— 1 —
When we arrived at the capital, Lichtel, close to a month of in-game time had passed.
We steadily raised our levels, and reached a point where we could proudly call ourselves intermediate adventurers.
In addition to gaining levels, more importantly, my skill as a player had also increased. One especially significant achievement was that I had completely mastered the timing for the short cancel of Step.
I had become able to chain Step short cancel into skills other than Slash. I had the confidence that we could defeat monsters that we had a hard time with back when we were in Ramlich without taking even a single hit with the skills we currently had.
What’s more, our party had grown. For a while after I started, there were just two of us, but now, it had become a four member party. At first, I thought I wasn’t made out to be fighting in a party, but my coordination with them had become quite smooth, and now it had become a given for the four of us to fight together.
I had slowly come to grasp the personalities of our two new members, and now, never mind their tendencies in battle, I could even recite the contents of their mutterings when they were idling.
The warrior Eddie was one of them. He was a front-liner, and acted as both an attacker and a tank for the party.
Eddie was originally a broadsword user, a rarity in New Communicate Online. And, on top of that, I’d say he was more suited to attacking than defending. However, that wouldn’t work out in the long run, so I forcefully toughened his equipment and made him a tank, meaning that I gave him the role of being a shield.
On the other hand, Merlin was the opposite of Eddie, a complete back-line type. Unfortunately, as a pure glass-cannon character, she could not do anything other than shoot out offensive magic from the back, nor was she expected to do anything else.
Though she was extremely weak to physical attacks and was completely useless when her MP ran out, her magical attacks were the strongest weapons of our party. I felt like she made our training at least twice as efficient.
“Is something the matter, Souma?”
The one who called out to me with her kind voice was my very first companion, and the character who I loved the most from this game.
Of course, for anyone, their first companion would be someone special, and I was no exception. It might not be an exaggeration to say that half the reason I became addicted to this world was because of her.
Naturally, she was just an NPC, and not an actual human. Though I knew she was only saying that because her AI had detected that I had been silent and stationary for a while, I still felt my heart leap upon hearing her voice.
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
Pretending to ignore those feelings, I replied her.
She was, of course…
“Shall we go? …Tieru.”
My first ally in this game, Tieru Lentia.
She was single-handedly in charge of healing in the party, and she has helped me many times. There had been plenty of situations where the party would have been wiped out if not for her. As a healer, she slowly started to lag behind in levels, but that didn’t matter. Her existence within me grew larger by the day.
Today, my relationship with her was about to change.
–Today was supposed to be a memorable day, for both Tieru and myself.
Tieru was a friendable NPC in the town of Ramlich, working in the infirmary.
Though one could slowly recover HP and MP by resting in town, there was no time for waiting around that long when going out hunting multiple times in a day.
The infirmary existed for this purpose. By paying the currency of this world, Elements, it was possible to recover HP and MP in a short amount of time.
Tieru was an apprentice healer there, and, if you visited during specific times, she would offer to treat you in place of the doctor.
Her treatment did not differ much from the doctor’s, but there was an event that gave a peek into her personality. When visiting the infirmary without any money, the normal doctor would just kick you out. But, if it was Tieru, she would give you treatment in exchange for an item, or even for free.
It was only when I became closer with her that I found out that she would pay the fee with her own money if that happened. In addition to healing someone, she even paid for them. Her kindness was slightly unbelievable.
Tieru really was a saint.
You might think that there’s no point in getting so attached to a fictional character, but I don’t agree with that.
In the end, the true winner of a game was the one who had the most fun. To me, rather than thinking of NPCs as NPCs, it was much more enjoyable to play through while emotionally interacting with them as if they were humans.
At the very least, even if her mind and body were fake, my feelings of happiness when Tieru called out to me with her kind words were real.
However, even though Tieru was so wonderful, she wasn’t a super popular character from the game as a whole.
From the official webpage, the very first popularity contest after the game’s release had a joke character, Train Girl, take the top spot in both the most popular and least popular rankings. Well, I had experienced her traumatic Train Event once as well, and a character with such impact was definitely going to be prominent, no doubt about it.
I bet she’s going to drop straight to tenth or twentieth in the next popularity contest.
