Requiem continued to fight his way down the dungeon. There was no such thing as leveling in this game. It was entirely based on your own skill and abilities. The only way someone became stronger fell on equipment. Equipment could be obtained in various ways. Some equipment was obtained by defeating bosses or mobs in certain ways. The rest came from chests. Every level had chests that could be obtained. Some were more difficult than others. The best of them were often either hidden or placed behind extremely difficult death traps.
With Clippy having already hacked the game, she naturally knew the location of every item. She could even swap items or increase their status if she truly wanted to. She was a complete cheat to have on Requiem’s side, and if she was found out, they would immediately try to kill Requiem and her. He wasn’t worried about that though. If there was one thing he was confident in, it was his ability to circumvent all other computer systems, no matter the security involved. He had given Clippy those talents as well. No one should have been able to see her coming.
However, that didn’t mean that Requiem intended to cheat so recklessly. Although he had Clippy inform him of the locations of the best equipment and the means of getting them, he ultimately left it to his own talents to acquire the items for himself. He decided on what was important, and what he could acquire without looking too suspicious. If he found too many hidden treasures, it would look suspicious. Even the others who had managed to acquire maps in advance wouldn’t have that information.
As for the death traps, he could circumvent just about any of them, but if he acted too unbelievable, people would start to believe he was an android and not a human. Miai already suspected as much, and he now knew that she was far more formidable than he had originally thought. Even though he was competing against Androids like her, he had to continue to leave enough doubt that no one would assume he wasn’t human.
Thus, he has forgone numerous treasures that might have helped. For hidden treasures, he tried to display himself as lucky, stubbing a toe or accidentally putting his hand in the right spot that he discovered the abnormalities. For the death traps, he gave himself several close calls and gave up on one or two that proved too difficult. It was all an act and done within the scope of Clippy’s continued analysis of the environment.
He kept track of everyone ahead of him, and in particular, he made sure that he was in the top five. Clippy determined that the 40th level would require at least five people working together to defeat. The 30th and 35th level could be managed with two people. Requiem believed he could take them by himself, but that would be too outstanding.
Thankfully, every level was smaller than the previous. That also kept the game moving quickly even as the difficulty increased. Monsters might be more powerful, but you had less distance to travel and fewer mazes to get lost in. Thus, the pacing of the game felt consistent through the first 30 levels. This also meant that Requiem didn’t encounter people any faster. Even though the area decreased in size, the number of participants who had made it this far also decreased. Some were just left in the dust, slowly moving forward oblivious to how well everyone else was doing. Others had already died, and no one in here would know of their deaths until the end of the competition and they were pulled out of this simulation.
It was probably only Requiem himself who had an understanding of how the game was progressing other than the programmers and watchers outside. This allowed him the time to make errors and look human while remaining on top of everything. His progress continued smoothly until reached level 29. At this point, they had already been moving for twelve hours. Although you didn’t need to sleep in this game, one more advantage that androids had over humans was mental fatigue.
There wasn’t a real fatigue. Humans could stay awake indefinitely within the simulation, and it’d be the equivalent of someone sleeping. However, human minds were trained to desire sleep, and they’d quickly develop mental issues if they dwelled on their mental exhaustion. Many of the participants would overcome that with pure will. Perhaps, they were too busy and the match was too monotonous for them to think about how much time past.
Requiem was vividly aware of how much time past with a literal clock in his head. However, he wasn’t a human. Although his body had a strange tendency to feel exhausted and sleep, something he still couldn’t explain, he felt much more comfortable in this dungeon. His body felt like it should as a virtual component. He wasn’t a human. He was an artificial intelligence. Even calling him an android would be incorrect. Although he had often used robotic bodies to interact with the world and humans, his true form had no attachment to a body. He was a free-roaming artificial intelligence that could take the form of any computer source, whether it be a ship, an android, a vehicle, or the operation center of a base.
