The Tales of an Infinite Regressor
Chapter 115 – Non-Player III

[Proofreader – Gun]

Chapter 115 – Non-Player III

5

This world is contaminated.

It wasn’t just that the physical space was tainted. The mental world, the minds of the Awakened, were entirely drenched in corruption.

-Anonymous: (Recommended) ☆☆☆ Level 5 ~ Level 10 ☆☆☆ Experience Farming Sweet Spot Dungeon List. Must-read for newbies!!

-Anonymous: I got up early today and farmed 10,000 XP, then settled accounts and cracked open a beer. Not bad, right?

-Goryeojang: Today’s Café Mocha.png

-Anonymous: Looking for a Level 10 party!! No NPC porters, sorryㅠㅠ

-[Samcheon] Witch Judge: Hey guys, I found Black Orb Messiah (S) gear while hunting monsters today. Is this good?

Behold. This rotten mental landscape.

It didn’t take long after the arrival of the ‘online RPG’ for SG Net to degenerate into this mess.

True to the self-proclaimed gaming nation of Korea, adaptation was incredibly swift. Common clichés in subcultures, such as:

‘What? The world… has turned into a game?’

‘This is absolutely bizarre…’

‘How does that cheater know all the game mechanics we don’t?’

Were all skipped. Even elementary school kids accepted the situation with the seasoned expressions of veteran players, saying, ‘What? We’ve become game players? The time has come.’

Soon, SG Net was flooded with all sorts of strategy guides. There was no need for me to wear the mask of the ‘Great Library Society’ and diligently post guides. Everyone voluntarily, enthusiastically, and passionately tackled the anomalies.

This was utterly strange.

“Why the long face…? Hoo. Isn’t this better compared to the days when everyone would tremble at the sight of anomalies? Now, they willingly dive into the void to level up…”

“The problem is that they’re exploring the void with a game mentality. They should be understanding the world through their intuition and hard-earned experience, but instead, they’re seeing the world through the lens provided by these anomalies.”

“Hmmm…”

“This ‘online game’ itself is a massive void. Those who call themselves players are practically turning into anomalies themselves!”

“Well, there is some logic to that… But, might it just be my imagination that you seem more angry about losing your monopoly on fame and accomplishments to the anomalies…?”

There was no need to respect the opinion of someone who saw everything through a twisted lens: the Poison Pokémon.

I had traveled to Japan, China, and even further to Mongolia and India. Everywhere, I found the same infection of ‘online RPG.’

‘…This is no ordinary matter.’

It wasn’t just people’s perceptions that had changed.

The anomalies themselves were gradually changing.

“Hehehe. There are so many slimes by the river these days that it’s really easy to catch them…!” S~ᴇaʀᴄh the N0ᴠᴇFɪre.nᴇt website on Gøøglᴇ to access chapters of nøvels early and in the highest quality.

For example, the slimes that Sim Aryeon brought every day to beat to a pulp with her club for stress relief.

Originally, slimes were not such common anomalies. They rarely appeared in sewers and hardly ever came out into the open.

Unless one went underground, it was almost impossible for ordinary Awakened to encounter a slime in daily life.

The population of slimes was rapidly increasing. Now, they were bouncing around the riverbanks quite frequently.

Pyo-ro-ro♪

Pyo-ro-ro-rong♪

As a result, the sound of Sim Aryeon beating slimes echoed incessantly in front of our guild’s headquarters.

Because of this noise pollution, I seriously considered relocating the guild base.

Moreover, the development of a precise, academically verified, and objective standard, ‘Depth,’ replacing the nonsensical S-rank, SSS-rank, EX-rank system ranging from 100 meters to 1200 meters, was also part of this resolution.

“Fast leveling… Yeah, I can really feel my Poison Mastery skill leveling up quickly when I bash slimes in the front yard! This is like finding out the basement stairs lead to a hidden elixir mine only I know about, or discovering a secret spot where only the protagonist can rake in the rewards…!”

Sim Aryeon’s healing ability had gradually reached the point where she could perfectly heal a patient even if they were brought in with all their limbs torn apart as long as they still had their head attached.

More and more Awakened on SG Net began to refer to Sim Aryeon as “the Saintess.”

