Chapter 2:

Chapter 2: Update.


The shriek of the final bell jolted Ayaka awake from her daydreaming. Rubbing her eyes beneath her thick black eyeliner, she gathered up her books quickly. She always felt exposed and vulnerable here at school; better to get home as fast as possible.

Weaving through the crowded halls, Ayaka drew her oversized hoodie tighter around herself. At 17, her petite frame could still pass for a middle schooler's. Easy to overlook and dismiss.

But that meek appearance belied Ayaka's ferocious intellect. She excelled at her studies, though mostly out of sheer boredom. Mandatory high school felt like a prison, the curriculum far below her abilities.

Ducking into the girl's bathroom, Ayaka checked that she was alone before fishing a small orange pill bottle from her backpack. She gulped down two of the methylphenidate tablets, chasing them with water. There, chemical courage to get through the tedium of another evening at home.

Ayaka winced at her reflection as she washed up. Her shoulder-length mousy hair hung limply, framing the dark circles under her eyes.

Puberty had bestowed only anxiety so far. She blotted concealer on her blemishes halfheartedly before giving up with a sigh.

The autumn breeze outside was bracing after the stuffy school air. Ayaka scurried home, shoulders hunched. She passed by kids from her classes laughing and chatting excitedly about after-school plans. It gnawed at her, reminding her of all she lacked.

Once safely back in her modest apartment, Ayaka locked herself in her room. The muffled sound of the TV running in the living room signaled her mom was home from work but still unwinding. They mostly stayed out of each other's way.

Tossing her school bag aside, Ayaka eagerly donned her refurbished VR headset. She had jury-rigged it herself to interface with the aging laptop and graphics card that ran Paradigm Online. Cobbled together from thrift shop finds, but it worked.

As the VR loaded up, Ayaka's heart raced with anticipation. Time for her metamorphosis. She took a deep centering breath as her avatar formed around her. Gone was the shrinking violet Ayaka. Now, she was Scar – The mysterious assassin and veteran mercenary.

Scar stretched her lithe limbs, feeling strength and confidence flow into her. No more frizzy hair or blemishes – now she had flawless crimson locks framing her porcelain features. And her body was graceful yet toned, with a gymnast's poise.

This dingy apartment melted away, replaced by Paradigm Online's central square. Scar had carved out a reputation in this lawless world as a badass who thrived on danger. And she protected that rep fiercely, trusting no one.

Scar looked at the new players who were joining the game as she opened her interface to a dozen messages from wannabe suitors and team invites.

Paradigm used to be a highly popular game, but its player base dwindled when updates stopped. This left only the most dedicated players still engaged.

However, due to the recent Paradigm update talk and the buzz it created, the player count reached an all-time high. This was largely driven by both new talking about it and returning players from six years ago.

"Pathetic." She blocked them all immediately. No distractions from staying sharp. She had bounties to hunt, and it sounded like fresh meat awaited in Sungold Fields.

Teleporting to the pastoral hunting zone, Scar kept to the shadows of the tree line. In the distance, a boar-like creature grazed by a pond.

Vulnerable, oblivious. Scar notched a neurotoxin dart and took careful aim at the beast's jugular. It never knew what hit it as the poison seized its nervous system almost instantly. A clean kill.

Scar took the dropped items. She took down a few more beasts with targeted headshots. Cleaner and more ethical than letting them suffer, though some people prefer that cruelty like Dante. Not her style.

With a full inventory of hides and meat, Scar made her way to the trader outpost to barter. The few players there gave her a wide berth, wary of her infamous temper. Smart. She kept exchanges curt, then headed off into the wilderness again. Alone was better.

As the simulated sun set over the meadows, Scar allowed herself a moment of quiet reflection atop a hill. She watched herds of creatures roaming free and wondered what it might be like to share their simple existence. No reputation to uphold, no goals beyond survival.

But she knew that life wasn't for her. Only by continuously raising the stakes and testing her limits did Scar feel truly unfettered. Out here she had no limits but those she imposed on herself.

A scream broke Scar's reverie. Instinctively she raced towards it, cresting the hill to see a young female player cornered by reptilian raiders. Scar drew her dagger and dove into the fray, slashing throats before the beasts could react. In seconds she turned the ambush into a slaughter.

The girl stared in awe as Scar flicked glowing blood from her blade. "Th-thank you!" she stammered. "You saved me."

Scar turned to leave. "Watch your back out here."

The girl hurried after her. "Let me add you! I'm Al-" She waited expectantly.

