A PC in the corner of the room blinked with both monitors and started booting up. That was the first thing Orihara Satoru did when he came back home. His life priorities were evident in this simple gesture, but he would deny any accusations.
It was past midnight, but Satoru just got home from the office. Although it was already the norm, he did not think of himself as a workaholic. Instead, he preferred to call his way of life as 'honest, responsible and thorough,' but he was obviously in denial here, too.
The thing about Satoru was that, while being a lazy bun and game addict, he preferred to take responsibility for his actions. And even for the actions of his subordinates to a certain extent. Orihara Satoru was no saint or martyr in this regard, but he took pride in his work and wanted to deliver the best content possible. That's why he often found himself in a situation where he had to work overtime, thinking 'If not me, then who? Either I do it myself, or everything falls apart.'
A few minutes later, he jumped on the seat in front of the monitors with a cup of instant ramen, cursing himself for the lack of willpower and strength to cook expensive and high-quality groceries that were rotting away in the fridge.
Satoru's eyes were already red, but he had a firm resolve to play at least an hour before going to bed. Gaming was not his everything. He was not an addict, or at least he thought that he was not one. But it was an important and fun part of his life, as well as the source of inspiration for his work.
He was not a yellow dog-transformer, nor a sword-wielding blonde human, but he really loved to have an adventure time with his precious characters.
An avatar selection screen on the monitor showed three figures:
Satori. Level 100 Sacred Priestess. Elf female.
Tirania. Level 100 Elemental Witch. Dark elf female.
Meteoria. Level 89 Arcane Sage. Human female.
Orihara Satoru, 33 y.o., employed, single (again), never played male characters if there was a choice. No, he had a healthy mind, more or less, if you could say that about a game developer, anime watcher, and a gamer. He even had a few relationships through the course of his life. As for his female avatars, this is what he had to say:
"When you play an MMORPG, you usually stare at your character's back most of the time. If I can choose, I would like to look at something beautiful, please!"
And so, he sat in front of the monitor and stared at the screen. 'Should I keep leveling Meteoria or start a new char?' He pondered the same question for ten minutes and still could not decide.
The reason for his indecisiveness was that he hated close-range fighters and only played mages or healers. 'What should I do? I'd like something new, but I already played everyone except warrior and archer.' Like usual, the answer was actually quite simple - he went to Google it.
'I never knew you could level an acolyte into a Monk, and transform him into a Spirit Master who is a ranged magic caster!' And so, his nightly journey began.
It was already bright outside when a bloodshed-eyed, tremendously tired, but insanely happy body fell onto a bed to grab a few hours of sleep before work.
The following afternoon, Satoru sat in the company's lunch area, chatting with his old colleague:
"Sup, Satoru-swan! You look great! I like this glint in your dead eyes! New haircut?"
"I hate you, too, Ryota, go die." Satoru said in a tired voice and poured a big cup of coffee.
"Kyaah, so harsh! But I know that you like me, you can't hide it!"
"Who do you think I am, a tsundere?!"
They worked together for more than ten years, made two games and were assigned to different teams last year. They were not best friends, but after spending so many years on the same team, they became quite close.
"So, how is it going, anyway?" Ryota asked
“Well, nothing new. Surprising, right? My deadline was last week, but thanks to my dear colleagues there was a crapload of unfinished work and bugs again. So I went to Nomura and begged for more time." Satoru rested his tired head on the forearms before muttering in a pained voice. "But because of these refined gentlemen's relentless efforts of doing nothing, I had to overtime like a slave and beg for more time again! My ass still hurts after the last talk with the boss.”
"Next time, properly lube yourself before going to the Chief." Ryota tapped his temple with an index finger.
Satoru let out a long sigh before opening his bento. It was a new, popular self-heating type. A cute bunny girl in a swimsuit wished him bon appétit from its packaging. He pulled out a small string, which started the heating process inside the box and muttered:
"No strings attached..."
While it was heating, Ryota pulled the box and took out a pen. A mere ten seconds later the bunny girl received a cute mustache which was suddenly very suitable for her.
"You aren't an art director for nothing," Satoru mused, inspecting a newly made masterpiece, "what a cutie."
Ryota nodded in satisfaction and looked at Satoru mischievously.
"Speaking of cuties, how is it going with you and Mirai-chan?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about." Satoru pouted and turned his head away.
"Dude, really? Come on, suck it up! A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!" Ryota suddenly became dejected. He married a long time ago, even had a kid. Now, he wanted Satoru to join his married club, because his wife longed for more female presence at their parties. Ryota also cared about Satoru genuinely and thought that Mirai suited him well. "I mean, how long is it going between you too? Two years or even three?"
