Chapter 28:

Fantasy Shoppe of Horrors

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... 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 third-year highschool girl.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I stood outside Basilisk no Shita, the best restaurant in all of Utopia Online. I had left the Fantasy Shoppe earlier than usual, leaving Kyou Kitamura in charge while I was gone. It had been a hot minute since I last indulged in Basilisk no Shita’s bomb-ass pizza, and I could really use a good pick-me-up right about now. I entered the restaurant and took a seat at a nearby table, ready to make an order.Bookmark here

“Hello, sir. How can I help you today?”Bookmark here

I looked over at the shortstack waitress who had come to take my order.Bookmark here

Jo Mama – Level 11 WitchBookmark here

“Oh, hello again, Jo,” I smiled, “You’re still covering for Jackie? Shouldn’t she have finished her exams by now?”Bookmark here

Jo furrowed her brow and looked away, muttering something.Bookmark here

“What was that? I didn’t hear you.”Bookmark here

“…She’s dead,” the waitress repeated, “Jackie is dead.”Bookmark here

“Wh-wha? But how,” I gasped, “She was only in her twenties, wasn’t she?!”Bookmark here

Jo placed a hand on my shoulder and gave me a solemn look.Bookmark here

“The authorities believe that… Watashi was the culprit...”Bookmark here

Bookmark here


Bookmark here

-DINGALING!-Bookmark here

I had stumbled back to Fantasy Shoppe, barely even able to see due to the tears that stained the lenses of my avatar’s red-framed glasses. I couldn’t eat at Basilisk no Shita, that would just bring back too many painful memories of talking to Jackie during her work breaks. Truth be told, I have no idea why I had ran back to my shop. It’s not like I’ve got some sort of ware that can revive real people from the dead! Life after death is –as far as science is concerned– scientifically impossible, meaning that Jackie was just… gone.Bookmark here

“Boss,” Kyou screamed, flying out of the storage-closet and slamming the door behind him, “Thank the gods that you’re here! There’s a ghost in the closet!”Bookmark here

A ghost? I wasn’t in the mood for this chicanery. A while back, when he pulled this prank on Chris, it was kind of amusing, but now it felt incredibly tasteless.Bookmark here

“I’m not in the mood, Kyou,” I sobbed lightly.Bookmark here

“No, Boss! This isn’t just some kind of joke,” he squeaked, “There really is a--”Bookmark here

-THUD!-Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Kyou and I looked over in the direction that that loud ‘thud!’ had come from – The storage-closet.Bookmark here

“You’re on your own, Boss,” Kyou said, removing his VR headset and despawning from the game.Bookmark here

I could tell that Kyou was genuinely scared, his mannerisms were too realistic to be faked. This really wasn’t a joke. He really did believe that there was a ghost in the closet! But that’s impossible, right? There are many different types of monsters in Utopia Online’s bestiary, but ghosts weren’t one of them. My sorrow had been replaced with curiosity and fear as I cautiously opened the storage-closet.Bookmark here

“Hello,” I called out, “Is anyone there?”Bookmark here

I stepped into the storage-room, picking up a nearby flashlight and shining it randomly at the shelves.Bookmark here

“Is this you, REX? Are you trying to steal from me?” No response.Bookmark here

“Dorothy? Did you sneak in through the back entrance?” No response.Bookmark here

“Mister Mul? Is this another surprise inspection?” No response.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I turned off the flashlight and put it in my inventory. This had to be a prank, right? There was no other explanation!Bookmark here

-THUD!-Bookmark here

And just as quickly as I had put the flashlight in my inventory, I took it out again and shined it out in front of me.Bookmark here

“I-I know someone’s there,” I wailed nervously, “I’m not going to hurt you, so you can stop hiding.”Bookmark here

“I can?” a female voice asked. It had a distinct otherworldly echo to it, yet it didn’t sound like her voice was being ran through a voice-changer.Bookmark here

Out of thin air, a floating doll-like girl appeared in front of me. Her eyes looked lifeless, yet the rest of the girl’s body seemed full of expression. Was this some new kind of boss monster?Bookmark here

