Hitsuji Tadashi 1.1

2138年4月15日(火)

Seimei, when the year was 'Bright and Clear.'

The fifteenth of April, when rainbows began to appear in the aftermath of spring showers. Or so it went, at least. Outside the office Tadashi was currently holed up in, the only rainbows were those of greasy puddles reflecting drearier street lights. Beyond the habitation shields, lung-burning smog strangled any hope of sunlight breaking through.

"Haaa…"

He marked the tickets as 'resolved,' quietly thanking upper management for green-lighting a desktop interface, and wondered how many more he'd have to deal with tonight. Either way, regardless of how busy this night shift ended up being, he'd need to stay well past dawn until he could go home, choke down some nutripaste, and pass out.

'Who the hell plays this damn late?' Tadashi thought with a tired frustration. Of course, the fact he had a job here that allowed him to live in a place otherwise beyond his means was probably thanks to these addicts burning the midnight oil—and the morning's too—but it was the fact of the matter. 'Game's shutting down in a few weeks anyway; just move on, goddammit.'

It wasn't so simple, he understood that, not when the only people playing were the most dedicated of the neurotic crowd that was Yggdrasil's playerbase: people who followed the game with a religious fervor that put the crazies of the Shinkoushin cult to shame.

Shut-ins racking up playtime with every waking hour, whales dumping their whole winter bonus into the cash-shop—each a hyperfixated junkie who went to extreme ends for the smallest scrap of in-game trivia.

And to be fair, Yggdrasil was an incredible game that, for a time, had been representative of the entire DMMO-RPG genre. Shit, the mechanical and aesthetic freedom offered started a brand new era of digital artistry: the Stylistic Revolution, some people over the net were dubbing it.

But well, that was the past. Right now, in the present, Yggdrasil had faded to a shadow of its glory days. The industry titan Kodama Machine released was withered, lacking the support and funding and vibrancy it once had. Made him glad he never really got into the game himself

Some of these players were losing over a decade's worth of 'hard-earned' progress and memories. Nothing was going to replace that, not even a remake with all the fancy bells and whistles the forums had been demanding for years.

"I'm going for a snack run," Henchou pushed off their seat with a grunt. "Anyone want anything?"

"I'll take a cream bun," Tadashi said, the other five in the office answering a few seconds later. "Appreciate it, Mister Kihara."

"Not at all," Henchou unplugged their neural port and walked to the door, tapping their employee identification card against the reader before exiting. None of the filter mask, goggles, or coat nonsense the majority of the country had to wear; the Kasugai Sphere was no Arcology, but habitation shields were a given for Dome Cities.

'Kihara… Henchou…' He brought up the messenger app—still logged into the company provided Game Master account that couldn't be accessed outside of the premises—on his visual interface and located the name. Once his coworker returned, he'll transfer however much a cream bun cost. Probably too much, but avoiding thoughts of food artificiality was a cheap way to maintain some pleasure in life. 'What should I buy for lunch?'

Recently, he had been craving curry. The dry, savory, spicy type sold at that place tucked away in a street by the station. Though in the spirit of pragmatic honesty, popping by an izakaya during the early afternoon felt strange, and nutripaste was fast.

'Some gyoza to go along with it,' the Megacon installed in his cranium translated the manifold signals from the nanites reading his synaptic impulses, converting idea into action as the ball of light that was his avatar aimlessly wandering the skies of Asgard. Yggdrasil was a dive game, but Game Masters were required to be present in real life too, so here they were: using a specialized—and ironically antiquated—screen interface to interact with the game. 'Still have a couple cans of beer left in the fridge, and that model kit I need to break out.'

Small joys. That was what got him through each day. Look too far in the future, and a person would just get crushed with the realization that today was the best it was ever going to be—

"Great, what's this…?" a ticket notification appeared in the upper right corner of his vision. Tadashi opened the inbox, absently making a note of the subject header 'Caloric Stone,' and read the message:

Hi, I know we're supposed to—

"Then don't send a ticket," he grumbled under his breath.

"Wassat?"

