04: It would be good if I could kill the pain…

The Girl in Red: Kitamura Misawa

赤い彼女:北村美沢

“Watch this glass of water carefully,” Mikiseki instructs, “The moment I throw it into the air, say the command ‘Burst Link.’ You can try this too, Kitamura!” She winks at me as she adds that on as an afterthought.

“And what will happen? Will I automatically challenge some poor sod in the area?” Gunsou skeptically throws Mikiseki a glance. She merely smiles and shakes her head.

“Nothing is going to happen, I promise. Just do as I say.”

There’s just five minutes before class starts, but I have no intention of letting Gunsou and Mikiseki have any more time unsupervised than they can. It isn’t that I don’t trust Gunsou; I just don’t think Mikiseki has the self-control to keep her hands off him whenever I’m not around.

The three of us are outside the water cooler near our classrooms. Initially, that sly girl had asked to Direct Connect to Gunsou for the purposes of this demonstration – but I had insisted on a wireless ad-hoc connection between our Neuro Linkers, much to Mikiseki’s dismay. It’s not like she could contest it, because as I’ve found out with Tatesuke, Accelerating even with a wireless connection will still achieve the same effect of us being able to talk to each other in our usual Net Avatars. Poor Gunsou could only look on helplessly while the tension grew more apparent between us.

‘I’m not giving you to her,’ I had declared last night. As long as Mikiseki thinks she still can get Gunsou to fall for her, I’m never going to let my guard down at all!

“One…Two…Three…” Mikiseki swirls the water around as she counts down, before tossing it into the air, “Burst Link!”

“Bur- Burst Link.” Gunsou trips over the English word for a fraction of a second. I myself quietly murmur the command myself, and with a BASHIIN thunderclap-like sound effect, everything: Gunsou, Mikiseki, the cup and the entire hallway turns blue and freezes. My Net Avatar, basically myself with my regular hair colour and a casual outfit with jeans, high-cut boots, and a conservative white blouse, loads and appears next to my real body.

“Woah!”

Gunsou has every right to be shocked, but I have to fight to stifle my laughter; his eyes are so large, they look like they’re gonna pop out any second! His gaze is solidly arrested by the water droplets frozen in mid-air- or so it appears to be.

“You are now in a state of «Acceleration», Gunsou,” Mikiseki begins her explanation rather smoothly, as though rehearsed. “Your mind has been sped up by Brain Burst by a thousand times, resulting in everything else seemingly coming to a halt, but that isn’t really the case. Look closely at the water droplets, and you’ll see them moving very slowly!”

Indeed, there were miniscule ripples moving over their surfaces, and they were rising up about as fast as grass grew, but they were moving.

“How is this happening?” Gunsou demanded, “Through what?”

Mikiseki lays one hand clad in a black glove over her heart. “It’s your heart rate that’s the key to Acceleration. Think about it: the heartbeat controls the speed at which the brain thinks, and for that to happen, every time the heart beats, it sends an electrical signal to your brain. It’s like the quantum processor in a personal computer.”

She then raises her hand to the back of her neck. “The Neuro Linker interacts with our brains through the spinal cord at the base of our skull, where the aforementioned electrical signals pass through. If the Neuro Linker intercepts those signals, and overwrites it with its own, then…”

“-then…the mind speeds up,” Gunsou comes to the same realisation. “And so will our perception and reaction speeds.” He lifts his hand, attempting to touch one of the water droplets; his finger merely passes through the droplet with no resistance whatsoever. It’s just a virtual image recreated by the Social Security Camera in the corridor. “But…why?”

“Acceleration grants a lot of advantages, as you can see,” ignoring him, Mikiseki gestures down the length of the blue-tinted hallway, with about a dozen students frozen in the midst of their rushing to class, “As long as there’s a Social Security Camera in the area, you can walk through this whole space absolutely uninterrupted. You never need to worry about who’s lurking around the corner again.”

-Indeed. This was how I spied on Gunsou and Mikiseki the other day when I was Accelerating with Tatesuke: the door had a tiny gap because it couldn’t close properly, and so I was able to peep through and see them in their intimate embrace. It was a good thing that I couldn’t open the door in the real world right there and then, or I would have knocked that door right down and slapped Gunsou with all my might!

“Also, you can launch other applications while Accelerated. Among other things…you never have to worry about not studying for exams!” Mikiseki beams cheekily, “That’s why I could spend so much time gathering information about other people in the school-”

“What’s the catch?” Gunsou cuts her mid-sentence, “For such an…an amazing power, isn’t there some kind of cost?”

“Burst Points. Every time you execute ‘Burst Link,’ a Burst Point is deducted. ‘Physical Burst’ costs five Points, and when you’re Level 4, you can use a new command which will cost ten.”

“And you gain Burst Points from fighting other people,” blinking slowly in understanding, Gunsou puts two and two together, “So that’s how it is…”

“There’s no choice, Gunsou,” Mikiseki’s voice trembles ever so slightly, “When you run out of Points, the game uninstalls and you can’t get it back ever again. You can’t pay for more Points, and you can only get it from more players of Brian Burst. And to get more players…you give the program to new people. Like you and Kitamura.” Stepping closer, she reaches out for him with her hands, but before that-

Gunsou takes a step back, holding up a palm in defense. “So is this whole game just about Points? Really? After you told me about ‘understanding myself better’ and all…this is what I’m supposed to do?”

“They will become the one and same goal in the long run, Gunsou,” Mikiseki states evenly, “Even for a stubborn person like Kitamura…she’ll learn more about herself than she knew she had.”

“Excuse me?” I exclaim in genuine surprise, “Can’t you use some simpler words or somethin’?”

“Em… Um, you’ll see,” Mikiseki colours and mumbles a cryptic reply, “It really depends on…on a lot of things.”

Awkward silence descended. “Um…shall we continue later then?” Mikiseki offers. “We can try having a tag team match afterwards…”

I look to Gunsou; his eyes are still fixed on some spot between the two of us, trying to digest everything that Mikiseki’s teaching him. Huffing a sigh, he nods in resignation.

“What’s the command to stop Acceleration, then?”

“It’s ‘Burst Out.'” With that, Mikiseki’s avatar quickly fades from view, leaving only the two of us in the blue-tinted hallway.

“See you later during lunch, then?”

“Yeah,” Gunsou nods and gives me a small, genuine smile, “I’ve not been able to eat lunch with you a lot lately…”

Is he referring to about me and Tatesuke? “Uh…anyway, see you later then. Burst Out!”

SPLASH!

The heck?! Oh- Oh, right. The water.

It didn’t hit any of us, but Gunsou still had quite the rude awakening when he regained his normal senses! Under normal circumstances, it would have been funny, but with Mikiseki giggling lightly already, I didn’t feel like joining her. Gunsou merely shrugged and turned his back on us.

