— 2 —
–It was when Nekomimineko was still in its infancy.
During this time when not even the rapid cancel dash had been discovered, there had been one video that became the topic of discussion between Nekomimineko players.
The title of that video was “The Repenting Man”.
It was a very concise video of a man relentlessly hitting his head against the wall inside of a white room.
“It’s been a while since I’ve come here.”
While soaking in the unique atmosphere of a church, I stepped into a room filled with the sound of a pipe organ.
I hadn’t visited this place recently, even in the game.
It’s been a great help in the early game, but the basic functions of a church in this game was to cure abnormal statuses. In Nekomimineko where it’s comparably easy to learn abnormal status curing magic, it was rare to be using the services of a church past the mid game.
However, this time I did not come to cure any abnormal statuses. There was one other function of this church that every Nekomimineko player knew about.
That was the reason for my visit.
I unhesitatingly walked through the church, and called out to a kind-looking sister standing inside.
“How may I help you?”
Her name was Marielle. She was a sister of this church, and also the one who watched over a certain room.
As her innocent smile somehow stimulated my sense of guilt, I decided that that was exactly the spice I needed in order to for this request to succeed, so making up my mind, I opened my mouth.
“I would like to use the confession room.”
The confession room was, as its name suggests, a room where one repents by confessing their sins to God. Only, the one actually listening would not be God but rather the priest, so it may be easier to think of it as a small partitioned room where the confessor and priest hold a life counselling session through a small window.
It wasn’t clear what was the reason for this game to have something like a confession room, but apparently in an early Nekomimineko promotion there had been a caption “Event contents are affected by karma! All new drama filled penance system!”, so it is plausible it was created as part of that.
But, in the end, Nekomimineko did not come equipped with any such penance system, so like the Pardoning Charm sold in the church (Cost: 100,000 Elements. Use: None), this confession room became something that had no meaning within the system. Still, there was a group of enthusiasts.
When they told the sister here, Marielle, that they wanted to confess,
“Have you come for a confession? I’m deeply sorry. The priest is currently out.”
she would turn them down like that.
It smells like some kind of event flag, but if you actually back down here then it would not be possible to use the confession room.
However, if you keep bugging her, then surprisingly Marielle herself would enter the confession room and listen to the players.
In the real world, it might have been a problem if a sister suddenly agrees to hold a confession without the priest, but this was inside a game, and what’s more, inside Nekomimineko. There was nobody who would care about something like this.
Marielle was quite a beauty, and after all she was a sister, so in a sense having her was way better than having a priest. Because of that reason, it seemed there had been some players (mainly male) who came here to confess.
Just a side note, but no matter how long one waits the priest who had gone out does not end up returning to this church. Since he never comes back, many speculations and conspiracy theories were thrown around such as “the priest is actually the last boss theory”, “widow Marielle”, “Marielle = priest hypothesis”, or “the priest’s murderer is Marielle thesis”, but the truth is still not known.
To be cynical, I felt like the truth might have been that the character for the priest hadn’t been made so they decided to just gloss over the issue, but in any case the truth isn’t important.
Now then, about the confession room, this was a special place that was clearly different from all other places.
According to Marielle, since the confession room was the place in the world closest to God, it was completely cut off from the impurities of this world. Well, I don’t know about God and the likes, but it was true that this small space was treated as special even by the game.
It would probably be okay to call this an absolute safety zone.
In here, neither HP, MP, nor even stamina values change; even if you hit someone with a weapon no damage would be done; furthermore, weapon skills and magic could not be cast.
Movement skills like Step were the only ones that could be used, but in a small room like this you would undoubtedly bump into the walls or the ceiling and the skill would be interrupted.
There was no real reason to use them anyways, but of course even if you were to bump into the walls you would take no damage here.
In this fantasy world of swords and magic, this was the only place with a different set of rules. It was as if this was truly a space ruled by God. …That would be what a normal person would think. But, a VR gamer at heart would have a different thought.
…So weapon skills and magic can’t be used?
But can’t you use movement skills without losing any stamina!
…So even if you use movement skills you would just bump into the walls and have them cancelled?
There was no impact damage, and the animation is cancelled so can’t you immediately cast the skill again?!
…So there was no reason to use movement skills?
Every time a skill is used, doesn’t its skill mastery goes up?!
Everyone! Let’s charge into the walls of the confession room with movement skills!!
Something like that would happen.
Normally, in the early game one could only use Step four times without resting before running out of stamina.
In addition, without cancelling, the time for one skill cast plus the after-cast stun was long, and it was normal to take close to 10 seconds for just four Steps.
