Chapter 1

Chapter 1 – Akira = Akira

       * ding-dang-dong-dang…! *

       The sound of bell resounded inside a classroom-like space in the fantasy world.

       I, from my window seat, is watching the scenery outside the class. I can see clouds beside or below me, it’s as though I’m on the sky. In fact, this school is really located in a city floating on the sky.

       Inside the classroom, are the first year students of E class — my classmates.  Everyone is dressed in a clattering full body armor like a knight, a leather armor like a warrior, or robe and cone-shaped hat like that of a wizard.

       Because of my magic-related occupation, I wore a deep indigo hooded robe myself.

       Though there’s no dress code since we are inside the game now, the school uniforms were still distributed as equipment at the beginning of new term.

       The VRMMORPG Unlimited World (a.k.a UW) is the centerpiece of this Heisei Academy.

       I just logged in to UW from my home and now is waiting for the class to begin.

       In the game setting, the players are supposed to be students of the magic academy of the floating city Tiruna, located high in the sky of the center of the world.

       Inside such an incredible school, we take normal lessons’ just like a normal high school student would. I still find it amazing how I could reach the school from home in 0 minute.

     There real school buildings aren’t needed. With the effective utilization of cyber space technology, the student could attend the school from anywhere in Japan. The school textbooks are turned into in-game item, as e-books.

       Paperless, borderless, and objectless. The teacher said that it was the kind of education system in the future. Various experiments have been conducted by the school in this subject.

       The capital to operate the school, originally came from the association of game-related companies.

       The game industry collaborated with the education industry, in exploring the new possibilities of game. While on the other hand, the education industry was trying to survive in this declining birthrate society by blending with games.

       From the general public’s perspective, it seems to be that kind of symbiotic mutualism relationship.

Well, I personally didn’t care about such difficult things. It’s all good as long as I could enjoy an interesting game.

       The ordinary high school activities (classes) are held inside this space (game). But we’re free to act when it’s over. Doing quest or raising level, it’ just like a common online game after the school ends.

       One month has passed since I entered the school, and I’ve gotten accustomed with this environment.

“Takashiro-kun, can I have a moment?” (Kotomi)

       The class rep Maeda-san, came over to my seat.

“Hmm? Do you need something from me?” (Ren)

       Because UW system works around the body motions, your game character will be reflecting your real appearance.

       Maeda-san has some kind of honor student atmosphere around her, but nevertheless, she’s the perfect example of a Japanese beauty character. You can edit the hair color and hairstyle freely in this game, but it seems Maeda-san didn’t do it.

She is really a serious person.

Oh well, I didn’t mess around with my hair color myself.

There was no special reason, I simply didn’t feel like to do it.

“Takashiro-kun’s level seems to be much lower that the class average, are you perhaps having trouble with leveling?” (Kotomi)

       My current character level is 4, and my job is a Crest Master.

“Huh? Oh, please wait a moment!” (Ren)

       I called the system window and turned on the simplified status display from the configuration setting.

*****

【Kotomi Maeda (1-E)】

【Job: Scholar – Level 18 (no status icon)】

*****

       In addition, I looked around the classroom. Everyone is roughly level 15 or so.

Oh, there’s quite a level gap already!

“I don’t mean to rush you…. but if it’s possible, I hope you can catch up with us soon and cooperate with the class mission. If you have some kind of problem, I can lend you a hand.” (Kotomi)

       Soon after the school enrollment, the first large-scale event for all first year students — Class Competition Mission, was triggered and it’s still ongoing until now.

       The content is to get into the transit island where monster outbreak occurs, and defeat the boss monster. This is a race mission that ends when students from any class defeats the boss. There’s also an in-game bonus for all the winning class members.

       Maeda-san is the class leader as well as the mission leader, who have to put everyone in class together.

I don’t want to raise my level as much as possible, though….

       I got an email from Akira shortly before the entrance ceremony. He said that he had an accident and his school admission would be delayed because he needed to be hospitalized.

       “I wish I could bring the VR terminal in home to the hospital….” — he said.

       Well yeah, the size is big, we go inside it like a tanning machine. It would be quite difficult to bring such a big thing to the hospital.

       Akira told me to enjoy the game ahead without him. However, we’ve made a promise to play this game together, so I will keep waiting for him without raising my level as much as possible.

