Everyday is Valentine
I had never found myself looking forward to this day.
February 14th, a day to celebrate lovers in modern times.
A day that had neither hide nor hair to do with a single 35-years-old man that is me.
Normally, I would have my work as an accountant to thank for. Though taxing, it would have completely occupied my mind from silly thoughts such as this. In fact that had been the case for the past four years, having Valentine's Day fall on a weekday.
However, by chance, that was not the case for this year as Valentine's Day of 2037 falls on a Saturday.
There is, of course, the option to take up overtime but do I really want to work extra out of spite for something as small as this?
No, I don't think I will.
Instead, what I am doing right now is lazing around on my bed, playing away with my phone, specifically, a Gacha Game.
I am coming into this thinking everyone knows what a Gacha game is but for clarity's sake: It is where the core mechanic of the game is to expand premium in-game currency for a chance to obtain exotic characters or in-game items of powerful stats or higher likeability.
The genre had been present for quite some time. Incidentally, the one I had been playing, Re:Connect, had its global servers up for a good 16 years and running.
I was there when it first launched 16 years ago and I had been playing ever since on a near-daily basis.
Rather proud of this consistency, I am. At this point, it is no different from daily routines such as brushing your teeth or washing your face.
I say “near-daily” as, of course, there would be outliers. It could be me being swamped with so much work that I could barely rest enough as is or the usual maintenance of the game which at most lasted one entire day.
Although strangely enough, the latest update had been an outlier amongst outliers that caused the game to undergo maintenance for the entirety of last month.
There was a lot of buzz back then surrounding this incident, controversy even, as some players protested in front of the headquarters of the game company when it refused to shed light on what exactly necessitated the lengthy absence of the game other than a simple “Minor Bug Fixes” message.
Personally, I wasn't as affected as I thought I should be. It had as much impact as me having to skip the brushing of my teeth if I ever needed to rush to work on time.
Your whole body would feel wrong but it isn't something that prevents you from basic functions.
When the game did come back online today, it came with a limited Valentine’s Day event which wasn’t any different from past events to justify its month-long hiatus.
A short side story, a new boss, a Valentine’s Day variant of a pre-existing character. You know, the usual.
Unlike those fanatics that went out of their way to protest, I am just happy that I get to listen to the charming and soothing voices of the characters once again.
I am rarely the one to initiate conversations so this is about as much I would hear in terms of human voices on a day-to-day basis.
“**, **. *******.”
Breaking my train of thought was a cutesy response from none other than the game I was playing, notifying me of the end of yet another ”farming spree”.
“You too. I will be in your care then as well.”
Those words escaped my mouth rather absentmindedly.
There was no rhyme or reason, well, not that I could think of, as to why it happened but somehow, it just felt right after hearing her voice and seeing the subtitles.
However, don't you find it strange, talking to your phone out loud when there aren't any living, breathing beings to listen?
Yet another sudden interruption but this time, it didn’t come from my phone.
This time, it came from the kitchen.
The sound of metal reverberated throughout my studio apartment.
It was the ringing of the pots and pans as they were carelessly dropped onto the floor as someone ceaselessly tripped over each and every single one of them.
A studio apartment is actually not that big so from my bed, I could see the rest of the messy room with items haphazardly thrown around rather clearly.
Hey, I'm not that much of a mess myself, I just lacked the time and energy to properly clean…
I can only hope mom does not see this.
Amongst the mess is the kitchen and its assortment of appliances that I rarely even got the chance to use.
And there she was.
Appearing in a space that was previously empty,
A lone figure stood amongst fallen crockery.
Miraculously, a wok had landed itself onto her head, covering most of her facial features. However, it did not hide away all of her hair, leaving a few locks of white and pigmentless sticking out here and there.
To the keenest of eyes out there, you might even glimpse a hint of a pair of pointed ears protruding out from her sides but I know, for certain, that it is there.
She is an Elf after all.
Not just any Elf, though.
She was the reason I started my 16-year-long journey of playing Re:Connect.
I slowly reached out to her with a shaking hand but stopped midair just as I was about to remove the wok from her head.
Should I really continue?
What if the moment we made contact, she disappears?
What if this is just an illusion that I had conjured?
No, this has to be an illusion,
Indecisive as I was, she was the one to make the first move.
