— 3 —
On the way back to the town, I continued to emphasize that I really was a weapons merchant, and that what happened back then was all because of the power of the rare item that I was selling.
Thinking about it carefully, the whole story was quite questionable, but Train Girl seemed to be convinced. It would be problematic if I blabbed too much and gave myself away, so as we entered the town, I claimed to have something to do and half-forcibly bid farewell to Train Girl.
“P-Please wait! Please let me…”
She yelled and tried to chase after me, but I quickly escaped with Rapid Cancel Dash.
But man, Train Girl’s really something. From her speed, it would be hard to imagine that she had collapsed from exhaustion not too long ago.
“…Did I manage to lose her?”
Holding my breath, I turned around, but there was nobody there.
I seemed to have successfully shaken her off. Haaa, I let out my breath. I’m glad I was able to get away.
It did bother me slightly that I wasn’t able to properly end things with Train Girl, but by saying I was a merchant who was only strong because of an item, she probably wouldn’t try too hard to look for me.
Even if she decided to look for me on a whim, the only information she would find about Reinhart would be for a lizardman merchant who was obviously not me. I was planning to lie low for a while, so the lead would probably just stop there.
While being comforted by that fact, my chest filled with guilt. For some reason, her determined expression flashed through my mind.
It might be slightly conceited to claim that she wanted to become my companion, but, based on her behavior, she without a doubt wanted to talk with me a bit more.
“Y’know, making a party after all this time would be a bit… Yeah.”
It wasn’t like I had no reservations at all. It’s just that my experiences with Nekomimineko caused me to choose to adventure solo.
I mean, party members end up in the way when you want to use a skill, and with a long range weapon like Shiranui I could fight multiple enemies perfectly well, and since all the monsters would be targeting me, it was easier to predict their movements, and being able to monopolize all the experience meant I level up faster, and equipment and lodging for a single person would be much cheaper, and when running away there’s nobody else to worry about so I can run away whenever I want, and there wouldn’t be stupid NPC AIs messing up my pace, and so, all in all, playing solo is amazing.
“…And, well, I don’t like seeing party members die.”
I had a bit of a history with dying party members. This world was now reality. There was no reset button to return everything to the way it was if someone died.
In order to return to my own world, I would probably need to do quite a few reckless things. If she ended up dying accompanying me on such adventures, I would not be able to forgive myself for it. I was going to go back to my own world soon anyway, so even if I made a party, it would not be able to exist for very long. This was probably for the best, for her sake as well.
Like that, I rationalized my decision to myself.
“…Ugh, what am I doing!”
Nothing was going to happen if I just sat here and sulked. That would just make my escape from Train Girl meaningless.
In order to accomplish my goals, I needed to grow stronger quickly.
And what I needed for that was actually buried just below my feet.
The hardest dungeon in the game, the Sealed Demon’s Labyrinth, where enemies averaged level 250 and the strongest monster in the game, the Demon God’s Fragment, lay sleeping below my very feet. This underground maze lay below the Demon God’s sculpture in the Plateau of Sealing to the south of Ramlich.
Normally, you needed an item that the last boss dropped to enter this hidden dungeon, but this world was no longer a game.
I had already learned from thief Melipe what I should do when there was something I wanted.
“My weapon is… still fine.”
Besides monsters and characters, weapons and armor, as well as some items that could be used as tools, also had levels and HP settings. As things like weapons and tools were used, they wear out, and they are destroyed when their HP reached 0.
In addition, items which give out light like lamps and torches, as well as items with continuous effects like barriers and such lose HP while they are active, and, as expected, when their HP reached 0, they were destroyed.
On the other hand, there were also quests that made use of this. For example, there was a quest that involved obstructing the enemy’s advances by destroying a suspension bridge… Though, in the end, due to the bridge having an absurdly high HP it was only possible to complete the quest by first wiping out the enemy and then slowly chipping away at the bridge, but that was all standard Nekomimineko quality.
If one plans to continuously use the same weapon, they must periodically visit a blacksmith, but it does not seem like I needed to do so today. For the time being, I was feeling hungry, so I headed back to town for lunch.