       The initial stage of online game is the most fumbling and exciting point. I would like to share such moments together with Akira. You could say because he’s my best friend.

I feel bad to Maeda-san, but I have my own circumstances here….

       She didn’t become mission leader because she wanted it. Because the result of her entrance examination was good, she was appointed as the class representative.

       Going by the flow, since she was the class leader (representative), she was also appointed as this mission leader.

       This is her first online game and she doesn’t have much experience in this field. Even so, she is still doing her best.

I want to give her my cooperation but….

“Oh, don’t worry! There’s no problem with the game. I will try hard to catch up with the rest of class soon.” (Ren)

       ….in the end, all I could is giving her such an excuse.

       While Maeda-san was looking at me worriedly, a voice came from a seat a little away from mine

“Koootomiii~!” (Yuuna)

*****

【Yuuna Yano (1-E)】

【Job: Paladin – Level 24 (no status icon)】

*****

Uwaah, so high! Could it be she’s the highest level student (player) in this class? The class ace?

       Her job is Paladin, which means her role inside the party is as a tanker. Her appearance is quite flashy, and there’s also some kind of a gal atmosphere around her, which is quiet rare nowadays.

       Yeah, in other words, it’s a Gal Paladin. She’s a cute girl with easygoing type character.

“What is it? Yuuna.” (Kotomi)

“Just leave Takashiro to his own devices. It’s fine~ You don’t need to worry about him~!” (Yuuna)

       I heard in order to clear the class mission, there were a lot of student making a party for level raising after the class ended.

       Yano-san seems to have joined various parties and took a tanker role. Taking the enemy’s attacks, her role was to be a shield to protect her allies.

       The party would work out well if the tanker could do its role properly. This is the most important position. I heard Yano-san was quite a capable gamer herself. She had abundant experience from various online games.

    Speaking of which, Maeda-san’s job — Scholar, falls into a role of attacker inside the party. Meanwhile, Crest Master is classified as a supporter.

“Yuuna, what do you mean by that?” (Kotomi)

“Hmm, listen carefully…. He may not looks like one, but he’s actually a quite famous player in the online games world. He’s known as the Useless Jobs Meister, Ren. Using useless jobs that were underestimated, he climbed into the ranks of top players in various online games, such as Eternal Fantasy, Demon Quest, etc.” (Yuuna)

       The topic about what kind of online game we were currently playing popped out when I was chatting with my classmates before, and when I was talking about that, it turned out that she knew about me.

       Your classmate was actually someone you knew inside the online game, and we can talk about it normally inside the classroom. I think that it’s a scene unique to schools where game lovers gather.

       Here, there’s no unwritten law of hiding your identity as a game junkie. This is definitely a comfortable world for gamers.

“On that note, you don’t have to worry about him!” (Yuuna)

“Takashiro-kun, is that true?” (Kotomi)

“No, it’s not that great. I’m just enjoying my hobby.” (Ren)

       I’d like to make the existences that are deemed to be useless to shine. Being influenced by my parents who is baseball lovers — if I liken this to something; it’s like Nomura Saisei Koujou, Routoru Hidariude ma Kaizou, Tryout, Resurrection, and Ikusei-waku Kara no Kakusei. I feel a romance in such stories.

       Because there are not many people challenging unpopular jobs, it’s easy to find the newest discovery. Then again, everything doesn’t always go well.

       Yano-san mentioned some success examples just now, but there are as much failure examples behind them. Akira knew it well.

“Here, in UW, he also picked an unpopular job, didn’t he? He must be having some kind of plan in mind…. I’m expecting it! Anyway, I think it’s fine to leave him to his own devices.” (Yuuna)

..

       Even here, in UW, there are several unpopular jobs that are put together into a group called “Bottom Class” (ボンクラーズ?). Standing on the top (bottommost) of such a group is the job I chose — Crest Master.

       This is a job that specializes in supporting allies and weakening enemies using magic. This job doesn’t have any attack magic even though it’s a magic-related occupation. The only weapon that can be equipped by Crest Master is a cane. The last thing is this job has low physical strength.

       In regards of offensive abilities, this job is in the lowest position. Even Priest which is a healer role can also equip a hammer as weapon.

       The jobs which have a low physical attack would have a high magical attack without exception. But if you think this job is weak in both fields because it excels in supports, then…. NOT REALLY!

