A Woman and Her [Curse]

“Weber, are you done with that inventory check yet?”

“Ah, not yet, sir. I’ll need another hour, I think.”

“You have thirty minutes. We need to get this to Procurement by the weekend.”

“Got it.”

I ignored my sleepiness and forced myself to focus on the task of checking the list of items in the warehouse against regular stock levels, making a note whenever one of the items fell short. The list easily had more than five thousand entries, so manually checking each was tedious. Furthermore, there were instances where the reported inventory didn’t match up with the transactions record, so I had to call the warehouse to clarify, wasting even more time. I had been at this task for the better part of two days, trying to rush it out – I had even slept at the office last night.

“Bryn, the documentation for the new software is in, could you review it later please?”

“Alright, just leave it on my table. I’ll take a look after I’m done with this. Thanks, Ami.”

My table shook slightly as a large ring file was placed upon it by Ami, my co-worker. I nodded my appreciation, but never once took my attention off the screen, determined to finish the required check within the time I had been given.

When I finally exited that cramped office, the number of cars on the road had dwindled to barely a few per minute. Reviewing the new documentation had taken longer than expected. I checked my phone – 11:30 p.m. My stomach growled.

Come to think of it, I haven’t eaten anything all day.

With the new financial year rolling in soon, the office was a hectic mess; I’d chosen to forgo lunch in favour of getting more work done. If not, I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish up the inventory check. I changed directions and walked towards the convenience store. As I did, I fired up the newest mobile game I’d installed on my phone. I particularly liked the art for this one: it opted for a chibi approach, which was super cute, and the setting was a futuristic, sci-fi setting. I’d completed the tutorial on the way to work yesterday, and the gameplay wasn’t the best. Not very engaging. The game mostly played itself, with only a few button taps required in battle. A little disappointing, to be sure, but I didn’t play these games for the gameplay. I played them for the gacha.

Gachas are a microtransaction model that have come to largely dominate the mobile gaming industry in recent years. Games that utilise this gacha system tend to be marketed as “Free to Play”, but in reality, made a lot of money. These games are ostensibly free to play in that they have no subscription fee, and installing them is free, but one can purchase special currency within the game using microtransactions. This currency is then used to open a type of lucky draw box, which is often the only way to attain the most powerful items or skills in the game. Essentially, it is a form of gambling. Generally, there’s something like a 3% to 5% chance to get a good item, a 20% chance to get one that’s decent but not amazing, and a 75% or so chance to get something that’s effectively useless. If one wanted to become strong in a gacha game, spending money on the special currency to attempt the gacha was the way to go.

Of course, any game where it was only possible to get stronger by paying would lose a large portion of its players. Resultantly, games often included ways to acquire the special currency other than paying, albeit at lower quantities. This allowed free players to keep up with the paying players, though it took much more time and effort. That said, this system can also be understood as a way to get free players to keep playing with the illusion of being able to stand with paying players on an even field. And eventually, when they had just about caught up and exhausted their resources, they would consider spending money to make that last jump, thus becoming one of the paying players.

As for myself, I was a free-to-play player. I played these games for the rush of pulling the gacha, and that rush felt so much more satisfying when it was done on occasion, rather than whenever I paid money. I didn’t much care for the games themselves, either, so I had little incentive to fork out money. I had played over seventy different gacha games, and played up to five at once, and yet I had never forked out money for any of them, even those with gameplay I genuinely enjoyed. That was a point of pride for me.

As I opened the app, I was greeted with a message congratulating me on finishing the tutorial, along with a notice that I had been awarded 3000 of the special currency for doing so, the equivalent of 10 attempts on the gacha. I gleefully licked my lips and proceeded to the gacha screen. Since the setting was sci-fi, the chance of my usual [curse] triggering was low.

I checked the rates. 80% Rare, 19% Super Rare, and 1% Special Super Rare. I whistled. These rates were even lower than usual. Still, like in most games, rolling on the gacha 10 times at once guaranteed getting at least one Super Rare or higher item. I braced myself and hit the button to make 10 attempts. As the animation flashed across the screen, I held my breath.