This was utterly strange.

In any case, it wasn’t just the slimes that were increasing in this rotting world.

Goblins, orcs, ogres, and trolls—the classic monsters found in games—were filling the void more and more.

There was only one way to explain this phenomenon.

‘The online game is invading not only the Awakened but also the anomalies…?’

A chill ran down my spine.

An anomaly that didn’t discriminate between humans and monsters, that didn’t stay confined to a particular place, that wasn’t bound by time or space, and that endlessly expanded its influence.

The Isolated God.

Indeed, just as if waiting for Endless to be defeated, another mysterious Isolated God was extending its claws.

Disguised in the guise of a ‘game,’ something humans found hard to resist.

-Anonymous: (Screenshot) Broke my damage record while fighting an orc lol

-Anonymous: This game is seriously so fun.

-Anonymous: Looking for a Level 20 party!! Already have one NPC porter secured!!

-Anonymous: Anyone want to trade troll eyes at the Kimhae dungeon entrance?

SG Net increasingly became indistinguishable from a ‘game forum.’

Gradually, the term ‘monster’ became more common than ‘anomaly,’ and ordinary people who hadn’t awakened any skills were referred to as NPCs.

When you killed a monster, ‘items’ dropped. Slime cores, goblin teeth, orc hearts, etc. All these materials had specific effects, and you could see what those effects were in your ‘inventory.’

Everything was a game.

…I shared my speculation with the Regressor Alliance. Both Noh Doha and the Saintess’s expressions turned grave.

“Noh Doha, as the Head of Administration, formally declare the ‘online game’ as an anomaly. We must raise awareness among people, even if it’s a bit late.”

“Understood. Although I doubt how effective it will be now. Everyone’s showing symptoms of game addiction…”

Game addiction.

This too was a symptom of the Isolated God infecting the Awakened. It was on a different level from the game addiction the media talked about before the apocalypse.

Now, the Awakened believed that a ‘game-shaped world’ was much more real and desirable. Posts continued to flood SG Net every three seconds.

“Saintess, continue to play the role of the ‘online game’ operator as convincingly as possible. Even if we can’t defeat the anomaly right away, we can at least prevent some of the faith from spreading to it.”

“Yes, I understand.”

By taking such measures, we managed to hold things together up to the 134th regression.

But I had already resigned myself to the possibility of another regression. After intercepting the ‘status window,’ strange phenomena like ‘experience points,’ ‘levels,’ and ‘damage’ started appearing.

What kind of anomaly would await us next?

Already, the Awakened not just in Korea, but around the world, were heavily addicted to the ‘online game.’ The stats and levels it measured were concrete, and the void, once full of terror, had turned into an experience-filled hunting ground.

Humanity was pushing back the void more decisively than ever before, winning battle after battle. By following the anomalies themselves.

I suddenly recalled the protagonist’s soliloquy from [The Catcher in the Rye].

…Sure, if you’re on the team with all the best players, life is a game. I’ll grant you that. But if you’re on the other team, the one with nobody decent on it, what kind of game is that? Nothing. It’s not a game at all…

As long as the Awakened seemed to be winning, at least on the surface, the ‘online game’ was indeed a game.

But how long would that victory last?

Despite the warnings from the National Highway Administration, the Awakened didn’t stop playing the online game. They were endlessly immersed in the joy of leveling up.

And then one day.

Just as there are always signs before a great earthquake, a message arrived for me.

[‘The Operator of the Grand Play’ announces the beginning of a new event.]

6

Flashback.

“Ah, now that I think about it, why did you suddenly pretend to be a strange Constellation a few days ago?”

“What?”

“A week ago. You sent a message under the name of ‘The Operator of the Grand Play.’ I was a bit surprised, thinking even the Saintessess makes mistakes. Did you send a message meant for another Awakened to me by mistake?”

“……?”

Anyone with a good memory would quickly recall this.

This was an anecdote I mentioned at the end of the story about my first meeting with the Saintessess.

“I’ve never sent such a message.”

[Proofreader – Gun]

“What?”

“I’ve never created a Constellation called ‘The Operator of the Grand Play.’ Perhaps you saw it wrong?”

“…….”