I ate at the inn. Of course, I had to pay for it, so while I was at it, I paid for tonight’s room as well. On second thought, I took a chance and asked the inn owner whether he had any tools for digging that he could lend me, and ended up borrowing quite a sturdy shovel.
This was an unexpected stroke of luck. I quickly finished up my meal and immediately headed out of town.
As I reached the gate, the guards looked at the large shovel with surprise, but I ignored them and set off towards the Plateau of Sealing.
While randomly dispatching the monsters that approached, I proceeded to the location of the Demon God’s sculpture that I found earlier on. There were times where a decent number of enemies came at the same time, but I took care not to use Sideswipe. I was probably worrying too much, but it was a trick that I didn’t want people to see, and it would also be a problem if I came to rely completely on it.
“…It should be around here.”
Fortunately, I quickly arrived at the location of the sculpture. It wasn’t all that far from the town, and I’ve visited the hidden dungeon many times before, so there was no way I would miss it.
However, it was uncharted territory from this point onwards.
“Around here, maybe?”
Deducing an approximate location, I tried digging at a place slightly behind the sculpture.
This sculpture was made such that if you touched a specific item to it, it would start to move and reveal an underground passage. And, if I remembered correctly, this passage extended towards the head of the sculpture of the Demon God. If I dug around there, then I should hit the underground passageway before long.
“The ground doesn’t seem too hard.”
In the game, the ground was something that was indestructible, but there didn’t seem to be any problem with digging the dirt up in this world. Even though I was still low-leveled, my character in this world had vastly more strength and stamina than my body in the real world. The hole probably wasn’t going to be all that deep anyway, so it shouldn’t take much time to dig this hole.
“Well then, let’s get digging!”
Setting the mood, I swung my shovel towards the ground.
About a meter in, the dirt suddenly became tougher, and it became near impossible for the shovel’s blade to eat into the earth.
“I’m probably almost there too…”
It felt like I was only a single step away. However, that step was really tall.
(Could it be, some kind of level adjustment?)
At least in the game, regular walls and such items couldn’t be damaged at all, so they did not have HP or level settings, but it was possible to freely tamper with them in this world.
That meant there was the possibility that walls in high level areas were harder than walls in low level areas.
If that was the case, then this was even more proof that I was close to reaching my goal.
“If I take too long, Train Girl is going to get called over again…”
Train Girl’s Train Event was not something that only happened once. As long as one lingers in the fields around Ramlich, she will bring monsters to you over and over again.
So I’ve got to break through this with full force.
“How do you like… this!!”
I raised the shovel as high as I could, and slammed it into the ground.
My hand felt a promising response, but,
The shovel snapped.
Well, in that case… This time, I pulled out Shiranui. It was obviously not shaped for digging holes, but it was still a high level weapon. It wouldn’t be any less sturdy than a shovel.
I raised Shiranui, and, aiming for the center of the hole:
“How about, this!”
I swung downwards forcefully.
With less resistance than expected, Shiranui sunk into the ground.
(Did I make it?)
Pulling out Shiranui and examining the place it stabbed into, there was a small black opening.
It seemed to be connected to the underground passage. The strange absence of resistance seemed to be because I had stabbed through to the other side.
“Haha! I knew you could do it, Shiranui!”
Even if it was in a high level area, ultimately, it was just dirt. There’s no way it could stand up to an actual weapon like Shiranui.
With this, what to do was clear. Throwing away the broken shovel, I continued to dig at the ground with Shiranui. After much effort, I succeeded in somehow enlarging the opening to a size which allowed a single person to enter.
“I did it!”
I clenched my fist in triumph.
As I did so, as if celebrating my hard work, a gust of cold wind blew out from within.
Feeling something more than just coldness from the wind, my body shook involuntarily.
“Man, I wouldn’t expect any less from the place the Demon God’s Fragment sleeps. But, that’s just how I like it.”
Just as I was planning to jump through the opening to start looking around…
“–What are you doing, Reinhar… I mean, Souma?”
Hearing a distinctive voice calling my real name, I turned around.
(Eh? No, way…?)
Seeing that figure, my eyes opened wide.