However, in the confession room where there was no stamina cost nor damage, that was no longer a problem.
No matter how many times Step is used, you wouldn’t run out of stamina, and you wouldn’t even take any damage or feel any pain from cancelling Step by running into a wall.
Using this, a certain player uploaded a video of them activating Step at an impressive four times a second.
The process was simple. Position your body close to the wall of the confession room, and repeatedly activate Step with the right timing. Activate Step, cancel the skill by bumping into the wall, activate Step… like that, repeated over and over, leads to the skill mastery for Step increasing at an amazing rate.
To an observer, it would look like an act of atonement through bashing one’s head against the wall.
Thus, the famous video “The Repenting Man” was born.
As soon as this video hit, everyone rushed to the confession room to try to replicate it. Though the skills that could be improved were limited to movement skills, its efficiency was extraordinary, and there were no risks.
There was just one single, unexpected complication to this method.
In this confession room, the entrance was at the back, and in the front was the partition with a small table-like surface stuck to it, so you would necessarily end up using Step while pressed to one of the side walls.
Then, after you finish with your long, repetitive training, you would inadvertently glance to the side, and notice them.
Motionlessly, constantly watching you hit your head against the wall, was a pair of eyes.
…That’s right. Calmly seeing every single detail of your bizarre actions was Marielle.
In order to enter the confession room, Marielle’s permission was needed. That’s why, when the player is using the confession room, Marielle was inevitably on the other side of the partition.
Whether it was due to Marielle’s AI being simple, or perhaps due to an oversight in her thought routine settings while inside the confession room, even when the player does something as ridiculous as continuously bashing their head on the wall, Marielle would take no action whatsoever.
The only thing she would do is, in response to the player having said nothing at all since entering the confession room,
“Did you have anything you would like to confess today?”
“It may be difficult, but talking about it is one way to get it off your chest.”
is how she would try to prompt the player into confession.
Even that slowly turns into agitation,
“If you won’t say anything, then I won’t say anything either.”
“Were you lying when you said you had something to confess?”
“The exit is that way.”
is the last thing she says. That in itself is quite distressing, but the true terror is what comes after.
Having run out of preprogrammed lines, she starts to silently stare at the player.
…How exactly is that a problem? You probably wouldn’t understand just from hearing it.
I didn’t pay much attention to it when I saw it on the net either.
But, when you actually try to raise your skill mastery in the confession room, that is when you will realize its terror.
At first, it wasn’t any problem at all. I just felt a bit embarrassed being watched by a beauty.
But, at some point, when I noticed that neither her expression nor posture had changed one bit since a few minutes ago, a gear slipped.
Just by watching me and not doing anything else, I became intensely aware of the existence of Marielle. I tried incessantly switching the wall I was using, and only at those times, her head moved.
Matching my movements, slowly, wordlessly, those eyes followed me.
This was a tight space without any distractions. Despite telling myself to ignore it, once it had touched my thoughts it was impossible. I couldn’t help but be aware that she was watching me. I couldn’t focus on the use of my skills anymore.
Even if I had been able to focus and drive the thoughts of Marielle out of my mind, then conversely when I arose I would end up seeing Marielle’s face while unguarded.
Then, I would realize.
I had been watched.
For the entire time, constantly, I had been watched.
Even while I was concentrating and had forgotten about her, during that time, she was always watching me.
…I was being watched.
…She was watching me.
And when I actually turn my gaze towards her, her eyes were looking at me, as expected.
Not blinking even once, with only a slim smile on her face, perpetually.
–She was always, watching me!
Continually repeating a monotonous task easily leads to drowsiness, a state in which it was easy to fall prey to suggestion.
That effect may have been a factor in causing one-third of the people who challenged this to lose heart at Marielle’s gaze and to end up escaping.
There were some who did not mind it at all, and even some that claimed being watched was like a kind of reward, but unfortunately it seemed that I was more of the sensitive kind, resulting in a painful memory of running away from Marielle’s scrutiny in the middle.
This was a place where at the same time as raising skill mastery, the player’s heart was tested, the Marimite Dojo.
I am the only one who knows this world is a game, but at the same time this world is also reality.
As part of reality, situations that could not occur in the game could be created.
“Have you come for a confession? I’m deeply sorry. The priest is currently out.”
That’s why, this time,
“I understand. This…”
while Marielle was saying that and heading towards the confession room, I stopped her!
“Sorry. Um, I would like to have a quiet chat with God alone. So if you could lend me just the room…”
…Did it work?
I patiently waited for her reply.
“…Is that so. Then, please use the room as you wish.”
With a warm smile, Marielle replied.
(I did it!)
My heart jumped for joy.