       Take Bard for an example. It’s the same support class job that also strengthens allies and weakens enemies. Their difference is Bard’s Cursed Song doesn’t need MP while Crest Master consumes MP to weaken the enemies. Other than that, a bard could also equip bow as weapon and deal a reasonable physical damage with it.

       This is a job with the lowest offensive ability. Good at supporting but still less than the second position on this field. The weakest in solo battle and useless in PT (party) battle. Those are the specification of a job called Crest Master.

       I have no more doubt. I’m convinced that it’s a job with the lowest population in this game. The leader of Bottom Class.

       The second year student who present during the orientation that was held immediately after the entrance ceremony, briefly talked about the hierarchy between jobs. Even so, I still dared to choose the leader of Bottom Class without wavering.

I will remodel this job and make it shine with this hands!

The game will be meaningless if you couldn’t enjoy it, so don’t bend your own playstyle!

       Ideally, Akira would help me to get this thing together through trial and error. It’s too bad that he isn’t here….

“I don’t really get it, but does this mean I can expect something from you?” (Kotomi)

“Yeah, please just wait a little more….” (Ren)

       I don’t want to raise my level as much as possible until Akira goes to school. But in exchange for that, I’ve been doing various trial and error over the past month.

       In fact, the research on the prospect to remodel the Crest Master has produced results to some extent. I can already move to the practical stage at any time.

“Please do as you please, but don’t blame us if you don’t get your turn because we’ve cleared the mission.” (Kotomi)

“Yeah, is the mission going well?” (Ren)

“Everything goes smoothly so far. Currently, we’ve conquered eight of the ten stratums.” (Yuuna)

“Compared to the other classes, you can say that our class is the top group.” (Kotomi)

Great. In that case, I think I can wait for Akira a little longer

       When I was thinking about such a thing, the door opened and someone entered our class.

“Yeah, whatever, get back to your seat now! Morning, game junkies!”

       Carefree and frank, those are the kind of impressions you would feel from this female teacher of the magic high school. She is our homeroom teacher, Nakada-sensei.

       I was told that she turned 24 years old this year. She’s really the perfect example of an easygoing beautiful older sister character. I also heard she was one of those first generation graduate of this school.

“It’s such a pain, but today I have an announcement before the class begins.” (Nakada-sensei)

Hou~ what is this? The announcement that makes Nakada-sensei keeps smiling.

“We will have one additional player (student) in this class starting from today. I know that the Class Competition Mission is getting closer to the climax, but there will be a lot similar events in the future, so I hope you all can get along with her. Alright then…. Aoyagi-san, you may come in. You guys, applaud!”

       *clap-clap-clap-clap*

       The person who entered the classroom, if I expressed her in a word, that would be “beautiful”. She’s a girl with long hair that seems was made of silk, and a cute face like that of an idol. On contrary with her cuteness which gives the impression of a small animal, her chest looks quite big.

How should I put this, she looks like someone without faults….

“Hello, my name is Akira Aoyagi. Pleased to meet you all!”

..

       That beautiful girl smiled even though there was still a trace of nervousness on her face. There was nothing out of place. Watching her, I felt like I was going to smile myself, but….

“Eh, wait, whaaaaaaaaaaaat!?” (Ren)

       I was the only student who surprised and raising voice inside the classroom.

Akira Aoyagi…. isn’t that the full name of my friend, Akira!?

Could it be, she is…? No, I’m sure it’s just some kind of amazing coincidence that their names are same…. right?

“Hmm…. what’s the matter, Takashiro-kun?” (Nakada-sensei)

“No, it’s nothing…….. She has the same name as my acquaintance so I was just a little surprised.” (Ren)

“Immediately trying to hit on the new beautiful student, huh? You’re surprisingly quick in action. Oh well, I won’t stop you though~” (Nakada-sensei)

       Smiling teasingly, rather than a teacher, she looked like a gossiper aunt from neighborhood. Hearing her words, all students inside the classroom burst to laughter.

Ugh, it’s embarrassing….

“Okay then, the seat next to Takashiro-kun’s is happen to be vacant. You can sit over there, Aoyagi-san!” (Nakada-sensei)

       Prompted by Nakada-sensei, Aoyagi-san took the seat next to mine.

It’s a little awkward. Should I apologize about the earlier?

