— 2 —
Taking everything into consideration, it was perfectly fine to have two sets of mithril armor. By officially yielding the first set of mithril armor to Train Girl and taking the new set for my own use, the matter was settled. While exiting the dungeon along the path we came, I asked Train Girl for her thoughts.
“So, how was it? Were you able to build some confidence in solo adventuring?”
I didn’t actually expect this amount of practice to dramatically improve her dungeon exploration skills. What I had taught her was mostly knowledge that would only be useful in very specific situations, so it was difficult to say that it would be applicable in the future.
The largest reason behind bringing Train Girl here was to give her the experience of clearing a dungeon, and have her start believing that clearing a dungeon solo wasn’t impossible after all.
“…I don’t know.”
However, Train Girl shook her head weakly, betraying my expectations.
Hearing my sullen reply, Train Girl started talking slowly.
“I’ve, I’ve said this while we were coming here. That this was the first time, that this was the first time I’ve entered a dungeon with someone else. This adventure was, well… It was full of strange things, but I really, really, had fun… Right now, I can’t imagine going back to exploring dungeons alone.”
It was an unexpected answer, but one I should’ve expected. Train Girl longed to adventure together with someone. As such, it should have been natural to think that this would happen if I brought Train Girl to a dungeon.
Even then, I did not tell Train Girl that I would stay with her.
It was not as if I could not bring myself to like Train Girl. I had tried making many excuses, but, deep down, I knew the truth. There was another reason why I stuck to playing solo.
–Memories of that time I had lost my comrades surfaced.
It was because I had started to like Train Girl that I had decided to definitely not become her companion. After all, with her strength, there was no way she could survive the monsters and events that lay ahead. I could not see any way that she would be able to overcome the fierce battles that were to come.
“…I’m sure you’ll be able to find a great party.”
In the end, the only thing I could do was to utter those consolatory words. Then, Train Girl would nod, and the conversation would end. Or so I thought.
However, this time, it was different. Looking downwards, Train Girl continued.
“But then, that person wouldn’t be you, Souma. They wouldn’t be the person who worked so hard for my sake, who connected with me over being loners, who laughed with me over stupid things.”
I couldn’t figure out how to reply. Somehow, Train Girl’s words sounded even lonelier than when she had been lamenting about being a loner.
“Ahaha, I was just kidding, don’t worry about it.”
In the end, I could not say anything until Train Girl broke the silence with a sad laugh.
Guilt ravaged my chest, but, even then, I had to do what I had to do. Steeling my feelings, I forcibly changed the topic.
“…Now that we’ve explored a dungeon, practicing skills is up next. What do you think is the thing that you have to be the most careful of when you order a skill?”
I had intended to ask a simple, open-ended question to break the silence. However, Train Girl raised her head, looking at me with a confused look.
I thought that perhaps she still hadn’t gotten over trying to join my party, but that was not it.
Tilting her head, she asked.
“Uhm, Souma… What do you mean by ‘order’?”
There was a quote from a book that had once been a bestseller, titled “The New Age of VR”.
“When controlling a virtual avatar in VR, some move as their own body would, yet others move as if it were their own body.”
It was unnecessarily confusing, but it may well be an accurate description of the state of modern VR. Like other revolutionary inventions, VR had changed the world. Actually, it was still changing the world. But, as a result, there existed a small fraction of people who had not been able to keep up with the new technologies born from VR.
In the same way, I felt the existence of a similar wall between me and the inhabitants of this world.
“How do I use skills?”
“Yeah. I was wondering how you normally used skills.”
“Um, I think, I do it normally. I put myself in the skill’s activation pose, and just say the skill’s name…”
“Huh? You say it out loud?”
And what was this about an activation pose? I had thought that one of the advantages of skills was that they activated regardless of posture as long as you ordered it…
Seeing my confused expression, Train Girl explained kindly.
