— 1 —
July 1st, 20XX.
“I-It’s all your fault. It’s because you were trying to cheat on me…!”
A voice called down to me.
I lay 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 commonly known as “Nekomimineko”. It is, in many ways, a famous VR game, and in a certain sense, you could 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 you play by moving your body as if you had entered the game world, but in the end, no matter how realistic it seemed, a game was still a game.
Unlike reality, dying was not the end. By reloading the game and returning to a save point, you could continue playing as if nothing had happened.
As if to prove 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 Screen” appeared. I unhesitantly chose “Load” and selected the latest save data before muttering involuntarily 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.
…Jeez, just how high is her jealousy setting.
As I was once again 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 me of an incoming call.
“Ah, it’s Maki.”
I was still in game, but that was fine. Calling out the menu screen, I pressed the “Accept Call” button. The call connected immediately, 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 it was possible to communicate with the real world through calls and texts, even when in-game. Being in a VR space meant that you could call hands free without the need for a physical device, so communication might actually be more convenient here 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 I started living alone, I spent pretty much every day gaming, so the sensation of each passing day had started to fade.
“Even after I told you not to forget so many times!”
“Uh, uhm… Sorry.”
“…Fine then. I thought it was probably something like that, so I already started by myself.”
“A-Ahh. I see, sorry.”
Maki is my cousin, and she’s two years younger than me, but even then she holds quite a cheeky attitude towards me.
Her short and slender body concealed an abnormal amount of strength, and while she wore a harmless expression, she’s actually quite the troublemaker. Frankly, if I were to count the number of times I’ve fallen prey to Maki’s antics, the fingers on my hands and the toes on my feet wouldn’t be enough.
I used starting university as an excuse 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 check.”
“Huh? Check? What do you…”
The sound of a crash immediately answered my question.
“Uhh… Looks like there isn’t anything inside.”
“W-What did you just do…!”
“Huh? You wanted to know if there was anything inside it, so I cracked it open to check…”
Maki replied nonchalantly. This is why you can never be too careful around her. The things she can do while keeping 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?”
“Hmm? Let’s see.”
The sound of someone fumbling through various objects came as a reply.
“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? Sorry, I was busy putting the mummy hand with 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 its owner’s wishes with unintended consequences.
Although it’s probably not the real thing, 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 according to her descriptions, the shape of a certain object that frequently appeared in folklore took form.
I involuntarily raised my voice.
“Could that 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 by Maki’s even louder voice.
“Huh? A curry pot…”
She was probably talking about one of those specialized things used to 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. With a ‘crash’, the sound of something breaking entered my ears.
“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 let out a warning.
Of course I didn’t believe that they were real, but it’s definitely strange 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 little more before it got 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 Maki had found something new, for her voice once again 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 thing you write wishes on for Tanabata?”
“Tanzaku? Ah, mm, yeah, it seems like it might be!”
Still, it seemed to have suddenly 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. There wouldn’t normally be any danger 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 Maki didn’t seem 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 that’s because 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 spent 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 up 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 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 I plugged my ears in the VR world coincided almost perfectly with when I heard a loud voice that seemed to echo through the whole world.
“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. Only one thing came to mind when i thought about a wooden hammer which could grant wishes.
In other words, that wasn’t a Pico Pico Hammer…”
“Hey, could that 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 echoed clearly in my head once again.