Chapter 22:

New objective

BRO: Battle Royale Online


At the corner of an old dilapidated building, a faintly moonlit figure stood out. It seemed to be crouched against a wall, a metallic glint in its hands. A shadow left the cover of a building and suddenly appeared in the street ahead.

Immediately, the figure leaped to its feet and pointed its pistol straight at it, "Don’t move! If you take one more step I will not hesitate to shoot!"

The surprise and concern in her voice were clear.

The shadow answered, "Oh Rin! It's me!"

For some strange reason, the girl had the bad habit of always pointing her gun at her partner. He sighed and then approached her. Confused, she slowly lowered her weapon.

The man said to her, "Come on, put that away, you've already tried to shot me enough…"

Rin mumbled an apology and slid limply against the brick wall of the old building, before burying her head in her lap. Mordred sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders.

"You see, we made it out."

She sniffed. It was true: they were still alive. Except for one thing. One big detail.

Without even looking at him, she asked, "And Milena?"

The man shook his head.

"Sorry… She stayed behind to hold them back, and... I don't think she made it."

Rin clutched her knees tightly as if to keep herself from crying. They stayed like that for a while, motionless, close to each other. But Rin knew they couldn't stay like that forever. Despite the sweet sense of security she was feeling right now, she knew it was only an illusion. Players could still attack them at any moment.

Leaning against the wall, Rin slowly raised her head. Above her problems, the starry sky shone, as beautiful as it was distant.

In order not to be found by her enemies, Rin had run for a long time, turning randomly through the alleys. Several times, the ground almost gave way under her feet, but she never slowed down. After many minutes of running, she finally collapsed from exhaustion. She had to fight several times to prevent herself from turning back. With each explosion, she looked down to avoid seeing the sky light up behind her. She knew that if she ever turned around, she would freeze in place, torn between the desire to help her friends and her own incompetence. It was with a heavy heart of regret that she had finally found this old library of sorts. Judging that the disused factory was far enough away, it was there that she had decided to collapse. With her back against its brick facade, she thought about the real world.

Libraries had always soothed her. There was something about the smell of old paper books that made her want to dream. It was a feeling she did not find in the electronic books that were so common now. Losing herself in her thoughts, she thought of Milena again, or rather Miko in the real world. At their first meeting at school, Miko had brutally pushed away the young Rin who wanted to sympathize. She smiled at that memory. Miko had built a solid reputation in their class, many admired her but few dared approach her. Rin was proud to count herself among her friends. Little by little, she had broken down the ice mask Miko used to hide behind. Discovering that she was wearing a mask of violence here had deeply disturbed her. If she had ended up showing her true face in reality, it was only to better hide it in this world. Well, no matter what she decided to call herself: she would always remain her sweet Miko.

She contemplated the night sky. Was it the same one that Milena had observed through the roof of the collapsed factory before she died? Probably. A silent sadness gripped her heart. Game or not, she had the unpleasant feeling that she had just lost one of her dearest people.

Mordred gently shook her shoulder, pulling her out of her thoughts.

"I… I'm sorry, but we have to move. We can't stay out all night like this. And we need to recover."

It was no longer time for self-pity. Rin sniffed one last time before pulling herself together.

"We can spend the night in here if you want, the library looks pretty solid to me. One entrance, barricaded windows, and thick wooden doors. That should be enough for the night, right?"

The man's eyes widened. So she hadn't stopped here by chance?

Suddenly, Rin jumped to her feet. A new flame lit up in her eyes. She had nothing to gain by crying, if she wanted to be of any use to the man who accompanied her, she had to be brave. She reached out a hand to her seated companion to help him up. He raised his free hand and then pulled on hers as if to make sure the grip was secure. Immediately, Rin staggered. She withdrew her hand, then the man stood up, leaning against the wall. When they were both on their feet, a big smile lit up their faces. Rin sighed, despite the setback, it looked like their team was back on track. They had almost died, almost been separated, but in the end, their team had held together.

Under the watchful eye of his partner, the man in black approached the heavy wooden doors. A nailed board held them firmly closed. He examined the nails and then reached into his pocket to take out his knife to remove them. But he found nothing. He sighed with disappointment. His knife was probably still stuck in the neck of an opponent in the disused factory. Rin knew that he was particularly fond of this hunting knife, which had saved his life many times. He grumbled as if to himself, "Well, it looks like I have no choice…"

He raised his arm to signal Rin to move away, then took a few steps back. At once, he went straight to the door and broke it down with a violent shoulder blow. A huge crack sounded. Surprised, Rin prayed that it wasn't his shoulder. She heard him swear as he fell to the ground, carried away by his momentum. A slight smile came over the spectator's lips. The man gave her an angry look that only disappeared to be replaced by an embarrassed look. He stood up and dusted off his clothes.

Drawing his pistol, he went into the library. Rin drew hers and entered after him. Above her head, the moonlight was streaming in through a large skylight. A thin layer of dust covered the furniture and the shelves full of books. Curiosity overcame her at the sight of all these varied books and Rin rushed to take a closer look. She dusted off the edges of a few of them and was surprised to find novels she knew. She opened one at random, fearing to find blank pages. She recoiled in surprise. The content of the novel had also been replicated. How far had they pushed the realism?

Reading over her shoulder, Mordred seemed just as surprised as she was. Slowly, she put the book back down, restraining herself from opening another one at random. Looking up, she saw a huge staircase leading to a pitch-black floor. The library was much larger than it had seemed at first, with aisles of books already disappearing into darkness only on this floor.

Mordred tapped her shoulder. With a wave of his hand, he conveyed his message: he would explore upstairs, while she would stay downstairs. She nodded. Without exchanging a word, they parted.

