Chapter 17: Rat Hunt

He decided to log-in with his battle-form from the get-go. His battle-form had much higher stats than his normal-form, but the cost of its use was higher physical and mental fatigue. Yet, the skills that Ryuuji had as a player made up for his weakened state, so he had no choice but to rely on his current PC. In his normal-form, if by any chance he should encounter a rat, he would not be able to deal with it.

Mac Anu was filled with more hustle and bustle than usual.

Flugel noticed this as he warped in at the Chaos Gate on the opening day of the “Monster Town Raid.”

The “Monster Town Raid” is an event whereby the blockades to the town have been broken and players must defend the town against monsters that appear. During this event, the whole town becomes like a carnival with monsters and PCs hunting each other down.

In the main square, a few system administrator PCs were calling out to those who were walking the streets.

“The ‘Monster Town Raid’ Event ‘Rat Hunt’ will soon begin. Those who wish to participate and have not done so already, please make your way over here.”

The information-dealer had not yet appeared on the cafe terrace. While Flugel was glancing at the PCs that were taking their usual spots in the square, he tried to remember the details of the event that he had heard from the information-dealer. Apparently the word was that a herd of giant rat monsters was to attack the town. A rat hunt. A name that feels like a strange coincidence.

In any case, it’s going to happen, thought Flugel. It’s best to concentrate on hunting rats over here.
Flugel took out his playing cards and lined them up on the table one at a time. While placing the cards in the shape of Babel Tower, he ruminated over the events leading up to now. In any case, he had only touched upon the things that he knew.

He played to the middle of the Tower of Babel and then he saw the information-dealer coming from across the street.

The information-dealer turned away in disgust as he glanced at the system administrators and walked straight to the front of the cafe terrace. His eyes met with Flugel’s, then he looked away, walked past Flugel, wandered around the entrance to the cafe terrace, and came back to his original spot. He looked at Flugel’s face once again.

“Yo,” said Flugel, raising his hand.

“You’re the Boss I’m supposed to meet?” said the information-dealer.

He finally seemed to have noticed.

“What’s with the look? I thought you were someone else as I was passing by,” the dealer added.

“You mean I’ve become far more handsome? Truely?” asked Flugel with a chuckle.

“I’ve changed my look. What do you think? You’ll be seeing me like this from now on, so it’s nice to meet you,” Flugel said.

“Changed, eh? Looks like winter clothes no matter how you look at it,” the dealer said in a low voice as he sat across from Flugel.

“The preparation procedures for the ‘Rat Hunt’ have ended. The event begins now. I wish you all a good battle,” one of the system administrators could be heard calling out in a booming voice to those in the square.

“Huh? What’s going on today? Do you know what this is? Or did you track the progress?” said the information-dealer.

“I have to be honest, I didn’t find out anything about ‘bubbles,’” he added.

“It’s okay that you’ve come empty-handed. Instead, I have a higher priority job I want you to do,” Flugel said while he sorted the cards.

“A PC was attacked by a non-specification monster, causing a so-called Lost One case. I want you to make a list of them,” continued Flugel.

“That’s such a classic occult story. Is it meaningful to examine such a thing now?” said the dealer.

“I’m not saying to make a complete list. There is one requirement. The colour of the monster,” said Flugel.

“The colour?”

“The monster was covered with a ‘purple’ hexagonal effect. Only list the cases in which that term is involved. Ah, that’s right. I’ll narrow down the incidents that occurred. From April of this year―no, from June of last year until now. I want you to concentrate on that one year range.”

April of 2023 is the month in which Yuri Seto disappeared, and June of 2022 is the month in which he was recruited by CC Corp. San Diego.

From the description so far, Flugel noticed that his companion was only half listening to him.

The information-dealer stared blankly into space. He looked as though he was in deep thought. Then, he suddenly looked at Flugel’s eyes and came back to reality.

“What’s wrong?” asked Flugel.

