A week had already passed since they started standing out in public on purpose.
Shin was thinking that the plan’s effects should be showing soon, when he was contacted via chat from Emil. Maybe thinking of the possibility that he wouldn’t respond, she sent a message card at the same time.
“(Luca has been kidnapped by Hameln!!)”
Shin could tell Emil was unnerved as he listened to her story, yet he found it a bit bizarre.
Hameln was a player that liked using monsters to attack players, an MPK. His fighting level was rather high, but he seldom fought other than for self-defense. He apparently acted following his own rules; after entering Avidya, Shin had heard scattered reports about him.
Hameln was reported to have a light and easy personality. Yet, rather than engage in all PK activity, he seemed to focus on medium to large-scale battles.
Shin had briefly met him during the last invasion event, but he couldn’t help feeling it was strange for Hameln to take a hostage.
“(I thought I had set up the orphanage barrier again?)”
“(It looks like Luca went out on her own. But her expression was strange…I’ll send you the message Hameln sent me.)”
Emil’s message arrived soon: it read “I borrowed the young lady, I’ll send her back after a while”, almost like a bad joke or a prank.
“Were you able to contact Luca?”
“I did, but she only replied that she was going with Hameln, and nothing more.”
Shin found the situation more and more difficult to comprehend.
Chat mode was a completely private mode of communication; it was impossible for others to overhear. Even if she had been taken away or threatened, it was possible to inform others without the kidnapper knowing.
Since Luca had not said anything like that, it was possible that she had followed Hameln of her own free will.
Shin asked for more details and learned that just before disappearing, Luca had bickered with Ryohei and Teppei over whether Shin would return or not.
“(Until Hameln’s message arrived, those two said that she had gone looking for you. I have no idea what’s going on either…I wasn’t sure if I should have called you or not either.)”
Barely half a day had passed since Luca’s disappearance. After thinking for a while, Shin tried to contact Luca via chat mode.
After a few rings, Luca answered. Her voice sounded timid, scared.
“(Emil told me Hameln kidnapped you.)”
“(That’s fine for now. So, are you alright?)”
“(Yes, he’s helping me look for you.)”
He’s helping you?
Shin found Luca’s words nothing but puzzling. Hameln, a famous PK, was helping a little kid find someone? It was far too bizarre.
Shin asked more questions and found out that Hameln was apparently looking for him too. That he hadn’t hurt Luca in any way and had set a monster to protect her.
(Why would he be looking for me?)
The last time we met, Hameln seemed interested in him. Maybe it was an extension of that, but there was no reason to take Luca with him. During the invasion event, he had attacked not Shin himself, but the whole hometown, so he shouldn’t be obsessed with Shin like Vlad was.
There should be no reason for Hameln to bring a dead weight like Luca with him.
“(Luca, Hameln is dangerous. Emil and the others are worried too. Go back to the orphanage)”
“(Shin, when will you come back?)”
I’ll be back right away. That’s what Shin wanted to reply, but the words didn’t leave his lips.
Then, he realized. That even after exacting his revenge, he had no intention of going back.
Shin looked down and saw his hands. They were perfectly clean, but all he saw were stains of blood and guts. He felt blood dripping between his fingers. The smell of iron prickled his nose.
(This is pretty horrible.)
He couldn’t touch others anymore. Maybe he had realized it already, unconsciously.
“(Luca, I have to return everybody to the real world. I made a promise with Marino.)”
“(I have to focus on clearing the dungeons from now on.)”
“(We can’t, meet anymore?)”
“(Don’t worry, I’m not going to die.)”
The words “we will” couldn’t come out of his mouth.
“(I am going to end this world. Luca, Emil, Ryohei, Teppei, everyone will be safe. So just wait.)”
“(I’m going to be busy, so we can’t meet until then.)”
“(Luca, go back to the orphanage.)”
Shin cut off the chat after this last order.
Considering Hameln’s fighting power, Shin had to go confront him himself. Their location, however, was the lodge area where Shin had cut down Robin. Even if Shin went there now, by the time he arrived they would probably be somewhere else.
Hameln would probably try and come in contact sooner or later. He probably would not put Luca in danger either, so Shin decided not to go look for her and wait for Hameln to make his move.
Shin chuckled at himself, thinking that he had turned rather cold.
“Shin, looks like Vlad is on the move.”
