of course it isn’t. It’s better not to use those words much.”
Luca didn’t actually know the meaning of what she had said, so she honestly nodded.
“Well then, guess I’ll have a little “talk” with Teppei once we get back.”
“That’s true. Better inform Emil too.”
“You’re smiling, but not happy…?”
Marino and Shin’s lips were smiling, but their eyes weren’t, which confused Luca quite a bit.
“Hahaha, nothing to worry about, Luca.”
“Yes, we’re going to take care of everything. OK then, shopping’s done, so let’s go for a little walk. Have a nice day, sir.”
“Sure, you lot take care!”
They bade farewell to the shop owner, then Marino held Luca’s hand as the trio walked on.
As Kalkia was one of the hometowns, players had set up all sorts of shops.
Commodity stores with healing medicines and everyday goods, open-air stands with handmade equipment, eateries with waiters running around taking orders. The great variety of shops and people made it entertaining just to look at them.
Luca, happily walking between Shin and Marino, enjoyed the sights too.
“We’ve been out a while already, better go back.”
Fun times go by quickly. When Shin checked the time, it was already past 4 in the afternoon.
THE NEW GATE included a season system too; seasons would change roughly each month. The current season was autumn, so the sun would set early. It was already noticeably darker compared to noon hours.
“We go back, already?”
“Yes. If it gets dark everyone will worry.”
Luca seemed disappointed, so Shin promised that he would take her on a walk again.
When they returned to the orphanage, the children who had left to help with work had come back too. Some girls who noticed Luca’s return invited her to play with them.
Marino would often sleep over at the orphanage, but because she would stay at Shin’s place for a while, Marino went to report to Emil.
Waiting for Marino to come back, Shin was at the orphanage’s gates, lost in thought while looking at the sky.
There, one man approached him.
“Excuse me sir…could you tell me if you really are Mr. Shin?”
“….yes, I am, and you are?”
Shin turned towards the man. He quickly activated【Analyze】, which displayed the man’s name as Vlad, his level 255.
“My apologies. My name is Vlad. I hoped to visit Tsuki no Hokora and happened to see you here, so I took the liberty to approach you directly.”
Vlad’s polite speech and demeanor did not seem particularly suspicious.
“Is that so. What exactly brings you to me then?”
“I am actually in the middle of clearing another dungeon, and the area before the boss contains some very powerful poison. I thus wanted to ask if you possibly could share some recovery items. The parties involved in this clearing effort are composed of members from the guilds “Savage Lions” and “Yatagarasu”, led by Lao of the Explosive Legs corps. I have heard that you are acquainted with Lao, so if necessary you could contact him.”
The strength of the poison probably made it impossible for the players to cure it fully using their skills.
Shin asked about details of the area and quickly figured out what the man was referring to.
“That must be Bloodred Poison. It’s true that very few players in the whole game can recover from that, I think it can’t be helped.”
Bloodred Poison was a particular negative status with far worse effects than normal Poison. Players with INT less than 900 could only mitigate its effects through skills. This status also lasted for a considerably long time, so defeating a boss while under its effects was hardly doable.
“Understood, I will prepare some recovery items for you, but wouldn’t it have been faster if Lao just sent me a message via chat?”
“Lao is now heading to the dungeon. He did not want to burden you, but the other leaders decided that prolonging the mission would be difficult because of scarce resources and the members’ morale diminishing. As such, I have been entrusted with delivering the message.”
Lao said that he would have contacted Shin if the current dungeon clearing mission failed, at least according to Vlad.
He had approached Shin now probably because there was a high chance of failure at present.
“I shall take my leave then. I thank you for your assistance.”
Just as Vlad had turned to leave, Marino came out of the orphanage.
“Sorry for the wait, Shin.”
“No, you came just at the right time.”
Shin welcomed Marino with a smile.
“Er, did I interrupt you?”
“Please do not worry, as I was about to leave. Farewell, then.”
Vlad gave a small bow and left.
“Tch, I had heard of her, but…what’s with that woman!?”
After leaving Shin, Vlad slipped in the crowd, then quickly turned into a back alley.
He couldn’t help blurting out his annoyance and was relieved to see that no one was around to hear.
“Filthy player trash parasitizing Shin…should just go die already…”
Vlad continued cursing with a menacing tone that he had completely concealed when talking to Shin.
A member of Rokuten, the strongest guild, and the only player who had achieved max stats.
Vlad could barely imagine how much time, money, and dedication it took to achieve such a level.
“Aah, but to cleanse the trash heaping around him is my noble duty. Gahaha, it’s supposed to be a chore, so why do I feel so excited?”
Shin was a player that Vlad admired. The glorious sight of Shin sweeping through the opposing team by himself in a guild vs guild battle had moved Vlad’s heart, despite the fact that it was just a game.
When he first started playing he focused on raising his level and stats, but now that his avatar was stronger, he only spent his efforts on things related to Shin.
“The strongest shine the most when they are alone at the peak. The cursed star that shines the brightest within Rokuten…I shall bring back your true brilliance.”
An insane laugh echoed in the alley, without reaching any ears.