— 2 —
(Ahh, that was close…)
The sword that she had drawn without warning had accurately traced out a path to take my life.
I felt cold sweat as the animation for Step ended and I landed back on the ground. I’ve fought her many times in the game. Defeating her in a one-on-one duel was one of the requirements for recruiting Hisame.
Hisame’s attacks come with no preparatory movements, and her expression does not change at all.
I had been killed many times by her unexpected attacks, but through that I had learned a trick for detecting her attacks. That was, of course, to look at the cat ears.
Though Hisame herself shows nothing, there was one thing, her cat ears, that tense up slightly when she was about to attack. So, by seeing the moment those cat ears stiffen, I could see through the timing of her attacks.
There is a saying in Nekomimineko that goes “cat ears convey more than words can say”, but I never thought that cat ears would actually save my life one day.
At that moment, surprised by Hisame’s sudden actions, Train Girl threw herself between Hisame and me.
“W-Wait! I was the one who wrote all those things about Souma on that board! I was just…”
“Train Girl! Don’t bother!”
At this point, it was useless. This much I can tell.
Hisame’s cat ears were twitching with excitement. Those were movements of when she’s enjoying the battle. Most likely, she was in a state of fight first, talk after.
“She won’t listen to you now!”
“Don’t worry about it, just get behind me.”
Saying something reminiscent of what I said when we first met, I guided Train Girl behind me while drawing Shiranui. Perhaps she sensed something from my words, as Train Girl had a worried expression as she complied.
(Still, what do I do?)
Even if I could see through the timing of her attacks, coming up with a way to defeat Hisame as I am now would be a far stretch. In addition, I couldn’t very well kill her over a simple misunderstanding like this.
I continued to watch Hisame cautiously in order to hide the disturbance within me, but against my expectations, Hisame did not make any moves.
“Because of my surprise attack earlier, I’ll let you make the next move.”
What’s more, she confidently threw a jab at me. But, with how I was right now, I was thankful for this.
I held Shiranui in my right hand, and, taking the Wakizashi out from my bag, I readied it in my left hand.
Last night, pleased at having obtained a new weapon, I had raised my ninja sword and dagger skills slightly with Master Torch. I didn’t expect that they would become useful so soon, but I guess it pays to be ready for anything.
Confirming that Train Girl had retreated behind me, I considered my options. At the moment, it seemed that only I was Hisame’s target. Getting hurt over something like this would be stupid. I should let Train Girl run away, and then find somewhere to somehow escape myself.
In a small voice, I whispered to Train Girl.
“Train Girl. When I give the signal, run back inside the inn.”
“Listen to me! With two people, I can’t escape even if I want to.”
“…Okay. Make sure that you definitely, definitely don’t get killed.”
That, I couldn’t promise…
I once again looked at the girl with cat ears. I had fought her in one-on-one duels many times before, but I had never thought that I would face her as actual enemies even once.
In the game, she only ever helped out the player. But, when the game became reality, it was only natural that she would offer to help other people. Even then, I wished that she wouldn’t take something like a bad prank as a serious request, and especially not one off that bulletin board…
Gathering my determination, I stepped forward.
Luckily, perhaps because they had sensed a fight, the presence of people in the surroundings had disappeared. As it was quite spacious all around, it was a situation in which I could go all out with using skills.
(A signal, huh.)
This was not a formal duel, and so there weren’t any signals or shouts to begin the fight.
So, I just readied Shiranui, and activated a skill. The skill was, of course,
the greatsword skill, Sideswipe.
This skill hits areas where the blade does not even reach, so to the opponents it seems like they are being attacked by an invisible blade. It shouldn’t have been avoidable, but,
the moment I activated the skill, Hisame slid backwards.
In an instant she left the range of the skill, and the Sideswipe sliced through thin air.
“Quite a mysterious skill you’re using.”
Easily seeing through what couldn’t be seen, Hisame maintained a composed attitude, but that was fine.
I cancelled the end of the Sideswipe into a forward Step.
As Hisame’s cat ears were showing surprise over the skill cancelling, I further cancelled the Step into another skill.
The range of the slash that I unleashed together with my shout was larger than that of Sideswipe… or so it seemed. Hisame seemed to be slightly confused, but she jumped back even further.
And there it was, the golden chance.
“Train Girl, run!”
As I urged her to escape with a sharp voice, I also started to flee.
The moment the skill was about to finish, I cancelled into a sideways Step, trying to escape into an alleyway, but at that time Hisame had already started to chase.