Fifteen minutes later, Mordred went back downstairs and found Rin under the solid wood staircase. He slipped in and sat down next to her.

As he approached, she turned to him, "Go ahead and sleep first. You need to recover. With all this, you haven't even finished your night."

Grateful, Mordred hastened to lie down. He slipped a book that lay there under his head and immediately fell into a dreamless sleep. Rin looked at his soothed face. All along she had been following him without really knowing what to do, but now she had found a new goal: she wanted to help him. In Rin's opinion, Mordred deserved to accomplish his goal, he deserved to win. She tightened her grip on her gun. She was willing to do anything to help him win the tournament, even face her fears.

The moon disappeared on the other side of the skylight as the night began to lighten. Gently, so as not to disturb him too much, Rin shook her comrade. She too needed to sleep.

***

When my partner's eyes opened, the sun's rays were already filtering through the roof, illuminating the bookshelves that suddenly looked much less mysterious. She yawned quietly then came to sit next to me. I looked at her absently as I scrolled my holographic map in front of me. The satellite had just flown over us and the map was lit up with many red dots. As I passed over the desert area to the east, I noticed a single dot in its center. I smiled.

So he's waiting for me after all...

Rin was rubbing her eyes when she noticed my excited expression.

A question naturally crossed her lips, "Did something good happen?"

I shook my head.

"Something good? Not really... I just found my next objective."

I showed her my map and pointed to the lonely spot.

Her voice was tinged with surprise when she asked me, "Is that a friend?"

"Oh no, not even close! It’s…"

I thought for a few seconds.

"It’s more of a ritual, a habit in a way…"

Rin tilted her head to the side, not really understanding my explanation. To tell the truth, it was a bit blurred for me too. I closed my map after memorizing the direction of the point.

But hey, I'm expected, it would be wrong to refuse the invitation!

After sharing a survival ration, our daily meal, we got up on our feet. It was time to leave. I readjusted my sniper rifle behind my back and held up the rapid-fire one in my hands. Checking the condition of my weapons, I thought of my hunting knife. I was already missing it.

Slowly, I released my injured arm from its splint. I could move it with almost no pain. Milena's ointment was a miracle. I removed the bandage from my leg and looked at my wound: it was almost closed. I stretched a little to check that everything was in working order, I smiled as my partner looked at me with a surprised look.

Thank you, Milena, thanks to you I will be able to continue to fight to my fullest.

Leaving my bandages in place, I stepped out of our shelter and looked around the street. No one was there. I signaled to Rin to come over, and then we started walking.

As we headed straight for the desert through the ruined city, the landscape gradually changed. The dilapidated brick buildings were slowly giving way to a sort of suburban area with a railway line running through it. In the distance, what appeared to be the roof of a stadium stood out against the cloudless blue sky.

Suddenly, a bang echoed, soon followed by several others. Immediately, we fell to the ground. I opened my map and looked for the origin of the shots. About a hundred meters from our position, three red dots were intermittently lighting up. This was not the time to get caught up in another fight. Slowly straightening up, I indicated to Rin that we were going to take a detour. I swung to the left and crossed the tracks. On the other side, a stone wall towered over us. We couldn't stay at its feet: without any place to take cover, it would be way too dangerous. I stepped back a little to gain momentum, then dashed towards it. I planted my foot between two stones and quickly pulled myself to the top. Rin, who was still at the bottom, looked at me with round eyes.

"I may be agile, but I'm afraid I don't have enough strength to do this…"

She approached the wall and looked up at me.

"A little help?" she asked with an embarrassed smile.

I laughed softly, I kind of liked it when she needed me after all. I got down on one knee and offered her a hand. She stepped back slightly and then jumped up to take it, her foot resting against the stones. With difficulty, I pulled her up to my level. She collapsed next to me, both of us panting.

Between two breaths, she ranted, "Why couldn't I choose to be a man in this game? It would have been much more practical!"

She stood up and continued in the same grumpy tone, "Oh, come on! Nobody takes me seriously like that! Just because I'm a girl, everyone thinks I'm weak! It's tiring in the end!"

I stood up in turn, and we set off again. In front of me, Rin was still protesting about the unfair treatment she was receiving.

"If I had been able to change gender, everything would have been much easier... I would have had more strength, and that insufferable Virion would never have dared to make fun of me!"

The change of sex of the avatar... This was one of the debates that came up most on BRO. Until now, it was impossible to change your gender in-game or even your body type. This was supposed to allow the player to better control their avatar by creating it as close to their real body as possible.

In a soft voice, I tried to explain these subtleties to my partner, "It’s to facilitate immersion. Height, weight, and gender are all parameters that are blocked at character creation. You can only change the face or other details of the physical appearance."

Rin grumbled.

"You know, each gender has special attributes: men start with higher strength while women are more agile and have better basic accuracy. Although in your case I'm not sure you took advantage of the second bonus…"

She flushed slightly and then a small laugh of embarrassment escaped her. Suddenly, her voice was tinged with sadness.

"But still. Things would have been a lot different if Miko had been able to choose her gender…"

She shook her head. No, even if she had been able to choose, Milena would still have made the same choices and would have ended up following the same path.

We walked on for a little while in silence. Suddenly, Rin turned around and asked me with a puzzled look, "But does that mean that you are tall and thin too?"

"Yes, more or less…" I answered vaguely.

I saw a shiver of excitement run through my partner. She was definitely curious.

She continued, "And are you as athletic as you are here?"

I stopped.

"Not at all. I just decided to specialize in speed and assassination. My body just adapted in response."

Rin's face sank slightly as she saw my face close up.

In a slightly embarrassed voice, she finally said, "What about your face? Did you change it much or—"

Suddenly, a scream rang out, "Help, help!"