Chapter 10:

One Step at a Time

Real Life Starfight

After Ryuuji hangs up, Seiji places the phone back on the receiver and looks at his right hand which is shaking slightly. He grabs his wrist with his other hand, wanting it to stop, but knows it’s of no use. Instead he just reminds himself that a trusted friend is coming over so there is nothing to fear. Managing to smile from the thought, he sits back at his computer, with his headphones back on, and asks if he missed anything. Sun says it’s just more of the same, bored of the battle already. Hanabi asks who called, but Seiji passes it off as a misdial, wanting to save the explanation for Ryuuji’s arrival.Bookmark here

The hacker then begins talking with her brother, commenting that HeroHiro is actually proving to be more of a challenge than she expected.Bookmark here

“Do you think you will be able to beat him?”Bookmark here

“Of course~” the hacker says, confidently. “This ninja is more complicated compared to the other classes, but when I charge a certain skill I can do this!”Bookmark here

The hacker uses the skill ‘Godspeed’ which launches Akaninja, dealing a considerable amount of damage. The siblings both laugh, enjoying the excitement of the battle. Meanwhile Steve is starting to have more difficulty.Bookmark here

“That speed is unfair!” He complains as he notices Akaninja charging again. More prepared, he’s able to defend and even deal some damage in return.Bookmark here

Now 8 minutes into the fight, Seiji watches nervously as it seemingly nears the end, knowing Ryuuji wanted to clear things up before that happened. Bookmark here

Steve himself starts considering how this fight hasn’t been at all how he thought it would be, noticing Ryuuji isn’t showing off as he usually would, not to mention how silent he is. He doesn’t let that get to him though, still waiting for the perfect moment to use his high level spell that he never mentioned before.Bookmark here

Finally, Seiji hears a knock on his door. Just as he does, a chill runs down his spine. Despite knowing who it is, he can’t help feeling nervous and he takes a deep breath and lets it out, trying to calm himself. Hanabi notices and asks if he’s alright, in which Seiji responds,Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Hana. I’ll explain later. I promise.”Bookmark here

He stands, placing the headset around his neck, and walks over to the door. Hesitant to open it until he hears a familiar, though exhausted, voice.Bookmark here

“Seiji? … it's me, Ryuuji.”Bookmark here

Seiji pushes himself to open the door to see Ryuuji hunched over, leaning on his knees, breathing heavily. Even if it wasn’t such a hot day, Ryuuji isn’t very athletic so it would have resulted in this anyway.Bookmark here

“I was afraid you wouldn’ the door.” he says, still catching his breath.Bookmark here

“Yeah, well.” Is all that Seiji manages to say, clenching his fist in an attempt to stop the shaking that has begun once more.Bookmark here

Ryuuji stands up straight to look at Seiji, first asking him how the fight is going. Seiji suggests he hurries, adding that he probably doesn’t have much time before it ends. He takes off his headset and holds it up to hand it to Ryuuji. As he’s about to take it, he pauses at the sight of Seiji’s hand still shaking. Seiji then pushes it into his hand, trying to smile, telling Ryuuji to forget about him so he can take care of what he needs to. Ryuuji agrees and grabs the headset, then takes a seat in front of the computer. Seiji closes the door and waits a moment before taking a seat on his bed behind Ryuuj, watching over what happens.Bookmark here

Looking at the game, Ryuuji sees that Akaninja currently has more health, but they are both nearly out. Not wasting any time, he speaks up.Bookmark here

“Steve, can you hear me?” Bookmark here

“Ryuuji? Why have you been so quiet?” Sun asks.Bookmark here

“So you finally feel like talking again? That sure was strange.” Steve says as the fight continues.Bookmark here

However Hanabi is the only to notice that he’s speaking through Seiji’s mic, not his own.Bookmark here

“Listen Steve. The person you've been fighting isn’t me. I can’t explain it, but somehow I’ve been hacked from the start.” Ryuuji explains.Bookmark here

Surprised by his words, Steve’s finger’s freeze and he stops hitting keys for a moment. Since the hacker can hear everything they say, she’s aware of what’s going on and, noticing HeroHiro has stopped moving, takes full advantage and attacks, leaving him with 1/8th of his original health. Steve notices and quickly gets back to defending as the conversation continues.Bookmark here

“So it hasn’t been you this whole time?” Steve asks.Bookmark here

“No...all forms of communication were cut so I couldn’t say anything until now. Seiji let me come to his place, though reluctantly.”Bookmark here

“So that’s what the phone call was.” Hanabi realizes.Bookmark here

“What are we supposed to do now?” Sun asks.Bookmark here

“There’s only one thing we can do. Steve, you need to win and take down Akaninja.” Ryuuji says.Bookmark here

