— 3 —
As if not understanding what I was saying, she asked with a puzzled voice:
“Tag, you say? Am I right to say that it’s a match where I try to stick my sword into specific parts of your body?”
“You’re completely wrong!”
That wasn’t even close. What’s with that ultra-violent game of tag!
Not to mention that it was essentially no different from a sword fight, and, somehow, my death had already become a given.
“See, you’re confident about your speed, right? But I’m also pretty confident in my ability to run away. So, why don’t we make that into a duel?”
However, she shook her head, showing that she just wasn’t convinced.
“I seemed to have caught you quite easily just now.”
“That’s because the conditions weren’t right. If I could freely escape at full speed, then even you would never be able to catch me.”
It looks like even she took some offense at those arrogant remarks.
Her cat ears stood up in anger, as if growling. …So cuuute~ Soo adorableee~~.
Well, it definitely was cute, but now’s not the time for that. Either way, I had no intention of backing down here. I might’ve found a way of escaping from what couldn’t be escaped from. I wanted to try betting on that.
The one to give in was Hisame. While still emotionless, a hint of amazement surfaced, as she opened her mouth.
“If you insist, then I have no problems using that as the duel. However, what shall the time limit be? To be blunt, I am confident that I can catch you within ten seconds, so how long…”
Interrupting Hisame, I spoke.
“…Are you serious?”
“I am very serious.”
My gaze met with her cold eyes. For a short while, we stared at each other silently.
“You don’t appear to be lying.”
It seems like her eyes also act as a lie detector. You have way too many useful features, Miss Cheeter.
“Then, what about the use of weapons? Are they entirely banned?”
I shook my head to those words.
“Nope, there will be nothing against the use of weapons. None of your attacks will even scratch me anyway.”
“Those are some awfully big words you’re spouting.”
But, even as I said that, I was filled with cold sweat inside. This was actually quite a hard choice.
If things don’t go exactly as I imagined, I would have no chance in hell of avoiding her even if she didn’t use any weapons. In that case, bringing it back to a fight would be better.
…Just relatively better, though.
“In return, well, not really in return, but please give me an entire day to make preparations.”
“You want some time?”
This was the important part. If we were to start the duel right away, there’s no way I would be able to win. Even if I had to be a bit forceful, I need to make sure this conversation goes the right way.
“Yeah. Let’s see…”
Now, what time should I set. Looking at my watch to decide, I noticed that it’s just past 8:30.
This would probably work.
“Then, let’s begin the duel around 24 hours from now, tomorrow morning at 9.”
If I remembered, this town had a bell that rang during hours that were multiples of 3. It was nice and simple.
“Tomorrow morning at 9, no, five minutes before that, come to the inn. The 30 minutes starting from 9 o’clock sharp will be the duration of our duel. In those 30 minutes, you win if you touch me. Otherwise, I win. How about it?”
“…It sounds fine.”
Luckily, Hisame did not raise any objections, agreeing to the date and time of the duel.
But, what followed was the real fight. I’ll ride this momentum to the end.
“That’s all of my requirements regarding the duel itself. But, before that, I have a few conditions.”
“First, no matter what the results of this duel are, I want you to promise that you won’t do anything to the girl I was with earlier, Ina Traille.”
“I had no such intentions to begin with.”
“Even then, can you promise me that?”
Stressing my words, I managed to receive an indifferent nod.
“Then, I promise that I will not do anything to her. Of course, if she were to attack me then that would be a different matter.”
Hisame was whimsical, but she kept her promises. Now, I probably don’t need to worry about Train Girl too much.
Even in the very worst case, it ends with just my death. I felt a weight being lifted of my chest.
“Then, I have one more condition. Until the start of the duel, I want you to stay away from me. I do believe that you’re not the type of person to pull dirty tricks, but I won’t be able to calm down if I’m worried about sneak attacks before the duel starts or not being able to properly make my preparations.”
Well, I know for sure that she won’t do anything like that, but this was still important.
I distanced myself from Hisame.
“Our current distance… should be around three meters. I want to be sure that you won’t come any closer than this until the duel starts.”
This was a completely selfish demand, so I did not know whether Hisame would agree to it…
“You don’t need to worry about that. But since you say so, I will promise that too.”
Yes! She accepted it!
Cheering in my heart, I confirmed it once more.
“…You sure? Since you promised, from this moment until the duel starts, if you approach any closer than three meters from me, you’d lose the duel by default. Is that okay?”
“I said that’s fine.”
I got a verbal confirmation. This should greatly simplify things for the future.
But, just as I was about to relax, this time, Hisame started with her requests.
“In return, there are two things I would like to confirm as well.”
“…What are they?”
Did she see through my plan? I answered nervously, but what she was asking about was completely different.
“You still haven’t made clear something very important. If you win, what would you demand from me?”
Thinking only about how to overcome this situation, I completely overlooked this.
“Uhm, uhh, let’s see…”
Hisame’s duel event was an event to have Hisame join your party. That’s why, if I were to say so, she would most likely join my party.
But, to be honest, if that happened now, the event chain that would be triggered would be suicide.
I will definitely die along the way.
Maybe I should just choose something random instead…
What do people usually demand at times like this? Money? Or maybe equipment?
“Since you’re risking your life in this duel, I am prepared for it to be of considerable value. Though I may not amount to much, I am willing to offer anything within my power.”
The words ‘anything’ were bewitching words that must not be used to tempt the desires of a young man.
If she said “anything”, then would even petting Hisame’s cat ears for an entire day be okay?
Actually, how do you even pet or caress cat ears in the first place? I haven’t the slightest idea, but I really want to try it!
However, I suppressed my own desires, and shook my head.
“No, I don’t need anything. At the moment, there’s nothing that I want to receive or request from you. But if I have to say something… Then how about, if I win, you make this the very last life-or-death duel you’ll have?”