The Bitter Girl: Shoukuhou Nozomi

恨み乙女: 食蜂 望:

Since we’re in different classes, the norm is for Ryoutarou to send me a text to meet elsewhere, or arrange a meeting in our club’s Full Dive area where we can talk privately. If my darling Miki needs to be told as well, he’d tell me too.

This time, he came over from his classroom, from the other end of the corridor, to find me personally. That’s a first, and not a good one at that.

“Nozomi. We’ve got a problem, y’know?”

“Is this a new one, or one that I’ve yet to be aware of?” feigning ignorance for as long as I dare, I casually stretched in my chair.

“Will you look at me when I’m talking!” he gnashes his teeth in frustation, “This has to do with the new girl!”

“Sorry, Ryou,” I drawl and wink casually. “I just can’t take you seriously when you’re not using your Net Avatar!”

“This has nothing to do with how short I am in real life!”

“Ahh, but you brought it up first!” I wag a finger at him, fully aware that I’m not any taller than he is either. “Self-conscious, are you?”

I laugh it off just before he explodes in anger, but he quickly calms down anyway. “Well, what happened?”

“We’ve…” he bites down on his tongue, as though steeling his nerves, “It’s an understatement to say we’ve got a problem.”

“I’m not in the know here,” I shrug and hold up my hands, “What kind of problem do we got?”

“«Death Star Galaxy».”

All Ryoutarou needs is to whisper those three words for the full implications to hit. I actually stagger slightly at the revelation.

“Have…they? Is it true?” I squeeze out weakly, “Are they coming?”

“No doubt about that,” Ryoutarou confirms gravely, “The seven-man group known throughout Accel World for their vicious player-hunting… They’re coming for Spring Renascentia’s power.”

There are Burst Linkers that play the game for pure fun, and those who play it for the sake of earning Burst Points to use to whatever ends they wish.

Then there are those who do not care about either of those, because they play for one pleasure alone: killing. The joy when they empty Health Gauge after Gauge, inflicting pain unto others, and venting their anger onto innocent players.

Such groups are nicknamed PK Groups, shorthand for ‘Player Knockers.’ The more notorious groups have a more sinister interpretation of their name: Player Killers. Usually working in small groups numbering not more than 10, it’s almost impossible to believe that they’re merely kids in real life, when one hears of their names. Such opinions quickly reverse when their ‘kill count’ is revealed: the number of players whose Points were completely robbed, and Brain Burst uninstalled from them, banishing them from Accel World forever.

«Death Star Galaxy» is one of the latter groups. Led by a well-known Level 4 Burst Linker, Guardsman Railgun, the group made its name for themselves by methodically dismembering their victims in tag team battles. Usually targeting random players, they only sought to completely uninstall specific Burst Linkers whose powers they judged to be too much a threat to their group.

On the other hand, their leader is also fond of acquiring rare Enhanced Armaments – various equipment and weapons with no two Armaments alike in Accel World – but if he could get the player themself, all the more he would make it his number one priority to bring that player into their group, by any means possible.

Their next target is a certain light-green avatar whose power had made waves in Accel World a month ago. A power that shouldn’t even be allowed in a fighting game, but somehow it exists.

That player is Accel World’s only healing avatar: Spring Renascentia. Or better known by the nickname her unusual powers had earned her: Yomigaererusha – «The Resurrector».

They’re after Miki. They’re coming for Miki. They want my Miki-chan’s power.

The horrible bombshell of a revelation Ryoutarou had dropped on me before first period continued to eat at me all the way until lunch. I was noticeably quieter, and some of my more caring classmates had even come to ask me if I was well.

I’m not the one that needs to worry. It’s Miki who needs to know she’s in danger.

Oh, I know. You’re probably wondering why I adore her so much. The reason is pretty messed up actually, and I’d rather not talk about it if you will.

But it looks like I got no choice, if I want to explain why I’m protective of her. Here goes…

I had a sister. Yes, note the past tense. Had. She fell into a coma after the same fire that destroyed our house and all my hair, forcing me to get a transplant – and even though I protested it to no end, they took it from her.

I heard it was pretty inexpensive with the new nanobot technology, but the loss of my sister’s hair – at its peak, it was long and beautiful and the object of desire for many a girl – was something I felt should never have happened while she still lives.

And then Miki transferred schools. Travelling all the way from Hokkaido, having to unlearn their dialect and pick up the Tokyo accent, she still managed to look unbelievably cute while she did so!

Above all, that girl is the spitting image of Onee-chan – Shokuhou Hanako, whose picture I still keep in a real antique pewter photo frame by my bedside table. Her hairstyle is a little different, but I don’t give a rat’s fart.

So now do you understand? If you do, good. If you don’t, then scroll back up and read again, brainless git. Don’t make me get started on those retarded lambs who thought it was a good idea to smoke at the rubbish chute. Because…!

…Calm down, Nozomi. Not everyone caused your sister to die. Not everyone caused your sister to die.

Alright, where was I? Right. Miki-chan’s in danger. Yeah, that.

The next day after I gave her Brain Burst and became her «Parent», she and I fought in a tag team battle. And then she used her healing skill.

I can still remember the collective gasp from the spectators in that instant when my Health Gauge was restored. It was like some lecherous giant sucking up a booger through his nose.

A healer, I’m told, is a type that is highly coveted in any MMO game. The healer keeps the party alive and essentially extends the use of their skills in battle. It’s a free ‘I win’ card to have a healer on your side, and therefore everyone wants one. Add the fact that powers in Brain Burst are born from childhood traumas, and healers in Accel World are precious as fuck.

That’s why, as long as I’m alive in Accel World, I’ll protect my «Child» and best friend to the bitter end. Nobody but me can lay a finger on Miki-chan. Anybody wishing to even talk to Spring Renascentia must go through me first.

Hearing that Death Star Galaxy is after her, however, considerably ups the stakes against me! I’ve never fought Guardsman Railgun before, but I’ve fought his henchmen. The dark blue one is creepy as hell, but the reddish guy with his gun is… He’s just sick in the head. Among other things, Neon Slicer really loves to dismember his opponents with his gun!

I can’t stand up to that kind of firepower myself, which is why I took the stairs one floor down to Miki-chan’s classroom, not to look for her, but for someone else who might be able to help me.

Oh, come on. It can’t be that hard to think of the guy. Didn’t you hear about the way he offed Apple Panzer’s head? Given that Panzer’s one of the toughest tanks I’ve ever heard of, and his head was taken off like that, hell, it’s just stupid to not ask Turquoise Duro for a little assistance.

