Chapter 7:

Along the river

BRO: Battle Royale Online

I glanced at my holographic map: the path to our target seemed clear. I got back on my feet and told Rin that we would have to start walking again. She jumped to her feet, happy to leave this place.

High in the sky, the sun was shining deadly bright, it must have been close to noon, and the concrete banks where we were standing offered us no cover. Without another word, we were off.

Still with the finger on the trigger in case we encountered other players, I climbed up the riverbank to take advantage of the cover of the trees. I pulled myself up onto the bank and turned around, ready to help my teammate, only to find her standing next to me. She stared at me curiously as if she didn't understand why I had turned around.

She's already comfortable with her body, that's good. I guess she's not completely talentless.

Silently, I started walking again. With a nod, I signaled her to draw her weapon. After a few seconds, a clattering sound came from behind me, followed by a sigh of satisfaction. She had no more problems holding her weapon, that was already something.

Along the bank, vegetation was scarce, with only a few dry shrubs and bushes facing the ruined concrete jungle. Unfortunately, they offered us no protection against the sun. With a sweaty hand, I tried to clear my forehead of the strands of charcoal-like hair that had stuck to it.

According to the map, if we continued along the river, we would come to the edge of the forest area. We continued to move forward.

The heat was suffocating but didn't seem to affect Rin more than that.

As if to lighten the mood, she asked, "Do you know a player called Miko?"

Female players were in the minority in BRO, but I couldn't possibly know them all and that name didn't ring a bell. I shook my head no.

"It’s strange, she had asserted that she was rather popular…"

She thought for a few seconds and then exclaimed, "Oh yes, of course! You must only know her nickname! What did she say her name was again? Oh yes! Does Milena Starlust ring a bell?"

Milena Starlust? THE MILENA? Of course it spoke to me! She is one of the best players in BRO! And the only female player to make it into the top 10! They say she laughs while she bathes in the blood of her enemies! She uses a heavy machine gun and fragmentation grenades that she throws like water bombs. With our different approaches, she is the only person with whom I have a non-aggression pact so that we don't interfere every time! If there was ever a name I didn't want to hear, it was this one.

"I’ll introduce you, I'm sure you'll get along just fine!"

I nodded absent-mindedly, still lost in my thoughts. Milena... If I had known earlier that she knew my nemesis, I would never have bothered with her! But the past belonged to the past, it was too late to regret.

"And this Milena, is she participating in the tournament?"

"I don't think so. She was even rather disappointed that she couldn't take part because of me."

I turned to face her, my eyebrow arched inquisitively.

"Actually, it's been a while since Miko— Sorry, Milena, invited me to join her in this game. But I was a bit scared and it took me a while to make up my mind. When I finally launched the game, I sent her a message to say I was coming. But I didn't know that a tournament was starting today! She was a bit reluctant because welcoming me would prevent her from participating, but as we have known each other for a long time, she finally gave in. Only…"

She paused as if she was about to reveal a shameful secret.

"Only I got the wrong button and went straight to the tournament…"

As if by reflex, she bowed in apology.

I was flabbergasted.

"When you say 'directly', do you really mean 'directly'?"

"Yes… I didn't even go through the tutorial... I saw an advert announcing the start of a big event and I clicked without thinking. I didn't think I'd end up directly on a battlefield!"

Aaaah, that explains a lot!

Too stunned by these revelations, I started walking again, more slowly this time.

She hadn't done it on purpose... I still couldn't believe it. She had managed to join the annual tournament where the best players of the game gathered, without even playing the tutorial. At that level, it was quite an achievement. I could now understand her shock at our first meeting. She had gone from the peacefulness of the home screen to the reality of the battlefield in one click! It was almost funny!

Seeing that I was still dumbfounded by her revelations, she hastened to change the subject, "But tell me, you have to play with friends sometimes too, right?"


My cold and dry answer stopped her dead in her tracks.

Stopping in my turn, I resumed in a softer tone, "Okay, let me rephrase that... I was playing with friends."

She gave me an encouraging look, inviting me to delve into the past.

Getting lost in my memories, I continued in a dreamy tone, "We even formed a team! There were five of us, as close as brothers. We also knew each other in real life, but it was in the game that our friendship shone the brightest. We did everything we could to climb the rankings as we couldn't really take our time…"

Rin watched my face fill with nostalgia, my gaze wandering in the distance.

"But little by little our team dissolved... First our captain, then the two strikers, and finally the support, all left. After the departure of our captain, we played even more eagerly than before, taking maximum risks, as if our lives depended on it. That's when we started to make a name for ourselves. But all of a sudden, I found myself alone."

