エクシステン

Chapter 0.00

Note: Hm.


Introductory Arc [begin].

The newspapers say that my brother died in a car accident.

新聞が全部俺の弟が「車事故の死亡」と言っている。

Somewhere on the fourth page, in a narrow box, it says 'Ikuda Shunsuke, 16, Tragic Accident'. I've thumbed through that issue so many times, the words are growing faint. However, even if the words do fade, the incident won't and never will.

4ページで「イクダ・シュンスケ、16歳、悲壮な事故」が見える。その新聞を触るほど言葉が消える。しかし言葉が消えてもその事故は絶対に消えない。

But this is not a crime mystery, or an earth shattering search for the truth.

でもこれは半増や真実の調査じゃない。

This is a story about a game.

これはゲームの話だから。


There is a game called 'Existence'. The world's most popular multi-massive role playing virtual reality game (MMRPVRG), it has garnered the attentions of the billions of people on earth. In a recent poll, half of the interviewed people had played the game in the past month.

It is your typical role playing game, centered around gaining experience points to level by fighting monsters. So what attracts people to play?

There is the fact that it is a virtual reality game. Who wouldn't like it? But the real thing that draws people to it is the annual quest, called the 'Annual'. Creative, eh? However, the winner of the quest—which differs every year—wins $5 million dollars. In cold cash. And just because you are at an extremely high level doesn't guarantee you a win—raise your chances a lot maybe, but not guarantee. Because it involves brawn andbrains.

But I don't know much about it. I've never been that interested in games, and I never planned to, no matter how tempting the prize.

But—aha, here it is—one day, my brother died. And now, we are back at the beginning.

"Shun was my best man," His best friend, Kyo, said uncomfortably at the funeral. His eyes were slightly red, but he hadn't cried. We were in the local cemetery, and the cold breeze bit at my bare arms.

"Shun…" Mother cried. Father, looking grim in his stiff black suit, glanced at me, motioning for me to step forward.

"Shunsuke…was a good brother." I lied. The sky was getting darker, and the wind was picking up. The priest coughed, and muttered his final prayers over the casket. Each scooping up some dirt, we dropped it over the casket, and after that was done, the stone-faced men shoveled the rest of the dirt back in.

It was over.

Father rushed off to his work—he was the CEO of Ikuda Industries and he was far too busy to mourn his son's death—, Mother retreated to her bedroom to cry some more, and I was left in his room to take whatever I wanted. Of course, if Mother found out, she would kick me out of the house, but I had to do this. I didn't believe in ghosts, but if Shunsuke still somehow managed to haunt me, I would just kill him again.

So that was where I was twenty minutes later, digging through all of his computer files, when I found a locked text file. Shunsuke's password was always his name and his birthday, so typing that in, I opened it. There were only two lines:

Why do the birds never return? The winter is over.

And below that,

Existence.

"Existence," I muttered under my breath. The first two sentences were a mystery, but the third was quite clear. Shunsuke had always been obsessed with the game, and here it was in front of me—his one and only love.

Minimizing the window, I scanned his desktop. His background was a mere black, with the logo Existence emblazed across the bottom right, and there were only a few icons. Microsoft Office Word, Internet Explorer, Photoshop, and aha—Existence. Double clicking on it, I casually leaned back in the chair, and picked up the headset that I had seen him wearing so often. It was a simple design, black with once again, Existence printed across the top. Awkwardly fitting it over my head—and feeling like I was wearing the Jawbreaker from the American movie Saw—, for a second, there was nothing but darkness. Then, feeling like my eyes were opening, I blinked.

I was floating in a vast vortex of swirling electric blue light, and in front of me, several small metallic rings. I shuddered. Virtual reality games gave me goosebumps. They were far too realistic. But steeling myself, I walked to the ring on the farthest right, and tentatively lowered myself into it.

"Welcome back to Existence," A soft female voice echoed around me. "Would you like to continue with your auto-saved info?"

Assuming that this meant to play as Shunsuke's character, I nodded. "Yes," I said. And without ado, my surroundings morphed into black and gold lettering, and different things began to mold around me. I had to admit, the graphics were amazing.

I caught a glimpse of something black, before the glowing lights faded, and my feet felt solid contact. Disoriented, I blinked for a few seconds, getting accustomed to the hard feel of the ground, before getting up.

Once again, goosebumps rose on my arms as I saw a vast orange sky above—sunset—and dozens of vibrant market stalls circling around me. Directly in front of me, a few yards away, were several canals, with strangely dressed people of all different sizes and colors riding through in pointed boats.

I was situated in the center of the marketplace, similar to a Roman forum. There was no structure here except for a black ring with a wavy design running around it. This was the exit portal.

Craning my head backwards, I spied several small dragons flying overhead, with players clutching on to their spiked backs. Following the outline of a spiral downwards, I saw what appeared to be a triumphant monumental arch, with swirling designs engraved all over it.

I took a step forward, and I could hear the dirt crunch below my feet. The people around me were dressed in a large variety of clothes. There was a huge man, in a leather jerkin, with a shaved head and red tattoos all over it. He was holding a double-sided axe more than half his size, and appeared to be arguing with a dark-skinned elfish girl with braids and in scanty white and blue robes.

But it wasn't totally realistic. Everything had a strange fantastical glaze to it; it was as if reality had mixed with perfection, to make everything smoother and more beautiful.

"Oh my god!" A voice broke through the haze. "Is that who I think it is?"

I looked at the source of the voice; it was the elfish looking girl, who was now pointing a wooden staff at me. When I focused on her, her name floated above her head, adding to the fantastical feeling of the situation: Seablue.

"It's Fold!" The tattooed man said. And almost immediately, at least a dozen people around me started to attack me.

"Fold!" A shrill voice shouted. It was a small girl with pigtails, carrying a wooden bow. "Join my guild!"

"Fold! Can you marry me?"

"No, join my guild!"

Overwhelmed and confused, I jumped up. But I rose higher than I had intended, and kept on going up. Looking once down below at the rioting mass, then behind me, I spotted leathery black wings.

Willing my wings to let me down, I flew downwards to the black ring. Landing in the center, a rotating circle of glowing light appeared. Ignoring the people pressing around me, I willed myself to return to reality, and opened my eyes to see darkness once more.

Taking off the headset, and shakily putting it down on the desk, I massaged my temples as I reoriented myself. An animated popup appeared on the computer: 'Thank you for playing Existence! Come back soon!'

"That was the worst thing I've ever done," I muttered to myself. "This is why I hate games." Getting up from the rolling chair, I took a step to the door, and then stopped. Scanning the bookshelf next to the computer, I quietly slipped a 'Beginner's manual for Existence' into my hand.

For next time.