— 2 —
Seeing Ryden fly off into the distance was just like a scene in the game, but this world was no longer the game world. In this world, NPCs were actual living people, and without the ability to reset or load, there was no way to undo a person’s death. And even if the person taking the hit were that Ryden, if his HP fell to 0, he would die.
I quickly came back to my senses, and moving with High Step, I went and caught Ryden before he hit the ground.
Due to the world being game-like, there wasn’t as much of an impact as I expected when I caught him.
All the while, I never took my gaze off the Butcher, but it didn’t look like it was following me. It held its pose with the giant knife at the end of its swing, looking over the three of us as if assessing trapped prey.
“Are you alright!?”
I called out, and while wincing, Ryden quickly righted his body and crushed some healing medicine he took out from his pocket.
After a short delay, a healing effect appeared, signifying that Ryden’s wounds had been healed.
Seeing that, I let out the breath I had been holding.
Ryden was level 130, and the King Butcher was at least level 160. The level difference was such that it wouldn’t be unthinkable for him to have been killed in one hit, but Ryden’s defensive abilities were abnormally high, allowing him to keep himself alive even after fighting a myriad of strong enemies.
In addition to his already high defense, it had also been confirmed that Ryden’s defense increased as his HP went down, which some say was because he possessed some kind of special skill.
However, even though his defense was high, it didn’t mean that he was invincible.
In the game, when he died, he died surprisingly easily. In fact, without progressing through the events very carefully, it’s more likely that he wouldn’t be able to survive until the game was cleared.
Now that this place was like reality, this was definitely not a situation one could be optimistic about.
(…Is he going to attack?)
As if it had been waiting for us to ready ourselves, the Butcher’s gaze narrowed.
Even after we unintentionally gained some distance due to the frightening knockback, that made no difference before the Butcher’s giant body.
The King Butcher was a giant towering over three meters tall.
With just a single step, the gap between us visibly shrunk.
Pulling himself away from my support, Ryden, while glaring at the Butcher just like I was, quietly muttered.
I thought he was apologizing for having to be saved after his recklessness, but I was wrong.
Utilizing the moment I had my full concentration on the Butcher, Ryden forcefully flung my body backwards.
Then, using that momentum, he once again charged towards the Butcher.
“Run away! Head to the city, and call the Princess here!”
Yelling that, Ryden ran by the King Butcher as if trying to lure it in the opposite direction of the city.
At that moment, I finally understood Ryden’s apology.
There was no doubt that he was apologizing for being unable to defeat the Butcher.
So instead, he would use himself as a decoy to allow us to escape from the King Butcher.
(But that’s just plain crazy!)
It wasn’t just the difference in levels.
Boss monsters were made so that normally, they weren’t something that could be defeated in a one-on-one.
The reason that I’d been able to make it through playing solo when it was still a game was by exploiting the various holes in Nekimimineko’s system, together with the overpowered ability to restart when I died in order to challenge the game over and over again.
Ryden was an endurance-based warrior class. He excelled in physical battles where he could make use of his high defense, but…
“There’s no use! Physical attacks don’t work against that!”
A King Butcher was the worst possible match for him.
Setting-wise, the King Butcher’s blubbery body absorbed impacts, cutting physical damage by 90%.
That probably also meant that our party’s main DPS, Ringo’s lightning strike, wouldn’t work on it.
Right now, the only one who could use elemental attacks was me.
(I have no choice but to try…!)
I focused my sight on the Butcher’s grotesque face. The experience of having been slaughtered in the game made my body tremble, but I curbed that with pure willpower.
As soon as I could, I started to chant.
‘I didn’t think that I’d be needing to use magic so soon, so I’m glad that I had practiced earlier’, was not exactly what I was thinking.
While it was great that I was able to confirm that magic could be used the same way as in the game, I had gone overboard and used too much magic, so my MP had only barely recovered enough to be able to use a single spell.
Even then, it’s possible that I could somehow overcome the situation by using this.
Yelling out, I took a step forward…
“Idiot! Don’t come!”
