After countless close calls, the Skyboat somehow managed to safely reach the capital Lichter.
I did make sure to pick the safest route out of the departures in the near future, so even if we had crashed I probably would’ve been able to stay alive, but arriving without any problems was best.
Well, except for one.
There was just one thing that made me feel slightly regretful about arriving right on time.
“…You sure took your time. This must be the first time that I had to wait for the same person twice in the same day.”
standing at Lichter’s Skyboat terminal with a daunting pose, Hisame.
To be honest, I had expected her to be waiting here. I knew that by using a teleportation stone she would easily be able to beat the Skyboat to its destination.
But, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether I can make it out of this situation alive. Standing in front of me, having disembarked from the Skyboat, she unhesitatingly drew her sword.
“Running from a duel… you’re prepared for the consequences, right? Then, I shall have your death.”
So proclaimed Hisame, but of course I wasn’t alright with that.
“Wait! I never ran away from the duel!!”
“What are you saying at this point…”
Her cat ears twitched with displeasure, but I didn’t stop speaking.
“Try to think back. Do you remember the conditions for the duel? I still remember them clearly. At that time, this is what I said. ‘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.'”
I repeated the exact words that I said at the time and Hisame raised her voice in annoyance,
“And so, what about it? In the end, you weren’t in front of the inn at 9… ah.”
but halfway through she let out a surprised gasp, causing her cat ears to also jerk in surprise.
“It seems you’ve realized it too. See, I said ‘come to the inn five minutes before 9’, but I never said that ‘the duel will start at the inn’. I never specified where the duel would take place.”
“You don’t mean…”
“Yeah. Since a location was never set, that means that no matter where I was, the duel would start right on time. Then, during the 30 minutes of the duel, you were unable to catch me. That means…”
There, I took a big breath,
“–I win this duel!!”
and declared my victory over Hisame.
“With, such an, underhanded method…”
Her cat ears trembled, trying to bear the humiliation. But, the fact that she didn’t try to cut me down right here and now was proof that inside, she had already come to accept the truth. …That she, had lost.
“You know, I even checked with you multiple times to see if you were fine with these conditions.”
For a moment, Hisame seemed at a loss for words, but she immediately opened her mouth again even more vigorously.
“I’ll admit my defeat in this duel. But, I just can’t accept this result. Let’s have another…”
“A win’s a win, so you will keep your promise right?”
Seeing the conversation turn in a bad direction, I hastily interrupted her by playing my own hand.
“Did you forget that too? You promised that if I won, you wouldn’t participate in any more life-or-death duels, didn’t you?”
This was my final card.
My ultimate goal was to pretend to be indifferent about it and pluck out this promise from her. By making it so Hisame can’t challenge me anymore, I can ensure my own safety. That was the biggest requirement for victory for me.
Her emotions were probably in turmoil right now.
Her head hung downwards so I couldn’t see her expression, but because of that her cat ears were in plain sight. They twisted and jerked here and there, flapping around wildly.
I’ve never seen cat ears moving around so wildly before.
However, after a while, they suddenly stood still.
She must have found some kind of answer, as her frantically moving cat ears came to a complete stop,
and, still facing the ground, she muttered something.
But, her voice was so tiny that I couldn’t hear it well. Asking her what she said, I leaned my head closer, and,
Her voice was so loud that my ears started ringing.
While I was reeling from both the excessive volume as well as the extreme gap from her normal personality, she dashed off without glancing back even once, ears flat against her head, and quickly disappeared from sight.
Her speed was frightening. It might’ve been even faster than the Skyboat.
“Sigh. What is she, a kid…?”
Trying to ignore the sense of relief that swelled up inside me, I bad-mouthed her a bit.
Just like this, I had barely, but successfully, conquered Hisame’s duel event.
(I’m glad everything went smoothly.)
I knew that as I am right now, no matter what I did I would not be able to beat Hisame head on. At the same time, I also knew that I could not beat her head on.
The duel was the first in Hisame’s event chain. If I clear that in a proper manner, or in other words beat Hisame in a fair and square duel, then a chain of forced events would start where I would be invited to Hisame’s home and exposed to many vicious trials.
This meant that the only choice left for me was to win in a manner completely unrelated to fighting.