“But Ryuuji….haven’t you heard what happened to all the characters who were hacked and lost? You’ll-”Bookmark here

“I’ll lose my character, I know.” Ryuuji says, cutting off Steve.Bookmark here

Having heard about these situations before, Seiji and Hanabi can only watch as the situation unfolds. Sun can’t help wondering how things turned out this way after finally thinking Ryuuji could catch a break. Steve also tries to fight this outcome.Bookmark here

“No, this isn’t right! We did all this to help fix this problem! And besides...” Steve pauses, remembering the truth of what happened to Komi Industries and how it affected Ryuuji, then saying “ I really am taking everything from you.”Bookmark here

Ryuuji considers what he said and can’t help laughing at the sad truth in those words. However, that idea doesn’t bother him right now. Bookmark here

“Well, look at it this way, at least you have my permission this time.” Ryuuji says. Then after a moment, he pushes once more in a lighter tone. “Now that’s enough gloomy talk. Just use that secret spell you have. You know, the one you’ve been hiding from me. Though Sun already told me about it.”Bookmark here

“Sun, how could you do that?” Steve asks, laughing at Ryuuji’s comment.Bookmark here

“It just slipped out one day.” Sun admits.Bookmark here

The hacker then comments on their conversation, “You guys are so cute, but I won’t let you win!”Bookmark here

Just then, a burst of energy appears around HeroHiro as he charges his spell, surprising everyone. Charging quickly, his one sword changes into two, with one in each hand, and he crosses them in front of him as Steve shouts,Bookmark here

“Secret technique….DUAL STRYKE!!”Bookmark here

He rushes towards Akaninja, slicing him with both swords, almost completely draining his health. The hacker tries to maneuver to avoid another attack, but HeroHiro swiftly turns around and attacks once more, taking away any remaining health, with Akaninja disappearing right after. Across the top of the screen reads, WINNER: HeroHiro.Bookmark here

“Ahh! He really got me there.” the hacker shouts, screen now blank. She turns around to her brother, “What did you think of that one?”Bookmark here

“That was your best one yet! The ninja was so cool, but the way the swordsman finished you off was even cooler!” he shouts, still excited.Bookmark here

“I’ll stay on the lookout for another one after your surgery.” She says, patting him on the head.Bookmark here

“But sister, I was wondering. Why don’t you just make your own character?” her brother asks, stating the obvious.Bookmark here

“You should already know the answer to that. I’m too lazy to level up!” She says with a big smile.Bookmark here

With the hacker out of the way and the battle complete, everyone is now out of the coliseum. Steve immediately asks Ryuuji what he thought of his secret spell. Ryuuji just says it was okay, causing Seiji to call him heartless in the background. Steve is disappointed by his response, thinking it would make him excited just as he is whenever he uses it. However Sun tells him she thinks it’s super cool, bringing a smile to Steve’s face once more.Bookmark here

“You always know just what to say, Sun!”Bookmark here

“Ryuuji are you alright?” Sun says, changing the subject.Bookmark here

“Well right now I can’t really say, everything happened so fast. Sorry things turned out this way.” Ryuuji says to everyone, but the last part is only meant for Steve.Bookmark here

“It is disappointing, but our friendship still remains. Let's try to look past this and look forward to the future.” Steve says with enthusiasm.Bookmark here

“For a while I started to fear the future and that hasn’t really changed, but with all of us together it has been easier so far.” Ryuuji says as he looks back at Seiji who nods in return. Bookmark here

“That’s the spirit!” Steve shouts. “Now as much as I’d like to go fight a dungeon with Hargrave, I think I’ll log off. That was exhausting.”Bookmark here

“I will as well. Let me know what happens when you get back home, Ryuuji.” Sun says.Bookmark here

“Oh, me too! Me too!!” Steve says, wanting to know as well.Bookmark here

“What are you guys, my parents? I’ll let you know though.” Ryuuji says..Bookmark here

After saying their goodbye, Steve and Sun log off, leaving Hargrave and Flora.Bookmark here

“Ryuuji, can you put Seiji on?” Hanabi asks.Bookmark here

Having no reason to refuse, Ryuuji hands the headset to Seiji, telling him his girl wants to talk with him. Still sitting on the bed, Seiji puts on the headset while Ryuuji proceeds to lay back on the floor, still tired from his run.Bookmark here

“So you invited Ryuuji over?” Hanabi asks.Bookmark here

“More like he forced his way over.”Bookmark here

In the background Ryuuji whispers “I said I hated to have to do this!”Bookmark here

