About one week after Shin and Milt started their plan, it began.
Even in the orphanage, a place where rumors rarely spread, the news of Shin’s PK hunt had reached the children’s ears.
“I told you already, big bro Shin is fighting so that no one will be a victim anymore. It’s a bad thing, yeah, but.”
“There’s no police in this world anyway.”
Some didn’t share such feelings, though.
“Bu-but Shin is doing dangerous things.”
Despite knowing that PK hunting meant killing people -so it was a bad thing- Teppei and Ryohei claimed it was unavoidable. Luca wasn’t convinced however.
Despite her young age, Luca knew how terrifying PKs could be. That was precisely the reason why she was worried about Shin’s safety, endangered by his proactive hunting of the PKs.
Today, she was sitting at the orphanage’s gates.
“After he defeats all the PKs, he’ll come back…I think.”
“Ryohei, don’t talk like you really know.”
“Hey, what else can I do? The grownups won’t tell us anything else!”
“Shin, won’t you come back? We can’t meet anymore…?”
After listening to Teppei and Ryohei’s conversation, Luca’s eyes filled with tears.
The two boys hurriedly tried to calm her down and went to call an adult to confirm that Shin would return.
Luca wiped her tears with her sleeves and raised her head. In front of her stood the gate she stared at every day since the attack one month ago.
A thought developed in Luca’s head.
She didn’t know when, if ever, Shin would come to the orphanage again. If so, she should just go meet him.
It was still a little past nine in the morning; there was plenty of time.
The adults didn’t allow children to go out of the orphanage on their own. However, there was no one around now, so she could sneak out.
Luca looked around, confirmed that there really wasn’t anyone in the surroundings, and quickly sprinted away. She hurried through the orphanage’s gate and hid on the opposite side. Now she couldn’t be seen from the inside.
“Oh? Aren’t you one of Shin’s little friends?”
The sudden voice made Luca jolt. Timidly, she looked in the direction of the voice and saw a smiling young man. He had said Shin’s name, so maybe they knew each other.
“Oh, I apologize for surprising you. I was looking for Shin, so I was wondering if you might know where he is.”
“Me too…I’m looking for Shin now.”
“Is that so? So you’ll go look for him in town?”
“Everywhere? You mean, in the field and in dungeons too?”
Luca answered the young man’s question by forming two tiny fists and nodding.
“However, it seems dangerous for someone of your level to go in the field, don’t you think?”
Luca had been dragged into the death game after her account had been created just to fill in a spot. As a result, she barely knew anything about how the game worked, having stayed in town since her first login. She couldn’t understand what the young man meant.
“Hmm…oh? Looks the like the orphanage is getting noisy. Could it be that you snuck out?”
The young man’s guess made Luca’s body shrink. Ryohei or Teppei were probably calling for her. She could hear Emil’s voice too.
“Did you want to see Shin so much that you snuck out of the orphanage?”
Luca silently nodded to the young man’s sudden question.
Shin might disappear, like her brother and his friends did, like Marino did. Luca didn’t want to do nothing and just be separated like that.
“Hmm…hmm…oh, fine. I was looking for Shin too after all. Why don’t you come with me? The frontlines have turned quieter since he left, so lately things have been pretty boring.”
“If we stay here, someone from the orphanage will come soon, you know?”
Any average player would be wary of following someone they’d met for the first time. Luca, however, was urged on by hearing the voices from the orphanage, growing closer and closer, and her desire to see Shin, so she ended up nodding to the young man’s proposal.
The young man, with a bigger smile, took Luca’s hand and started walking away. They quickly became lost in the crowd, and impossible to find for anyone from the orphanage.
“What is your name?”
Luca remembered that she hadn’t heard the name of the young man walking with her, so she looked up at him and asked.
“Oh, I didn’t introduce myself, did I. My name is Hameln. Pleased to meet you.”
The young man—-Hameln introduced himself.
Hameln, one of the masterminds behind the recent tragedy, smiled innocently as he led Luca through the crowd at a leisurely pace.
“Well then, let me ask straight away, do you have any idea where Shin could be?”
“He talked a lot about clearing dungeons…”
Hameln, with Luca in tow, was walking through Kalkia’s main street. Being an MPK, a PK that used monsters to kill other players, his name and face were not known.
“Hmm, they say he’s hunting down PKs, so he’s probably outside the hometown.”
Hameln, holding his chin, started thinking.
Using an information broker was an option, but there was a high chance that the same broker would sell the information of Hameln’s visit to others. There was the chance for Shin to come to him because of that, but Hameln thought that it was still too early to meet him.
His visit to the orphanage was to confirm if Shin continued to hunt PKs even after crushing the largest guild.
Vlad, the man who snatched away Shin’s beloved, was still alive. Hameln thought that he would contact Shin after he was done with Vlad.
“A dangerous place?”
“For Shin, the dungeons available now are still safe enough. The only exceptions could be the bosses, I suppose. But I don’t think that Shin would fight bosses now, so there’s no danger.”
Hameln wouldn’t say anything to further Luca’s concerns; for him, Luca was in the position of someone to protect.
