Chapter 15:

Epitaph Erased

Tales of Virtual Shopkeeper

Isn’t it strange how there’s always one player in the hero’s group who has the role of a Shopkeeper? Haven’t you ever wondered who, in a world of endless possibilities, would ever choose to play the mundane role of a Shopkeeper? …That would be me, Yuu Watanabe. I get tons of customers with interesting tales to tell. The smiles on their faces as they tell me all about their latest quests and achievements is the greatest high in the world. And that is why I chose to be a Shopkeeper in Utopia Online.Bookmark here

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…Of course, as I’m sure you’ve probably already guessed, I don’t spend all of my time playing this game. When I’m offline, I’m just your typical everyday highschool student.Bookmark here

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I had just returned home after a long day of surprise tests and exams. I kicked off my shoes at the genkan and called out to my father, letting him know that I was home. [Author’s note: A genkan is the entrance found in most traditional Japanese buildings, usually consisting of a porch and a doormat where one can place their shoes before entering the rest of the building.]Bookmark here

“Dad, I’m home!”Bookmark here

…No response. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. He was usually still at work around this time, but it was worth a shot. I stepped into the living-area and reached for the nearby television remote, turning on the TV. My heart immediately sank as I saw today’s news. Yet another murder. And once again, the culprit had eluded capture.Bookmark here

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I exhaled solemnly, turning off the TV and heading to my bedroom. This was the reason that I had gotten into Utopia Online in the first place – To escape from the harsh reality that we all live in. I arrived at my bedroom, flinging myself onto my bed. I reached over and grabbed the nearby VR headset, throwing off my glasses as I put it on over my face.Bookmark here

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As I opened my eyes, I was greeted by the comforting familiarity of a quaint Utopian village. As usual, I had spawned right outside of my shop. I grabbed the Sorry, we’re closed sign that hung on the Fantasy Shoppe’s door, flipping it over to display the Yes, we’re open message written on the other side. Finally, I opened up my inventory and withdrew the door key, ready to take my mind off of reality and start another shift as a virtual Shopkeeper. I put the key inside the keyhole and--Bookmark here

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-DINGALING!-Bookmark here

How unusual. The door opened by itself, without me even turning the key. Did I forget to lock it up yesterday? No, I’d never forget to do something like that, locking up my store always came as second nature to me. I slowly, cautiously, quietly entered the shop, and that’s when I saw him – The muscular man with a turban and facemask who was currently in the middle of raiding my cash register in broad daylight.Bookmark here

Smooth Criminal – Level 1 NecromancerBookmark here

His red breastplate covered his avatar’s pectoral muscles, but left his six-pack abs completely exposed. Even though he was currently stealing from my shop, I couldn’t help but stare awkwardly at his chest. (Come on, can you even blame me? He was a freaking dreamboat, for crying out loud!) And then I noticed it – The skull that was painted on the left breast of his armor.Bookmark here

“Of course,” I sighed, “Of course you’d be a member of the Crimson Kings Guild. Why is it that whenever something goes wrong in my life, it’s always one of you nutjobs?”Bookmark here

The thief immediately stopped looting my cash register as he quickly turned to face me.Bookmark here

“Gah,” he gasped, “Wh-what are you doing here?!”Bookmark here

“What am I doing here?!” I barked angrily, “This is my shop! What the Hell are YOU doing here, jackass?!”Bookmark here

“I’m taking back what’s mine,” the Necromancer yelled as he hastily removed a smoke bomb from his inventory and threw it to the ground.Bookmark here

-POOF!-Bookmark here

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“Hey! *Cough, cough!* Where are you?!” I sputtered, “Come out and fight me like a man!”Bookmark here

-DINGALING!-Bookmark here

Crap! That was the sound of someone leaving the Fantasy Shoppe! That means that he got away from me! I fumbled around haplessly in the smoke-filled room, groping the air around me until I eventually found the door handle.Bookmark here

-DINAGLING!-Bookmark here

He couldn’t have gone too far, I’d wager he got a ten second headstart at most. I looked around in all directions until my gaze eventually focused on the musclehead who was sprinting down a nearby alleyway.Bookmark here

“Hey, get back here,” I yelled as I gave chase.Bookmark here

But it was no use. He must have had a much faster Speed Stat than I did. After about 5 minutes, I stopped in my tracks as I gasped for air.Bookmark here

“Dammit… There’s no way… that I… can catch up… to him,” I panted.Bookmark here

Just then, I felt someone tap me on the back of my avatar’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“What is the matter, Yuu Watanabe?”Bookmark here