I do worry about Miki-chan getting too close to Gunsou for comfort, but if she benefits and she’s happy, I’m fine with it! I don’t care even if she decides to start going out with him and whatever!

…Okay, I take the last one back. I don’t really think Gunsou deserves Miki-chan. She deserves better. And from the rumours I’ve heard, Gunsou and Misawa have been living together ever since elementary. I myself saw my confirmation yesterday after I KO-ed Cul Artillery. So…uh, best to not split them up, I guess.

I reach the classroom door of 1-B and raise my hand to knock, but then it swings open before I can rap my knuckles on it-

Black, neatly cut hair. Dull black eyes that seemed to have lost a spark they once held long ago. Furrowed eyebrows that make you think he’s always got something on his mind.

This is the guy my Miki-chan likes? Seriously? He looks so… old!

But she likes him. She’s texted me more than once that she admitted to a crush on this guy.

Guess I can’t judge a book by its cover then.

The Tired Boy: Kihara Gunsou

疲れ果て彼:木原群壮

“We need to talk.”

Just as I head out from the classroom, a girl just a little taller than I am blocks my way, fixing me with hawk-like eyes. The class behind me quietens at the mere sight of her; I take it that this can’t be good. The blue necktie she’s wearing indicates that she’s a second-year; I wear a green tie like all first-years do.

“Uh…I’m sorry, but do I know you…?”

“Kihara Gunsou. You fought with Apple Panzer this morning and won, am I correct?”

Oh. Oh. This girl is the tall pink one, the girl who beat up Misawa yesterday. No wonder her voice is so familiar!

I straighten my back, pushing out my chest slightly; much to my satisfaction, I realise Nozomi really only looks taller because I was slouching. “Yeah, and what’s it to you? I didn’t know installing Brain Burst automatically makes me a member of your group.”

Nozomi’s eyes flick away for the shortest of instants and she frowns slightly. “I’m…aware of that.”

She closes her eyelids for a second, but this close, I can tell she’s rolling her eyes. her lower back is tense and her knuckles crack repeatedly; clearly, she’s swallowing a great deal of pride to come down to my level to talk to me.

“I need a favour from you in any case,” Nozomi grits her teeth and grudgingly confirms my suspicions. “Protect… Protect Miki-chan for me. Please.”

Huh? Miki-chan?

“We’ll talk this over lunch later,” flicking her eyes over my classmates behind, her gaze comes to rest at a point behind me; there’s no need for me to turn to confirm who it is. “I’ll ask Kitamura to come as well.”

And then she turns on her heel and leaves. The faint smell of women’s shampoo lingers in the air behind, and as she walks down the corridor she easily arrests the attention of boys and girls alike. My own eyes, however, sink to the floor.

What the heck have I gotten into?

Nozomi, it seems, is not one to waste time at all. Sitting me and Mikiseki down at lunch, she had laid out the problem herself and Mikiseki were facing in no uncertain terms.

-The vicious Player Killer group, Death Star Galaxy was in the area hunting for Spring Renascentia.

-Spring Renascentia’s healing powers made her one of the most valuable avatars in Accel World.

-I, as a strong ‘tank,’ essentially a better human shield, was the only person Nozomi could trust better than Tatesuke to protect Mikiseki in a battle.

“Green Guardian is strong, but not invincible,” Nozomi had elaborated, “His shield may be unbreakable, as far as we’ve seen, but his body is not. Galaxy’s leader, Guardsman Railgun, killed him in their most recent match by firing a grazing shot just past his body; over 50% damage was dealt and that was enough for him to lose the match when the timer ran out.”

And now I faced a choice. Join Mikiseki and her group, and protect her, or leave and be left alone to fend for ourselves, knowing next to nothing about Accel World. “If you’re going to stay, you may as well stay with us, Gunsou!” Mikiseki had lightheartedly offered, albeit with a slight strain apparent in her voice.

I apparently had until the end of today to give an answer, which is why I now found myself sitting blankly at the grandstand besides our school track, pondering my next move.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Someone approaches me from behind. Two hands come to rest on my shoulders, soft and gentle to the feeling. This can’t be Misawa, she’s not the type to give massages, and even if she did, she’d probably do so at home. And as far as I know, there’s only one girl that I know of who seems to enjoy touching me at any opportunity possible…

“Gekkagawa. Uh… Please take your hands away.”

“Eh heh!”

A chuckle I’ve grown to recognise as Mikiseki’s issues. Her identity uncovered, she steps down and takes a seat right next to me; more out of nervousness than anything, I shift more to my left to keep a comfortable distance.

“Hey, what’s with this sudden shyness? Have you forgotten that not too long ago, I had held you as you were crying?”

“I just…” I search for the nicest way possible to tell her to back off, “I just don’t think we’re that close yet, y’know? We’re just classmates.”

“Ah, but you are also a Burst Linker now,” she holds up a finger, “I can understand you better than anyone who isn’t one, and that makes us more than classmates! That’s why Duel Avatars make it easier to understand people; one look at it, and I can make an educated guess into your wish, your fears, and your de-si-res.” Dragging the last word, Mikiseki coyly winks at me, to which I remain silent.

I can’t seem to refute that. She knows the game stuff better than I do anyway…

“What’s with our Duel Avatars then, since you say that it makes me easier to understand?”

“Your Duel Avatar is the personification of your deepest wish made into a tangible body.” she instantly replies.

“Uh…what?”

“Fine then, let’s put it into simple terms,” Mikiseki sighs and turns to face me better, “Every Duel Avatar has something particularly remarkable about them, something that really makes them special, just like how their names are all different. Your colour and mine are both shades of green, but you’re very much different from me, as you could tell.”

“When you went to sleep after I first gave you Brain Burst, your subconscious is more awake now, because your conscious mind is asleep, right? That means that you’re much more likely to think of nothing else but your deepest, purest thoughts and wishes in that moment of sleep. That’s how dreams come about, right?” Mikiseki raises her eyebrow, seeking my confirmation. I just reply with a nod.

“So that’s all there is to it. Brain Burst stimulates you with some stress, or rather, it taps into particular memories, traumatic memories, that you experienced in the past. When sufficient stress has been applied, you stop resisting it and instead wish to cope with the stress somehow; that ‘somehow’ is what makes your Duel Avatar’s main ability. Other small little wishes make up the rest of your avatar.”

“What’s your wish then, Gekkagawa?” I enquire, “Why is your avatar the way it is?”

Half of my mind was actually on how beautiful it looked like, but Mikiseki falls silent.

“Uh, sorry for asking!” I hold up my hands to try and defuse the tension, “I just wanted to understand what you’re saying…”

“Nah, it’s okay! It’s a good question, and I’ll try to answer it to the best I can.”