Scar weighed it briefly, then shook her head. "I play solo." Without waiting for a reply, she vanished into the woods, savoring the power she'd briefly held over that interaction.

She avoided making friends in Paradigm for a simple reason: she didn't want anyone to truly know her. She feared that if they did, her carefully crafted cool image would crumble, leaving her wondering what they'd think of her when that day came. Would they see her as a loser?

Night fell deeper as Scar made camp in a concealed cave. She allowed herself a few hours' rest before her accelerated metabolism jolted her awake. After a spartan meal of rations, she began her midnight training regimen.

In Paradigm, status holds significance. Some players push themselves to the limit to level up, but many overlook the importance of physical training. This was Scar's secret to becoming strong at level 224.

Going through martial forms and weapons drills, Scar pushed her avatar to its limits and beyond. She had even modded the pain receptors to the maximum to overcome any adversary. Her will exceeded virtual flesh.

As Scar meditated beneath the stars afterward, she lamented having to log out soon. Dawn in the real world meant school started again.

She never felt fully alive there, just putting on an act. Here she was complete. Someday she hoped to never leave.

Reluctantly, Scar opened her menu and selected log out. The fantasy melted away, replaced by Ayaka's dark bedroom. She tore off the sweaty VR helmet with a heavy sigh. Like Cinderella, her true self is confined to fleeting moments of escape.

Hiding her double life consumed much of Ayaka's mental energy at school. She deflected an attempt at friendship in the game coldly, terrified someone might discover the "pathetic" real her beneath Scar's intimidating aura. The stigma of her lonely home life haunted her.

Ayaka noticed her classmates acting like every day lots of hushed gossip and furtive glances her way.

At lunch, Ayaka retreated as always to eat alone in the library. But before she could slip away, a voice called out in a mocking "Hey, Ayaka!" Ayaka froze. Someone knew? How? She steadied herself and turned slowly.

Maya, a popular girl, waved at her eagerly. "You changed your hair? Looks awesome!" She indicated Ayaka's plain locks. Bewildered, Ayaka managed a weak nod before retreating away.

Maya was playing the good girl who helps the bullied but Ayaka knew better than anyone else that was the opposite of her real self.

Ayaka was popular once but that was a time forgotten. Now she is just the nerd crazy girl who has no friends or anything good about her.

Cold relief washed over her she didn't care about what they thought because this wasn't her, she was Scar, not Ayaka.

Still, it was disconcerting to have her name spoken aloud at school. She had partitioned those worlds so carefully. Now the boundaries are blurred. She yearned to confide in someone, but intimacy terrified her.

Later in the computer lab, Ayaka logged into Paradigm's forums on a whim, curiosity overwhelming her caution. Sure enough, Scar's exploits were discussed in vivid detail, elevating her to celebrity status. Ayaka even saw fan art of her avatar, which she secretly saved.

This boost in Paradigm's popularity gave her everything she ever wanted.

Private messages from total strangers piled up, seeking questing partners or just to meet the "real Scar." Overwhelmed, Ayaka logged out.

That evening, Ayaka rushed through dinner under her mom's concerned glances. She knew she was growing distant, but didn't know how to articulate her turmoil. Once free, she escaped again to Paradigm and Scar's uncomplicated life. At least there, things made sense.

Over subsequent days, Ayaka settled into an uneasy new normal. During the day she walks a social tightrope.

Out of school, she dove ever deeper into questing and training, upgrading her battered laptop to handle Paradigm's improved graphics waiting for the big update to come.

Scar rose rapidly in level, even joining [The Elite] guild that was made by the 1st ranked player in the whole game. Ayaka obsessively optimized her builds and gear, forgetting meals and sleep. In Paradigm her vision shone clear, unburdened by anxiety or doubt. She wished she could remain there indefinitely.

Instead, Ayaka islanded herself more than ever at school, feeling like an imposter. Everyone now only saw her as the bullied girl not talking using her name, when the reality could not be further apart. She recoiled from their gaze, seeking only validation through Paradigm's challenges.

Her mother's concern deepened into anger as Ayaka withdrew even at home. "You can't keep doing this!" she yelled after finding Ayaka passed out on the ground in her VR headset again. "I feel like I've lost you." the mother said with tears in her eyes.

Ayaka remained numb and silent throughout the confrontation, silently cursing being born into this family and life. When she logged on next, Scar exacted bloody vengeance on endless low-level targets, trying unsuccessfully to quench her wrath.