Today, at this moment, I had overcome the greatest obstacle of Marimite Dojo!
Seen off by the smiling Marielle, I entered the confession room.
Of course, Marielle was not there watching me from the other side. Though it was a familiar place, it felt fresh.
(Alright, I can do this.)
Approaching the wall, I took my place.
Since this was now reality, I didn’t know how long I could use this place for. I had a slight reservation about using movement skills against a wall, but I shook off my hesitation and used a skill.
Boom, a dull sound reverberated, as my head banged against the wall. However, contrary to that painful noise my body felt no pain.
It’s working. Even in this world, I can train mastery without any problems.
(Step! Step, Step, Step!)
–Boom! Boo, boo, boom!
The dull sounds that echoed off the wall reported my skills’ successes.
Pleased with that, I slowly raised my speed.
(Step, Step, Step, StepStepStepStepStep!)
–Boo, Boo, Boo, Boobooboobooboom!
Along with the pace at which Step was being used, the impact sound also increased in speed.
It was actually becoming fun.
I became absorbed in the task.
The only thing in my mind was Step.
How can I further accelerate the rate at which I use Step. Thoughts of only that filled my mind.
Everything except Step disappeared from the world.
What laid in front of me was a world without anything extra, just me and Step.
I can do this. With my current concentration, I can overcome my limits.
I can go where noone has gone before.
Transcending the wall of four times a second, I’ll reach five skill a second, no, even more than that!
Beyond the limit!
All the way to the other side!!
“Uhm, a worshipper was complaining about strange noises coming from here… w-what are you doing!!”
I felt like I had heard some slight noise, but something like that wouldn’t be enough to break my concentration.
“I-I don’t know what kind of sins you had committed, but please stop! Y-you won’t solve anything by hurting yourself. I’m sure God would rather you repent properly… that’s not the point! In any case stop this now!”
The fact the the noise was starting to bother me was a proof that my concentration was still not perfect.
I have to focus harder on Step, and Step only.
“Stop! Please, stop, this…!”
Suddenly, the sensation of something soft and warm wrapped around my body.
This was a huge trial. But, I won’t lose!
“Could he be so entranced in the act of atonement that he hasn’t noticed me yet? What a strong conscience and piety! But if that’s the case, then even more so, I can’t let this person continue with his acts of self-harm!”
If distractions were bothering me, then I just need to overcome those distractions.
The moment I stop feeling even this bothersome softness would probably be the moment where I reach the heights of my concentration.
“Someone! Please come! Come to the confession room–!!”
Ahh, I can see it. I can finally see it. I can see the next worl–
“Please reflect on your actions!”
I had been torn away from the wall and forcefully dragged to a room in the back by Marielle’s group, and made to reflect on my actions. It seemed that the sound of my head hitting the wall was rather noisy.
If there were things that couldn’t be done in the game world that can be done here, then there could also be things that could be done in the game world that can’t be done here anymore.This concept seemed obvious now in hindsight.
Still, it must be a pretty rare experience being forced to repent about going into a confession room, but I didn’t feel happy about that. It would be troublesome if I couldn’t use Marimite Dojo anymore.
So there I tried to explain, “It’s something that I absolutely, really need to do no matter what!” while crying, and unexpectedly she was the one who gave in.
With two conditions, I was allowed the use of the confession room. As long as it was after 9pm where there were few churchgoers around, and that I did my headbutts on a sound absorbing mat that will be installed on the wall of the confession room.
I wasn’t really doing headbutts, but it seemed like a pain to explain so I let it through. After all, even if it was with conditions, I had gotten permission to use the room, so I had no reason to complain.
“Thank you very much!”
I left the church after giving Marielle a big bow.
But man, even though I had caused such a commotion, she had been kind to me.
To something like a nuisance like me, she kept glancing over with sympathetic looks after the lecturing ended, and reached out with careful warm words to a degree where she was almost overdoing it.
As expected of one who serves God, she had a big heart.
…There was just one thing.
“More than anything, God wishes for man to live their life to the fullest.”
“There are still many joys that you have yet to discover in this world.”
“As long as you’re alive, something good is sure to happen!”
I found it a bit annoying that preaching words like these, as if trying to change the mind of someone contemplating suicide, were frequently thrown around, but I guess it’s expected since she’s a sister.
Anyways, the preparations for the future was now complete. I felt rather refreshed.
With a good mood, I opened the door of the church…
“I finally found you, Souma–ehhhh!?”
Seeing a familiar face nearby, I dashed full speed towards the opposite direction.