Hanabi giggles at his comment, understanding that he didn’t have much choice in the matter. She then asks if he’s feeling okay. After considering how he felt at the start and then now, he tells her,Bookmark here

“I’m doing better than I thought I would. I’m still shaking, but I don’t feel as nervous.”Bookmark here

Ryuuji stares at the ceiling as they talk, only able to hear bits and pieces, not that it’s any of his business. Bookmark here

With more joy in her voice, Hanabi responds. “I’m glad, it sounds like Ryuuji helped you once again.”Bookmark here

“Don't let him hear you say that.” Seiji says, not wanting to admit that she’s right.Bookmark here

To help him calm down, Hanabi asks Seiji if he wants to play some more today. Feeling relieved by the idea, Seiji says he would love that, and thanks Hana as well. He asks for her to give him a minute so he can say bye to Ryuuji. Hanabi just asks that he message her when she’s ready.Bookmark here

And with that complete, Seiji gathers the courage to talk with Ryuuji, planning to explain why he was acting so strange. However, Ryuuji speaks up first, sitting up to look Seiji in the eyes.Bookmark here

“Before you start, you know you don’t have to tell me anything.”Bookmark here

“No, after all this I feel you have the right to know.” Seiji says. “Besides, you pretty much got it right on the phone. After the incident with my mom, my dad got custody of me and put me here. To this day I still haven’t met him even once. Instead, a woman named Reiko started taking care of me. She never stayed overnight, but woke me up each morning, cooked me meals, took me to and from school, bought me everything I needed, and put me to sleep. Since I was alone each night in the darkness, I began to fear that loneliness. It’s so stupid.”Bookmark here

As Seiji explains, Ryuuji takes a look around the room, not having the chance because he was rushing earlier. It’s a one bedroom apartment. Once you enter, the kitchen is on your left with the bathroom to the right. The bed is in the back on the right by the one window with a dresser across the way and a small table in between. His desk is across from his headboard against the wall, a low desk with no computer chair, causing the user to sit on the floor. He still has a small seat so he can lean back. Ryuuji can only assume Seiji prefers it that way.Bookmark here

To be left alone here every night would be scary at any young age.Bookmark here

“I’m not sure how he got away with leaving me here, but nothing ever changed. That woman continued to care for me until shortly after I met Hana.” Seiji explains.Bookmark here

“Your dad, have you ever wanted to meet him?” Ryuuji asks.Bookmark here

“Hell no!” Seiji shouts, annoyed by the idea. “He’s probably some rich guy and I’m just his illegitimate child he wants to keep hidden. I don’t need to deal with any of that.”Bookmark here

Now understanding him better, Ryuuji realizes, ‘That must be why he hated me so much when we first met. And after hearing all that, I really can’t call him a brat anymore can I? He’s been through so much and still holds himself together better than I can.’Bookmark here

Ryuuji then glances at his computer, recognizing the brand. “Did he buy that computer for you too?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I got that without even having to ask. ‘It’s for studying purposes’ is what I was told. He still can’t be bothered to buy me a damn cell phone though.”Bookmark here

Ryuuji can’t help laughing to himself, ‘For studying? That’s clearly a gaming computer.’Bookmark here

Seiji then switches back to their original topic. “Well, now you know. It even took a while for me to get used to Hana coming over and we’ve been together for 4 years now.”Bookmark here

“One step at a time.” Ryuuji says, then adding, “You have to get over this problem eventually so I’ll help you out. One step at a time until you’re ready.”Bookmark here

Surprised to hear those words, Seiji only says “Again?”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“It’s just...I like it better when you’re like this. Like an actual senpai.” Seiji says with a smile.Bookmark here

“So you respect my maturity, but can’t stand my personality. Like an older brother?” Ryuuji says, considering his words.Bookmark here

Disgusted by that thought, Seiji tells him he’ll never call him that. Ryuuji agrees that it would be strange and suggests he stick to calling him senpai instead. Just as before, Seiji says he will, but only when he deserves it. Annoyed by his comment, Ryuuji wants to call him a brat, but remembers that he told himself he won’t do that anymore.Bookmark here

“Nah, I’m not going to say it.” he says as he stands up. “I should get going anyway so you can have your lovey dovey time.”Bookmark here

“Alright, but let us know what happens.” Seiji says.Bookmark here

“I’ll try. See you later.” Ryuuji says, walking towards the door. Bookmark here

Seiji says bye in return as he leaves. Once outside of his apartment, Ryuuji feels his exhaustion hit him once more. To be honest, he’d rather stay there to rest a bit more, but didn’t want to intrude any further. Especially since it made Seiji uncomfortable.Bookmark here

“It’s going to be a long walk home.” Ryuuji says.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.