“Here you go.” Akari dropped the last set of books onto an already mountainous pile forming a great wall. A crop of silver silky hair barely stuck out behind the wall, the rest of the body buried under an avalanche of books.
A body rose from the mess, pushing the books aside on its rise. Taiga was a lean nineteen year old, but his heavily scarred body made him look much older than his age. “Morning Aki-chi. When will you take these off me?” Taiga raised his right hand where a silver bracelet was tightly bound to his wrist.
“You know when.” Akari gazed at the young boy whose life he had personally twisted. “You have a week. Finish reading, then report to me.”
” Boring.” Taiga picked up a pair of glasses from under a host of books, and put them on. “A week is too long. I’ll finish these in three days.” He picked up one up and adopted a reading pose, as he zipped through the book at inhuman speed.
Akari watched the rapidly turning pages with mixed feelings. “Behave this time and I promise to let you out within the compound.” He left the room, the door sliding shut behind him.
“Who is he?” Yukino asked. Arms folded across her chest, she had been waiting for Akari.
“That’s right. You were not here during the first phase.”
He loosened his necktie, motioning for her to walk with him. “He is the first success of the Rebirth Project.”
“Impossible! The reports said they were all failures. Is that not the reason for the project this time around?”
“That was the official report. However, there was one success… no, one survivor. The process had a severe side effect on his personality and he was deemed a failure.”
Yukino noticed the troubled look on his face.
This on a man who did not flinch when faced with the deaths of several people.
“I thought HQ’s policy on failures was disposal.”
“It is. I convinced them to let him live for research purposes.”
“Why did you lock him up so far down, I did not even know about his existence until now?”
“The largest side effect was extreme aggression. In only a month, he killed four orderlies and one scientists.”
“The virtual games. I’m hoping he can vent his aggressions there and maybe find a friend or two.”
Yukino turned to him in shock. “Did you just say friends? You?!”
“I am not a monster Asagi-san; I have friends too.” He stopped at the elevator doors and turned to her. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
“What’s with that get-up?”
She was dressed as a nurse with a short miniskirt and high heels no self-respecting medical practitioner would wear in a hospital. “Hehe, you like it? I’m going to check in on some of our gamers in the ward.”
I guess it’s true that geniuses are idiots.
“Take it off.”
“Oh my! Seki, you pervert.” She backed away, wrapping her arms around herself.
A vein popped in his head, and he adjusted his glasses as he entered the elevator. “That’s not even funny.” As the doors slid together, he added. “Besides, I like my women mature.”
“Seki you idiot.”
Hunched over a computer, a girl pounded away on her keyboard, a steaming coffee mug beside the keyboard. A cable ran from her system to a hidden plug on the full body Virtual Drive.
Jade downed the contents of the mug, wincing at the disgusting, sharp taste.
“Yes!” she rejoiced, having broken past the final firewall. The main systems were near unhackable, but by using the connection through the Virtual Drive, she had created a backdoor into their systems.
“Now, show me your secrets.” She began to download the data into her virtual drive. Judging by the sheer size, and the excruciatingly slow download speed, it would take weeks before she got anything she could analyse, and probably months before she found what she was looking for.
‘That done, I guess it’s about time I got serious about the game before they begin to suspect.’ She was a level thirty mage, but some hardcore players had already hit early fifties.
She checked her system one last time to make sure the download was undetectable; and more importantly, untraceable. Satisfied by the results, she climbed into the virtual drive.
Kashi walked out of a shop, having bought everything he would need for the next three months. Thanks to the little wolf doggedly stalking his every move, there was no hope of levelling up until the time was over. At least for him – the wolf would have to level up in the interim.
Bert had informed him that like adventurers, monsters possessed the ability to level up by defeating and eating enemies. This was the best news he had heard in a while, and he immediately ran out to buy some necessary materials.
First on his list were several raw materials for crafting. This included wood for sculpting; paint for painting; materials for sewing and several ingredients for cooking. His handicraft skill was still too low for him to learn the Blacksmith and Jeweler trades without switching to their classes, so he left them alone.