Things finally came to a head on a rainy November Friday. Ayaka forgot her history textbook, and when the teacher chastised her negligence, snickering students talking about her was at an all-time high she felt like the world closed the only thing she could hear is them talking about the loser Ayaka, the nerd, the life, the stupid-

At that, all Ayaka's simmering pain and fury boiled over. "SHUT UP! You don't know anything about me!" she screamed, making the class silent. She grabbed her bag and fled the school, ignoring the calls from the teacher. She didn't stop until she was blocks away, soaked and shaking.

Unable to face going home, Ayaka slipped into a Netcafe and logged into Paradigm. At least there Scar had agency, away from judging eyes. She would find purpose again in this world she understood.

Scar traveled to the Valahari Desert, seeking its harshest trials. As she descended into sun-scorched canyons on dire quests, Scar's doubts burned away, leaving only blissful clarity of action and consequence. This was the life she craved.

For hours Scar adventured seamlessly, savoring the freedom of being fully immersed in a realm where she belonged. But as the restaurant closed up, urgent notifications started interrupting with low battery warnings. Ayaka reluctantly opened her dead brown eyes. Back to the painful real world.

Outside a storm lashed the darkened streets. Ayaka hugged her soaked hoodie tight for warmth as she slogged home. She prayed her mom was working the night shift tonight to avoid questions.

No such luck. The apartment lights were on as Ayaka ascended the stairs. She paused outside the door, clinging to her last moments of serenity before the coming confrontation. Then, she stepped inside.

Her mother sat expectantly on the couch as the door creaked open, worry etched on her face morphing to relief then anger. "Where have you been all day?" she demanded. "The teacher called and said you stormed out this morning!"

Ayaka shrank from the fury. "I'm sorry, mom." Her voice sounded so meek and childish. Pathetic. "I just...couldn't take it there anymore."

"Enough excuses! What is going on with you?" Her mother crossed the room and shook her shoulders. "Look at me! I feel like I'm losing my daughter more every day. Please, talk to me!"

Tears welled in Ayaka's eyes but she remained silent, unable to articulate the storm inside her. Her mother waited, then finally released her with sad resignation. "I can't lose my girl, I can't keep watching you self-destruct. Something has to change."

Ayaka fled out of her mother's arms to her room as her mother called the school. Hugging her knees in the dark, she went as fast as she could to the headset to feel the warmth of Paradigm again.

But the battery was dead, leaving her trapped in this anguish with no escape. All she could do was wait for the axe to fall.

Right on cue, her mother entered to look at her pathetic daughter on the ground holding a headset trying to turn it on in any way in a room full of wires.

"That thing," Ayaka's mother said in a cold tone.

Ayaka clutching the VR headset and laptop. Wordlessly, Her mother deposited the headset in the hallway before fixing Ayaka with a pained yet firm gaze. "These are just tools. Your life is so much more. I'm here when you're ready." She gently shut the door.

Ayaka sat in cold shock, suddenly feeling like a junkie without a fix. How had she let obsession consume her so completely? She knew she had to change but the path ahead seemed impossibly bleak and lonely. Hugging her legs tighter, she let her tears finally fall, she was broken now her only warmth was gone.

Ayaka's sobs echoed through the empty apartment, her drowned-out screams against a world that refused to understand her silent pleas for help. She clutched her soaked hoodie around herself tightly as she sank to the wires on the floor.

The cold truth of her situation came crashing down along with her crumbling facade of composure. She was utterly alone now. Her mother's tough love had been the final straw, severing her last connection to reality.

Without Paradigm as her coping mechanism, Ayaka's fragile psyche threatened to spiral into an abyss from which she could not return. She had no true anchors left in this world. There was only Scar, her idealized avatar, but now she can't live in that world.

Ayaka's weeping gradually faded to numb dissociation. When her mother called softly through the door, asking her to forgive her and to know this was all from love, Ayaka could not muster the will even to respond. Sleep would be her only respite if oblivion would take her.

But even that salvation was denied. Ayaka lay curled tightly in the wires on the ground as the hours ticked by, eyes stinging and hollow, her mind echoing with a thousand screaming thoughts she wished desperately to silence permanently.


Just as the bell rang, the teacher called "Satoru, may I have a word?"

Satoru paused in gathering his books, keeping his expression carefully neutral as he approached the instructor's desk. "Yes ma'am?"

The teacher gave him a sympathetic smile. "I hate to ask this, but would you mind stopping by Ayaka's home after classes today? She didn't come to school in 2 days now and I want you to give her your notes. I know she's a bright student and I don't want her falling behind."