       When I was still contemplating, Aoyagi-san suddenly turned her face to my direction and then called out to me.

“Umm, are you perhaps Ren Takashiro-kun?”

“H-How did you know my full name? Don’t tell me you’re really the same Akira who often plays online game together with me!?” (Ren)

       Hearing my reply, Aoyagi-san was smiling from ear to ear.

“Whoa!? You’re really Ren!? I guessed it right! Finally, I got to see you!” (Akira)

       Losing track of the surrounding because she was too happy, Akira suddenly jumped at me.

I have no experience of being this close with a girl other than my family or relatives….

I know we’re inside a game and these are not our real body, but it’s still make my heart racing.

“Wow!? What’s with this super-fast development? Young people nowadays seems to have an amazing sense of speed in this kind of thing.” (Nakada-sensei)

       While Nakada-sensei exclaimed cheerfully, the rest of class was surprised and lost for words. Came back to her sense, Akira apologized to everyone while hiding her embarrassment.

“Eh!? Umm, I’m so-sorry, everyone…….. It’s because…. I’ve been playing online games with him forever…. but this was the first time we met, so I just couldn’t help myself.” (Akira)

Yeah right, though I believed that you were a guy all this time. I mean, she always chose a macho beastman or uncle character as her game avatar.

Still, to not notice it even after playing online games together with her for years…. could it be I’m quite dense myself? I almost got a heart attack earlier.

       Comparing the Akira I’ve played online games with and the beautiful girl next to me, I got the impression that their character matched perfectly. We do what we wanted to do and say what we wanted to say without refrain to each other.

       The morning homeroom continued when the class regained its calmness. Then, with a face that showed she was having fun, she sneakily talked to me again.

“So, just as you can see, I’m actually a girl. Did it surprise you, Ren-kun?” (AKira)

“Yeah, enough to make me get a heart attack….” (Ren)

“I figured. I was sure that you’ve never realized it all this time.” (Akira)

“Ahaha~ But still, to think that Aoyagi-san is actually a girl….” (Ren)

       Hearing that, she puffed her cheeks a little while making a dissatisfying face.

“Don’t be such a stranger! We are friends, aren’t we? Just call me Akira like usual!” (Akira)

“H-Huh? Is that so? T-Then, Akira…!” (Ren)

“Good!” (Akira)

       Satisfied, she made a cute smiling face like a small animal.

Oh, the way she changed her mood easily is really like Akira I knew!

       The homeroom ended, and Nakada-sensei spoke to Akira again before she left the classroom.

“Oh right, Aoyagi-san! Since we’re going to do the initial setting for your job in this game after school, please think about your choice in the meantime. I can’t give you an orientation time like everyone else, I’m sorry about that.” (Nakada-sensei)

“Yes. I understand.” (Akira)

       In the middle of break time between classes after our shocking reunion, Akira apologized to me for the fact that her school admission was delayed for about a month.

“Sorry for being late, even though I was the one who invited you to go to this school together…. So, I thought…. You must be really angry at me now….” (Akira)

“No, I’m not angry, not at all.” (Ren)

       I said with a smiling face as cracking my fists. The sound was so crispy. They really put attention until the finest details in this game.

“Eek! You’re angry, really angry…………..

Hmm, anyway, this game is really a piece of art. You can even ring your fingers here.” (AKira)

       Akira was also paying attention to the same point as me.

“You’re right. VRMMO is really amazing.” (Ren)

“Instead of playing game, it feels like we’ve been warped somewhere in another world. They really went all out in making this game. It’s hard to tell which is the reality.” (Akira)

“Yeah, only when we look at the log window and gauges, we realize that we’re actually inside the game.” (Ren)

       I spoke while looking at my HP/MP/AP gauges inside my field of vision.

       Log window can always be put in sight if you make it into a fixed indicator. HP stands for Hit Point, MP stands for Magic point, and AP stands for Art Point. Art Point is something needed for weapons such as sword or spear, to perform an Arts. Arts itself is a special technique such as “Double Slash” etc.

       The stronger Arts consumes the larger amount of AP. Unlike MP, AP has a basic value of 0, that will be accumulating as you inflicted or received damage. You can liken it to a gauge of Super Finisher Move in fighting action games out there.

