The day before Vlad’s meeting with Hameln, Robin wandered aimlessly through Kalkia at dusk as Aldo’s words continuously echoed in his mind.
If you can’t produce any results, you’re fired.
It was something Aldo could do. After all, Robin had witnessed it in the past.
Despite that, Robin didn’t do anything for the man about to be fired. He could not do anything, afraid he too would meet the same fate.
When the times comes for me to be fired, no one will mourn for me, just like that time, Robin thought.
“Hello, Mr. Robin.”
“….Who are you?”
Robin had been walking with his gaze down, in desperation. A man’s sudden approach made him suspicious.
“My name is Vlad. I was actually requested by Mr. Aldo to urge a player named Shin to quicken his dungeon clearing. I learned that you were given instructions to do the same thing, so I was thinking that we could work together.”
Vlad explained the situation in a polite, courteous tone.
Maybe Vlad too was an employee of the same company? Robin briefly pondered over this, but he didn’t want to think about it any deeper.
“You too…terrible, isn’t it…?”
It was really terrible. How many times he had wondered, if only my boss wasn’t someone like that…
“You seem quite distressed, is something the matter? You do not appear to be affected by status ailments, though.”
Despite Vlad’s worried question, Robin turned and walked away.
“…Please, leave me alone.”
“That won’t do. You’ll be discarded like this, you know? Here and in reality as well.”
Robin abruptly turned around.
“Have you come to laugh at my misery!?”
His honest feelings erupted out. His voice was louder than expected.
“Absolutely not. In fact, I truly respect you for what you must have been through until now. I have a proposal, Mr. Robin, so would you hear me out? If you accept, I can erase the source of your troubles and dispel your worries, you know?”
It took a moment for Robin to understand what Vlad meant.
Erase the source of his troubles.
“You’ll kill him for me?”
Robin’s words clearly included a hint of hope.
“No, but…he’s strong. His avatar contains a cheat, coded in by management…most of his stats are over 800. His equipment is full of Ancient-grade gear too, stuff that you rarely get even if you pay. There is also barely any chance to kill him since he is always cooped up at home…”
“There is…a chance.”
Vlad put a hand on Robin’s shoulder and whispered something into his ear. Robin stood still for several seconds.
“If you help me, I will erase him without fail. One of my comrades is in the same class as he is, you know. Excluding differences in stats, a greenhorn with a strong avatar is no match for someone who has actually fought in this world. You understand, don’t you? I heard that he doesn’t even remember all of his skills, right?”
“…yes, that’s right. He hasn’t even fought properly here.”
He can kill? That man?
Without Aldo around, Robin would not be forced to pester Shin. There was no need to kowtow to anyone. No need to run errands for others. No need to be mocked for playing a game. To run around everywhere looking for items. To venture into dangerous areas. To be avoided by the players working at the frontlines to clear dungeons.
If they returned to reality, Robin would surely be fired if Aldo was around. He would be fired without a just cause, so he would not receive any retirement bonus either.
“What do you think? Isn’t it an attractive proposal?”
Vlad’s voice easily slipped into his ears.
Attractive. Yes, it was very attractive. Even if it was a demon’s whisper.
“…what do you need from me?”
“Hehe. Just something, yes, something very simple.”
Vlad’s lips emitted a clear, bright laugh.
His smile was evil in a way Robin had never seen in his life.
“I want you to do just one thing. If you can do just that, my comrades and I will handle the rest.”
Smiling throughout, Vlad told Robin what he wanted him to do.
Robin was shaken by what Vlad told him.
“One person will be erased. What, you thought you could keep your hands clean?”
“Don’t worry. You just have to bring them. There is no need to hurt the child. I’ll say it again, you just have to bring them. That will be enough.”
Vlad’s gentle voice continued.
“My comrades and I will do everything. You simply have to call one person. Is that a sin? The person you call will just walk into something unfortunate. We will be the ones to act. You will share none of the blame.”
A false pardon.
Robin did not want to look at reality. He did not express his doubts.
“Yes. You wish to return to the real world, free of concerns, right? You wish to meet your family, don’t you? Won’t you help us then, just a little?”
I want to see my family.
That thought made him decide.
For the current Robin, nothing except his family really mattered.
The morning following the night Shin slept while embracing Marino. Shin woke up feeling someone wiggling in his arms.
As he opened his eyes, Shin found Marino’s face right before his, at breathing distance.
Noticing that Shin was awake, she tried to retreat.
Before she could, though, Shin’s arms moved. He hugged Marino tightly before she could jump out of the covers. Holding the back of her head, he pulled her towards him.
“Eeh!? Hey, wait, mmhn!?”
Without letting her resist, Shin went in for a kiss. After a moment, Marino stopped resisting.
After the kiss, Marino seemed to lose all of her energy and just stared into space. Seeing her so defenseless, Shin thought to play a prank on the girl, but she returned to her senses before he had a chance to do so.
“W-Whuat are you doing, all of a sudden?”
Marino was not only stuttering but also out of breath, her cheeks flushing red.
“What? You wanted to kiss, right? So badly that you tried it while I was sleeping.”
“W-Well, that’s true, but…it couldn’t be helped! I was looking at you sleep and couldn’t hold back.”
Marino spoke while poking Shin’s chest. Shin, on the other hand, couldn’t stop grinning.
“No problem then. At least none for me. Rather, you can continue. Snuggle all you want.”
Shin opened his arms to encourage her, but Marino scampered out of the room. Shin lay down again, thinking that he probably teased her too much.
What Marino had said the night before about her illness was on his mind.
In reality, they were probably sleeping in a hospital bed. If anything happened, the doctors and nurses would likely come running. Marino was already sick, so she would be assisted even more.
Shin didn’t know what continuously sleeping could do to the body. It was possible that Marino’s life expectancy was constantly shortening. Thinking about it, he felt an urge to immediately look for a new area and clear it.
“….calm down. Rushing ahead without thinking is the worst choice in a dungeon.”
Shin jumped up from the bed and took a deep breath. Even during the game, he had sometimes picked the wrong skill and died just before clearing a dungeon. In this world, that would be utterly reckless to do.
Shin reprimanded himself not to lose his cool, but he couldn’t help feeling restless. The life of the first person he had ever loved was at stake. He could not manage to stay completely calm.
Then, he heard someone knock. As Shin responded, the door opened a little.
“Breakfast is ready.”
“Sorry, I’m coming.”
Shin apologized to the still blushing Marino and stood up. When he passed by her, he stroked her hair without thinking.
“Nothing, just felt like stroking your hair.”
“….that’s fine, then.”
Marino looked embarrassed but also a little happy.
Looking at her, Shin felt his restlessness dissipate.
(I have to make it in time.)
On the other hand, his drive was even stronger.
I will return alive with Marino. Such emotions burned brightly within Shin’s heart.
The heart could influence the body. Even though Shin’s body was supposed to be mere data, he now felt pumped and full of energy as if it had been strengthened.
“H-Haven’t you had enough? You’re patting me too much!”
“Hey, it feels really good to touch, so…”
He felt uneasy, but also stronger, thanks to her.
He could only do everything in his power now.
“Ok then, time for breakfast!”
“Hey! Don’t go off by yourself!”
Shin laughed wryly as Marino hurried after him.