(Too quick! And, too quick!)
At that instant, her catchphrase “the only character who moves slower when using Step” popped into my head.
All that meant was that, as a fact, her normal movement speed was faster than that of Step.
(She’ll catch up to the rapid cancel dash!)
I instantly made my decision, short-cancelling Step into Highstep, plunging into the alley.
Highstep was a powered up version of Step, and allowed you to move with a speed higher than that of Step. It was possible to cancel Step into Highstep, but from there it was not possible to connect it directly back to a low rank attack skill like Slash.
Even then, I entered the alley with great speed,
(Jump, Quick Stab!)
Cancelling into the flexible Jump skill instead of Slash, I immediately cancelled that for the dagger skill Quick Stab, shooting out of the alley at top speed.
A few bystanders were surprised seeing me dart out with weapon in hand, but I had no time to pay them any mind.
Threading between groups of people,
I further cancelled Quick Stab into Step.
My stamina was starting to hit its limits. I wanted to take a break, but it wasn’t safe yet.
If I head in a straight direction, I’ll be caught when my stamina runs out. Zigzagging my way forward, I jumped to the side using Step. Seeing a suitable alleyway,
I wrought out the last of my strength, and cancelled Step into Highstep.
My chest throbbed with the pain of overusing my stamina. Using any more skills without a break would be harsh.
I purposely angled myself with the alleyway,
colliding with the wall to forcibly terminate the skill, cancelling the after-cast stun.
The impact knocked the air out of me, but if I stopped here then this would’ve all been for nothing.
I desperately concentrated, forcing my spent body to focus, and activated the lowest level dagger skill, Hide. Immediately, black light burst from around me, surrounding my body.
Finally, I was able to take a breath.
Hide was a skill that made one slightly harder to find as long as one wasn’t seen activating the skill. It was only good for a temporary rest, but now I can…
“You’re quite interesting indeed.”
I felt something cold drip down the back of my neck.
Instantly, all the hair on my body stood on end.
(She couldn’t have followed me the entire way!? Even after I used all those skills!?)
I didn’t turn around. From behind me, a cold voice descended.
“Watching from behind, it seemed like you were using skills one after another. What’s the trick behind that?”
“…Sorry, but I don’t think I’ll answer that question.”
Watching from behind, so that means she had been right behind me this whole time.
This Cheeter’s abilities are way too cheating.
Though there was the duel event, she was an unusual character in that generally she was not an enemy, so no matter how cheating her strength level was, players didn’t complain. So it was only now that I felt just how absurd it was.
“That first invisible slash caught my attention too, but your second skill, that was a Wide Slash wasn’t it. I had thought it was a useless skill, but to think it could be used like that.”
The second skill. I had yelled out a cool skill name like Lingering Shadow, but it was indeed just a Wide Slash.
It was a pitiful skill that Nekomimineko players called the Illusionary Wide Slash, where although a visual effect of close to 5 meters can be seen, the actual attack range is no more than 2 meters.
But in this world that had essentially become reality, there probably aren’t many people who could ignore the visual effects. Especially for someone specialized in avoidance like her, I thought that even if her instincts said otherwise, she would still very likely choose to dodge the effect as well.
“You’re very different from any swordsman I’ve seen. You fight in a very strange way, and while you are a swordsman, you’re not a swordsman. If I were to give you a label, it would probably be something like Strange Sword User.”
For some reason, I received a bizarre nickname.
I was happy for the praise, but I’d rather if you could just move that sword off my neck.
(Well, this was the worst possible timing. Of all things, it had to be right after I used Hide…!)
I had no ways of defending myself. My stamina can’t be said to have recovered either, and if I were attacked now there was no hope of dodging it.
I felt cold sweat roll down my face.
“Just for reference, could you tell me how you were able to dodge my first attack?”
That’s why, for the purpose of buying time, I asked a question.
My first attack was Invisible Blade, or in other words, a Sideswipe. I was actually legitimately curious how she was able to dodge that.
“It was because I saw the air wavering.”
…The words of a master is really incomprehensible to others.
But, at least she responded. If I can buy some more time, maybe I’ll be able to do something.
“If you’re trying to buy time, it’s pointless.”
However, that ray of hope was mercilessly cut by her words.
“It’s unfortunate, but this is farewell.”
Sneaking a glance over my shoulder, I saw Hisame’s sword, raised.