She takes in a deep breathe. I’m about to get a very personal answer, and that’s exactly what I don’t want to know. The last time we were discussing the past, we went ahead to that level of contact…

I want to find a way to bring back people before they die. That is to say, if I could prevent their deaths… I would do so immediately.”

Steel enters her voice and a glint lights up her eye as she speaks. “This wish of mine, of course, came from my father. Because… right as he was struggling for breath, I really wished I knew what to do. I wished I knew that he was suffering from a heart attack, and could have called the ambulance instead of waiting…”

Her hand makes its way to my wrist – and before I can move away, she grabs it in a vise grip. She looks at me right in the eyes.

“I became aware of that after I realised that my avatar’s power was healing others. Bringing their health back to full, fixing their injuries and curing status ailments… This was all part of my wish.”

“Uh…okay,” I nod in faux understanding, “Could you please let go of me?”

Slowly, Mikiseki releases the iron grip on my sore wrist while a small smile appears on her lips.

“Of course, you might have noticed that it looks quite striking? You’re not the first to have noticed it, and I’ve received compliments from others too; It’s a girl thing, I guess, but I really like it when someone comes to help me, heh heh!”

On and on she continues with other things, but my own question from earlier floats back to my mind: what was my wish, and how would it be read from my Duel Avatar?

I think back to my duels with Mikiseki and against Apple Panzer. Turquoise Duro: it’s blue-green in colour. Heavyweight, tall, and quite strong-looking. Extra armour appears when I need it.

…and that’s it. Was my wish so unremarkable as to have such an ordinary avatar? Or put it another way, did I even wish for anything…?

“Hey, hey,” Mikiseki nudges me in the shoulder, “Are you listening?”

Colour flares in my cheeks at being caught and I shake my head. For a moment, I wonder if Mikiseki will slap me or something, but no, she just chuckles and gives that cute smile of hers. I have to look away, I admit. The magnetic attraction of her smile is too much!

“It’s fine even if you don’t have anything remarkable about your avatar yet, Gunsou! I mean… I started out with my healing ability, yes, but I’ve heard, some players activated new abilities in the middle of battle, and they hadn’t even Levelled Up yet! So maybe your skill will come in time.”

Silence descends when I don’t reply. A cooling breeze blows, setting my mind at ease.

“Oh, would you look at the time!” Mikiseki muses, “It really does seem to fly when you’re with someone special!”

Just ignore it, I tell myself. I confirm that there’s ten minutes to Science class, and it’s going to be on projectile motion – something I’ve been looking forward to, because our Science teacher loves showing us live-action presentations, making class with him a fun time! I spring to my feet and take a step down towards the labs-

“-Hey, help me up, will you?”

When I turn back, I’m greeted with the sight of Mikiseki reaching for me, her hand outstretched. The wind flaps her skirt around and I do my very best to not even glance at her bare legs-

“…Okay.” I concede. I’ll just help her up, and go off myself. I won’t agree to anything else she asks for!

Biting my tongue, I grasp her open hand and pull her to her feet, and let go of her hand- but she doesn’t let go of mine. My fingers dangle in an awkward handshake.

“Nozomi has told you at lunch already, and I’ve confided in you my personal wishes.” Staring into my soul, Mikiseki seems quite unwilling to let me go off without a final thing to say.

“Yeah…so?”

“So I ask of you, Gunsou: will you protect me?”

My mouth hangs open, unwilling to move. I never knew that replying to four simple words could be so difficult. Mikiseki’s small lips repeat her question with steel in her voice, yet sounding like a plea. “Will you protect me?”

Do I really want to do this, or am I just afraid of having to face her if I say no? I see Mikiseki five days a week, seven hours a day. If I say no, she will most definitely be disappointed…and I will have to live with that until we go to different classes.

“Okay,” I reluctantly mumble, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

All the seriousness melts away in that moment and her face lights up with that heartwarming smile again. “I’m so glad, Gunsou!”

“Err…” Half-smiling, I’m not sure how to actually respond, so I opt for a safe nod in answer, “Yeah, I’m glad.”

And then she skips off to the Science lab with a spring in her step- without me. The half-hearted smile drops from my face as soon as she passes out of earshot.

Is this how our partnership is going to be like? Me being made use of with nothing but words for repayment? That’s not the kind of relationship I want!

Hitching my bag up, I make my own way forwards.

-“Gunsou.”

Oh no.

I’d know that voice anywhere. At school, outside, and at home, it’s a voice as familiar as the back of my own hand. And this time, it’s trembling with suppressed rage.

I turn slowly, but Misawa is in no hurry to decapitate me, it seems, because as far as she’s concerned, I’ve been caught in the act. Standing from the topmost level of the grandstands, her arms are crossed over her chest, her eyes staring daggers.

It’s not like I’m afraid of Misawa, but suddenly, I can’t control the tremors in my hands. When Misawa gets angry, Hell descends on earth!

Too softly for me to hear, Misawa opens her lips, then her tongue rises to the roof of her mouth. Then three more sounds are voiced, too soft for me to hear, but easy enough to see: Burst Link.

-and the world turns blue again-

HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER!

I can’t think. I can’t speak. The feeling of numbness creeps up from my toes to my core. As though I have sinned before the very being I revere.

When this is all over, I’m going to have to make Misawa’s favourite foods for dinner the rest of the week to appease her-

The Girl in Red: Kitamura Misawa

赤い彼女:北村美沢

It’s bright, unnaturally bright. The grandstand and buildings have been bleached bone white, casting long shadows across the grounds, courtesy of the huge crescent moon in the sky. No wind blows and no sound reaches my ears, save for the effects of my avatar being loaded and spawned.

This is the Moonlight stage, the stage I had first fought Tatesuke in for my first real duel just awhile earlier. From what I remember, it’s easy to break the walls and floor, there’s no traps nor enemies to deal with, and it’s possible to enter buildings with more than three floors.

Not that any of that matters to me now. There’s only one thing I care right now: making Gunsou Kihara suffer as much pain as humanly possible! That cheating bastard, what does he think he’s doing?! Doesn’t he know that Mikiseki’s just making use of him? It’s so obvious, I don’t know what she’s stuffed his eyes with!

Before I can even finish spawning, I’ve drawn my pistol and he’s in my sights: the huge blue-green avatar who’s so large I don’t even need to aim, how convenient!

BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM!

A cry of pain fills the stage and the empty grounds, as does the reports of gunfire. The gun kicks back satisfyingly: one round deflects off his head, two tunnel into his chest and two more drill into his shoulders! How’s does it feel now, idiot?!

“Misawa! Why are you doing this!”

“You know damn well why I’m attacking you,” I struggle to hold back, “This is for your own good!”