That being said, even if that happened, it would probably still be difficult for Tieru to become first place.
In the first popularity contest, Tieru ranked 7th. With a spot like that, and with more and more characters appearing as people progressed in the game, it would be tough to aim for first.
From the comments, there were people saying that her character overlapped with that of sister Marielle, or that she was just a worse Marielle, or that she couldn’t beat Marielle in either abilities or in breasts… Basically lots of things comparing her to the sister in the church, but those people just had no eye.
Her charm points were her kind, all-encompassing heart, and a trait that none of the other characters had.
–A very unique trait, in that her aesthetic sense was warped!
Characters in this game had what was called affinity points, and as these increase, their speech and actions would become friendlier, and the chance of special events happening increased.
As part of that system, when a character’s affinity points reached a certain level, they would tell you the things that they like, and in Tieru’s case, of all things… She told me she liked the magical staff Guernica.
Guernica was a staff that seemed to have been designed by condensing all of the world’s suffering and anger into the shape of a staff, and the only copy of it was stored in the magic shop at Ramlich. Even with a design like that, I wouldn’t have hesitated to buy it if Tieru wanted it, but it was priced at 49000E. Unfortunately, for broke adventurers like us who couldn’t even afford to board the Skyboat, it was far out of our reach.
Promising to myself that I would definitely buy it when we returned to this town, we left Ramlich via carriage, and made it here, the capital Richter.
Of course, for us who were now on track to becoming intermediate adventurers, despite 49000E not being quite loose change, it definitely wasn’t an outlandish sum. I decided that I would definitely buy it and give it to her as a present the next time we returned to Ramlich, but, before that, I had an important challenge ahead of me.
(Today will be the day I propose to Tieru!!)
In other words, I would be asking for her hand in marriage today.
From the official announcements, a character would tell the player what they liked when their affection points reached 80. Then, when their affection points exceeded 100, surprisingly, the characters would respond to the player’s proposal.
That’s right, in other words, it was a marriage event.
The marriage system was one of New Communicate Online’s selling points, and most of the main characters that were likely to be popular could be proposed to.
Of course, even after marriage, there was not much extra you could do since this was an all-ages game. But, naturally, you would think that it’d still be nice to marry the character you liked.
By the way, according to the official information, there was no gender discrimination in this world, and whether male or female or loli or shota or elderly or a slug, as long as the marriage flag was flipped, it was possible to get married without any problems.
It seemed to me that this was far beyond the level of not discriminating based on gender, but, put another way, it meant that no matter how hard you tried, it would be impossible to marry someone whose marriage flag had not been flipped. However, I knew that one could marry Tieru. It didn’t really matter, but apparently both Eddie and Merlin, as well as the popularity ranking number one character Train Girl, were all characters that one could get married to.
Also, not that I had even the slightest of intentions to propose to anyone else, but within the game’s limitations, there was no particular problem with multiple marriages, and it was possible to propose to as many people as you wanted.
In the developer comments, they had written: “There’s something like a small exploitation prevention event in place, but, in general, you can do as you wish. Feel free to create the harem of your dreams with anyone and everyone, lol.” It does make one feel like they’re giving us a little too much freedom.
That being said, marriage did have an actual benefit with regards to the game, as it seems like the player will be able to use a part of their partner’s skills and abilities.
What’s more, it was written on the official site that “there may exist skills that cannot be obtained without completing a proposal event.” Since multiple marriages were possible in this game, there was no reason to avoid marriage events.
However, every good deal had a catch.
Especially in this game filled with countless bugs and as many deplorable events, there was no doubt about that.
Taking into account the dreadfulness of the quests, Mikhail’s Bluebird and The Labyrinth of Sacrifice, that we had recently completed, there was no way they would honestly prepare such a favorable event. My hunch was that this marriage event would come with a huge risk.
From the explanations of the marriage event, this event was apparently a one-time challenge, with the possibility of it becoming impossible to challenge again after failing once.
To begin with, the proposal event could only take place near a monolith. This was said to be so that God could witness the vows of marriage in the instruction booklet, but that was definitely a lie.
After all, this was written just a few lines earlier.
“Warning: You may not retry this event regardless of its results. Once the proposal event has been initiated, the game will automatically save.”