One by one, nine weapons flashed across the screen, all of them Rares. I felt a little disappointed. Even though I was used to this sight, it was still depressing. The screen flashed, prompting me to tap it to check the guaranteed Super Rare. As I did, the screen changed colour, and the letters “SSR” popped up.

“Yes! Score!”

I pumped my fist in the air and grinned widely. I quickly retracted it and glanced around, self-conscious, but the late hour meant I was pretty much the only person walking around. I gleefully watched the light on the screen morph and take the shape of a gun, then read the weapon’s name, listed in rainbow letters at the bottom of the screen.

“Oh come on, you’re fucking kidding me…”

The name displayed there was [POC9821 Valkyrie].

“Not this stupid ‘curse’ again…”

I, Brynhildr Weber, was the victim of a terrible [curse]. Whenever I played a gacha game, my first highest-rarity item would always be something associated with my name. Whether it was another character named Brynhildr, or a weapon or skill related to a Valkyrie, for every game I had played, this single point stayed the same. In all five of the games I currently had installed, each of them had some item or character which was connected to my name and to Norse mythology in some way.

I sighed. I hated my name. Growing up as a half-German in Japan was hard enough, what with how different I looked from my peers, but the fact that my name was so hard to pronounce, coupled with the fact that it was in a ton of anime and games and other form of multimedia meant that I had been the subject of a lot of jokes as I was growing up, mostly concerning my distinct lack of athletic ability. I know my German father had good intentions when picking my name – he wanted me to grow up strong and proud – but I often wished he’d stopped to consider the implications of such a ridiculous name.

And so, my [curse] constantly reminded me of a painful childhood of being teased and laughed at. I locked and stowed my phone, annoyed. Besides, I had found my way to the convenience store.

As I walked back home, munching on a sandwich bought from the store, I casually went through my other four gacha games, clearing the daily quests to accumulate the special currency. As I was clearing the daily boss fights for the last game of the lot, I got a text from Weber Misaki – my mother. I read through it briefly and sighed, annoyed.

It was the usual thing about how I was doing and asking me to visit home occasionally. Both of those I was okay with answering, but she had also added her usual concerns about the fact that I was going on 28 years of age, and yet unmarried. Furthermore, she informed me that she had taken the liberty of playing matchmaker and wanted me to meet her friend’s son, claiming that she thought I would like him. I hesitated, but ultimately replied agreeably. If she had taken the time to set it up, it was the least I could do to acknowledge her efforts. Of course, it wasn’t going to work out. The other party was a guy, after all. My mother would probably be upset when it didn’t work out, but I figured it would probably sting less than finding out I was gay.

I crushed the empty sandwich wrapper and tossed it into a nearby bin, then climbed the stairs to my apartment and unlocked it. The moment I saw the welcome sight of home, I kicked off my shoes and staggered to my bed, collapsing on it without even changing. I was just that tired. I turned my head and glanced at my phone. 12:30 a.m. I slowly pushed myself up. I couldn’t have myself falling sick – I had to work in the morning. I decided to at least change and finish up the daily quests for the last game on my phone before sleeping.

While removing my working pants, I used my other hand to manipulate my phone, scrolling to the screen that held my games. When I did, I froze.

“Eh? What’s this?”

An app icon with no name had appeared on the page. Its image was just a black background. I stopped changing and focused my attention on the phone. I found myself moving my finger towards the icon. With no hesitation, I tapped on the icon, holding the icon so as to drop it into the trash. But when I let go of the icon over the trash icon, it immediately reappeared in its original spot.

“What the fuck?”

As I stared at my phone in surprise, the screen flashed twice. Then it turned white, shining brightly. Then I felt myself being drawn toward the phone, tugged, as if someone was pulling on me. Panicking, I let go of the phone and let it fall on the bed, but it was too late.

The next thing I knew, I was in a forest, in the middle of a clearing, with bright daylight illuminating the world around me.