— 3 —
—Bandits! Someone, help!
As you arrive at the Kingdom of Licht, the destination of your travels, a yell reached your ears.
After a brief moment of consideration, you dashed towards the direction of the voice with your trusty sword in hand.
The sound of swords clashing and people fighting echoed.
Squinting, you spotted an intense battle taking place.
The bandits were assaulting a parked wagon, and the merchants were trying to defend it.
One of the merchants yelled out to you.
—Thank the gods, an adventurer! We will reward you, so please help!
Giving the merchants a silent nod, you engaged the bandits.
Thus, your adventure began…
That was the intro story written on the official homepage of Nekomimineko.
Matching the words that resurfaced from the back of my mind with the scene in front of my eyes, I focused on the battle unfolding ahead. It was just as I remembered.
The event was nicknamed “The First-Timer Killer” or “The Lizardmen’s Trap”. Its official name was “Protect the Merchants”, if I recall. As the nickname “First-Timer Killer” would indicate, apparently most players encountering this event for the first time would end up experiencing their first death.
I was no exception. During my first time I had been swiftly killed, having not even understood what had happened. It was probably only after my second death that I was able to figure out what was going on.
What made this event so tough was not just that the enemies were rather strong, but more than that, it was difficult to take in the situation at first glance. What’s more, the more familiar a player was with games, the easier it was for them to fall into this trap.
For now, let’s try taking stock of the situation.
The one closest to me was a sword-wielding female with her back facing me.
Further away, with their backs to the wagon, the four lizardmen stood with their weapons at the ready, as if they were surrounding the female.
…Do you get it now?
At first glance, this situation seemed as if the lizardmen were attacking the human female. But, the lizardmen were fighting with their backs to the wagon.
Taking another calm look, in contrast to the proper equipment the female was wearing, with a set of leather armor, a scimitar, and a shield, the lizardmen were wearing what seemed to be regular clothes, and they were merely holding items for self-defense, like knives and wooden sticks.
—In other words, this was a scene of kind lizardmen merchants and their wagon being assaulted by a frightening armored female bandit.
If you were to carefully read the story written on the homepage, it does in fact mention that there were multiple merchants, but the important part about the merchants being lizardmen was not included.
The majority of players, stuck with the misconceptions of either “lizardmen are enemies” or “the side with a disadvantage in numbers could not be the aggressor”, rushed in towards the lizardmen.
By doing so, the lizardmen, who had been friendly NPCs, end up turning into enemies, and as you were fighting the lizardmen, the female bandit, who you thought was an ally, end up stabbing you in the back.
This was indeed the fearful “Lizardmen’s Trap”.
Actually, the lizardmen themselves were not to blame in any way. They merely played the pitiful role of being attacked just because they looked scary, even though they had done nothing bad.
There were players who got stuck in this “Lizardmen’s Trap” and died over ten times without realizing what had happened, and apparently there was even a grade schooler who was so traumatized by this event and could not play VR games for a while.
Whether it was made on purpose, or if it was something that just came to be, this absurd starting event was one of the reasons why Nekomimineko was commonly regarded as a niche game.
Of course, now that I knew how it worked, there was no way I would fall for it again. But, even though I knew about the trap, this quest was still quite difficult.
After all, even without taking into account the difference in our equipment, the female bandit was someone capable of taking on four merchants alone. If one didn’t coordinate and try to fight together with the lizardmen merchants, a beginner would be quickly killed.
That being said, I was not a beginner. Even if my stats had been reset, I hadn’t been playing so casually that I’d have a tough time with an early game opponent. It was impossible for me to lose.
Or so I thought…
(Something feels strange.)
The insecurity I had been feeling for a while reached a maximum.
From where I was now, I could see the faces of the lizardmen as well as the ferocious smile of the female bandit in clear detail. This time, I was able to clearly identify the source of my unease.
—It was too realistic.
The texture of the smoothly connected lizardmen’s scales. The drops of sweat that flew every time the female bandit moved. The feeling of weight every time two weapons collided. Everything was, compared to a few minutes ago before I was transported to the Forest of Beginnings, incomparably more realistic.
Even in a VR game, there was a limit to how realistic it could be. No matter how much the developers tried to make it look like reality, in the end, a game was just an imitation and one could immediately tell that it was a game.