Possibly a remnant from the time this game was an MMO, there was only one save slot for the game. It was more or less impossible to create a backup of the data.
Of course, it might be possible to do so by messing with the VR machine itself, but I won’t use such underhanded tricks. In that case, this upcoming proposal event would really be the moment of truth.
What’s more, based on my hypothesis, the fact that this game required a save after the proposal event was, because something horrible that would make one want to reset would probably happen after one failed it.
There were three conditions to successfully complete the proposal event.
First, a ring accessory must be prepared, and placed onto the partner’s finger.
After doing so and saying a preset keyword, the confession phase initiates.
Here, the player confesses, and if the partner’s affinity points are above 100, the confession succeeds.
At this point, it will finally be possible to marry them.
However, this meant that if their affinity points were not above 100, the confession would fail. I felt like there was a big trap waiting there.
In a normal game, it would be possible to try multiple times even if the confession fails. The only possible penalty would be something like losing a few affinity points at most.
But, there was no way that there would be only such a small penalty in New Communicate Online.
There was the possibility that it would simply become impossible to try again if you fail, but the worst case scenario that I could think of, where failing the proposal would remove the character from your party, was, as unthinkable as it may be, not beyond what New Communicate Online might do.
With the chance of something like that happening, this was an event that I could not afford to fail.
It had already been three weeks since I had heard about what Tieru liked. If her affinity had been growing at same rate since then, it should have long exceeded 100 by now.
I wanted to believe that I couldn’t fail.
Emotions in turmoil, I arrived in front of the monolith.
“Is something the matter? Bringing me all the way here…?”
As if reflecting her personality, Tieru remarked with a calm expression.
Her long black hair swayed in the wind.
Even though she’s a game character, precisely because she’s a game character, I found her beautiful.
–With that, I made up my mind.
“[I have something important to tell you].”
Seizing the chance, I spoke the keyword.
Tieru didn’t visibly react.
Did I mess up the keyword?
I panicked for a moment, before quickly realizing my mistake.
I had reversed the order.
I needed to put the ring on Tieru first before saying those words.
(Calm down, calm down. This is just a game.)
Steadying my breathing, I relaxed my body. Then, I held out the ring towards her.
“It’s a present.”
I had splurged a bit, and bought the most expensive ring in the capital.
With my own hands, I put the ring onto her ring finger. In preparation for this moment, I already had her unequip one of her rings.
“A present!? My, thank you very much!”
While Tieru’s AI still managed to show a natural reaction no different from that of a human even under these limited circumstances, I took a deep breath.
“Tieru. [I have something important to tell you].”
Once more, I spoke the keywords which indicated the start of a proposal.
This time, Tieru looked at me with a surprised expression.
“Again, is something the matter?”
She had on her familiar gentle smile. Seeing that smile, I finally said it.
“Tieru. I [love] you. Please [marry] me.”
The words [love] and [marry] were the keywords, and anything containing these becomes a proposal.
From now on, there was nothing I could do but pray, and wait for her reply.
(…How, was it?)
The silence was suffocating.
Then, slowly, her mouth opened.
Her reply was…
“Yes, with pleasure!”
A large smile plastered her face.
Seeing that, all the strength left my body. I had been so worried about everything, but it seems to have been all for naught.
But, this was not the time to relax. Though I had overcome the greatest obstacle, this was only the halfway point. We still had to finish the ceremony by having God affirm our marriage.
“Then, the words of vow.”
Our eyes met for a moment, then we both turned to face ahead, and made our vow in front of God.
“I, Sagara Souma, and…”
“”Swear our eternal love by the name of our true God Redistas.””
The moment the words left our mouths…
“Wh-What’s going on?”
Three things happened simultaneously.
On the edge of my vision, the message “The game has been saved” popped up, a ray of light descended from the sky, and I heard a voice in my head.
《I congratulate you! Truly, congratulations.》
A deep, reverberating voice offered us their blessing.
No animosity could be felt from their tone. But, there was a sense of pressure, of majesty or something.
《I offer my blessings for thy wondrous love.》
It couldn’t be, God’s voice! Or so it felt like.
It seems like when the marriage event succeeded, it switched into a cutscene like this.
