Chapter 14:

At rock bottom

BRO: Battle Royale Online

I immediately grabbed Rin's hand and dove into the thicket. The real danger was not the drone, which was just filming continuously, but rather the player it was accompanying, strong enough to have his actions broadcasted live. Bookmark here

BRO tournaments were annual events. They brought together the best players in the game for the sole purpose of watching them kill each other. At first, it was just a small, unknown event that was only followed in strange niches on the web. But little by little, rumors spread about a secret tournament where everything was allowed. Of course, this was not the case! It was still a game! But the eyes of the web were focused on the event. Some people took the plunge and tried to climb the ranks during the year, but in the end, everyone was waiting for the next tournament to begin. So every year, with every tournament, the popularity of the game soared. Until it reached the popularity it was currently enjoying for the 8th tournament.Bookmark here

But as the number of players increased, so did the level of the players. The world discovered the true nature of Battle Royale Online: a brutal spectacle beyond the ordinary. It was a very grueling game, extremely close to reality, even to the point of pain, where almost anything was possible.Bookmark here

But even though the number of players was increasing, it was still well below the number of spectators: few people were crazy enough to get involved in such a game, to suffer voluntarily.Bookmark here

On the other hand, watching these players give everything they had to advance in the tournament, it had to be said, was very entertaining. And in recent years the popularity of the game had exploded. The broadcasting of its tournaments has seen staggering audience figures for a game that was not even known until recently.Bookmark here

For players, the annual tournament quickly became one of the most effective ways to make a name for themselves. Whatever the game, every player knew the nicknames of the top BRO players.Bookmark here

Naturally, it didn't take long for a professional scene to develop. BRO, like most other successful VRMMOs, had an equivalence between its virtual currency and real money. At first, this was mainly a way for the game to make revenue. But if you played well enough, you could also earn money. A handful of players were even managing to live entirely off the money they were earning on BRO, these were the professional players: the top players, almost all of them affiliated with sponsors.Bookmark here

Sadly, this was far from being my case! I was just starting to make a name for myself. I had barely made it to the top during the year, but my pitiful performance in last year's tournament had completely ruined my chances of being recruited.Bookmark here

And now, at this point, I didn't care about sponsors and fame. It didn't matter what the outcome of the tournament was, I would never set foot in this game again, or any other for that matter. So... why was I so determined to win this tournament?Bookmark here

For the winner's money?Bookmark here

No. Even if the prize money awarded by the sponsors to the winner was attractive, I wasn't particularly short of it and it has never been one of my main concerns.Bookmark here

For glory then?Bookmark here

I paused in my reflection. I had to admit that the idea had some appeal. But I gathered myself. No, it wasn't that either. If I ever wanted a name to ring out to the world, it was my squad's. But now that I was alone, I didn't care if my name was forgotten, since they were all destined to be forgotten anyway.Bookmark here

So why was I doing this?Bookmark here

I didn't know. Perhaps it was a way of expressing a final challenge... Of taking my revenge... Or perhaps not...Bookmark here

My thoughts continued to wander for a while before I got my bearings.Bookmark here

It doesn't matter why! The important thing is to win at all costs!Bookmark here

I shook my head.Bookmark here

Also, I really have to stop losing myself in my thoughts like this, it's clearly not the time!Bookmark here

Next to me, Rin was making herself as small as possible, flat on her stomach in the thickets. Her gaze was on me, a worried look in her eyes.Bookmark here

Seeing me come to, she whispered, "What’s going on? Should we hide?"Bookmark here

I nodded, then raised my finger to the sky in silence. Rin immediately spotted the drone and gave a slight exclamation. I motioned for her to stand still. Soon after, the drone flew off to the north. I breathed a sigh of relief.Bookmark here

If the drone moves away, it is probably because the player it is accompanying is also leaving.Bookmark here

I explained to Rin in a few words the meaning of such a machine in the sky.Bookmark here

"It is a camera drone. It broadcasts live the actions of the player it is tracking. Spotting one of these things means only one thing: a top player is nearby."Bookmark here