But, right now, the scenery in front of my eyes did not seem to be from a game at all.
Even though it was an extremely unrealistic scene of lizardmen fighting against a female bandit, I could only see it as something that was happening in reality.
Actually, that wasn’t all. The sunlight shining on my face, the wind brushing against my skin, the sound of rustling leaves, the rich smell of grass… Everything my five senses were telling me screamed out to me that the place I was currently standing at was undoubtedly part of reality.
It was as if this wasn’t merely generated by a computer processor, but an actual fantasy world…
(A fantasy, world…?)
Right before this happened, what were Maki’s last words?
“If you like your games so much, why don’t you just go live in one, you jerk!”
Could it, could it be that, those words…
Consumed by my own thoughts, I committed an unbelievable blunder. With a loud clatter, I dropped the sword in my hand.
Both the female bandit and the lizardmen noticed my presence, simultaneously turning towards me. I hastily picked up my sword, but it was already too late.
Exposed to five gazes that could hardly be called friendly, I froze in place.
Oh crap—I thought.
The hostility emitted by the female bandit could only be described as a killing intent, and together with the stares from the lizardmen’s emotionless eyes, I felt something I had never experienced in a game before. For the first time, I became acutely aware that the scimitar, knives, and other weapons that they wielded were indeed actual weapons capable of claiming people’s lives.
My sweat dripped onto the sword that I picked up. This was supposed to be where I fought together with the lizardmen to drive off the female bandit, but given the current situation, would the lizardmen really consider me an ally?
Like the female bandit, I was a human. Furthermore, I came from the same direction as the bandit. Thinking about it logically, wouldn’t they mistake me for another bandit instead?
The NPCs in this game moved according to a set list of rules, so there was no need to ponder too hard about it. I used to placate myself by thinking this way.
But, if this was just a computer game, then the female bandit and lizardmen would not care about something like the sound of a fallen object, and would have continued fighting. The fact that they turned around upon hearing a sword drop was extremely strange.
In any case, it would be bad to remain silent. Driven by that sense of desperation, I tried to say something, even though I could think of nothing to say.
However, there was no need for that.
Clicking her tongue, the female bandit took action. Without hesitation, she turned away from the lizardmen. It seemed like she was about to retreat, aware of the dangers of a pincer attack.
I’m saved, I thought, but I was too naive. She had not given up on fighting. She merely changed her priorities. Her new target was…
In order to avoid the dangers of a pincer attack, looks like she planned to eliminate me, the unpredictable factor, first, before moving on to the lizardmen later.
It was a decision a real person would have made. But, I had no time to dwell on thoughts like that.
(Is she really coming for me? You’ve got to be kidding me!)
I experienced a never-felt-before ferocity from the approaching female bandit. This was probably what people called a killing intent.
I willed myself to do something, anything, but my numbed body would not move.
The female bandit drew closer. The scimitar in her hand exuded a sinister glow, while her ruthless smile betrayed the fact that she was all but certain of her victory.
Seeing that impending figure, my instincts called out to me.
(If I don’t do something, I’ll be killed!)
Thoughts like “it’s just a game so it’s okay even if I die” or “the opponent is just an NPC controlled by a program” were blown away before the overwhelming reality of the approaching female bandit.
(It’s okay. If I just handle this normally, like how I always do in-game, it should be fine.)
I desperately tried to reassure myself, but my body, overwhelmed with nervousness, still refused to move.
During this entire time, the female bandit loomed closer and closer. The gap that had been at least ten meters was now close to zero.
Having reached right before me, the female bandit swung her sword with the intent to kill.
A real killing intent. An authentic blade. Seeing those, I…
In face of the impending attack, I half-reflexively activated the movement skill Step, retreating backwards.
The female bandit’s swing wasn’t actually all that fast. At least, if I had been playing the game as usual, I could probably have dodged it without using any skills.
Even if I were to use Step, I probably would have jumped to the side instead of backwards.
But, driven by fear, I moved backwards.
In response, a sneer appeared on the female bandit’s face.
A shiver ran down my spine.
(The after-cast stun!)
From her ominous smile, I could tell what the female bandit was aiming for.