       That aside, this time it was my turn to explain the situation. I explained about I dared to choose Crest Master, that was known as an incompetent job. Akira seemed to be happy when I told her about my still-low level.

“Oh, were you waiting for me? Thanks, I’m really happy!” (Akira)

“No need to thank me. I did it for my own interest after all. I simply feel like it’s more interesting to go through the initial stage of this game together with you.” (Ren)

       Akira contacted and told me to go ahead. Nevertheless, I waited her, but I really did it for my own satisfaction.

“My level aside, I’ve done various things during this past month.” (Ren)

“Hou? Does the magical remodeling have a chance of success this time?” (Akira)

“I have not tried it in practice yet, but I feel like I can manage it somehow.” (Ren)

“Then, all we need is dashing with full speed from here on. But since we’re the chosen elite gamers, I’m sure we will catch up with everyone soon, and win the Class Competition Mission.” (Akira)

“The chosen elite gamers…….. Oh, did you mean the heavy gamers beyond the saving?” (Ren)

“Aww! Even though I tried to phrase it coolly!” (Akira)

       Exchanging random chats like this, I was once again convinced that she was really the same Akira that I knew. I can be myself around her.

“Well then, I wonder what job I should choose. Do you have any suggestions? I have to decide it before school ends.” (Akira)

“There’s general public’s theory and my theory.” (Ren)

“Then, let’s start from general public’s theory.” (Akira)

“There are Paladin, Magic Swordsman, Wizard, Bard, and Priest.” (Ren)

       I cited the representative from each role; tanker, attacker, supporter, and healer. Because there are two different position for attacker role — vanguard and rearguard, I chose Magic Swordsman and Wizard respectively. In the game walkthrough a.k.a UW Guide Book, those are jobs with the highest evaluation.

       I wondered where did such a book come from. But it seems there were some senior students with a hobby of collecting information gathered together, and then turned their knowledge into in-game item for the commercial purpose.

       Guild system exists in this game, and some of guilds are also selling information at their guild store. In this game, guild is something like club activities. I heard that from the senior who was present at the orientation.

       Well, for the fresh students like us, if there’s a game walkthrough available, of course we would normally want to check it at least once.

       The jobs I mentioned above are A rated jobs, whereas the job I chose — Crest Master, belongs to the lowest group, E rated jobs.

“…. and those are jobs who get preferential treatment for each role in this game.” (Ren)

       In my opinion, there’s no fun in using the popular jobs in the game with all their conveniences. However, some people like to win rather than take the challenge. I don’t think it’s something bad because each person has their own way to enjoy the game.

“I see. Then, how about your theory?” (Akira)

“Sword Dancer….. and the second option is Sky Pirate, I guess.” (Ren)

       Both are D rated jobs and the member of Bottom Class.

“Both are unpopular jobs, but I would be saved if you choose between them, nevertheless.” (Ren)

“I see.” (AKira)

“I will omit the explanation, but please choose Sword Dancer job!” (Ren)

       I’d like her to help me challenge this game together.

“Okay!” (Akira)

“Oh yeah, as expected of my best friend! Still, I’ve never thought you would accept it so readily.” (Ren)

       Usually, she would whine at me first.

“You were waiting for me even though I was so late. So just this time, it’s a service because I’m in a good mood.” (Akira)

       In this way, Akira’s job was decided as a Sword Dancer. When the school ended, Maeda-san came over to her seat.

“Aoyagi-san. If you would, I can help you with leveling, how about it?” (Kotomi)

“Thank you. However, it will turn into something like PL because there’s too much level difference between us. I don’t want to be simply a baggage, so I will refrain from that. Please focus on the class mission since Maeda-san is the leader. I’ll be fine because Ren-kun will help me.” (Akira)

       PL stands for Power Leveling. You earn experience value at faster speed than usual with the help of higher level players. If a player is defeating the enemy by PL, the number of monsters decreases at a stretch and the hunting ground withers. It’s not an act of much praise in online game.

“Is that so? This time Takashiro-kun will be seriously raising the level too, right?” (Kotomi)

“YES! I’ll focus on raising my level from now on.” (Ren)

“We will soon catch up with everyone and join the class mission! Our class will definitely be a winner.” (Akira)

“Understood. I’m expecting it. Then, please take this with you if you don’t mind.” (Kotomi)

“Oh~ This is the rumored UW Guide Book, are you sure?” (Akira)

“Yes. I’ve memorized all the information I needed, so it’s fine. Please use it if you like.” (Kotomi)

“Memorized it? Maeda-san is really amazing.” (Ren)

“I-Is that so? But it’s more fun than learning English or other subjects though.” (Kotomi)

       Oh right, Maeda-san is good at studying the most in our class. That’s one of the reason she was chosen as a class leader and a mission leader.