What Hameln wanted to observe was the will of people when facing against adversities. Most small children died before being able to show such willpower.
For this, he would protect her. To assess her willpower while fighting against the adversity that, one day, would surely visit her.
That was the only important thing. He was the one to create the adversities to show the will to fight against, but if, as a result, the child died without showing that willpower, it wouldn’t faze Hameln in the slightest.
His own desires were everything to him. That was the kind of player Hameln was.
“I guess we have no other choice. Let’s try betting on the piece of information I heard.”
Hameln’s shoulders dropped, and he walked forward again. The destination was a place with very few people, an area where several lodges stood. According to the information Hameln obtained, it was where Robin, a man who collaborated with Vlad, was supposed to live.
“You look pale, young lady, are you alright?”
Despite Luca’s answer, she did not look okay at all. As it turns out, she had received messages and calls in her chat asking where she was.
In this world, much like the real one, it was very easy to contact others. Luca had followed Hameln, pushed by the situation’s momentum, but thinking calmly about it, she was now afraid to be yelled at.
Sneaking out of the orphanage to go look for Shin seemed like proof of courage, but now she was imagining the adults yelling at her, and she trembled. She had appeared resolute at first, but she had just followed her impulses. Luca was, after all, just a child.
“Let’s say you were kidnapped, then.”
While Luca was still reeling from the surprise, Hameln sent a message to Emil.
The message’s contents said, “I am going to use Luca to stop Shin”. For Hameln, who was used to being hated, being treated like a kidnapper was nothing he was concerned about.
“With this, at least they won’t yell at you for sneaking out. They’ll be more worried, but that can’t be helped, I guess. Ah, you should say in chat that you’re being threatened.”
Hameln was talking of very serious things, but continued with his casual tone.
“Why do you help me?”
“Help? That’s not right, I’m afraid. I’m not here with you because I want to help you after all. I just think that, for Shin, for a person in his current state, the emotional words of a child like you would be more effective than an adult’s realism-imbued speeches.”
Young age, surprisingly, works wonders as a weapon. After adding this final comment only to himself, Hameln asked Luca a question.
“I suppose it’s too late to say this now, but I am planning to use you. But, now and only now, I can let you go free. What will you do? Will you come with me? Or will you go back to the orphanage?”
Hameln repeated the question he had first asked Luca at the orphanage. Waiting to hear what her young will would choose, Hameln grinned.
“…I, I go. I will go together. If I don’t…Shin will go somewhere far.”
Luca answered while shaking slightly.
Hearing her answer, Hameln’s smile widened.
“Is this a woman’s instinct, I wonder? Or maybe, you know even if you don’t actually understand it.”
“No, it’s nothing.”
Hameln voiced his thoughts out loud without realizing it. He then changed topic with an ambiguous smile.
“Shall we go, then?”
“Where do we go?”
“A place where he might be. Well, the information is old, so I can’t be sure though.”
His shoulders dropping again, Hameln summoned one of his contract beasts. A magic circle appeared on the ground and a blue tiger-type monster about two mels long, a Weyger, appeared.
Its fangs and claws were of a transparent blue hue, two large strands of white hair extended from its forehead over its back. Its level was 423. For Luca, just being pushed by its paws would reduce her HP to zero.
Luca’s body shrank in fear at the sight of the Weyger’s sudden appearance.
“Don’t be scared, this is just our means of transport.”
Following Hameln’s orders, the Weyger crouched down. The monster looked up at Luca, as if it was telling her “hop on, miss”.
“The faster we can move, the better. Please, get on.”
Encouraged by Hameln, Luca timidly mounted the Weyger. The monster made sure that Luca firmly grabbed its fur, stood back up slowly, and started walking next to Hameln.
“It’s so fluffy.”
Luca rode, hugging the Weyger’s back. The feeling of the monster’s soft fur was probably very pleasant, as she looked giddy now.
They Weyger snorted proudly, as if it was boasting about the quality of its fur.
“It’s pretty popular as a pet too, after all.”
To Hameln, instead, the monster snarled as if clicking its tongue.
“Okay then, our destination is just ahead. I set the Weyger so as to protect you, so don’t go far from it, okay?”
Hameln checked that the monsters at the destination were of a level much lower than the Weyger.
The Weyger growled, as if saying “leave it to me!”
“I guess monsters have likes and dislikes too?”
Puzzled by the Weygar showing a very different reaction to Luca than to himself, Hameln walked on. Soon enough, several small lodges appeared.
“I suppose we arrived too late. My my…the information was old, so I guess I should have made sure he was alive first.”
Hameln whispered while rubbing his chin in front of a completely wrecked lodge.
The information he had obtained stated that Robin lived in one of the area’s lodges.
There was no guarantee that Robin was in the ruined lodge, so Hameln decided to gather information in the surroundings.
“My apologies, I would like to ask you something.”
Hameln told Luca to wait and knocked at the door of the lodge next to the ruined one. A few seconds later, a pudgy male player appeared from inside.
“What do you want?”
