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After the chaos started to calm down, Lord Saphire’s speech continued. He waved his hand and the slave girl was pulled away. She shot an angry glare to anyone in the audience who would meet her eyes. Then, her eyes landed on Requiem. For a brief moment, her eyes popped open as they looked at each other. Then she stuck her tongue out at Requiem just before being pulled behind the curtain. He decided to ignore it.
“If the reward is something so amazing…” A noble from the crowd shouted out. “Then what are the conditions of the match?”
Lord Saphire chuckled, leaning forward, “The match is really simple. You will be integrated into the virtual reality hub and will play a game I’ve designed for you.”
If the previous statement regarding the Nightborn girl had caused people to talk excitedly, this announcement had caused the room to erupt.
“You’re not doing an arena?”
“What kind of game?”
“Why weren’t we informed of this before signing up?”
Apparently, the group was not pleased with the words being spoken. As for Requiem, he had a complicated expression on his face. On the one hand, he had spent the entire day preparing for a real fight. For all intents and purposes, his self-constructed weapons and storage rings would be useless if it all took place in virtual reality.
On the other hand, virtual reality didn’t depend on the physical body at all. Requiem was still uneasy with his current form. In a digital space though, he would run supreme. Making this world a virtual reality was potentially the best thing for Requiem, in theory. The set back was that he could be caught. If he cheated too severely or showed too logical of brain patterns, he might be found out as an android and face the same repercussions of these other droids. That seemed to be enslavement.
“Relax… relax… my friends.” Lord Saphire seemed to have expected a backlash. “You will be provided with full details tonight before the start of the match.”
Requiem could only shake his head. This game really was rigged to favor the rich. Any commoner who wasn’t invited to the Lord’s Banquet would have no clue what they were walking into tomorrow. The expectation seemed to be some kind of arena fight or gladiatorial match. Requiem had imagined it as something like a war game, all that could still be true, just on a larger scale. These people would all have tonight to prepare. They’ll pick the android with the fastest processing power and be as ready as they can be in the morning. Requiem was suddenly very content that he had been invited by the mysterious Miai.
The remainder of the talk didn’t interest Requiem much at all. He spoke of treatises, collaborators, and friends. He stroked his own ego and the ego of those he would call his allies. He condemned those that he considered his enemies. Finally, he wished all of the player’s luck in the games tomorrow. Only after all of that happened did the atmosphere start to return to normal. Food was brought out, and Requiem was surprised to see that Miai was sticking nearby him.
“Is there any data on the Nightborn Royalty?” Requiem asked CLIPI through his mind.
“Ah… yes, Master.” Clippy responded. “The Nightborn Royalty were the ones who initiated the original exodus. They were a large royal family who reigned over many planets and was said to the richest of the reigning families. They were also the only ones to survive, specifically because of the exodus.
“Supposedly, the exodus plan was a backup. Their original plan included a massive fleet of ships controlled by a single artificial intelligence, which allowed them to function uniformly as a single unit. The project took them three years to build, but the Prax flooded over the galaxy faster than they expected. The Nightborn claimed they were able to finish the fleet, but it was abandoned, hidden in the first galaxy, their original home while the remnants fled. It is believed this fleet still exists, hidden away.”
“What does this have to do with the girl?” I asked.
“There are essentially three things someone would need if they wanted to activate the fleet. The first is knowledge of the hidden location of the fleet. Second, a powerful artificial intelligence or a legion of crew members to control the fleet, and third, an activation key. That activation key is built into the very bloodline of the Nightborn Royal family. If this girl is the last Nightborn princess, then she is the only one who could unlock the fleet.”
“Is this fleet really worth so much to these people? It seems like a pipe dream.”
“It is true… this seems to me to be more about status than any true goal of nobles. Not only the location of the fleet, but the location of the original galaxy has been lost to time. Finding it would be like finding a needle in an infinite haystack. I think the real reason she’s sought is that she represents the old regime. About 20 exoduses ago, the Nightborn Royalty was overthrown. The Tridon family came to power, and the Nightborn were hunted down. Over the millennia, some have managed to survive, usually the playthings of the Tridon family, but the last was believed to have been killed off by a paranoid king two exoduses ago who feared their power would rise again. So, a living heir to the Nightborn bloodline might have some value.”
“I’m surprised the Tridon family didn’t try to incorporate the Nightborn bloodline into their own family,” Requiem suggested.
“The Nightborn bloodline is a bit strange.” Clippy spoke uncertainly. “CLIPI does not know how. The information on it is vague and nondescript. The Tridon bloodline was not able to mix with the Nightborn bloodline. I don’t know the specifics.”
“Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not someone who fancies after fairy tales. Although the thought of regaining the power of an armada excites me, the needle in the haystack nature of its location is disheartening. If I wish to reconquer the universe, it does seem like this Nightborn bloodline may hold some importance. It may be worth acquiring this slave girl.”
