Paradise Online

Chapter 1:2 – Awakening

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After that embarrassing start to the game, I lifted myself up after raising back my ego.

I landed in a rather small, seemingly peaceful medieval village surrounded by a wall made of wooden logs. I was standing at what seemed to be the village's centre, where many other players, likely newbies like myself, were gathered, and a transparent purple barrier stopped us from leaving the village centre.

However, my mind was not focused on any of this.

("But Kazu-cha*bzzt*...can't you please...revive...me...?")

...The event that happened after I made my character. The weird static. The heavenly garden. The girl who knew my name...

...Just what was that?

Could I assume that it was in fact the game's intro? That it was a glimpse into the game's Main Quest? Perhaps the game's story is centred around reviving that girl...?

No. If that was truly the case, then she wouldn't have known my name, Kazuya, not to mention abbreviate it into 'Kazu-chan'...

And she seemed so familiar too...

"Ugh...this is so confusing..." I complained, rubbing my temples. Sighing, I decided to push the matter aside for now and looked around.

Quite a lot of players around. Everyone was on seemingly newbie equipment, but their appearances themselves tended to look really flashy. Weird hair colours (Okay, I'm guilty myself), out-of-proportions body size, very hot females (I'll bet you 1000 yen that they're guys in real life...), and so on.

But the most flashy was probably this large and muscular guy with a very handsome face with blonde hair and blue eyes, who was flirting with some girls. Heck, even his name was flashy. 'Hercules the Awesome'? Seriously, who names himself that—

...No way.

He seriously did it. That idiot seriously named himself that...!

Hercules 'the Awesome' gave a passionate speech to the two girls he was with. "Oh, beautiful maidens...! Your immense beauty has stolen this hero's heart and thrown it into a great prison which no-one can escape. Please, will the both of you please accompany this lovestruck gentleman?"

The girls chuckled. "Oh, Herc-chan! If you say it like that, then of course we will!" they said, giggling.

...Wow. Looks like that idiot had more 'skills' than I thought he did.

Approaching him from behind, I called out to him. "Tora...no, Hercules, what the hell are you doing?"

"Oh, I'm just talking to these ladies...wait, how do you know my real name...?" he answered, before asking as he turned around in confusion. He then observed me from head to toe.

"Hmm...your voice...that face...and your name...he did say he liked Arthurian Legend...Kazuya, is that you?" he guessed.

I smirked at him. "The one and only." I answered.

His face immediately brightened. "Awesome, you did play! Huh, you don't look all that different from your real self. That's kinda boring."

I shrugged. "Hey, I just wanted to be honest. I mean, look at you, you look nothing like your true self." I told him, looking upwards due to his much taller body. Seriously, he must be at least a head taller now.

My words, however, seemed to have caught the attention of his two 'companions'. "Eh...you know Herc-chan in real life...? How is he in real life?" one of the girls asked.

Tora, known here as Hercules (the Awesome) paled at the question. I, on the other hand, smirked at the opportunity. "Oh, he's a bit shorter than I am, and is a bit of a wimp." I answered, surprising the girls.

"Eh? But he said he was handsome and smart, with lots of money!" the other girl stated.

"Well, he has a bit of money, but not enough to save him from being an unattractive idiot."

My answers sparked rage into the girls, who angrily growled at 'Herc-chan', who slowly backing away in fear. Heh, serves him for lying to these girls in the first place.

"Ah, it seems this is all the newbies we have for this batch." a loud voice was heard across the village centre, silencing everyone else.

I turned around, to see at the very centre of the area, was a man covered in armour with combed black hair and green eyes. He seemed to be scanning the crowd of newbies before him.

"Huh, a lot more than I expected. That's good, I suppose." He said, giving us all a warm smile, stretching out his arms.

"Everyone—welcome to Molle Village. I am Azar, the elected leader of this small village, and guildmaster of the guild «Molle's Guardians» which rules over this village. We're a small and unimportant community, but I hope we can give you a happy beginning while you're here."

Well he seems like a rather affable guy. Glad to see I didn't get an asshole for a first mentor. Guildmaster and Mayor, eh? Does that mean guilds rule over communities in this game...?

"Now, let's go and have adventures!—is what I would like to say, but alas, I have to tell the one rule that does not only apply to this village, but to this whole world."

