It was unreal, but it felt real.
We are facing a giant dragon – given that all dragons are large – to fight our ways up the tower.
The tower of Yggdrasil is still looking down upon the world from the center today. Modeled after the boundary tower in Amakusa, Tokyo, which is the birthplace of a phenomenal VRMMO game, Yggdrasil is a lofty tower, too.
Like a needle piercing into the space.
A crystal one, though, to fit in the overall fantasy art style of the Second. And like the boundary tower, Yggdrasil boasts a whole lot of floors – 1000 of them, to be exact – crammed with all kinds of monsters and challenges.
And we are the first one to set our feet on the tenth floor. It is almost cliche to put some strong monster in the floors of ten’s multiples, and the AI is clearly sticking to this common practice when creating the Second.
One dragon was already beat when we first enter this tower, that is, the mother dragon. It was quite a tough one: it even nearly managed to suffocate us by burning out all the oxygen with its breath. But now, after countless battles, our team is invincible, and the dragon doesn’t stand a chance.
Whoosh! its sweeps the ground with its left claw, but in vain. It took too much damage to maintain its swift actions. Time to deliver the last strike. I called out to my little sister.
“Miu! Covering fire!” “Gotcha!”
The dragon roared in pain as the bullet penetrates the dragon’s eyes. The monster raises its head, it want to cast a breath.
“Kuon!” “Needless to say!”
Kuon cast the spell, which forms a shield protected all of us from the devastating breath. I looked to Apeiria, and she knows what I’m gonna do in an glimpse.
“You are powered up, owner, get in there!”
I run forward towards to dragon, to deliver the final blow.
“Mashiro, come back!” “Roger!” The little silouette who’s attacking with combos jumps back, agile like a humming bird.
A few steps forth, I get face to face with the hideous monster. Time for my ultimate sword.
Eight beams spreads out in an instant, all of them punching the dragon, lighting the last moment of this floor master.
With a death agony, the large figure collapsed to the ground and dispersed.
After I confirmed the death of the dragon, other party members come to me.
“Miu, good shot.”
“Of course. Who you think I am?”
And I turned to my childhood friend.
“Kuon, your spells are of great help, too.” “Reiichi, it is okay to depend more on your older sister, you get it?”
“Well done, Mashiro.” “Eeh?! Th-th-thank you!” The introverted junior is still shy about compliments today.
“Apeiria.” I hugged the girl with silver hair. “You are the best.”
“Owner, plus, hug, equals, happiness.” The girl in my embrace replied with her monotonic voice, but with a tinge of delight.
“Hentai…” Complaints comes from the little sister with a cold-eyed gaze.
It feels real, but it is unreal.
My eyes are open now. It’s not inside the magnificent crystal tower. Not but my monochromatic bedroom.
The window is wide open. A gust of December’s chilly wind breaks in, across my face and between my fingers.
“It’s … cold.” The wind must receive a summons for trespassing.
Today Apeiria will set off to Second, which has been already a hell. No one could return from that world of death. But there are no other options: she should have gone there a year ago, and this probation is as much as I could get.
The digital clock says it’s 7. I step into my slippers and out of my bedroom.
There is already one up.
“Good morning, owner.” The silver-haired girl notices me.
“Morning, Apeiria.” I try to make myself sound more energetic.
The dried-up response echoes in the empty house. There is nobody besides the two of us.
Miu isn’t here. She isn’t in this world any more.
She was disposed by her mother. Miu was created as a clone of that woman, who has been haunted by the shadows of her aborted child.
I walk to the kitchen, Apeiria is preparing the breakfast.
“A few minutes and it will be done, owner.”
The breakfast time in Kirishima’s is filled with silence. The clashing sounds of utensils reverbrate in the room.
After I’m done with the meal, I speak to Apeiria.
“It’s the last day, isn’t it?”
“Then let’s hang out.”
We first arrives at the AI circle in the school. Full name “Lovable AI Circle”, the circle has had two members – I, the founder, and Mashiro, who I forcibly dragged in. After I created Apeiria here, the five of us have had a lot memories here – making the VR MMORPG Second, and playing it together as a team. But Mashiro is not here.
She is dead from radiation in Boundary’s beta test, when the machine suddenly malfunctioned.
A double-slit box sits on the table. When I turn it on, it’s still showing interference pattern.
The DNA computer is turned off now. Apeiria is accidentally created from it when a lightning cut off its power about a year ago. And I managed to get her a body by hacking the genetic research facility.
There is nothing to do here. After the door is shutted with a huge noise, and silence dominates the school again.
Next stop is the boundary tower. Usually it was once full of people, especially when Boundary was in tests. After that accident, people are showing concerns about safety issues of the VR games, and the development of Boundary is put to a halt.
“Owner, will we be seeing Kuon?”
“Forget about it.”
Kuon’s father is the creator of the Boundary, so the family lives on the top floor of the boundary tower. One year ago, She had a quarrel with her mother, who fell unconscious soon afterwards and died days later. And Kuon never had a chance to apologize. Since then, I haven’t got in contact with her as much.
After having lunch in Asakusa, we decide to return.
Bang, and the door closed. It’s the familiar living room today.
The digit clock in the phone says it’s already 2pm. So the separation is only a few hours away.
In this year, we’ve been to everywhere we are able to go, done everything we are able to do. I promised to teach her what is love, but things are not going as expected.
Sometimes I doubt if I’ve made the right choice: is it fine to hold her back here, who is not supposed to be born and hated by the world, for a year? Is it right to spend so much time together, only to make the parting more heartbreaking?
And who is Thinker after all? Is he the observer who’s been peeking into this world? Why does the observer want to do with Apeiria?
I take out my phone from the pocket. In it there are the mails sent by my future self.
“There are two Thinkers.”
“The observer is human.”
And things like that. I pondered about these things again and again, but to no avail. This time I try again to find out what it means.
The observer … is human …
The viruses, the time loop, the disappearing interference pattern.
The observer is human.
The appearing viruses in the house just confirm my thought.
It feels real, but it is unreal.
“Apeiria! Run!” I grab her hand and run for the door.
“Affirmative. What’s the heading, owner, by the way, why are viruses here?” She replies with a mite of bewilderment.
The answer to the first is clear. The way out is the way in.
Since we cannot rely on Apeiria network and the nanobots now, there is only one way into the Second.
“The boundary tower!”