— 5 —
“I wonnderr what I’ll caatch today~”
I was having a blast fishing while cheerfully humming a tune.
“…Souma. You seem to be in a good mood.”
I thought I heard a spiteful, familiar voice, but immediately dismissed it as just my imagination.
The reason for my high spirits was simple. I had already been able to gain an incredibly useful item that was previously unattainable due to the game’s limitations this early on in the game.
The single torch sitting inside my bag right now was the main source of my joy.
Don’t look down on it just because it’s only a torch.
What I had was not one of those common torches that could be found anywhere.
It was the kind that sat at the pinnacle of Nekomimineko’s lighting items, the most famous torch of them all.
A great asset to many active Nekomimineko players, it was a level 250 super torch with automatic HP regeneration, commonly known as the “Master Torch”.
How could it have earned a title like “Master”, despite being a mere torch? That was because this item was the fastest way to train weapon mastery levels.
Why do you even think I wanted to go to that cave in the first place? At my current level, it’s not like I could grind the enemies in the underground labyrinth, not to mention that without the right items I can’t even pass through the sealed door.
Regardless, I still went underground. Just to obtain this Master Torch.
To increase weapon mastery, all you needed to do is to hit something with a weapon and deal damage in the process. Each time you hit, you gain weapon mastery, with a bonus based on the difference in levels between you and your target.
The point is, ‘hitting with a nonzero amount of damage’ ‘as rapidly as possible’ to ‘an opponent with the highest level you can handle’ is the key to increasing weapon mastery.
With that in mind, a common strategy had been to keep hitting a slow-moving, high-level monster with a weak weapon. However, one day, someone came along and made a revolutionary discovery.
He tried to test whether hitting items instead of monsters would also increase weapon mastery.
Certain items like weapons, armor, and limited-duration consumables such as lamps or torches are not only given a level but also durability, represented by their HP. If the only requirement for increasing weapon mastery was to inflict damage to something, then wouldn’t hitting an item with both a level and a HP value also increase weapon mastery?
That was his theory, and it turned out to work exactly that way in practice.
Increasing weapon mastery using inanimate items instead of monsters sounded like an extremely good idea on paper. However, it was quickly discovered that this idea was not all that effective.
To start with, an item drop with a higher level than your character is extremely rare. This is especially true for equipment, which is usually set at least a few levels below the character who obtained it. As a result, the method wasn’t very efficient.
The only item that was high level, had HP, and could be found in the early game was the rope bridge used for a quest in Mount Gigal. Though, in order to attack the bridge, you have to first defeat all the mobs in the area, so it ultimately wasn’t possible without already being at a high level.
Finally, even if you got your hands on some high level equipment, the repair fee still barred your way. In the end, item HP is just durability, and in return for not decreasing by a huge amount unless you do something crazy, the HP of items was much lower than that of monsters. Repair costs increased with level, too, so it would end up costing a large amount of Elements.
For all these reasons, it seemed like nonsense to attack items just for the sake of weapon mastery.
…Until the day the Master Torch was discovered.
Anyone who had made it to the hidden dungeon knew that there were torches in front of the sealed door, but almost none of them paid them any attention.
One day, however, a certain John Smith (an alias, of course) stopped suddenly in front of the torches and tilted his head.
Other dungeons pretty much exclusively used baked lighting, which simply meant that the lights were part of the landscape that players were unable to interact with. Only in this place was the torch an actual item rather than just a part of the landscape.
It could have been possible that because this was the hidden dungeon, they wanted to go all out. Perhaps they just wanted some more realistic lighting. There were many such reasons that could explain this, but that was not what he found curious.
The question he had was, “Why is this torch burning every time I come here?”
The HP limit for torches and lamps indicated how long they could be used. That’s why torches and lamps slowly lose HP as they burn, and are destroyed when their HP runs out.
However, the torches in the hidden dungeon were different.
They must have been burning ever since the game first started, and in spite of that, they never seemed to have been destroyed.
Finding that odd, he conducted many experiments to solve the mystery. As a result, he found out that those torches had a massive amount of HP compared with regular torches, and that they were self-healing. Furthermore, he found out that it was set at a super high level of 250, perhaps to keep it thematic with the hidden dungeon.
These discoveries left Nekomimineko players in a state of ecstasy.
Though the last boss, the Demon Lord, was level 250, the small fries in the Demon Lord’s Castle only went up to around level 200. Therefore, most players ended up clearing the game at around level 200.
Even if it was only available after clearing the game, being able to raise weapon mastery with an item 50 levels greater was extremely alluring.
In addition, its huge HP capacity and automatic regen meant that there was no need to spend Elements repairing it. As this information spread around the web, it soon became common knowledge in Nekomimineko that the torch in the underground labyrinth was a God Torch.
The entrance to the hidden dungeon soon became the place to train weapon mastery levels after clearing the game. Many players started to visit the God Torch daily, hitting it with the weapons of their choice.
Since it was easy to see item statuses in the game, there was no need to visually check whether any damage had been done. If you just look at the statuses of the two items, and if there was even 1 damage on either of them then you are good to go. It was as simple as that.
