Italic text is Engrish (English written in katakana). In cases when I needed to emphasise that the word is Japanese (or when the text specifically commented about it being Japanese), I added the Japanese version as furigana.
Feel free to point out any errors, give suggestions or just talk about the story itself in the comments.
Editing: Pryun, Kumo
SECT.1 - Soldiers' Tea Party
15th of February, 2026. Sunday. Around 1.5 hours past noon.
In a room of a metropolitan high-rise apartment house in Tokyo on a very cloudy day,
“That was fast!”
Several high-pitched cheers flew about.
It was a tranquil, ten jō(1)-sized living room surrounded by white walls.
There were six high-school girls dressed in uniforms, sitting on a cream-coloured carpet, and excitedly watching a 42-inch liquid crystal TV placed in a corner of the room.
Of those six, five were black-haired girls with a skin colour typical to the Japanese. A single one of them was blonde and white-skinned.
There was a slightly older, and outstandingly tall for a Japanese female, girl behind these six. While sitting with her long legs bent at the knees,
“I have a mixed feeling about you cheering like that again……”
She let out those words as she looked at the swaying of the girls’ hair.
And, she added this.
“Even though our gunfight has yet to make an appearance on the video……”
The computer graphics were so detailed that the scene depicted on the large liquid crystal TV screen barely differed from a scenery of the real world.
The sun was still up, yet the skies were dyed in red as if it was sunset; and an SF movie-like spaceship lodged in a swamp could be seen from a bird’s-eye view.
“I want to see that battle again! Can we rewind it? Karen-san.”
One of the uniformed high-school girls turned around, with her black braid swaying.
“By all means. As many times as you like.”
The tall woman who was the owner of the room, Kohiruimaki Karen, answered with a smile.
Having received consent, the high-school girl repeatedly hit the 〝slight rewind〟 button on the TV remote in her hands. Each time, the scene would change completely, until it finally stopped at the part that the girl sought.
The scene reflected in the CG video was an open location that looked like a foreign, high-class residential area. A crossroad on a broad street.
The video overlooked a quiet intersection from several metres above ground, where a cracked pavement, with various junk such as tyres, shopping carts, a small suitcase lying around could be seen.
Eventually, four men, dressed in camouflage and with black rifles in their hands, appeared on the screen. Of course, they were characters visualised with CG.
The men entered the crossroads and vigilantly surveyed the area. They were all wearing masks, thus it was impossible to tell their expressions. Their voices could not be heard either.
“Here it comes……”
A moment after one of the high-school girls muttered this, the on-screen suitcase cracked. It suddenly opened on its own like a baked hamaguri(2), and what came out was...
A pink girl.
A small girl who wasn’t even 150 cm tall. Her combat uniform, boots, gloves, cap, magazine, and even the strangely-shaped device in her hands were all pink.
Then, the device spewed fire and a series of high-pitched gunshots came from the TV’s monitor, demonstrating that the device was a gun.
The face and body of the man closest to the pink girl was showered with in bullets, parts of his body that were hit shone in red, and small particles of light scattered from them. It wasn’t a depiction of fresh blood, only a CG 〝hit effect〟 created from light.
Then, the man lost his strength, collapsed on the spot, and a 【Ｄｅａｄ】── in other words, a red marker denoting 〝death〟, lit up with a *pikon* sound. He was dead.
The pink girl then fired at the next man closest to her while charging towards him. The man did return fire with his rifle, but not a single bullet hit the pink girl. Conversely, the man was turned into a beehive.
Thus, the second person was also killed in the time it takes to say ‘ah’, then the pink girl leapt to the side of his corpse to hide.
The surviving two men trained their rifles at the girl, but one of them obviously hesitated to fire, while the other fired, but could not hit the small target that was using the corpse as a shield. Like the ones before, he was shot and died.
The pink girl then rolled on the ground like a spinning top, and drenched the last man in a bloodbath of hit effects.
Having killed all of them in several seconds, the pink girl ran away from her current position with an extreme dash. She disappeared outside the screen at an unimaginable speed.
Having pressed the stop button on the remote, the high school girl,
“Yep, no matter how many times I see it, it’s still amazing! Karen-san!”