As if she had waited for Shin to finish his chat, Milt -who had been walking next to him- called to Shin. Milt, not Shin, had received a message.
“Tell me more.”
Shin urged Milt for details, while at the same time connecting to Calmia via chat.
Vlad’s proposal was to offer Milt a place to die.
For a long time now, Milt possessed humorous nicknames such as “Mini Berserker” and “Poison Lolita”. After the death game started however, she was only known by the nickname “Deathwish”.
As she had told Shin, the method she had chosen to solve the contradiction of her desire to die but fear of suicide was to engage in fights to the death. It didn’t matter whether the opponents were monsters or players, Milt threw herself into battle without a speck of caution, so that nickname stuck to her quickly.
The reason why she wasn’t stopped by other players, even if she appeared while they were fighting bosses ,was that she took the highest risk of all when fighting.
“(I guess that he came to know that I told you that I wanted you to kill me. Though, it’s not like you’re acting like my boyfriend so I can die without regrets.)”
Thanks to Catnip’s help too, the rumor that Shin and Milt had become lovers had spread in the blink of an eye.
Not only Shin, but Milt was also rather famous, so the speed at which the rumor spread surprised even them. Thanks to that though, Vlad moved earlier than expected.
Shin was surprised that Vlad contacted Milt while she was with him: her expressed desire of being killed, no matter at whose hands it was, had probably worked in their favor.
Concealed through 【Hiding】, Shin and Milt waited for Vlad, keeping a chat open between them.
Vlad himself intended to be Milt’s opponent apparently. Shin and Milt were supposed to be lovers, so Vlad probably wanted to once again snatch Shin’s beloved away with his own hands.
“(Proof of the pinch he’s in. Well, it’s also a result of your relentless PK hunt.)”
The designed area was a place ideal for duels; few people or monsters ever visited it.
It was a perfect location to set up an ambush. The cloudy sky made it even more difficult to see Shin and Milt.
“(Come alone, without telling Shin. That’s really bad, if you ask me.)”
“(….could it that he’s actually an idiot? I thought that he would make something more impressive in the end.)”
“(Shin, let me remind you that you’re the one that made that impossible. You crushed all the places that Vlad could use, didn’t you?)”
Shin didn’t answer Milt’s slightly exasperated tone.
As they killed time with such exchanges, Shin’s map registered a marker coming closer, speeding through the nearby forest. After activating 【Clairvoyance】 and 【Through Sight 】, Shin’s eyes could see Vad riding on an Elder Red Dragon.
“You came alone?”
Vlad landed with his mount and cast the question to Milt. He looked slightly different from before.
His formerly very well kept long hair was now disheveled, the previously gleaming silver armor now emitted a dull glow. As a whole, he gave a sort of faded, stained impression.
“You requested me to, didn’t you? What are you saying now?”
“I heard you were lovers, so I thought you would bring him too.”
“If you know the reason why I was with Shin, you shouldn’t be surprised that I’m alone. I came without telling him anything, as you ordered me to. I wonder if he’s looking for me now…that’d make me a bit happy.”
Milt gave a little smile after saying this; Vlad looked at her like he had found something unspeakably filthy. His whole body expressed the utter disgust he felt.
“It’s impossible for someone like you to have moved his heart.”
“You look pretty pissed all the same though. Was I clinging to Shin so irritating?”
Every time Milt provoked Vlad, emotion seeped away from his face. Inversely, his killing intent grew and grew.
“I shall put you out of your misery.”
Still riding on the elder dragon, Vlad pointed 『Excalibur』, its blade of light extended, towards Milt.
“Too bad, that’s not going to happen.”
Before Milt could even finish her sentence, a slash flew at Vlad from his blindspot.
Maybe thanks to the instincts cultivated through his fighting job, Vlad barely managed to parry the attack with 『Excalibur』; the sword was unable to withstand the attack’s power however, and was blown away.
Vlad touched the ground and called for his partner dragon’s name. The Elder Red Dragon, however, could not answer; aftershocks from the slash had severed its wings and front legs. One single slash had shaved about half of its HP.
“So you ca—-!?!”
Vlad looked towards the source of the slash, a smile widening on his lips, but was constrained by chains of light and thorns colored red and black.
The thorns disappeared thanks to Vlad’s struggling, but even the muscular strength of an advanced player like Vlad couldn’t make the chains budge.