“Uhhh, it’s nothing. I just had something else on my mind,” said the information-dealer in a soft voice.

Flugel looked with suspicious narrowed eyes into the goggles of the information-dealer.

“Do you know something? About the purple non-spec monster,” he asked.

“No, not at all,” said the information-dealer as he shook his head in a panic.

“I don’t know anything about that. I just thought that I should learn all I can about it,” he added.

The rat-hunting event had begun in the square.

Magic beast-type Rat-monsters, each the size of a small horse, began to appear in succession. The event participants, encountering the monsters, immediately rushed into battle. Roars and cheers, as well as weapon and magic sound effects, resonated throughout the area.

Flugel and the information-dealer could not be attacked by monsters as they were not participants in the event. Such were the rules. Non-participating players watched the fighting unfold before them from the cafe terrace.

When Flugel looked back at the cards that were aligned on the table, he noticed something moving at the edge of his vision. A pudgy little shadow ran over the pavement. Flugel followed it with his eyes and was startled.

It was a rat. It was not a giant rat-monster that had been deformed in the game. It was the figure of a real rat. It was the creature he had encountered at the “Pet Shop Chims.”

The rat stopped, turned its neck and looked over its shoulder at Flugel. It spoke in a raspy voice like a creaking tree.

“You don’t dance?”

The rat squeaked.

“You won’t dance for me?” the rat said.

Flugel swiftly stood up and took Brieler Roessle in his right hand.

“Ah!”

The information-dealer almost fell from his chair in surprise as Flugel continued to follow the rat at gunpoint. However, the rat ran into a back alley faster than Flugel could aim.

Flugel left his seat and moved closer to the back alley while still holding his handgun.

“What was that voice just now? Hey, what’s going on, Boss?”

The information-dealer saw Flugel take off and was dumbfounded, clicked his tongue in indignation and immediately got up and followed after him.

Around them players were too distracted by the battle going on to pay any attention to what had just happened.

While the back alley twisted between brick buildings on the left and right, it extended all the way to the back. It was not possible to see to the back, but if he left here, he’d be leaving the port.

“Boss. Hey,” said the information-dealer as he raised his hand.

He couldn’t find the figure of the rat. Instead he saw things like pipes and boxes hidden by steam on the sides of the alley. He wondered whether it was hiding in the shade of one of them. Or if it possibly turned into the next alley.

Flugel tried to step into the back alley while being cautious.

“Boss! That thing’s dangerous!” cried out the information-dealer.

It came out as a high-pitch scream that echoed throughout the square. It was a scream coloured with fear and pain, not something that could be emitted during normal gameplay. Flugel stopped and looked towards the square. Then he looked at the sight in front of him and gasped.

The rodent-monsters were flocking to the event attendees. This was not one of the conditions of the battle. A hamster-like monster grabbed the PC bodies of the participants with both hands and pierced them with his teeth and chewed on them little by little as though nibbling on sunflower seeds. Its whole body was covered in the purple hexagon effect like what Flugel had seen before.

A still-intact Blade Brandier went deep into the mass of monsters, brandishing his blade in order to save a comrade, and the rodent-monsters did not seem bothered in the slightest. One of the rats made a furious swipe at the warrior’s torso. The values and effects that represent damage under normal conditions were supposed to be indicated. That was not what happened. Instead, pieces of data chunks from his chest and shoulders were completely stripped away from his body.

The data spilled out like a liquid, flowing like blood from a hollowed out wound, and the PC turned into a ghostly figure of fine particles. The Blade Brandier fell to the ground and let out a groan of pain. Several rat-monsters began to flock together, blocking the player from view.

Soon screams one after the other could be heard everywhere. Someone called out for help while weeping. The player’s voice was full of pain.

Flugel and his companion had been in a harsh plight at the Cafe Terrace until a moment ago. The PC’s that remained back and watched the events with a sense of detachment were late escaping. Tables and chairs were overturned and the rodent-monsters were huddled together. They heartily bit and tore at the data that streamed from the neck of the PC body and gulped it down.