Satoru hesitated, weighing the request. He preferred to avoid social entanglements, especially relating to unstable classmates. The bad reputation of Ayaka might affect him as well.

But refusing would seem callous. "Of course," Satoru said smoothly. "I'm happy to ensure she receives the materials required for her academic success." Always the model student.

The teacher beamed gratefully, jotting down the address. "Thank you. I know she's been struggling lately and could use some kindness."

Satoru nodded and excused himself before his smile cracked. Kindness was not his specialty, especially when it required going out of his way.

Still, maintaining perfect grades and conduct meant accommodating such tedious favors. He would simply drop off the textbook and avoid further interaction.

Lunch passed uneventfully, Satoru ate alone as usual on the rooftop. In the afternoon classes.

After the final bell, Satoru stopped by his locker briefly before heading out. He detoured to the residential streets near campus, checking the address scribbled on the address the teacher gave him. Better to get this errand done promptly so he could focus on his studies.

Arriving at a modest apartment complex, Satoru buzzed the unit number listed. No response. He waited a minute then tried again. Still nothing. Perhaps she was not home yet.

Satoru contemplated simply leaving the textbook with a neighbor. But the teacher had hinted she wanted him to check on Ayaka's well-being. With a silent sigh, he leaned against the building to wait a few more minutes.

As Satoru idly watched people passing by, his mind turned to the Paradigm rumors circulating about Ayaka, he didn't care about all the nerd or loser talk but he was interested when he heard she was playing Paradigm but it didn't matter a lot to him.

A familiar laugh broke Satoru's concentration. He glanced over to see a group of boys loitering nearby.

Satoru recognized them as the gang that extorted weaker students. An idea came to mind. Perhaps this detour had some value after all.

"Nakata," Satoru called out, adopting a friendly demeanor. "How's it going?"

The gang leader looked over curiously. "Satoru, hey. Cool to see you slumming it down here." The other boys snickered. "What brings you around?"

Satoru approached, casually appraising the group. "I was visiting someone, but it seems they are out. I have some free time now though, and it's been too long since we caught up."

Nakata raised an eyebrow. Satoru was known as the popular studious loner at school. But an association here could boost Nakata's status. "Yeah man, long time. What'd you have in mind?"

Satoru smiled conspiratorially. "I was thinking of checking out that new Netcafe. Have you been there yet?"

The gang members shook their heads eagerly. Satoru laughed. "Perfect, we'll have to fix that. My treat. Shall we go?"

As they set off, Satoru made small talk, learning about the group's latest schemes and which students they had shaken down. He filed away the details - always useful to have dirt on pawns for his grand plan to break from the chains he is in.

At the arcade, Satoru paid for passes and headgear. As expected, the gang took to Paradigm Online instantly as it was the trend lately, relishing the anarchic combat. Their joy was palpable, losing themselves in this fantasy power trip.

However, as a form of one of the updates they played on anonymous accounts which made them with random usernames and generic-looking avatars.

After a few times going around, Satoru suggested casually, "We should set up accounts and squad up again soon. I am rather skilled in-game - I could show you all the ropes."

Satoru planned on making a new account besides Dante so he could play the perfect role on it as well because even if he was perfect he can't say he won't play a trending game.

The boys were instantly enthralled by playing with someone popular like Satoru, even if only digitally. They exchanged contacts eagerly. Satoru smiled. Now they were in his pocket. Time to make his exit.

"This was fun, but I should get going. Family duties, you know." Satoru waved. "I'll message you guys on Paradigm soon. We will own those leaderboards!"

As Satoru left the arcade, satisfied with his recruitment, he remembered his original task. Returning to Ayaka's apartment, he rang the buzzer once more. This time shuffling footsteps approached before the door cracked open.

Ayaka squinted into the daylight. Seeing a classmate, she recoiled instinctively. "Wh-what are you doing here?"

Satoru noticed how skinny Ayaka was it seemed like she hadn't eaten for those whole 2 days.

Most of the students were fearful of Satoru, they saw him as a scary man because there is no perfect human but somehow he was one.

Satoru held up his notebook. "Take this and copy it. I offered to bring it by so you did not fall behind."

Ayaka took the notebook hesitantly as if it pained her. "Um, thanks. You didn't have to."

An awkward silence hung in the air. Polite etiquette dictated Satoru should ask how she was doing, but he thought better of prying. "Well, I will get out of your way now. Let me know if you need anything else." He turned to leave.