After all, facing me was…
“That hole, and what you just said, the Demon God…? What exactly is going on, Souma?!”
With her knife at the ready, and looking at me with a suspicious gaze, was Train Girl.
Shaken up by the unexpected appearance of Train Girl, I looked up at her from the bottom of the hole seeking an answer, and was met with a straightforward reply.
“Souma, after parting with you, I visited Reinhart.”
Summarizing her whole story, it was apparently something like this.
After parting with me, she still felt that she wanted to properly thank me, so she immediately started searching for me, or rather for a merchant named Reinhart. From the perspective of a modern day person, it would seem as if this amount of information would not be nearly enough to easily find someone, but this was a town from a game. Perhaps due to the small population, she was able to immediately find him by utilizing a little footwork and asking around.
But, of course, who she found was a lizardman merchant named Reinhart, and not me. Based on my prediction the trail should have ended there…
When Train Girl described her savior to Reinhart, being the perceptive person he was, Reinhart immediately saw through that it was me, and gave her the address of the inn I was staying at.
While walking skeptically towards the inn, she was then told by an eyewitness that the person she was looking for had just finished eating, and was heading off somewhere carrying a shovel.
At this point, if it was me, I would have waited at the inn for the person’s return, but this was Train Girl with her excellent footwork that we’re talking about.
This time, she started asking around for an adventurer carrying a shovel. When she heard from the guards at the south gate that someone carrying a shovel had passed through, she had a sudden hunch and returned to the place where she first met me, and this was the result.
“Now it’s my turn to ask you questions.”
Tightening her grip on the knife, Train Girl said with a stern expression.
Right now, both of my legs were completely in the hole. Even if my character level was low, I still had the confidence that I could somehow overcome this situation using skills. If this was a normal situation, that is.
However, the skill Step was, by design, ineffective for moving vertically. Even though the hole was only around one meter deep, that was enough to completely seal off any of my combos involving Step.
Of course, if I were to fight with Shiranui then I probably wouldn’t lose, but, in return, I would not be able to hold back, which would probably mean that I would end up hurting her.
If possible, I wanted to avoid that. I had to somehow resolve this using only words…
“Even I have heard the stories about this place. Deep below this Plateau of Sealing, a dreadful Demon God lies sealed.”
As if making sure, Train Girl continued.
I said nothing in response.
“That sculpture isn’t it a figure of the Demon God? What’s more, you clearly said something about the Demon God’s Fragment sleeping there, didn’t you? A-Are you…”
With tears in her eyes, she glared sharply at me.
“–Are you a Dark Cultist, hoping for the Demon God’s revival?”
Oh man… I facepalmed in my mind.
I mean, I don’t blame her for thinking this way after seeing someone who tried to hide their identity digging hard at the place where the Demon God was sealed.
I even vaguely remember that I might have defeated some Dark Cultists who worshipped the Demon God in-game. So I had been mistaken for one of those people, huh.
“Saving me from the monsters, and saying all of those strange things to confuse me… All of that was to divert my attention away from this place and from yourself. …Am I wrong?”
Yes, you’re completely wrong! Saving you from the monsters was only because I couldn’t stand seeing you slaughtered, and saying all of those strange things to confuse you was only because I didn’t want to get involved with you!
Still, I can’t believe that lie actually came back to bite me in such a manner!
One really shouldn’t make up weird lies.
“Even after realizing that I had been lied to, I still wanted to believe in you, Souma. However, I might have harbored suspicions about you ever since that.”
Nothing came to mind. But she quickly provided me with an answer.
“Yes. When you ran away from me in town… Those freakish movements. How do you explain those if it’s not because of your devotion to an unholy cult?”
Still, nothing comes to… Wait, freakish movements, could it be…
(Could it be the Rapid Cancel Dash?!!)
That was a respected technique that could only be executed by advanced Nekomimineko players, and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing freakish about it…!
“It’s a misunderstanding! I have no plans to revive the Demon God.”
“Y-You’re lying! What about that hole…”
I vigorously shook my head.
“If you want to know the truth, then feel free to follow me.”
After saying that, I peeked into the gap. The inside was dim, but if this was the same as in the game, there should be light further in.