The story of a ‘mysterious Constellation’ that the Saintessess never created, sending a message.

Though I tend to share episodes as they come to mind without much regard for chronology, here’s the sequence of events:

* 117th regression: Defeated the Isolated God ‘Endless Hell.’

* 118th regression: First witnessed ‘Hero Syndrome.’

* 119th regression: First witnessed ‘Reincarnation Truck.’

* 126th regression: Defeated ‘Salvation Narrative Syndrome.’

* 133rd regression: First witnessed the ‘Status Window.’

* 134th regression: First witnessed the presumed Isolated God ‘Online Game.’

And the message from the mysterious Constellation—or entity that might not even be a Constellation—also came during the 134th regression.

My instinct, honed sharply over many regressions, rang like a seismograph’s needle.

My intuition was correct. The 134th regression was merely a foreshock.

The next regression, the 135th, brought the actual earthquake.

-Anonymous: These guys play games all day lol. Turn off the game and go outside lol.

The 135th regression was fundamentally similar to the 134th.

Except that strange posts began to appear at some point.

-Anonymous: For us, the game is reality? For us, the game is reality? For us, the game is reality?

└Anonymous: Lmao, right.

└Anonymous: I’ve been playing ‘reality’ continuously for 50,783 hours.

└Anonymous: Shut up.

-Anonymous: This guy posts nonsense even in the middle of the night, and now again…

└Anonymous: What?

At first glance, it seemed like the usual banter of an ordinary community.

But the void always disguises itself as something not much different from nature. A school, a tunnel, the sea.

Eventually.

-Anonymous: Damn, my whole body is sore from gaming too long. I’m logging off.

The void arrived abruptly.

-Anonymous: Sorry, guys, I’m too sleepy to stay logged in; logging off now.

-Anonymous: I’m logging out to live my real life.

-Anonymous: Looking for a Level 30 party! Already secured three NPC porters!!

-Anonymous: Ugh, nothing to do in this game. Quitting it. Bye.

Members of SG Net began to post about logging out or quitting the game.

But as everyone knew, the ‘online game’ was overlaid on reality.

How on earth could they ‘log out’ or quit this game?

[Doctor Jang.]

The answer was delivered to me immediately, whether I wanted it or not.

[The Awakened aren’t moving.]

“…Are you saying they’re dead?”

[Yes, mostly. But it’s strange. Some Awakened remain completely still as if in a coma, then resume activity after a while as if nothing happened.]

“……”

[As if they logged into the game.]

They resembled zombies.

Monsters that become active at night but stop functioning as soon as the sun rises, the Awakened showed no movement during ‘log out.’

[Even with my clairvoyance, I see nothing in the Awakened in a comatose state. Darkness. Just pitch-black darkness.]

Awakened in the logged-out state didn’t react even if I attacked them. It was as if they didn’t exist in this world; my blade passed through them.

Sim Aryeon, the one in our guild who enjoyed the ‘online game’ the most, was not exempt from this phenomenon.

“――Ah, Guild Leader!”

Sim Aryeon ran to me with bright eyes.

…It was hard to believe that this person, who had been standing completely still for the past three days, was now moving so naturally.

“Were you waiting for me?”

“…Yes.”

“Wow! Thank you! Hehe. See? Even an NPC’s response changes when you raise their affinity!”

“……”

“I tried to come back quickly, but real life kept holding me back… But I resolved it this time!”

Originally, among the ‘addicts,’ the term NPC referred to ordinary people who hadn’t awakened any skills.

That was no longer the case.

As time passed, even ordinary people gained minor abilities. They eagerly joined the game and became players.

Now, NPCs were those like Noh Doha and me who didn’t log into the game at all.

Ironically, those who could exist in the ‘game world’ 24/7 were called NPCs by the addicts.

To them, the work Noh Doha did in constructing national highways across the Korean Peninsula was a true ‘quest.’

I, too, was treated as a ‘hidden NPC,’ responsible for teaching players various professions, skills, and training methods.

Who was the real NPC?

From my perspective, those consumed by the void and reduced to part of it were the NPCs. But they saw me as the NPC.

I thought.

If this were a case of the Butterfly Dream, it would be an excruciatingly nightmarish one.

[Proofreader – Gun]

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