Satoru looked back. Ayaka seemed to be wrestling with some inner conflict. "Sorry to bother you, but do you maybe want to come in for a bit? I just made some tea..." She trailed off uncertainly.

Satoru weighed the offer. His instinct was to decline and continue home to focus on his affairs. But something about Ayaka's fragile, lonely state was interesting to him. After a moment he nodded. "Tea would be nice, thank you."

Ayaka's home was sparsely furnished but cozy. She prepared the tea in silence while Satoru politely surveyed the living room. He noted signs of financial hardship but no family photos or decorations. An isolated life.

Settling on the couch, they sipped tea while searching for words. Surprisingly, Ayaka spoke first. "Sorry if I seemed startled earlier. Had a rough couple of days." She laughed mirthlessly. "I'm sure you've heard the rumors about me playing Paradigm. well, that's not why am I this hated..."

Satoru shook his head. "I try to avoid idle gossip. Everyone faces struggles - we need not bear them alone." The platitudes normally tasted bitter to him but he needed to keep the act.

Ayaka studied him for a moment. Finally, she began recounting the events leading up to yesterday's outburst, paraphrasing the turmoil she felt. Satoru listened intently, trying to put on a caring act.

Finishing her account, Ayaka stared into her teacup. "I'm sure that all sounds silly or shallow to you. I should just be stronger, right?"

Satoru knows what to say. "Not at all. You bear a weight many would crumble under. Do not discount your struggles." He hesitated, unsure if he was overstepping trying to choose every word. "If you need to talk more, I will listen. No judgments."

Ayaka managed a small, sad smile. "Might take you up on that sometime. This helped a bit already, so...thanks." An alert buzzed on her ancient phone but she only looked at Satoru while not giving it a second look.

Satoru didn't as well because he didn't need to, then he stood to leave, but on impulse turned back. "Ayaka, you are stronger than you know. Never think otherwise." this was the last straw for Satoru to make his act as believable as it gets.

As Ayaka closed the door behind him her expression changed as she screamed to herself, she was always the first-ranked person at school she was loved by everyone but that day when Satoru moved.

She became the second-ranked person in all of the school, Satoru was the only person who always surpassed her she tried for 2 years now.

they were never close but her anger at him was not fake, she hated him, she hated his fake smile, she hated his fake perfection, she hated everything about him, he impeded everything she hated

She cursed his name under his breath again and again and again.

"Why was it him that has to be here?" Ayaka whispered she was angry about everything, she hated studying, she hated her home, she hated herself, she hated her mother, and the only thing she loved was someone who wasn't her [Scar].


Walking home, Satoru mulled over the unexpected encounter. He resolved to check on Ayaka in discreet ways at school - small kindnesses requiring little effort on his part.

Nearing his house, Satoru caught a reflection of himself in a store window. For just a moment, he thought he saw a flicker of his avatar Dante, then it was back to his usual dead eyes.

Shrugging off the strange sensation, Satoru headed inside to focus again on his struggles. There was always so much to do in maintaining his family's expectations. He had no time for distractions or saving lost souls.

Satoru's evening he proceeded normally - dinner with his family, who talked only of academic achievements and career aspirations, then studying late into the night alone.

He went to Paradigm forums on a whim to find out there was a new boss added in this small update.

"The newest update added the Hardest boss in the game even more than the void eterna" Satoru smirked as he read that, it was a gift from the devs and he would be the one to kill it as well.

He got his headset and Logged in.

When joining the world Satoru chose to create his new Paradigm avatar, carefully customizing every detail. If he was going to maintain his reputation while playing this trendy game, his alter ego had to be perfect.

He named the avatar Virgil, a mysterious swordsman. Using stored upgrade tokens from Dante, he boosted Virgil's stats and gear to respectable levels. It lacked Dante's power but should suffice for now.

Once satisfied, Satoru transferred some spare weapons, armor, and items from Dante's inventory to equip Virgil. He would explain it away as gifts from a high-level patron if anyone asked.

With preparations complete, Satoru officially "introduced" Virgil by having both avatars post on Paradigm forums on a random chat. As expected, the bully gang noticed him and immediately messaged Virgil in awe, begging him to party up again. Right where Satoru wanted them.

As Virgil Satoru proposed they take on the newly added dungeon boss. The gang was skeptical, having heard rumors of its devastating power from veteran players. But Satoru flexed Virgil's skills in PvP duels until they were convinced.

Nakata: "Alright, if you think we can take this thing down, we'll give it a shot even if we die there's nothing to lose."