Ignoring Train Girl’s exclamation, I jumped into the opening.
The hole was deeper than expected. I was a little surprised by the sensation of weightlessness during the fall, but it wasn’t anything this body in the game world wasn’t able to deal with. I landed without much problem, and, moving forward slightly, I waited for Train Girl.
Soon, Train Girl descended from the sky.
In the end, she was still an adventurer. Fixing her pose in midair, she touched down splendidly on her two feet…
And slipped on the ground, landing on her butt.
An awkward silence filled the room.
“I-I’m here now! Hurry up and start explaining!”
She said forcefully, seemingly trying to pretend as if nothing had happened.
However, I did not answer her. Turning my back to her, I started walking deeper into the cave.
“Please wait a minute! You promised that you would explain everything! Why aren’t you saying anything!?”
Why, you say? Sigh, what an idiot. There was no way I could answer that. After all…
I hadn’t even started thinking about what to say yet!
Hugging her shoulders, Train Girl muttered.
I shared her sentiment. Ever since going underground, the air had become colder, and more than that, there was something here that just made one shiver. This feeling that I could not experience in the game, a chill that wasn’t due to the temperature, affected me as well.
While I was aware of that, I didn’t have any brainpower to spare worrying about Train Girl.
My mind was busy putting together all kinds of excuses and justifications.
But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with anything satisfactory.
(Now that it’s come to this, should I try to run away using skills?)
I quickly thought about that option.
The only skills that I could use right now were the basic skills that did not require weapon mastery levels: the sword skill, Slash; the greatsword skill, Sideswipe; the magic skill, Energy Arrow; and just for completeness, the bare fists skill, Straight Punch. Other than that, there was just the movement skill Step that didn’t depend on one’s weapon.
Weapon mastery increases from dealing damage to an opponent using the relevant weapon. I had fought quite a bit at the Plateau of Sealing, and there should have been bonuses due to the level differences, so normally one would have expected to have learnt the second skill by now. But, the issue this time was that Shiranui was too strong.
Mastery increases based on the number of attacks, so dealing with every enemy that appears using only a single hit actually ended up slowing the leveling of weapon mastery.
Entering the hole was partly to eliminate the difference in height so that Step could be used more easily. However, Train Girl was fast, so it might be slightly difficult to actually escape from her.
I might have had a chance if I was in the middle of the town with lots of places to hide, but, here, I would probably be caught immediately when my stamina ran out. Also, if I ran away, then I would completely lose any chance of coming up with an excuse.
I had considered whether to just straight up tell her everything for a moment, but, unfortunately, the truth sounded most like a lie.
To say that this world was actually originally a made-up place, and I somehow managed to end up here through the powers of the Lucky Mallet… It would be more believable to say that I was actually a mole reincarnated and I would die if I didn’t dig holes.
It’s oft said that truth is stranger than fiction.
In that case, I might as well take a gamble. Comparing the various settings that came to mind, I went with the one that seemed to be the most convincing.
“You know what this place is, right?”
I asked in a tone that made it seem like common knowledge.
To tell the truth, I don’t remember the setting behind the Demon God’s seal all that well. In order to avoid raising further suspicion by saying something weird, it was probably wise to have her spit out some information first.
“Ehh? Isn’t this a cave where a part of the Demon God is sealed?”
She question me in response. Why are you replying to a question with a question, I thought, but answered anyway.
“You’re half right, but half wrong. Here…”
Arriving at the back of the cave, there stood a large door.
To the two sides of that ominous door decorated with a number of empty holes, torches burned brightly.
“This is the door that seals the Demon God’s Fragment.”
Hearing my words, Train Girl’s eyes opened wide.
“Ehh, but, wasn’t the seal that sculpture…”
“That’s nothing more than a marker to show where the Demon God is sealed. The actual seal is this door. …According to some, it’s said that this door leads to a different dimension. That’s why no matter how hard you dig, there’s no way to reach the Demon God’s Fragment through normal means.”
I tried to make myself sound as knowledgeable as I could.
Well, it’s true that it was impossible to go through until after the last boss was defeated.
