As soon as he had returned from the cyberworld, the area that had been bitten by the rat became hot. The area soon began to show signs of inflammation, along with symptoms of numbness, tremors, and dizziness. These were moderate side effects of the use of the VR scanner. Abnormal damage incurred in the cyberworld flooded into the real world, reaching levels far beyond what “Flugel” could handle.
He couldn’t have been logged in for more than an hour. It was only now that Ryuuji felt like his whole body would fall to pieces.
He tried to rest and recover at the office late into the night. But by nine o’ clock in the morning, he was still far from ready to even drive his car. Rather, he felt that he was getting worse as time passed.
Maybe I should go to the doctor, Ryuuji thought. But he had been prohibited from using the VR Scanner before this.
Reluctantly he took a taxi and returned home at what seemed a crawl. Along the way he bought some painkillers and muscle relaxants at a pharmacy, and took two pills before going to bed.
The next day, at around seven o’clock on Sunday morning, Ryuuji woke up to severe pain as though his flesh had been torn apart. His senses returned to him in the morning light as he temporarily forced himself to get out of bed with the use of the drugs he bought. It felt like a drop of scalding hot water from a frying pan had dropped on to his head.
There was a knock at the door of the room.
“I have breakfast for you,” came Lilie’s voice.
Ryuuji bit his lips and tried to not let a groan escape.
“Ryuuji?” said Lilie.
Ryuuji breathed with difficulty, cleared his throat, and took another breath.
“I’m sick. I have a splitting headache,” he said.
He spoke in a purposefully deep, hoarse voice, so much so that his voice unexpectedly cracked.
“Ugggh. Have you been drinking?” Lilie said through the door before walking away.
Ryuuji tried to get up from the bed. For a moment he remained paralyzed. His upper body was locked while his legs swung towards the floor. His breath came with difficulty and sweat dripped down his forehead.
He didn’t want to allow his body to shake so much. But he couldn’t stop it. He felt nerve pain, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, chills, and cramps. He waited for the pain to subside.
Slowly he grabbed a glass of water, took two tablets, and placed it back on the night stand. Although the drugs might not take effect for a while, at least it was better than nothing.
There was another knock.
“How about breakfast? Want to try some rice soup?” asked Lilie.
“No, I’m fine. I want to sleep in because I worked too much yesterday,” said Ryuuji, nearly forgetting to use his fake hoarse voice.
“Well, I’ll have something ready for lunch, okay? Sweet dreams,” said Lilie.
Ryuuji listened as Lilie left the hallway, her footsteps growing fainter.
He laid himself back on to the bed and hauled the blanket over him with difficulty.
He wanted to write a summary of yesterday’s incident while the memories were still fresh in his mind, but it seemed more difficult to do in his current state than if he were to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. He took in a deep breath. At that moment he wanted to immerse himself in peace and tranquility while he waited for the drugs to take effect. It was an impossible wish. The mobile terminal suddenly rang on the night stand. The call was from David.
“Sorry to bother you so early. I wanted to wait, but I had to call right away. Some real bad stuff happened,” said David.
“No problem. I was up anyway,” Ryuuji answered from his bed.
“What’s this bad situation you’re talking about?” Ryuuji continued.
“It’s our headquarters,” said David.
His voice was a mixture of frustration and shock.
“I gathered some personnel and created a search team to find Seto within the Japanese Server. I think that’s what Gus intended. He contacted me previously about it,” said David.
“Is that the terrible news?”
“HQ’s been wiped out,” said David.
“Seto logged into Dol Dona, mustered his forces, and sent his rats to attack us. He ambushed us while he crashed the server with that blast of light. That light virus got sent to all the hospitals.”
Ryuuji closed his eyes. Then he spoke.
“This was yesterday?”
“I heard he logged in at half past two.”
Yesterday Ryuuji had arrived in the cafe district of Mac Anu after three o’clock. Yuri Seto had followed and greeted Ryuuji after dispatching with the NAB officials who had been tracking him.
“I’ll tell you about it in greater detail. Shall we meet in your office at four o’clock today? How does that sound?” David said.
Ryuuji hesitated. He was suspicious about meeting at the office.
“No, please come to my apartment. Do you know where it is?” Ryuuji asked.
“I know. Is something wrong?” David asked.
David seemed to have noticed that Ryuuji’s voice was different from a moment ago.
He spoke briefly about the events at Mac Anu.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Sogabe,” said David.