As I was feeling impressed by the elaborate setup…
《I offer my blessings, as the true god to descend upon these lands, as the Demon Lord Of The End, minion of the Demon God Dis Aster!》
What I heard made me doubt my ears.
Understanding the meaning of those words, I reflexively tried to protect Tieru, but it was already too late for me to do anything.
《Then, to begin with, I offer the bride the blessing of immortality.》
A single bolt of lightning suddenly struck down from the sky, striking Tieru’s body.
I screamed out, but was unable to run over to her.
(Spectator mode!? I can’t move my body!!)
Without me realizing, the system had claimed my body’s freedom. During special events, there were times when the game entered spectator mode and the player’s movements were sealed. However, this was the first time I had felt so frustrated by this.
《And to the groom, I offer the blessing of a love that persists through eternity.》
Hearing those words, I unconsciously stiffened my immobile body, but nothing noticeable happened.
Did the blessing have no effect because I was a player?
However, I had no time to think.
《You are welcome. These are the blessings of the lord of demons, ones impossible to break by human hands! You children of men! Rejoice at my blessings, and work hard for the sake of the great Dis Aster!》
Leaving only those words and a loud cackling laughter, the presence of the Demon Lord disappeared.
At the same time, in the edge of my vision, the message “You have learned a new skill” showed up.
When the sky returned to normal and the laughter faded, my body had also regained motion.
I dashed over to Tieru, who hadn’t moved one step since the start, possibly frozen by fear.
Forgetting that she was an NPC, I desperately clung onto her body. But, when I touched her, I became speechless.
…She was hard.
She felt cold and hard, as if I was touching glass.
“Wh-What, what, is…”
On top of that, no matter how hard I pushed or pulled, she wouldn’t move one inch. There was no reaction, as if time had been frozen for her. An ominous thought flashed through my head.
(Think. Remember. What did that voice say?)
That’s right, I believe it was [immortality].
A chill ran down my spine. Unable to move, eternally unchanging, that was indeed immortality.
(So, Tieru had become unable to move because of that [blessing]!?)
If that’s the case, then it was only a blessing in name. In actuality, she would have had been cursed.
“That’s right! Nectar!”
I remembered the existence of the panacea that I had obtained just one of in our previous adventures. Retrieving it from my pouch where I had stored it just in case:
“Move! Please move, Tieru!”
I threw it against the frozen Tieru. The nectar had definitely been applied to Tieru.
“Why, why did it not work!!”
Tieru stayed frozen.
The supposedly all-curing nectar had no effect. The nectar was supposed to be superior to all healing magic or techniques that a player could have. If even that was useless, then there was nothing else I could do.
“What is this, I can’t believe it! Even if it’s an event, this is too unreasonable…!”
Yelling, I shook Tieru’s body.
The parts of her body could not move. However, her entire body could be moved.
“Just wait a little bit. I’ll have you cured soon.”
Carrying her body, I headed to the church.
Even if I can’t do anything about it, maybe someone else could.
The church was a place that cured status abilities and broke curses. In addition, the priest there, Father Gratia, was involved in many events, and was likely a strong hidden force of this game. The specifics of his backstory hadn’t come out yet, but I believed he was something like a retired veteran adventurer.
With the conviction that he would be able to do something about this, I opened the door to the church while carrying Tieru, and:
I was shocked at the sight.
In a posture, as if he were preaching, Father Gratia stood, frozen. At one glance, I could tell that it was the same condition as Tieru.
(No way, could he have done in anyone who might have been able to cure this!?)
Desperately trying to calm my confusion, I ran out of the church.
For the moment, I need to bring Tieru somewhere safe first.
With only that one thought in mind, I ran through the town. In the corner of my mind, I knew that there was nothing that could harm Tieru in her current state, but I just wanted to bring her somewhere where I could feel reassured.
“For now, for now I should meet up with everyone…”
Dragging Tieru’s frozen body, I headed to the inn.
As I entered the inn, the inn’s attendant welcomed me with a startled voice.
Normally, I might’ve found this slightly aggravating, but, this time, I was truly relieved. In the capital’s inn, there were people who were perfectly capable of moving.