"I'm sure you guys must have heard of it. That this world...this game...has the most advanced AI system in the world. And as someone who's been here since the early days of the Closed Beta, I can quite assure you that this is the truth. The NPCs here...they are not simply masses of data. No, they are truly living people. They can laugh. They can cry. They can hate. They can love. They can live, and they can die. You may not believe me. That is fine. You shall see the truth yourself soon enough."

...To be honest, I was sceptical of the whole thing. I've seen intelligent robots before, but they were really nothing more than «Pre-programmed machines» with all their so-called emotions and reactions simply being wired into them. So how can we suddenly have absurdly advanced AI's with true emotions...?

"As NPCs live in this realm 24/7 rather than the few hours we players do, they are given...disadvantages. But the biggest one is – when they die, the die. There's no coming back for them. They're not going to re-spawn like us players."

I raised my hand. "So, is the rule you're telling us is that we can't kill NPCs?" I asked him. It seemed that way due to how passionate he was with the subject.

"Unfortunately, that is not the case." Azar answered with a frown, much to my surprise. "While killing NPCs is greatly frowned, and is illegal in this village, there is no detriment in doing so when it comes to the game's laws. No, what I'm about to say is regarding something else."

"And that is...about the ignorance of the NPCs to the truths of this world." He said, his face turning darker. "They do not know. That this is nothing but a mere game. A virtual world. A fake realm created for the enjoyment of others. As such...not a single player is allowed to tell NPCs about the truth. Doing this won't just get you banned. You might not even be able to use the Connector game console ever again, or use any products made by Pandora Corporations. In the worst case scenario, you could get arrested for ruining an important social experiment, as many experts are using this game to test on social interaction." Azar finished.

That's...a bit hardcore. But understandable, since it could shake the whole balance of the game. Ugh, I hope I don't accidentally blurt the truth out by mistake...

"Well then!" Azar announced, his face brightening. "I'm sure you guys actually want to play the game now. So..."

Azar unsheathed the sword at his waist, and he suddenly dashed towards the purple barrier, and with one great swing, the barrier was shattered to pieces. As everyone looked on with shock, the man turned around, arms wide, with a bright smile on his face.

"Everyone – let's go, and enjoy this world!"

-x-x-x-x-x-

While we were walking down the main road of the village, towards the Village Gate—

"Look, look, Mommy! All those adventurers look so cool! Don't they, don't they?!" An excited child said while pointing at me and the crowd of players. The middle-aged woman beside him chuckled.

"Yes they do, sweetie. Those are the Players, the Blessed Ones who shall save our world." She told the boy.

"So cool! Someday, I'm going to be an awesome adventurer too! Won't I, Mommy?"

"Yes yes, you will." The middle-aged woman said with a smile.

...Blessed Ones. So that's what NPCs think players are. Rather, their AI really is advanced!—No, that can't be the case. Perhaps, they were pre-wired to act this way whenever they see Players...?

"—We have arrived." Azar announced, as we finally stepped out of the village into a clearing. Beyond that, was a green forest.

"Molle Forest; the «Starting Area» for this village. Everyone, please remember that the further you get from a community, the harder the monsters will be."

Makes sense. Monsters would naturally want to avoid large gatherings of people. Besides, you wouldn't want to arrive in a town and the moment you come out; you get attacked by endgame-level monsters. That'll be scary.

"Okay then, everyone get into a party of at least 3 to 6. There's no reason to be going solo in a world like this, after all!"

...Ah, shit. When I was done processing his words, everyone was already getting into their own parties, all of them full, and thus leaving me completely alone...

...Wait, I'm not completely alone, Tora is rushing towards me right now!

"Ah, Tora, you're alone too."

He chuckled sheepishly. "Eh, well..." he said awkwardly, glancing to the side. I followed his eyesight, and I saw that the two girls he was with before were sending him angry looks while clutching to the arms of some other men.

"...yeah, I'm alone too." He said with a large sigh.

"Haha...I guess so." I agreed. Know that awkward feeling when you're the last person to be 'chosen' in PE class? Yeah, that was what we were feeling right now.

"—Excuse me," A feminine voice interjects from behind the two of us, "I also do not have a party."

The both of us turned around, and Tora slightly whistled form what we saw. And what we saw was a girl with shoulder-length brown hair, with golden eyes. Her pointy ears were a give-away to her Race, and the wooden bow in her hands along with the arrows on her back and the dagger sheathed at her hip indicated she was of the Rogue starting class. She had an aura of elegance, shown by the stoic expression she had on her face.