The second things he bought were the tools of the various trades. A basic sculpting knife; a rusted needle; a scrapbook, and a paint set, and finally an iron pot for cooking. They were the basic tool set available to outsiders to the various professions, but for his purpose they were more than plenty.
“Come on,” he said to the little wolf. “It’s time for you to earn your meal.” The duo left the city, but Kashi did not stray too far. “Let’s start with some rabbits.” He pointed at a small group of rabbits that were playing nearby. “Go kill one of those, and bring another back.”
The beast looked at its prey, its fur rustling in feral excitement. It rushed to attack its target: a little fluffy bunny, but failed miserably. All the herbivores sensed her coming and scampered off before it could make it. After several continuous failures, it returned to Kashi who was drawing something on his sketch pad, its stomach rumbling in protest. It had not been fed in over a day and needed sustenance.
“What’s this. Are you hungry?” Kashi looked down at it. “Here, eat this.”
He placed a brown substance in front of it. It sniffed the strange substance, but it had no distinct taste. With a warning glare at Kashi, it took a bite of the substance… and immediately spat it out!
What was this?! It had never tasted anything so bland and disgusting in her life. It was worse than eating the earth; at least the earth had flavors.
“Hahaha.” Kashi bent over in laughter at its horrified expression. “That’s called stale bread. You want to eat something good, then catch some rabbits.” Chuckling, he returned to his sketch. “Until then. You will eat only stale bread.”
‘Demon. This elf is a demon.’ It sobbed as it wolfed down the sandy bread, trying as much as possible not to taste it. ‘I will definitely kill you.’ It ran back to the fields with grim determination. It would never eat anything that nasty in its life again.
While his little companion was off training, Kashi completed his first drawing. It was a sketch of a random landscape he imagined.
New Stat: Art
Art: A gift in the understanding and practice of beautification. Art increases the aesthetic and practical beauty of meals and products.
Improves when you see, hear, smell, taste or touch beautiful things, or create artworks.
Kashi smiled when he saw the pop-up. This confirmed one of his suspicions: Crafts had specific stats that improved their efficiency. Just as an artist like him got the art stat, a merchant would go for something similar to speech craft. Blacksmiths probably had stats of their own, but it would come in its own time.
Invigorated by the stat message, he decided to experiment a bit. “Draw this,” he said while picturing a fox. The game guided his hand, and when he finished, his drawing looked less like a fox, and more like a mutated cat. He then pictured a circle, and his hand drew a perfect circle. Finally, he chose to draw the fox manually.
When he completed it, a message popped up.
Your expertise has increased in Painting Mastery
Your expertise has increased in the Handicraft skill.
Good. He drew a terrible drawing of a dog, and checked his skill window – they did not increase at all. Then he drew a picture of a cat playing with a ball of yarn. This time, his stat points increased.
From this, he learned that similar to weapon skills, the craft classes had an auto assist function that
helped them create products. However, it was also possible to manually create them, and depending on their beauty, it might increase the stats quicker.
With this at the back of his mind, he started drawing several pictures of cats and dogs. A few hours later, he received a notification.
Level up: Handicraft Skill
Enables you to learn sculptor and tailoring skills.
Increases attack power with melee and long range weapons. (+3% ATK)
Increases attack power with fists. (+5% ATK)
Level up: Painting Mastery
Enables you to create more complicated paintings.
Reduces rate of failure.
Just as he was rejoicing over his increase, the little wolf came over with a dead rabbit in its mouth. It dropped its catch at his feet , just as the rabbit disappeared, leaving behind its meat.
“Good job.” He complimented.
He brought out the cooking pot and ingredients he had bought from his inventory, then set about to make a simple rabbit stew. He chose not to make anything too fancy, because whether he made it manually or not, he feared the game might fail him somewhere on account of his low cooking skill.
When he was done, he served his himself, and placed the wolf’s meal in a little bowl. As he watched it devour its meal greedily, smacking its chops in delight, he smiled, wondering if this was what it would be like to have had a pet – minus its desire to kill him of course.