As if his inconspicuousness before the Butcher appeared was all a lie, Ryden’s commanding voice stopped me in my tracks.
But a single glance at their exchange was enough to tell that Ryden needed assistance.
He had barely managed to receive the Butcher’s attack with his shield, not giving up another clean hit like before, but the Butcher’s attack was so fierce that it’d be a miracle if his defense could hold up for another few hits.
It was only a matter of time before his defense would be broken through.
“You can’t beat him by yourself! But, if it’s the three of us…”
I yelled out again, trying to move towards him, but…
“Even if you’re fine with that, what about your partner?!”
Hearing Ryden’s words, I paused my steps.
At the same time, my hot head quickly cooled down.
Even with the situation being what it was, I still turned around to look at the blue-haired girl who was following behind me.
I thought about what would happen if the King Butcher were to attack this girl, who was looking at me with anxious eyes.
No matter how high her stats were, the Butcher was a boss monster over level 160. There was no way her current self could withstand an attack with a more than 50-level gap, and from a boss to boot.
(Say, if we were to just fight like this…)
Could we win? The obvious question floated in my mind.
I’d never challenged the Butcher at this level with these equips.
It was a complete unknown how much damage we would even do to it.
In the event we failed to take it down…
(I’d die. And then, Ringo would…)
If I let my emotions take over, I could forget about the fear of death for a moment.
(Can I really drag her into my decisions?)
This was a predicament brought about due to my misjudgments.
If I died, I brought it upon myself. While I felt bad about getting Ryden involved, having chosen to step on the dangerous path of being an adventurer, he should be resolved to face at least this much danger.
But what about Ringo?
She had lost her memories and place of belonging and ended up following me just out of the flow of things.
She probably hadn’t given any thought to the fact that choosing to be an adventurer meant living side-by-side with the danger of death. Involving her in all of this, then asking her to go along with my selfish decisions that could bring us death, could I really do that?
Even without all of these reasons, there was no way I could let this quiet girl be killed in front of my eyes.
While those thoughts flashed through my mind, Ryden was slowly being forced into a corner.
The most precious resource in this situation, time, was being wasted due solely to my indecision.
“Hurry up and get out of here!!”
After Ryden repelled the Butcher with his shield and cried out,
I made my decision.
After wringing out a word of apology, my hesitation disappeared.
Ringo looked up at me with a perplexed expression as I grabbed her hand and pulled her forcibly in the direction of the city. Frustratingly, I couldn’t use the Rapid Cancel Dash.
I was pulling along Ringo, whose reactions were strangely dull, so I didn’t have the ability to do so.
“Don’t worry! That guy’s defense is top-class! There’s no way he’ll fall to someone like that!”
Ringo still seemed hesitant, so I spoke as if to persuade her.
“…That’s right! He’s even fought a dragon in an event before. He didn’t die there, so there’s no way he would be kil… defeated by that ball of meat!”
I didn’t know who I was trying to persuade anymore.
Still, I felt that if I stopped talking then something would come to an end, so I desperately continued to speak.
“I bet you don’t know this, but in the game, he challenged that Hisame to a duel and lived through it! That Hisame, you know? Someone, someone like that, can’t, possibly…”
At that moment, I heard the sound of a heavy, blunt impact echoing behind me as if two heavy objects had collided.
That’s why I turned around.
I ended up turning around.
Ryden was lying on the ground.
The giant shield he was supposed to be holding had split in half, strewn on the ground around him, while he himself was lying face up on the ground, moving not a muscle.
“How could this be…”
All said and done, Ryden was supposed to be a reliable front-liner.
He appeared in many events, and even though he sometimes self-destructed by challenging strong enemies, he was a veteran adventurer that helped the player over and over again, and his tenacity, especially during defensive battles, was top notch…
“There’s, no way…”
I thought I understood it.
I thought I was the only one who understood that this world was a game.
All games possessed a cruel backside, where things like people’s wills or arduously obtained skills are easily overruled just by changing a few parameters.
Especially this world of New Communicate Online. I thought I had understood that this was a world where people could be killed just on a whim.
