— 3 —
Perhaps it was because I’d discarded by hesitations.
Even though a fight was coming up in which I could die, I felt myself slowly calming down.
(First is to…)
Taking out all sorts of potions from my pouch, I threw them at Ryden’s outstretched body beside the Butcher. I wasn’t very confident in my throwing, but luckily most of the potions hit Ryden, scattering healing effects everywhere.
I used up all of the few recovery potions I had, but they were all just extras from when I went to The Cave of Trials with Train Girl, meaning they were merely potions from Ramlich.
It wouldn’t be able to bring back his consciousness, or even recover any significant amount of HP, but at least he probably wouldn’t die.
After dealing with one of the pressing problems, I turned my attention as composedly as I could towards the King Butcher, who was still being paralyzed by the lightning strikes.
(This… isn’t going to last very long.)
In my first playthrough, my party had tried challenging the Butcher again after leveling up a bit.
At that time, we had adopted a strategy where the magician who had just joined us would stop its movements using a barrage of magic and create openings for us to attack. But, that strategy very quickly crumbled.
I vividly remembered what had happened.
That’s why I wasn’t harboring any naive hopes that we might have been able to push through just like this. While the lightning strikes were unexpectedly effective in completely stopping the Butcher from moving, it was clear that this was just a stopgap measure.
“Ringo. Unfortunately, normal attacks don’t work on that thing. And since your lightning strikes don’t gain elemental effects even when wielding an elemental weapon like the Heat Knife, you’re not really going to be able to damage it.”
While I didn’t know if she’d understand the idea of elemental effects, I still straight-up explained the situation to Ringo. Surprisingly, Ringo showed a flash of comprehension, as she inquired about what to do with just her eyes.
“That’s why I’ll deal the finisher. It’s probably going to start crouching very soon, and when that happens it’s going to start ignoring your attacks. When that happens, move behind me so that I end up in a straight line between it and you.”
When the opponent ran away or when it was taking damage for an extended period of time, the Butcher would unleash a charging attack.
And the moment it crouched down to prepare for that attack, it gained super armor, which meant that no matter what it was hit by, it would not flinch, be knocked back, or have its attack cancelled.
Then, the instant it was done preparing, it would start charging at us with a speed unimaginable for its heavy-looking body.
–But that moment is precisely our best chance for victory.
Since it wouldn’t flinch or have its attack cancelled, that meant the timing for the attack was consistent and easy to read.
That’s why I would wait right here for the Butcher’s charge attack, then hit it with the tenth greatsword skill, Unbreakable Blade: Color Reversal, and defeat it.
(I can do this, right?)
I asked myself.
My main weapon, Shiranui, was a katana, but due to a mistake in its settings it’s able to use greatsword skills. Many greatsword skills contained tremendous power, letting one defeat enemies stronger than oneself with a single strike if they hit, but as a trade-off they often came with strict conditions.
The tenth skill, Unbreakable Blade: Color Reversal, indeed fit that mould, as it was a counter skill that was probably the top one or two in terms of offensive capability but came with great risks in its use.
As a counter skill, it naturally sent out a counter-attack if the user received an attack while the skill was activated, but this skill was not quite as straightforward as that.
The preparation time for this skill was extremely long. For the first two seconds of the skill before the guard frames became active, as well as either three seconds at the end if the counter activated or two seconds if it didn’t, the player cannot move at all.
What’s more, during the entire time, the player gains super armor, meaning an immunity to knockback.
In addition, since all of the player’s input was ignored during that time, it was not possible to use any other skill or magic, and there was no way to cancel out of it.
While having super armor sounded cool, another way to look at it was “in return for being uninterruptible, become unable to distance yourself from the enemy no matter how strong an attack you receive.”
Using this skill while being surrounded by strong enemies meant that while you might have been able to get off a counter, there was no doubt that you’d die right after.
Then, there was the next problem, that the window for activating the counter was extremely tight.
Even though there was a full two seconds of preparation, the counter could only be activated in the approximately 0.3 seconds that followed.
So, in order to use this skill effectively, one needed to detect the opponent’s attack two seconds before it hit, then make sure to receive the attack between 2.0 seconds and 2.3 seconds in the future.