Said as she turned around once again, and Karen answered with a bitter smile.
“That was── I was able to do it because it was 〝LLENN〟.”
At that moment, she heard a strong reply from that small body.
“That’s the same thing! It’s the player who controls the avatar! That’s why, LLENN, the victor of the Squad Jam, is Karen-san right here!”
By 2026 AD, games had achieved tremendous evolution.
It was the prosperity of 〝FullDive-type〟virtual reality (VR) games, which cut off all sensations of the body, and instead sent new senses to the brain, allowing the player to enjoy the illusion that they were actually in the game.
Anyone in the possession of a computer, the game software, and a large, goggle-type device called the 《AmuSphere》 could easily take a trip to a different world.
The AmuSphere cut off the senses of the body, and sent fake sensations directly to the brain.
Because of this, players would enter a state that felt like 〝a dream where one knew that it is a dream〟, and could manipulate one’s alter ego in a VR world ── an 〝avatar〟, as if controlling one’s own body.
Being able to control another self, just like a 〝dream〟game.
A great variety of VR games, having blossomed simultaneously like flowers, were available──
But among them was a VR-MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) that specialised in battles with guns.
Its name was── 《Gun Gale Online》. Abbreviated to GGO.
Set on an Earth that was laid to ruin during the last war, mankind unexpectedly returned via a spaceship and began rampaging with guns in their hands. Sometimes fighting against monsters and the like, sometimes against other player characters.
The weapons used were guns.
Both optical guns fitting for an SF setting, and live ammunition guns as they appeared in reality, were available. It was a game where it was possible to fight relentlessly with guns in a virtual world, and where gun maniacs could let loose.
Moreover, exchanging in-game currency to electronic money was officially not prohibited in GGO. Because of that, it became a place rampant with professional players who were in a frenzy to earn a living through playing── no, it could already be called 〝working〟.
In this game called GGO, a battle royale tournament to 〝decide the strongest player〟 is held. It’s called the 《Bullet of Bullets》. Abbreviated to BoB.
The BoB is an event that raises a wave of excitement throughout GGO. The tournament had been held thrice thus far, and its scale continued to increase.
Having seen one such BoB tournament, a certain person was struck with an idea. 〝I want to see a team battle royale rather than a one on one fight〟.
That person sent a request to GGO’s management company, an organisation, known as 《Zaskar》, that is registered in the United States. And it decided to organise a game tournament with him as the sponsor.
It was a battle royale tournament, like the BoB, that consisted of teams up to six members──
And it was called 〝Squad Jam〟. Abbreviated to SJ. In the army, squad was the term for 〝team〟. Jam had the meaning of 〝being cramped〟.
As an individual-sponsored mini tournament, the SJ was held two weeks earlier on the 1st of February. It could not be compared to the level of the BoB, which had a live broadcast on a net broadcaster, but it was considerably exciting nonetheless.
The battles were only given a live broadcast in an in-game bar that became the main venue for the event. A fierce gun battle among twenty three teams unfolded in a special field that was 10 km wide in all four directions.
The audience watched the broadcast, while enjoying drinks, to see which team would survive, and──
To everyone's great surprise, the winners of the battle, which took 1 hour 28 minutes and totaled 49,810 bullets spent, was a team that participated with only two players, the bare minimum.
One of the two was a rough-looking giant who excelled in shooting and whose character name was 〝M〟.
The other was──
A tiny girl, dressed entirely in pink, controlled by Kohiruimaki Karen.
A truck advancing along the road of a residential district was displayed on the screen.
It was a rustic military truck that had numerous armour plates attached to the side of the cab and hood. Crushing the scattered trash on the cracked, paved road with its large tyres, the truck drove at a considerable speed until it stopped in front of a mansion.
“So Saki-chan and the others managed to get there from the edge of the map that fast because you had that truck, huh.”
Karen said to the braided girl.
The girl quickly turned around and answered in a cheerful voice.
Her name was 〝Nitobe Saki〟. She was a second-year at a school affiliated with the prestigious women’s university that Karen attended, and the head of the rhythmic gymnastics club.