"Just reading a support ticket," Tadashi replied. "You know how it is, Mister Gotoda."

"Ah, yeah," they nodded like that explained everything—which it did. Most importantly, the sentiment was properly conveyed. "Somebody got scammed again, or what?"

"Or what, it looks like," he returned to the message. Help requests were automatically directed to the nearest Game Master in the region and nearest, and with the remaining staff being the anemic husk it was, that left roughly five per world. Shift leaders included, no less. 'Alright, let's wrap this up.'

Hi, I know we're supposed to use this to craft something ourselves (I think so at least ww) but my entire guild kinda skedaddled (μ_μ) and you guys know how it is with meeting strangers here www

If it's not allowed, I absolutely understand and am very sorry for bothering everyone.

Caloric Stone was… a『World Item』, if he recalled correctly? Been a hot minute since he'd last seen or heard this name in particular make the rounds at the office, but hey, it wasn't one of the shitty 'Twenty' that were the cause of many an ulcer.

On the other hand, 'Sephyrelia' was, unfortunately for him, incorrect in saying that the players were expected to use it to build something themselves because while it wasn't a Twenty, it was still an item that allowed the user to make a request to the development team.

Tadashi called up a keyboard and quickly typed up a response:

Congratulations! It's impressive you and your friends managed to acquire this item! Regarding your question, theCaloric Stonedoes happen to allow players to make requests of the development team, so feel free to get back to us on that at your convenience.

He scrolled through the Game Master spell-list for several minutes before receiving a reply:

wktk awesome can you make our guild's child keep summons around permanently? Like a casting focus that you have to equip and it's all floaty around you ୧ □ ୨ I can come up with other stuff if that's too much

Summons that wouldn't despawn? That was absolutely too much. An ability like that could rival『Megiddo』since the swarm of summons a player could control had a lot more uses than the unlimited horde they couldn't.

The Game Master's fingers danced over air, composing a polite apology and rejection in record speed only to hesitate right as he was about to hit 'send.'

It was just two weeks until the shutdown, right? Meeting the requirements to get even a single Caloric Stone meant stockpiling ludicrous amounts of prismatic ore, which implied controlling hotly contested resource areas for an extended period—grinding the gold to buy and accumulate enough was near-impossible given Yggdrasil's culture.

Knowing that, and knowing the shutdown was looming a mere half-month away, he'd be lying if he said there wasn't any pity to be found. An item like what 'Sephyrelia' was asking for… it needed time to grow in severity unlike『Megiddo』where it started off unbearably troublesome and got worse from there.

And—they'd only have it for two weeks. Now that Tadashi was thinking about it, he wondered why none of the other holders of the 'wish-making'『World Items』were using them. 'Ugh. Those heinous punks better not be waiting to drop them all on the last day.'

Anyway, the ticket, right.

"Mister Akai," he opted for calling out to the shift leader instead of shooting them a ping. "Could you take a moment to check this?"

The Senior Game Master raised a thumbs-up into the air. Seeing the acknowledgement, Tadashi added him to the ticket. This way, a record of how the issue was resolved by the two of them would exist in the event any higher-ups were dissatisfied.

"This is… sure, whatever," Akai Daisuke gestured at him. "Ask them if they have an item frame in mind, and then forward that plus the details to Mister Fukuzawa."

Said developer, Fukuzawa Hayata swiveled around on their chair and cocked an eyebrow at the mention. "Can't you all do that yourselves?"

"Management never gave us the perms," Daisuke replied while Tadashi typed. "It's all configuration that can be done in game, but—"

"Wouldn't be the first dumb decision they've made," the Senior Game Master didn't look bothered by the interruption. Though it was hard to call everyone in this office friends, they were comfortable enough to mingle with a degree of casualness. "I mean, I'm here to code and get hated on, yet config's my job too? Underpaid, I tell you!"

"There's no way wish-making『World Items』have been used that much," another Game Master interjected. "Complaining about nothing, it sounds like."

"Sure, but they're always a pain…"

Tadashi filtered out the conversation, choosing to focus on the file he'd received. Fast turnaround wasn't unexpected for the Caloric Stone; they'd probably spent a while agonizing over what to request.