“Is it Miki- uh, Gekkagawa?” He trips over her name again, “Because she came to find me after lunch, it wasn’t anything else-”

Oh, so you actually know why you’re in trouble now! “Of course it’s about Gekkagawa,” I empty my lungs at him, “It was always about HER!”

Can’t reply, right? You’re guilty as charged, right?

“I don’t see her helping you out even a fraction of what you’re doing for her, so- WHY THE HELL SHOULD YOU HELP HER?! Why, Gunsou, WHY?”

The empty clip clatters to the floor and I slam in a new one. I don’t even bother aiming anymore, I just keep shooting at him, I just keep walking forwards-

“You- BLAM– already- BLAM– work- BLAM– so- BLAM– hard- BLAM-” I empty the clip into any blue-green bits I can find, “So why keep going on?! The hell did she say she’ll give you, huh? What else are you doing behind my back? How much more are you two doing?!”

He backsteps- trips. With grunts and cries of pain, Turquoise Duro falls over backwards to the bottom of the grandstand, shattering stone steps into dust as he goes. It had better hurt like hell! I reload and let the gun do the talking, filling the air with reports and Gunsou’s grunts of pain.

Shoot, slide, reload, repeat. Shoot slide reload repeat, shootslidereloadrepeat-SHOOT!!

“Stop- ugh, Misawa, stop!” He pleads between gunshots, “We can talk this out!”

Like hell I’m going to let you talk your way out! Y’know what, that’s just even more irritating! Get your just desserts!

Barely registering his Health dropping past seventy percent full, I empty an entire clip into his unprotected sides. That’s right, Gunsou, feel the pain you’re causing me! More! More!

“I’m not giving you to her yesterday, and that’s all I’m doing! If you’re going to give yourself to her like some friggin’ slave, then-”

I aim to my side and thumb the button; my half-full Special Gauge depletes. A pillar of red light descends from the sky, coalescing into a definite shape; and then my true Enhanced Armament appears: the «Artillery Piece».

It’s deceptively small. The barrel is just over a metre long and the four legs it sits on are slightly smaller. The gun embeds itself into the ground automatically and with a metallic rasp, a single armour-piercing round is chambered.

This gun, I’m told by Tatesuke, is an antique by modern standards. But it’s still a 37mm anti-personnel gun and it’s aimed at Gunsou!

A laser extends from my pistol’s sight to wherever I aim, and the gun barrel adjusts accordingly. The beam comes to rest dead center of mass: the chest of Turquoise Duro.

“-EAT THIS! Gun One, «FIRE»!!”

WHAM!

A single deafening blast. Time stands still for an instant as a black round emerges from the muzzle in a hail of fire-

It’s a direct hit! Like a punch to the gut, it bends him over and sends him flying for a short distance, landing on his back with a sickening crunch. A low moan escapes him as he clutches his ruined armour, breaking into pieces.

The breech cycles open and a second round is chambered in; I yank a lever on the gun and it closes, ready to fire again!

“Misawa… please..!”

“You think I’m done? You think this is all I have?!” I scream.

I train the laser on him and pull the trigger; one satisfying BOOM later, I’m rewarded with Gunsou’s scream of pain! His Health Gauge drops sharply to thirty percent and turns yellow.

My third and last AP round – I don’t have an unlimited supply of ammo, after all – enters the barrel and I jam the breech shut. All I want is to punish him for doing things I didn’t know about behind my back-

“-cared for you.”

His voice is weak as expected, but there’s something truthful about it that makes me do a double-take. A little wheel on the gun spins as it lays to Gunsou’s duel avatar, ready to unleash a third round of destruction in his face-

“I cared for you all these years.”

My second round has punched a hole right through his chest and I can even see through it. Gunsou’s lying on the ground, defenseless, and unwilling to fight. I don’t even need a third round, heck! Just a few shots to his head, or the exposed innards of his avatar will do!

I raise my gun and level the sights at his abused body, but my hand is shaking and I can’t get a steady shot. So I walk a lil’ closer, enough for me to get a decent aim, but I’m also able to hear whatever he’s saying too:

“S-So-So long. I never complained, I never asked for anything in return.”

His fingers twitch weakly, clenching and unclenching.

“I didn’t even try to talk to Mikiseki, but this is what I get in return… Hey, Misawa, do you know,” He sniffs slightly, leaking tears from his eyes, “That it isn’t the bombs that hurt…”

He turns his head to face me, warm yellow eye lenses piercing me with an accusing stare.

“-But that despite how much I’ve sacrificed for you; feeding you, clothing you, you’ve turned right around and accuse me of… of..”

Goddamnit, focus! I turn the gun on him, but I just can’t seem to keep my hands steady-

“…Never mind. Just do it, Misawa. Kill me.”

Why can’t I just pull the trigger? Wasn’t I so trigger-happy a moment ago?

“Look at us now. To think that we’ve gone from… from family to enemies. All because of one stupid game. You’ve gotten too much into it, haven’t you?”

-I have not!

“Do what you like, Misawa, do what you like,” Gunsou closes his eyes in resignation, “I hate leaving you alone, but I just can’t go on like this.”

His head turns to the side, no longer facing me. “Do it.” he murmurs, fully aware that one last attack is enough to end his life.

What am I doing? Think, Misawa, think! Suddenly, all the adrenaline is gone. All I have is… is..

“What are you waiting for?” Gunsou suddenly snarls. “Didn’t you want to kill me? Do it now! Punish me!”

-Just end it!!

*clatter*

The pistol drops to the ground.

I don’t understand! I want to punish him! I want to hurt him! But… But!

I turn away and run. Away from his broken body in the wreckage of the grandstands, up into an empty, unfurnished building, and hug my knees to my chest.

“He’s wrong…”

I can try to say that, but my voice comes out all wrong, it’s hollow and unconvincing, not a shred of conviction in it.

“He’s..”

The timer reaches zero.

YOU WIN!

I’m back again in the grandstands, arms crossed in a now-useless show of anger; all the energy is gone now, and my jaw is slack in disbelief. Gunsou merely looks up and stares at me with watery eyes of pain.

-I can’t stand this!

I turn and leave. I squint to try and hold the tears in.

-Don’t cry, Misawa. You’re a strong girl, don’t cry!

I bite my tongue, hard. I can’t others see that I’m weak.

“…”

-I’m not weak, I’m strong!

A hollow seems to yawn within me. The battle comes back to me: the tang of gunpowder in my face, the soreness in my wrist every time I fired, the pitiful sight of Turquoise Duro as I filled him with holes.

Gunsou had better apologise to me by making a good dinner tonight!

…Eh?

What is he to me? He can’t be just a maid, right? I know him better than that. Heck, I wouldn’t invite any of my classmates over to sleep and eat at my house! Well, none yet, anyway.