Expertly picking up her 160cm-long lance that seemed absolutely unwieldy for a petite girl such as herself, she pointed it to where I was standing.
“(...***...*** *** ** ****.)”
She spoke her first words and it sounded similar to the cutesy response I got from my game just moments ago because, well, both of them belong to the very same character.
However, they were meaningless to me. I could, at the very least, recognise that it was Japanese, just like how she would talk in-game but that was about it.
You would think that having listened to her voice lines for such a long time, I should be able to at least pick up on a few Japanese words here and there but that seems to be a rather tall order for someone being held at lance point.
Even so, deep down, I knew her as a character.
So much so that even though she has the physical prowess to decimate hordes of monsters at her current level, she would never put anyone in harm’s way.
That is the kind of character she is.
Knowing she wouldn’t attack me did not help in easing the chills down my spine from the sight of her lance.
She is normally so docile in-game but that didn’t seem to be the case today.
As if the case of materializing and manifesting her existence into the real world could be considered any normal!?
Gradually, I regained my composure enough that I could play the Straight Man for myself but the same thing could not be said about her.
That much is evident from the shaking of her long lance that is even taller than herself.
“(...You…are not my Lord.)”
Standing before me was a stranger I had never seen before.
Something heavy and metallic is obscuring my vision like a large summer hat but I am more than certain that is the case.
That is because the air around the both of them feels completely different from each other, something I can tell even without relying on the help of the wind spirits.
No, this is something only I can tell after staying with my Lord the longest out of everyone:
This person standing in front of me is not my Lord.
Mere moments ago, I was preparing herbal tea for my Lord and the other guild members but the next moment, I found myself in this foreign room filled with alien objects that I could almost pinpoint their purpose, but at the same time, not.
Judging from the handles protruding from the sides, the item on my head might be a cooking wok of sorts. Its texture suggests it was well-maintained but from its smell, I can conclude that it is more related to how little it was used, if at all.
The stranger approached with an indecisive hand.
Unlike my Lord's hands with palms covered with calluses achieved from tireless training of the sword, the stranger's hand is spotless to a tee, not so different from someone of royal descent that would have nothing to do with labour.
I raised my lance to the stranger without much thought.
Years of combat have allowed me to ascertain without a doubt that this stranger is and will always be, in no way a threat to me.
No, the threat was more fundamental.
Holding the crystal lance bestowed upon me by my father, head priest of our village, would normally calm me down during even the most fearsome of subjugation quests but that was not the case here.
Instead, the dull glimmer emanating from the lance’s blue crystal tip only serves to make my heart sank:
The mana of this place is scarce
And my connection to the wind spirits even scarcer.
This might very well spell the death of a Spirit Arts User such as myself.
In a strange location with an even stranger atmosphere and a stranger never seen before, all of my thoughts eventually converged on one simple conclusion:
I have to find my Lord.
It is my sworn duty to protect my Lord, from dawn to dusk, from the cradle to the grave, and to devote my entire being to his service.
I need to be by his side.
Without a moment more to waste, I located the closest exit out of this area and leapt out of the window, glass and frame broken and all.
I do not know what expressions the stranger in the room made as I took my leave but I will have to come back later after finding my Lord to apologize and clean up after the mess I have made.
Somehow, I am sure he will understand.
Who knows, maybe they might even become friends~
Putting away the happy thoughts for later, I successfully landed myself after breaking out of the window. A brief height of five storeys is not something I can’t come out of unscathed but it would definitely help if I could incorporate some physical enhancements with the help of mana.
Sadly, the concentration of mana in the surroundings would not be sufficient.
Still, that will not stop me from trying to find my Lord.
Brushing past me is the wind that lays dormant and inactive, spiritless even.
But more importantly, more and more people began to come into view which would suggest I am heading in the direction of some form of city centre, which means there is bound to be someone here that has seen or known the whereabouts of my Lord.
However, instead of receiving a definitive answer, all I got were glances and stares of awe and shock.
Yet, it will not halt me in my search for my Lord, even if I have to individually ask millions and billions of people in the process.
Even if there is a chance that the millions and billions I have questioned do not understand a single thing I was saying.
Without me realizing it, the sky had turned dark with thunder clouds concealing even the brightest of the day.
