Chapter 14: Grunty Ranch

The PC used by Gus Fox looked to be the same type as that used by the Shadow Warlock Kusame. Though Kusame had blonde hair on his head, the hair on Gus’ character body was jet black, and it was apparent that this was the only difference between the two characters. The character’s name was Fox*.

“Huh? Fox was it?”

Flugel asked again in spite of himself.

Fox’s dog eyes glanced at Flugel.

“You got a problem with that?”

“Oh, no. Not really. I think it’s a good name,” Fluegl answered.

In the real world, Kusame, who had been having a telephone conversation, cancelled the offline mode and turned to Flugel.

“Sorry about that, make sure you’re prepared. Well, shall we get going?”

Flugel, Kusame, and Fox went to the Celestial City Dol Dona.

If Mac Anu was the “City of Water,” then Dol Dona was the “City of Green” The entire town was covered in lush green vegetation.

“When one of the investigators went shopping at the guild shop, I was talking with the Shopkeeper NPC. The investogator passed me a ‘Guest Key’ and a pet catalog, and told me the store’s location and how to enter it,” said Kusame as he walked down the street sandwiched between two cliffs.

“This ‘Guest Key’ was not added regularly, but its ID code was easily cracked. The investigators followed the behavior of the Guild Master, and found him in chat channels overseas outside the game. Then they spoke with me by pretending to be the a fellow hacker and gathered enough information to determine the guy’s true identity.”

“Honestly, there’s nothing to say. It’s pure skill.”

Flugel frankly seemed impressed. His private contractors could not possibly have sniffed him out in two days.

Kusame looked at Flugel through the window. The image of a young man with a sullen face appeared in the window now.

“Travis Bond. American. Twenty years old. Lives in Los Angeles. A college student for the past six months. He obtained access to the North American and Japanese servers of ‘The World.’”

Flugel compared the image of Seto with the one in his memory. Of course, it was someone else.

“Recently, it seems like he’s only logged into the Japanese Server. From the chat channel we found logs of conversations between Travis and a person we believe to be Seto. His chat-name is…”


“Bingo. Travis opened the ‘Pet Shop Chims’ in order to talk to Geist.”

“Geist’s access location?”

Kusame shook his head.

“He joined the chat via Finland. That country is known to harbor nefarious individuals who can get anonymous access. IP addresses are constantly being updated to boot, and the account is specially crafted so that it makes copies infinitely. It’s a fully automated camouflage tactic that is conscious of being tracked. Without access to it, it will be nearly impossible to track down the whereabouts of the guy in real life.”

“And what about the two men’s conversation?”

“The filter applied to the log made it unreadable. It will be removed the day after tomorrow.”

They eventually came to the square. Compared to Mac Anu, it was quite small. Several guild shops aligned side-by-side gave the appearance of a flea market.

“It describes their future plans. We strike the real and Net guy at the same time. To seize the scene of the cybercrime, we overpower a place in the real world to connect to the Net.”

Kusame looked and smiled at Flugel.

“Well, I might just be preaching to the choir.”

“I don’t know about that. Please let me study this as it’s a good opportunity. Please go on.”

“To maintain reality, you should go to the local police. Tell them to apprehend the hackers that threaten the corporation with cybercrime. A short time ago, they received a list of the personnel. On my signal, they’ll step into the guy’s apartment.”

“To maintain the Net, Kusame and I are going together.”

Fox opened his mouth.

“You enter the shop pretending to be a customer. When the opportunity arises, listen in to reveal his identity. After that we’ll catch him in real life. We’ll get him in real life when he tries to escape and then get him to talk after that.”

“Do I need to do anything?”

“All you have to do is interact with the shopkeeper. Your interference is not likely to be needed.”

“Really? I’ll follow you with the intention of keeping the peace.”

“As I said before, as well as Flugel, you may be required should anything strange happen,” said Kusame.

They soon came to the shops located at the end of the market. They came so far out of the sight of passers-by and arrived at a small unattended shop. They looked in to notice a shopkeeper PC sitting down looking frustrated with the lack of customers. They targeted an empty chair and a window appear with the word “Preparing.”

“This is the ‘Chims’ entrance.”

Kusame took out and looked at the so-called “Guest Key.”

“A three person invitation.”

The transfer effect wrapped around the three of them.

The destination was a strange place.

The contour and size of the room was typical of an @HOME, but the interior was completely different. Lush pasture graphic textures lay on the floor, and a wooden fence surrounding the area also divided it into several sectors. It was a quaint and idyllic rural farm.

“This is a Grunty ranch,” muttered Fox.

Animal training areas had been implemented in R:1. These facilities are the basis for the mascot characters that are to be adopted in the next version.

