Vol. 10 Chapter 3 – Part 3

“Things under your nose are the hardest to find, as they say.”

“That’s right. The hometown’s underground…they said it would be made into a dungeon in the next update. I didn’t even think that it actually existed.”

Shin and Shadow were walking in a large space located under Kalkia. It was not an underground waterway. Instead, it was a series of small and big rooms connected by corridors of various sizes.

Ouroboros’ hideout, as Calmia’s information network had found out, was in this underground space.

Being a section still not implemented in the game, there were no bosses or monsters roaming about, nor any treasure chests or traps.

The entrance wasn’t easy to find either, so it would be difficult to find if one wasn’t aware of its existence.

“Looks like they bothered setting up some traps though.”

Shin and Shadow passed without activating traps that would have likely meant sudden death for players with stats around 400. During their PK guild extermination missions, they had gained deeper knowledge of anti-player traps.

The two proceeded through the corridors with silent footsteps. The information they had only covered the entrance and a bit farther. It was possible for monsters and traps to be present in the depths of the underground space.

“Someone’s there.”

They spotted a humanlike silhouette in the corridor ahead. Shadow hid, just in case, while Shin moved closer to check it.

The silhouette’s name was displayed in red characters; definite proof that it was a PK. Next to the name, there also was a snake biting its tail -Ouroboros’ logo- clearly visible.

The PK was coming from underground and heading outside, unaware of Shin’s presence. When the PK passed next to him, Shin placed a tracker, usually used with monsters, without being noticed.

The guild’s executives, with the guildmaster above all, had to be eliminated first.

When guild members died, the guildmaster alone would be notified of their demise immediately. Other members could also know if they looked the dead member up, so being noticed early would increase the number of escapees.

In unusual groups, like PK guilds, the guildmaster often had particular charisma, so if they escaped there was the risk of them creating a similar organization again.

Shin and Shadow kept exploring further, putting tracking markers on PKs as they passed them.

“There are more and more people around here. Looks like we hit the jackpot, but they’re acting strangely.”

“Yeah, looks like they’re fighting.”

On Shin’s map, the markers in one specific section were moving wildly.

There was some kind of commotion going on, even in the few seconds that Shin looked at the map, several marks symbolizing players had disappeared.

At first they thought that another member of Avidya had attacked the hideout, but the other members were hunting down PKs that didn’t belong to any guild or survivors from guilds they had crushed.

Even if they did attack, Shin would have been informed beforehand.

“Could there have been a mutiny or something?”

“Could be. It happened in other guilds, after all.”

Most PKs shared common interests or ways of thinking. But because of that, in some cases they could turn their blades against their own comrades.

Among all PKs, some had lost to hopelessness after Shin and Shadow started their hunt, while others had gone on rampages in their own guilds.

“We’ve infiltrated easily enough, but a careful guildmaster might manage to flee.”

“Let’s split up. Use the commotion as a lure and look for whoever is the guildmaster. I’ll go that way, you take the opposite direction, Shin.”

Shadow proposed to go in the direction of the commotion.

“Wouldn’t it be better if I went that way?”

If the guildmaster was there, Shin could blow him away along with the fighting PKs with his magic.

“No, if the guildmaster comes to quell the commotion, I’ll ambush them. It would be a lot worse if they avoided the commotion and left here. If it’s about chasing people, you are faster and have a wider detection field too.”

There wasn’t much time for debate. Shin had no reason to stubbornly oppose Shadow’s proposal, so he nodded and ran off.

 

A few minutes after separating from Shin, Shadow reached the location where the PKs were fighting. He used all the concealment-type skills he could to make sure he was not found.

He had used the support items Shin had given him along with everything his Ninja job had, so the fighting PKs had not noticed his approach at all.

“Gwah!?”

“Shit…why…”

Hidden in the shadows, Shadow observed the fighting going on in front of him.

He wouldn’t interfere. Having the PKs kill each other would make his burden lighter, after all.

“Don’t go shitting your panties there, ladies.”

The speaker was the cause of the commotion. With a sigh, the man swung his giant axe. Thanks to the combination of centrifugal force and his own muscles, the sword-wielding fighter he opposed was cleaved in two along with his weapon.

“This is the last major guild. If you don’t do something, the High Human will come get you, ya know? So why do I have to hear people talk about running away?”

The man’s name was Gargalla. The despicable man who murdered Holly. An opponent to kill at all costs.