That sword, swung down towards me–
“Let’s have a duel!”
–but right before it reached me, I yelled out.
The words that I said in desperation seem to have caught her interest.
Her sword stopped just as it was about to hit me.
While scared to death about what was going to happen, I raised my voice further without showing even a hint of that.
“Yeah, that’s right! Mitsuki Hisame! [I challenge you to a one-on-one duel]!!”
Honestly, it’s not something that I should be saying with a sword swinging at me, but I did have the belief that this would cause her sword to halt.
[I challenge you to a one-on-one duel] were the keywords for initiating her duel event. I knew that she would respond to them.
The only problem was…
“Do you fully understand the meaning of those words you just said? A duel means putting your life on the line.”
that event wasn’t a duel in some laid-back Duel System or something like that, but a genuine death match.
The duel event was originally an event to recruit Hisame as an official party member.
According to her in the game, she couldn’t possibly leave her back to someone who wasn’t strong enough to make her yield in a serious showdown. Her personality was really quite difficult.
That said, if you actually killed her, then she wouldn’t be able to join your party. In order to clear this event, you had to fight one of the strongest NPCs without the help of anyone else, and somehow reduce her HP to below 10%.
All while she was trying to kill you with her full power.
By the way, if the player gets killed by Hisame in this event, then if Hisame’s affinity points were high enough, she would murmur,
“I didn’t mean to lose you in this way.”
in a famous scene where a teardrop rolls down the face of the emotionless Hisame, but now that this wasn’t a game anymore, triggering that event wouldn’t be a joke.
Having her suddenly turn affectionate after being killed was worthless. If that’s really how you feel then stop trying to kill me.
In any case, that was how strong her feelings towards a serious duel were.
If she’d even cut down someone she liked, then she would have no hesitation doing so to someone she only just met.
However, in this situation I was just going to get killed anyways. So, my only choice was to seek out a path through this event.
“Of course! I’m prepared to lay down my life to fight you!”
But really, I’m not prepared at all! I don’t want to die!
“Is that so. …Then, I have nothing more to say. Let us settle this with a duel.”
Nonetheless, those words had an effect, as, saying that, she readily withdrew her sword.
But, wait a moment. If I were to fight her in my current situation, do I have any chance of winning?
Right now, between me and her was an insurmountable difference in abilities. From the start of the game, she was at a high level, and her statuses were mostly at cheating levels. On top of that, she was wearing high level unique equipment. The secret to her strength was not just her ridiculous statuses, but also attributed to the power of her equipment.
Their lineup was,
<Getsuei [Sword] Weight: 2 Ama no Hagoromo [Robe] Weight: 0 Skanda’s Tabi [Shoes] Weight: 1>
<Bracelet of Four Elements Weight:0 Seeker’s Ring Weight: 0>
with a combined weight of only 3, totaling less than a single Wakizashi. Way too unfair.
Even then, their quality was guaranteed. While it looks like she was wearing but a thin layer, its defense was extraordinary. Shiranui boasts exceptional attack power since it was also categorized as a greatsword, but in the end it was just a mid-game weapon. Even if I hit her, it probably wouldn’t cause much damage.
Her clothes look so delicate that it seems like they would instantly burn if set on fire, but that is a huge misconception. It turns out that both her robe and bracelet come with elemental resistances, completely protecting against the four main elements of fire, water, wind, and earth. Their magic defense was also high.
Trying to damage Hisame with magic was likely even more hopeless than trying to do so with physical attacks.
In addition, she also had high resistance to abnormal status effects. Whether the resistances are from her robe or from herself, I have never seen her ever get inflicted with an abnormal status.
At the very least, it would be impossible for the current me to inflict any kind of status effects on her.
What’s more, it’s said that both her robe and shoes have the effect of increasing agility. I was only able to defeat her after clearing the game. It was only with the combination of skill cancelling and custom magic that I was able to catch up with her speed.
However, custom magic couldn’t be created without going to the capital, and obviously the amount of skills I could use was much less than in my game data.
At the minimum, in order for me to win, I would need to be able to keep up with Hisame, the fastest NPC’s, speed, and hit her with an attack that would effectively pierce through her end-game level defense…
Huh? Isn’t this impossible?
“Shall we go back to the place earlier? This place isn’t very suitable for fighting.”
Not noticing my panic, Hisame seemed fired up.
Her cat ears were twitching with happiness. Even with such cute ears, she was a complete battle junkie. At this rate the duel… no, my slaughter will start with no questions asked.
