□ Mukudori Reiji
As soon as my body was smashed by that swarm of apparitions, like waking up from a dream, my consciousness returned to reality.
However, differently from merely waking up, my mind was completely clear and active—it didn’t mean that I could accept what had just happened, though.
I recalled the last announcement that came up. That was why I realized that I had suffered my first penalty for dying in the game. And yet, I couldn’t help but worry about what had happened at that place and what was going on after I was gone.
Sadly, right now I was blocked from logging into ＜Infinite Dendrogram＞.
Even after I attempted to login, the display embedded on the side of the device only showed 【Penalty interval in progress. 23h55m16s left.】
“….Okay, I give up.”
Looking outside, morning hadn’t even arrived yet; currently, it was before 5 AM.
For now, I decided to sleep so I laid myself on the bed and tried to take a nap. However, the moment I closed my eyelids, I vividly remembered the moment of my death—and at the same time pondered what I should’ve done to survive that. My eyes were closed but I still simulated my possible moves in my mind, as if I were analyzing the falling blocks in a Tetris game.
Over and over, I thought about them. And every time I did… I realized how much I lacked in skill. Even if I were to do this or that, the only feeling that would result from it was regret.
Before I knew it, while my thoughts were in such a turmoil, my consciousness drifted away towards the land of dreams.
Next morning, at around 8 o’clock, I woke up and then watched the morning news, eating breakfast at the same time. For the first time in a while, I even tried to make a proper meal, but honestly, it paled in comparison to what I had eaten in the game. I vaguely felt that if this were to continue, I would start to enjoy the meals here less and less.
After finishing my breakfast and taking care of the dishes, I decided to search on the bulletin boards about any information related to yesterday’s events.
It barely required any effort to find what I wanted.
The big news around ＜Infinite Dendrogram＞ related boards was about the “Tragedy of ＜Noz Forest＞”.
It seemed like if it were just a case of mere PK, they wouldn’t make such a big fuss; but since it was a special case this time, things took a bigger dimension.
Why? Because the “rookie hunting” hadn’t stopped at the ＜Noz Forest＞, but also continued and expanded to other newbie’s farming grounds. Additionally, that was only happening in the Alter Kingdom. Simultaneously, repeatedly and continuously the beginner players of the Kingdom were being PK’ed. It was clear that those weren’t the acts of a single person—there was a certain organizational capability to them.
The main question here was: who was doing that?
Before long, the bulletin boards pointed out that, most likely, the rumored Driphe was attacking Alter again. People wondered if those sudden assaults were an attempt by the enemy nation to “prepare for the restart of the war by stopping the Kingdom’s military growth.” I believed the probability of them being right was high, since those events were only happening in the Kingdom.
Of course, the players of Alter prepared some countermeasures for that problem. Apparently, some of them volunteered themselves to form a vigilante group and moved to defeat the PKs. And from what I read, fights broke out between those volunteers and the PKs in several farming locations.
However, all the vigilante groups were defeated.
People then concluded that the other side seemed to be composed of fairly skilled players. Even in the ＜Noz Forest＞, the place where I had “died”, they couldn’t beat the PK. There was a small difference in the forest’s case, though: they apparently couldn’t even find the PK. The rookie hunting continued, but without being able to discover the perpetrator, forget about defeating, the players weren’t even allowed to fight against them.
“….It’s that person, right?”
Back then, I had seen the bullet apparition ＜Embryo＞ and… its ＜Master＞. Since that individual was enveloped by some weird fog, I couldn’t tell whether they were young or old, man or woman. Was that one of the reasons why no one managed to find that PK?
Regarding this PK turmoil, I frequently saw comments in the BBS that said things like, “The Kingdom is done now”, “Driphe is literally Hitler” and, “If you’re looking to become a refugee somewhere, I would recommend Cardina. Beginners are also welcome.”
Mixed together with them were also replies that read, “I was just passing by there and was killed. And right when I was about to evolve… now it’ll take even longer because of this damn penalty,” and, “Same here. I was this close to get my Advanced ＜Embryo＞…”
When you died in the game, was there anything other than merely getting the login block? Taken by curiosity, I posted, “I’ve just started playing and went through my first death. Does the penalty for dying have something else I don’t know?”
Some replied with, “Grats noob,” and, “I’ll help you. But first you have to strip,” but there were those who actually helped me.
