— 1 —
July 1st, 20XX.
“It-it’s all your fault. It’s because you were trying to cheat on me…!”
A voice called down to me.
I laid on the ground, a knife thrust deep into my chest.
(I can’t believe… over something like that…)
Thus, I, “Souma Sagara”, died.
However, this was all in a game!
The game that I, Souma Sagara, was playing is called “New Communicate Online”, or more popularly known as “Nekomimineko”. It is in many ways a famous VR game, and in a certain sense, you can say that it once took the world by storm.
A VR game is quite literally one that takes place within a virtual reality. It’s a game where you play by moving your body as if you had entered the game world, but in the end no matter how realistic it seems, a game is still a game.
Unlike reality, dying does not mean that it’s the end. By reloading the game and returning to a save point, you can continue playing as if nothing had happened.
As if proving that point, the words “Game Over” floated into view in the darkness, and below it a menu with the options “Load” and “Return to Title” appeared. I unhesitantly chose “Load” and selected the latest save data, and involuntarily muttered to myself.
“Still… as expected of Nekomimineko. To think that I would get killed over something like that, it’s sure living up to its name of the shittiest game of the century.”
What I had been working on until just a moment ago was a quest that involved getting friendly with a certain female NPC and exploring a dungeon together. After much hard work, I somehow managed to gain the affection of the character (named Layla), but as I dropped by the item shop to buy some torches before heading to the dungeon, her attitude suddenly changed and she stabbed me to death.
Now that I think about it, she probably didn’t like the fact that the shopkeeper was female.
…Just how high is her jealousy setting, jeez.
As I was once again being impressed by the unreasonableness of this game, the game data finished loading and I returned to the last save point, only to hear a light beep informing of an incoming call.
“Ah. It’s from Maki.”
I was still in the game, but that was fine. Calling out the menu screen, I pressed the accept call button. Immediately the call connected, and the sluggish voice of my cousin Maki echoed from thin air.
“Souma? Are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?”
One of the features of these VR games is that even while in-game you can communicate with the real world through calls and texts. Being inside a VR space meant that you could call hands free without any particular need of a physical device, so communication might actually be more convenient than in the real world.
“Don’t what’s up me. Didn’t you promise to help organize our storeroom today!”
“Eh? Huh, now that you mention it…”
I had a faint feeling that I might have made such a promise… Or maybe not… In the first place, ever since starting to live alone I spent pretty much all of everyday gaming, so the sense of each passing day had started to fade.
“Even after I told you not to forget that many times!”
“Uh, uhm… sorry.”
“…Fine then. I thought it was probably something like that, so I had already started by myself.”
“A-Ahh. I see, sorry.”
Maki is my cousin and two years younger than me, but even then she holds quite a cheeky attitude towards me.
Her short and slender body conceals an abnormal amount of strength, and while she wears a harmless expression she is actually quite the troublemaker. Frankly, if I were to count the number of times that I’ve fallen prey to Maki’s antics, the fingers on my hands and my feet wouldn’t be enough.
I took advantage of starting university to go live on my own, and things became a bit quieter, but even then we were close enough that we would occasionally correspond through calls or texts.
“So yeah. I started cleaning, but I found something strange…”
“Mm. Uhh, it’s orange colored, and ball shaped?”
“An orange ball?”
It’s not just an orange right? Ah, but if an orange was in that storeroom then it would have rotted a long time ago…
“There’s quite a few of them. Uhm, one, two, three, four… there seems to be around seven?”
“Seven? …Seven orange balls?! H-Hey, they don’t happen to have stars inside them right?”
No, such an absurd thing can’t be possible…
“Mm? Let me test that.”
“Huh? Test? What do you…”
The sound of a crash immediately answered my question.
“Uhh… there doesn’t seem to be anything inside?”
“W-What did you just do…!”
“Eh? You wanted to know if there was something inside it, so I cracked it open to check…”
Maki answered nonchalantly. This is why you can never be too careful around her. The things she can do with a calm face have always been quite extreme.
“Maki, you know, that could’ve actually been…”
“Actually been what?”
Now that it was cracked open, there was no point in saying anything. I swallowed the words that I was about to say.
“Is there anything else interesting?”
“Nn? Let’s see.”
Maki replied to my words with sounds of her fumbling through objects.
“Ah. What… is this, a mummy’s hand? But it’s so small. It might not be a human hand. Maybe from something like a monkey?”
“C-Could that maybe be that famous monkey’s paw that grants the owner three wishes…?”
The words I spoke were drowned out by the ruffling of a plastic bag.
“Eh? What? I was just about to put the mummy hand into the burnable trash.”
“You… ah whatever.”
If I remember correctly, the monkey’s paw was supposed to be some kind of cursed object that fulfilled the owner’s wishes with unintended consequences.
Although it’s probably not the real thing anyways, it’s better not to get involved.
After a short while,
“I-I found something that’s really hard to describe!”
Maki’s surprised voice rang out.
