— 3 —
“To tell you the truth, since I’ve started being an adventurer, I’ve never been in a party with anyone before.”
We were in the restaurant/bar on the first floor of the inn. It was there that Train Girl, while slowly sipping on some fruit juice contained in a beer mug, started telling me her story.
Though I felt bad saying it, one could tell that she was a loner just by looking at her. She was giving off some kind of aura which made this fact easy to accept.
“It was really tough when the guards would look at me like, ‘Huh? Could this girl be going out alone?’. It was still tough after they got used to it and started looking at me as if saying, ‘Ah, it’s just the usual loner’. I-It’s not like I was alone because I wanted to be! I want to have fun and exciting adventures with other people too! If they were going to look at me like that couldn’t they at least accompany me or something!!”
She was completely delusional. A full-blown persecution complex.
But, well, I wasn’t a stranger to being a loner, so I could somewhat understand her feelings.
“…Uhm, yeah, and trying to do everything by yourself doesn’t always work out. It was quite troublesome that I didn’t have anyone I could ask for help when cramming in uni.”
For a moment Train Girl seemed confused, “Uni? Cramming?”, but she seemed to have disregarded it as unimportant. Sprawling forwards on the table, she started ranting even more passionately.
“That! Exactly that! Since there was nobody I could ask, I end up super scared when exploring dungeons and stuff! Especially when I find a hidden room not on the map! Normally that should be something to be happy about, but I end up worrying that I read the map wrong or something…”
“Yeah! Definitely! Also, there’s like, since eating by yourself in a crowd of people is, you know, so I try to find somewhere with good sunshine and few people like some stairs outside to eat my sandwich or something, but end up being really really self-conscious about it! Even though I hadn’t done anything wrong, I end up reflexively hiding when I hear people talking or see them walking by!”
“So it wasn’t just me! I get extremely nervous when there’s a lot of people around too! I go to the cafeteria on the other side of town quite often, and it’s always busy and full of people, and I end up worrying what other people think about that girl who always sits by herself…”
“Ahh I understand! I totally know that feeling! Since I have no friends I always sit at the very front during lectures, and well because of that I have pretty good grades and I’ve learned quite a bit, but like I get quite concerned about whether people are judging me! When I hear the group of girls behind me talking, I end up wondering whether they’re badmouthing me and start eavesdropping on them, even though there’s no way they would have been!”
“Mm! That’s right! There was some kind of Adventurer Appreciation Tea at the town cafeteria a while ago. I decided to go but didn’t really know anyone so I couldn’t join any of the conversations, and since I was always just standing by myself everyone around started giving me weird looks… In the end, I couldn’t stand it anymore so I ended up going home before even 30 minutes had passed.”
“I know! Man, these kinds of celebration events are really hard on loners! When the people in my class are organizing a drinking party, they’re like all friendly with everyone else but when it comes to me they ask me with, ‘Ah, Souma, you’re fine with not going to the party right?’! Like, why are you assuming that I don’t want to come, or more like, are you pressuring me not to come?! But well, I wouldn’t go anyway, so I’m happy that they at least came to ask… But, you know…”
“D-Don’t worry! I completely understand those feelings!”
Having bonded in merely minutes, we exchanged a firm handshake above the table.
The start of a budding friendship. Glistening eyes staring at each other.
“…Oi, my shop’s not a place for you to be lovey-dovey in.”
However, that sense of connection was quickly destroyed by the boorish words of the passing inn owner.
Train Girl jumped up with surprise and quickly took her distance from me, and, stammering, looked at her right hand which had touched mine.
Probably feeling embarrassed about being overly excited, Train Girl lowered her blushing face and apologized in a whisper.
Wanting to dispel the strange atmosphere, I deliberately let out an audible cough and changed the subject.
“Still, I didn’t really have any time for feeling lonely. For me, rather than going out with friends, Elise…”
“Elise!? Is that your girlfriend!?”
It was an impressive reaction. Train Girl looked at me with unwavering eyes, as if trying to say that cheating would not be forgiven.
“N-No. Elise isn’t even a person.”
“Then, is Elise a pet?”
“…I guess you could say that.”
Actually, Elise was the name of the VR machine that I had. The name came from the letters on the back of the machine that read ‘ERⅡ–Z3000T’.
“A pet, huh. I’d like to keep a Zlime or something too… But I feel like if I did that I’d have to spend the whole day taking care of the Zlime, and I’ve heard that if I leave it alone for too long then it’d die of stress… Uun.”
She swung her legs back and forth under the table. Her condition was quite serious.
But, well, I had a small hunch as to why Train Girl had been forced into such a situation.
–In all likelihood, the reason why Train Girl is unable to make any friends is because of this game’s settings.
