— 5 —
After calling out to me, Train Girl fell silent.
I thought about moving somewhere more appropriate, but even as I beckoned to Train Girl, she continued shaking her head and refused to move from that spot, so I gave up. In the end, the two of us sat down side by side with our backs against the walls of the church.
“…Did you read my letter?”
I inquired so, and Train Girl nodded weakly. Hearing that, I felt slightly relieved.
But then, why did Train Girl come looking for me with such an expression?
“Then, why are you…”
I started to ask, and Train Girl slowly, haltingly, spoke:
“Souma, I just, couldn’t stop worrying, about you… Even when I got into bed, I couldn’t sleep at all. So, I went to the inn a bit earlier than you told me to. And then, I heard that you already left, and they even gave me these things…”
Train Girl shook, gripping the letter and Master Torch tightly.
“Did that old man tell you something strange? That I was, like, at the end of my line, or something…?”
“I can see that!! Even without anyone telling me, I can see that!”
Hearing my words, Train Girl erupted. With tears filling her eyes, she screamed:
“Isn’t this something very precious to you, Souma! To, to leave me this along with a letter, isn’t it, isn’t it as if you’re heading off to die…!!”
She grabbed my arm tightly, almost painfully, strongly…
“…If, it was going to be like this.”
But, her grip quickly loosened before she let go completely.
“If it was going to be like this, then, I would rather have been alone forever. If you’re going to die because of me, Souma, then…”
“–Don’t say that.”
Forcefully, I interrupted Train Girl.
“Sure, I ended up having to duel Hisame, but I don’t regret it at all.”
Train Girl looked up at me with her fatigued eyes, as I gently spoke to her.
“What did you think of how she fought, Train Girl? How Hisame fought?”
“…I was scared. That person is not normal. I definitely wouldn’t be able to beat her. I thought that, that there probably wasn’t anyone who could beat her.”
Hearing those words, I gave a big, big nod. That thing was nothing less than an absurdity walking around in clothes. Train Girl’s instinct was probably correct.
“I know, right! That’s what I think too. That thing is completely unreasonable. She’s the definition of unfairness. And to have to face an opponent like that this early in the game, there’s gotta be limits to how shitty this game can get. I almost want to file a formal complaint, like are you even thinking about the game balance dear developers?”
I replied to Train Girl’s uneasy voice with a smile.
This situation was, without a doubt, completely unfair. But, so were all of the other experiences I’ve had in this game until now.
Closing my eyes, I vividly recalled everything as if it had happened just yesterday.
–The myriad of bugs. The nefarious chains of quests. The useless party members. The combat difficulty that ignores all sense of balance.
Until the moment I cleared the game, no, even after I had cleared the game, I had been thrown around by the unfairness of this game. But, because of this, I knew.
“But you know, Train Girl. The more unfair something is, the more fun it is when you flip it all on its head.”
She looked dumbfounded. Even I thought what I just said was absurd.
But, there’s no helping it, because it’s the truth.
“I mean, try to imagine it. Imagine that I beat her, and her ears droop down… Like, wouldn’t that be so amusing?”
“Souma. You really are kinda mean.”
Faintly, so very faintly, Train Girl smiled.
In the end, people don’t change easily. Even with my life on the line, even knowing that this wasn’t a game anymore, what I’m doing and what I want to do remains the same.
What’s wrong with treating it like a game? I’m just slightly constrained by my inability to save, load, or logout. Bring it on.
After all, I’m a gamer through and through, and a true Nekomimineko player.
No matter how real this world has become, I’ll conquer it as a game!!
“Jeez, I can’t believe you, Souma…”
Seeing me behave like that, Train Girl returned to being the normal Train Girl for a moment, letting out an astonished sigh. Then, she turned serious, and, looking straight at me, asked:
“Do you have a plan?”
“Can you really win with it?”
“…I think so.”
“Can I, can I believe in you?”
At last, as I answered without a moment’s hesitation, Train Girl let out a deep breath.
“…I’ll cheer you on, Souma.”
She looked at me once more, eyes clear.
“I’ll be cheering for you to win, cheering for you to stay alive. So, can you make me a promise?”
Train Girl nodded “Yes”, and held out her pinky towards me.
“Promise me that you won’t lose, Souma. Promise me that you definitely won’t die. Can you do that?”
I wrapped my own finger around her thin finger.
“I promise. I will definitely defeat Hisame.”
“…Then, I’ll believe in you, Souma.”
After our fingers parted, Train Girl stared at her pinky, and:
Letting out a strange sigh, her expression softened suddenly. But, she quickly covered her mouth, turning red.
“S-Sorry. That was, a yawn. Now that I’m relieved I suddenly feel sleepy…”
Apparently that expression was what happens when a smile was mixed with a yawn.
“Then, how about sleeping for a bit?”
“There’s still some time until the duel starts.”
I said, and, seeming to hesitate slightly:
“Th-Then, please wake me up when the time comes. I’ll, definitely, be there to cheer you…”
In the midst of saying something, her eyes closed, and, quietly, her head rested onto my shoulder.