I'm not an amazing artist, but I did my best! ᕦ(ò_óˇ) Here is a drawing of the item I was thinking:

Thank you very much! ღゝ◡╹)

Okay, he'd been expecting a three-dimensional model, but a literal drawing worked too? It was a rough doodle of an oblong circle speckled with white dots; if he was forced to guess, those were stars.

'Eh, aesthetics aren't my problem,' actually, how was it this awful? Most art-related freeware should have basic functions like creating shapes… "Oi, Mister Fukuzawa! I've forwarded you all the information."

"—moved to their puzzle RPG department," the developer wrapped up their previous conversation while manipulating something on their visual interface. "You have? Yup, there it is… let's see…"

Hayata mumbled to themselves for a few seconds then peeked over their monitor to make eye-contact with Tadashi while waving him over.

"What is it?" He grudgingly unplugged the cord from his neural port and trudged to where the developer reclined.

"You're sure this is the file they sent?" A series of rapid gestures saw whatever image they were viewing reflected onto the monitor. "It's kind of, how do I say this, barebones?"

"I could ask them for something more detailed," Tadashi half-heartedly offered. If the appearance was what caused Hayata to fret, then it was fine for the item to look a tad shoddy, wasn't it? Abilities on the level of what was listed wouldn't normally ever be approved. "Everything else is okay though?"

"Two weeks left," Hayata simply said with a shrug. "And on a scale of 'how bad can this mess things up,' this item isn't up there."

"Yeah, makes sense," he thought as much. Various in-game windows opened on the monitor—to keep from glutting Hayata's vision, he supposed—some swiftly filled with a few lines of script, some occasionally interacted with to toggle one option or another, and others displaying a sphere with cycling textures. "Didn't think you'd go through the trouble of making an item model."

"Eh, it's just a sphere," Hayata's eyes flicked to and fro, closing out the modeling program in exchange for Yggdrasil. "Having a『World Item』look so pitiful would break my heart, uwaaa~"

As he witnessed the developer's insufferable behavior, Tadashi was once again reminded of why exactly the players disliked them. Difficult settings and mechanics were fine, but for the designers of a game to be the equivalent of internet trolls was… "So, you're not going to change anything?"

"I'll make it so all their summons go 'poof' when they die," that was fair. "And when they unequip."

"That sounds like it'll be pretty prone to accidents."

Then again, even those drawbacks were reasonable considering what the item would do. Locking away one hand during combat was a small price to pay in comparison.

"I have a reputation to uphold, you know?" The developer smugly wiped their nose. "If I don't do at least this little, the players might even end up liking us."

"Of course. Forgive me for misspeaking."

"Don't be like that," Hayata rolled his neck with a crack. "Two weeks, remember? I even added a function that lets them keep summons packed away in the item! Less work on you guys, I figured, if they don't bother clogging the zones."

"Wouldn't they be able to drop everything at once instead of needing to move everything around then?"

"There's a spawning timer for it," Hayata dismissively waved and returned to the idol compilation videos they probably had playing in the background. "The Higher the tier, the longer it'll take to drag out. By the way, you can go and close that ticket now."

He thanked them and returned to his seat, body sinking into the cushions with a sigh. Exhaustion settled deep within, or finally made itself known, as he re-plugged the port.

It felt like they did something big, monumental in a way he couldn't put into words—and that was idiotic and delusional, because what the hell was a virtual item for a game dead by next month going to change?

'They'll have fun with it, I guess,' ending Yggdrasil on a high note might make the player's day for the next two weeks, as pitiful as that sounded. 'Hopefully without creating more actual work for us.'

Tadashi stared off into space and took solace in the fact he at least had another job lined up after this. An entry-level programming position for a shooter project that was certainly not looking to do any favors to his already poor sleeping habits.

'Wouldn't have gotten it without the recommendations from here either,' all the more reason to make sure he didn't slack off too hard during this last stretch. 'Fuuu… shit…'

He was really looking forward to that cream bun.