I felt nothing wrong when I shot him. Isn’t he in the wrong for hurting me with his actions? For goodness’ sake, he’s been going out with that Gekkagawa girl behind my back! He’s even agreed to helping them, so what in the world is his problem?!

I sigh and give up.

From the corner of my eye, Tatesuke gives me a quizzical look for a moment, then he goes back to his own things.

Like hell I’ll ask you for help. Get real. Gunsou’s mine to settle, okay!

The Tired Boy: Kihara Gunsou

疲れ果て彼:木原群壮

A million thoughts are racing through my mind and I have no idea how to deal with them.

For a start, it hurts. And I mean, eye-watering, stomach-churning pain is what I’m feeling. You know what diarrhea feels like? It feels like that, being punched in the gut, and having salt rubbed in it all at once! My eyes are literally tearing up because of this pain, and I’m just barely hanging on as I make my way to class.

Then there’s the little pricks of pain here and there wherever I’ve been shot at by Misawa. It’s eating up all of my endurance to ignore them. Yet another reason to delete this burden of a game!

And then I’ve been informed by Misawa (with two bombs and over three dozen bullets) that she holds a deep mistrust against me and Mikiseki and whatever is going on between us.

So it seems that no matter how faithful I am to Misawa in conscience, she doesn’t appreciate it. I’ve done nothing but to give my best to you, and this is what I get?

Last and not least is Mikseki. For a middle-schooler, that girl is touching me like we’re adults, and I’m not really comfortable with that. That said… It also implies that I do like it. Somehow.

Misawa and I definitely don’t touch each other. We sleep in one bed, share meals and the same study desk, but our apartment is small. Like, Hong-Kong-small small. It’s necessary for our survival. It’s kind of cozy, so in such a home, I don’t misunderstand if Misawa brushes against me now and then. It’s all unintentional.

And yet, it is Mikiseki seems to think of me as her boyfriend. She looks at me with dreamy eyes, lays her hands on me whenever she can, and by design or not, I too find my eyes drifting down to follow her hands whenever she smoothes her skirt. Despite how I’m not comfortable with her contact, I can’t think of a good reason to reject her either.

I’m truly between a rock and a hard place. I have given so much of my time and effort to Misawa, no questions asked, and she repaid me with a rain of bullets. Mikiseki seems to have jumped a lot of steps in making a relationship with me, and I’m less than willing to push her away than I should be.

I can’t give Misawa up, ever. But I don’t want to lose Mikiseki either. I have no other good friends in class I can confide to, and I can’t tell Misawa about this, can I?

And just as I walk into class, when things can’t seem to get worse, they do.

Mikiseki’s in the middle of a veritable horde of girls, while all the guys are wide-eyed in revelation. And my name is repeatedly mentioned in full again and again by all of them:

“Gunsou Kihara… You can’t be serious?!”

“Kihara and Gekkagawa are going out? Since when?”

“What on earth did Kihara do to get Gekkagawa to fall for him! I gotta get him to teach me some tricks, man…”

“Oh look! It’s him!”

Every girl clustered around Mikiseki instantly turns to look; one girl’s waist-length hair whips a lucky guy in the face. Every eye falls upon me, overflowing with envy and dripping with curiosity. I can understand that Mikiseki’s beauty is the talk of the class, so should feel like I’ve achieved the impossible? All I get now is the feeling that I’m about to be interrogated.

And true enough, everybody explodes with questions at once.

“Did you Direct Connect to Gekkagawa?”

“You held hands with Mikiseki just a while ago at the stadium, didja?”

“Why did I see you two disappearing during area cleaning yesterday?!”

And probably the loudest question of all: “Is it true that you and Mikiseki are dating?”

So many hopeful gazes, so many eyes wide with wonder. Even Mikiseki herself is giving me this look of abashness, as though saying ‘Well, it can’t be helped, everyone saw us earlier!’

“I… Uh…”

I can see everyone leaning forward like hungry dogs. God, I don’t have a choice here, do I?

“…Yes,” I swallow what’s left of my confidence with that word. “Yeah, but I mean, we’re just-”

I have no memory of what happens next.

All I can feel is a biting regret right next to me heart, the same spot where Misawa put a bomb through. Truly, I’m such an idiot.

From faraway, a thunderclap shakes the sky. The clouds above darken.

-Forgive me, Misawa. I deserve all that you gave me.

The Devoted Boy: Ichijo Tatesuke

まめな少年: 一助 盾介

I can’t take this anymore.

Misawa has been clearly shaken by something all day. Where she used to be chatty, loud, and boisterous in class, an aura of moodiness has been hanging around her since break. And when Mikiseki had texted me that she had managed to get Gunsou to tag with her, I can put two and two together.

It’s time for me to take action. After the last bell chimes, I calmly save my homework files, observing Misawa’s sluggish movements from behind. When she waves off her friends with an excuse, that’s when I walk up from behind and stand besides her silently.

“Eh? Whatcha doing, Ichijo?”

She never calls me Tatesuke even though I call her Misawa. Oh well…

“I think we need to talk, Misawa.”

“I ain’t got time for talks, man,” she dismisses me with a half-hearted sweep, “I got things to settle after school, sorry-”

“I believe that it concerns Gunsou and Mikiseki, doesn’t it?”

That shuts her up because it’s the truth. Her face undergoes an impressive range of subtle emotional see-sawing: her eyebrow rises in surprise and confusion, then her eyes darken in suspicion and wariness, her jaw clenching in an attempt to shore up her confidence. She’s clearly in need of some clarification about the issue between those two.

“‘Kay, so what’s up with them?” she spits out with suppressed tension, “What’s going on between them that I don’t know about?”

“I believe it’ll take some time to explain.”

Extending a hand to her, I’m quite aware of the gasps of surprises it draws from the rest of the girls in class, and how scandalous it must surely look like! After turning down the favours of many a girl in school only to be publically humiliated by Misawa, here I am again asking her out, it must be! If only they know what’s actually happening here.

“Shall we take a walk?”

If looks could kill, I may well have been fried to a crisp by the glare I’m receiving in answer! But Misawa grudgingly nods in return and gets to her feet anyway.

“Alrighty. But don’t lead me on another long walk round the bushes, ya’ hear me?”

“We’ll get straight to the point, please believe me.”

“Who’s ‘we’?!”

The answer, as it turned out, was Mikiseki and I. She had brought Gunsou with her as arranged, and so he and Misawa sat on one side of the table while Mikiseki and I sat on the other. It’s a very fitting – and telling, if I may say so – arrangement that reflects their mood.

A stony silence settled in after our drinks arrived; in this small cafe a distance away from school, there weren’t many middle schoolers that knew of this place, and it works to our advantage.