Mayoi Oda – [TL note: This is just a series of random characters. It has literally no meaning whatsoever.]Bookmark here

No, that couldn’t be the case. Mao was the only boss monster that had a name displayed above their head. Maybe this girl was an AI player then? That would explain it. But what the heck was up with her Level and Class? It just looked like a glitchy string of random letters! And why did her name sound so familiar?Bookmark here

“Hello,” the girl said softly, “I am Mayoi Oda, the zashiki-warashi that lives in your shop.” [TL note: Zashiki-warashi are spirits spoken of in Japanese folklore, particularly in the Iwate Prefecture. Typically, they are said to live in houses or parlors, bringing good fortune to the other inhabitants.]Bookmark here

Bookmark here

A zashiki-warashi, eh? I suppose she did look the part – Small stature, short bob cut hair and a childlike appearance. The only thing that seemed out of place was the one-piece competition swimsuit that she wore underneath her open furisode.Bookmark here

“What’s up with the swimsuit?” I asked.Bookmark here

“That was the outfit that my avatar was wearing when I died,” she answered.Bookmark here

“You’re really dedicated to the whole ‘zashiki-warashi’ bit, huh?”Bookmark here

“This isn’t a ‘bit’,” she stated ominously, “I really am a zashiki-warashi...”Bookmark here

“Nice try, but do you honestly expect me to believe that?” I smirked, “There are no undead Classes in this game, so you can’t be a zashiki-warshi!”Bookmark here

“I’m not talking about the game, Shopkeeper,” she floated closer to my avatar, whispering in my ear, “I’m talking about real life. I really am a ghost, Yuu Watanabe.”Bookmark here

The air around me suddenly got colder as various objects around me started to float in mid-air. Was this some sort of Skill that I was unaware of, or was this girl really using spectral powers?Bookmark here

“My name. You recognize it, don’t you?”Bookmark here

“Y-yeah,” I replied nervously, “But I can’t think where I’ve heard it before.”Bookmark here

“Perhaps they read out my obituary on the news?” she suggested.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

That was it! Mayoi Oda – That was the name of one of Watashi’s victims. A young girl who had her whole life ahead of her, but was tragically taken from this Earth before her time... Just like Jackie, the friendly waitress from Basilisk no Shita. Bookmark here

“Cut the crap,” I yelled, my face contorting into an enraged grimace, “Taking the name of a murder victim and pretending to be her ghost! What kind of sick joke is that?! Do you think you’re funny?!”Bookmark here

“I told you that this isn’t a bit,” she leered, leaning in even closer as she pressed her avatar’s face against mine, “I am Mayoi Oda, the girl killed by Watashi.”Bookmark here

I shoved her away and began to walk back to the exit. I wasn’t in the mood to stand here and play along with this troll’s garbage. I opened the door, gesturing for the so-called ghost to leave.Bookmark here

“Get out of my shop,” I said bluntly.Bookmark here

“Don’t you know that it’s bad luck to kick a zashiki-warashi out of your establishment?”Bookmark here

“Whatever, I can’t be bothered to interact with you anymore,” I sighed, “Just don’t touch anything.”Bookmark here

I stepped past the doorway to the storage-closet, ready to close it.Bookmark here

“Wait a second, I need to know something,” Mayoi called out, “Have the police figured out what connects Watashi’s victims?”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

-SLAM!-Bookmark here

I slammed the door shut. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t feel like conversing with a troll about the person who had just murdered one of my acquaintances. But what if she really was the real Mayoi Oda? No, that’s crazy. There is no such thing as zashiki-warashi, and even if there was, what reason would a dead girl have to play a videogame?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Have the police figured out what connects Watashi’s victims?’ What did she mean by that? Age, race, sex, blood type… None of those details were consistent within the serial killer’s victims. Did this girl have some sort of information on Watashi? Was this whole thing just a roundabout confession?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

No, don’t be ridiculous, Shiotani. She was just trolling you… right?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Bookmark here

END OF PURCHASEBookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.