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I turned around to see a familiar girl wearing a red cheongsam dress and a silver crown.Bookmark here

Kaguya Fujiwara – Level 1000 PrincessBookmark here

“Ah, Lady Kaguya! Boy, am I glad to see you?”Bookmark here

“…Are you glad to see me, Yuu Watanabe?”Bookmark here

“It’s a rhetorical question, Princess,” I sighed, “A-anyway, that isn’t important right now! Do you see that guy over there?” I asked, pointing in the direction of Smooth Criminal.Bookmark here

“Indeed I do,” Lady Kaguya affirmed, nodding her head.Bookmark here

“He stole all the Gold from the Fantasy Shoppe! Can you help me catch up to him?”Bookmark here

“Sure, grab on,” the Princess smiled, offering me her hand.Bookmark here

I grabbed her hand as she began to walk... slowly… very slowly… very, very slowly.Bookmark here

“Uh… Lady Kaguya? Can’t you go any faster?” I complained.Bookmark here

“Faster?” she asked, stroking her chin thoughtfully, “Oh, of course I can!”Bookmark here

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Within a millisecond, her speed had increased from that of a snail’s pace to a rather implausible Mach 20! I desperately held onto Lady Kaguya’s hand as she zoomed down the alleyway. In a mere moment we had caught up to the thief… Only for the artificial lack-of-intelligence to immediately run past him.Bookmark here

“This is so much fun, Yuu Watanabe!”Bookmark here

Fun?! This is serious, Lady Kaguya,” I shouted, “You ran past the thief, you moron!”Bookmark here

“Oopsie,” she replied, sticking her tongue out, “I’ll get him next time!”Bookmark here

She turned around at lightning-fast speed and bolted down the alleyway once more.Bookmark here

“I’ve got you now, Criminal,” I yelled as we caught up to him once more… Only for Kaguya to once again run past him.Bookmark here

“This is too easy,” Smooth Criminal smugly called out from a distance, as we sped past him.Bookmark here

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“You have to be doing this on purpose,” I sighed.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry, Yuu Watanabe. It’s just really hard to control myself when moving around at such high speed.”Bookmark here

“Okay, I get it. You can stop now.”Bookmark here

Lady Kaguya did as instructed, coming to an immediate halt, flinging my body halfway across the alleyway in the process.Bookmark here

I picked myself up off the ground, making sure not to catch a glimpse up any nearby female players’ skirts or dresses. (It seemed that I found myself in that exact scenario so many times already, to the point that it was no longer comical…) I looked ahead, searching for Smooth Criminal.Bookmark here

“Dammit, Fujiwara! You let him get away,” I scolded.Bookmark here

“Do not fret, Yuu Watanabe. This alleyway only leads to one location, so he couldn’t have gone too far.”Bookmark here

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The two of us walked together, exiting the alleyway and arriving at a cemetery.Bookmark here

“This is the place, Yuu Watanabe,” the girl beamed.Bookmark here

“This is bad, Lady Kaguya! That guy was a Necromancer! We’ve walked right into his trap!”Bookmark here

“A Necro… what?”Bookmark here

The Princess was hopeless. How did she, a highly advanced AI created specifically for Utopia Online, not know about every single Class in the game?!Bookmark here

“A Necromancer, Lady Kaguya. Someone who can revive the dead.”Bookmark here

“L-like skeletons and stuff?” the Princess stammered. I guess someone decided it would be a good idea to program her with a fear of the undead?Bookmark here

As if to prove my hypothesis correct, a bony arm reached out from the ground and stroked Princess Kaguya Fujiwara’s leg.Bookmark here

“EEEEEEEK!” the girl screamed, quickly wrapping herself around my avatar’s body, “Hold me, Yuu Watanabe!”Bookmark here

I blushed as she shoved my face deep into the cleavage of her B cup breasts.Bookmark here

“L-Lady Kaguya, there’s no need to be afraid,” I sighed, “You’re the strongest character on the server. You could easily take out a couple of skeletons!”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

She lightly tapped the skeletal arm and watched as it poofed out of existence, leaving nothing but a few Ability Crystals.Bookmark here

“Oh, aheheh,” she blushed, “False alarm.”Bookmark here

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The two of us continued onward going deeper into the cemetery. I hacked down a few skeletons with a sword from my inventory, but Lady Kaguya did most of the work. As we drew closer to Smooth Criminal, I couldn’t help but think about what he had said earlier. ‘I’m taking back what’s mine!’ What did he mean by that? What had I taken from him? I didn’t even know who he was, for flip’s sake!Bookmark here