I looked at her in surprise, but Train Girl was already deep asleep.
“…She’s like a child.”
But this goes to show just how much she had been worrying about me.
Looking at Train Girl, peacefully sleeping with her head on my shoulder:
I said just that one word, and stood up slowly to avoid disturbing her.
I knew that in reality, the future that Train Girl dreamt of will not come to pass. In all likelihood, I won’t be seeing Train Girl ever again.
Even then, I had to go.
I turned my head to the side, burning the sight of Train Girl blissfully sleeping against the wall into my eyes one last time, and walked away.
However, before I had walked even a few steps, I stopped. In the shadows of the wall surrounding the church, I noticed a pair of cat ears.
“…I’m surprised, to be getting so many visitors this early in the morning.”
I muttered, and from the shadows, Hisame showed herself.
“I am also quite surprised. You can act quite the ladies’ man. I honestly did not expect that.”
“Well, thank you.”
How did you know where I was? I didn’t ask anything stupid like that.
“Were you eavesdropping?”
“Yeah, it was quite the emotional story. But, I will not go easy on you.”
“Of course. …You heard it, didn’t you? There’s no point if I don’t beat you at your best.”
I couldn’t have her underestimating me now. Towards Hisame who was standing and looking at me about 5 meters away, in an act of provocation, I spat out:
“Are you sure you should be here? You sure are taking this easy, even though you would lose if I came close to you.”
“If I get caught like this, then that just means that’s all I’m worth.”
A prideful line as always. But, this was well within my expectations.
Well, I didn’t expect her to show up here, but I did think that there was a chance to see her once more before the start of the duel.
“More importantly, have you completed your preparations for the duel? Our last fight gave me an excitement that I hadn’t felt for a while. I’m hoping that you will be able to show me strange skills and strange techniques even beyond what you did the last time.”
On the surface, her voice was calm. However, I felt an underlying hint of the same sharp pressure from when she was pointing her sword at me.
Deliberately ignoring it, I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to fulfill your expectations. I’m just gonna be teaching you something obvious.”
Her cat ears tilted forward slightly as she asked, so I answered her.
“You definitely are fast. But, I’ll show you that in this town, you’re only the second fastest.”
When I declared this, slightly, just slightly, Hisame’s mouth twisted into a shape that was almost like a smile.
“Then, I don’t mind.”
Leaving behind those short words filled with strong emotions, she turned her back to me and walked away.
I yelled out towards her back.
“Hisame! Your speed is a talent that you should be proud of. You might even be the fastest of all of the humans (characters).”
Even with equipment that increased agility, a player couldn’t even come close to reaching her speed with normal movement methods. But, that did not mean that there was no way to win against her.
“But humans have always used knowledge and technology to fill the gap of talent. Today, I’ll make you thoroughly understand this.”
As if slamming all of my feelings into Hisame, still with her back facing me:
“–Today, with my full power, I will succeed in running away from you!”
After I had finished saying that, Hisame turned around for just a moment.
“Strange Swordsman Souma. If you can, if you somehow, defeat me…”
She started to say something, but in the end, shook her head and cut herself off:
“I shall head to the inn first.”
And, ending the conversation, ran off at a speed that was difficult for my eyes to follow.
After the unexpected random encounter, I relaxed my tense body.
“It’s about time.”
It wouldn’t be funny if I lazed around too much and ended up late.
At last, the critical moment has arrived. The next ten or so minutes will decide whether I live or die.
Feeling strangely exhilarated after having pulled an all-nighter, I started walking towards the place of my decisive battle.
As I neared my destination, the noise of the crowd increased.
Well, that was only to be expected.
The schedule had been determined already, so it wouldn’t be strange for there to be onlookers or send-offs.
(H, uh? My legs…)
Finally, as the promised time drew closer, my legs froze.
–Am I going to be okay?
–Is this going to work out?
–Did I miss anything?
Insecurities welled up inside me, stopping me from moving forward.
(Is this, really for the best?)
A worry that should’ve had been resolved long ago once again assaulted me.
(I’ve, already made up my mind!)
I suppressed those thoughts with my willpower.
I’ve made all of the preparations for this moment. I can’t turn back anymore.
I had declared to Hisame that I would run away with my full power, and what’s more, I promised Train Girl that I will definitely win.
(Then, I have no choice but to go!!)
Gathering my determination, I took a step onto the ramp.
“Dear passengers! The Skyboat to Lichtel is about to depart!”
“Ah, okay! Wait just a moment!”
Then, a few minutes later, the Skyboat that I boarded sailed off towards the only place safe against Hisame, the sky.
Looking out at the shrinking town of Ramlich, I shouted.
“I’m, I’m freeeeeeeeeee (alone again)––––––!!”
–As such, I won my duel against the strongest swordstress (Hisame) without crossing swords even once, and successfully escaped from what couldn’t be escaped from (Train Girl).