Level 29 was about 1/10th the size of the 1st level. This also meant that the number of chests was decreasing, although the quality of the items increased. At this point, Requiem had found a full set of equipment. He wore leather armor and he was carrying a sword that was many times better than the ax he had obtained from level one. He also had a few other items. He had a grappling hook, a few health potions, and a strength enhancer. He had also acquired a shield, but he had tossed it aside. Of course, he knew it was a shield before he took it, but it was part of the act to seem human. You didn’t always get the treasures you wanted.
“Chreos is only level 33 with the Dragon. The two are currently working together. Adento is on the same level as you. A man registered as Sparrow is currently on level 31. She is currently working with Miai.”
“What, did you think all the top place were men?”
Requiem made an irritated face. He was just clarifying. Chreos and Dragon were both androids. Chreos didn’t even have a body and calling him an android was questionable at best. Calling it a man or a woman was foolish. It was clearly a joke that they even allowed that thing to compete, having no body of its own. The man involved must have paid someone a significant bribe to be allowed to compete. In a way, this entire competition was more about laundering the awards to that person. It was probably the princess slave that they were after.
As for what form Chreos took in here, it was anyone’s guess. As for how the two joined forces, it was pretty simple to imagine. They both calculated their best chances and chose to work together. They had likely made those calculations before even starting the game. They each would also betray the other when they calculated the most advantageous time would be. Ultimately, whose calculation was better would inform the winner.
Neither of them could have calculated for Requiem though. They would learn soon just how much their calculations accounted for next to Requiem, who had experienced the results of more permutation than the two combined could even calculate. To Clippy, his thoughts resembled an older sports player encountering a new one. The older one had the experience, while the newer one was younger and more fit. Well, in this case, Requiem had the experience and he was also infinitely more fit. They wouldn’t have a chance.
He continued down the hallway and then dodged just as a knife flew where his head had been. He hadn’t sensed anything, and if it hadn’t been for Clippy’s warning, he might have even been cut on the cheek. That was to say that he would have been able to dodge it even without her warning, but it would have been much closer. Even so, he made sure to stumble and make a point of falling on his ass.
“Hmph… not an android?” An old man’s voice came from the dark.”
“You’re Adento?” Requiem asked, patting off his butt as he stood up. “Why are you attacking me? You’re waiting for an ally to take the next boss, aren’t you?”
“Hmm… if you weren’t able to dodge at least that, why would I partner up with you?” Adento asked.
“Indeed,” Requiem responded flatly.
“Well, at least you’re human. If I had to team up with some robot, I’d puke.”
“I reckon that we’re the only humans at the front of the pack. Ahead of us are all androids. I say we work together and bring them all down. Letting a machine win this is a joke.”
“That depends on how well you fight the upcoming boss,” Requiem responded smoothly.
“Heh… cocky, huh? Just remember, age doesn’t matter in here. You may have been the fastest and strongest in whatever penal colony you escaped from, but in this game, the experience is what matters. Follow me, and you may even make second place.”
His words sounded extremely similar to Requiem’s thoughts a few moments before regarding androids. It left him with a complicated feeling in his heart.
“You’ve already decided you’re taking first?” Requiem raised an eyebrow.
The man grinned. “Well, you can try to take it. Come on, we don’t want those androids getting too far ahead and getting cocky.”
The man turned and started heading down the stairway to the 30th level. Requiem watched him leave and then sighed.
“Is there anyone else I can work with? This guy seems like trouble.”
“The next person has only just defeated the level 25 boss. At this rate, it will be an hour before they reach this level.”
“Then, Adento is the only man that you can depend on right now without otherwise displaying your true talents.”
“Tsk… troublesome.” Requiem sighed, and then stopped for a moment. “I don’t look like a criminal, do I?”
“N-no!” Clippy reassured Requiem.
He didn’t know why Adento assumed he was from a penal colony. Maybe Adento had been from a colony himself? Did he assume only hardened criminals had the skills to keep up with androids?
“You coming?” A voice came from someway down the stairs.
Requiem shrugged away his thoughts and followed the human into the boss room. It looked like from this point forward, he’d be working with others to continue. Who won and who died would depend on who you ally with and when you chose to betray them!