“You know how there’s a skill icon for each of the skills you can use? With the icon, you can look up the name of the skill and its activation pose in the library. For example, with Slash, you raise your arm until it’s at the proper angle, and you say ‘Slash’ to activate the skill…”
Train Girl glanced towards me with an anxious look, as if saying “Is there something wrong with what I’m saying?”
It would seem that this was the standard procedure for activating skills in this world. Still, something stood out.
“But if you had to say the name of the skill, then wouldn’t you be telling your opponent what skill you’re about to use?”
Well, taking a set pose has the same problem, but shouting the name of a skill actually takes a surprising amount of time. You would leave yourself wide open, and continuously chaining skills with cancelling would be a dream within a dream.
Hearing my question, Train Girl nodded as if it were a given.
“Of course, but isn’t that the way it is?”
Hearing that, I recalled that it did seem like all the NPCs in the game called out each of their skills. I cringed every time I heard them, but who would’ve thought that it was an official setting.
“I mean, didn’t you use the skill Invisible Blade before, Souma? That time, you said its name, didn’t you?”
She somehow became the one asking questions, so I went with the flow. Still, Invisible Blade was just an alternate name for the skill, not its official name. I had been too excited and accidentally let it slip out of my mouth that time, but it was just a meaningless action.
In the first place, I wasn’t using skills by yelling the skill’s name, but rather using skills by ‘ordering’ the skill’s name.
–Nowadays, people learned the basic VR controls, ‘focus’ and ‘order’, as naturally as learning their mother tongue.
It had been said that input methods have also evolved to be simpler and more intuitive as computers evolved. Fittingly, for the newest innovation that was VR, extraneous mechanical control devices like mice and keyboards were unnecessary. The VR machine connected directly to the brain. So, just by focusing your mind, just by thinking, you could control everything.
Just like with computers in the past where one could make a selection by manipulating the cursor with a mouse and ‘clicking’, or like with touch panels by ‘touching’ on the screen, in VR, one could make a selection by ‘focusing’ on the projected icon.
Similarly, like how one could input words by ‘typing’ on a keyboard or ‘speaking’ through a speech recognition system, it was possible to ‘order’ the command to the VR machine.
But I would have a hard time explaining it if you were to ask me how exactly this was done. Both focusing and ordering were things my generation learned how to do naturally, so it was difficult to try to explain how it worked.
If I were to try, I’d say that focusing was concentrating on a target, and ordering was to imagine what you wanted to input. Hopefully that helps you to understand it slightly better.
However, focusing was different from merely concentrating, and ordering was different from merely imagining. It would be extremely frustrating if you had to concentrate on every small aspect of something to select it, and your brain would get overwhelmed by all the letters if you had to imagine each letter one by one. Focus and order were ways to circumvent these issues.
That’s why focusing and ordering wasn’t just concentrating or imagining, but rather some essence of it, formed into specialized VR controls.
Of course, the VR game Nekomimineko utilized these controls.
You could order to open the menu while in game, and you could focus to make selections in the menu. Also, you order to use a skill, like I’ve said before, and you focus to select the target for a spell.
You could say that the mastery of these two techniques was essential for playing this game. There were people who just could not give orders without speaking them out loud, or people who took several minutes to give even a short order when just starting out, and they’d be eliminated instantly in a battle. The only thing they could do was to slowly adapt to VR and get used to the game until they could focus and order instantly, even while saying something completely unrelated.
In fact, what I did with saying Invisible Blade while ordering Sideswipe was actually quite an advanced technique. Completely pointless, though!
However, most VR software came with assistive technology for people not used to VR. By turning on VR assistance in the options menu, it should become possible to play the game without focusing or ordering.
I’ve never used anything like that before, but from what I remembered or what I’ve heard, focusing was replaced by pointing with a finger, and ordering was replaced with speaking out loud in many cases. Thinking about it that way, perhaps the way to use skills with VR assistance on was actually the same as what Train Girl said about taking a set pose and speaking the skill name.
I could imagine why the characters in this world did not use focus and order.
In general, NPCs did not talk about concepts like menu, save, load, logout, or other concepts that would make this world seem like a game.