Every time Gargalla swung his battleaxe, the PKs surrounding him disappeared. Shadow did not let his emotions take over and attack. That had caused him to fail previously.

“(Shin, I found Gargalla.)”

Shadow connected a chat to Shin and surprised himself by how calm he sounded.

“…..really..”

“(Yeah, I’m sorry but let me do this. If anything happens, the rest is up to you.)”

“(………)”

Shin didn’t answer. Shadow knew, however, that he wouldn’t give up on finding the enemy to come to his location.

“I…I have to kill him.”

Shadow quietly breathed out.

Unlike the time when rage and hate had clouded his mind, he was now coolly analyzing Gargalla’s movements.

“You all sound pretty damn boring now!!”

Another one, another PK left this world. Be it saints or vicious criminals, all players disappeared the same way when they died. Nothing remained.

“……..”

Shadow kept observing Gargalla.

While fighting, Gargalla would sometimes turn his back to Shadow. Every time he did, Shadow registered a red effect blinking on Gargalla’s neck.

That was the sign meaning an attack would result in instant death. It appeared when the system judged the opponent to have shown an opening, an effect of the Ninja skill 【Blink of the Death God】. “Opening” stood for the lag time after attacking or activating a skill, when the player was defenseless and attacks could hit more easily.

The blinking light was reflected in Shadow’s eyes several more times, but he did not move.

Advanced players would sometimes show openings on purpose, and 【Blink of the Death God】 could not differentiate between voluntary and involuntary ones. A player that had just gained the skill would rely too much on it and attack, only to be counterattacked.

The possibility of Gargalla having noticed his presence was low. But Shadow, who had fought against him, knew how honed Gargalla’s battle instinct was.

Thus he waited for the best chance to strike.

“You want to go down fighting, don’t you. Why run when someone stronger is coming to get you, then!”

The number of PKs fighting against Gargalla could now be counted on one hand. With another couple swings from his battleaxe, they would all probably disappear.

Shadow attacked when Gargalla had raised his axe to cut down the last remaining PK.

“—–!!”

As if he appeared out of thin air, Shadow snuck behind Gargalla. The blade in his hands precisely aiming for the man’s neck.

“Ngh!?”

Gargalla reacted to the silently approaching blade in a surprising way. The attack had come from his blind spot, but despite that, he jumped in the other PK’s direction, barely escaping the clutches of certain death.

Shadow’s blade had slashed Gargalla’s neck, but thanks to the last-second dodge he had managed to keep his head attached to his body.

In real life such a cut would have severed an artery, but the result in the game was only a loss of around 10% of Gargalla’s HP. The 【Bloodred Poison】 status inflicted by Shadow’s dagger, however, gnawed at Gargalla from within.

Before confirming the consequences of his attack, however, Shadow had concealed himself again.

“…this wasn’t one of the people here.”

Gargalla had an idea of who could have so splendidly enacted the Ninja hit-and-hide strategy.

“Ooh, yeah, now I get it. I did hear that there was a fierce ninja with the people going around killing PKs.”

Gargalla flashed a vicious smile. He bashed the other PK, who was scampering away, with his battleaxe and examined his surroundings.

He couldn’t use recovery items. If he tried to, Shadow would strike when the opening generated.

“……”

In the now completely silent room, only the sound of something burning could be heard.

Then the sound of something suddenly falling.

“!!”

Gargalla reacted instantly. The moment he looked at the direction the sound came from, something glinted in the darkness.

“Tch!!”

The slash, coming from the opposite direction of the sound source, grazed Gargalla’s legs and vanished.

Gargalla could only see the effects of the attack. Slashes that appeared out of nowhere, as if they had come from another dimension, were Shadow’s trademark in THE NEW GATE.

“Damn, can’t really see shit..!!”

Attacks that made full use of movement skills, concealment skills, and Ninja abilities. That was the true nature of the advanced player called “Shadow the Shadowless”.

From the legs to the neck, to the arms, then to the neck again.

The never-ending storm of swords clashed against Gargalla’s armor in bursts of sparks. The speed-based attacks were light, however, and could not exceed his defense.

On the other hand, Gargalla could not find a target to attack. However, he did not just stand around and be attacked; he managed to block the slashes at the last second.

Attacking deactivated concealment skills. Even the most experienced players could not avoid a certain time lag after the attack before activating concealment skills again. Normally the opponent would detect them as target after the first attack.