Tora immediately got closer to her and showed her a handsome smile completely unlike his real self.

"My my, such a beauty, and yet you were abandoned so quickly? What a tragedy...no matter, leave all your worries! For I, Hercules the Awesome, has come to save your lonely heart!" he said with a smile, gesturing towards the girl, winking at her. And were those...sparkles when he said that?

Instead of slapping him like I expected her to, the girl simply raised her eyebrow and looked at me. "Is he always like this?"

"Unfortunately so." I answered.

"Hey, hey, I can hear you!" Tora grumbled.

"You were supposed to!" I interject.

"Gah, you're just jealous that I have more skills than you do!" He pouted.

"Excuse me? Sorry, but who was it again between the two of us that has actually had a girlfriend before?" I answered with a smirk.

"Well excuse me, but it only lasted for a mere week! And then you found out it was just some dare she had with her friends, and you didn't leave the house for 2 days!" he said with a smile of his own.

"Dammit man, I told you not to remind me that!" I said in an angry manner/ You see, this is why I was turned off from relationships ever since.

A small chuckle stopped our argument. We turned our heads to see that it came from the girl before, who immediately stopped and returned to a stoic composure.

Embarrassingly, we saw that all the other groups were staring at us by this point. Damn, talk about a bad first impression!

"Well," we heard the girl say, "at least you two wouldn't be boring. You two remind of someone from long ago..."

Was that a compliment? I hope it was. I looked back to the girl and saw that she had a slight smile on her face, extending out her hand.

"I am Artemis, a new player just like you. I hope we get along."

-x-x-x-x-x-

"Take this, «Duo-Slash»!" I yelled out, and I felt some otherworldly force take over the control of my body and my blade, which in turn made 2 strong slashes on the green blob of goo in front of me the «Green Slime», shattering it into millions of pieces.

It was weird, fighting in this world. The sensation of fighting face-to-face was so very different compared to staring at a screen while smashing buttons. Heck, even before fighting I had to get used to my now-taller body, and it was worse for Tora/Hercules.

I saw a shadow from above, and I looked up, to see a «Forest Wolf», one of the stronger enemies in this area, leaping out towards me.

Panicking, I hastily moved to the side, and the monster instead landed on the ground. Growling, it turned to face me, but...

"Hahaha, never fear!" Hercules (the Awesome) made an exaggerated shout and emerged from behind, giving the wolf a running strike. As expected, it was a critical and sent it flying for quite a bit. It smashed into the dirt ground, and as it was recovering...

"Artemis, now!"

"Hm!"

With that simple reply, our Rogue hiding in the shadows (well, bushes) fired a arrow that hit straight to the neck. Alas, considering the 7-levels difference between us and the enemy, it was not enough to kill it off. Without giving it a single moment of rest, I ran in and striked the beast straight to the head, murdering it.

The wolf shattered into millions of pieces, leaving some coins and some Common Wolf Fur, and even that vanished as it is automatically distributed amongst the party.

And then, golden light covered our bodies along with a tingling sensation. I didn't know what that was, but if I had to wager a guess, that was a level-up.

Silence dominated the party for quite a while, until Hercules broke into hearty laughter.

"Not bad for our first battle! Truly, this is a different experience from any game I've experienced so far. Come on, let's explore this world, let' find out its secrets, and let's become the best of the best and get all the girls!"

Yeah, I agree...except that last part of course. Maybe.

"Yes," said Artemis as she got out of hiding, "I agree with you, Hercules." She said, before remembering something very important, "...the Awesome."

Hercules beamed with joy, and I wanted to tell her not to encourage him, but then the large man (in-game only) realized something.

"...Wait, you agree with all of it? Including the 'get all the girls' part? Erm, Miss Artemis, you're not by any chance...?" he asked, but didn't have the chance to finish when...

A large scream reached our ears.

"That was..."

"...a girl in danger?"

The both of us, Hercules and I looked at each other for a moment.

Him and I...Tora Ishikawa and Kazuya Hoshimoto, we've only been friends for the past 3 years or so, we're not childhood friends or anything...

But we could understand the meaning behind the other's eyes.

"You've got my back..."

"...And I got yours!"

From this promise we made long ago, we nodded, and ran off to the source of the scream.