In the same vein, techniques born from modern computers such as focus and order were probably deemed to not fit within this middle-age fantasy world. I recalled that these phrases had never been used in dialogue other than in system messages.
Though I did think that there were many other things that should’ve been the focus rather than creating a coherent world setting, this was a staff whose only strong points were fixating on details. Most likely, even when this was a game, NPCs were set to use skills in the way that Train Girl mentioned.
I might have remembered wrongly, but I think even Old Tuto had said something like “to activate a skill, step into the activation pose and recite the skill name”.
Since the people of this world had no concept of focus or order, ordering a skill might be seen as somewhat like using a hidden command.
Actually, it was worse than that. If I had been unlucky, these two techniques might’ve become inaccessible just like the menu screen.
(If I had been thrown into this world in that situation…)
I trembled at the thought. The only reason I had been able to somehow survive in this world until now was because the same methods from the game still worked here. If I was unable to order skills, then I probably would’ve long been killed during the very first event.
Perhaps focus and order had not been removed from this world because they did not conflict with the setting as much as something like save or logout, or perhaps there was some other reason.
Either way, there was no point pondering the reasons. In the end, I was able to order skills as normal in this world, so it didn’t matter why.
(This means it’ll be tricky trying to teach Train Girl skill cancelling.)
Lost in contemplation, I looked to find Train Girl staring at me wide-eyed, and thought:
In order to use skill cancelling, the next skill must be used before the previous skill ends. Having to say the skill name every time would probably make one miss the timing, not to mention that taking a set pose in the middle of a skill was more or less fundamentally impossible.
Leaving aside the issue of whether the technique of skill cancelling would’ve spread, I had intended to at least have Train Girl test out whether she could use it, but it seemed like there was no point in doing that anymore.
Everything I knew about skills were based on the condition that they were activated through ordering. It would probably be hard for me to give advice on using skills to Train Girl. In that case, what I could do to help her was limited.
(I don’t like head-on brawls… But there’s no choice.)
Making up my mind, I turned to face Train Girl.
“Next, let’s try some more realistic training.”
“Souma Sagara requests a duel with Ina Traille!”
“Ina Traille accepts the duel, and swears to fight with all my might!”
As Train Girl finished yelling, a thin layer of white light surrounded both my body and Train Girl’s.
You might be wondering what the heck we were doing, but this was all part of the dueling system, a useful function for sparring safely.
The word ‘duel’ invokes a dangerous image, but instead, this was a system to ensure that there would be no danger involved. The dueling system meant there was no risk of death. No matter how fierce the battle became, as soon as your HP fell below a certain threshold, the film of light around you shatters with a flashy effect and the duel will end.
The HP threshold changed based on what was said when starting the duel. For example, saying “fight with all my might” meant to continue the duel until 50% HP, and saying “fight to my limits” meant that the duel would continue until one of the combatants had only 1 HP left.
This also meant that no matter how strong of an attack you are hit with, it was impossible for your HP to fall below that threshold during the duel.
It was impossible for your HP to fall to 0. In other words, you could not die, so it was possible to fight without any worries.
However, the duel was only in effect between the ones who agreed to it, and there was nothing in place to protect against the interference of others. The HP threshold only applied to your opponent’s attacks, so being hit with an attack by another character or a monster could still reduce your HP to 0 and kill you.
…Ahh, I will never forget.
One of the required story quests was “The Duel in the Desert”.
It was a horrible quest where you had to prove your strength to the event NPC by defeating them in a duel in order to proceed. But, right when you reduced their HP to 1 and thought you won, the environment damage from the desert would kill the event NPC.
In the end, instead of focusing on how to best defeat your opponent, the quest became focused on ridiculous things like how to find the gaps between ticks of environment damage and quickly heal up the NPC during that time, but oh well.
It was to be expected from the Nekomimineko developers. I thought that one of the reviews which said “their hatred for debugging exceeds even that of one’s vengeance for a parent’s murderer” was quite fitting, but oh well.
Anyway, like this, we could fight without worrying about killing each other.