This did not affect Shadow, however. His mental operations were faster and smoother than most players. He attacked and disappeared immediately, almost as if he was on autopilot.

Shadow’s continuous attacks had not caused serious damage to Gargalla, but the 【Bloodred Poison】 status he had inflicted at the start was eating away at Gargalla’s HP gauge, as the latter could not recover.

Shadow was not targeting critical spots, but also parts that would delay Gargalla’s movements, such as joints and openings in the armor. When the opponent was starting to get used to such attacks, Shadow would strike critical spots again.

The incessant attacks continued. Finally, Shadow’s blade stretched towards Gargalla’s neck again, but the latter did not defend himself.

“!?”

The blade reached the man’s neck, but was repelled without cutting anything. Because of this development, completely different to what had happened until now, Shadow’s rhythm was disrupted for a moment.

“RRAAAHHH!!!”

Not Gargalla’s axe, but his fist lunged at Shadow. Protected by a gauntlet and boasting high STR, it was a fearsome weapon by itself.

“Sssh!!”

Having been seen, Shadow could not disappear again; he readied again the repelled blade in a battle stance and parried the attack.

Sparks flew between the gauntlet and the short sword. Shadow didn’t oppose the force pushing him back and put distance between himself and his opponent.

“You’re finally out in the open, huh. Totally different from last time though.”

“…….”

Gargalla’s tone was impressed, but Shadow silently took out an item.

The item’s name was “Miracle Drug of Blinking Life”. Shaped like a round pill, it boosted the user’s stats immensely but, in exchange, would soon take their life.

The time limit changed based on the user’s HP, but not even Shin could fight for long after using it. Shadow even more so.

Now that he could only confront Gargalla head on, he would use any means available.

If he had fought alongside Shin, he probably would not have needed to go so far. He was throwing away his life. Shadow himself understood that much.

He could not have done that, though. It would have meant nothing if he didn’t defeat the opponent before him, Gargalla, with his own two hands.

In his heart, Shadow whispered an apology. Then, he swallowed the “Miracle Drug of Blinking Life”.

“…——!!!!”

The moment he felt the item started being effective, Shadow charged towards Gargalla.

Maybe it was because he didn’t think Shadow would attack from the front, or maybe because his speed was more than expected.

Taken completely by surprise, Gargalla barely managed to repel the blade aimed at his neck and swung his battleaxe in response.

The repelled shortsword struck Gargalla’s chest, making sparks against the armor; Gargalla’s breastplate was damaged but could not be pierced.

The battleaxe cut through the air, aimed at Shadow, who used his shortsword to forcefully change the attack’s trajectory.

A feat of strength only possible thanks to the item’s boost; now Shadow’s STR was not inferior to Gargalla’s.

Gargalla pulled back his battleaxe while parrying Shadow’s follow-up attacks with his gauntlet, then used the axe to push against him.

Shadow stopped attacking and attempted to increase the distance between them, but a sudden chill running down his spine made him give up on this too. He could not overcome the battleaxe’s momentum and used his shortsword to clash against it.

“You got good instincts.”

Gargalla’s smile suggested that he knew what Shadow tried to do. Based on his avatar’s stats, it was easy to imagine that many players until now had tried to best Gargalla using speed.

Shadow guessed that the chill he felt was caused by Gargalla’s countermeasure against speed-based players.

“See if ya like this, then!!”

Gargalla held his battleaxe with his right hand and spread the palm of his left hand. An instant later, a battleaxe just like the one in his right hand appeared in Gargalla’s left hand as well.

Using that opening, Shadow made use of Gargalla’s power to increase the distance between them. At the same time, he threw the shortsword he was holding at Gargalla.

Gargalla tried to knock the projectile down, but the shortsword changed directions in midair, dodging the battleaxe and aiming for his neck.

Gargalla flexed his neck, however, the flying blade passed right next to it and ended up stabbing the ground.

The Throwing and Wind combination skill 【Trick Throw】 allowed one to change the direction of the thrown weapon in midair. Gargalla had guessed how many times the direction could change during flight.

After throwing the shortsword, Shadow quickly materialized twin swords. Wielding these weapons with boosted AGI at the expense of durability, he attacked Gargalla again.

This time Shadow did not attack from the front, but unleashed attacks from many directions, using the walls and even the ceiling as foothold. Making use of the Movement-type skill 【Flying Shadow】, he increased the unpredictability of his attacks.