"Huh? Arthur, Hercules, wait!" Artemis pleaded, but it fell into deaf ears, and she soon ran after them.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Behind some trees and bushes, was a small cave, and the three of us entered it in order to find the source of the loud scream from earlier.

And what we saw deep in the cave was—

"What in the world is that?!" Hercules asked when he saw the thing in front of him. I couldn't answer that myself.

It was no monster that I have ever seen in any fantasy setting. It was no Orc, it was no Ogre, it was no Dragon. It was literally static, much like the ones you see on old TVs, in humanoid form. In some parts of its body, random images were showing up rapidly.

I heard sobbing, and in the corner of the cave, I saw a girl, around my own age, crying. She had long, straight blonde hair that reached her hips. Her sky-blue eyes had many tears flowing out. The staff by her side meant that she was likely to be of a magic-type class. And most importantly, she was holding a familiar man in her arms...

"Azar...?" I whispered slightly. Yes, that was definitely the mentor person from before, but boy, he surely has seen better days.

His body was literally in pieces. Although I wouldn't know it myself, his wounds were clearly abnormal, unless having static instead of flesh along with raw data flowing out is common here. His body was constantly phasing in and out of existence, shaking, and changing colours.

"No..." the girl cried out, "Azar...brother...what's happening to you? What's going on? This...this never happened before. Please don't leave me..." she pleaded.

"*cough* Eva...I don't know what's happening to me...I can actually feel it...intense pain...pain I've never felt before...but...Players aren't supposed to feel pain...Could it be...?"

The girl buried her head into his chest. "No...you can't die. Players are supposed to be immortal, so you can't die!...Brother, please...you promised to take me to a picnic like before...you can't die, you have to take me to one!"

It was then that I noticed the most important part about the girl.

And that is, the label «NPC» next to her name.

And that was when I realized it.

NPCs weren't just computer programs.

They weren't just masses of data.

They...were people, like you and me.

Those tears, they were not fake.

The emotions in her words, they couldn't possibly be made-up.

The memories she spoke of, I had a certainty that they were true.

But when I made that realization, it was far too late.

The thing from before made its move.

It had no eyes, but I knew its target was now me.

Although I did not see that its name was «ERROR_NAME»...

Although I did not see that its HP was uncalculable...

Although I knew that this was 'just a game'...

Fear gripped my very being.

And it happened so fast.

One second, it was on the other side of the cave. In the next, its 'arm' pierced through my chest.

Intense pain. And then everything went white. I could faintly hear Hercules and Artemis call out to me...

-x-x-x-x-x-

"Ah, you're back, Kazu-chan." The girl in white spoke to me.

I was back in that beautiful garden again, with this mysterious girl who knew my name. Except, her voice had no static in it now.

"What...? How did..." I asked, a bit disoriented.

"...you get here? I called you back here when you were in danger. Don't worry, time has basically stopped."

Time...? Stopped...?

"You really don't remember me, do you?" she said with a frown., and then shrugged. "Oh well. This must be my brother's doing, and he always had a reason for things."

Shrugging the matter off, the girl then extended her hand towards me.

"But you know, Kazu-chan? I don't care even if you remember me or not. I'll still help you out."

Help me...?

"You don't understand it yet, but Players who are hit by those things you just saw get more than just an EXP penalty. It's only thanks to me that you don't have brain damage right now. So, will you except my help?"

I don't understand any of this. What the hell's happening, why it's going on...

But I do know one thing. And that is I just can't leave Tora, not after what we promised so long ago, and although I barely know her, I can't just abandon Artemis either.

Besides...I feel like I can trust her.

And so, I accepted her hand.

She smiled. "Good. I shall become your tool..."

-x-x-x-x-x-

A loud screech echoed throughout the cave.

The beast leaped back, an 'arm' clearly missing.

"Wha...what is..." Hercules said, speechless. Artemis settled with a look of wonder and awe.

The hole in my chest was rapidly being covered by white light. In my hands, the flimsy starter weapon was replaced with a shining pure-white longsword carved with golden runes and decorated with blue gems. It had the brightness that could rival the Sun.

Arthur breathed out, and a name appeared clearly on his mind.

"Collbrande..."

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End of Chapter

Author's notes:

*waits for people to call MC an OP Mary Sue*

*coughs* Anyways, sorry for the long hiatus. The excuse? I was lazy.

Feel free to leave a review!

Until next time, farewell.