At that moment, the TV screen showed a rough-looking, huge female character being the first to get off the passenger seat.
Being at least 180 cm-tall, having well-developed muscles and a massive chest, the woman looked like a female pro wrestler. If it weren’t for the three brown braids hanging down from her right and left, it would probably be hard to even tell her gender. Age-wise, she looked like she was in her mid-thirties… or more like easily older than that.
She was wearing camouflage clothes, with small green dots, from top to bottom. And she was holding a large backpack in her hands.
This strong-looking female soldier, whose character name was 〝Eva〟, was Saki’s GGO avatar.
“Hmm, no matter how many times I see it, it still looks sca── strong……”
Saki quickly reacted to Karen’s voice. Cutely puffing her cheeks,
“Hey! Karen-san, you were just about to say 〝scary〟!”
“Sorry sorry. Yeah, but, it does look scary.”
Karen apologised with a smile and then affirmed it, after which, one of the girls, who had a shortcut hairstyle, followed up.
“Boss is the strongest of us after all!”
The name of the girl who said that with a carefree smile was 〝Fujisawa Kana〟. She was a girl with shoulder-length hair and a determined expression.
Like Saki, Kana was a second-year at the attached high school, and she was Saki’s childhood bosom friend who also supported the rhythmic gymnastics club as its vice-president.
Saki, who was called by the name 〝Boss〟 in both RL and VR, said,
“Kana-cchi’s avatar is the same! ──There, please look at it, Karen-san! 〝Sophie’s〟burly figure!”
With her small hand, she pointed at the screen.
On it, a character jumped off the load-carrying tray. It was a short, and appropriately wide, woman with a grim expression. Her name was Sophie.
Her small but wide outfit made her look like a fantasy world dwarf. Her long, brown hair was tied together at the back of her head.
The weapon in Sophie’s hand was a Russian-made 《PKM Machine Gun》 that looked considerably heavy.
“Ahaha. ──You both look really strong.”
Smiling carefreely, Karen…
Remembered the time she tried to 〝kill〟 them.
She arbitrarily imagined that they were insulting her, and thus she was driven by the urge to find a gun──
And as a result, that was deciding factor for her participation in SJ; it was foreshadowed.
‘I don’t know how my life will change.’
“Okay! Next up is me(3)!”
One of the girls raised her white hand.
She was a Caucasian girl with transparent, golden, shoulder-length, wavy hair and blue pupils.
Her height was about the same as the other girls’, but for a Caucasian girl, she was considerably short. Her Japanese was very good, and her pronunciation did not feel out of place at all.
Karen responded by calling her name.
The first-year girl was 〝Milana Sidorova〟. Her parents were Russian traders. Milana had traveled back and forth between Tokyo and Moscow since she was a child, but starting with her second year in middle school, she had continuously attended their school.
A character holding a long and narrow gun stepped out of the driver’s seat on the screen.
The character, who was Milana’s other self, was named 〝Tohma〟. The at least 175 cm tall figure had a matching slender body. Underneath her green knit cap, was glossy, black short-cut hair. Her garments were camouflage clothes, similar to her companions’. And as for her weapon, she had a famous, Russian-made semi-auto sniper rifle, the 《Dragunov》.
Saki halted the footage, and explained to Karen.
“You see, surprisingly, Milana-chan can operate a manual transmission car! She was taught that by her car-loving father in Russia.”
“Oh. So that’s how……”
Karen expressed her understanding. If one was able to do something in RL, they would be able to do it in GGO too.
“Now for the next one!”
With Saki’s words and her press of the button, the video resumed. The next character quickly stepped down from the load-carrying tray.
It was a female character that looked considerably old, had red hair and a freckled face. She was tall, had broad shoulders and gave off the feeling of a strong mother. Her armament was a PKM machine gun. She had a rucksack with spare gun barrels and spare ammunition cases. On the sides of the rucksack hung three plasma grenades on each side.
“Yeah yeah! That’s me~e!”
A girl, sitting at the side of the table full of sweets and bearing absolutely no resemblance to the old lady on the screen, raised her voice. She was a beautiful Japanese girl with a cute, Japanese-style bob cut.