“I’m looking for a person, do you happen to know a player named Robin?”
“Oh, you knew the neighbor guy?”
The man’s answer suggested that the inhabitant of the collapsed lodge was indeed Robin. Hameln denied and the man continued.
“You didn’t? Well, whatever. It happened a couple days ago, a player with a katana wrecked the house all of a sudden. It made no sense to me to feel something like that in a game, but…I felt it for real. Killing intent. He looked real dangerous, so I thought I should leave him alone and hid inside right away. They talked for a while…but the guy inside, in the end, went like this.”
The man made a horizontal sliding gesture across his neck with his hand.
The meaning was probably that the head had been cut off. The two talked a little more, but there was no clue about Shin’s possible next destination.
“Is that so…thank you very much for your time.”
Hameln bowed deeply and closed the door.
“Shin isn’t here?”
“Yes, it appears to be so. The only hint left is that rumor, then…”
“They say that Shin has a new girlfriend, and that they flirt in public with no shame at all…honestly, I can’t believe that Shin would get a new girlfriend now though.”
If large PK guilds still remained, he might have trusted his instincts and waited in ambush. The only ones remaining, however, were very small ones and solo players, so that plan was unusable.
Hameln couldn’t use information brokers either, so the last resort was to rely on a rumor he found repugnant.
“He’s in a place with many people?”
“That would be natural. But even as a rumor, it concerns me that it spread so quickly.”
It felt almost as if it was being spread on purpose.
“…ooh, I see, so that’s the plan.”
After thinking about it, Hameln realized something and suddenly looked very convinced.
Even if he was going around crushing PK guilds, Shin’s main target was still Vlad. Hameln, who knew both, realized what Shin’s true aim probably was.
“Do you know where Shin is?”
“I can’t say I know yet. But I figured out what he’s trying to do. I wanted to do this without Vlad knowing, but if I say I will cooperate we can probably get information out of him.”
Hameln sent Vlad a message immediately.
“(Hello, it’s been quite a while. There’s something I would like to ask you, could you please spare some time for me?)”
When Vlad answered the chat, he appeared very irritated. Hameln, thinking that his behaviour exceeded his expectations, greeted him.
“(What do you want from me then? You of all people wouldn’t contact me without a purpose.)”
“(Well, that is true. I wanted to have a chat with Shin, do you have any idea where he could be? I caught wind of a strange rumor, so I thought that you might know more about that too.)”
“(I know. That woman is getting ahead of herself, isn’t she.)”
Hameln thought that the situation was bound to move rather quickly and smiled to himself.
Where had his peerless caution gone to? Vlad acted very differently from the last time Hameln spoke to him.
With most of the PKs exterminated, organizing large-scale operations required a great number of people and resources. The PKs with high fighting power, especially, had been carefully eliminated, so it was impossible to trick them to use them as assassins either.
“(Your cooperation during the invasion was valuable, so if you tell me his whereabouts, I can help you. I still have the items too.)”
“(What do you plan to do when you meet him?)”
Vlad probably instantly calculated that Hameln could have helped bolster his inferior fighting power; his voice sounded much more collected than before.
“(I just wish to talk with him. I doubt things will end peacefully though.)”
“(You’ll just get killed if you do.)”
“(I can probably buy some time if I use my monsters as shields. I’m just interested in what he’s actually thinking at present.)”
“(….so be it. I will contact you once I have a plan.)”
From Vlad’s tone of voice, Hameln perceived that Vlad had decided that he was going to make use of Hameln.
Hameln became an MPK because he wanted to observe the willpower and emotions of players when attacked by monsters. He was thus very skilled at reading others’ emotions.
The conversation had proceeded so smoothly it almost seemed like a trap. Despite the frail bond of trust between them, Vlad had been too reckless. His frustration had probably peaked.
“Well then, we should contact Shin now…what’s wrong?”
If he doesn’t answer to chat, just send him a message. Hameln was thinking this, when he noticed that Luca was crying.
The Weyger was licking her face, trying to console her.
“Shin…Shin is going away!!”
Hameln guessed that Luca had been talking with Shin via chat. Shin was about to step over a line that should not be crossed.
“I thought that he would come back once he had gotten his revenge, but this is a quite boring development.”
There was nothing more boring to observe than humans who had fallen into desperation. It was not uncommon for people who had embraced hope to end like that, but it was not what Hameln expected to see.
“We have the chance to see a grand stage with our own eyes…I’m sorry for dear Vlad, but I have to do something about it.”
Hameln crouched down, his eyes at the same height as Luca’s.
“Do you want Shin to come back?”
Hameln asked his question with a serious tone, his usual ambiguous smile gone from his lips. After a brief moment, Luca strongly nodded.
“Even if it means that your life will be in danger?”
Luca nodded again, with no pause this time.
“Very good. Please wait here then. If what I will say now happens, materialize it.”
Smiling again, Hameln gave a card to Luca. A spherical object and the number “10” were pictured on it.
“Shall we contact her, then?”
Timing was crucial. With this in mind, Hameln sent a message.