Chapter 22:

Play It Cool


Should he play it cool?

She didn’t spell it out, but Alice basically confessed to him. He knew she liked him even before that, but had hoped that it didn’t have to come down to this.

Sure, he enjoyed being with her too, but the situation surrounding her was incredibly complex. Was it even right to be together with someone who was in a coma? The Alice who was trapped in the game…the Rizawa Sakura who was trapped in life support—these two were both the same person, yet completely different.

So what was the right thing to do?

This was just a game. But the feelings were, indeed, real. To accept hers meant sharing in her burden. Alice may be able to ignore Rizawa Sakura, but he couldn’t.

Everything would be okay if he didn’t know the truth. Everything would be okay if this was merely a game.

Maybe it would be better to cut things off entirely.

“Heeeeey. You AFK?” Virginia waved her hand right over his eyes. There wasn’t even so much of a blink.

“H-Huh? Sorry?”

“What did you and that devil talk about? You’ve been spacing out ever since.”


Oh?” a smug smile found its place between her cheeks, “Big Sis V is always happy to lend an ear.”

“Doubt this is something you can help.”

“At least you can get it off your chest, yes? Before she comes here, that is. It’ll be just between us~”

There were supposed to meet at the south gate of Windburg Ⅱ before setting off for Lake Majestic. But Alice was definitely taking her sweet time. He could already imagine what was going through her mind. To say that she was emotional was an understatement, but the awkward state of their relationship was something she had to come to terms with.

“Virginia,” Jason looked at her straight in the eye, “How would you feel if you cheated a guy who had no money in real life?”

Sexually, you mean?”

“Yeah. What would you do? You’ve made someone fall in love with you. But your blackmailing doesn’t work because all he had were zeroes in his bank account.”

“Sounds like his problem, no?”

Jason shook his head, “Yup, just as I expected. Your advice doesn’t help.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. You may not believe it, but I do know a thing or two about true love, y’know?”

“Not exactly true if you ended up this way.”

“Oh trust me. I had my heart broken too many times to count. Guys from school, guys from church, guys online…I’ve seen ‘em all. Figured I should just earn money from it since it’s all doomed anyway.”

Virginia’s honesty was a breath of fresh air. Sure, it was weird for a minor to be this upfront about her sex empire, but in a way, she was much better than the typical e-girl masquerading as an influencer. Clean enough for the advertisers, yet dirty enough for horny men. They were always the victim of any drama, while also being the first person to start it.

At least Virginia had the courtesy to tell her victims straight up that they got played. Was it wrong? Yes. But at least she was honest.

“But guys like you are rare, Jason. Never expected to find a dude who actually thinks with his brain for once,” she shrugged. “You’re a filmmaker…so you studied the arts, right?”

“Protip: don’t.”

“Nah, never planned to further my studies. I’m already making more than my dad, anyways.”

Just how deep does the sex scamming go? Damn!

“You arts guys are usually the more deviant ones. Weird that you still have your morals.”

“Don’t remind me about it. My classmates were all freaks. Part of the reason why I left the industry.”

“So what’s the problem, then? Alice too freaky for you?”

“Nah that ain’t it.”

It was scary how perceptive she was. Maybe it was her “line of work” but she felt way more mature than any teenager.

“It’s just…I don’t think I can care for her, you know?”

“Damn. You’re already thinking of tying the knot, huh?”

“What?! No! I can even barely take care of myself,” he snickered. “It’s just…who she is in real life is complicated.”

“Oh? You know her IRL? And here I thought I was friends with her.”

“Lemme guess—she never told you what she did in real life, did she?”

“Nope. Never asked, never cared. As far as I know, she has no life. Bitch could definitely benefit from touching grass once in a while.”

“You think so too, huh?” he sighed. “Let’s just say, she has trouble separating the game from real life. To her, SakurAlice is who she really is. The person behind it is just the avatar.”

“So do you like SakurAlice, or the person behind it?”

He kept quiet. He knew the answer. Yet, he felt that it was wrong.

“I just think it isn’t right to string her along.”

“I think you’re taking this seriously,” this time, it was her turn to sigh. “Both you and that devil are taking this all too seriously in completely different ways.”


It’s just a game. She needs to step out into the sun for once, while YOU need to stop bringing real life into the game.”

I’m…bringing real life into the game?

“So? Let’s say Json Null and SakurAlice got together. What’s so bad about that? The real you and the real her can live your own lives. You think that’s stringing her along? I call that knowing where to draw the friggin’ line.

What happens in Maniavolution, stays in Maniavolution. What happens in real life, stays in real life. If she couldn’t tell real life and the game apart, is that your problem?”


“You’re a nice guy, Jason. You really are. But you need to pull your head outta your goddamn ass and let people be responsible for their OWN decisions!”

“Jason…V…why are you guys fighting?”

Alice finally arrived, only to notice the heated conversation between her party members.

“Please, bitch. We only fought because we were bored to death waiting for your slow ass.”

“Nothing to worry about. She just gave me food for thought, is all.”

Alice wasn’t entirely convinced, but didn’t want to escalate things further. All she could do was put her mind to what came next. If she started thinking about Jason, then she—

“Let’s make a move,” Alice said, walking past the both of them.

Jason quickly caught up to her side, but she picked up her pace.

“It’s best you stayed closer to V,” she instructed.


“She’s squishier than me. You’ll need to take the heat off her.”

Jason was stunned.

She’s acting cold now, huh?

Virginia placed her hand on his shoulder, shrugging.

It felt weird. Following Alice from behind, and not beside her. He didn’t like it one bit.

“So…what’s the lowdown? I know the fastest way to Cosmolore is by crossing the lake, but err…what should I expect?”

“Just keep your eyes peeled,” Alice warned without even looking back. “Do that and we’ll be fine.”

“I’m filming all this. The least you could do is to explain to the viewers.”

“Sorry, not feeling it.”

She was starting to get on his nerves. Alice was acting like someone completely different.

“If you’re not feeling good, we could take a breather, you know that right?” Virginia voiced her annoyance.

“Okay fine. Take a breather, then. Then what? We’re already quite a ways from town and your suggestion is begging for us to get ambushed.”

“What the hell is wrong with you, bitch?! I didn’t sign up to deal with your attitude.”

“I’m being realistic. If you don’t like it, then leave!”

Jason immediately put himself in between them, “It’s okay, it’s okay. No need to get pissed, alright? Let’s just keep moving.”

“URGH!” Virginia let out a muffled scream of frustration.

Everyone was on edge. It was the kind of experience no gamer wanted to have. Gaming was supposed to be fun, not walking around eggshells.

But Jason kept it in. He tried thinking of ways to repair the party’s morale. Alice was being cold. Virginia couldn’t stand her not being herself. If only there was a way he could get things back to normal…

…but there was so much baggage between her and Alice, it was tough. He couldn’t stand Alice acting this way as much as Virginia, but he wasn’t sure how to get that across.

He wasn’t sure how to face Alice.

Thus, he kept quiet. Keeping his eyes peeled as he was told.

He was still in Pallas Plains, but the environment had changed. Grasslands still surrounded him, but over yonder were hurricanes and thunderstorms. While it appeared to signal danger, it was no different from the original game. As long as they don’t actually walk into a hurricane, they’d be just fine.

But unbeknownst to the party, there were more than just storms they had to weather.

“Six wings…so our target has teamed up with the devil huh,” a hooded figure remarked, binoculars in hand. “Think we can beat them?”

Coming up from behind him, another player answered, “Oh my sweet summer child…

…You should worry if the client could pay us extra for the added trouble.”

Taylor J