Her real world name was 〝Noguchi Shiori〟. A second-year high school student. Her name in GGO was 〝Rosa〟.
While looking at both the scary face of Rosa whom she had seen in SJ, and the face of the cute girl who had been controlling the avatar, Karen,
“I see, so that was Shiori-chan……”
Seeing the genuinely shy and smiling Shiori, Karen also squinted her eyes.
On the screen, the fifth member descended.
It was a character with golden hair waving underneath her green knit hat, and from her appearance, she looked younger than the other members, around her early twenties. She was wearing sunglasses and had a beautiful appearance, as if she was a foreign actress. She was holding a Dragunov sniper rifle.
“Ehm, that, is me……”
The one who had moderately raised her hand was the girl with the longest black hair in the group, tied at the back of her head, who wore a gentle expression. She was a first-year named 〝Annaka Moe〟. Her character name was 〝Anna〟, so she was the one in the group whose in-game name was closest to her real name.
Karen had not even said a word, but...
“Ehm, sorry…… that my avatar looks, kinda stuck up.”
Moe shrunk even more than she had until now, and abruptly began apologising.
Karen was unable to understand her, so Saki cut in.
“Moe-chan is ashamed that her avatar is far too similar to a cool Hollywood actress. Even though I said that there’s no need to worry about that!”
“Ah, I see…”
Finally, the shortest, though she was still at the very least 160 cm tall, character got off the truck on the screen.
Her hair was silver and very short. Her sharp eyes and face made her look like a fox. Her camouflaged clothes and equipment matched the other members, but she also had a pistol holster identical to Boss’s on her waist. The weapon in her hands was the Russian-made submachine gun 《PP-19 Bizon》.
“Yeah yeah! That’s me! I am the person inside 〝Tanya〟!”
The one who raised her hand was a girl who used the ‘boku’(4) first person pronoun.
She had short, outstanding hair, and had an appearance that could be described as a crossdressing bishounen. Of course, she was really a girl and a first-year member of the rhythmic gymnastics club. Her name was 〝Kusunoki Risa〟.
“Risa’s RL appearance resembles her avatar the most!”
Just as Saki had declared, aside from the black-silver colour difference, they both had identical very short hair. Though avatar Tanya’s eyes were probably a bit sharper.
“And that’s it! That’s the end of the attached high’s rhythmic gymnastics club’s full member GGO-self introduction!”
After Karen replied with ‘Yes, thanks’ to Saki’s words,
“Ehm…… Are we really, going to watch it now?”
She asked Saki and the other five, reluctant to continue.
‘Naturally Of course Obviously That’s what we came for We are!’
They answered simultaneously, like the rapid-fire of a machine gun, and Saki calmed her club members with her hand,
“We are, of course! Karen-san, please explain in detail how you 〝killed〟 us! Since we will reflect on it and study to become the victors of the next SJ!”
＊ ＊ ＊
In the Squad Jam tournament that took place two weeks before, Karen’s, no, her avatar LLENN’s final──
And most formidable enemies were these girls.
Having their 〝RL leaked〟unexpectedly, in other words, their real world identity discovered 2 days after the tournament, Karen and the six members of the attached high’s rhythmic gymnastics club began exchanging greetings every time they passed each other by.
Eventually, this turned into short conversations, which became somewhat long conversations, then even longer chit-chats; however, they did not have the free time for these conversations then and there, thus...
“So, why don’t you come over to my place on a day off from school? It’s just one stop by subway from here, and it shouldn’t take long to walk either……”
Karen said without putting much thought into her words.
And just after she finished,
‘When did I become so proactive to invite someone over!”
At first, she was surprised.
And at the same time,
‘Ah, did I say something that I shouldn’t have by going with the flow?’
Karen felt pain in her heart.
‘We haven’t known each other for that long yet, and, moreover, if I say 〝Then come to my place〟, wouldn’t the girls be cautious? Moreover, wouldn’t it be difficult to refuse?’
‘Shouldn’t I have suggested going to a cafe first?’