"Stop pestering me! She is just too perfect. Cute, smart, and she even understands most of my references! But..."
"Bite my butt with your stupid but's! What are you waiting for? She is almost thirty now, what if she becomes desperate and marries some childhood friend from a long-forgotten filler episode?"
The bunny girl's smile was as bright as ever, and she still wished him to have a nice meal. Satoru silently ate a now ready bento, contemplating his life choices.
Half an hour later, when he was on his way to the office space, he caught a glimpse of a familiar girl. She turned in a doorframe and noticed Satoru. After thinking for a moment, Mirai pulled a face at him, quickly showing her tongue and then running away into the door.
'I can't take it. She is just too cute.' He mused, shaking his head.
Kanbara Mirai, 29 years old, quite short, peach bob haircut, giant red glasses, godlike smile. Whenever Satoru thought about her, his heart began to beat faster.
When he returned to the desk, an unread message awaited him. It was a message from Mirai:
(Mirin): By the way, Oriharara-san, I wanted to ask about today's evening.
(OraOra): That's one too many RA's, Mirai-san! What is it about the evening?
(Mirin): Sorry, typo~! Well, the upps booked us a room at S-Blend cafe to celebrate another development milestone being finished ALMOST on time.
(Mirin): So I wanted to ask Orihararara-san if he would be there. It would be lonely to be the only member of the game design team there since Tadano-kun is sick (and #thxForLeavingYourWorkOnUs), and nobody else was invited.
(OraOra): You added two more RA's this time! It was on purpose!
(Mirin): Sworry, a typwo~! (◕‿◕✿)
(OraOra): It wasn't on purpose!? Well, I don't like this kind of events, but I can't just leave Mirai-san to her demise.
(MIrin): Free drinks and Oriha-san, big yay!
(OraOra): Where is the RA now!?
After finishing their work a few hours later, around twenty people from the upper echelons of the team went to a popular maid café S-Blend to celebrate another development milestone completion. They have been working on this game for two years now.
“Being a Lead game designer, Satoru-san is expected to attend events like this one quite often. Must be niiice~” Kanbara Mirai was already a little drunk when she started whispering to Satoru’s ear.
‘Her breath is so hot! But she reeks of beer!’ Satoru quickly noted to himself before replying in a low voice. “I don’t like them as I said already. I’m not a drinker, and I generally dislike people who get drunk and then behave like asses.”
But there was an exception to his alcohol rule, which sat by his side at the moment.
“Oi-oi, Satoru-san, so you don’t like me, then? No way, my heart is broooken!” Said Mirai theatrically, downing another beer. Her face was already flushed, and eyes glittered wetly.
‘OMG, she is so cute!’ It was Satoru’s only thought, but he steeled himself to form a cohesive reply:
“Nay, Mirai-san is the best. She never dicks around even when drunk, and is super helpful… Also, it’s always nice and easy to be around her…”
His thought train departed, and he no longer had any control over it. When it finally hit him what he actually said, he quickly glanced at Mirai. She looked at him for a moment and then quickly turned back to her beer, smiling thoughtfully.
It was around midnight when they got out of the cafe. Friday night was noisy, as usual, but the air felt nice and warm. Satoru rarely went for a walk, but today, he wanted to take a stroll, especially with this lady by his side.
"Wait a minute, Mirai-san. I'll hail a cab for you."
Suddenly, Mirai stopped and pouted. She spoke, drunkenly stretching her words:
"What!? But you are not a big-tid... ahem! What is it, Mirai-san?"
"What was thaaat!?" She looked at her chest. Calling it moderate would be a compliment. "Hmph! I thought you were a gentleman that would make sure that a beautiful and defenseless young lady like me got home safe!"
"Ah! Yes-yes, I certainly would!" He was astonished by Mirai's attitude. 'Gosh, she is so drunk, I got to make sure that she goes straight home.' Satoru thought to himself while hailing a cab.
Mirai’s joyful jumping reminded him of the Sagiri dance, so he chuckled and thought to himself ‘My little kouhai can’t be this cute!’
On a Friday midnight, it was not hard to get a taxi. Kanbara gave a driver her address and thought deeply about something. Fresh cool air helped her sober up a little, and she began to hum some melody familiar to Satoru. The driver turned a radio on, and they heard a fragment of some long report:
'...after that, he escaped on the same truck. Currently, the police are pursuing him. To this moment, more than ten vehicles were damaged, and several people injured. The police are asking people to stay away from the road while they are dealing with this person.’
