Chapter 24:

Yui's Story: Utopia Offline

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. I study, hang out with my best friend, play video games (obviously) and, of course, I love to listen to the stories of those around me. Really, I’m not that different from how I present myself in Utopia Online… Well, maybe I’m not exactly a muscular High Elf, but other than that I--Bookmark here

“Miss Shiotani,” a voice called out, interrupting my internal monologue.Bookmark here

I turned around to see one of my teachers giving me a stern look.Bookmark here

“Wh-what’s up, Sir?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Your skirt is hiked up too high, Miss Shiotani,” the man scolded, “That goes against the school’s dress code! Roll it down at once!”Bookmark here

“Aheh. Sorry,” I blushed, rolling my skirt down to an acceptable length.Bookmark here

“Now run along to class, Miss Shiotani.”Bookmark here

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…Oh, right. Did I forget to mention that I’m actually a third-year highschool girl in real life? (I mean, it was kind of obvious. How else would I have been so knowledgeable about where to buy voice-changing VR headsets?)Bookmark here

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Today was a school day just like any other. I sat through several grueling classes, ran a few laps during PE class and talked with some of my friends. Now it was lunchbreak, and I was sitting beside my childhood best friend Nagisa Mul. Nagisa is a half-Japanese, half-Korean boy with the build of a string bean – Somewhat skinny, but rather tall. He speaks with a rather soft, effeminate voice, yet he can easily command the attention of any room should he so desire. (Basically, he was the exact opposite of me.) Whereas he was tall, I was short. His voice was surprisingly feminine, while mine was somewhat masculine. His short and dyed white hair was the perfect contrast to my natural long and black hair.Bookmark here

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As his name implies, Nagisa Mul is related to GaRam Mul (the man behind the revolutionary VR technology of Utopia Online), making him the heir to the ImagineTech company. Yet strangely, Nagisa has no interest in Utopia Online. In fact, he’s never even played the game before, nor does he have any desire to inherit the partial rights to the game after his father passes. Instead, Nagisa wants to create his own virtual reality videogame. He’s currently taking a computer design course and hopes to make a VRMMO game that’s even better and more realistic than Utopia Online. All he’d need to make his dream come true is his father’s revolutionary technology, but unfortunately GaRam isn’t willing to give up his patent that easily.Bookmark here

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“Hey, Yui,” Nagisa said, my internal monologue being interrupted once more. (Yui Shiotani – That was my real name.)Bookmark here

“Hm? What’s up, Nagi?” I asked.Bookmark here

“I don’t think we should hang out anymore,” he stated.Bookmark here

Huh? That came out of nowhere. Was he joking?Bookmark here

“But why? Aren’t we friends, Nagi?”Bookmark here

“Are we, Yui? We barely even hang out anymore! You’re always too busy playing that stupid game!”Bookmark here

“Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked, “That means that I’m a fan of your dad’s work!”Bookmark here

“Screw my dad,” he scoffed, “He cares more about that stupid game than me!”Bookmark here

“I’m sure that’s not true,” I exclaimed, “Your dad loves you very much!”Bookmark here

“Yui, I’m going to give you two choices,” Nagisa sighed, “Either stop playing that game, or else stop hanging out with me.”Bookmark here

“B-but I can’t just stop playing Utopia Online! I’ve made a lot of friends on there!”Bookmark here

“That settles it,” he huffed, getting out of his seat and walking towards the exit of the classroom, “We’re through, Yui.”Bookmark here

-SLAM!-Bookmark here

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What was going on? Everything had just happened so fast and so suddenly. Was Nagisa really going to cut all ties with me just because I played Utopia Online a bit too much? …No, he was probably just in a bad mood or something. After all, he’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember. I let out a loud sigh as I flumped my body down on the desk. What was he so upset about? Did he always have such a rocky relationship with his father that I was just somehow unaware of? I suppose Mister Mul’s refusal to allow his own son to use ImagineTech’s realistic VR technology might have had a negative effect on their relationship…Bookmark here

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I returned home after school, leaving my shoes at the genkan.Bookmark here

“Dad, I’m home!”Bookmark here

…No response, as to be expected. I stepped into the living-area and reached for the nearby television remote, turning on the TV. Even before the TV turned on, I was fully expecting to see that yet another horrible story had made the news headlines. And, surprise, surprise, I was correct.Bookmark here

“The Tokyo Police Department have been alerted to yet another murder,” the newswoman said, “It is suspected that this is once again the work of the illusive Watashi.” Bookmark here

Watashi – That was the nickname that the authorities had given to the person suspected to be responsible for all of the killings that had recently been making the headlines. He or she was called as such due to the fact that they always left some cotton at the scene of the crime to taunt authorities. [TL note: Watashi () is typically the Japanese word for “I” or “me”, although here it is written as 綿. Wata (綿) means “cotton” and shi () means “death”, referencing the killer’s trademark of leaving cotton at the scene of the crime.]Bookmark here

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I sighed, turning off the TV and heading to my room. Out of the blue, my lifelong best friend told me that he doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore, plus there’s a serial killer on the loose? How could real life possibly get any worse than this? …No, I probably shouldn’t think like that. I don’t want to end up jinxing something.Bookmark here

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