‘I have been feeling strangely proactive ever since the SJ, but has it gone too far, leading to me ending up reckless?’
She thought of such things in her mind while frowning, but then──
The reaction came like a storm.
‘Wha, can we We will come We’re definitely coming Thank you for having us(5) Yay, please do let us come!’
Having received the simultaneous answer from the six girls, Karen ended up inviting friends (?) from Tokyo to her place for the first time.
The girls came over on their way back from club activities, which was why all six of them wore uniforms on a day off.
Karen prepared a large quantity of sweets and tea. After eating a little, Saki asked ‘Can we borrow the TV?’.
Karen gave her consent, but to her amazement, the girls chose to watch a recording of their battle on the Net-connected TV.
The game’s management had compiled the highlights of the SJ battle broadcast into a video that was around an hour long.
It was possible to watch it either while playing GGO, in other words, watching it from within the game world after diving in, or by watching it in the real world via a Net connection like this.
Karen was considerably surprised, but having given them permission, she could no longer take back her words. 2 weeks had passed since the end of the SJ, but she had not seen the broadcast video yet.
In the first place, she had not even been to GGO since then.
The reason was complex: having gone that wild in SJ, she had a strong 〝I’ve had enough〟 feeling, and she ended up being reluctant because of the incident with M mid-way.
‘Then it’s the perfect time to do it! Let’s watch it for research!”
Having been forcibly persuaded by the younger Saki, she had watched the digest thus far.
“Saki-chan, you and the others sure are serious, huh……”
Karen remarked like an old lady as she saw Saki and the others watching the battle that they had lost many times over, reflecting on it, and using it as material for research,
“Well of course! It is a part of our club activities after all!”
‘GGO and rhythmic gymnastics have some sort of link?’
Karen tilted her head at those unexpected words. Saki stopped pressing the video playback button, and,
“Come to think of it, we have not told you about it yet, huh──”
Began talking as the representative of the club.
“Around last April, in other words, after the three first-years joined, our teamwork was horrible”
“Is that…… so?’
Seeing the currently close group of six, this was extremely surprising, thus,
“I can’t imagine that at all……”
Karen remarked honestly.
“It was awful. It wasn't on the level where we would fight upon seeing each other, but whenever we had to perform together, we’d all fall apart…… Under the university’s coach’s instructions, we underwent training using FullDive technology── Karen-san, do you know about 〝FullDive Sports Simulators〟?
Karen could guess what it was based on the name, but shook her head. Saki then explained.
“It’s training with an avatar with your physique using an AmuSphere. It’s currently popular among open-minded coaches, as there’s no danger when suddenly trying risky techniques.”
Karen felt admiration. Thus far, Karen had only used VR technology to play (GGO), but in essence, it should be used for something like that.
“Of course, in the end, it’s just a simulation in terms of real physical strength, but it could be used to practice moves. It would be different if there were in-dive tournaments, but there aren’t any yet. Though there are rumours that they might eventually be held.”
“It’s educational. So your moves are so splendid because you've had training like that, huh.”
“Ehehe. But, astounded by how bad our relationship was, or more like how poorly we matched each other(6), our coach had to throw in the spoon(7) on technique coaching in the simulator!”
At Saki’s words, Kana, who had been listening quietly to her story from behind,
Ill-manneredly tossed a marshmallow that was on the table, as she made the sound effect for throwing,
The boku-girl Risa opposite her easily caught the marshmallow that flew for a long time, barely moving her face.
Karen applauded in her mind.
As expected of a rhythmic gymnastics club. The thrower had excellent aim, and the catcher also did an excellent job. It did not feel like they would miss no matter how many times they did it. It also appeared that they could do it at longer distances.
That was probably how they managed to pull off the stunt of loading their pistol by catching a magazine thrown from afar.
“Hey! This is another person’s abode!”
Saki rebuked them in an old-style speech pattern, and then continued explaining.
“Astounded, our coach told us. 『First, become a 〝team〟. We can talk then.』. When we were troubled by how we should do that, the answer that came was──”
“I see. Games.”
“That’s right! With VR game party play, we would aim for a single goal, right! Besides, since we can have avatars in a different world, we can temporarily forget RL restraints, we thought.”