“What was that again?” Mirai asked after being dragged out of her brooding state.
“Looks like a truck chase.” Then an unexpected and interesting idea came to Satoru. “Maybe we should take a walk from here? What do you think, Mirai-san?”
“Hmm..? Oh, yes! We totally should! I mean, I’m already too old to be isekaed by a truck-kun.”
Satoru’s laughter filled the car. After brushing away a tear, he asked the driver to stop. To help Kanbara out of the car, Satoru extended his hand, which she gratefully accepted and, after closing the door, made a small curtsy while smiling brightly.
“It’s actually quite close to my house," she said when the taxi went away, "I’ll show the way.”
For some time walked quietly. Passing the entrance to the playground, they both suddenly stopped.
They said in sync. Two seconds later a double “Please, continue!” occurred. A momentary surprise was replaced by cheerful laughter.
"This has turned into a difficult situation." She added, giggling. Her eyes glittered in the moonlight, although alcohol could be at fault, too. Gulping, Satoru resolved himself:
“I've been thinking about it for some time. And, you know, seeing how things are… “
He paused to gather his will for the final push. Mirai’s intent gaze pierced him. Her face was red, and she even slightly bit her lip.
“Would you like to dat…“ Amidst the phrase, he was interrupted by a cry full of annoyance.
“Oi, ya shits, the hell were ya laughing just now? Were ya making fun of us?!”
A man was moving towards them from the playground. He was rather tall and, while skinny, didn't look weak at all. While casually approaching the pair, he nonchalantly played with a butterfly knife. The second man followed him, and he was even taller. His head was covered by a yellow bandanna, and there was a cigarette in his mouth. The first man stopped in front of Satoru, still spinning the knife, and stared at him.
The timing made this situation even more shocking and surreal, and Satoru was dumbfounded. After a few moments, he finally replied:
“Erm, no, we were not.” His voice trembled a little, but the head was already working hard. Suddenly, he was distracted from the predicament by a growing noise. ‘Is this a police siren?’
“Cut that crap! I know you were, moron.” Satoru was quickly brought back to reality by another pointless insult.
Mirai nervously squeezed her purse with both hands. The smoking guy finally arrived and stood close to the first one, with both of them in front of Satoru. She made a step to be slightly behind him. Her legs were shaking.
“It's a misunderstanding. We were not laughing at you or anything, really.” While Satoru made an excuse, the second guy smirked with a disgustingly wide grin on his face. He was clearly enjoying this situation.
“Huh?! The fuck are ya mumbling?” The first thug grabbed Satoru’s jacket with his empty hand. “Ya still making fun of me? Want me to cut ya ugly face?!”
Suddenly Mirai pulled something out of her bag and aimed it at the guy. The next moment a pepper spray struck his face, spewing a terrible liquid into his eyes.
Uttering a terrible scream, he fell back, releasing a grip on Satoru’s jacket. Covering his face with an empty hand, the first guy frantically swung his knife-holding hand, accidentally cutting his fellow’s leg. Another scream followed.
Autopilot kicked in, and without a second thought, Satoru grabbed Mirai’s hand and dashed away.
'It would be better if she wore heels. You could have held her in your arms like a prince saving a princess.' At the far corner of his mind, there was another Satoru, a calm critic with a distorted sense of humor.
On the other hand, Mirai’s thoughts were a little bit different. ‘OHMYGOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?! WHAT IF HE GOES BLIND?!’ What if they catch us..?’
Quickly turning the corner of the building, they saw a police car parked in the middle of a narrow intersection. Both its lights and a siren were turned on, making a lot of noise.
It felt like a blessing, so without releasing the hold of Mirai’s hand, Satoru ran towards the car. Because of the siren, he could no longer hear their footsteps, nor the loud shouts coming from behind.
Stopping at the driver’s door, he knocked on the window. There were two policemen inside the car, and they both were shocked by a sudden Satoru appearance. At this distance the sirens wailing became unbearable.
Coming to his sense, the driver brushed them off with an irritated grimace. ‘Why the heck is he angry? What’s wrong?’ Satoru was overwhelmed by the policeman’s reaction. He knocked on the window again, at the same time trying to shout down the siren. The policeman waved again, even more angrily this time.
At that moment, the second policeman’s face changed, and he pointed in the direction behind Satoru while screaming something. Turning around, he saw Mirai looking at him with a scared face.
He also saw two bright lights approaching them at an unbearable speed.
A moment later, light filled everything. And then the world went dark.