Satoru smirked. Nakata's bravado made him easy to manipulate. The others joined in trash-talking the boss, bolstered by false confidence. They had no idea what awaited below.

Transporting to the sealed crypt entrance, Satoru once again lectured the team on strategy. The bully with the lowest tolerance, Tomi, cut him off. "We get it already! Let's bust in and crush this stupid boss."

Satoru stopped talking because of how dare he interpret him. Tomi would learn soon enough. Gesturing grandly, Satoru led them inside. "You shall have your glory, friends! Onward to destiny!"

In the graveyard the Stone doors located at the ground groaned open, revealing a dark chamber lit by guttering torchlight. Satoru took point, katana drawn as he descended the crumbling steps. This boss required precision, not brute force.


The others followed boisterously, whooping with excitement as if on a thrill ride. Their noise would attract every monster for miles. Satoru gritted his teeth behind his mask. "Amateurs," he said under his breath, however, he would be lying if he said he wasn't excited as well this was the first new thing he ever played in years.

Reaching the shadowy bottom, the party fanned out seeking their target. A cacophony of clicks, shrieks, and skittering limbs surrounded them. The boys yelled in panic, firing spells haphazardly into the dark.

Then two colossal, glowing eyes pierced the blackness before them. A rumbling voice spoke a single command: "Kneel."

Satoru dove and rolled clear as a massive skeletal dragon erupted from its resting place, rotted wings spreading wide. Blighted blue fire bathed the platform, incinerating the bully mages instantly.

Nakata and Tomi screamed in horror, attacking desperately but weakly. Their weapons and spells barely scratched the dragon's bone armor. Realization sank in—they were doomed.

But Satoru kept his head, meticulously studying attack patterns and watching for an opening. After the dragon decimated the healers, he saw his chance. When it reared back to breathe again, Satoru struck.

Sprinting up falling rubble toward the dragon's spine, Satoru leaped and drove his katana through one glowing eye in a spray of ichor. The dragon thrashed madly, its maw spewing erratic flames.

[Dragon Lord was infected]

The katana in Satoru's hand wasn't a normal one it was Muramasa one of the strongest weapons in all of the game and because of it, he was able to get a top rank in Dante's account.

Rolling safely clear, Satoru shouted to the remaining bullies. "Follow my lead while it's blinded! Focus the other eye!" Inspired, Nakata and Tomi nodded firmly.

Murasama wasn't good as an only weapon however when it infects a monster it will make every attack it takes 13 times more effective so with a group or a secondary weapon murasama was your best choice.

[Dragon Lords Hp 99641/1000000]

Together the three carefully evaded wildfire blasts until Satoru called for a coordinated strike. As one, they slashed and pierced the dragon's remaining ocular weakness.

The blinded beast unleashed a bone-rattling roar of pain. Satoru again ordered his comrades to mimic his barrage of attacks on the wing joints he exposed through precise sword strikes.

Slowly the dragon's struggles weakened, its bony body cracking under the sustained assault. With a final rallying cry, the three warriors unleashed their ultimate abilities, shattering the foul creature's skeleton to dust.

Panting and bloodied, they stood victorious amidst the wreckage. Nakata looked at Satoru with newfound awe. "You know your stuff. We'd have been toast without you."

[Congrats! Your team was the first to defeat the Dragon lord]

[ Level 31 -> Level 88]

Tomi nodded appreciatively. "Yeah, we've got a lot to learn and we leveled up." Their camaraderie felt genuine, with new humility replacing their usual bravado. They had seen firsthand the gulf separating their skill levels because of Satoru's calculated guidance.

Satoru placed a hand on each of their shoulders. "If you like the game we can play more with each other." As a mentor now, he gained stronger leverage on these pawns.

Returning to town, Satoru was surprised to find Dante being challenged by a hulking warrior named Shogun. Word of Dante's fearsome reputation had spread further because of how Paradigm was trending.

Satoru itched to log into Dante and put this fool in his place for the glory. But he restrained himself - it better to build Virgil and the others up slowly away from the spotlight for now. Patience was power.

That day forums were full of the team's names, it was an achievement a levelled new player defeated one of the new hardest bosses in the game.

"HEY, IT'S ME Tomi I was on the team that day ask me anything!"

"How tf did you defeat the boss?" -

"It was all thanks to my friend [Virgil]"


As Satoru takes off the headset he looks at the ceiling, he enjoys that. but there was no time for thinking because as of tomorrow he would go to a family reunion in his grandparent's mansion.