However, damage taken during the guard frames was not actually reduced in any way. Even if the counter would activate on taking fatal damage, it’d just end right there with the player dying.
This was a huge minus when fighting someone with a high attack like the King Butcher.
Finally, even if all of these conditions were met and the counter was activated, there was no guarantee that it would be able to defeat the enemy.
The counter-attack that’s activated was a vertical swing with the same elemental attributes as the attack the player received.
For example, if the player received a fire-element attack from a fire-element monster and activated the counter off that, the counter-attack would also be a fire-element attack.
It didn’t matter whether that element would work on the opponent, and to begin with, the counter-attack wasn’t an AOE attack or even an attack in the direction of the damage source, but a simple vertical slash in the direction the player was facing, so there was a definite possibility that the opponent could dodge the attack or that the player could send the attack in a mistaken direction.
This astonishingly troublesome skill was what one could expect from Nekomimineko. But, it also came with a power so strong that it’d make one want to try to use it even with all of the risks.
Furthermore, a vertical swing with the protracted reach of a greatsword could reach even the Butcher’s vital point, its head. If there was any way to defeat the Butcher, there’s no doubt this was it.
(So all that’s left is to see whether I can hit the timing or not.)
It was the same, whether for my skill or the Butcher’s charge, that once started, there was no more avoiding or cancelling.
Once the Butcher started its charge attack, it had no way to evade my counter-attack.
However, the Butcher’s charge attack was extremely fast. In order to match my counter to it, I needed to be able to accurately time it to within 0.1 seconds.
0.1 seconds is a fleeting amount of time that passes before one can even finish thinking “now!” Under different conditions, even if one tried to do the exact same movements there would definitely be at least a 0.1 second difference somewhere.
Normally speaking, it was impossible to be able to accurately time something at that level.
(But I can do it. I know I can.)
I’d practiced chaining together skills one after another by hitting cancel points that last less than 0.1 seconds some tens of thousands of times.
Combining the delayed activation of magic with the use of skills, I’d designed complex and intricate combos, and executed on them.
My temporal management ability when I’m concentrating has been honed to where it could be one of my special skills.
–Even if nobody else could, this serious Nekomimineko addict who spent most of his university life gaming, Souma Sagara, should be able to do it.
That’s why, just for this moment, I will forget that this world is real.
Right now, I’m seeing a virtual scene through that bulky and troublesome VR machine.
The only things that exist are me and the game data.
Everything I can see through my eyes is just blobs of data, and nothing unexpected exists.
Like so, I made myself believe.
My mind, which had calmed to beyond calm, measured the distance before me.
With my eyes, I calculated the time it would take the Butcher to reach me once it started its charge.
(Three seconds? Four seconds? Or is it even longer…?)
My past trauma, the gruesome scene burned into my mind of my teammates being knocked around by the charging Butcher, replayed itself.
Its speed, its distance to me, and its arrival time.
All those data points, I dredged up from my fragmented memories.
(…I’ve got it!)
4.1 seconds after the Butcher started, or more accurately, after I noticed the Butcher starting.
That was the answer I arrived at.
On this timing, I wagered my life; no, everyone’s lives.
The moment I decided on a timing, as if it had been waiting for me to do so, the King Butcher started preparing its charge.
As I shouted out, Ringo was already moving behind me in cooperation.
Now, even if the Butcher had targeted Ringo, it would definitely run into me first.
With this, our preparations were complete.
(…Bring it on!)
The Butcher finished its preparation animation, signalling that it was about to start charging.
So as to not miss that instant, I concentrated on the Butcher, whose body had grown smaller, as if it were building up all its strength.
This concentration induced in me a sense of accelerated thought, stretching each second to infinity.
From outside, there was barely any change in the Butcher’s appearance.
But I felt as if I had seen the power stored in its body start to burst out, like a compressed spring being released.
Finally, the moment came.
An explosion shot out of the Butcher’s back! –So sudden was the acceleration that it made one imagine so.
But I didn’t miss the timing. Immediately after seeing the Butcher’s start, I began my order.
(It takes two seconds to prepare the skill, so… now!)
Approximately two seconds later, I activated the trump card for our comeback, the skill Unbreakable Blade: Color Reversal.
Having done that, I’d done all that I could do.