Karen listened, half in surprise, half in excitement.
〝RL restraints and so on〟 described Karen perfectly. A woman who could not look at her exceedingly tall self and had thus escaped to a virtual world was right here.
“We played a different VR game at first. It was the kind where you could have boisterous adventures on an unpopulated island. But, we ended up losing interest after around a week. And there was no improvement to our relationship. Eventually, just when we began to think that games were useless, we discovered GGO, and thought 〝Why don’t we try a slaughter game that is extremely different from our real selves then?〟”
“I see. And then, when you tried it, it all turned out w──”
“That’s right! Using guns to exterminate monsters and killing others is so exceedingly unrealistic that it wouldn’t come to mind, right. Nevertheless, all of us got into it── we formed a 《Squadron》 by the name 〝Shinkura〟(8) and became engrossed in playing as much our free time allowed.”
Squadron was the name of teams in GGO. A group formed together with associates. It would be equivalent to a 《Guild》 in a fantasy-type game.
“And so, although we still quarreled a lot along the way, lots of things happened, and the result is as you can see. After fighting monsters or other players, and going through numerous experiences of being on the verge of death, all of us became friends.”
Saying this with a smile, Karen pondered.
Although they began playing to unify their team, they became the runner-up of SJ, so it was considerably important to them as well. She herself was winner of the tournament, but that was entirely because of M’s support and because luck was on their side.
“And so, we are aiming to win the second SJ that might be held, and we will continue to do our best!”
“Huh? ──Not, your club activities?”
“That too! Thus, we hope to receive Karen-san’s, no, the 〝pink slaughterer girl〟LLENN’s unforgivingly harsh commentary about the following battle scenes, and how we died, please!”
‘Please!’, the chorus of five followed,
LLENN acquiesced with a bitter smile.
For the next hour or so──
Karen watched how the battle to the death between her and the six high-school girls’ avatars unfolded.
The video was rewound again and again, changing the camera angle at times, and she answered Saki and the others’ questions.
At the lake that became the stage for their first battle,
“Yeah, I thought I was done for when I was sniped by Tohma. That sniping was truly magnificent. If it had been just a bit higher, an instant death would have been registered. I was saved by M-san’s rapid action here.”
After disembarking in the wilderness,
“Eh? The internal discord……? Ehm, how should I put it…… He had his circumstances, but couldn’t tell me about them clearly, so we ended up quarreling over a petty misunderstanding, you see; he was no longer able to continue with SJ, and tried to bring me, the leader, down to be able to drop out of the tournament. But, we resolved the misunderstanding afterwards. In the end, he did show up like he was supposed to, right? It wasn’t really a plan to use the leader as a decoy, but result-wise, that was the cause of our victory; strange, huh……”
At the first battle in the wilderness,
“As for the battle with Tanya, I believe that I probably won because I was much smaller than her. It was really a close call. I heard the sound of bullets coming from behind.”
At the scene where she was shot by Boss,
“I was startled by Boss’s silent gun. What a scary weapon it was. I didn’t notice it at all, , and let my guard down completely falling for your trap back then. I would have died there if my magazine wasn’t hit instead.”
At the point when she ran away from the machine gun shower,
“I had no knowledge about plasma grenade barriers. I just didn’t have any other options, so I tried it out……”
After she began counterattacking and took down Anna,
“When I was glared at by Rosa with her machine gun pointed at me, I thought that I was done for. I wonder how many times I had that thought that day…… As for M-san’s sniping later on── it didn’t produce a Bullet Line. Since he sniped by manually aiming. Sly, but it can’t be helped.”
After the beginning of the grand one-one-one fight against Boss,
“The fact that that I was shot in the chest but the bullet hit the scan terminal, saving me, was…… a complete fluke. I think I’d probably be NG(9) next time. Because you all would have followed suit.”
And, at the scene of the final conclusion,
“Ah, yeah, 〝P-chan〟is the name of the P90 and── Ah! Don’t worry about it! I used it as a shield myself! I’ll probably buy another identical one! And dye it in pink!”
