“Run faster! Run faster! These legs are not mine!”
What a lie. If only these words were true. Zen could feel his lungs burning and blamed the previous owner of this body for not exercising more. If they did, his flawless plan wouldn’t have turned against him.
Something whistled past his head, and Zen ducked narrowly. The forest was realistic... too realistic for a VR game. Why did they have to replicate even the physical capabilities of the player?
“If this is truly a game, I should be able to use some cheat abilities. These lungs are not mine. These legs are not mine. Even if I can’t dodge everything, I can still survive by taking damage in non-critical areas! GAH!”
Just as he said it, a bullet embedded itself into his left shoulder from the back. The pain was nothing like Zen remembered. The last time he got shot, he died.
With a yell born from his last burst of courage, Zen followed the increasing sound of roaring water. This was it! He was near.
“Breakthrough… Breakthrough…” he whispered like a mantra. The adrenaline numbed the pain for now. He was almost there.
“Stop running and die!” his pursuer cackled and reloaded from the trees. “Either way, it’s a dead-end ahead. You won’t survive the fall.”
Zen didn’t listen. He didn’t care. Sure, it was a cliff ahead with a huge waterfall. Ordinarily, Zen would never jump. However, this was a game - a death game.
“I’ll take my fucking chances!” he seethed. Leaves and branches smacked into his face as his feet pounded on the dirt. This technology was too impressive, but Zen didn’t have the time or energy to admire how it worked. All he knew was if that sniper hits him one more time, his health bar wouldn’t hold up, and he was going to die in real life.
The sound of the sniper rifle getting fired echoed in the forest and Zen took it as his cue to jump off the slippery edge. He meant for a better angle to avoid whatever rocks there could’ve been in the way, but at the very last moment, the sound caused him to slip on some moss.
“How lame…” the thought crossed his mind and time slowed. He could see the smirk on his pursuer’s face as he fell.
Then, time sped up. The free-fall was accompanied by freezing water pouring into his nose and throat. Zen didn’t know which way was up, but he knew that if he didn’t continue to struggle, he was going to die. Thankfully, Zen knew how to swim even if the young master of the Taro family who owned this body didn’t.
His landing at the bottom of the waterfall broke some bones. The pain made Zen want to scream, but the water drowned everything out. This deep down, not even bullets would reach him. For now, he was safe, but Zen had to think quickly.
His nose and lungs burned. He was severely injured. The icy water could freeze him to death if he remained in it any longer. Going up to the surface was only going to make him an easy target. Was there no way out?
Zen smiled bitterly as his vision started to flicker. After everything he did, all he wanted to do was live a good life. When Zen was still a regular 24-year-old nameless civilian by the identity code #3207, he once thought good deeds would be rewarded. He saved a man from the mafia near death and brought him to his home only to be rewarded with a bullet to the head.
“So what if that shitty God gave me a special ability? Did he really think Godfather High School was a place for mafia heirs to learn their ABCs? What good will ‘superspeed learning’ do for me? Even if my photographic memory remembers the map of this death game arena, it’s useless if I cannot win.”
Top 100. He needed to survive and get into the top 100 out of 500 mafia heirs that attended. The original Zen Taro was only 15. The kid was timid, nerdy and overly kind-hearted. He was a splitting image of Civilian #3207 before he died. Of all the kids chosen to attend this fucked up battle royale academy, the oldest was only 18, still younger than what he used to be. Yet, Zen was inferior to all these people in every way. He was weak. He was timid. He had no skills, and his family rank was only #382.
“I’m not going to die here. I have to survive and grow stronger! That shitty God shoved all the responsibility of changing this messed up world in the name of a second chance, but I’m not going to complain. If bad guys rule the world... then let me be the devil and send them all to hell!”
Cold, in pain, desperate and afraid, Zen Taro let the underwater current drag him deeper to the bottom of the lagoon.
As if God took some pity on him, Zen rediscovered air and a secret cave beneath the waterfall. With the last of his strength, shivering, Zen crawled from the water and lay on the hard stone ground panting hard.
It was cold. It was dark. Yet, it was still a game.
[Congratulations! You’ve discovered a secret room and safe zone. The number of occupants in this safe zone is 1/1.]
The window alert made Zen grin. He wasn’t the devil yet, but he must have the devil’s luck. Who would have expected to find a safe zone in this game? Judging by how it wasn’t on the map, this safe zone should help him tide through the rough opening school ceremony.
“If I recall correctly, there are five rules in Godfather High. Rule one, no killing in safe zones and during safe time periods. Rule two, the microchip in our necks allow us to redeem certain benefits using credits earned in the game. It also kills us if we die. Rule three, No harming the creepy invigilators. Rule four, if you escape, you die. Lastly, the shitty game of death ends only when one survivor is left or if all the dungeon floors are cleared. I definitely lucked out this round.”
Carefully, Zen looked over to his health bar. It was blinking, indicating that it was dangerously low. As he was now, Zen couldn’t even take a punch or he would die for real. He checked the time and system status. So far, over two hundred candidates have died. If Zen didn’t find this safe zone, he would already be dead, wasting his reincarnation chance.
“Five minutes till the purge. I wonder if my crazy pursuer made it. Either way, my spot in the top 100 is guaranteed now.”
Of all things to happen on the first day of his high school debut, Zen wasn’t expecting a battle royale. Then again, he should have seen it coming. The Godfather created this prison-like environment for the top mafia heirs to compete against each other. Only the strongest would be worthy of the title.
Although Zen didn’t manage to kill anyone, he had to pat himself on the back for surviving the ordeal. The system announced the countdown for the purge, but Zen was already at his limits.
Unable to hold his eyelids open, Zen allowed himself to succumb to the pain as the adrenaline finally wore off. He slept like the dead as others fought for their lives, amusing a figure from the shadows.
[You have been awarded 100 credits by the Godfather for finding the secret safe zone. Keep up the good work, Zen Taro.]