“U-Um, Souma! What, weapon should I use?”
Looks like she still had some reservations. With confidence, I replied:
“Didn’t I tell you that this was weapons training? Use whatever weapon you’re planning to use in the future.”
Upon hearing my words, Train Girl hesitated slightly before taking out the short sword that an Armor Knight had dropped. It was a weapon classified as both a dagger and a ninja sword, the Wakizashi.
I know what you’re thinking.
I have no idea why a Western-style Armor Knight would drop a traditionally Eastern weapon like the Wakizashi, and a Wakizashi was definitely not a ninja sword, but this was Nekomimineko quality so there was nothing to do about it.
Still, ignoring all that, it was still an item dropped by a level 70 monster. Even though it wasn’t as good as Shiranui, it was still quite a high-quality weapon.
Combined with the offensive ability of the level 57 Train Girl, I, still wearing my beginner’s equipment, should be no match for it. However…
“S-Souma! Are you seriously using that!?”
Seeing what I was planning on facing her with, Train Girl raised her voice in protest.
“Is there a problem?”
I feigned ignorance, and Train Girl yelled at me, her face red.
“Of course there’s a problem! Something like that’s obviously not a weapon isn’t it!”
I couldn’t blame Train Girl for getting mad.
She had probably thought that my primary weapon would be something like a sword or a knife. But, what I held in my hands was neither a sword nor a knife. It wasn’t an axe or a spear either, nor any of the many other types of weapons. What I held was a wooden stick.
“There’s no problem, since I won’t be attacking anyway.”
Without a weapon equipped, not only was the power of a weapon not added to your offensive power, the weapon mastery bonus wasn’t applied, and weapon skills couldn’t even be activated. Since one couldn’t even use Step Cancelling, Rapid Cancel Dash was not an option either.
My techniques have almost all been sealed, but, even then, it was necessary to take on Train Girl with this.
I could not listen to Train Girl’s complaints.
“…I, won’t hold back, then.”
“Bring it on!”
Seeing that I was waiting like I had announced, Train Girl made the first move.
Though she said that she wouldn’t hold back, she must have still felt bad about attacking someone without even a proper weapon with full force.
Against that half-hearted attack, I…
Easily stopped it with the wooden stick.
The attack should still have had a decent amount of power behind it, but I didn’t feel the impact at all.
This was probably due to some assistance from the game. It seemed like this would be good practice after all.
“I-I can do better!”
Train Girl focused her eyes. Even if she called herself a beginner, she was still an adventurer, someone who fights for a living. She wouldn’t be done with just that.
Throwing aside her hesitation, she pulled Wakizashi back…
And activated a dagger skill. Unlike the previous swing from the waist, this was a skill which caused an attack to begin after jumping off one leg.
She had probably thought that normal attacks wouldn’t work on me.
It was the right decision. Indeed, even if just used to seize the initiative, it was the correct move.
Jump Attack was one of the faster offensive dagger skills, and was probably also the strongest skill that she was able to use. It meant that once she had switched herself into battle mode, she was not planning to show any mercy. It was quite commendable.
Since it had not been activated through cancelling, it had an obvious attack animation. It was even more obvious when she just yelled out the skill’s name. All I had to do was to place the wooden stick in the path of the skill, and….
What should’ve been a killing blow was instead easily stopped.
More than that, I pushed back on her weapon, frozen from the after-cast stun.
Train Girl lost her balance, stumbling backwards.
(Mm, this doesn’t feel half-bad.)
Thinking back, since I had, in a sense, been cheating during my fight with the female bandit, this was actually my first real fight with another human, and I was doing better than I had imagined.
A large component of this might’ve been that since I no longer had to fear dying, I was able to move as I had in the game.
(I should drag this out a bit though, for Train Girl’s sake too.)
While I vigilantly readied my wooden stick towards Train Girl, whose eyes had turned completely into those of a fighter, I took on an expression of composure, and yelled out:
“Come at me!”
None of us knew how long had passed since the beginning of the duel.