There were no special instructions needed to use it, there was no risk, and there wasn’t anything else that even came close to its efficiency. It was impossible for something like that to not become popular. A movement worshipping the God Torch quickly grew to prominence within Nekomimineko.
On the other hand, the fastest group, which had already cleared the hidden dungeon and exceeded level 250, could only stamp the ground in regret… A position I found myself in.
Eventually, the God Torch by the underground labyrinth came to be known as the Master Torch, and the entrance to the underground labyrinth the Master Torch’s Underground Dojo. Even with its effectiveness only being applicable between clearing the game and starting the hidden dungeon, it had garnered support that rivaled even the popular spot in Ramlich called the Marimite Dojo.
I had even restarted the game, going from level 1 and beating the Demon Lord at a low level (level 183), all just so that I could raise my weapon mastery level however I liked.
So, in any case, the reason why I had continued to hit the torch after being trapped underground was not just to cut off the torch, but also to train at Master Torch’s Underground Dojo in order to learn a new skill that I could use to escape. Training here was the reason I came underground in the first place.
I did consider for a moment whether to tell Train Girl about the torch, but if you thought about it logically, being able to increase weapon mastery at a crazy pace just by hitting a torch was pretty absurd, and well… It kinda felt dishonest, or rather, cheap.
That’s why I misled Train Girl into thinking that I was seriously trying to cut the torch, so that I could focus on increasing my weapon mastery level.
After all, there was close to a 240 level difference between me and Master Torch right now. I could somehow tell that every time I hit, my mastery increased by an insane amount, and it made me so excited that I even lost track of time.
With this, I was able to learn the skill Ultimate Sky-piercing Sword, which would originally have been learnt around the time I cleared the game. In addition, as a result of weapon mastery directly affecting skill attack power, which has been the case ever since version 1.09, I obtained offensive power incomparable to what I had before.
With Master Torch now inside my bag, I can train weapon mastery anywhere, as much as I want. I’m really looking forward to that.
Ahh, but, let’s see, for now, rather than focusing on my weapon…
My thoughts were interrupted by Train Girl’s yell.
Taking a good look, Train Girl was glaring at me with tears in her eyes.
Seeing that, I finally remembered. That’s right, I was still fishing.
“I still don’t know whether you’re a good person or a bad person, Souma. …I’ve only figured out one thing.”
Of course, it was not normal fishing. The fishing line was some rope that I bought in the town, the fishing hole was in the Plateau of Sealing, and what I was trying to fish was–
“Souma, you’re mean!!”
–Train Girl, shouting at me from within the hole.
After escaping from the hole, I had to go buy some rope in town in order to rescue Train Girl. I had been planning to dangle the rope down the hole and pull Train Girl up, but…
Every time Train Girl would almost touch the rope…
“You were so close! Just a little bit more!”
I’d be so amused seeing her jumping around that I’d ended up toying around with her.
It was only natural that I would be called mean.
“Ahh, I wish I bought a longer rope.”
Continuing to tease her, I shook the end of the rope at a height that was just beyond reach of her hands. Just like a cat with something dangled in front of it, she reached her hands here and there.
After noticing me grinning at her futile efforts…
“Also, your personality is really warped too!”
She once again shouted at me from below.
Wait a moment, didn’t she say that she had only figured out one thing?
I felt bad for toying with her for so long, so when I found a good opportunity I pulled her up. With the game-level strength I had, Train Girl was successfully rescued, and…
“F-For now, I’ll thank you for rescuing me. Thank you very much. B-But, that doesn’t mean that I trust you yet!”
Leaving behind one last shout, she dashed back into town at full speed.
I hoped to never meet her ever again.
“Today was an exhausting day.”
The second day of my life inside a game had been much busier than I had imagined.
I had actually planned to head out of town once more to stop by some other place that I hadn’t visited yet, but I ended up moving that to tomorrow. For now, I quietly headed straight back to the inn.
I apologized to the inn’s owner, who appeared to recognize me. When I told him I’d broken his shovel and asked to pay for it, his rugged face broke out into a grin.
“Don’t worry about it. If you’re gonna stay here for a while, then that’s just some small change.”
Which was followed by a hearty laugh.
In stark contrast to his looks, he was a good person. I swore to myself that I would buy a new shovel for him in town tomorrow.
“Dinner’s gonna be ready soon, so come on down in about 30 minutes!”
With those words shoved on my back, I entered my room.
After confirming that the Master Torch was still usable and that Shiranui wasn’t going to break any time soon, I headed back downstairs.
Arriving at the dining room, I found the inn’s owner awaiting me, along with someone who looked familiar, yet was not the other guest who was at the inn last night. Spotting me, that figure ran up to me, smiling from ear to ear.
“I’ll be staying here from today onwards. My name is Ina Traille! Nice to meet you!”
Ignoring her and her expression filled with accomplishment, I turned towards the inn owner.
“Sorry. It looks like I can’t stay here any longer.”
“What do you mean?!”
Looking at Train Girl, her cheeks puffed up with anger, I had finally come to realize that those words were indeed the truth.
–You can’t run from Train Girl!!