Chapter 19:

The Star Devourer

BRO: Battle Royale Online

As we walked along the cover of the buildings, no one spoke. We moved from shadow to shadow, guns in hand, Milena having retrieved hers despite my complaints. Above our heads, the moon rose lazily, eclipsing a small area of the starry sky. With no light to conceal it, the Milky Way was visible in all its glory. Despite the tension I felt, I couldn't help but find it beautiful. Next to me, Rin didn't even look where she was going, just looking up with an expression of wonder on her face. It was truly sublime. We would never have been able to see such a sight in the real world. I could hardly remember the last time I had seen a star in real life. I shook my head in disappointment. Only in the virtual world was this kind of landscape still visible. Almost anywhere else the light pollution would hide even the brightest star. One of the two original creators of BRO had a passion for nature. When developing his game, he wanted to capture the true beauty of nature that too few people knew about. And he had outdone himself. Once again, I was struck by the stunning contrast between the violence of this virtual world and its singular beauty.

Feeling the pressure of a gaze, I lowered my eyes. A few steps ahead of us, Milena was staring at me with a look of disgust. Her tongue clicked in disapproval as she saw her friend lost in contemplation.

We entered a narrow alley, and the starry sky became a thin strip above us. Disappointed, Rin lowered her head, before turning her attention back to the young woman who was leading the way. Noticing that her friend was back with us, Milena called out to her.

"You were lucky I recognized your face, you know. I was about to blow you away with my grenade launcher!"

Rin swallowed, then realizing something, she exclaimed, "That means I was right not to change it then!"

Realizing her mistake, Milena snapped back, "Of course not, silly!"

But it was too late, Rin was already turning a deaf ear, a fake innocent smile on her lips.

Milena clicked her tongue and entered another alley. Suddenly, the buildings parted to make way for a large square centered by a dried-up fountain. An old disused factory stood there, towering above it. "This is it, we've arrived."

Tightening her grip on her gun, she signaled us to stop making noise. Silently, we approached a wide concrete wall with rusty stairs leading to a kind of old closed iron door.

She whispered, "Wait here, I'll be right back."

I arched an eyebrow, but without giving me time to question her, she jumped onto the stairs, and then slowly climbed the steps, keeping the squeaking to a minimum. Eventually, she reached the door and decided to smash it down with a violent kick. With a loud crash, the door gave way and Milena stepped inside. Immediately, a bang echoed. There was a slight silence and then two more blasts followed. A familiar beeping sound echoed in the night.

As soon as the first shot was fired, I flattened myself against the wall and drew my assault rifle with my single good hand. Although I was much less accurate with this hand, I judged that it was better than remaining unarmed. Beside me, Rin had dropped to one knee and was staring at the opening with her pistol in hand. I sighed slightly: she had never used the gun she had taken from the commander.

Shortly after, a figure emerged from the doorway. I raised my rifle, ready to fire vaguely at my target, but it was Milena's voice that rang out.

"It’s all clear, you can come!"

Relieved, I put my gun away and Rin did the same. Milena beckoned us to join her before disappearing again. I approached the stairs. We had no choice but to jump over an old iron railing to get to it. I sighed, with my leg in such a state, it was not going to be fun. Seeing my dejected expression, Rin offered to help me, which I gladly accepted. One leg after the other, supported by my partner who was looking at me with a diligent look, I crossed the railing of the stairs.

"Well, it's not glorious…"

Above us, Milena who had just reappeared was judging me with a disdainful look. I stifled an insult, judging that it would not be appropriate, and started to climb the stairs with the help of my partner. Milena clicked her tongue again, showing her disapproval.

Passing over the old metal door, we entered the derelict factory, and our footsteps echoed on a metal structure. A few meters further on, the body of a man lay with a skull and crossbones icon floating above it.

I questioned Milena, "I thought this was your hideout?"

She grimaced.

"When I said 'my' hideout, I may have exaggerated things a bit. I'm just using it to stash the grenade stocks I've collected since the tournament started."

As she did so, she lifted a tarpaulin in a corner, revealing a crate filled with all kinds of explosives.

"Besides, it's obvious that since I spend my nights chasing sleeping players, I don't spend much time here. It was inevitable that a grunt would show up here at some point. Did you see the size of that thing? It's not really discreet."

"You could have warned us at least!"

"I did warn you! I told you to stay downstairs! I always leave the door open, so when I saw it closed I knew something was up. But now I'll have to find something else since I broke it down…"

She looked at me as if to say: "See? No worries!" She considered that she had done everything correctly, and did not see the problem at all. Her carelessness made me want to scream. What if there had been more of them? What if other players were waiting outside? This was exactly why I couldn't stand her: our approaches were far too different. She was always charging in, never making a plan. She relied solely on her weapons and reflexes, ready to blow everything up at any moment. I shivered. This one also gave me the creeps. Seeing my confusion, Milena gave me a confused look, which I saw for the first time.

She’s capable of that kind of expression too? Isn't her face stuck on the 'bursting into evil laughter and blowing up everything in sight' option?

I shook my head. I didn't know the real Milena, but this one was already giving me a hard time.

Suddenly, Rin's voice rang out in an unusually serious tone, "Miko…"

"I already told you not to—"

"Please help me heal Mordred!"

She almost shouted these last words and promptly bowed to a stunned Milena.

Eyes fixed on the steel floor, Rin continued, "We’re out of ointment, almost out of bandages and I don't know what else to do! Please help us."