And, even though I’m quite reckless, I wouldn’t attempt something suicidal like challenging a dungeon with a recommended level of 250 while being around level 10.
I would probably be instantly killed before I could even use any of my bug-exploiting techniques, and even with Shiranui I don’t think I would be able to do any kind of decent damage. In the first place, if the labyrinth’s seal was removed and the monsters from inside managed to make their way outside somehow, a small town like Ramlich would probably be destroyed in no time.
“So, what do you know about the Demon God’s seal?”
I continued to use a patronizing tone. Even though I knew absolutely nothing about it.
“Uh, uhm, I’ve heard that the first king of Licht created his kingdom here because of reasons having to do with the seal…”
“I-I’m sorry. I’m not too familiar with this topic…”
While sounding disappointed, I nodded to myself in my mind.
(Mm, so that’s how it all is.)
If that’s the case, the royal family might be the descendents of the hero who defeated the Demon God. I remember hearing that the king and princess seemed to be quite strong based off of their data, so it wasn’t impossible.
“U-Uhm, is there something I should have known?”
Being asked that, I tried replying with, “No, that’s good”. …Dear myself, what’s good?
Seeing how Train Girl was looking at me with the same question mark that was floating over my own head, I searched for words to continue the conversation.
This was completely irrelevant, but Train Girl, after nonchalantly following me all the way to a place like this, finally forgot to even keep her weapon trained on me. She was definitely the type who would be easily fooled by evil men.
It might not be a bad idea to start calling her Training Girl from now on.
“There exists an item, the Sunlight Stone which lets you enter this cave and acts as one of the keys to opening this door. It’s one of the key items protecting the seal on the Demon God.”
That was the truth. The Sunlight Stone was one of the drop items obtained through defeating the last boss.
I’m pretty sure I remembered this much correctly. In any case, even if I was wrong, nobody would be able to confirm or deny it until the last boss is defeated anyway.
Oh, that’s it! I could try continuing along this line..
“However, I’ve received reports that this Sunlight Stone which the Kingdom of Licht was supposed to be safekeeping is somehow in the possession of the Demon Lord right now.”
Train Girl’s voice was almost a shriek.
Ahh, this girl was such a great audience. Her reactions are always so earnest. I continued with much enthusiasm.
“Of course, it’s not possible to release this seal with just the Sunlight Stone. But, the fact that the key to the seal which should have been put under the heaviest guard is now in the hands of the Demon Lord was not something that I could overlook.”
Oh, but now that I think about how the other items for releasing the seal could be obtained, it seemed that most of them came from the drops of event bosses.
I’m sure those monsters would probably listen to the commands of the Demon Lord, so why hadn’t the Demon Lord released the seal on the Demon God’s Fragment yet? Maybe the setting was that he tried releasing the seal, but was stopped by the player before he could do so, or something like that?
Or maybe the world had only been safe because it was a Nekomimineko-quality world. I came to realize that it would probably be best if I secured at least one of the items needed to release the seal as soon as possible.
Even while thinking about such things, my tongue continued moving.
“That’s why I came to check whether the seal was still active.”
“S-So that’s what it was!?”
Train Girl’s voice grew louder in surprise.
Mm, I was surprised at myself too.
Still, I ignored her and started to examine the door… Or at least, pretended to.
“There are ten holes decorating this door. Even with one of them being the Sunlight Stone, releasing the seal requires a lot more items than one would expect, so the danger of the seal here being broken is probably rather low.”
“The seal… Here? Are there other places where the Demon God’s Fragments are sealed?”
I did not answer that question.
After all, I didn’t know, so I couldn’t just say something irresponsible. Ah, but, since it was called the Demon God’s Fragment, there’s probably more than one of them right? Thinking back, I felt as if there were quite a few event locations that gave off some kind of suspicious vibe.
Then, while I wondered how she interpreted my silence, Train Girl opened her mouth with an extremely serious expression on her face.
“Mister Souma. It seems like you’re neither a merchant, nor just a simple adventurer. What, exactly, are you?”
With a different meaning than before, Train Girl’s eyes fixated on me. Unable to stand her stare, I confessed.