Rin swallowed but did not answer.Bookmark here

"The drones only follow the strongest players: the ones who kill the most players or the former winners of the tournament. It's to make sure the spectators don't get bored and follow a view with action to spare."Bookmark here

Rin let out a little high-pitched whistle.Bookmark here

"So that was a close one! Thank God he didn't see us!"Bookmark here

She hurried to her feet, and hastily said to me, "We have to hurry to the other side! He might come back!"Bookmark here

I smiled at her innocent expression.Bookmark here

"Oh no! We're not going to run away! On the contrary, we'll follow it!"Bookmark here

My partner hiccuped in surprise.Bookmark here

"But you're hurt!" she shouted at me in a tearful tone. "You can't fight in this state!"Bookmark here

"Look, a camera drone is a double-edged sword, because it lets everyone know that a top player is there. It allows weak players to run away if they have time, and stronger players to prepare a plan of attack. Killing a player followed by a camera is a feat in itself and allows you to be propelled directly to the front of the stage, especially since, very often, the camera drone then starts following the new player!"Bookmark here

Still not reassured, Rin added, "But you don't intend to attack, do you?"Bookmark here

"Maybe not directly, no... But this chance is too good to miss! We only have to follow the drone to find a very good player, and if the conditions are right we can even eliminate him! That would be one less enemy that could have bothered us later."Bookmark here

Rin shook her head, adamant.Bookmark here

"You. Are. Not. In. Shape."Bookmark here

"We could just follow him! We don't have to attack directly, we can just scout him out!"Bookmark here

Without really knowing why my voice had become pleading. Realizing that I was like a child begging his mother to let him go out to play, I changed my strategy.Bookmark here

"You’re free to do what you want, but I'll go."Bookmark here

Rin immediately turned hot and answered me offended, "Oh, you're taking it like that!"Bookmark here

"Shhhh! Do you want us to be spotted?" I whispered to her.Bookmark here

She stumbled for a moment, then, in a low voice, said with her voice full of sorrow, "I thought we were a team…"Bookmark here

These words were like a stab in the heart. Even though I had only known her for a short time, not even two days in accelerated time, I had become attached to her. This separation wasn't doing me any good either, but if Rin refused to take risks, I was going to have to leave her behind. My goal was still the same: to win this tournament. With or without her. She left me no choice. I could tolerate her blunders as long as they didn't get us killed, but if she got in my way, then she was just a burden. With a heavy heart, I made my decision.Bookmark here

Sensing my confusion, Rin opened her mouth as if to follow up.Bookmark here

I immediately cut her off, "Please don't say any more."Bookmark here

I was well aware that if I let her say anything more, my resolve might waver.Bookmark here

Yes, on second thought, we should separate here. Our goals are fundamentally different, and she can't even aim! Taking her further wouldn't do any good: she would only slow me down.Bookmark here

Then, without giving her time to reply, I turned around.Bookmark here

"Farewell."Bookmark here

A bitter voice answered me, "Farewell, partner."Bookmark here

I clenched my fists. I must not turn around. I must not look back at the girl who was wiping her eyes, with sobs showing through her words.Bookmark here

Slowly, I walked away and headed in the direction the drone had disappeared. My heart was screaming at me to stop and turn around to comfort the one I left behind. To tell her that it was a joke and that I would never abandon her. My resolve wavered one last time, but I held on. I felt that if I turned around, my dream of victory would be gone. I might gain something else, but it was not a trade I was willing to make yet. Stifling the cries of my heart, I hurried as fast as I could despite my injured leg.Bookmark here

The forest seemed colder than ever. Without a sound, I shivered. Suddenly, I came to a steep slope. With my leg in such a state, I didn't think I could go down it, so I decided to follow its edge. Gradually, the hillside became a treeless ravine. I retreated a little to hide behind the little vegetation that remained.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the drone reappeared. It seemed to draw circles in the sky above the gully. I froze, my target was very close. Judging from the center of the ellipses it drew in the sky, the player couldn't have been more than 50 meters away from my position. I crawled closer to the edge, looking for my opponent. Bookmark here