Her voice had become pleading, sobs almost audible in her throat. Snapping out of her stupor, Milena hurried to straighten her friend out.

"You don't have to do this! If you want me to do you a favor, just ask me! We're friends, after all, right?"

Rin nodded briskly as she wiped her eyes.

"It’s just that I understood that it wasn't really a party between you two, so… I was afraid you'd refuse…"

"It might be true that we don't get along well…" At these words, she glared at me, but when she turned back to Rin, her face expressed nothing but kindness. "But if you ask me, I'll make an effort!"

Rin thanked her warmly, before asking in an embarrassed tone, "And do you have any bandages or anything to give us too?"

Milena shook her head, an amused smile on her lips.

"Yes, help yourself, they're next to the explosives. But be careful not to touch the grenade box! Normally it doesn't work like that, but I'm sure you'd manage to blow us up without even trying!"

The grateful smile that had appeared on Rin's face disappeared in an instant and was replaced by a slightly offended expression. Milena burst out laughing.

"Go ahead, I'm teasing you, it can't blow up like that anyway."

Rin then walked away, leaving me alone with Milena. Her face closed in right away.

"I’m going to treat you, but you must understand that I'm not doing it purely out of kindness. I intend to pay my debt with this. Once I've finished, we'll be even, okay?"

Confused, I repeated, "Even?"

"Yes, for saving Rin and keeping her alive for so long. For that, I'm grateful. I was really worried about her, you know?"

Her serious and benevolent tone caught me off guard. I had never seen this side of my nemesis. She took out her first aid kit, and re-bandaged me, starting with my leg. She winced at the sight of my wound, then applied a special ointment with a heady smell I had never seen before. The pain went away almost instantaneously.

Seeing my surprised expression, Milena explained, "It’s brand new: it was just added to the game with the new update, and it's super rare! Only one of these ointments is already worth a small fortune! It immediately soothes the pain and greatly speeds up the healing process!"

She then went after my arm, and the pain disappeared with the same astonishing speed. This object was incredible. I was stunned: thinking that Milena would use such a rare object for me was inconceivable. Looking at my stunned face, a slight laugh escaped her.

"Think of it as a way to thank you."

I nodded slowly. Yes, I should be able to do that, but a strange feeling had been running through my mind ever since she had started talking to me. As if there was something else. An undertone that I didn't like. Then it hit me.

As if to check, I asked her in a suspicious tone, "And Rin?"

"It's obvious: she's going to come with me. Don't you think you've done enough already? Go finish your tournament on your own, I'll release you from your burden. After all, it was me she was supposed to join, right?"

I swallowed. And there it was, what I had feared had happened: Rin was going to leave with Milena. This thought saddened me deeply. I had never laughed as much as when I was with her. Of course, I had never been so close to death either, but I didn't want us to part now. It was too soon! I had a feeling that if we continued as a team for a while longer, something great could come out of it. Over time, Rin had become much more than a simple burden or a mascot, I had become attached to her, and now I didn't want us to be separated. Or not in this way anyway.

Rin chose this moment to return, her arms loaded with ointments of all kinds. She glanced at the splint Milena was making for my arm, then asked in a cheerful voice, "What are you talking about?"

Only Milena answered, "About your change of team. From now on you're going back with me. Don't you think you've bothered Mordred enough?"

The balms crashed to the ground with a dull sound. Rin, with her arms dangling, looked at us in turn with a baffled expression. As if seeking refuge, she stared into my eyes, but I simply turned my head away. I couldn't stand her gaze any longer.

Even if I didn't want her to leave, the decision was no longer mine. In truth, I was just a stranger who had become involved in their business by a twist of fate. And after Milena had taken care of me, I no longer had the right to speak. Her deal was fair. It was even worse than that: it was not only fair but also completely legitimate. I had nothing to do here anymore. I just had to wait for Rin to accept and for them both to walk away, leaving me alone behind, just like before.

With a firm voice, Rin gave her answer, "No."

We were stunned for a few seconds.

What do you mean by "no"?

As we stared at her determined face with big round eyes, she continued, "I’m not going back alone with you."

The three of us remained silent, not sure how to react. I glanced discreetly at Milena, who immediately returned my gaze, as surprised as I was. Then Rin's voice rang out again in a cheerful tone that contrasted sharply with the heavy atmosphere.

"What if the three of us teamed up?"

This time it was our turn to exclaim. Like one man, my voice and Milena's rose at the same time, "No !"

For once, we agreed...

I shrugged my shoulders after a few seconds of reflection. As much as I couldn't stand that girl if it meant I could stay with Rin a little longer, I was willing to give in. After all, it was her choice. It didn't matter what she chose, in any case, I would have to comply. Firm in my new decision, I opened my mouth to announce it.

But suddenly, a bang echoed and a bullet ricocheted off the floor of the metal structure.

Outside, a voice rang out, "Milena Starlust! We know you're in here! Get out of here, we'll kill you!"

A big smile turned up the corners of the lips of the one concerned, revealing a toothy grin.

Then, turning to us, she said, "We’ll postpone this debate, wait for me for five seconds. I'll be back."

Rin also drew her pistol.

"I warn you: I won't change my mind. And we'll help you too! Isn't that right, Mordred?"

I nodded and drew my assault rifle. Milena sighed and shook her head.

"What am I going to do with you…"

Then she turned evil again and said, "Here we go!"

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