My voice broke with emotion.

Gathering my courage, I said, "But today it is my turn to give up this game. This tournament will be my last. And I intend to win it."

I finished with these words, my fist clenched, my tone full of determination. I could have stayed like that for a long time, the head raised, looking into the distance. But Rin pulled me out of my thoughts.

"But it's sad to stop everything... If you keep playing you'll find new companions!"

My face softened.

"I don't doubt it…"

But I had no choice.

Whether I like it or not, this tournament will be my last...

Clapping my hands, I said in a loud voice, "Come on, we have wasted enough time, we have to go on! Our goal is waiting for us!"

With a bitter smile, Rin followed me.

In front of us, the forest was getting denser and denser. The bushes grew thicker and closer, while the shrubs gradually turned into strange tropical trees. Soon, the foliage became so dense that we could not see through it. Without the space provided by the concrete banks, we would have felt as if we were being smothered by a wave of greenery. Apart from a few branches that I pushed aside with a careless hand, the path along the bank remained clear, allowing us to move forward at a brisk pace.

Soon, the banks became smaller and we were forced to return to the level of the stream. Then suddenly the concrete stopped.

"From here we enter the West Forest! Be on your guard, the visibility won't be good there."

Rin nodded, her gaze scanning the murky green oration.

I confirmed our position on the map and then set off again. With confident steps, we entered the tree cover.

If we follow the river a little further, we should soon come upon our objective. There were no red dots in the area, but that doesn't mean we're alone. We better take caution.

The sun was still high in the sky, but only a few solitary rays could penetrate the high foliage. Coldness and serenity reigned in this place. A light wind blew over the tops of the tallest trees, sweeping away the shifting patterns created by the hesitant light. We felt as if we were lost under an ocean of green, engulfed by its silence and calm.

Behind me, Rin held her breath. I understood her only too well: if it weren't for the virtual world, she would never have had the chance to explore such a forest. In the real world, virgin forests were almost non-existent, and the few that remained untainted by man had been prohibited to preserve them.

And yet some people still don't want to understand the superiority of the virtual…

Disappointed, I shook my head.

In front of us, the river widened, joined by a tumultuous torrent. We were now up to our calves in water. It was cold but much cleaner than the stream we had been walking along for a while.

The drop point was not far away. Signaling to my partner to follow me with a glance, I left the river. Climbing up the banks of wet earth, I used the roots to keep from slipping. I turned around, ready to help the newbie. But once again she was already standing beside me with a questioning look on her face. Without a word, I stood up.

She is quite agile in her new body! It could be useful...

I led the girl away from the stream, and then methodically scanned the surroundings. Good, we were alone. Hoping that the tumult of the stream would drown out my words, I began the discussion.

"About 500 meters ahead of us is our objective. Some good equipment has probably been dropped there, only, that was yesterday. There's no guarantee that we'll find anything left."

She nodded, listening to me with a seriousness I had never seen before.

"In the best scenario, the point is empty and we can help ourselves freely. In the worst case, there are players there at this very moment, and they are armed to the teeth. If they have taken over all the equipment, a confrontation will be inevitable. I'm counting on you to support me or at least not to get in my way."

I felt her shoulders tense and her grip tightened on her weapon.

Satisfied by what I saw, I continued, "There is still a third option: the one where we find nothing, neither players nor weapons. In this case, we'll have to keep an eye out and try to retrace the steps of those who came before us to track them down, find them, and exterminate them. We will serve ourselves on their corpses. Do you understand?"

She nodded.

Great! Although I still didn't know what was waiting for us there, seeing my partner finally behave like one and solemnly listen to my orders filled me with joy.

All that was missing was for her to finally decide to call me "master" and the picture would be perfect.

Satisfied with my plan and my team, we set off again. With a wave of the hand, I indicated to the girl to move a few meters away from me to cover a larger space. Out of nowhere, voices came to us.

I threw myself to the ground and ordered the girl to do the same. We lay on the ground, listening, waiting.

I heard a voice. Then another one answered. Two... Three... Silently, I counted the number of our enemies. All in all, I heard four distinct voices. I was unable to make out the content of their conversation, but there was no doubt that they were coming from the drop point.

Quietly instructing Rin to stay put, I crawled to the top of the mound that seemed to overlook our objective. The plants clawed at my arms and face, but I still made good progress. In an instant, my clothes were smeared with dirt.

As I reached the top of the hill, I slowed down stealthily. Suddenly, the drop point appeared before my eyes. It was a drop point in name only. With metal boxes arranged in circles, trenches, and protections, the place was already much more like a fortress.

Scanning the camp with a calculating look, a strategy formed in my mind.