“Oh, you knew about the stone? Are you joining the event?”
I turned around. Standing there was a blond-haired man. He was good-looking, but he also looked like such a sleazy skirt-chaser it ruined the whole impression. Two daggers were dangling on his hips.
Event? Magic stone? Were they players, then?
I slightly raised my vigilance and moved back half a step. That got him flustered. He waved his hands and stepped back.
“Ah, no, sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. We just put out an announcement, and I was worried no one would come, so when I heard ‘magic stone’ I just reflexively called at you. My name’s Weed. I’m a member of the clan that announced the event.”
“…tell me more.”
I played dumb in an attempt to glean some information. But… wait a minute? I thought the beta players could distinguish between NPCs and players?
Well, whatever. For some reason, he seemed interested in my face. He continued his explanation while constantly sneaking glances at my hooded head.
Supposedly, their group thought Tiz’s bounty was a game event. They also possessed the [Red Magic Stone] they got from killing another one of us in that event. And since they knew the ‘rabbit beastman girl’ stole the yellow magic stone, they were planning to use theirs as bait to lure me out.
“Around tomorrow, there’ll be a notice saying ‘Finding Buyers for the Red Magic Stone’ posted in all the central continent’s adventurer guilds and a few other places. But with such a high bounty, we weren’t really expecting the bunny girl to show up inside the town. It’s really just people gathering up for a party. So yeah, I was hoping more girls could come-”
Another interruption. Such déjà vu… Both of us turned to look at the voice. There, I saw the powerful adventurer I met in the armor shop. Sally was behind him, facepalming and going “Aww, crap.”
“Oh hey. Isaac, I was just inviting this girl…”
“No no no, she’s not a player!”
“…wha?! Holy shit, she doesn’t have the mark!”
Weed stared in shock, alternating his gaze between me and a spot slightly to the upper-left of me. This again? Yes, yes, I got it, now could you please stop looking at my face?
“I mean, she just looks so natural-”
“I know, right?! Like, the atmosphere she has, her mannerisms, they’re all a lot more similar to us than the ingame NPCs here!”
Weed began his excuse, which was then overwhelmed by Sally’s own… wait, actually Sally sounded a lot like Salia. So easy to mix up.
Both of them continued their incomprehensible-to-NPCs rants. The powerful adventurer – Isaac, was it? – deeply sighed and turned to me.
“Again, sorry about that. You don’t really understand what they’re saying, right? Don’t mind them, just forget about it.”
…well, about that…
“I heard you’re baiting the ‘rabbit’ in the bounty?” I asked.
Isaac’s smile twitched. “Weed, what the hell have you been saying?”
“Damn it, didn’t I tell you? This game’s AI has way too many dialogue and action patterns. Don’t be careless.”
“…but, I mean, you’re talking a lot of meta stuff in front of her too, aren’t you?”
They really weren’t very vigilant at all in front of NPCs, were they? Isaac’s been ignoring me, until his friends finally pointed out his own mistake.
“Ah. Whoops.” Once again, he turned his strained smile back to me. “Oh well… so I see you look quite young, but I guess you’re an adventurer too, right?”
I nodded. Isaac seemed to have finally shaken off his hesitation. He spoke up for both me and his comrades to hear.
“As you heard, we’re about to go on a rabbit hunt. The chances are low though, so it’s really half serious, half an excuse to get together and have fun. There’s no guarantee we’ll get rewarded even if the capture’s successful. Still, if you don’t mind us hiring you, we can pay you 3 small golds. How about it?”
Apparently Isaac had decided to bring me along under his employ. Why?
“Whoa, for real? Hell yeah!” Weed cheered.
“Hold on, Isaac?! Are you really bringing this NP-I mean, this girl along? Isn’t she a stranger?”
“Sally, too loud. What if she talk to other adventurers, and then they come to mess things up? We’re bringing her along to keep it secret from the normal adventurers,” Isaac replied.
“Learn your lesson already, Weed!”
“Heheheh, alright, let’s go!”
Looked like they never even entertained the possibility that NPCs could refuse.
Can’t be helped, I supposed. If anything, this was actually better for me. I didn’t know what sort of event they were going to set up, but as long as I could get my hands on the red magic stone, it’d be fine.
…it was No. 08’s stone, right? Should be. Otherwise I’d be so screwed.
“Well then, let’s talk about our schedule.”
According to Isaac, the event would be one week later. He had already notified his friends (through the internet). Anyone who could come was welcomed to.
It would be held at their base, in the outskirts of the Free City of Seis. They showed me the spot on the simple map posted inside the guild hall. It was hella far away. It was a large country on the eastern end of the central continent.
I wondered how we were going to get there in just a week. Isaac explained. First off, the group would go by slow rail to a nearby large country called Battrol, switching trains along the way. This would take four days. Then once we were there, we’d take the airship.
“Yeah. We have a yearly pass. I think we can get them to accept you as a party member.”
This was the first time I’d ever heard of airships. According to them, only the large countries had the necessary airports, and you could go to any other large country in the world in just one to two days with it.
Until Battrol, we’d just be riding normal trains, not express. They said they were here to earn some money in the first place. Wasting large gold coins for a quick ride would just be defeating the purpose.
We got on the cheapest train we could find. A bit tight, but still we managed to find a four-person room. We finally had time for proper introductions.
“We were hunting the water lizards in the bog nearby. Their hides and magic stones fetch a pretty good price in the Free City. So… what’s your name? I’m Sandrea. Just call me Sally!”