I had still not been hit even once, and instead continued parrying Train Girl’s attacks.
“Why, why can’t I hit you…!”
…Of course, there were very good reasons for that.
First off, differences in stats between characters didn’t affect things much.
Stamina and speed were parameters that did not change through level-ups, and while Train Girl had higher stamina and speed compared to normal characters, there wasn’t too much of a difference when she wasn’t in Train Mode. Differences in attack, defense, and the like did not play much of a role in this situation.
Next, regarding combat styles, both Train Girl and I were self-taught. I had realized this during the fight, but normal adventurers probably weren’t very well-versed in fighting other humans.
Adventurers generally trained themselves in order to fight monsters, and there weren’t that many humanoid monsters. In any case, if you were going to fight monsters, rather than learning feints with questionable effectiveness, it would be easier to raise your own offensive power.
This was true of someone who relied mainly on skills to fight like me, and as a beginner adventurer, Train Girl also did not have much knowledge of anti-personnel tactics.
–That was why this result could only be attributed to the difference between Train Girl fighting on the basis of this world being reality, and me fighting on the basis of this world being a game.
It was a basic strategy of a game to grasp the specs of the character being controlled.
I had an understanding of not only the maximum speed of my limbs and the reach of my joints, but even the flexibility of my body. And I knew that as long as it was within those specs, this body would not feel any discomfort no matter how absurdly it was controlled.
Drastic movements did chip away stamina, but as long as I did not use any skills, I pretty much did not need to worry about running out of stamina with my rings on.
Conversely, what about Train Girl?
The newest VR AIs were amazing, even the ones in games. Research on human motions culminated in these AIs moving almost as if they were human. But, put in another way, this meant that even if superhuman movements were possible based on their specs, they would still end up emulating human movements.
Whether it was because of that, or if it was because she had been an actual human in this world, Train Girl used her body like a real human would.
That was the insurmountable difference between Train Girl and I.
Still, between the attacker and the defender, the attacker held an advantage. Even for me, it was difficult to continue to defend against all of her attacks without messing up even once.
The only reason I had been able to do so was due to yet another aspect of the game.
“Then, how about this!?”
Train Girl struck sharply just as I happened to lose my balance, but I manipulated the wooden stick with just my wrists and stopped the attack.
Train Girl yelled in dismay.
I had just barely managed to parry with the wooden stick in time, but I was still completely off balance. From the point-of-view of real world physics, it wouldn’t have been strange for the momentum from Train Girl’s attack to have broken through my guard, but that didn’t happen.
I had come to realize something from living in this world.
It was, at least in the case of battles, that rules leaned more towards game mechanics than physical laws. That’s why, rather than the force of an attack being mass times acceleration, everything was decided based on the numerical values for offensive power.
“Here I come!”
Having hit a shield with superior parameters, the Wakizashi was deflected by the stick in my hand. Train Girl stumbled ever so slightly. Seizing that chance, for the first time since the start of this duel, I attacked.
Once again, stick and blade collided. However, it was only for an instant. The stick in my hand easily pushed Train Girl back.
Once again, I heard Train Girl’s dejected cry.
If this was back in the real world, I probably wouldn’t be capable of such incomprehensible movements, nor would I have ever thought to try.
But here, it didn’t matter if these were movements that would cause a normal body to scream in protest. Even the occasional physically unnatural movements were fine as long as it was within this body’s specs.
I was certain of this. You could even say that I had faith in this.
After all, just think about it. It should be immediately obvious to everyone.
–There was no way such an advanced program like one that prevented absurd movements would have been built into Nekomimineko’s characters!!
This time, Train Girl let out an actual scream as I knocked the Wakizashi out of her hand.
I let out a deep breath.
It seemed that even though I had not used any skills, my stamina regeneration still wasn’t able to keep up after continuously moving around so much. My body felt sluggish, like I had just finished an intense exercise routine in the real world.
Oh well, that’s probably enough for today.
I extended a hand towards Train Girl, who had collapsed on the ground…
And announced the end of today’s training session.
