Chapter 18: Meeting

He leisurely moved his delicate slender arm and dropped the cap. The purple cap rolled over the cobblestone in a gentle arc, hit a wall, bounced back, and suddenly dropped.

For a while the two stood across from each other in the back alley and did not move.

In the square outside the screams and moans had already stopped. Not a single sound could be heard.

The man, who had the appearance of a system administrator PC, smiled at Flugel. His eyes shimmered but somewhere in his pupils was a tinge of sadness.

Yuri Seto. The name of the man who killed a total of fifteen people. By spreading a virus throughout the network, he killed seven people twenty years ago, and after Seto’s release from prison, Mr. Kiyoteru Yodogawa became the eighth victim.

Flugel held Brieler Roessle at the ready and raised the hammer. The sound of the click broke the silence in the dim alley.

“Well?” Flugel asked the other brusquely.

The man continued to smile and gently titled his head.

“What do you mean ‘well’?” the man asked.

“What should I call you? The name of the PC that has become a thorn in my side. Seto? Geist? How about I lump them together and call you ‘Geiseto’?” said Flugel.

As he spoke, Flugel measured the distance between him and his opponent.

The back alley was narrow. They were sandwiched between boorish walls to their left and right. The ability to dodge sideways would certainly be limited. Using the Curse Gun was the ideal option.

However, it was too far. The opponent was standing just a little out of striking distance. Flugel didn’t like the situation one bit. Even if he shot from here, the Curse Gun would have no effect. Even if the bullet hit, the data would not freeze.

Just one step closer. No, two steps would do the trick.

“I put in a lot of time and effort to see your face. Would you like me to tell you about it? Oh, shall I shorten ‘Geiseto’ and just call you ‘Geis’? Oh my, would this just be the perfect nickname for you? ‘Geis,’ a nice name, isn’t it?” said Flugel.

While laughing giddily, he casually moved forward just half a step.

Flugel resisted the temptation to approach all at once.

The rat from before was probably still lurking somewhere in the back alley.

He would have to be careful to not let the PC escape before his eyes. It would be terrible to get caught in the rat’s flash and let them get away. Being defeated like that could mean unconsciousness or even death for Flugel.

He had an idea about the other’s goal. He’d probably set off a flash from the rat the moment Flugel tried to shoot. He felt that he should take aim at his opponent with exact timing in order to rely on the bullet.

“You don’t have to be so cautious. I’m not here to fight with you,” said the man quietly.

“Furthermore, I’m not plotting to use the rat just when you plan to pull the trigger,” he said.

Flugel stopped moving.

The man pressed his right hand to his head and gently brushed his hair. His jet-black hair flowed past his shoulders like waving tentacles.

“The name of this PC doesn’t matter. Call it what you want. I’ll just tell you two things,” said the man.

He stopped brushing his hair and brought his right hand in front of his face and raised his index and middle finger.

“One, whether it’s ‘Geiseto’ or ‘Geis,’ it’s a really low and stupid pun. You should take care to not get caught up in a selfish sense of humour,” he said with a tone like a teacher scolding a poorly-performing student.

“Two, you just made a remark to the effect that it was difficult for you to meet with me. That is not a correct assessment. I wanted to see you, so I came to meet you. That’s the gist of it. This meeting was for you to decide, so it is irrelevant how much of a hard time you had up to this point,” the man added.

“Meeting?” asked Flugel.

The man nodded.

“I want to talk with you,” he said.

“Talk?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well, what do you want to ask?”

Flugel took aim and shrugged his shoulders.

During this, he moved his left foot half a step forward.

There was no sign of the rat.

If he took one step closer, he’d be inside Brieler Roessle’s range.

“Well, aren’t you going to ask me something? Go ahead,” said Flugel.

“Thank you,” the man said with a smile. The smile remained on his face.

“’God doles out tests fairly,” said the man.

“What?”

“For those trying to do something, what do you think the most important thing is?”

“What are you talking about?”

“This is a test,” said the man, ignoring Flugel’s question.

“Tests, aside from the differences in size and magnitude, are something that in the life of every human being without exception. There are tests, difficulties, predicaments, adversities, sufferings, and woes that occur in life. Most people wish to avoid such challenges in life if they can help it. But that it wrong. Precisely because people overcome challenges, that is why they’re able to find value in their actions,” the man said, continuing to talk with a smile on his face.

“That is to say, it would be nice to say that the person is chosen by the trial. I think I was chosen by a test, and I want to overcome it. From now on, I want to prove the validity of trying to form myself. I want my trial,” the man said.

“Religious talk? I’m not really interested in that,” said Flugel.

“No, it’s mind talk,” said the man.

“I can somehow imagine by your explanation that you brought your mind to a state of nirvana.”

“I don’t care at all if you want to make me out to be a madman,” said the man while maintaining his serene look.

“Ah, well, I hear you. What is this ‘act of trying to form yourself?’ Spreading a killer virus?”

“That is a way. I want to erase a little something called the Net from this world.”

“Ohhh… What?”

“I will cause the Net, like The World, to be abandoned by human beings all over the world. That is my goal. Hence the rat, and hence the Deadly Flash.”

“You started to talk pretty big.”

“There is certainly a hell,” said the man.

“This is a land of the unclean. A place where the endless torrent of desire continually overflows. A place where terrible scream and sinister cries roar. A place I do not belong…”

A mysterious light began to dominate the man’s eyes.