In each fenced enclosure were oddly shaped creatures with large heads that looked out at the three visitors with apathetic eyes.

In the corner of the room was a garden shed from which came a lone man.

“Welcome. This is my Grunty ranch.” It was an old man with a long white beard. He was dressed like a Wavemaster.

“Welcome to the ‘Pet Shop Chims.’ Are you looking for anything?” he said. He had a unique foreign accent but his level of Japanese was not a problem to the group.

“We are Wavemasters. Do you have something that would be useful in combat?” Kusame began chatting casually with the shopkeeper.

Flugel left Kusame to talk with the shopkeeper, and strolled away from them in the @HOME.

Upon closer inspection there were other non-Grunty mascot characters. A Chim Chim, a small dragon, a winged dog, a winged cat, a female fairy, and a male fairy. He heard about these from the information-dealer.

Yet, it was now only a rat.

“What the…?”

Suddenly, the shopkeeper, who had been speaking softly while sandwiched between Kusame and Fox, suddenly issued a loud voice.

“Hey, hey… You…” he said.

“We are from NAB. We have received word that you are being fraudulent. Travis Bond, your address is…” Fox read out the address which was in Los Angeles.

“No doubt about it, right?” The shopkeeper was overpowered by the intimidating words.

“Police officers are already waiting in front of your apartment. We promise not to rough-handle you depending on how our talks go,” said Fox.

“I can’t believe it. How it is possible? It’s incredible. Well, dammit,” said the shopkeeper.

He muttered in English instead of Japanese. The old man’s role exposed the slang of youth that had not been there before.

“Travis, you didn’t think we would realize you had opened this shop illegally. You’ve been enticed by someone, haven’t you?” said Kusame, gently admonishing him in English.

“If you tell us about this person, in regards to this matter I may be able to be of assistance,” added Kusame.

“Geist? Do you guys know about him?” said the shopkeeper.

Kusame and Fox quickly exchanged glances.

“Right. That Geist guy. Let’s talk about him,” urged Kusame.

“I’ve only spoken with him on the Net. I don’t know the real man,” said the shopkeeper.

“He’s a pretty cool guy. His hacking skills are just okay. Even so, he was able to cause the Network Crisis all by himself. Ah yes, I remember, definitely a rat,” the shopkeeper added.

Flugel stopped his feet. He heard the word “rat.”

“The rat would probably work its way into your heads,” said the shopkeeper.

“What do you mean?” asked Fox.

“Don’t you know how to listen properly? I’m not sure you do.” The shopkeeper released a dry laugh.

“But surely there’s no room for the creature to get in. Initially it would be uncomfortable and scratchy, but eventually it would became very happy and the blue colour would spread. It can use its fingers to create an opening in the front and back of the eye. The length of the hands would change a different colour and dissolve. Yet, they have a deep bite. The back of the eye. Deep in the back of the eye,” said the shopkeeper.

“Kusame, overpower the real one!” Flugel yelled.

“Quickly, call the police!” Flugel added.

“What did you say? What the…”

He didn’t have time to explain. As he ran up he took Brieler Roessle in his right hand and directed the muzzle at Fox. Fox’s body stiffened.

He pulled the trigger. The bullet flew past Fox and hit the shopkeeper PC who was standing right behind him.

It was a peculiarity unique to a Schicksal PC. “An attack on another PC has an effect on its real player.” He shocked the PC with the bullet in an attempt to stun the player.

Yet, there was no resistance. The real player seemed to have been unseated with the FMD and controller removed before the bullet hit. Brieler Roessle’s effects are not able to reach a player who is away from the game.

“What rash behavior. We should have told him not to interfere,” said Fox, who drew closer to Flugel. His voice trembled with anger.

“Wait, Fox, wait.” Kusame called on his colleague in English. He was dazed.

“A contact from the police has arrived. Travis Bond has jumped from his room,” Kusame added.

Fox was at a loss for words, and he looked alternately between Kusame and the shopkeeper who stood there like an empty shell.

“His condition?” said Fox.

“Unknown. The contact merely said the suspect jumped and then hung up the phone. I didn’t bother calling back,” said Kusame.

It was time. The sound of the water drainage pipe echoed throughout the room.

The small Grunty shook and squinted its white eyes through the fence. It made a little growling sound.

“Oink oink. Squeeeeeee… oink. Squeeeeeee. Snort snort snort.”

The noise from the Grunty’s body grew louder, and suddenly several purple hexagonal effects began to appear.

It became deformed. The Grunty’s body twisted and melted, then bulged until a lizard-like monster put its hands on the ground where the Grunty had been.

