Chapter 33:

Epilogue

BRO: Battle Royale Online


As I looked down, a thin ray of light entered my field of vision, filtering under my virtual reality headset. I was back in reality. The truth of my situation became clear to me: I had lost. I closed my eyes and plunged back into the restful darkness that had greeted me when I died. I had failed. Dejected, I clenched my fist.

Rin's face suddenly came back to my mind.

There's no point in thinking about it. I'll never see her again.

I pushed her out of my mind. Thinking about her could not do me any good. I lay there for a while trying to clear my head. In the pitch black, only the sheets I could feel on my back reminded me of where I was.

The real world... I miss BRO already...

Thinking back to the game, my partner's face immediately came back to haunt me.

Rin... I hope you didn't suffer...

My mind wandered once again to the past. To a girl I barely knew but with whom I felt closer than with anyone else. I had never had as much fun as I had since I met her. For a long time, I had played alone, shunning any friendly player. But she had broken through my defenses with consummate ease. And now, I cared about her. I sighed heavily.

And it's now that I care about something that I regret having to go... We should never have met.

As I was feeling sorry for myself, a squeaky sound came from a little further away.

A caring female voice came out, "Sora? Are you awake?"

"Yes, you can come in."

The door creaked louder, then slammed shut. I put my hands to my head and grabbed the helmet that covered my skull. Immediately, light came over me. It was late afternoon, and the setting sun was already beginning to disappear behind the buildings on the other side of the window. I put the helmet on my bed and my eyes wandered to my hospital room.

This is my reality... I'm not Mordred or anyone else, I'm just me: someone who's just realized that he doesn't want to die.

I shook my head as a thin, wry smile spread across my face.

The nurse stared at me, "Sora… Are you sure you're okay?"

The young woman moved closer to me and I turned my head away to face the window, pretending to lose myself in contemplating the world outside. I had just noticed my red, wet eyes. Had I been crying? Probably.

The nurse laid a hand on my shoulder but I did not react. She sighed as she withdrew her hand.

"Sora, I'll take your headset and put it right next to you, okay?"

Without turning around, I nodded. She took the virtual reality headset and placed it on the large bedside table next to my bed. I felt her sorry gaze on me, then the door creaked again and slammed shut one last time. I was alone again.

Slowly, I turned and looked wistfully at my helmet.

It has taken me through so much...

Before BRO, we were playing a fantasy game like any other. My friends from the hospital and I had formed a guild. But when the first of us left, connecting to this other world became too difficult. Around our guild table, his absence was all too painful.

That's when we discovered BRO. Another way out. The doctors who urged us to use the helmets they had given us were at first skeptical about the violence of the game, but seeing the progress we were making and the bond we now had, they came to accept our passion.

They were the ones who had pushed us to try virtual reality. For me, it was only when I joined this specialized center a few years ago that I discovered the joy of visiting these other worlds. Before that, when I was still living like any other teenager, I had never been attracted to such things. My life was exciting enough as it was, so why would I need to seek out another reality? But now that it had taken an unexpected turn, it was only in these other worlds that I felt alive.

Sharing these thoughts, I quickly befriended the other young people at the hospital. Nami, Rei, Alan, Roman... All of them dreamed of one thing: to escape from their reality to dream a little more. But of course, reality caught up with us. And one by one, we all had to accept it. Soon it would be my turn.

But suddenly, Rin's face came back to my mind.

"I will not leave without you! I need you!"

Her words had the effect of a shock. Faced with her angry, tearful face, I didn't know what to say at the time. But now... Now, I knew what to say.

Me too, Rin. Me too…

A new wind swelled inside me. I refused to give up. I would survive, the operation would be successful, and I would heal. And finally, I would find Rin. I only knew her name, but it didn't matter: I was sure I would recognize her, even if we were lost in a huge crowd.

As my resolve strengthened, I sat on the edge of my bed. Reaching out, I opened the window and a cool wind immediately caressed my face, blowing the thin curtains aside.

Suddenly, a voice came from the square below.

No! It can't be!

I jumped to my feet and rushed to the window.

A shout rang out at once, "Mordred!"

I would have recognized that voice among a thousand.

I poked my head out and looked down. I immediately met the clear blue eyes of a young girl with brown hair.