All that was left was to pray that the counter properly activated and that the resulting counter-attack hit the Butcher.
Slowly, the skill’s animation maneuvered my body.
The Butcher drew ever so much closer.
How’s my timing?
Is it too early? Or is it too late?
…The answer came immediately.
Two seconds had already passed since I used the skill, but the Butcher still hadn’t entered within the range of a greatsword.
The gap between us was uncomfortably wide.
Needless to say, it would be impossible for the Butcher to hit me within the next 0.3 seconds.
…But, that was fine.
Even without the Butcher’s attack, the instant my brain recognized that the counter was prepared, my vision was covered with an explosion.
–It was the fire magic, Petiteplosion.
This was my trump card, the one that I had finished chanting before running away and kept in stand-by mode for all this time.
The magical explosion, set for delayed activation 4.1 seconds ago, damages everything in the area, be it friend or foe.
In particular, the caster, myself, was no exception.
The explosion assaulted my body, but there wasn’t much force behind it.
With my low magic stat, my spell damage wasn’t anything to brag about, and the base damage for Petiteplosion wasn’t high anyways.
But on the other hand.
–My body, having received a fire elemental attack from Petiteplosion’s blast, automatically activated a counter-attack!
This was the true ace up my sleeve.
If I were to counter-attack after being hit by the Butcher’s charge, that definitely wouldn’t work in time.
That’s why I hit myself with my own attack, in order to activate the counter with the perfect timing.
It was a charade of a counter.
This was a gamer’s fighting style, something that residents of a fantasy world couldn’t possibly imagine!
My two hands holding Shiranui naturally raised themselves over my head.
At that instant, it seemed as if there were a long blade of flames extending out of the tip of the raised sword.
I poured my whole self into this one strike.
Aiming at the white giant that entered the greatsword’s range with the expected timing, I swung down the blade of flames.
As if being sucked towards its target, the attack hit the white giant directly on its head!
The monster let out an ear-splitting cry.
A heavy recoil passed through my hands, carrying the definite feel of something breaking.
(I did it!)
Even that giant couldn’t withstand this one hit.
Having been hit directly in its vital point, the head, its giant body staggered, and dropping the knife from its hand, it fell to one knee…
And there, it caught itself.
Once again, the giant roared out.
However, it wasn’t one of pain, but a manifestation of pure fury.
The target that the giant stared at with its horribly crushed face was…
(…This is bad!)
The giant’s animosity pierced my being.
While it had taken a huge amount of damage, the white giant, the King Butcher, had not lost its will to fight.
Re-gripping its fallen knife, it made a simple swing.
(Shit shit shit shit!)
I couldn’t move due to the after-cast stun.
This stun couldn’t be cancelled.
I had no way of avoiding this attack!
(Move! Move move move!)
My heart screamed at the body that wouldn’t listen to its commands.
The stun continued.
I still couldn’t move!
(Damn it! Flash Step! Highstep! Step! Jump!)
I tried using skill after skill, knowing full well that it was useless.
Of course, my body didn’t react.
The knife that was like a blunt weapon approached, aiming for my eyes.
A shrill storm of lightning strikes deflected the attack ever so slightly.
But it wasn’t enough to stop the attack.
In slow motion, I saw the deflected strike heading for my body.
(Flash Step! Flash Step Flash Step Flash–)
But suddenly, it was the end.
I stopped breathing.
An insuppressible impact hit my chest.
That one hit made my thoughts blank out.
Even then, my gaze was automatically drawn to the source of that impact.
It was an unreal scene.
A giant knife gouging itself into my armor, tearing through it effortlessly.
The gigantic weapon couldn’t be stopped by something like that.
I was acutely aware that my end was near.
As if to prove that point, the lead colored weapon continued on its path, its power not diminishing the slightest, as it next looked to cleave my body in two–
(Ahh, so here’s where I di–)
–The protracted duration I experienced cut off there.
Involuntarily, I let out a scream in anguish.
The world spun. Spun. Spun.
There was also a sound and an impact. I couldn’t follow what was going on.
I saw the sky, then the ground, then the sky again. I didn’t know where I was.
The force of the impact assailed my whole body.
I could no longer feel Shiranui’s presence in my two hands.