“What kind of thing is that?”
“U-Uhh, how do I describe this. It’s golden, and it’s shaped like a watering can, but it’s also like a kettle. But it’s too small to be a watering can or a kettle…”
Gathering together Maki’s ramblings, I tried to imagine the object in my mind. Starting with a small golden kettle and morphing it as described, the shape of a certain object that frequently appeared in folklore took form.
I involuntarily raised my voice.
“Could that maybe be that thing with a djinn in it that grants three wishes, that magical la…”
“I know! It’s a curry pot!”
Even then, my voice was covered up Maki’s even louder voice.
“Eh? A curry pot…”
She probably means those specialized things that pour curry. It’s true that the shape seems similar. But still.
“At our place we use ladles for curry, so guess I’ll throw this away.”
“Ah, wait a–”
I was too late. Crash, the sound of something breaking could be heard.
“Nn? Did you say something?”
It was too late anyways. I could only give up and wish the lamp luck in its next life.
“Okay then. Let’s continue!”
“Don’t immediately break the next one!”
Just in case, I put out a warning.
Of course I didn’t believe that they were real, but it’s definitely curious that these wish-granting items would appear one after another. With Maki destroying them all as soon as she found them, if possible I would like to investigate the next one a bit more without it being destroyed. Even if they were just randomly created replicas, it could still become the topic of a conversation.
What would appear next? I slightly looked forward to finding out.
“Ah, found something!”
It seemed that she found something new because Maki’s voice hit my ears.
“I found another one! This is… what is it? It seems like a long, thin strip of paper.”
“A strip of paper?”
A strip of paper and wishes… Ah, it must be that!
“Hey, isn’t that a Tanzaku? You know, the one where you write wishes for Tanabata?”
“Tanzaku? Ah, mm, yeah, it seems like it might be!”
Still, suddenly it turned a lot more reasonable or less exotic or something. Well, not that it really matters.
“Since I found it, maybe I’ll write down a wish.”
“Ah, wait! Don’t be so hasty…”
I hurriedly tried to stop her, but,
I was too late. Normally there wouldn’t be any dangers associated with writing a Tanzaku, but after seeing all these strange relics, you can’t be too sure. I was slightly wary of it, but it seemed that Maki wasn’t worried in the slightest.
That’s why, when I heard her response, I was honestly slightly relieved.
“Of course. How could something like that actually grant your wishes… So, what did you wish for?”
“I wished to become a princess.”
“…I hope you’ll always be filled with dreams.”
She completely missed the sarcasm. Well, that’s part of what makes her Maki.
“For a moment it seemed like it was going to work. I guess the problem is that it’s not Tanabata.”
While spewing such nonsense, Maki’s search continued.
“Ah, I think I found something amazing. What is this again… uh… a Pico Pico Hammer?”
“Pico Pico Hammer?”
I didn’t know of any legends about a Pico Pico Hammer granting wishes. As I was tilting my head in confusion, Maki swung the conversation in a completely unrelated direction.
“You know. Speaking of Tanzaku, isn’t it almost Tanabata?”
“Hm? Ah, yeah…”
Well, since other than going to class I spend the rest of my time holed up in my house playing video games, that had nothing to do with me.
Or so I thought, but Maki followed with a strange request.
“Hey Souma. Come play at our place on Tanabata. You know, to make up for skipping today’s storeroom cleaning.”
“Huh!? No way no way no way! I have class on Tanabata! And after class I have games to play so I have no time to visit!”
I refused the unexpected request with a rather harsh tone. However, I immediately regretted it the moment it came out of my mouth. The aura on the other side of the phone changed.
“…You’re always like that, Souma. Even when I invite you, it’s always games, games, games, games, games. Even today’s cleaning, I worked so hard to finally get a yes from you, but in the end you forgot about it because of your games…”
“Ah, uhm… Maki?”
Maki’s voice was low. That was a sign that she was angry.
The moment when I plugged my ears in the VR world was almost exactly the same moment as when a voice loud enough to echo through the whole world rang out.
“If you like your games so much, why don’t you just go live in one, you jerk!”
At the same time, an exaggerated sound of something breaking could be heard from far away.
Stunned by Maki’s sudden assault, what reached my ears was the voice of an equally stunned Maki.
“Huh? The Pico Pico Hammer broke. Even though it looked like it was made of pretty sturdy wood.”
“A hammer, made of wood?”
Hearing those words, something clicked within me. Speaking of a wooden hammer that can grant wishes, only one thing came to mind.
In other words, that was not a Pico Pico Hammer…”
“Hey, could that maybe be the Lucky…”
However, I was unable to finish the rest of my sentence.
My vision wavered.
The virtual world collapsed inwards, losing its appearance.
My words made no sound.
Everything started swirling around and being sucked into a big something.
Right before I lost consciousness…
“If you like your games so much, why don’t you just go live in one, you jerk!”
For some reason Maki’s shout once again echoed clearly in my head.