As I did so, naturally that acquaintance, Train Girl, chased after me. What’s more, she was as fast as ever. If this keeps up then she might catch up, but because I chose a bad direction to escape towards, there weren’t any tall buildings that I could climb with Sky-piercer nearby.
I would’ve liked to use the rapid cancel dash, but in my current situation with my skill levels still rather low, I would likely run out of stamina in no time.
Even if it was only a short time, having taken advantage of the Marimite Dojo should have reduced the stamina expenditure for Step, but the expenditure for Slash which would need to be used for cancelling was still unchanged.
Rather than cancelling with Slash, Sideswipe might be slightly better since I had been using it on the torch, but that had its own problems where one bad activation could mean innocent passersby being sliced in half.
It was too dangerous to be used in town.
“Why are you running away from me!”
“That’s because you’re chasing me!”
While running, we yelled at each other.
“In, in that case, what would you do if I just stopped right now?”
“I’ll remember a sudden emergency and run away!”
“Then aren’t you still running away in the end!”
Well, that was certainly true. Still, it was also true that I was running away because I was being chased. If Train Girl would only just give up then I wouldn’t have any need to run away.
“Why are you following me around anyways! Do you still suspect that I’m a dark cultist?”
At a loss of words for the first time, she stopped moving.
I could have probably escaped with that chance, but that wouldn’t solve the problem.
Making sure to keep my distance, I also stopped.
“This morning, you said you were following me to monitor me or something?”
I asked a rhetorical question, and unusually, she answered with a slurred mumbling.
“That’s, right. But really, I already believe you, Souma… Ah, I don’t really understand the difficult stuff like the Demon Lord’s seal, but I had a feeling, that you were probably not a bad person, um…”
She was not being clear. I lost my patience slightly.
“Then, why are you still chasing me?”
“Eh? …Um, I mean, you’re my life’s savior, and, ah! I’ve never met anyone like you before, so I need to observe you…”
What’s going on?
This meant that she had no actual reason for following me.
Controlling the feeling of annoyance rising inside me, I tried to talk to her as rationally as possible.
“Sorry, but I’m trying to get stronger as an adventurer here.”
An unnecessary agreement was voiced, but I ignored it.
“There are some pieces of information that only I know, and also battle techniques that I don’t want others to know about. If it’s possible, I would like to stay away from others for the next while.”
“I, understand… s-still!”
Seeing that she was still reluctantly trying to hang on, I steeled my heart and laid it to her straight.
“…You’re a nuisance. If you’re only following me out of curiosity, could you please stop?”
Hearing my words, she froze completely.
It seemed that guilt was consuming her. I’m sure she was only chasing me out of curiosity. If that was not the case, what other reason would she have?
Did she fall for me at first sight because of some sort of player bonus or life-saver bonus?
Those kind of things only happened inside manga or games. Well, this is a world based on a game, but even back within the game something like that never happened in Nekomimineko.
“T-that’s not it. Please wait.”
Even then, she still tried to call me back, but,
“You’ll be fine by yourself. When you’re really troubled, then if you come visit that inn, I’d be willing to lend a bit of my help.”
paying no heed to that, I turned my back to her and started walking away.
After all, she didn’t need any help. As long as I, the player, did not dawdle in a field for a fixed time, she would not end up in a situation of being chased by that many monsters.
Furthermore, though she introduced herself as a beginner adventurer, enemies above level 30 didn’t usually appear in the fields around Ramlich.
I had no idea what kind of party she belonged to, or how much demand there is for dagger users, but with her current ability it shouldn’t be hard for her to get by in this town.
However, even then she was desperate to stop me.
“Wait, please. I, I…!”
But I had already decided that I would not stop no matter what she said.
In university, I was a loner.
It wasn’t that I had especially wished for it to happen, nor did I particularly wish for it not to happen.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone, but when you have something to do, you wouldn’t go out of the way to deal with other people. The fact of this reality was that, compared to other people, I could cut off relations with much less hesitation.
At the very least, right now I had no need for a connection with her. Unless she was really in deep trouble, I had no obligation to lend a hand.
That’s why, this was farewell to Train Girl.
However, that resolve…
was smashed into smithereens by her words that followed.
“What, did you, say…?”
They were just like magic words.
Those words contained enough power to cause me, who basically was disinterested in others to a point where I earned the nickname of The Phantom of the Class, to stop in my tracks.
Actually, maybe it was more because I was such a person.
“Could you repeat that, one more time?”
After I turned around and said that, she, in a slightly embarrassed voice, once again spoke those words.
“–I don’t have any friends.”
Ahhh, how could this be.
I looked towards the sky and muttered in my heart.
–Train Girl, you’re also a [loner] huh?