       Still, I wonder why she made it sounded like she was studying for exam. Giving this book to us, it seems Maeda-san is also good at taking care of the others.

“Thank you. I will surely make use of this. Well then, I will go to the staff room now. Nakada-sensei is waiting for me after all.” (Akira)

       Akira went to the staff to room to choose job and other initial settings. Everyone in the class also went out to raise their level or do the mission. I was the only one left inside the classroom.

I will wait for Akira to come back and immediately go out to raise our level.

       While waiting, I synthesized the materials on hand to raise my skill level.

I have to use my free time efficiently.

       Some time had passed and Akira finally came back to the classroom.

“Ren-kun, I need an explanation!” (Akira)

..

      Her face is red, and she appears to be somewhat angry(?) at me. It seems she have fiddled with the hair color settings because it has turned to pinkish. The school uniform she was wearing when leaving has also changed into a different set clothes.

       When setting up a job, you’ll also get the initial equipment of that job, and she’s wearing that right now.

“WHAT IS THIS!? On the way here, I found everyone was totally staring at me. It was awfully embarrassing!” (Akira)

       She’s wearing a pretty dress with a lot of frills here and there. The problem is this dress has a high degree of exposure. Her armpits are showing and her big breasts are being further emphasized.

       Because its lower part is a super miniskirt, her bare thighs are naturally exposed. Or rather, I almost can see the inside of her miniskirt. It’s clearly an erotic equipment.

“Ouuuuuu…. nice view!” (Ren)

       I gave a thumb up.

       The sword dancer equipment is generally all like this. This is a job with D-rate evaluation, a member of Bottom Class. However, the performance of this job itself is actually evaluated quite high.

       Sword Dancer belongs to the healer class but a bit special. Instead of using recovery magic, Sword Dancer performs a dance which have a recovery effect.

       The dance doesn’t consume MP but AP. In the first place, this job doesn’t possess MP and its gauge is locked on 0.

       I’ve explained it before that AP was something like gauge of Super Finisher Move in fighting action games, that would be accumulating from the damage inflicted or received. On that note, Sword Dancer must fight on the front line. It’s a vanguard-type healer.

       Sword Dancer can equip one-handed sword or two-handed sword as weapon. The accumulated AP can also be used in attack, not just to heal. It’s technically quite versatile job.

       So, what is the downgrade? The sword dancer equipment has a high degree of exposure, that’s all.

       If it’s an ordinary MMORPG where you watch your game character in front of the monitor, you can wear any kind of embarrassing equipment and simply grin it off. But in VRMMO where everything feels so close to reality, you’ll really become your game character and wear that erotic equipment by your own body.

       It’s said that this is the job dedicated to those who have confidence in themselves. The number one job that boys want girls to become, and at the same time, it’s is also the number one job that girls don’t want to become. This is such a pitiful job with low population because of such problems.

Well, I can see where is Akira’s reaction coming from.

       Indeed, this appearance may be embarrassing for her. But for me, it’s really feast for the eyes.

“Ren-kun, could it be you made me choosing this job with such a dirty purpose in mind?” (Akira)

“Of course not! I thought that you were a man until today! I’ve planned to ask you to choose Sword Dancer since beginning. For the performance sake, I was going to endure it even if you looked a little disturbing!” (Ren)

“…….. really? You seem to enjoying it so much, though.” (Akira)

       Her suspicious eyes pierced me.

“Well, of course. I was imagining a guy with a disturbing appearance, but it turned out to be a beautiful girl in something like a bikini armor.” (Ren)

“Be-Beautiful girl……..? Ummm…….. W-Well, I guess it can’t be helped. Y-You left me with no choice. Fine, let’s go to raise our level!” (Akira)

       Her face that broke into a smile clearly showed her feeling.

“But it’s still embarrassing, so during travelling….” (Akira)

     Having said that, she changed back to her school uniform.

Too bad. Though I understand her feeling.