Underworld Playerchapter 87: the first victim

"...What just happened?"

Viridescent sighed with relief as she looked around at their restored surroundings. The question was one she posed to Traveler.

"Basically, we walked into a ghostwall illusion without realizing it."

The tired Traveler grimaced as he slumped against the wall, slowly sliding down into a sitting position. He removed his glasses and polished them on his shirt.

"It's not that we were transported somewhere, but our perception was altered, somehow. From an outside perspective, we would've just looked like we were running in place, back when we were being chased."

Viridescent's brows creased as she began to put the pieces together. "So that first robot you sent never actually made it to the creature?"

"That's right. Since the shadow has the ability to make the corridor—in reality no more than twenty meters long—look like an endless passageway, it's safe to say that our perception of space was completely warped. When I thought I was manually moving the robot toward the shadow, I was actually making it walk in circles around myself, which is why it exploded on me instead."

Traveler sighed.

"It's the same reason why your attacks never seemed to land on the shadow. Since your perception of space was warped, you only thought you were about to hit it, when in fact, it was standing several meters away."

"...Have you seen such a thing before?" Viridescent listened to Traveler's explanation with increasing ire. "I mean, I guess that was a ghost literally doing something to a wall, which I won't say any more about, but 'ghostwall' is what we say when we're in the countryside or it's dark outside and we lose our bearings, so we end up going round in circles... How do you know for sure that's really what this was?"

Viridescent's voice was terrifyingly scornful as she pointed to the site of the little robot's explosion.

"When it comes to supernatural entities, normal logic often doesn't apply—it looks like I should explain some more."

Traveler paused to gather his thoughts, then said, "What we call 'ghostwalling' is essentially experiencing a twisted sense of space, which causes us to walk in circles... Do you think young children would understand something so abstract?"

Viridescent frowned. "Children?"

"It's part of a theory I'm working on... but I have insufficient proof to back it up. I'll tell you about it once I've gathered enough data to say for sure."

Traveler sighed again.

"Anyway, suppose a kid hears the word 'ghostwall', apropos of nothing. Of course they're going to think: Huh... 'ghostwall', 'ghost-to-wall'*, sounds like a ghost hitting the wall or something. Since the 'ghost-to-wall' makes people lose their bearings, the ghost must have the ability to manipulate one's sense of space. Thus, all the supernatural entity is doing is following that naive line of thought... Does that make things clearer?"

"You mean the kids in the orphanage are the ones making these supernatural entities show up?" Viridescent remarked flatly.

"As I said, it's just a theory... If I'd realized sooner that the shadow slapping the wall was a pun on 'ghost-to-wall', we wouldn't have been trapped there for as long as we were."

Traveler looked at the walkie-talkie and shook his head dejectedly before putting it back into his pocket.

"I can't believe he figured it out just from the surface-level description... I have a feeling that the lowest-leveled Player among us could turn out to be the strongest."

"Black&White, huh..."

Viridescent turned to Traveler with a serious expression.

"True, he's more competent than you by far, it's very self-aware of you to notice."

Traveler looked at her in stunned silence. "…Welp, time to get going on our investigation." He flashed a wry smile as he got up, dusted himself off, and began walking.

"Not that this is a weak entity by any means—if not for Black&White, we might have died of exhaustion eventually. I must say that the monster has some pretty weak defense if it died to a single explosion. I was even prepared to send mo—"

Traveler froze mid-sentence and stopped dead in his tracks. Looking at him, Viridescent seemed to detect a slight tremble in his frame.

"What's up?" she asked, while she tended to her wounds. "Did killing the shadow drop loot, like equipment or a Skill Card?"

Traveler turned back, his face pale as a ghost. With great effort, he forced out his next words haltingly. "... I— think— the one I killed— wasn't— the shadow, but— one— of the— Players."

Viridescent gasped.

All thoughts of bandaging her wounds forgotten, she sprinted to Traveler's side. On the ground, behind the doorway that had been blasted open by the exploding robot, lay a gruesome-looking corpse... It was a sight that would surely give anyone nightmares.

Both legs had been blown to bits, making the body seem unusually small, while the arms were completely immobilized by coils of wire, wrapped so tightly that they cut to the bone. Yet more wires protruded from the shoulders, leading up to the beams in the ceiling, where they were anchored.

The wires and several other pieces together made a ghastly, if simple, contraption that would force the wearer's hand to slap the wall repeatedly...

Worse than that, however, was the look of terror and despair on the victim's face. Their eyes and mouth had been sewn shut with red thread, and a similar set of stitches kept the ears tightly clamped to the victim's head. Perhaps the threads had started out white, or black, but now, they were thoroughly stained a dark crimson by the victim's blood.

Of course, worst of all, this mangled, tortured corpse lying on the ground was someone Viridescent and Traveler recognized.

It was one of the seven Players who had joined the quest, the one who looked like a high-schooler... "Douchey, SoWhat".

*Once again, I apologize for the tenuous pun.