“I’m… I am a Protector of Seals. I travel around the world, checking on the seals of the Demon God.”
It just slipped out suddenly due to her anticipating look, but a Protector of Seals… What am I, a chuuni?!
“A Protector, of Seals…!”
Train Girl slowly repeated as if in awe.
Stop iiiit! I beg you, please stop repeating that phrase!
Once again, now with a glitter in her eyes, Train Girl looked towards me.
“So, that means there are seals in places other than this right? How are the other seals doing?”
“…That’s something I can’t tell you.”
Obviously because I had no idea!
But, of course, I couldn’t say that. That’s why, instead, I pointed my sword at Train Girl.
“That’s because I can’t fully trust you yet!”
When being doubted, it’s possible to even the scales by expressing your suspicion of the other party! This was a very basic technique for arguments.
“In the first place, how did you end up appearing the very moment I was investigating the sculpture? To go to such lengths just to chase after me, isn’t it a little excessive if you were just looking to thank your rescuer?”
I continued to pile on absurd accusations.
“Also, you said that you were level 27. But, how could an adventurer at only that level escape unharmed from such a large number of Mad Hounds? Aren’t you the one hiding something?”
“B-Believe me! A-At that time, I was just really desperate… I’m really not hiding anything!!”
Yes, I believe you.
Still, since I couldn’t give up the offensive after coming this far. I continued speaking.
“Was it really just a coincidence that you ran into me there?”
Though it was actually an event, not a coincidence.
“Could you swear to God that that’s the case?”
“Then, even to the Demon God?”
I tried teasing her a bit.
This was more or less like saying, “Are you sure you’re not the Dark Cultist here?”, but rather than getting mad, Train Girl nodded seriously.
“I’m not a Dark Cultist… But if you tell me to, I would even swear to the Demon God. I swear to God and the Demon God that it was a complete coincidence that I ran into you there!”
I had known that from the very beginning, but I said that and nodded.
I’m really the worst.
Also, Train Girl’s really an angel!
As a result of my one-sided slandering, before I knew it, we had mysteriously ended up with an equal position.
For a while after that, Train Girl turned meek and silent, and finally, quietly muttered.
“…I’m going back.”
Her sudden change in attitude surprised me slightly, but I acted calm and questioned her in return.
“Are you sure? I’m still planning to stay here for a while longer to check up on the seal.”
Even though I claimed to be a Protector of Seals, there was no tangible proof of that. Though, honestly, the name “Protector of Seals” sounded so cool that anyone called such couldn’t possibly be involved in anything bad. I thought there was more than enough reason to be suspicious, but…
Train Girl’s expression was bright.
“I ended up coming here on impulse, but there was no way I could stop you with my strength anyway. You saved me once. That’s why, I’ll try believing in you one more time, Souma.”
Leaving these words and a polite bow behind, Train Girl returned on the path we came from.
Train Girl really is an angel! But I really think I should start calling her Training Girl!!
Train Girl finally disappeared down the dark passageway.
“I-I made it through…!”
The moment I confirmed that, I collapsed to my knees. I rather despised myself, but, somehow, I was able to not blow my cover until the end.
“I wonder if it would have been better to go with the reincarnated mole instead…”
The story grew so wild that even I had no idea what I was talking about in the end. If I knew that was going to be the case, it would probably have been simpler to go with a much easier-to-understand lie, like the one about the mole. Since it’s Training Girl, even a lie of that level would probably have worked.
…On second thought, maybe it would have been just a little too absurd.
As I was letting the waves of relief wash over me like that while on my hands and knees…
“–What, are you doing, Souma?”
A familiar voice, yet one that I shouldn’t be hearing right now, reached my ears.
The Train Girl who should have returned to the surface was standing there with an astonished look.
I asked, and a pained expression washed over her face.
“I had really planned to return to town. But, I can’t do that anymore. …Souma, there’s something that I have to tell you no matter what.”
What is it? Did I overlook something?
Did I make some kind of big mistake that made her suspicious?
Cutting off my confused, straying thoughts, Train Girl announced.
“–The ceiling is too high and I can’t get back up.”
…Ahh, I honestly had not considered that.