It was a combination of the Light-type Magic skill 【Arc Bind】, which boasted high constrictive power, and the Dark-type Magic skill 【Thorns of Impurity】, which inflicted several status ailments.
“A little surprise attack, and you’re already helpless?”
Shin, who had destroyed the Elder Dragon’s head with a Light-type spell, spoke softly while looking, expressionless, at the collapsed Vlad. He felt no delight in having captured him.
Vlad was now affected with four negative statuses: 【Bloodred Poison】, 【Blind】, 【Hi-Paralyze】, and 【Curse】. He couldn’t move a single finger, let alone break free of the chains.
“Haha, did you come to exact your revenge?”
Vlad couldn’t move, but still flashed a twisted smile.
Despite his sight being clouded by 【Blind】, he recognized Shin from his voice.
Before his most hated enemy, Shin was perfectly calm.
He felt hate. But this hate, burning quietly within, had lost a flame hot enough to shake his emotions.
Shin didn’t know when that happened. He couldn’t tell if it was something good or bad.
“I won’t be the one to kill you though.”
The obsession wasn’t gone. Anger and hate remained.
Now, however, he would not let his emotions swing his blade.
Following Shin’s signal, six players appeared from the woods. They had not been detected because they were all equipped with gear made by Shin.
“What’s this response….?”
The blind Vlad was confused by the approach of the players’ presences; naturally enough, as Shin, the one supposed to finish him, had not moved one step.
“It can’t be…”
“Oh yes, it can.”
The Ancient-grade weapons in hand of the approaching players gave a dull glow. Even the players with less-than-superior stats, thanks to the weapons’ bonuses, could inflict significant damage.
Without a moment of hesitation, the weapons rose in the air and swung down on Vlad.
One blow couldn’t be enough to cause large damage. On the contrary, this let Vlad feel, as crudely as possible, how his HP was gradually decreasing.
“I SAID STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPP!!!!!”
He was being killed by people he didn’t know. This reality pushed Vlad to scream.
Shin had already turned his back; he wasn’t looking at Vlad anymore.
“Why!?! I am the one you hate!! Why is it these people!! These nobodies!?!”
Vlad probably couldn’t feel Shin’s expression, emotions, or even his eyes.
That was Shin’s revenge. To be ignored by someone you were so obsessed about. That reality would surely be painful above anything else to Vlad.
The last scream died behind Shin. Vlad’s presence was no more.
“Well, that was over quickly.”
“That’s what revenge really is.”
Shin was looking towards Milt.
“I’m grateful for your help. Honestly speaking, I didn’t expect things to go so well.”
“I only did it for my own goal, so don’t mention it. Rather than that, when they go away…okay?”
“Yes, I’ll keep my promise.”
The six players watched Vlad disappear, silent from start to finish. The man who appeared to be their representative gave several equipment cards to Shin, quietly bowed, and left.
Shin watched them go, then turned towards Milt.
“We can start anytime.”
“Okay, I won’t hold back then.”
A giant poleaxe appeared in Milt’s hands. Enveloped in blue flames, it was the lower Ancient-grade 『Breogand』.
“Let’s have some fun!!”
『Breogand』 slashed through the air, accompanied by Milt’s war shout. Even heavy weapons could move as swiftly as normal lances and axes thanks to Milt’s STR.
It was an attack that could even damage Shin if he was struck; he drew 『True Moon』 and blocked it.
“It’ll be over soon.”
The frontal clash caused 『Breogand』’s blade to shatter.
There was a stat difference between Shin and Milt, including the weapons’ bonuses, that 100 or 200 points could not fill. In a world where a video game’s system ruled all, it was an all-too-clear difference.
“Hey, what were Mari’s last words?”
Milt asked as their blades were still locked.
“…she said that she wanted everyone to go back together.”
“I see, Mari…she made her decision.”
Milt’s water spirit, Undine, released several bubbles, but Shin swatted them away with his left hand. The lightning spell he launched as a counterattack seared both Undine and Milt.
“I’m so envious…we had lost all hope in reality.”
Only Milt’s HP decreased, one-sidedly. The sparks shooting between their blades cast a shadow on her face. Her expression contained a mix of admiration and jealousy.
“This is the time you should say, ‘You can do it too!’!!”