Step was an excellent evasion skill to use during emergencies, but it left an opening during the after-cast stun after its use. Letting out an attack expecting to be dodged with Step, then following up with the real blow was the opponent’s plan.
However, knowing the opponent’s intentions still did not allow me undo a skill that was already cast. Step gives a huge instant burst of speed, but outside of the initial burst, it wasn’t all that fast.
Dashing, the female bandit easily caught up to me.
“This is the end. Slash!”
Wearing a victorious smile, the female bandit activated an offensive skill.
Slash was one of the starting skills, but its power could not be compared to normal attacks. Taking into account the difference in stats between the female bandit and I, this one strike was more than enough to claim my life.
As the blade approached, I started thinking to myself.
Ahh, why am I hesitating over whether my experience in-game could be used here?
In such an overly realistic and severe situation, knowledge and experience from a game…
I’ve never doubted that it’ll be the thing that’d save my life!
The Slash I unleashed a moment later than the female bandit ended up reaching its target a moment earlier than her Slash. Though my blow was blocked by her armor and did not do much damage, the impact did manage to interrupt the opponent’s strike.
Why did my skill hit first even though it was activated later?
As someone with no gaming knowledge, the female bandit probably couldn’t even imagine how. There was no way she would even think that connecting a Step into a Slash would skip over the wind up animation and speed up the activation.
What’s more, my attack did not stop there. No way would I let it end there.
The Slash cut splendidly across the opponent’s body, and just as the strike was coming to an end, in that instant,
I did not miss that cancel point, as I cancelled into a Step, overwriting Slash’s motion.
Once more, the female bandit’s face was filled with surprise.
Both Slash and Step, though basic, were considered skills. As skills, in exchange for powerful effects, they were accompanied by openings during the long wind up animation and the after-cast stun that came at the end. Even in the instruction manual, it was clearly written that “skills are powerful, but due to the strain it puts on your body, you will be unable to perform any actions for a short while”.
Normally, one wouldn’t even be able to move after using a skill, so to use another skill that forced your body even further beyond its limits would be unthinkable.
…That is, if you thought about this realistically.
But, I am the only one who knows this world is a game.
In some games, there exists a technique, or rather, a system, called animation cancelling.
Originating from fighting games, this system had recently become incorporated into various action games. How it worked was that during the middle or perhaps the end of an animation, by starting a new animation, the gap from the first animation could be skipped.
Of course, being one of the newest VR games, “New Communicate Online” came equipped with this system.
Thus, having warped diagonally behind the female bandit using Step, the moment my two feet touched ground I yelled once again:
Ordinarily, both Step and Slash come with a short but fatal opening that lasted for less than a second. Due to that stun, it’s normally impossible to chain them into a combo.
However, I was able to use animation cancelling to connect the two together and avoid the opening.
If, at this moment, the female bandit could spare a glance over her shoulder, her eyes would probably be wide open with shock.
In the first place, Slash was an attack that involved swinging from top to bottom. But, my arm had already moved downwards after the first Slash, so it should have been impossible for me to move my arm back up in such a short time.
Even I had no idea how exactly my arm moved. All I know is that the moment I yelled Slash, my arm was already in position above my head.
Empowered with the skill, my sword plunged right into her unprotected back.
The unforeseen attack from an unexpected location left the helpless female bandit collapsed on the ground.
“I’ll leave the rest to you!”
Hearing my yell, the astounded lizardmen watching our fight came back to their senses.
With a command from what seemed to be the leader of the lizardmen, time started flowing again. All four lizardmen came flying and captured the still immobilized female bandit.
I gazed onwards at that sight, unable to move. My heart was beating rapidly and my breath was ragged. These were obvious signs that I was out of stamina.
One could chain skills together through animation cancelling, but the resulting impact on one’s stamina expenditure can be harsh. While breathing heavily, I focused my efforts on recovering my strength.
It was harder than normal to breathe. A sense of suffocation that I had never experienced in a VR space assaulted my chest.
Even then, I looked towards the captured female bandit surrounded by the lizardmen and spat out towards nobody in particular.
“How many tens of hours do you think I’ve spent practicing Step cancelling? Don’t underestimate us hardcore gamers!”