This world was a strange place which was neither a game nor reality.
While trying to recreate the world as realistically as possible, it also tried to adhere to the game’s setting.
This world was a strange combination of the two ideals of wanting to be faithful to ‘reality’ and to be faithful to the ‘game’.
For the people living in this world, they would normally behave as in ‘reality’; their actions were closer to those of people in the real world rather than the residents of a game. In fact, Reinhart, Train Girl, and even the person I just met, Marielle, had taken actions that they would not have taken in the game.
But, on the other hand, just like in the game, Reinhart had let me ride in the wagon until the town, and Marielle had let me use the confession room. Even Train Girl’s monster train event was something so unnatural that it couldn’t be passed off as a simple coincidence. It was something that was identical to the ‘game’.
In other words, the world would normally behave as if in ‘reality’, even if it meant ignoring some aspects of the ‘game’. But, when it came to game events, it would, as if there were some sort of driving force behind it, try to recreate the same situations in the ‘game’, even if that would be slightly removed from ‘reality’.
So, with this in mind, try thinking about Train Girl’s event again.
Within the game, during her monster train event, Train Girl was always by herself, and there had never been any mention of her party members having being done in by the monsters.
What this meant is obvious.
In order to recreate the game event, it would be problematic if Train Girl had friends.
So, if my theory is correct…
–Train Girl was born with the fate of being alone, destined to live her whole life as a loner!
I had come up with a bunch of questions to try to confirm this, but, for some reason, even if it was someone I was able to normally talk to, whenever I mention trying to form a party with Train Girl an unreal amount of static cuts in and the conversation gets nowhere.
“I think I pretty much understand your situation.”
I gave a big nod, and Train Girl looked at me with her face full of expectation.
“Mm… I don’t think I can be of much help.”
“Thank y– Eehhhh!?”
Her reaction was another entertaining one.
Still, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to help Train Girl after coming all this way. As a fellow loner, it was a given that I would want to at least help out somewhat.
“Well, think about it. The best option here would probably be to have me assist you in making friends, but I can’t do that.”
“Wh-Why can’t you?”
Huh! Isn’t that obvious.
“Because I’m also a loner!”
“Ah, right… Um, sorry about that.”
Don’t apologize! You’re just going to make me feel depressed!
“B-But, if you would just become f-f-friends with me, Souma…”
Why are you stuttering so much over the word ‘friends’! Just how high is your loner level! While thinking that, I shook my head.
It was possible, even within the game, for players to form parties with Train Girl, so it was true that it would be simple if I were just to become friends with her.
However, this wouldn’t end up fixing the root problem. That’s because…
“I’m planning to leave this town for the capital in the near future. That’s why I won’t be able to be around you for that long.”
“Then I’ll come with you…”
“You know, all the enemies around the capital are at least level 50. Also, if I’m not mistaken, don’t you have to take care of your sick mother? Are you planning to leave your mother behind?”
She became an adventurer for the sake of her sick mother. Whether it was for that reason or not, I don’t recall the Train Girl in the game ever leaving the town of Ramlich by her own accord.
If I were to add her to my party, then I would probably be able to bring her to the capital, but I had no intention of bringing her along if it meant separating her from her sick mother.
Looking at Train Girl’s disheartened figure, I declared.
“That’s why, the only thing I can do is to train you until you can stand on your own as a solo adventurer.”
Seeing Train Girl with a dumbfounded expression, I repeated it again in simpler terms.
“I’ve been a solo adventurer for a long time, and I know lots of things that others don’t know. You could call me a pro at being a loner. Even if I can’t save you from being a loner, I think I can at least make you strong enough so that you can go on even as a loner.”
Train Girl looked at me with tears in her eyes. Seeing that, I quickly added:
“O-Of course, I won’t be teaching you for free. In return, you’ll have to teach me about things that I don’t know, and help me with a few small experiments, so prepare yourself…”
“Okay! I’ll do anything you want! If you want to why don’t we start right now!!”
Standing up, Train Girl grabbed my two hands.
As if her earlier dejection was merely an illusion, her eyes sparkled brightly. It was like her joy at finally finding a comrade had overloaded her.
“Ah, it’s not anything that urgent…”
I tried to back down from her pressure, but Train Girl wouldn’t let me.
“It’s okay! I’ll try my best, so just tell me if you want me to do anything!!”
She was looking at me with glittering eyes. It really did seem like she would do anything.
Well, of course, I had no intention of asking for anything absurd, but jeez, what would you do if I were actually some evil person?
(Guess I have no choice…)
This would probably get out of hand if I don’t do something now.
Even though there was no need to do it right away, I had her help me with an experiment which seemed the simplest.
“–Mm, then, can I tie up your arms and legs and have you spend a few hours rolling around in the fields?”