After the end of the video and Saki’s group’s review meeting,
“There’re still some sweets left── want some?
Karen enquired, and
Carefree smiles and a fully in-sync answer came from the six. There wasn’t the slightest deviation. They were awfully close.
Karen offered the remainder of the heap of sweets that she had bought.
She thought that she had bought too many of them and figured that she would just give the leftovers to her niece or eat them herself, but it seemed that they would be cleaned out today.
Despite their small bodies, all of them a were big eaters. Even so, none of them put on weight. Typical of a sports club.
Holding consommé-flavoured potato chips in her right hand, Saki enquired.
“Karen-san, I’ll ask frankly. If a second SJ is held, do you plan to participate?”
Halting her hand that held some shiokombu(10), which she had bought a large amount of as it was her favourite dish, though the other six hadn’t really touched it, Karen pondered.
She had magnificently won the first SJ. Considering herself back then, it was a most spectacular victory that was beyond her imagination. All the more so, for her feeling of satisfaction.
At the same time, there were a lot of issues. Getting into situations where it seemed that she would die many times over, due to carelessness, losing her P90 and so on.
The belief that she will try to do better if another one was held went up into smoke in her mind. There were no other team battle tournaments on that scale, and she had many dreadful experiences during the tournament, but she could not deny that she got the fruits of battle, the chance to go wild and had enjoyed it.
‘If I get an invitation from Pitohui, or team up with M──’
She had thoughts like that as well, but when she thought about M’s strange behaviour near the end of the last battle in the previous SJ, and Pitohui (in RL) who was probably the cause of it, she hesitated recklessly participating with them.
No, truth be told, even if she was invited this time, the possibility of her rejecting the invitation was high. Though she believed that she would not end up quitting GGO.
As for Pitohui, the next day after the SJ,
She received this excessively short congratulatory message, but no other messages thereafter. Was she busy with work?
She had not received any contact from M either; well, he probably had nothing to say, so he kept quiet.
“A second one…… unless something really extraordinary happens, the chances of me participating are low, I guess…… Although some issues still remain, I can’t deny that I’m feeling like 〝I’ve had enough〟. Also, the team I had formed with M was only for that time.”
After Karen answered honestly,
“I see…… We are half happy, half disappointed. The thing that makes us 〝happy〟 is that a formidable enemy will not be taking part. But the thing that makes us 〝disappointed〟 is that we thought ‘We’re going to beat you next time!’”
Saki replied, representing her group's opinion. Feeling the fighting spirit of the girls staring at her fixedly from behind──
‘Your motivation is greater than mine. If we have another battle, I believe I’ll definitely lose……’
Karen thought, but kept quiet. Instead,
“But, if a second one is going to take place, is it really going to be held this quickly?”
“Hmm, I don’t know. But, if someone contributes money like what happened for the first one, I think that it can be held relatively easily.”
“I see, it’s sponsor-dependent, huh.”
At that point, the discussion on SJ was over, and thereafter, they continued with girl-talks until around 1700 hours.
The topics kept jumping from RL to GGO to RL again in succession.
The rhythmic gymnastics club girls talked a lot about themselves, and, at the same time, asked about Karen as well.
Meanwhile, Karen told them the story of her height complex and even how she began playing GGO relatively easily.
She also told them about how she had got over it; how it resulted in resolutely cutting her hair without telling anyone anything, and surprised her elder sister’s family, who lived above, so much that they jumped in surprise; and then how they suspected that she suffered a broken heart, and had thoroughly questioned her about it.
‘I probably haven’t told anyone aside from my old, close friends about my height complex that had tormented me for nearly 10 years’, Karen thought.
‘And now I have no problem telling it to younger girls that I have just met.’
Karen was once again surprised by the changes brought about by GGO and the SJ.
『Worries will torment you for as long as you are worried. Just forget them. Just abandon them, like throwing out old things. If you throw them out, there will no longer be a need to worry whether you should throw them out.』
Karen had heard such words somewhere. And her personal experience showed that they were right.
“Hey, that’s… a P90, right! Can I see it?”
“I want to see it too!”