Shadow had little HP left; the time left for him was probably less than one minute.

But even in such a situation, he did not lose his cool. Aiming for the instant he could deliver the final blow, he used everything he could in the room as footholds for his movement and attacks.

A frenzied run that, in such a confined space, made it look like he could control space.

The light streaks drawn by the twin blades in mid-air surrounded Gargalla like a barrier.

“…ooh.”

Shadow ran. The sounds grew smaller and smaller.

“Ooohh!!!”

Shadow jumped. The flowing scenery became slower and slower.

“Oooohhh!!!!”

Shadow slashed. The cuts on Gargalla’s body gradually increased.

“OoooOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”

Shadow roared, following the emotion bursting from within.

A roar that ultimately turned into a scream, as Gargalla’s armor saw its durability decrease exponentially.

“What the hell got into you all of a sudden!?”

Even Gargalla could not help being shaken by Shadow’s sudden acceleration.

The “Miracle Drug of Blinking Life”, in exchange of the ultimate price it required, granted the user an explosive stat boost. Added effects, such as the ones players normally used, were nothing in comparison.

Normally it would not be possible to use it to the fullest. In this moment, however, a power that players would subconsciously limit was under Shadow’s complete control.

A force of desperation, that lasted only dozens of seconds. Shadow used that fleeting time to decide the outcome of the battle.

Gargalla could not keep up with Shadow’s movements anymore. Shadow first concentrated on his opponent’s right leg, to restrict his movements. The moment Gargalla lost his balance, Shadow went for his neck.

“Nnghh!!”

Maybe it happened because Shadow had already targeted his neck many times. Gargalla had predicted such an attack and raised his battleaxe in defense.

The twin swords had low durability from the start: clashing against Gargalla’s battleaxe, the armor shattered them.

“Kh!?”

“Out of time, huh?? You’re outta luck too!!”

His weapons crushed, Shadow landed and remained immobile for a moment. Gargalla’s battleaxe rose again, towering behind his back.

Shadow wasn’t sure whether his armor could withstand such an attack. There was no time to dodge it by sidestepping either.

Gargalla was sure to have claimed victory. The small opening birthed by such confidence was exactly what Shadow was waiting for. The shortsword he had thrown previously was stabbing the ground at his feet.

“And now—-”

Shadow was kneeling, his back facing Gargalla. He quickly took the short sword and jumped backwards.

Charging backwards at your opponent was an absolutely reckless move, but Gargalla’s battleaxe managed to react. Because of the unexpected movement, however, it did not succeed in splitting Shadow apart.

Shadow’s back clashed against Gargalla’s armor. The next instant, Shadow stabbed his own chest with the shortsword.

The blade pierced Shadow’s body and continued towards Gargalla’s chest armor.

Normally, it would have been repelled. But the accumulated damage created a different result.

The shortsword’s blade pierced the sturdy armor and stabbed the flesh it protected. A little, just a little more, and it would reach the heart.

“It’s over!!!”

The blade still stabbed, Shadow activated a skill.

It was the Sword and Flame combination skill 【Purgatory Thrust】. A blade of fire formed from the shortsword, filling the distance from the blade’s tip to the heart, extending out of Gargalla’s back.

Critical hit. An absolute instant death attack, ignoring remaining HP.

“Hah, not…ba—–”

Gargalla’s body turned into polygons and scattered before he could finish his last sentence.

Shadow kneeled down, the shortsword still lodged in his chest. Because of the last skill he used, he barely had 5 seconds left.

“Aah…”

A strengthless groan escaped his lips.

His love burnt, his hate exasperated, his sadness fed him to keep him going. But the conclusion he reached was just the reality that he had killed people.

He had his revenge. His mission was complete. Nothing remained in his chest, however.

He did not think that revenge was a fruitless thing.

It was not fulfilling either, though.

“Shadow!!!”

Five seconds until the flame of Shadow’s life flickered away. The last person to call his name was the man who shouldered the same pain as he, the friend that had walked down his same path.

“Shin.”

He had reached the end first. Because of that, Shadow thought that he had to tell him.

Maybe Shin would reply that he didn’t want to hear that from him. But Shadow felt that he had to be the one to say it, because he was in the same position, because his words could maybe reach Shin’s heart.

“Don’t…end…like..th…”

Shadow saw Shin run to him as if through a cracked lens. He couldn’t feel his body anymore. The end had come.

