/ Ennui, Chapter 0x002
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Prologue III: Valentine's

By Una Ada, April 03, 2023

February 14th, Reiwa 9 — Tokyo, Japan

Yamada Imari has a broken heart. He’s particularly prone to a sort of self criticism bordering on absolute loathing, which really doesn’t help the situation. His friend going out with his crush isn’t too big a deal, it’s clear he was never really going to act on his feelings at this rate. A couple months from now, she’ll be a senior in high school and he’ll be starting at some mediocre college. Sure, they’ll still be neighbors; there’s no reason to move into the dormitories of a school so nearby.

The truth of the matter is that she simply cannot see him as a romantic option. He knows this quite well. It is, admittedly, partly his fault. The two have been so close for a year now and he would never dare make a move on her. Either she’s simply respecting the boundary he erected or has misread the situation in some other way. No use crying over spilled milk.

Anyway, it’s noon now and Imari remains glued to his pillow by his own dried tears. He seems to have reached some conclusion about the situation, whether that’s actual acceptance or not is still an open question. I mean, he’s still lying there, but his eyes are open and the tears have stopped. Maybe he’s just dehydrated, actually.

Eventually, however, he reaches a stage of numbness, that sort of hazy state where all he needs is a simply distraction to keep his mind occupied. Though much of the conversation had been greatly overshadowed by certain other topics, Jin had reminded him of the perfect distraction for times like this.

Covenant of Dragons is a rather typical MMO, a medieval fantasy RPG. Jin had undersold it in reality, what he referred to as skins are more like character classes. They each provide a default character model and a default outfit, so the phrasing wasn’t too far of the mark, yet there is a certain degree of customizability beyond that which makes it so much more.

He had been a bit bashful about it the other day, but Imari is rather fond of these sorts of games to this day. It’s not that he’d grown out of them so much as he simply never had the motivation to immerse himself in a whole new world, all the lore and the mechanics of it. When the servers for the last game he played went down, he just never picked up a new one. Simple as that. In this moment, he’s ready to take a bit of a plunge.

Of course, what Jin said about Imari always playing women in games was true as well. Given the option, he’s not going to switch things up too much at this point. So he picks the Miko class, a Priestess of Dragons, the titular Covenant being hers by birthright. Just about every class in the game has the option to pick up a Covenant or two throughout the game, it’s even in one of the main quests… well, the Miko class is somewhat newer, meant for experienced players, skipping the quest to make a Covenant of their own. Imari doesn’t know this, but does he really have to? He’s smart enough to be able to figure out a game like this, with the hordes of wikis and forums available, without needing to be coddled by something like a tutorial.

Thus he begins. At first he hangs on every word of the cutscenes, every popup, every single line of flavor text. Yes, at first he begs for immersion, hoping this new world will somehow overwrite the one he’s truly in. Yes soon he is mashing the skip button on every line of dialog, it’s not enough, never enough. He needs this, he needs to be this shrine maiden, clad in her kosode and hakama within his screen, wielding sharp swords and mighty magics. Anything would be better, he thinks, than the world he knows, and if it’s this game then maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.

Imari was instantly hooked on the game, his mind a sponge wrung of its tears, ready to accept something new. The first quest, the quasi-tutorial these sorts of games are wont to have, was over in a flash. He can get to the rest of the main quest line later, right now he needs pure escape. What better for that than side quests? Collect some herbs, slay some goblins, tend some crops. Between it all, he gets to wander.

Wandering is what makes an RPG an RPG, a role playing game. To live as your character, to live in this world, that is what wandering provides. He gets to play the opposite of the powerless boy he is. Rather than being trapped in a prison of his own making, itself confined in the prison of school or work, his avatar is free. A girl with no obligation, a girl with power, and a girl with freedom. Oh, how he longs to be her.

This is, of course, my own conjecture on the matter. He wouldn’t speak of such things to anyone, would he? He would simply play it off as having found a good game, that the game itself is addictive. That would be his excuse for gluing his eyes to this screen for hours on end, I’m sure of it.

“Imari! Dinner!”

The shouts of his sister fall on deaf ears. He can’t afford to break his concentration once he’s found it. Wouldn’t it defeat the whole purpose of this venture to let the real world in the moment it beckons?

“Imari… Whatever.”

She gives one last call, the last of her patience. This is really the limit with her brother these days, who is she to tell him he has to eat if he’s just going to mope through dinner anyway? He can always eat later or just waste away for all she cares.

And waste away he does… for the night anyway. Not a wink of sleep. Just the world of this game and his hand crafted other self. He has school tomorrow, he knows this; however, as mentioned previously, he could really care less about that. So what if he looks dead in the morning? Not like he could hide his feelings anyway, right? And if he runs into Shiori? Well, then he’d just break down again, wouldn’t he? All the better to simply take all the time he can to grow numb, sleep deprivation can certainly help with that in some cases.

By the time he has to change into his uniform, splash a bit of water on his face, and stumble all the way to his school, he’ll have played this game for eighteen straight hours. Plenty of time to have forgotten his attachments in this world and in their place have grown new ones in another.

End of the day, everything for the next couple months is set in stone. He’s lost his chance to confess to Shiori in a way that could actually lead to something, and he sure as hell isn’t going to bother with it just to relieve himself. His graduation is already assured, nothing he does in school really matters so long as he doesn’t get himself expelled. His acceptance into college is done too, all he needs at this point is to show up there in April. But in the game, he has plenty of choices to make still. He’d made it to level 24 in the span of the night, nothing to sneeze at for sure, but less than a quarter of the level cap. There’s still the majority of the main quest line to experience and who knows how many side quests!

From now until graduation, Yamada Imari will dedicate himself to nothing but Covenant of Dragons.