The six of them that pestered Karen into showing them the P90 air gun hanging on the clothes hanger,
“This is the first time I’ve touched a gun-shaped object in RL!”
All said unanimously.
‘True, it’s not something that high-school girls would buy, huh’, Karen replied.
In the first place, it was a toy meant for people who were at least eighteen years old.
And in the first place, it was not really something that female university students would buy.
Thereafter, they started talking about RL hobbies, and Karen asked the six girls about 〝Kanzaki Elsa〟, the singer-songwriter who was currently her favourite.
As expected, all of them knew of Kanzaki Elsa, who was in the midst of a sudden rise in popularity.
And of course, the girls told her that they did not have all of her songs, thus Karen set Kanzaki Elsa’s album as the BGM(11).
“I want to go to her live performance, but there are few tickets. I can’t get my hands on them no matter how many times I try to order them.”
Karen complained, and Saki,
“We could buy them if they were still on sale! The tickets for live performances have been excessively expensive lately! We want to spend our allowance on some other things as well, so it’s impossible for us to spend that much on tickets! We already spend quite a lot on GGO’s connection fees!”
Complained like a high-school girl would. The others nodded while making *mhm mhm* sounds.
Indeed, 3,000 yen(12) every month on GGO alone was quite the amount of money for high-school girls. Karen only now recalled that her parents were affluent.
The topic then changed,
“Karen-san, it’s already spring break for you, right? Being in university is nice, huh……”
Saki and the others, who still had lessons for at least another month, until the last third of March, gave bitter expressions.
At any rate, these girls will go to the same university in another 2 or 3 years. In that case, they would become her juniors.
“It is spring break for me. I plan to return home to Hokkaido within the week.”
“I’m so jealous! You can dive as much as you want to!”
Said the Japanese beauty with a bob cut, Shiori, but Karen shook her head,
“Since I’ll be going back home, I won’t be able to play games during that time. I won’t be bringing my AmuSphere either.”
“Oh. Is that so?”
“It would be bothersome if my parents saw me playing. Since they probably know about the SAO incident. I’ll be taking a break from GGO for awhile.”
“You do know that we’ll be training even more during that time and become stronger?”
Shiori said, peering into Karen’s face.
‘Well, you’re all already quite strong.’
Karen thought, with the face of the machine gunner Rosa, Shiori’s avatar, floating in her mind.
“Do your best. If it is all of you, you can aim to win the next SJ!”
Karen said with a carefree smile, thus,
“Mmm…… Truth is, I wanted you to participate……”
Saki spoke out what she truly thought.
1. ^ A jō (畳, tatami mat) is a traditional Japanese unit used for measuring the size of a room. It is equal to 1.653 square metres (the size of a Nagoya tatami mat).
2. ^ Common orient clam (Meretrix lusoria).
3. ^ Milana uses the first-person pronoun watashi, but in katakana. This is probably because Milana is not a native Japanese speaker. I wanted to use a weird font to account for this, but blogger doesn't really give me much to work with.
4. ^ Boku (ボク) is a first person pronoun usually used by boys.
5. ^ This one is using ojama shimasu (お邪魔します, lit. (excuse me for) disturbing you), a set expression used when entering someone’s home.
6. ^ The original text used a modification and negative form of the expression uma ga au (馬が合う; lit. to suit a horse, to be a good match with one’s horse), which is used in the sense “to get on well with someone”.
7. ^ Throw a/the spoon (匙を投げる, saji o nageru) is the Japanese equivalent of “throw in the towel”.
8. ^ Shinkura (新クラ) is made from the first kanji of rhythmic gymnastics (新体操, shintaisou) and the first two kana of club (クラブ). That’s where SHINC came from, but I decided to leave the romaji version here because the name is in Japanese in this case, and no mention of the alphabet version is made.
9. ^ Abbreviation for “no good”.
10. ^ Shiokombu (塩昆布) are thin strips of kombu (edible kelp from the family Laminariaceae widely eaten in East Asia) cooked in soy sauce etc. then dried.
11. ^ Abbreviation for “background music”.
12. ^ About 24 US Dollars / 23 Euros / 16 Pounds Sterling. Depends on the current exchange rate.