Come on! He must be right in the dip to the side! I need to get a little further forward!Bookmark here

I pulled myself along the ground, clutching my hands to the edge of the gully, probably dug out by the rain. Suddenly, the ground gave way under my weight.Bookmark here

As I felt myself toppling forward, I tried to grab hold of anything I could get my hands on. I grabbed onto a root that was sticking out a little and tipped my body over. If I had to crash a dozen meters below, I preferred to fall on my legs rather than head first.Bookmark here

My fall stopped.Bookmark here

I almost breathed a sigh of relief when suddenly the root gave way. As I began to tumble again, I noticed some sort of dead shrub sticking out of the cliff. I planted my feet firmly on it to stop my fall. Immediately, searing pain shot through my thigh. Gritting my teeth with all my might, I stifled the scream that rose within me. If the man hadn't shown up yet, I didn’t want to add a scream, miracles didn’t happen twice.Bookmark here

Under my feet, the shrub was wobbling dangerously, it was not going to hold on much longer. I must have been only a meter from the edge, but there was no way I could climb back up, especially with an injured leg. I stifled an expletive. For a second, I thought about how Rin could help me get out of there, then thought better of it.Bookmark here

It's a good thing Rin isn't here, if she saw me like this right after we parted, I would be ashamed...Bookmark here

I scanned the wall for a hold, a root, or anything else that would allow me to pull myself out, but I didn't find anything. Looking up, the ledge seemed so close and yet so far away. Suddenly, a face surrounded by pink hair popped into my field of vision.Bookmark here

"Are you sure you don't need any help?"Bookmark here

My face became tinged with amazement as the newcomer continued in a mischievous tone, "Well, if you don't need help, I'm leaving. Anyway, we're not a team anymore, aren't we?"Bookmark here

Obviously, despite her mocking tone, Rin still had it in for me.Bookmark here

Swallowing my pride, I let out, "Please help me."Bookmark here

Rin seemed to hesitate and remained silent for a few seconds as if she was weighing the pros and cons of saving me. Then, she slowly nodded.Bookmark here

"I’m sorry, I don't feel like it anymore. See you later!"Bookmark here

With that, the fairy face disappeared. I was stunned.Bookmark here

"Wait, wait, wait! Come back!"Bookmark here

Her mischievous face reappeared at once.Bookmark here

"Yes? Is this for your last will and testament?"Bookmark here

A laugh escaped me.Bookmark here

"Okay, you've won! I apologize! Help me get out of this! Please, partner."Bookmark here

A big smile was painted on both our faces. On hers, it was a smile of victory, while on mine... Well, I didn't really know. Seeing that mischievous face again just after we parted just made me want to smile.Bookmark here

"Okay, count me in, partner!"Bookmark here

Just like before, she stressed the last syllables strongly. Bookmark here

"Erm… How do I do this?" she asked, a little embarrassed.Bookmark here

I shook my head, she would never change! And, to tell the truth, it was almost reassuring.Bookmark here

I explained to Rin the only idea I could think of, a rescue plan that involved her handing me her gun so I could use it as a rope and pull myself out. Soon I found myself out of trouble. I dropped heavily beside her, panting deeply. With the little strength she had, Rin was unable to pull me out alone, so I had to do most of the work myself. She looked at me a little embarrassed, knowing she hadn't been that great. I laughed quietly. Nothing had changed! And I was delighted.Bookmark here

Seeing my jovial air, my partner resumed in a stern tone, "You see what happens when you don't listen to me? I told you: you're in no condition."Bookmark here

In the end, she was right. Pained, I didn't answer.Bookmark here

"Come on, let's get out of here. We don't want the player with the drone stumbling on us."Bookmark here

With these words, she left in the opposite direction to the ravine and went into the forest. Without a word, I followed her.Bookmark here

Well, maybe she's not that useless after all... Besides, there's no harm in teaming up a bit more.Bookmark here

I was well aware that this situation could not last forever, but for the moment I was content with it. With a small smile, I caught up with my partner at the pace of my limping leg.Bookmark here

Behind us, the discreet hum of a drone followed.Bookmark here

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