“Hi, Sandrea. I’m Sherry.”
The group composed of Isaac the warrior, Weed the speedy fighter, and Sandrea the magician. Of course, I wasn’t naive enough to use my real name here. The fake name wasn’t all that different, since I needed to be able to respond to it quickly enough if someone called me.
For some reason, Sandrea pushed her beaming smile right next to my face after hearing my greeting.
“Sally is fine!”
“Really, just call me Sally…”
I really didn’t want to confuse her with silly Salia. And before I knew it, my insistence had already prompted Isaac and Weed to start calling her Sandrea too. She was appalled.
Miss Sandrea. I can hear you whispering “Dumbass AI…” over there. Whisper quieter.
“What will you do about food?” I asked.
“We’ll just grab whatever in real-ouch!”
“We have something to eat, don’t worry about it.”
Isaac elbow-jabbed Weed for his careless words.
On the train, I still went and bought food (for Blobsy’s consumption) from the cafeteria to keep up the ruse. On the other hand, despite being inside a train car, the group sometimes disappeared.
So they were logging out to eat, then. There were times when Sandrea disappeared for a whole twelve hours, even times when only one of them remained in the game. Weed was mostly here. He was here too often. I worried for his real life.
“It’s nice, just the two of us alone like this. Hey, Sherry, anything you want to know about me? For a cutie such as you, I’ll answer any question you have!”
“Then, how do I delete you…?”
“You have a surprisingly sharp tongue!”
He was constantly, annoyingly attempting to start up conversations, plus his eyes actually felt kind of dangerous, so I shut him down every time he started talking. Then, once in a while, he would stop moving and stared into empty air.
‘…so there’s this NPC girl who’s super frosty to me…’
A closer look revealed that his lips were barely moving. Maybe he was chatting with someone somewhere.
Honestly, were they even trying to fool me?
I supposed that in the end, this was just a game to them, and I was just an NPC. After seeing me unresponsive to anything meta, they kept getting more and more careless, and their logout times became more and more frequent.
It wasn’t really a problem for me, since I had no plans to make friends with them. All the same, even when they knew the NPCs here were acting just like real living people, they still wasn’t treating me as one. Even until now.
…I could see this causing all sorts of issues. Good luck, game moderators. Not like it’s my problem though.
And on the day before we reached Battrol’s first station, the three of them finally logged out at the same time.
It seemed they’d been grinding their magic skills on the train, but it wasn’t enough to distract themselves from the boredom.
As they disappeared, I noticed a strange pool of mana on the floor. It had a protecting barrier. It was probably marking the spot for their subsequent login.
I carefully tested out a bit of [Cyber-Manipulation] on it, subtle enough that the corporation wouldn’t find out. As I did, I got a response similar to my [Packer] skill. After some deeper snooping, I found some equipment that could be accessed through my own [Packer] skill. They looked like they belonged to the three.
This was a welcome surprise. Even if I couldn’t take them out, it might still be possible to play a bit of a prank.
An hour before the train reached the first station, the three finally reappeared.
“Alright, finally here! I can’t wait for the sky trip!”
“Yeah, the game’s so worth it just for the sightseeing alone.”
Sandrea and Weed immediately crowded the window. They had completely turned into gawking tourists now, entranced by the view of farmlands, villages, and the approaching town. Only Isaac was still in his seat. He seemed concerned, seeing me staying so still.
“Were you fine alone?”
I acted the part of an obedient NPC. He relaxed and whispered under his breath, “Yeah, of course, I suppose there wouldn’t be a problem when you’re an NPC…”
If only I was just a normal player…
Too late, now. I was neither a player, nor a native of this world. I had become something in between.
The moment that corporation betrayed all one hundred of us, players were no longer our allies.
[Isaac] [Race: Human ♂] [Player] [Magic Points (MP): 150/150] [Hit Points (HP): 260/260] [Total Combat Power: 1110]
[Sandrea] [Race: Human ♀] [Player] [Magic Points (MP): 190/190] [Hit Points (HP): 135/135] [Total Combat Power: 790]
[Weed] [Race: Human ♂] [Player] [Magic Points (MP): 140/140] [Hit Points (HP): 180/180] [Total Combat Power: 665]
Fourteen days of borrowed time left.
I could see the end of the line. Better be prepared, you three. Sooner or later, you’ll become my meal.
Author’s Note: I heard the old meme “How do I delete you?” that used to be popular back in the day actually gets an answer nowadays.
Slight exposition. Player storage.
When players died, they dropped their equipment on the ground, except for event items.
As mentioned in the story, the logout spot will be marked, and their items would be stored inside it. Then why were players not allowed to use [Packer] normally? Because maintaining the marked storage requires a bit of mana. Generally, the chance of players recovering their items were low, so for the purpose of economizing mana use, the game developers decided to remove the ability entirely.
Below is the travel path for this chapter and the next. There are some slight adjustments to the path Shedy’s taken until now, mainly because of time and date reasons.
Translator’s Note: Bigger sized map here.
Author’s note refers to a Japanese meme. Over in Japan, Microsoft Office didn’t used to have Clippy, they had a dolphin called Kairu instead. Which was still annoying as all hell. So when the dolphin asked “What do you want to know?”, a lot of users would type in “How do I delete you?” Newer versions these days actually have the dolphin respond to that message now, and it’ll tell you how to turn itself off while looking super sad.