“Wait just a moment! I said a duel, but I didn’t say that it would be with swords.”
“…What do you mean?”
I reflexively called for her to wait, and Hisame inquired in a low voice. Her cat ears stood up in displeasure.
“You did say that you are prepared to lay down your life for this duel. Are you intending to go back on your word?”
With this much bloodlust emanating from her, I could tell without even looking at her cat ears.
She exceedingly despised those who break their promises. This was bad.
“Of course, I am still pledging my life on the outcome of this duel. If I lose then I will give this life to you. However, I have no reason to kill you. That’s why, a swordfight is out of the question.”
Somehow, it seemed like I was saying I could beat Hisame. Or rather, won’t you let me keep my life even if I lose?
I don’t want to lose my life.
“I see. But then, how do you plan on holding this duel?”
Suggest something stupid and your life is forfeit, her eyes said.
If I said something like rock-paper-scissors, then I would probably be cut down on the spot. What could I suggest that would satisfy her, and yet allow me to win? I put my whole mind towards finding such an idea.
(…Wait, that’s not quite right.)
I should be more precise here. I don’t really care about winning. I just need a way to break out of this situation.
Think! What is most optimal for me, think!!
Hisame looked at me with the familiar blank expression that I had seen many times in game.
…That’s right, familiar.
I knew her very well in the game. Not just her power. I knew her personality and what she liked, and even her strengths and weaknesses. I just need to recall those things.
…Mitsuki Hisame was a character with contrastive personalities.
While explosively violent at times, sometimes she appears deep and thoughtful. She was whimsical and capricious, but would never fail to uphold an exchanged promise. And, albeit usually maintaining a detached attitude, she would give her all for the people that she cared about.
Her slightly stiff way of talking was due to the strict upbringing by her parents during her childhood.
She had always believed in her own speed. There was a charming episode when she was small where she seriously tried to race a horse and cried when she lost, and an episode after she grew up that would cause the smile to freeze on your face where she seriously tried to race a horse and won.
Her feelings never showed on her face, but they were written all over her cat ears. She maintained a absolute poker face, and I almost never see even a slight frown on her face, but nobody has ever seen her cat ears stay still for over ten seconds. Due to their fluid motions being completely silent, it is difficult to even sense their operation, but be assured that the entire time, those cat ears are busily flopping about.
Her special skills were Iaido and knitting stuffed animals. Her hobbies were collecting swords and stuffed animals. Sometimes, the two get mixed together, and something like a stuffed bear wielding a demonic sword had been spotted in her room.
Even when surrounded by hundreds of monsters, her bold spirit would refuse to be shaken, but she was extremely bashful, shrieking and cowering when seen in her underwear by others.
No matter how strong the enemy, Hisame would force them into submission before her, causing those who knew her to shake with fear while standing in front of her, but she herself was afraid of heights, causing her legs to tremble when standing at a high place. Her cat ears tremble as well.
When a person is killed right in front of her eyes, she would not lose her cool, and sometimes she would even disregard her own survival in order to achieve her goals, but when a favored stuffed animal’s arm was torn she had spent three days and three nights weeping.
She was extremely skilled at using a sword, but extremely poor at using a kitchen knife. On the battlefield she could prepare and cook the enemies as she pleased, and at home she was toyed with by the ingredients.
As a serious battle junkie, she lived for fighting, but when alone at home she had said something like what an idol might say, “Ahh, I wish I could become a normal girl.”
This, was the Mitsuki Hisame that I knew!!
This is bad, she was flawless! In the sense of being a moe character!
“Have you decided?”
Running out of patience, Hisame once more called out to me, while I was quivering with excitement.
I guess I have no choice. This might be a bit simple, but…
“Yeah, the duel will be with, coo… n-no, nevermind!!”
Ah, that was close. Just as I was about to say cooking, Hisame’s bloodlust swelled a hundred times over. If I had continued, I probably would’ve died just like that.
There’s way too many paths to a bad end!
“If you are trying to make fun of me…”
“Wait! I was just kidding! I’ve actually already decided a long time ago.”
Snapping the dead end flag that was about to be raised just from staying silent for a bit, I strongly insisted.
But, this was by no means a bluff.
The optimal solution for me: without killing her and without dying, changing this pinch into a chance potentially leading to the best possible result I could hope for, I had come up with such a method.
That’s why, I earnestly announced.
“Let’s play tag.”