Normally, that would be quite an unreasonable condition. But, I knew Hisame well, and within that knowledge, there were three properties that I could exploit for my victory.
Those were Hisame’s stubborn honesty in keeping promises, the fact that she had acrophobia, as well as her complete confidence in her own speed.
That’s when I had come up with it, the idea of proposing a showdown based on speed like tag and running away on the Skyboat which Hisame with her fear of heights would never ride.
Even if Hisame was the fastest character, she would never be able to beat the apex of human knowledge and technology, the Skyboat. It was only obvious, but Hisame was not the fastest in the town of Ramlich; the Skyboat was.
It was a high speed transport that could travel from Ramlich to the capital, a distance that took me an entire two days to cover at my prime, in just a matter of hours. Once I had set sail on that, no matter how hard Hisame tried, she would not be able to catch up, and, even if she was somehow able to keep up, it would’ve still been impossible for her and her fear of heights to catch me.
That’s why I had believed in my victory, and used my last day to bid farewell to my acquaintances and do what could only be done in that town.
To be precise, I gave Master Torch to Train Girl and went to retrieve another Master Torch for my own use, bought a staff I hadn’t bought and bringing it to meet an old friend, learned some skills that might be useful in the future at the Marimite Dojo, and overall did my best not to leave any regrets in this town.
Though, being found by Train Girl at the very end was the only unexpected event.
To be honest, I thought that this was a good chance to bid farewell to Train Girl. If I were to leave for the capital normally, Train Girl would probably follow me all the way there. But, if, due to a duel that was started because of Train Girl I had no choice but to go to the capital, and in addition left behind a letter that said not to follow me… I thought that Train Girl would likely stay in Ramlich.
That’s why I was surprised when I ran into her in the morning, and seeing her cry shook my resolve slightly, and even in the end I wasn’t able to be honest with her.
“This is for the best, right?”
Thinking that I would not be able to see Train Girl’s face ever again, I felt slightly, no, I felt quite lonely. But, I had already seen many times that bringing Train Girl along would only lead to misery. If I ever have the chance to return to Ramlich again, I should definitely go visit her.
Like this, I forcibly cut off my regrets.
Of course, I’m going to search for a way to return to the real world. That basic goal will not change. But, the feeling of wanting to try a bit harder in this world before then had started to take root within me.
Part of it was the spirit of a gamer wanting to conquer this unreasonable world. But, that was not all.
After all, the unreasonableness of Nekomimineko wasn’t targeted purely at players. When the player reaches a Game Over due to the world being destroyed, naturally all of the people who lived in that world would also die.
Having devoted my university life to Nekomimineko, I can assert with certainty that without the player, this world would be destroyed. But, right now, I wasn’t someone that could say I would save this insane world just because of that.
It’s just that, within the people that would die if this world was destroyed were people like Reinhart, Marielle, Tieru, and Train Girl.
That’s why, just for a little while. Until this world stabilizes, or even just until I find a way to return to the real world. I had started to think that maybe I should try acting like the protagonist of this world for a bit.
…Of course, I was uneasy.
Nekomimineko was filled with troublesome and life-threatening events, and due to the game becoming reality, elements from outside the game have also been added to the mix. It was definitely not an easy road ahead.
–I am the only one who knows this world is a game.
I have the knowledge and techniques acquired from the game, and more than anything I can exploit a diverse variety of bugs. At the very least, I will not lose to anyone in terms of my passion towards Nekomimineko.
No matter what happens to this world from now on, what I have to do remains the same. Turn the bugs on their heads, crush every unreasonable obstacle, and take the best results by force.
If it’s me, I can do it. I mean, I beat the strongest character in Nekomimineko, Mitsuki Hisame. No matter what trials await me, they can’t…
“Hey, hey, mister.”
But, at that time, a childish voice flew into my ear.
(It, can’t be…)
I felt cold sweat starting to form.
The confidence that I had mere seconds ago started to crumble with an audible noise.
It can’t be. Could this voice belong to one of the top three most dangerous NPCs in the capital, to that Poison-tan…
“–Mister, are you a hero?”
And so, my adventure has only just begun!
I am the only one who knows this world is a game 1 (End)