“Our upperclassmen Ryoutarou and Nozomi will be coming up soon enough, but fire away as much as you like, Gunsou and Misawa,” I spread my hands in invitation, “Please… Be as open as you like.”

Gunsou’s face sinks even more and he turns away in resignation. Misawa takes a break from tearing Mikiseki apart with her bare eyes and turns to me:

“What’s going on? What’s up with her,” she jerks a thumb at Mikiseki, “Openly flirting with Gunsou? Lemme in on the secret, c’mon.”

“Let me explain, Tatesuke.”

An impressive confidence takes command of Mikiseki and she holds up a hand to stop me.

“I’m in danger from other players who would very much like my powers and are willing to do anything to get them – or me,” she added, “Tatesuke here is good, but not strong enough to face up to Galaxy’s leader. So… That’s where Gunsou comes in.”

“Before I gave you Brain Burst, Misawa, I… Well, I was beaten. Very embarrassingly.” Goodness, I’m going red just thinking about my defeat at Guardsman Railgun’s hands.

“You guys ain’t answering my question! What does Gunsou have that you want so badly?”

“Word gets around fast here, Misawa,” Mikiseki explained, “Gunsou – or should I say, Turquoise Duro – took out Panzer this morning. And until then, he’s never lost to a close-range type before! I mean Panzer, of course.”

“So? Link not found!”

“The significance is,” I painstakingly elaborate, “Apple Panzer’s skills make him immune to blunt-impact attacks, and yet Duro was strong enough to defeat him. With a difference in Levels, if I may remind you again. Even I have trouble fighting Panzer; he’s faster than I am and is strong and smart enough to pull my shield off.”

“And what’s this ‘Galaxy’ anyway? You’re just throwing terms and expecting me to understand immediately!”

“They’re a Player Killer group-”

“And just what is that?”

“They’re a group of players coming to recruit Mikiseki by force,” Gunsou pipes up in a tiny voice, “And so they want me to protect her- OW!”

“On first-name terms with her, are we?!” Misawa grabs and twists his ear viciously, “What are you getting out of this deal anyway! What’s in it for us?!”

“Misawa,” I coldly stare her down, “This is none of his fault, so calm down.”

Gunsou’s ear is still red when she finally lets go of him, but it’s an improvement. I get the feeling that she might just rip him apart if we leave them alone in the cafe…

“It’s just a game anyway, so please, Misawa,” Gunsou implores, “Just let me do what they want, and I’ll quit. I’ll uninstall the freaking game when my job is done.”

“Oh no, you don’t! Brain Burst is more than that, Gunsou! Don’t quit so fast before you’ve even scraped the surface!” Mikiseki is visibly green in horror, to which Gunsou closes his eyes in resigned defiance.

“Look at us, Gekkagawa. I… Ugh. I think we could really have been friends. We could have been good friends, but because of Brain Burst, not only are we like this… I just can’t… I just can’t…”

“You just can’t have the same relationship with Misawa as you did before?” I ask. “I know you’d want to. Misawa, there are people who envy the two of you, did you know?”

When Gunsou drops his head in admittance, it’s Misawa’s turn to be surprised. Her lips part and form a round ‘O’ as the true situation settles in.

“I understand where you’re coming from, but please, believe us when I say that we just need Turquoise Duro. I personally promise you, I’m not forcing Gunsou to join us permanently. There is a difference.” I finally conclude.

Ashamed at her impulsiveness, Misawa hangs her head and blushes slightly.

“I believe we’ve made our case, but if Gunsou is that important to you, then I’ll ask again,” I sit straighter and pick my words carefully, “Misawa. Will you lend us the services of Turquoise Duro’s defensive power to protect Mikiseki?”

“…Lemmejoinin.” She mumbles.

“I’m sorry?”

“I said, let me join in,” she looks up with the familiar fire in her eyes, “Don’t leave me out of this. If anything else happens to him, I’ll kill you. And as for you, don’t even think about touching him either!”

“Don’t worry, Misawa, that won’t happen!” Mikiseki grins, “Tatesuke is our witness here!”

I personally doubt that she will honour that promise, but at least the girls aren’t fighting each other. That’s good enough for now.

And so we form a tag team of two and two: Gunsou pairs with Mikiseki while I and Misawa form another team. Both team members can only be challenged by another tag team, which means a weak player can be protected by a higher-Levelled, stronger, and more experienced player.

On the flip side, it means that two high-Level players could challenge a weak team and utterly crush them, but everyone is Level 2 or 3 on average. Even Ryoutarou and I are Level 4, and we’re among the strongest in Brain Burst currently. Nobody to our knowledge has reached Level 5 yet.

What’s there to be afraid of then? Besides Guardsman Railgun, I don’t think there’s anyone else I need to be worried about…

[TAG TEAM BATTLE]

GUARDSMAN RAILGUN & MIRAGE ZEALOT

VS

KLEIN APPRENTICE & LUKA EXTINGUISHER

I am Guardsman Railgun.

Also known as Hissatsu Toushu – the Certain Deadly Pitcher.

All I want is to not fail. I want the perfect pitch, the shot of the century. To watch the ball as it leaves my fingertips, carving a perfectly smooth parabolic arc in the air and watch in smug delight as the batter misses by a hair’s breadth, and my ball hits home right in the sock of the catcher’s glove.

Maybe that’s the reason why my right hand is Accel World’s most powerful long-ranged weapon. Maybe the reason why I’m a red colour is because I’m afraid to fail.

And I will never, ever, care to taste the same feelings of disappointment and regret again. That’s why I’ll always do my best…

…Whatever it takes to get there.

Some fifty metres behind me, Mirage Zealot, despite being one Level weaker than Klein Apprentice and less skilled in the ways of the sword, is putting up a good fight nonetheless. Their HP is more or less equal at 70%, so that means I’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about.

“Y’know, DSG sounds like the name of a hipster clothing brand!”

The pink one – Luka Extinguisher – is the one I need to pay more attention to. She doesn’t pull her verbal punches nor her actual attacks; my Health is already at 65% while she has avoided taking serious damage, thanks to that gas attack of hers. That cloud of thick, white, foul-smelling smoke she can spray at will is very effective at suffocating other players. Which leads me to wonder if I’ve guessed the meaning of ‘Extinguisher’ correctly; I’m taking it to mean ‘snuffing out someone’s life.’

“Now, come on out you coward! We ain’t got all day to tango!”

Her tongue certainly sounds the part, but I want to test something I’ve been practicing for weeks now.

This is the «Flooded Resort» stage, and we’re currently locked in combat on one of the above-land highways. There’s several pillars Extinguisher is using to her advantage to prevent me from having a clear line of sight to fire, but she faces no such problems with her Area-of-Effect attack; indeed, I’ve had to retreat repeatedly to stay out of range of that gas she sprays.