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“So, you actually made it past my undead army?” a voice asked.Bookmark here

I looked over to a nearby hill and saw the Necromancer posing menacingly against a full moon.Bookmark here

“There’s nowhere to run, Smooth! Give me back my Gold and we’ll spare your life!”Bookmark here

“This isn’t your Gold, Watanabe! It’s mine! Don’t you realize who I am?”Bookmark here

“Um… some hottie who steals people’s Gold while they’re offline?”Bookmark here

“H-hottie?!” the thief stammered.Bookmark here

“Oh, my,” Kaguya giggled, turning towards me, “Is Yuu Watanabe… Yuu Watana-gay?” When did the AI girl become so snarky?Bookmark here

“Yuu Watanabe is Yuu Watana-bi,” I corrected her.Bookmark here

“Hey, up here,” the Necromancer called out, “Did you forget about me? I was about to reveal my true identity!”Bookmark here

“Look, man. I honestly don’t care,” I said, “Just give me the Gold back, dude.”Bookmark here

“Hmph! You may not care right now, but what if I…”Bookmark here

Smooth Criminal paused for effect, but the dramatic effect that he was going for was immediately ruined by his struggle to remove his facemask and turban.Bookmark here

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“H-how do you take this stuff off?!”Bookmark here

After a few more seconds, he had unmasked himself, revealing a familiar avatar.Bookmark here

“What if I removed my disguise? Do you care now?!” he shouted.Bookmark here

“Y-you’re… REX?!”Bookmark here

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The hacker walked down the hill and stared me in the face.Bookmark here

“That’s right, Watanabe. It’s me, the Crusader that you stole from,” he barked, “I just wanted to take back the Gold that was rightfully mine!”Bookmark here

“That Gold was never rightfully yours,” I jeered, “You obtained it through hacking. And speaking of which, didn’t I report your account to the development team?”Bookmark here

REX’s face turned to that of a grimace. “Yes, yes you did! Why do you think that I’m playing as a Level 1 Necromancer?!”Bookmark here

“Because you changed your Class?” the Princess asked.Bookmark here

“No, you moron,” he yelled, “I had to create a new account from scratch, since this jerk terminated my old one! And I can’t even use hacks anymore, or else I’ll get ban--”Bookmark here

“Hey,” I interrupted, “No one calls Lady Kaguya a moron, except me.”Bookmark here

“Oh? And what are you gonna do about it?” REX scoffed.Bookmark here

I looked over to Lady Kaguya and nodded. “Finish him.”Bookmark here

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The artificial intelligence opened up her inventory and withdrew a sword – A bronze sword… The same bronze sword that I had pawned off on her a few months ago. Oh, great. She wouldn’t be able to defeat REX with such a flimsy weapon.Bookmark here

-SLASH!-Bookmark here

…Or so I thought. With a single swing of her sword, REX’s avatar fell to the ground. I guess I shouldn’t have underestimated the Princess’s Strength.Bookmark here

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Lady Kaguya Fujiwara and I stood over REX’s unconscious body as we waited for him to respawn. After what felt like forever, his avatar’s eyes slowly began to open.Bookmark here

“Urgh… what happened?”Bookmark here

“We defeated you, Smooth Criminal,” Lady Kaguya replied, “Now return the Gold that you stole from Yuu Watanabe.”Bookmark here

REX’s eyes widened.Bookmark here

“W-wow, Princess,” he muttered, his cheeks reddening, “I can see up your dress.”Bookmark here

“Oh, my. Do you want me to kill you again, Smooth Criminal?” the girl chuckled.Bookmark here

REX frantically got up onto his feet. “N-nope! Definitely not! Pl-please forgive me, Princess!”Bookmark here

“She’ll forgive you if you return my Gold,” I smirked.Bookmark here

“Fine,” he sighed, removing a bag of Gold from his inventory and tossing it by my feet, “Now what? Are you gonna report me again?”Bookmark here

“Huh? Why would I do that?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“Because I… raided your cash register?”Bookmark here

“So? That isn’t a bannable offense,” I stated.Bookmark here

“Yuu Watanabe is right,” the Princess added, “Stealing from other players is a completely natural part of Utopia Online.”Bookmark here

“Wait, so you’re really not going to report my account?”Bookmark here

“Nope,” I smiled, reaching out a hand, “Water under the bridge, REX?”Bookmark here

“I guess,” REX blushed, looking away as he shook my hand. After a couple of seconds, he broke off the handshake, walking away as he held up his hand and performed a v-sign.Bookmark here

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“Peace and love. No hard feelings, or whatever.”Bookmark here

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