Satisfied, the wolf rolled over and belched, happy for its first meal since its mother’s death.
“Hmm… I can’t keep referring to you as it. How about a name?”
It glanced at the elf, curiosity overriding its usual glare. Wolves did not name themselves; there was no need. They instinctively knew who was speaking to whom, so the use of names never took root.
“How about Kuro? Black, like your fur.”
A sharp angry growl told him what it thought of the name.
“Apologize to all the Kuros out there in the world,” he joked. He thought of how they met, and its unhidden bloodlust. “How about Kira? It means ‘my executioner.'”
It silently stared at him as the bloodlust returned to its eyes.
“I’ll take that as a yes. From now on, your name is Kira. Now come on, I need to return to my world for a bit.”
Kira followed closely behind him, deep in thought about her new name.
Suzuki opened his eyes and removed the helmet from his head. He got out of the machine and set about his routine to energize the muscles that lay dormant during his dive.
An hour later, he was dressed in black denim jeans and a white T-shirt with a drawing of a hawk holding several arsenals. Hoping against hope, he checked the desk drawers for the first time, and smiled when he saw his sketchbook was in there. There were also some books he did not recognize, but he ignored them. He grabbed his pencil set and communicator, tucking the sketch book under his shoulder and left the building.
It was a night outside, with the moon was smiling down upon the world; a perfect night to sketch.
Ever since he was a child, he loved drawing. If fighting in the game was a way to vent his anger on the world, then drawing was his way of calming the tempest in his heart.
There were parking spaces for cars, and bicycle sheds for those who bought bikes situated outside every building. He unlocked his bicycle and went for a spin around the large
After searching for a while, he finally stopped at a park close to the restricted area. The park was built around a pretty fountain in the middle of it. Several benches were placed neatly around for people to sit and cool off.
Suzuki sat on one of said benches and started out on his sketches, starting with the fountain in front of him.
He did not keep track of how much time passed. While drawing, he tended to completely block the world out. This was why he did not see the teenager who walked up to him.
“Nice drawing.” An unfamiliar voice interrupted his sketch of Jade on her bike.
Suzuki looked up and saw a man with dirty silver hair, and a pair of unnerving grey eyes admiring his drawing. “Thanks.” He chose not to show his initial fear. He knew how much people hated being ostracised just for their looks.
“Heeh? You’re not scared. Or are you just pretending?” Taiga asked with a smirk, bending down till his face was only inches away from Suzuki’s.
“I see nothing to be afraid of.” His switch had been turned on by Taiga’s provocation. The way he was, he could be faced with the terminator and still refuse to back down.
A loud siren blared from the restricted sector and Suzuki’s brow rose in question. “Is th-?”
“Damn. They found out.” Taiga cursed as the sounds of approaching footsteps drew near. He dove behind the bench, where he was shielded by the small hedge.
Three of the suit wearing guards Suzuki had encountered on his first day ran up to him, tasers at the ready. “Did you see anyone suspicious run by here?”
“You mean the guy with the silver hair?”
“Yes! If you know where he is, spit it out!”
“Of course. He went in that direction.” He pointed right in front of him. “Last I saw, he ran past the fountain.”
“Good. Spread out!” The leader ordered and his men dashed forward, chasing the false lead. “
You should go to your room. This man is highly dangerous.”
“Why, thank you for your concern.” Suzuki said with a smile which degenerated to a smirk once he left.
“You didn’t sell me out.” Taiga exited his hiding spot when his pursuers left.
“Don’t get me wrong. I just don’t like them.”
“Fair enough. I’m called Taiga. What’s your name.”
“Suzuki, Suzuki Mato.”
“I’ll remember it. See you later Sukki-chan,” he cooed as he ran off.
Suzuki watched him leave, confused by his familiarity. “Ah, the mood is ruined. Might as well go sleep.” He left the field, as a cloud blocked the moon’s smile from the world.
This was the first meeting between two people whose fates were entwined in a spiral of bloodshed.