— 2 —
(Ahh, that was close…)
The sword that she had drawn without warning had accurately traced out a path that almost took my life.
I felt the cold sweat as the animation for Step ended and I landed back on the ground. I’ve fought her many times in-game. Defeating her in a one-on-one duel was one of the requirements for recruiting Hisame.
Hisame’s attacks came with no preparatory movements, and her expression didn’t 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 her cat ears.
Though Hisame herself showed nothing, there was one thing, her cat ears, which tensed 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 was a saying in Nekomimineko that went “Cat ears paint a thousand words”, but I never thought that I would actually be saved by cat ears one day.
At that moment, surprised by Hisame’s sudden actions, Train Girl threw herself between Hisame and me.
“W-Wait! I wrote all those things about Souma on that board! I was just…”
“Train Girl! Don’t bother!”
At this point, it was useless. That much I can tell.
Hisame’s cat ears were twitching with excitement. Those were movements that indicated her enjoyment of the battle. Most likely, she was in a state of fight first, talk later.
“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 directed Train Girl behind me while drawing Shiranui. Perhaps sensing something from my words, Train Girl complied with a worried expression.
(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 turbulence within me, but, contrary to my expectations, Hisame did not take any action.
“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 it.
Holding Shiranui in my right hand, I removed the Wakizashi from my bag and 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 them to 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 like I was Hisame’s only target. Getting hurt over something like this would be stupid. I should let Train Girl run away before finding somewhere to somehow escape myself.
In a low 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 wanted to.”
“…Okay. Make sure that you definitely, definitely don’t get killed.”
That, I couldn’t promise…
I looked at the girl with cat ears once again. I had fought her in one-on-one duels many times before, but I had never thought of facing her as an actual enemy.
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 she didn’t consider something like a bad prank 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, everyone had vanished from our surroundings. 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, 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 reached areas where the blade didn’t even reach, so, to the opponent, it would seem like they were 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 showed 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 started to flee as well.
The moment the skill was about to finish, I cancelled into a sideways Step, trying to escape into an alleyway, but Hisame had already started to give 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 her normal movement speed was indeed faster than that of Step.
(She’ll catch up to the Rapid Cancel Dash!)
I made an instantaneous decision, short-cancelling Step into Highstep, and plunging into the alley.
Highstep was a powered-up version of Step, and allowed one to move with a speed faster than that of Step. It was possible to cancel Step into Highstep, but from there it couldn’t be connected directly 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 to see 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 reach its limits. I wanted to take a break, but it wasn’t safe yet.
If I head straight ahead, 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…
And collided with the wall to forcibly terminate the skill, cancelling the after-cast stun.
The impact knocked the wind out of me, but this would’ve all been for nothing if I stopped here.
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 more difficult to detect 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 upon me:
“From what I saw, it looked 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.”
That meant she had been right behind me this whole time.
This Cheeter’s abilities are way too OP.
Though there was the duel event, she was an unusual character in that she generally wasn’t an enemy, so no matter how OP she 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 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 despite causing a visual effect of close to 5 meters, its actual attack range was 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 specializing in evasion like her, I thought that even if her instincts said otherwise, she would still very likely decide to dodge the effect as well.
“You’re very different from any other swordsman I’ve seen. You fight in a very strange way, and despite being a swordsman, you’re not a swordsman. If I were to give you a label, it would probably be something like Strange Swordsman.”
I somehow received a bizarre nickname.
I was happy for the compliments, 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 way 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 really is 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 extinguished 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 strike 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 believe 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 really was quite difficult.
That said, if you actually killed her, 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 her affinity points were high enough, Hisame 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 how you really 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 anyway. So, my only choice was to seek 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 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>
And they had a combined weight of only 3, which added up to less than a single Wakizashi. Way too unfair.
Even then, their quality was guaranteed. Though it looked like she was wearing but a thin layer, her defense was extraordinary. Shiranui boasts exceptional attack power since it was also categorized as a greatsword, but ultimately 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 they looked like they would burn instantly if set on fire, but that was a huge misconception. It turns out that both her robe and bracelet came with elemental resistances, completely protecting against the four main elements of fire, water, wind, and earth. Her magic defense was also high.
Trying to damage Hisame with magic was probably even more hopeless than trying to do so with physical attacks.
In addition, she also had high resistance to abnormal status effects, whether from her robe or herself. I have never seen her 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 begin 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’re 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 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, 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, and I don’t mean just her raw 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, she sometimes appears deep and thoughtful. She was whimsical and capricious, but would never fail to uphold a promise. And, albeit showing a detached attitude, she would give her all for people 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 young 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 an absolute poker face, and I almost never saw 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 has 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 someone saw her in her underwear.
No matter how strong the enemy, Hisame would force them to submission before her, causing those who knew her to quiver 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 someone is killed right in front of her eyes, she would not lose her cool, and she sometimes even disregarded her own survival in order to achieve her goals, but when a favored stuffed animal’s arm was torn she 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, but 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, 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 managed to come up with such a method.
That’s why, I earnestly announced:
“Let’s play tag.”