A little while after the practice duel had ended.
“Souma, you’re really amazing. Amazing… But… Uuuu!”
Train Girl was an adventurer after all; it seems like she was frustrated that she wasn’t able to defeat me.
Still, there had been no hard feelings, and we were conversing more intimately than before the duel. It was as if we had strangely gotten closer to each other after going through a fierce battle.
I didn’t like how it sounded like something only muscleheads would say, but I became aware that it wasn’t just Train Girl, but even I had felt a little closer to her than before the fight.
“I don’t really get it, but somehow, what you did, was unfair!”
It seemed like she still felt that the result of the duel was unjustified, as Train Girl complained once again.
Well, I can’t really blame her.
To be honest, even I myself didn’t expect to be able to overwhelm Train Girl to such a degree. And, I felt apologetic for Train Girl but, I had come to believe in myself a little more after fighting so much.
I mean, of course I would be happy upon finding out that my style of fighting using game logic was effective.
“Those aren’t movements a human can make!”
Train Girl was still grumbling, but, in a sense, she was correct.
It was also the reason for her loss.
Well, thinking about it, it was really quite simple.
–Those who can’t discern games from reality will eventually find themselves with a rude awakening.
Caught up in the fighting, I had almost forgotten our initial purpose.
“How many dagger skills do you know right now?”
“Huh? Th-Three, I think…”
“You should go check later whether you’ve learned the fourth skill.”
There was no way I would’ve learned a new skill so easily.
Probably while thinking something like that, Train Girl slowly nodded her head, but I knew otherwise. Nevermind the fourth skill, she had probably already learned the fifth skill, and maybe even the sixth and seventh skill as well.
(Thank you once more for your guidance, Master Torch.)
Offering some words of thanks in my heart, I gently stroked the wooden stick that I had been holding since the duel, and carefully put it away in my bag.
After we returned to town, I parted with Train Girl who said she was going to visit her mother, and returned to the inn first.
Maybe it was because many taxing things happened today. I didn’t feel like doing anything else, wanting only to hurry up and rest. I suitably dispatched of the inn owner who asked about my plans for dinner and returned to my room, where I immediately dropped to sleep like a log.
When I opened my eyes again, it was already morning.
(I really overslept this time…)
While regretting it, I tried to get up…
But, in doing so, I felt something like a strange jolt of electricity run through my body, and let out a weird squeal.
(What’s going on?)
It was an unpleasant yet familiar feeling, as if my body was stiff all over.
It was extremely reminiscent of a certain condition that I had experienced many times in the real world.
“But, there’s no way, right?”
I instinctively tried to deny it.
If something like that was possible, then it should’ve already happened to me yesterday morning. I mean, the day before yesterday, I spent quite a long time exercising with Master Torch…
But, as I thought about it a little more, when I was cutting the Master Torch underground, the first half had been with skills, and the second half was mostly tiny cuts, so I didn’t actually spend all that much time moving my body vigorously.
Even then, it would have been an extreme amount of exercise if it were in the real world, but the amount of exercise during the duel yesterday exceeded even that.
I couldn’t believe it, but…
With the pain that ran through my body, the term sore muscles popped into my head.
Just like how this world was more like a game than reality, it was also more like reality than a game.
During battles, the game’s rules took priority, so I had been able to move my body just as in the game, and fight just as in the game.
However, could the law of the real world that “intense exercise makes one tired” really be said to only play a part during battles?
In this world that was more like reality than a game, wouldn’t there be rules that carried over from reality as well?
Absorbed in my thoughts, I committed an inexcusable mistake.
My weakened body naturally leaned backwards, and I started to fall back towards the bed.
No matter whether I tried to stand firm and prevent myself from falling, or if I did nothing and fell back onto the bed, I would be putting strain on my body.
If I forced my body to move in this situation, there was no telling what would happen.
Facing the impending inevitability, I thought to myself.
…Well, thinking about it, it was really quite simple.
–Those who can’t discern games from reality will eventually find themselves with a rude awakening.