“You don’t want my strength?”
Perhaps not asking for anything had hurt her pride, since she replied with something like that, but, well, it was true. Though it’s only because the resulting events would be too dangerous.
I picked my words carefully.
“Well, it would be reassuring if you were to lend me your strength. But when there’s not really any pressing danger, I prefer to pass time lazily by myself.”
“Is that so. …You really are a strange person.”
Her tone was cold as always, and her manner of speaking was blunt, but her outstretched cat ears stooped slightly forwards with the exchange.
“That’s why, this is fine. So, what’s the other thing?”
But, the instant I asked that, I could tell that the atmosphere around her changed.
As if her behavior just now had been an illusion, with frightening gravity, she said:
“–Once more, can you swear to hand over your life if you lose this duel?”
Was this the weight behind what it means to have a life-or-death duel?
At that moment, I felt as if something heavy was pressing down on my body. Resisting that force, I slowly, but clearly, declared:
“…Yeah. I will wager my life on this duel.”
As I finished saying that, the pressure from Hisame receded.
“Okay. That’s all I wanted.”
Unclenching the fist that I had unconsciously formed, I confirmed with Hisame one last time.
“Then, the duel is established on the basis of these conditions. You won’t complain about any of the rules afterwards, right?”
“That is something you need not worry about. I won’t breach the agreements of a duel even if the world were to turn upside down.”
Saying that, she unhesitatingly turned around on the spot. With this, the rules of the duel are established, and negotiations are over.
This would’ve been a good point for me to end the conversation.
“Wait a moment!”
However, for some reason, I called out to Hisame.
“What is it?”
The face that she turned around showed no emotion whatsoever.
Her cat ears didn’t show anything but a bit of interest in me either. She was calm from the bottom of her heart.
…Even though she had just agreed to a fight with someone’s life on the line.
“Hey, why are you so obsessed with life-or-death duels?”
This was a question that I had since in the game, and one that I had never been able to get a clear answer to. It was probably too much to ask for reasons from Nekomimineko’s game characters.
But, if she was real in this world, then maybe…
“I know I have a different sense of values compared with others, but I believe that there are important things to be found past the line of death.”
She all too easily gave an answer to my anticipation-filled question.
I had thought that she was a huge battle maniac, but I learned that she had her own faiths and beliefs from her reply. Though I couldn’t empathize with them, I could understand them.
“Is that why you tried to slice and kill me the moment we met?”
I thought that her actions were way too rash.
It could be that the amount or existence of my sins could be judged depending on whether I cross the line of death or not. It would be an extremely messed up line of reasoning, but if that was the case, then, at the very least, I could understand the logic.
I asked, thinking it was something like that, but she responded as if dumbfounded by my question.
“What are you talking about? Why would I actually kill someone over an accusation like that? You seemed like someone fun to tease, so I wanted to show off my strength and intimidate you a bit.”
“Is that so. I se… Huh?”
Eh? Wha? Wait? Wait wait wait?
She brazenly said it. She just brazenly said it but…
Could she have just said something incredible right now?
It couldn’t be, but, just maybe.
If I didn’t avoid Hisame’s attack at the very start…
Or even if I just didn’t challenge her to a duel…
Would Hisame have stopped her attack just short, say something like “I was just testing you”, and end the battle right there?
But I just had to go and bring up something like a duel, provoking Hisame who wasn’t planning on killing me to begin with into this battle with my life on the line?
Could I have gone and done something really unnecessary, or rather, brought all of this upon myself!?
“Then, excuse me…”
She must’ve gotten tired of me after seeing me hang my head and suddenly fall silent. Once again, she turned away from me and started to walk away.
Her words had indeed been a shock, but now I understood that although Hisame seemed like an indiscriminate battle maniac, she did at least know to draw the line somewhere.
(That’s why I didn’t actually want to do something so low like this…)
There were things that one couldn’t give up so easily.
To me, of course, my own life was one of those things. And, if there was something that must be done in order to protect that, I will not hesitate to do so.
I targeted Hisame’s back, and used a skill.
With the fastest method of movement available to me right now, I drew towards Hisame’s wide open back.
(At this rate… Will it work?)
She agreed to the condition that “if she approaches within three meters of me before the duel starts, she loses.” To put it another way, if I can approach within three meters of her right now, then I can claim victory without waiting until 9 o’clock tomorrow.
It was almost a con, but I already decided that I was willing to do anything.
I aimed for the moment when Hisame completely lost her interest in me and turned her back to me. Unless she had eyes on the back of her head, she shouldn’t be able to sense me approaching.
But, just as I thought, Hisame’s figure had turned blurry,
“So that’s how it is. Though I’m not sure whether to still call this tag.”
For some reason, I heard her voice coming from behind me.
But, wa, ehhh!? Isn’t this past the level of just being too fast!?
“This was the meaning behind that strange condition. Until the start of the duel tomorrow morning at 9, you will be the one trying to catch me.”
What’s more, she had read me like an open book.
“H-Heh… You’re not mad that I tried to deceive you?”
Putting on the best front I could, I replied, but:
“A serious duel is where both sides fight with all their abilities. Even something like a sneak attack is a strategic tactic if allowed by the rules.”
Hisame was not the least unnerved. I thought she would be angrier, but I was glad to be wrong.
“…Though, if you thought that you would be able to catch me with a childish trick like this, then that is indeed an insult.”
Even without looking at her cat ears, I could sense the anger in her tone.
The only thing I could do was to laugh it off.
“Also, there is something that I am hiding from you as well. You will eventually come to know just how hopeless a situation the choice you made has put you in.”
Leaving behind those words, Hisame left, wearing a faintly glowing ring on her finger.