(I’m glad. It seems to be fine inside the inn.)
I had almost collapsed there, overcome by relief, but I forced my body onwards, towards our room.
–I can still go on.
–Even Tieru might still be able to be cured.
I’ll regroup with Eddie and Merlin, come up with a plan, and then…
“Eddie! Merlin! It’s horrible, Tieru has…”
Opening the door, I called out to Eddie and Merlin, and finally noticed the abnormality. Since I had entered the room, neither of them showed any response.
I quickly scampered over to the two of them, and shook their bodies.
…They were cold.
It was as if they were no longer living beings. A cold and hard feeling was transmitted back through my fingers.
Shaking, I staggered backwards.
“Why? Why, not just Tieru, but Eddie and Merlin too?”
I couldn’t understand it. It didn’t make logical sense.
The curse of the Demon Lord’s blessings should’ve had only been applied to the two of us.
(Wait, a second. What he said to me, “I offer the blessing of a love that persists through eternity”…)
A love that persists through eternity. That could also mean to never cheat.
However, it didn’t seem to have any effect on me. In that case, who was the curse targeting?
(He couldn’t have, cursed every single character that could be married, could he?)
There’s no way! Such an event devoid of common sense that destroyed the entire game from its roots would be absurd!
Nonetheless, I had already come to accept that hypothesis. Eddie and Merlin could not very well be called important characters, but they were characters that one could marry.
And, though I have no confirmation, Father Gratia didn’t feel like just a simple mob character. He must have also been one of the characters that one could get married to.
“Damn it! Damn it all!”
Once more, this time alone, I walked towards the monolith.
My goal this time was not Tieru.
I just wanted to undo all of this.
The monolith came into sight. The moment I ran inside, I yelled out with all my might.
Yelling this, I chose to load the game data from the menu.
Immediately, my save data was loaded. For a moment, my field of vision grew dark…
“Yes, with pleasure!”
In front of my eyes was Tieru with her usual smile. I let out a sigh of relief.
Just by seeing her smile gently at me, it felt as if I had woken up from a nightmare. I felt my tension dissipate.
However, I needed to stop this.
If I don’t do something, she’ll once again receive the Demon Lord’s curse and be frozen in time.
It would probably be fine as long as we don’t say the words of vow, but this was a game whose depravity knew no depths. I couldn’t relax with just that. I should move Tieru away from this place as quickly as possible.
I tried to tell that to Tieru.
(Tieru, we need to run, right…)
“Then, the words of vow.”
Yet, what came from my mouth was the exact opposite.
From my mouth? …That wasn’t quite accurate.
It was a recording. The words that I had said before were just being played back.
However, on hearing that, Tieru happily nodded.
I wanted to stop it, but, my body, being stuck in spectator mode would not move one bit.
Even though I wasn’t saying anything, the event progressed onwards selfishly.
“I, Sagara Souma, and…”
“”Swear our eternal love by the name of our true god Redistas.””
The voices of Tieru and myself, followed by the resounding voice of the Demon Lord.
《I congratulate you! Truly, congratulations.》
What followed did not change.
The Demon Lord appeared and froze the time of Tieru, as well as many of the people in the town.
As all that happened, I could do nothing but stand there and watch.
When everything ended, and Tieru, once more frozen into a statue, entered my eyes:
I finally understood everything.
This, this here was the true trap behind New Communicate Online’s marriage event.
Automatically saving was not to prevent the player from avoiding the penalties of failing the marriage event. It was so that they could not escape from the blessings of the Demon Lord when they succeed with the marriage. It was what the developers had come up with, the worst possible trap.
As a result, I had lost everything. My beloved partner, and the party members who had up to now journeyed with me through thick and thin.
And, it became impossible to enlist the help of any notable NPCs having a marriage event.
Unconsciously, words spilled out from my mouth. But they were no doubt the screams of my heart.
“–I’m quitting this shitty game!!”
Logging out, I immediately deleted the data of New Communicate Online, wrapped myself in my blanket, and went to sleep.
…This was from around a year before I was pulled into the game world.
It was a story from back when this game hadn’t even been nicknamed Nekomimineko, from when I had still truly enjoyed playing this game.
It was also a story of why I had become a solo player.