“Only someone ready to carry your life on their shoulders could say that!!”
Milt shouted loud enough to not let her voice drown in the sound of the grinding metal, and Shin howled back.
In the 15th clash between their weapons, 『Breogand』’s blade shot in the air. Milt lost her balance as consequence, and Shin readied 『True Moon』 at his waist.
Milt instinctively used 『Breogand』’s hilt to protect herself. Shin’s blow, as if guided by it, struck cleanly.
The slash was stopped for an instant by 『Breogand』’s hilt, but was then cleaved in two along with everything else in the blade’s path.
Katana-type martial skill 【Shiden – Helmet Smasher】.
The technique, that caused great damage to any weapon or defensive gear, unleashed its offensive power to the fullest.
Milt pronounced her last words with a smile.
Shin looked at Milt turning into a burst of polygons and disappear, a complicated emotion beating in his chest. He had never thought to be thanked by someone he killed.
“You are finished, yes?”
Maybe he had lowered his guard, maybe he was lost in thought.
Shin had not noticed the approaching presence until it talked to him.
“Hello there, it’s been a while.”
Shin turned around and saw Hameln with Luca.
“Why are you here?”
“I heard from Milt. I suppose she couldn’t stand to see you go down this path either.”
Both being PKs, it wasn’t strange for some connection to exist between Milt and Hameln. Shin, however, couldn’t understand why Milt would tell him about this place.
“For me too, it is truly not interesting at all for you to be like this.”
“What did you say?”
“Let’s just say that I’m a busybody. I just do what I feel like after all. The rest is up to you. Do your best.”
Hameln then used a crystal and teleported away. Only Luca was left, a card in her hands.
“Didn’t I tell you to go back?”
“But Shin, you won’t come back!!”
“Shin, you’re coming home with me!”
Luca ran up to Shin and tried to take his hand. But before her hands could touch his, Shin moved away.
Luca’s hands would get stained with blood. Or so he felt.
There were less than five steps between him and the screaming Luca. That small distance separated them like the steepest cliff.
Luca held high the card she was holding. What appeared was a grenade-like item, that would explode after a set time.
Luca seemed unaware of the nature of the item she was holding. Shin stepped closer in an instant and took it out of her hands, then launched it high towards the sky.
After a few seconds, with a bang-like sound, a small cloud of white smoke appeared above.
It was just a smoke bomb.
Shin looked suspiciously at the unexpected happening, when Luca firmly grabbed his hands.
“Let’s go back, okay?”
Luca’s words, strangely enough, were the same as Marino’s.
If Shin used just a little too much strength to shake Luca’s hands away -her level being in the single digits- he could easily blow away her HP.
Shin looked at her hands on his. The blood on his hands seemed to be staining hers too.
“Let’s go back!!”
The edges of Luca’s eyes brimmed with tears. Even so, she gripped Shin’s hands as strong as she could.
“Let’s go back….”
Shaking her off would be all too simple. But it wasn’t as easy as that.
That same moment, an opening broke between the clouds in the sky.
The newly shining sunlight illuminated Luca, as if clearly separating the two; Luca was in warm, bright, yellow light, Shin in misty darkness.
It was as if the difference between him and Luca was being clearly shown. Shin noticed it and was about to laugh at himself, when his eyes caught something else, something unbelievable.
On top of his and Luca’s, there was one more hand. Next to Luca, stood Marino. That moment, Shin forgot everything.
Luca pulled Shin as she walked. Completely lost, he followed her without the smallest resistance.
Shin was showered in sunlight, as if he was being pulled out of the darkness.
Shin’s eyes were temporarily blinded by the dazzling light.
He closed them for just an instant, but that instant Marino disappeared.
Was it a mirage? Shin asked himself, then he felt the warmth of Luca’s hand on his.
No, that was definitely not only Luca’s. He had held that hand countless times. Even after becoming a murderer, he couldn’t forget that warmth.
That was Marino, without a doubt.
“Are you telling me to go back?”
The Marino he saw in the light looked sad.
“(Let’s go back.)”
The same words that Marino said seeped inside Shin’s heart.
He looked down and saw a small hand gripping his. He felt something inside melt away and disappear.
“Shin, are you crying?”
“I don’t…I don’t know…”
Shin felt all his strength leave his body and fell to his knees.
Something warm seemed to be flowing down his cheeks.
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