I thought I understood it, but I actually didn’t understand it at all.
The Butcher slowly approached the fallen and immobile Ryden.
Ryden hadn’t disappeared yet. That meant he was still alive.
But even from far away, I knew full well what the Butcher was planning to do to him.
(Death? He’s going to be killed?)
Blood rushed through my head. My vision blurred for no reason, and his silhouette grew faint.
The nauseous feeling in my chest grew to its limit, and I felt the verge to vomit.
“Ringo. …Run to the city, and don’t turn back.”
I shoved Ringo’s body towards the city just like Ryden had done to me, and once again moved my two feet that had at some point stopped.
…In the opposite direction they had been moving in.
I moved my feet as fast as I could towards the battlefield where the lying Ryden and that King Butcher awaited.
Trying to mask my fear, I shouted out.
But the Butcher paid no attention. At this rate, Ryden would be killed before I arrived.
“Look, this wayyyyyyy!!”
With a scream, I threw the Wakizashi in my right hand with all my might.
The Wakizashi flew in a straight line towards the Butcher, and while it missed the target, it managed to catch the Butcher’s attention.
Finally, the King Butcher turned in my direction.
(It’s no use!)
I couldn’t completely grab its attention with just something on the level of the Wakizashi.
The Butcher’s gaze immediately returned to Ryden.
(As if I’ll let you!)
I focused on the Butcher’s ugly face, its weak point.
But the moment I was about to make my next move…
Vibrant lines of light stretched out, grazing by my body, and assaulted the white giant!
That happened not just once.
A second time, third time, over and over so many times that it’d be foolish to try to count, the attack continued to buffet the Butcher like surging waves, not giving it even a moment to breathe. Finally, the Butcher’s attention turned completely in this direction.
Not just its attention, but it completely turned its body towards me, no, towards the direction the mysterious attack came from, all the while covering its vital point, its face, with its hands.
There was only one person who could unleash an attack like that.
Before I noticed, Ringo was standing beside me, holding Golden Sakura at the ready.
“Why, why did you come back! If you come back, then who’ll contact Hisame…”
Restraining myself from feeling even for a moment that her presence was reassuring, I yelled out in anger.
In response, Ringo’s answer was plain and simple.
“…I’ll help. The enemy seems strong.”
While lightning strikes continuously surged out of the Golden Sakura in her right hand, she replied with a blank look.
It was so simple that I couldn’t even think of a retort.
Her explanation was so clear-cut that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud even in this situation.
(This might be the first time I’ve fought side-by-side with someone like this.)
Turning towards the Butcher again, and while thinking of strategies to fight against it, such a thought suddenly surfaced in my mind.
When I had just started playing Nekomimineko, I had fought in a party, but in the end, they were just AI. Generally, they just moved following my instructions. It wasn’t quite something that could be called fighting together.
After I came to this world and met Train Girl, she did indeed help fight of her own will, but unfortunately, she didn’t have the skill needed to seriously help me out.
However, now, the girl shooting out lightning strikes beside me had come back to the front line of her own will for my sake, and although temporarily, was repressing the Butcher.
(Is this what it feels like to have a true ally?)
So I thought.
At the same time, I made up my mind about involving Ringo.
“Alright. Let’s fight together.”
Surprisingly, those words readily came out of my mouth.
Not protecting her or letting her escape, but fighting together with her and defeating that boss. That was, honestly, the only way I could think to repay Ringo for coming back to my side.
In that case, all that was left was whether I, whether we, could defeat that Butcher. Just that.
If we came out victorious, nobody would die.
Ryden, Ringo, and of course, my life would be saved.
And it wasn’t yet impossible for us to defeat it.
The moment I resolved to fight, I felt as if a veil had been completely lifted from my vision.
That moment was probably the very first time.
That I had looked straight at the King Butcher’s face.
I stared straight into those eyes whose will to battle hadn’t waned even a speck despite its movements being sealed and its body continually pummelled by Ringo’s lightning strikes…
“This time, we will defeat you!”
And I readied Shiranui with my two hands, prepared to take down my longtime enemy.