Had his words reached him? The vanishing Shadow could not know.

 

◆◆◆◆

 

“Out of my sight.”

Shin received Shadow’s message about Gargalla as he was blitzing through the guild, still concealed by the robe. Everytime he found a PK he judged if they could be the guildmaster or not, then purged them one by one.

Since fighting had broken out within the guild, finding the guildmaster had become the top priority.

Before Shin’s 『True Moon』, average weapons and armor meant nothing.

Some PKs had formed a party and confronted him, but the frontline members’ swords, spears, armors and shields were torn apart as soon as they entered Shin’s range, together with any other equipment on them.

The rear lines’ mages, too, saw their spells nullified as they themselves were burned to a crisp by magic. Arrows and other projectiles could not overcome Shin’s Ancient-grade gear; here, too, magic annihilated everything in its wake.

“Where’s the guildmaster?”

“I d-don’t kn—”

The PK’s head flew from his neck before he could even complete his sentence.

Shin continued to search for the guildmaster, employing his detection abilities to the fullest.

Gargalla was for Shadow to take his revenge. Shadow would probably manage to kill him, even if it meant his own life. Sharing his same emotions, Shin knew that well.

“Tch.”

Shin loudly clicked his tongue. He was irritated at himself for letting Shadow go.

He understood Shadow’s feelings so much that it hurt. The hate burning the flesh, the sadness twisting the mind. Their feelings towards the target of their revenge could not be described in just a few words.

At the same time, though, he couldn’t help but think if it was really a good idea to let him go on his own.

Based on the information he had, Shadow had about a 30% chance of winning. If he used a certain item, 80%.

But in the latter case, even if Shadow won the chance of his death was 100%.

“….damn it.”

That was Shadow’s battle. If Shin got involved, even if anyone would say that it was to save Shadow’s life, for Shadow himself he would just be in the way. If their positions were reversed, Shin too would scream at him to stay out of the way.

Even so…even so. Even if he had chosen the path of revenge, even if he killed without hesitation, he could not be indifferent to a comrade’s death.

“Found you!!”

Shin had headed to the area with the highest number of responses within his detection area. Before him now stood Ouroboros’ guildmaster. Apparently trying to flee, they were advancing in the direction opposite to Shin’s position.

Shin didn’t know where the border between the underground space and the guildhouse was, but as he was not using teleport crystals, it appeared that they were still inside the guildhouse.

Normally it was possible to teleport freely from a guildhouse, but when attacked by enemies the teleport function was turned off, to make it impossible to run away immediately. The remaining options were just two: to escape or to beat back the enemy.

Always concealed, Shin activated 【Enchant – Magic Boost】 and jumped over the group’s location. Without an instant of hesitation, he fired the spell.

“Die.”

【Elemental Blast】, a spell including seven different elements.

Flames, water, earth, wind, thunder, light and darkness all bared their fangs at the running PKs.

Some were burned to ashes, others were skewered, swallowed or torn to shreds.

Utter, unbridled destruction. The group Shin attacked was not allowed the slightest chance to counterattack, struck by a completely one-sided attack that reduced it literally to nothingness.

Shin checked that there were no survivors, then started running again. He used 【Ki Manipulation】 to boost his physical abilities and traversed the guildhouse in an instant.

“Shadow!!!”

He frantically charged in the room where Shadow’s response was. Gargalla’s response was no more.

The kneeling Shadow turned his face towards him. Something bright was trickling down it.

Shin saw that his few remaining HP were decreasing and felt that Shadow had completed his revenge. He quickly understood that Shadow had used the 『Miracle Drug of Blinking Life』.

Shadow looked at Shin with eyes that looked like dying flames. His lips moved as he  tried to say something.

“Don’t…end…like..th…”

He couldn’t finish the sentence.

Shadow burst into a mass of polygons before Shin’s eyes. The twinkling shapes were so bright and beautiful it was difficult to imagine that they meant someone’s death.

“……..”

Shin understood what Shadow was trying to say and fell silent.

As Shin had been thinking about Shadow, Shadow too had been probably thinking about him.

“Hyaaahh!!”

“…..tch.”

Shin clicked his tongue as his silhouette became a blur.

Even if he felt down, his blade would not become dull. The PK that had attacked him from behind turned into a mass of polygons as he touched the ground, unaware that he had been cut down.

All players were supposed to be the same when they died. The last moments of that PK, though, looked like tainted poison in Shin’s eyes.

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