"Rin!" I shouted back.

Despite her different hair, her face and eyes hadn't changed. She still exuded the same cheerful and mischievous aura. I would have recognized her even in the middle of a festival.

When our eyes met, a huge smile stretched our lips.

Behind her, stood another girl, a little shorter, whom I did not know.

To cover the distance between us, I shouted again, "How did you find me?"

"I searched! There are not twenty-thousand centers that use virtual reality for their patients! And then, I'll just say that I got lucky to find you in the first one I tried!"

My eyes widened.

"Were you really going to go through every center one by one while shouting my nickname?"

"Yes, why?"

A laugh escaped me. She was always true to herself.

Rin shouted again, "Mordred! I have to tell you something!"

Around me, new faces appeared at other windows, curious to know what was going on. As I blushed inconspicuously, wondering what she could possibly say that was so important, my partner continued.

"Thank you!"

Was it just for that?

I shook my head.

"I'm the one who thanks you!"

Had she come only to hear me thank her as we had agreed?

Just as I was about to repeat myself with more spirit to please her, she cut me off.

"No, you don't understand! Thanks to you I won the tournament!"

My eyes widened in surprise.

What? She won the tournament?

I quickly pulled out my phone and went to the official BRO website. The first line, written in huge letters, said: "BRO's 8th tournament won by a total stranger?" Was this true? It was all over the net: a beginner, a girl from nowhere who no one had ever heard of, was winning the annual tournament of a game that had become mythical. People were going crazy about it and messages were flying by at an incredible speed. The tournament had already ended hours ago, but the craze for the unknown girl seemed to go on forever.

I was dumbfounded.

Downstairs, Rin became impatient, "Well?"

I bowed my head, not understanding what she wanted from me. But with her rosy cheeks and her chest puffed out with pride, I finally understood.

In a playful tone, I exclaimed, "Bravo Rin! It seems that the student has surpassed the master!"

His smile widened even more.

I continued, "So you managed to beat Milena, the traitor?"

Immediately, her smile faded away, and the girl behind her swayed from one foot to the other. She nodded slowly, but her face closed slightly.

Then, in an embarrassed voice, she said, "Actually, Miko would like to apologize for what she did to you…"

I unconsciously clutched the windowsill until my knuckles turned white.

Is it that girl? That innocent-looking girl is Milena Starlust? The one everyone is trying to bring down?

I couldn't believe my eyes. Then suddenly, she came forward and bowed sharply. Her long, black hair swung around her face. Her eyes were riveted to the ground, but her voice still rose.

"Mordred… I'm sorry. Perhaps I got a little carried away."

Rin immediately slammed the edge of her hand down on her friend's skull.

"Ouch! Well, okay! I definitely got too carried away! Please forgive me!"

I nodded, then Miko raised her head and glared at me. She clicked her tongue and then looked away as if the sight of me bothered her. I sighed. Milena would always be Milena.

Rin came and stood in front of her, nudging her in the ribs. Then she looked up at me again.

"Mordred! Don't you dare give up, okay? You better get well!"

I smiled again at her sparkling eyes.

"Of course! You'll never make it without me!"

Rin laughed, then resumed in her usual mischievous tone, "You have to be in shape to watch me win the next tournament again!"

I laughed back.

"Are you dreaming? I am the one who's going to win the next tournament!"

Milena suddenly raised her head with a wide smile as if she had only been waiting for this moment to intervene. But seeing our beaming faces fixed on each other. She preferred to remain silent and only grumbled something I couldn't hear.

Then hospital security appeared and the two young women ran off, their laughter rising into the air.

Turning to me one last time, Rin shouted, "I'm counting on you! See you soon, Sora!"

And that was it, I was no longer allowed to die.

For the first time, I looked forward to the future. If it was with Rin, then I felt I could do the impossible. I would survive, and I would play with her again. I was certain that only this bright future awaited me.

***

In the young man's pocket, a phone vibrated and its screen lit up. At the top of the screen, a banner appeared. If he wasn't lost in his thoughts, with a silly grin on his face, he would probably have read these words: "Unexpected teams were the heart of the tournament this year. So the next 9th BRO tournament will be a new experiment open only to teams of players! Better prepare yourself! And see you next year!"