A grey sword cut my shoulder.
The thin line at the top left corner of my field of vision shrank slightly. At the same time a cold hand passed over my heart.
The blue line —called the “HP bar”— is a visual rendering of my life force. There was still a little over 80% left. No, that phrase isn’t appropriate enough. Right now, I was about 20% closer to death.
I dashed backwards before the enemy’s sword even began its attacking motion.
I forced a huge breath to steady myself. The «body» in this world didn’t need oxygen; but the body on the other side, or rather the body lying down in the real world, would be breathing heavily. My limp hands would be soaked with sweat, and my heartbeat would be off the charts.
Even if everything I see right now is nothing more than a rendering of a 3D virtual reality, and the bar being reduced was nothing more than a bunch of numbers that showed my hit points, the fact that I was fighting for my life didn’t change.
When you think about it like that, this fight was extremely unfair. That’s because the «enemy» in front of me —a humanoid with dully shining arms covered in dark green scales and a lizard’s head and tail— was not a human, nor was it really alive. It was a digital lump that the system would replace regardless of how many times it was killed.
The AI that controlled the lizardman was studying my movements and enhancing its ability to respond to them with every second that passed. However, the moment that this unit was destroyed, the data would be reset instead of being passed on to the unit that would regenerate in this area.
So in a sense, this lizardman was also alive, a single being unique to this world.
There was no way that it would have understood the word that I had muttered to myself, but the lizardman (a level 82 monster called «Lizardman Lord») hissed and smiled, showing the sharp fangs that protruded from its long jaw.
This is reality. Everything in this world is real. There’s no virtual reality or fakery of any kind.
I shifted the one-handed long sword in my right hand to waist-height and watched the enemy.
The lizardman moved the buckler in his left hand forward and drew back the scimitar to his right.
A chill breeze blew into the shadowed dungeon and the flame of the torch shook. The wet floor softly reflected the flickering torch-light.
With a tremendous scream, the lizardman leapt. The scimitar drew a sharp arc as it flew towards me. A blinding orange light lit its trajectory; a high-class one-hit sword skill of the curved sword «Fell Crescent». It was a formidable charge-type sword skill that covered a distance of 4 meters in 0.4 seconds.
But, I was already expecting the attack.
I had slowly increased the distance to lure the AI into creating this situation. I closed in on the lizardman, my mind registering the burning smell that the scimitar left behind as it sliced through the air merely centimeters before my nose.
With a short shout, I swung my sword horizontally. The sword, now covered in sky-blue light, cut through the thinly protected stomach and bright red light scattered instead of blood. There was a low scream.
However, my sword didn’t stop. The system assisted me through the programmed movements and chained the next slash with a speed that would normally have been impossible.
This is the most important element in battles in this world, «Sword Skill».
The sword sped off right from left and cut into the lizardman’s chest. In this state, I spun my body in a full circle and the third strike struck the enemy deeper than before.
As soon as the lizardman recovered from being stunned briefly because it failed to hit with a big skill, it screamed with rage or perhaps fear, and raised its scimitar high in the air.
But my chain had not ended. The sword that had been swinging right suddenly sprung, as if forced by a spring, left and up and hit its heart—a critical point.
The sky-blue rhombus drawn by my four consecutive hits flashed then scattered; a horizontal, consecutive 4-hit skill, «Horizontal Square».
The clear light shone strongly in the dungeon and then faded. At the same time, the HP bar above the Lizardman’s head disappeared without leaving even a single dot.
The huge body fell, leaving a long trail, then suddenly stopped awkwardly—
With a sound similar to breaking glass, it broke down into infinite polygons and disappeared.
This is the «Death» of this world. It is instantaneous and short, a perfect destruction, not leaving even a single trace.
I glanced at the virtual experience points and drop items I received, appearing in a purple font in the center of my vision, and swung my sword right and left before sheathing it in the scabbard on my back. I backed away a few steps and slid slowly down with my back against the dungeon wall.
I spat out the breath I was holding and closed my eyes. My temple started throbbing, perhaps from the fatigue due to the long fight. I shook my head a couple of times to get rid of the pain and opened my eyes.
The shining clock at the bottom right of my field of vision showed that it was already past 3PM. I should get out of the labyrinth or I won’t make it to the city before dark.
“…Should I get started?”
There was nobody there to listen, but I spoke anyways and got up slowly.
I was done with making progress for the day. Somehow, I had escaped the hand of death again today. But after a brief rest, tomorrow will come with more battles. When you are fighting battles without a 100% chance of victory, however many safety nets you prepare, there’s going to be a day when you fall out of lady luck’s favor.
The problem is whether this game will be «cleared» or not before I draw the ace of spades.
If you value your life above all else, staying in a village and waiting for somebody else to clear the game is the wisest route to take. But I go to the front lines every day, solo. Am I just simply an addict of VRMMO who keeps increasing his stats through countless battles, or—
Am I an idiot who insolently believes that he can win the freedom of everyone in this world with his sword?
As I started walking towards the labyrinth entrance with a slight smile of self-scorn, I thought back to that day.
Two years ago.
The moment when everything ended and began.