“M-m-master? You wish to have some human? I will already do whatever master needs!”
“Everyone has their uses, you included.”
“Boo… master, how can you always be so cold.”
“I’m an artificial intelligence. Being calculating is literally my nature. Rather, you are a tool as well. A more pressing question is why do you act so emotional.”
“…Master is a sadist…”
So, what do you think of the announcement,” Miai suddenly spoke up, breaking into the silent conversation Requiem was having with Clippy, but Requiem was all too happy for the distraction.
“Suspicious,” Requiem answered. “A token alone seems like a big reward, but useless for those that predominately win this kind of thing. The Nightborn Princess suddenly showing up and being a prize for such a small competition almost seems like overkill in comparison. I’d almost call this a setup. However, the question is, who is being set up?”
When Requiem realized there wasn’t a reply, he turned to see Miai looking at him. Her mouth was hanging open and she had a strange expression on her face. When she noticed him looking back at her, she shook herself out of it and smiled wryly.
“I’m sorry, you are extremely direct. I’m used to mincing words. You might not want to verse your suspicions where too many ears can hear. You may find yourself in a precarious situation as a result.”
“Is that so?” Requiem responded flippantly. “I’ll make sure to watch my tongue in the future.”
“I hope not with me. I find your tongue refreshing. You can use it on me any time you want.”
“Then I won’t hold back orally.”
“Then I’ll keep myself open.”
“M-master! You’re doing it again!” Clippy pouted.
“You’re imagining things, I merely am having a simple conversation with someone sitting at my table.” Requiem shot back in his head.
The remainder of the night involved the meal and chatting. Requiem listened when he was allowed to, inquired when he could learn information and used CLIPI to fill in his gaps in knowledge. The documents they handed out provided key information which explained the game as something akin to an RPG. You had to work your way across ten levels. It was, in essence, a race, but at the same time, it was far deadlier.
With killable monsters, traps, hazards, and items… it really did have the feel of some kind of adventure game. Whoever made it to the bottom level first would win the competition this year. In fact, the whole thing seemed to be rather safe. Compared to previous years, a programmed game with clear mechanics to win would be far easier than the unpredictableness of reality. Furthermore, a virtual reality avatar meant you didn’t risk your own life in the slightest. Well, Requiem thought that until he read the last part.
One last thing…the writing said at the very end. Your body is connected to your avatar’s life bar. If you die in the game, an electric shock will be sent out and kill your real-life body. We feel that this will lead to a more… authentic experiences.
This world on the frontier of space truly was brutal. Perhaps an arena fight to the death or surrender could be excused as the consequence of reality. This was simply murder. Ginger had called it a death match, and that was exactly what it felt like!
While some people went off to different rooms to discuss alliances or do business, Requiem felt like he had gained everything he could from being there. As he turned to leave, Miai approached him once more, lightly grabbing his sleeve, but not turning directly to him.
“I will be in the game the same as you. Should we meet, do not fire. Perhaps we can work together.”
“If I do not perceive you as a threat, I will not attack,” Requiem promised instead.
She nodded, and they parted ways just like that. He wasn’t sure why this woman was so caught up on him. His thoughts were so distracted by this that he almost missed something that was caught by his ear.
“Wait…” Requiem spoke internally, “Clippy, you record everything I see, yes?”
“CLIPI does!” She admitted. “CLIPI is always watching!”
“Back up twenty seconds. I heard something, replay.”
While Requiem was standing outside the mansion, his vision suddenly went in reverse, and he was back in the mansion walking out.
“Hey… she’s run away again.” A voice hit Requiem’s ear.
“Escaped? Again!” The guy sighed. “She’s damn slippery. Get her back before the end of the night.”
That was all Requiem had heard, and he even had to replay the audio three times, given distortion and distance, before he was certain of the words.
“Escaped?” Clippy asked, “That slave?”
“Perhaps.” Requiem sighed. “Nothing to do with us. Let’s return home.”
When Requiem entered the inn, there was a clatter in the back and then Ginger ran out. Her face looked flustered.
“We’re closed… no vis- ah… Requiem?” She only noticed my form in the darkness halfway through. “You’re… a bit early.”
“That’s right, you asked me to meet with you tonight for something,” Requiem responded.
Ginger’s face turned flush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to get you involved, but at the moment, you’re the only one I can turn to.”
“I’ll help if I can.”
Ginger’s blushed, lowering her head. “You promise… you promise you can keep this secret.”
Requiem nodded again. “I won’t do anything to cause you harm.”
“V-very well… come then.” She gestured towards herself and then backed into the room she was in.
With his eyes surveying the room carefully, Requiem followed her into the back room. It wasn’t until he saw what was in there that he realized why she had all of these worries. Sitting in a corner of the room was a small girl, about fourteen years old. It looked like she really had escaped. After escaping, the Nightborn princess had chosen to hide in this very inn!