Oh no, I need to bring in the clothes before the rain ruins them.
An instinctual thought flashed past my head, further reminding me that I am hard-pressed for time.
All the more reason to find my lord, then~
I quickened my pace and bolted into the pouring streets.
As the raindrops pelted down my face and body mercilessly, the visibility of the environment worsened abruptly.
All of the commuters that were previously touring the area immediately sought shelter under the closest buildings that they could find and before I knew it, there was not a single person in sight.
With the people gone, the oddities that are the carriages without horses became all the more glaring against the backdrop of this already-strange new place.
Although, they do bear striking similarities to vehicles such as the glider that I would make with the help of the wind spirits to cruise my guild, I can at least deduce that they are also vehicles of sorts ridden and controlled by people that are hidden out of sight and away from rain.
Out of nowhere, an ear-piercing screech began to sound off behind me.
Turning around, I was instantaneously blinded by the lights given off by a carriage-without-a-horse.
Having faced off monsters many times bigger and scarier, dealing with this threat even with my sights and hearing overloaded could not be any easier.
I just need to use the lance on my hand to…
What if there are people on board?
I’m bound by my principles against injuring or harming people who did nothing wrong in any way shape or form.
My guild members would know what to do
My Lord would know exactly what to do
But they are all not here now
What should I do, then?
My Lord, what should I do?
The lights became brighter and brighter as the vehicle came closer and closer but my body stood rooted in place with no intention of overcoming its inertia.
Just when I braced myself for impact and applied what little body enhancements that I can muster with the mana available so as to minimize the damage dealt to myself, a figure pushed me out of harm’s way just as the vehicle zoomed past me.
The push wasn’t strong. To say it was weak would be an insult to the word itself but it achieved its intended purpose.
There is only one person who would risk his life for me like this.
It has to be…
Rainwater dripping down his unkempt hair, he slowly raised his head.
Instead of being greeted by the same goofy but warm smile my Lord would always make, what surfaced was an unfamiliar countenance.
No, it should not be considered “unfamiliar”.
It was the first face I saw here, in fact.
“***”* *** *** ** **** ***! ** ** ********* ****** ** ** ** * *** *****, *** ** ******* *** **** **** **** *** *** *** ****, *** ***** *** ** **** ** *** *** *******! *********, *** ********* ** *** **** *********** ** *** ***** ***** ******** ******, *** *** *** ***** *********** ** ** ***, * ****** ********. ** ** *** *** ** ***** ***** **** *** ** **** **** ** ***, ** **** **** ***** ** **! **** **** ***** ** ** ** ** ** **** ** ***!”
Clasping his hands on my shoulder, he started to say something in a language unbeknownst to me while shaking me front and back, as if trying to get me to internalize what he is saying.
"Saying" might not be the best word to describe his attempts in getting me to understand. Not with the number of times he raised his voice to a level that even he himself seems to doubt he is capable of.
Yet his expression is not one of anger or blame, but worry and concern, just like father's when I was chosen to serve my Lord.
He paused for a while to catch his breath and as he slowly calmed down, he seemed to realize my inability to understand him.
Fishing out a black tablet the size of his palm that was wrapped with a translucent film, he began clicking away at the tablet in a quick and successive motion.
Once it seemed like he was done, he brought the tablet right beside my face as a voice unlike any known intelligent species I have known began to softly emanate from within:
"(I’m not here to harm you…)"
It was spoken rather inorganically but its contents were very much understandable as it is done in my language.
“(Before I continue, I need you to calm down, take a big breath…)”
Ominously, the black tablet continued. There was this unspeakable form of excitement leaking through the eyes of the stranger that is occasionally obscured by his dripping-wet bangs but I can feel something earth-shattering is coming.
“(You are no longer in your world,)”
“(In fact, this is a world that is completely different from yours with a completely different set of environment and people...)”
Set of people…?
The black tablet might have mentioned even more things after that but my mind wasn’t there to hear it.
The sounds of raindrops crashing into the ground slowly faded into nothing as the tablet’s final words echoed indefinitely in my head like a dark and empty chamber devoid of any opening.
[End of 2037]
Author’s Note: Dialogues with “()” is to denote whenever someone is speaking Japanese or a foreign language and the character we are taking the perspective of understands that language. Otherwise, they would be denoted with ***.
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