Chapter 32:

Ghost in the Machine (Part 2)

Tales of Virtual Shopkeeper

Nagisa and I seem to be friends again, although this development came at a cost – The death of GaRam Mul, Nagisa’s father and the man largely responsible for the creation of Utopia Online. Although I’m not sure what Nagi has against the game, I had promised to stop playing Utopia Online if it would help make him feel better. However, there was something that I had to do first.Bookmark here

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Mayoi Oda (the so-called zashiki-warashi who lived in my virtual shop’s storage-closet) seemed to know something about Watashi –the killer who murdered Nagi’s father– so I had decided to ask her for more information and, apparently, she had figured out that Watashi exclusively targets people who play Utopia Online. I couldn’t help but think back to the accusation that Homura had made earlier that day – That Nagisa was Watashi. Nagi did seem to have an unusual hatred towards Utopia Online, but that wouldn’t drive him to commit murder… would it?Bookmark here

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As I exited the storage-closet, I saw an unfamiliar man(?) sitting in the swivel chair – A Therianthrope with large curled horns and wool all over their body. Their avatar’s face was adorned with a skull mask, not unlike the kind that one might wear during the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos.Bookmark here

“Hello there, Shopkeeper,” they spoke with a deep, obviously synthesized voice, “It’s a beautiful day for a murder, is it not?”Bookmark here

綿死 – Level 4 TherianthropeBookmark here

“I-it can’t b-be,” I stammered, “Are you r-really…”Bookmark here

“That’s right,” the killer laughed, “I am Watashi. But you already figured that out, didn’t you, Yuu Watanabe? Or should I call you… Yui Shiotani?”Bookmark here

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Impossible! Just now, they called me Yui Shiotani! How the Hell did they know my real name?! There was no way they could know that, unless… they really were Nagisa Mul? But surely there was another explanation? If Nagi really was Watashi, then he wouldn’t have given me such an obvious clue. He’s much smarter than that! (Unless this was actually all an elaborate double-bluff and Nagisa truly is Watashi?) And besides, I don’t even have any proof that this guy is the real Watashi! But if they aren’t Watashi, then who are they?Bookmark here

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Perhaps Bonabelle or Homura had created an alternate account in order to play a prank on me? That would be a rather distasteful stunt, but I couldn’t rule out that possibility. Or rather I didn’t want to rule out that possibility. I wanted to believe so hard that this wasn’t the real Watashi.Bookmark here

“Hey, are you listening to me?” the so-called Watashi scowled.Bookmark here

“Okay, you got me,” I chuckled nervously, “Who are you really though? Bonnie?”Bookmark here

The Therianthrope didn’t respond.Bookmark here

“P-perhaps you’re Homura?” I asked, still feeling on edge, “Although I would’ve thought that even a basic farce like this would’ve been too complicated for you.”Bookmark here

The Therianthrope didn’t respond.Bookmark here

“Did Mayoi put you up to this?” I sighed, “I knew that she was just messing with me. How could I have been so gullible?”Bookmark here

“I am Watashi,” the supposed murderer replied bluntly, “I am the one who killed your best friend’s father.”Bookmark here

“This isn’t funny! Whoever you are, you had better cut this crap out! You can either purchase something from me, or else get the Hell out of my shop.”Bookmark here

“A white t-shirt...”Bookmark here

“You… want to buy a white t-shirt?”Bookmark here

“A green knee-length skirt, and also a pair of pink and white striped tights,” the mysterious Therianthrope added smugly.Bookmark here

A white t-shirt, a green skirt, striped pantyhose… Wait a second, that wasn’t a request! That’s what I was currently wearing in real life!Bookmark here

“H-how do you know what I’m wearing right now?!”Bookmark here

“Remove your ImagineTech headset, Yui Shiotani,” they said threateningly, “But do keep your earpiece attached. I still want to be able to communicate with you.”Bookmark here

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I nervously removed my headset, the walls of the Fantasy Shoppe disappearing and being replaced by my dimly lit bedroom. I had almost expected to find the serial killer standing right behind me, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. I breathed out a sigh of relief, but was quickly interrupted by Watashi’s synthesized voice in my ear.Bookmark here

“Look out the window, Yui Shiotani~ I’m watching you~”Bookmark here

My entire body froze. Surely this was all just one big prank? I had hoped that a camera crew would burst through the door and tell me that I was about to take part in a new reality game show, but unfortunately for me said crew wasn’t coming.Bookmark here

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I slowly walked over to my bedroom window, taking a look out at the surrounding neighborhood. It was pitch black out, making it hard to see anything. Was Watashi really standing somewhere out there in the darkness? As if to answer my question, something was immediately hurled at my window – A ball of cotton. Hands trembling, I reached into my inventory (skirt pocket) and withdrew my trusty flashlight (cellphone). I shined the light out my window and saw the silhouette of a person holding a rather large knife. It was hard to make out the exact details in the dark, but I could tell that they were too tall to be Homura, but also not curvaceous enough to be Bonabelle. I couldn’t rule out the possibility that they were Nagi, but they were wearing a virtual-reality headset over their face, so it was impossible to tell for sure.Bookmark here

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“Do you see me, Shiotani?” the voice in my ear asked.Bookmark here

“I-I don’t know who you are,” I stammered, “B-but my father is a police officer! Wh-when he gets back, I’ll h-have you arrested for trespassing!”Bookmark here

“That’s cute,” the serial killer chuckled, “I’ve been evading the authorities for years! You think that your old man will catch me?”Bookmark here

I watched as the person outside my window began to moonwalk further into the darkness, until they had completely disappeared into the night.Bookmark here

“What about now? Can you still see me, Shiotani?”Bookmark here

“N-no,” I stuttered.Bookmark here

“That’s good to know,” the villain replied, taking a brief pause. “I’ll be coming back for you very soon, Yui Shiotani. I’m going to strike when you least expect it, so you better be prepared to die!”Bookmark here

“L-look, this isn’t f-funny anymore! I-if you tell me who you really are right now, I p-promise that I won’t be mad at you!”Bookmark here

No response. I guess Watashi must have logged out of the game.Bookmark here

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I sighed, removing my earpiece and throwing it –along with my headset– onto the bed, before promptly throwing myself down on the bed too. I had a gut feeling that that Watashi was the real deal. But how did he know my name? I feel like I’m reiterating myself, but was that really Nagisa? Nagi definitely seemed to have a motive for killing Utopia Online players, but I just can’t believe that my childhood best friend is a murderer! Think, Yui, think! Is there anyone else who seemed suspicious, someone who knew my real name…? Of course! If that wasn’t Bonnie or Homura, then that leaves only one other Utopia Online player who knows my real name – Kiran. But she seemed so nice. Was she really a killer? I wasn’t sure, but I certainly knew how to find out.Bookmark here

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One thing that I was sure about, however, was the fact that I definitely needed a new pair of pantyhose…Bookmark here

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END OF PURCHASEBookmark here

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