From what I understood, there was a rumor that the more you died, the slower your ＜Embryo＞ would evolve. In its own way, among the players that was treated as a highly accurate information. Taking into account the inherent differences between each individual ＜Embryo＞, it was difficult to actually verify the rumor, but when roughly comparing the rate of evolution between them, players with a higher death count seemed to be on the slower side. This kind of disadvantage might have been one of the reasons why the players in the Kingdom’s side didn’t take an active part in the previous war.
After writing a post thanking them for that information, I went to another board.
Initially, I wondered if they would only be talking about serious matters like the war and the PK incident, but when I checked the BBS it didn’t appear to be the case.
The topics related to Tenchi and Kouga were bustling with peaceful events. For the former, there were things like 『Since the cherry blossoms have bloomed, a flower viewing event was held out by the 【Conquest General】 tian』, while the latter had 『Panda monsters have multiplied so much the mountains are now painted in black and white.』
Looking at the board’s comments and their accompanying screenshots (taken by a camera item and made available through an external medium), it was so heartwarming I broke into a smile. Even the combat-oriented topics from Legendaria, like the PVP related 『The great battle royal for the tickets to the commemoration concert of everyone’s idol, 【Titania】』, were able to express how much fun people were having.
“…..So why is it that the Alter Kingdom is on the verge of destruction and also suffering from terrorist attacks?”
I felt troubled at how I somewhat understood the feelings of those who defected to other countries. With my spirits low, I decided to turn off the PC.
Well then, what was I going to do now?
The penalty for dying would be removed tomorrow, before morning. Until then I wouldn’t be able to play ＜Infinite Dendrogram＞.
Okay, since there was nothing else I could do about it, should I get some stuff done while I have the time? I had to go out and buy some food and other daily necessities for my place, there were some packages from the moving I still didn’t open and I also had to do some arrangements for my enrollment in the university next month.
Let’s take care of the tasks that could only be done in the real world.
It was already past 10 o’clock when I ate dinner, after going out shopping and putting the moving luggage in order.
Checking the bulletin boards, it seemed like even after two ingame days, the incidents were still occurring. If it was really Driphe pulling the strings from behind the scenes, then this situation would clearly continue until the restart of the war. In this case, the problem here was: where was I supposed to level? All the farming places right outside of the four gates of the Royal Capital became killing zones for PKs.
In other words, the rookies were currently unable to leave the city. Even if they somehow manage to escape this “blockade” and travel to another town… at their current level there weren’t any hunting areas suitable for them in the Kingdom, except for the ones around the Royal Capital. In the end, we had something contradictory like we shouldn’t level up in the places supposed for leveling up.
Then, what was I supposed to do… had already been decided by me.
“There’s only that place left, huh.”
A hunting location for newbies that my brother had told me about. Originally, people had written that all the farming grounds right outside of the city gates were affected, but there was a single exception to them. It was a place where the PK group could hardly exert any influence; not even the bulletin boards had any comments indicating that it had been affected by those events.
However, from what my brother said, there was a certain problem regarding that hunting place. And when I heard what was “the problem”, I also thought it would be a tough spot to go around farming monsters. But since there weren’t any other places to level up, that was the only one I could resort to.
I then slept early that day, and on the dawn of the next one, the penalty had been lifted so I logged in the game.
When I entered ＜Infinite Dendrogram＞, three days had already passed here. The current time was in the evening, the same period when I had died.
Incidentally, the location I appeared in wasn’t my dying place, the ＜Noz Forest＞, but the water fountain where I had met with my brother. When I was exploring the city while shopping, I had learned that this was one of the several existing Save Points in the Royal Capital, so I decided to set it as my Save Point for resurrecting.
I see. I guess this meant that after the penalty period, you would automatically resume the game at the Save Point.
“….You have returned, Master…”
Before I knew it, Nemesis was standing by my side in her human form. It seemed as if she had appeared out of thin air.
“Yeah, I’m back.”
It felt indeed embarrassing that I had died and received the penalty. Since it delayed the evolution of the ＜Embryo＞, it was a huge problem for Nemesis. This time, the fault for dying lied entirely on my inexperience, so I had to apologize to her…
“I don’t need it.”
She refused it before I could even finish speaking. Oh right, Nemesis was already able to hear my thoughts.
“Drop those off the mark thoughts. I am the one feeling embarrassed. It is I who want to apologize.”
“…Foolishly, in front of you I proudly boasted that ‘I am the best’, and yet when it came to a battle between ＜Embryos＞, I let you get easily killed. I am angry at myself, at my body’s own worthlessness and lack of ability.”