“He logged in somehow. All by himself. That dangerous bastard,” said David, in reference to Seto.
“I just wanted to enjoy Mac Anu’s scenery,” said Ryuuji.
Because he was was humbled in the presence of the informer, Ryuuji couldn’t explain why he had been logged in.
David blew his nose.
“Well… I guess I’ll see you at your place at four o’clock,” said David.
The phone cut off.
Ryuuji twisted his body in his blanket, and attempted to return his mobile terminal to his nightstand. However, he couldn’t stand the discomfort created by reaching out and dropped the terminal by the bed instead.
As he tried to move now, the pain throughout his body seemed to become worse.
I can’t sleep lie this, he thought. But this wasn’t true. Perhaps it was because of the drugs or his symptoms or both, but Ryuuji closed his eyes and soon drifted off to sleep, almost as though he had lost consciousness.
Ryuuji woke up from his nondescript dream and saw that the hands of his clock read noon.
His body was soaking wet, having been covered in night sweats. But he felt much better overall. Compared with the night before, his pain was markedly reduced.
Ryuuji slowly came out of the bedroom.
There was no sign of Lilie. She seemed to have gone out.
“Grid, where’s Lilie?”
When he asked this in the living room, a message played.
“I’m gone out with friends. I’ll be back in the evening. If you have laundry, keep it all together,” came the voice of Lilie.
Sorry, Ryuuji thought, apologizing in his mind.
He had left a large amount of dirty clothes in his office.
He prepared himself a microwave meal and ate it. He had no appetite, but he forced himself to eat it. It was like chewing on waterlogged cardboard. But he knew he had to eat if he wanted to keep his physical and mental faculties.
He finished his brunch and went to the bathroom where he took painkillers and muscle relaxants.
In the bathroom mirror he saw his sullen eyes, void of ambition, his unkempt hair, and pale sickly face staring back at him.
“Don’t worry,” he said to himself.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” he continued.
He took off his clothes and got in the bathtub. He stood under the showerhead a long time, letting the hot water fall on his feet. Soon the drugs began to take effect, and he began to feel like his usual self.
He soaked in the bathtub, washed himself, shaved his beard, got dressed, and finally got ready to face the tough world.
He sat on the sofa in the living room, and unfolded his mobile terminal.
He loaded The World’s official bulletin board and found that an apology concerning the connection error that cut many players off in the middle of yesterday’s “Monster Town Invasion” Event had been posted.
A forced disconnection?
Some players had responded to it, apparently they were the participants. They were complaining, and the language was rather abusive. It was one scene surrounding the game. However, they were angry that the event had been cut short, not that any of them had suffered any harm in real life due to being killed in the game. Everyone seemed convinced that it had been nothing more than an event filled with raiding rat-monsters. There didn’t seem to be any reason to doubt them.
Ryuuji accessed the NAB website from his mobile terminal and looked through the latest reports. No stories about any unconscious people could be found. For the time being there was no publicity given to the victims of the “rat hunt.”
Ryuuji scrolled through the rest of the pages and checked the news.
Much of it dealt with Veronica Bain’s visit to Japan. It was in the news that she had just arrived in Tokyo yesterday. Various speculations were made as to her reasons for visiting, such as performing an audit of the Japanese branch of the company or visiting a Japanese factory to oversee the development of new products. She was staying the Baketon Hotel in Tokyo. It seemed she would be staying about two weeks or so.
The V.I.P. truly is the center of attention.
He scrolled further down the screen and this time he was worried about something.
Something nibbled at the back of his mind. Some thought crawled into his consciousness. It was an unpleasant, frustrating sensation.
He returned to the top of the screen and reviewed the page from the beginning; it was not possible to locate the identity of those who had struck a nerve in him.
Something was strange, but nothing seemed to be abnormal in the article.
Ryuuji shook his head.
Nevermind, he thought. If you assume something’s there, you must be seeing things. I’ll put it at the back of my mind for now.
Positioning his mobile terminal at eye level in his hands, Ryuuji was startled by something. An icon had just popped-up. It was a notification that a new thread had been written on the official bulletin board that Ryuuji started.
He called up the thread using the keyboard.
“From Fate to The Magician. There is talk of exterminating the rats. I request that you contact me. Mail is acceptable.”
Two weeks prior, this is what Ryuuji wrote after the death of Kiyoteru Yodogawa. He added a new sentence at the end.
“From The Magician to Fate.”
The text that followed read:
“In the lake, it turns to silence. All that remains is nothingness.”