Flugel muttered as he slowly backed away.

“Hey, hey, it…,” said Flugel.

He was not able to get the words out.

The monster attacked. It had a speed that one would not assume based on its bulk. The fence was blown to smithereens and the monster struck Flugel in the face with a rock-like fist. Flugel was thrown back. Flugel’s PC body grazed the left side of Kusame while flying around and around like a kite without string, flew over Fox’s head, and after crashing through the @HOME’s ceiling, and fell behind the garden shed like a pile of sticks without losing any momentum.

Kusame and the others were stiff. None were able to move. A momentary event. When they realized this, Flugel had been blown away.

The monster turned towards Kusame. It was so big it could almost touch its head off the ceiling. The shopkeeper PC was knocked down and soon was being trampled.

Kusame noticed the form of the monster change at that moment.

The right leg distorted on its own and and with the fangs in its mouth, it deeply bit its shin.

Kusame recognized the monster model. He saw it when he read an old article on “The World.” Version “R:1.” No, older than that. Yes, it was a monster from the “fragment” era. He remembered. This was a “Cross-legged Grunty God.”

In CyberConnect’s official document collection, it was a legendary monster that was involved in the creation story of the world.

Why did it appear in R:X? Well, rather, it’s actually a hexagonal effect being.

It was a Data Bug, Kusame finally realized.

Fox moved forward. He brandished a staff and invoked a fire spell. The Crimson Hellfire spell, used to annihilate high-level monsters, wrapped around the body of the monster.

However, the “Cross-legged Grunty God.” did not accept it. There was no damage. The attack was pointless against a Data Bug that was outside system specifications.

Then, of all the times, Flugel, who tied the group together, was struck down with one blow.

“So damn useless,” swore Fox.

“Oh, for shame,” voiced Flugel.

They turned around, startled, and the figure of a man with long hair and black clothes appeared.

He moved towards the monster in a thrown-off gait between Kusame and Fox. He held the same handgun as before in his hand. The monster raised its arms above its head, and struck down, aiming for the figure’s skull. The figure shot while moving. Bullets pierced the back of the neck through its mouth as well as the right shin of the monster. Just one shot.

“It’s faster than you think, and it attacked very suddenly,” Flugel said.

The monster slowly fell on its back. It had been forcibly “stopped” by Brieler Roessle’s bullet.

“Flugel? Are you okay?” said Kusame.

“What is this form?” Kusame continued.

“This? This is the gear for heavy lifting. It’s my battle form. Up to now, my normal form was for mental work. I can switch my PC body to match the type of work I have to do,” said Flugel.

Kusame shook his head from side to side in shock and looked down at the “Cross-legged Grunty God” on the ground. The purple effect that covered the monster was now gone and the body had turned grey and looked like a stone statue.

“Something strange was bound to happen. There was no reason for the pet guy to do this,” said Kusame.

“I think it was a complaint officer. Or perhaps a guard,” said Flugel.

“Was he expecting us to arrive?” asked Kusame.

When Flugel tried to answer, Fox, who had been examining the monster’s head, gasped in surprise.

They looked and the monster’s mouth, which shouldn’t be moving, began to open and close. The lips spread apart and something came out. It was a small animal displaying a purple hexagonal effect.

A rat.


It wiggled its nose in an attempt to smell the air and then looked up. It moved its head, looking around the room. Slitted eyes that showed hidden malice caught a glimpse of Flugel and glared at him.

“Look,” the rat moaned in a rusty voice.

“Look, you mongrels,” it continued.

The rat’s eyes were opened wide. Suddenly, the three men then saw an illusion as though a golden light shone forth. That wasn’t right. They didn’t realize it at first, but the rat gave off an explosive flash from its body.

“Deadly Flash.” A light of death. From only a single small rat came a bright light that filled the entire @HOME.

Flugel issued a warning to the two others while shielding his eyes with his arm.

“Don’t look!” he yelled.

Kusame heard Flugel’s warning and and tried to cover his face with his hand. It wasn’t enough.

But, Fox became an obstacle to the light in front of him.

The flash that the rat produced formed a dark shadow from Fox’s PC body that shielded the face and chest of Kusame.

Kusame saw the “Deadly Flash.”

Fox heard Flugel’s warning and and tried to cover his face with his hand. It wasn’t enough.

When the rat burst, of the three of them, he was closest to the rat. With no obstacle to block the light, Fox took the full impact of the “Deadly Flash.” The deadly light burned into his brain through his unprotected eyes.

*Gus’ last name and character name could also be rendered as Fawkes, but I chose Fox as it is a more common spelling and may coincide with the characters looking like dog-like creatures.


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