As she blamed her own absence of strength, Nemesis was biting her lips so hard blood was trickling down the corners of her mouth.
So this was how much she believed everything was her fault.
“That’s where you’re wrong. Had you not protected me from the second attack, I would’ve died way faster. If there’s someone lacking in skill here that one would be me. And here I am, aiming to ‘become a ranker’… I’m a complete joke.”
“No! If only my skills were stronger, I would have warded off that last attack!”
“Think before speaking nonsense! I knew full well how strong we were, so as a ＜Master＞ I should’ve acted with much more consideration for our situation back then!”
As I said that, Nemesis hit me in the chest.
However, the words that escaped from her mouth were…
“I lacked in strength. If you were not a ＜Master＞… a player, I… I would—we would have been gone forever and… I cannot help but feel terrified of this kind of outcome…”
Her voice felt… so fragile, so frail. Even the weak fists hitting me seemed stronger.
The girl that had been talking non-stop about how outstanding she was… now laid bare her weaknesses before me.
Nemesis was crying.
These pure, crystal-clear tears brought an ephemeral air around her, it was as if she could break down and disappear at any instant now.
This crying Nemesis… looked perfectly real to me.
“…Well, you might be right, Nemesis.”
When she heard me, her shoulders trembled. I then placed my hands on those same shoulders.
“But you know, I honestly believe that this time, the one at fault here was your… your own… lack of skill and someone else’s.”
While facing a Nemesis that was one or two heads smaller than me, I looked at her straight in the eyes.
“Yes… and taking an example from what you’ve said, it was my lack of skill… and someone else’s.”
Nemesis wasn’t the only one missing in strength.
I wasn’t the only one missing in strength.
“This time, we both… lacked the power to turn things around.”
This was my answer.
“My level was low and you still hadn’t grown enough as an ＜Embryo＞. Also, above all else, we lacked experience. That’s why I was killed by the PK.”
That defeat was something already in the past.
And what happened in the past couldn’t be changed anymore.
This single death and its penalty will always remain as a reminder of our flaws, of our weaknesses.
“Even then, right now we are alive.”
I was killed, but as a player… as a ＜Master＞, I am still alive. Similarly, Nemesis may have had her evolution delayed, but she was sound and safe right now.
“So it’s all right. We can still do it, from now on we can still get stronger.”
Because we were ＜Master＞ and ＜Embryo＞. No matter what happened, we would always get back on our feet.
So what if we had flaws? Since the beginning, following a path without any hardships wasn’t in my mind anyway.
Like now, we might get hurt along the way… but our will won’t be broken.
“Let’s get strong together, and bring our revenge upon that person!”
Rather, let’s think of this as our goal.
Level up, evolve, polish our own skills and then, one day, defeat that PK in a head-on fight.
“……Really, you are indeed unexpectedly overbearing, Master.”
In response to my words, Nemesis smiled wryly.
“However, it is as you said. Yes, lamenting over what has already happened and giving up because of it is just getting our priorities backwards. We still have a path in front of us to follow.”
She wiped her tears. After that, what remained on her face was her usual, fearless smile.
“I may not know their names, but I will definitely return the favor to that ＜Embryo＞ and its ＜Master＞.”
Nemesis then raised her right hand.
“Let us go! Master! Stronger! Way stronger! To the point that no one will be able to match us together!”
“Yeah. Let’s do it, Nemesis!”
A moment later, we joined our arms together.
Although there wasn’t any unromantic announcement like 【Your bonds have deepened】, I actually felt it.
Right now, Nemesis and I had deepened our ties with each other.
This exact moment was our true starting point.
Incidentally, I hadn’t noticed it while I was conversing with Nemesis, but since the water fountain was one of the Save Points, a lot of players were there too. Suffice to say, they had watched our entire exchange—specially, the moment we joined our arms the surrounding players “graced” us with a round of applause.
With our faces beet red, we awkwardly ran away from that place.
1↑征夷大将軍(コンクエスト・ジェネラル) – Written with the kanji for something like “Great Unifying Shogun/Conqueror Shogun”, and written with “Conquest General”.
2↑妖精女王(ティターニア) – Written as “Fairy Queen”, read as “Titania”.
3↑見当違いを考えるでないわ – Not 100% sure here, there could be a small nuance I hadn’t noticed. Thanks again Cestina.