I don’t have enough Special Gauge left to fuel my passive skill «Ball Maker». All I can find are three balls that I tossed earlier. And I still need to take out Klein Apprentice.

I must believe. I can do this!

I cock my arm back. Fingers tense and open up as I grip the baseball.

Imagine.

I twist body and wrist in one smooth motion and fire at the same time; the ball curves too much, and it impacts a spot ten metres behind Extinguisher. She doesn’t notice it yet…

Imagine the ball spinning in midair to carve a parabolic trajectory.

I cock back and try again, grinding my teeth. If Guardsman Railgun even has teeth.

ZOOM!

This time, the ball whizzes past her ear and she noticeably jumps. But it’s still not good enough!

“What the-?!” Her voice sounds from behind the pillar – she’s only taken half a step back-

Concentrate!

I let the third and final ball fly and twist my wrist with all my will. Fly a curved path, boy, fly!

“Ahhh!”

Extinguisher’s sweet, sweet scream of pain. Her footsteps as she stumbles and trips over herself. The muted glop sound effect of her Health Gauge decreasing slightly, they all reward my ears. At last, I’ve made a perfect shot right on target.

Sprinting forward, I seize the girl by the scruff of her neck- and before she realises what’s happening, I hurl her over the edge of the highway headfirst to the rocks below-!

CRACK!

Her Health drops sharply, but it’s not enough. I follow her over the side to her broken body below, and as I land I take that extra bit of care needed to plant my foot into the joint of her leg-

CRUNCH!

“AHHHH!”

I hate girls, especially when they cry!

“Shut up, you little bitch, shut up!”

I snatch up a rock and pound her face with it. No mercy now, I’ll turn her face into a pulp! When I want a plan to go through, I will move mountains to make sure it goes through and one crying girl is NOT going to stand in my way-

With no warning whatsoever, Mirage Zealot taps my shoulder with all the grace of a ghost.

“…”

Woah there. Way to ruin the moment, man… But I gotta stick to the plan too.

Just as Klein Apprentice sticks his head out from the highway, I aim at the side and aim my hand-

It changes shape and a long, slim barrel emerges. Electricity arcs up and down its length as I charge; with only thirty percent Special Gauge, I’ve just got enough for an AP round.

Klein Apprentice leaps over the edge of the highway. The muzzle velocity of my 30% charge is roughly five hundred metres per second, I’ve no need to lead my aiming at this distance, so I let fly-

WHOOMPHH!

One scream of pain and broken bones later, it’s clear as day that Apprentice is out of the fight for good. Nothing to stop us now.

The blue-black blade in Zealot’s hands looks a little worse for the wear, but Zealot himself is more than able to do the job I recruited him for. “Ready, Zealot? Just like we planned.”

He nods wordlessly and touches the very tip of the blade to Extinguisher’s cheek. Dazed at the fall and with my weight still on top of her broken leg, she can only squeak in shock and confusion, to which he has no reaction at all.

The dark blade in Zealot’s hands begins to glow, flaring with blue light from within, but when the tendrils of darkness emerge and wrap themselves around the blade, even I can’t quite control the tremor in my fingers. Zealot merely stares down at Extinguisher emotionlessly, transmitting seemingly no threat whatsoever, yet binding her body to the spot of its own accord. It can’t be helped – you always get the feeling that there’s something staring back at you whenever you are to look into those bottomless eyes.

I honestly don’t know anything about Zealot except what he tells me to do for him in return for his services. After he’s finishes doing his weirdo work, I let him get his Burst Points from killing both the opponents and I get what I want the next morning: detailed information about the Burst Linker whom he targets with this skill. Very, very detailed information. That’s all I need to know.

“No…”

Extinguisher’s lovely pink lips, overflowing with fear and terror, fails in a spectacular display of breaking down. Her eyes are so wide, they’re practically saucers, and they’re filled with Zealot’s bottomless ones.

“…”

And he thrusts the blade into her neck, quickly and quietly extinguishing her remaining Health. Nearby, Klein Apprentice stirs slightly; he’s tough as expected of a blue colour, but he’s a sitting duck after the fall from the highway, plus my own railgun fire earlier. Zealot makes quick work of his head and the duel reaches its conclusion:

[GUARDSMAN RAILGUN & MIRAGE ZEALOT WIN!]

Damn right you are. I always win no matter what.

I glance at the timer – 800 seconds left. We’ve taken longer than normal to finish off this fight, but that’s probably because we’re evenly matched for Levels.

Soon, however, Levels won’t matter anymore. I have absolute trust in Zealot that he can pull this through, just like all those times in the past.

And afterwards, when Spring Renascentia is mine in presence and will, we can have our fun.

The Devoted Boy: Ichijo Tatesuke

まめな少年: 一助 盾介

We’ve gone through a second round of drinks by the time Nozomi finally calls Mikiseki, and that’s mildly unsettling. I know the second years have remedial classes, but Ryoutarou and Nozomi were supposed to show up twenty minutes ago! Misawa and Gunsou have even gone to a quiet corner of the cafe to have a private discussion, leaving me and Mikiseki alone.

“Uh, what?”

Mikiseki’s eyes dart this way and that while she converses with Nozomi over the phone. Or I should say, over the the Neuro Linker. Once that technological marvel became cheap enough despite compact, high-power batteries as its power source, the mobile phone well and truly became a thing of the past.

“Oh. Oh! Dear god, are you okay, Nozomi?”

I don’t need to hear Nozomi’s side of the conversation to know that things just took a turn for the worst. Waving over to Gunsou and Misawa, I gesture at them to return.

“Whassap?”

I note that Gunsou returns with a somewhat lighter expression; perhaps he’s finally managed to convince Misawa of his side of the story? That’s good, I knew they could be trusted to work it all out together. At least for awhile.

“Uh, I dunno, but I think Nozomi and Ryoutarou have got news for us…” I pick up my iced tea and take another sip.

“Yes, yes, alright. See you in five.” Hanging up the call, Mikiseki leans back in her seat, looking as though she was just informed of extra remedial class on Saturday morning.

“We’re not gonna leave this cafe for a while.”

“Excuse me?! What the heck is this about now-”

BAM.

Whatever Misawa tries to pin on Mikiseki gets drowned out by the sound of the cafe doors! In storms in Nozomi and Ryoutarou, both of them sopping wet with rainwater, dripping all over the floor. For a good three seconds they just stand there, panting to catch their breath. Were they running here?

“Are… Are you okay, Nozomi?”

Nozomi doesn’t respond to Mikiseki’s query for the briefest of instants.

“All of you. Switch off your Neuro Linkers now!”

One thought on “04: It would be good if I could kill the pain…

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