“The Net is Hell. Here everyone gives off a rotten smell. A repulsively lingering stench wafts throughout the air,” the man continued.

“You have a very soothing imagination,” murmured Flugel.

“Everyone knows that there is an evil influence in the Net. Everyone knows that the Net is dangerous. They know, yet they don’t do anything about it. Even though they have experienced a Network Crisis many times, people still keep using the Net. They just don’t learn. At the end of the day it’s the same thing, everyone knows, yet they don’t know. That’s why I decided to take action,” said the man.

The man sighed and glanced down. He took his gaze off of Flugel.

Here was an opportunity.

A chance. It was the perfect time to strike him with a bullet.

Flugel took a step forward. He pulled the trigger. The magic bullet was fired into the distance and struck the forehead of the man who didn’t even try to avoid it. His PC body’s data completely froze and was now free to be tampered with. He instantaneously computed whether the man was accessing the Net from anywhere in the real world. If he let David know, NAB, with branches all over the world, could quickly secure the custody of Yuri Seto. Troublesome negotiations may be required to recover the sensitive information of CyberConnect, but the case could be closed at any rate. A happy ending. The story becomes famous.

Yet, Flugel did not do it. He didn’t take the last step. He hesitated at the last moment. He looked down.

The system administrator’s cap was rolling.

It was the thing the man had cast off.

It was a natural gesture. However, now that he thought about it, it seemed really unnatural.

Or was it a coincidence? Why was this hat within striking range all of a sudden?

That’s it. The man ought to know. About Brieler Roessle. This man, who stole confidential information from CyberConnect, should surely know the capabilities of Flugel. Yet, why, in this back alley that prevented his own movement, did the man contact Flugel?

Alarm bells rang in the back of Flugel’s head. He could smell the danger.

Flugel aimed the gun and took a step back. Then another step. He moved away from the hat.

The man slowly looked up. His face moved, and his shoulder-length black hair flowed down. A shadow of an evil smile crossed his handsome face. Something lurking in the dark wriggled suddenly in the light, then laughed as it once again hid back into the shadows.

“What’s the matter, Flugel?” the man said in a hushed tone.

“If I don’t come closer, your Brieler Roessle can’t take effect, is that it?” he continued.

Suddenly the hat started jiggling. The shaking became more violent and the hat turned over. Then countless rats came out of the hat in droves. Many came out bearing fangs, and reached for Flugel’s feet.

Flugel gasped in surprise and flew down to the ground.

The hat continued to spit out rats one after the other.

“Congrats. If you come a little closer, you’ll be disqualified…,” said the man.

The rats started to run around the man like muddy water. The small animals with purple effects on them, while shaking their nose, whiskers, tail, and other hideous parts, crowded together very closely.

“I wonder whether you deserve my test. I wanted to determine this with today’s interview.”

The man’s quiet voice clearly reached Flugel’s ears from the middle of the squeaking rats.

“So far you have performed very favourably. I predict that you could be my best test subject yet.”

His voice became low.

“However, it all depends on the final test results. I sincerely hope you pass. For my sake and for yours.”

Rats began climbing the walls to the left and right all at once, and when they started to create a vertical formation, Flugel felt intense chills run down his spine.

This was bad. There was no escape. Not in this terrain. Not in a back alley. It was the opposite, Flugel realized. He should have noticed sooner.

It was he that had been cornered.

Flugel turned on his heel and started running at full speed without looking back.

“The contents of the final test…,” the man called out.

“…Is to get out of here alive,” he continued.

Immediately the flock of rats came out from all sides and rushed towards Flugel like a stream of muddy water. The countless cries of rats sounded as one, sounding like a strong wind that splits rocks as they came near Flugel.

He continued to run. He made a right turn without slowing down until he reached the crossroads. He went straight and was sandwiched between the monsters in the square and the rats behind him.

He went to work on his options while running desperately.

Could he log out? That was impossible. He’d have to stop for a moment to perform the action. They’d catch up in a few seconds.

Should he fight? It was no use. Brieler Roessle couldn’t take them all out in one shot. It had no chance of winning against this horde.

All he could do was run away. He had no choice but to run, shake off the rats, and log out from a distance.

The exit leading to the outside came into sight.

At that moment, one rat approached from behind, kicked off of the wall and jumped at Flugel’s left hand. He was pierced by a fang in his left hand. He felt a severe dizzying pain. A sharp pain passed through the ligaments of his hand in the real world.

He groaned in pain and grabbed the grip of Brieler Roessle, slammed it down unceremoniously on the rat, and fell down.

The rat’s defense and hit points seemed to decrease. On the other hand, it’s attack power was very high.

Two rats jumped at the gun in Flugel’s right hand. Then there were three rats at his left hand. Furthermore, some of them clung to the hem of his mantle and started climbing up onto him. He furiously shook his arms to get the rats off of him. He stomped at the rats as they dropped to his feet and he lost his balance.

Flugel stumbled as countless rats poured over him.

He was overtaken.

Dammit — there was no time to think.

Flugel was overtaken by rats all over his PC body, and they began to eat away at him. He stood up once, but fell back down due to the unbearable weight.

Flugel lay on all fours and, while being devoured by the rats, Flugel looked back. He raised his right hand and took hold of Brieler Roessle. Across from him stood the PC operated by Yuri Seto. Without even blinking, he watched Flugel get ripped apart under a pile of rats. Through his shiny eyes were pupils tinged with sadness. He was still smiling. He was out of striking distance.

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