Flugel and the information-dealer looked stunned at this vision of hell. The rodent-monsters did not try to come back towards the alley. The violence was limited to just the main square.

“Ah, I’m sorry I’m late,” Flugel said to the information-dealer in as calm a voice as he could muster.

It was difficult to speak with his tongue stuck to his palate.

“Please, logout. The situation has become dangerous,” he continued.

The information-dealer just stood there as though entranced by the disaster in front of him and with those words he snapped back to reality and looked at Flugel. His face twitched.

“Oh, uhhh, I’m so sorry you had to go through that!” said the information-dealer sharply before he quickly transferred out and disappeared.

Flugel felt a little uncomfortable at those words, but there was no time to think about it too much. Now he had to concentrate on the rat-monsters in front of him.

What was going on? These rat-monsters were not official monsters in the game. At one time they may have been, but now they were not. They had become data bugs like the Grunty God. The same phenomena that happened at the “Pet Shop Chims” was now happening in the square of Mac Anu.

When he thought about it, from behind him Flugel heard a voice like cicadas rubbing their legs together.

“Squeak squeak. You don’t dance?”

Flugel, as though drawn in, turned around and drew his gun. Across from him was the figure of a small rat against the wall. It watched Flugel through its slitted eyes.

“You don’t want to dance? Squeak squeak.”

Flugel shot his gun. He hit the target. The rat let out a cry and the data of its body went rigid. It rolled on the ground like a figurine.

Flugel stooped down trying to determine whether the rat could “fix” its data and though there was one rat already in the back of the alley, he soon noticed another rat. Here after dusk, it asked with upturned eyes.

“Would you like to dance? Do you dance?” squeaked the rat.

Then he inverted his body faster than Brieler Roessle could shoot and disappeared into the back of the alley.

Flugel jumped into the dark alley. He chased the rat and when he turned a third corner, he lost sight of the small animal. Flugel stopped trailing them there.

He lightly leaned against steam pipes that protruded purple things from the wall. He quietly sat up and noticed a single figure standing nearby. This figure was wearing a uniform and cap like that of a guard. It was a system administrator PC.

He stood only a few metres away from Flugel. Surprised by the events outside, he looked as though he would try to run away into the back alley. He looked at Flugel who had just appeared and tried to rush over to him.

“Don’t come any closer. Logout,” yelled Flugel as he warned the perimeter. The rats were likely still lurking somewhere.

“Mac Anu is in critical condition right now. Don’t do emergency maintenance or anything, just leave and stop the game immediately,” Flugel continued yelling.

However, as soon as he said it, Flugel noticed the strange look on the face of the other player. This PC’s purple-coloured lips formed into a distorted grin.

“If they’re out, don’t worry. There are no accidents in life,” the player said, his lips moving softly, giving off a deep gentle voice.

“I just had to clear out the people is all. I wanted to have a delicate little talk with you,” the figure continued.

He moved forward, slowly lifted his thin pale right hand, and pinched the visor of his school cap which covered his eyes and nose. He removed the cap and his long black hair came undone with a whoosh.

Image

“Pleased to meet you, Flugel of Schicksal,” he said while smiling at Flugel with long and narrow eyes.

There was the gaze that Flugel remembered. Twice now he saw the very same eyes. The first time in the real world, when he had viewed documents and photos of a computer cracker. The second time in the game, when he had looked directly into the eyes of the rat right before it exploded.

“Or, would you mind calling me the ‘Grunty God Killer’?” the figure said, as though he were a close friend telling a joke.

Flugel was struck by a feeling of dread like a bolt of electricity.

No. This PC was not a system administrator. He came out on his own. This guy was… This PC was…

Flugel thrust at Brieler Roessle with his right hand.

“Yuri Seto?” he asked in a dry voice.

“Some people call me that,” the other replied.

Then he smiled like a saint.

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