All I knew was that I was like a ragdoll in front of that attack, and before I realized it I was looking at a scene where the ground and the sky each took up half of my sight.
A moan leaked out of my half-open lips.
Pain was everywhere.
The area around my chest felt like it was scorching.
I really didn’t want to know what state my body was in.
But I was alive.
And from what I could see, it seemed that I was lying sideways on the ground.
I was barely able to figure out that right as I had resigned myself to death, the after-cast stun had ended and I had been blown away.
A sense of defeat flowed over me.
I gave it my all.
Using all of my knowledge and experience, I won that risky gamble and landed that one hit.
But even then…
I wasn’t able to overcome the absolute wall of parameter differences.
Even the greatsword bonus and the skill bonuses weren’t enough to bridge the gap in strength.
I had lost.
At the same time, I very clearly realized.
–I’m going to die.
Without having accomplished anything in this world, without even getting a chance to return to my old world, I’m going to be killed on these plains by a monster, turn into particles of light, and disappear.
For some reason, I thought that might not be so bad.
My body couldn’t even twitch anymore.
I couldn’t tell if I was still feeling pain. My entire body burned and all my senses felt so distant.
Everything would probably become much more bearable if I just closed my eyes like this.
But, if I were to have just one regret…
As she called out, I saw my last regret come running over.
Seeing that, I became at peace.
This is my final job, I told myself as I tried my hardest to move my mouth.
I wonder if she was able to hear me.
I didn’t know. But strangely, I felt like my message had been conveyed to her.
There was no reply.
Instead, she responded to me with her actions.
In front of my eyes, she dropped a gold colored ninja knife.
Her weapon, Golden Sakura, landed right in front of my eyes.
(So this is it…)
This was her answer.
To give up her weapon.
This meant that she was prepared to run.
Somewhere in my heart, I felt a tinge of loneliness, but that was engulfed by an overwhelming sense of relief.
Now, I had no more regrets.
All that’s left was to pray that Ringo could safely escape while the Butcher was busy turning me into a corpse.
That’s what I had thought.
(What is she doing?)
Seeing her, who had given up her weapon, reach for her waist, my eyes grew wide.
After all, that made no sense.
The only thing that was there was her one other weapon, the Heat Knife, which was quite a few ranks weaker than the Golden Sakura.
She grabbed the Heat Knife in her hand, but there was no point to that.
Her lightning strikes were not modified by the weapon’s element.
She definitely understood that.
“…Souma told me that it was okay for me to be here.”
But that wasn’t it.
“…That’s why, I’ll be by your side, Souma.”
The one who didn’t understand was me.
“…I’ll always be by your side.”
I was the one who hadn’t understood anything at all.
“–That’s why, I’ll protect you, Souma.”
I looked at Ringo, incredulous that such words would come out of her mouth.
Finally, when she ran towards the Butcher without any hesitation, gripping the knife in her hand, my foolish self understood everything.
Ringo had remembered my words that her lightning strikes didn’t gain the elemental effects of her weapon. But even if her lightning strikes didn’t work, cutting the enemy with the Heat Knife directly would, of course, count as an elemental attack.
That’s why she had given up her greatest strength, the lightning strikes, intending to clash with the Butcher with just that single paltry knife.
All in order to protect me.
To help someone like me.
But that was far, far beyond reckless. She had zero experience in close combat and all of her parameters were inferior to the King Butcher’s.
That was no longer in the realm of being unreasonable or irrational.
It was simply a suicidal act.
I tried to stop her.
I tried to hold her back, to tell her to stop doing such stupid things.
Compelling my immobile body to move, I forcibly reached out my hand.
But all I grasped was air.
I stretched out my arm.
Trying to reach even further.
But my hand wouldn’t move like I wanted it to.
I yelled out, asking her not to go.
But my voice wouldn’t come out.
(Reach, please reach…)
She ran. There was no indecision in her steps.
Soon, she’d arrive before the giant.
If that happened, then she’d probably be killed, just like that.
That would be unacceptable.
That would be completely and utterly unacceptable!
(Reach! Reach, reach, reachhh!!)
I desperately raised my voice, trying to reach out my hand.
My enfeebled body could no longer move, and my screams were now mute.
(…I reached it!)
–My outstretched hand made contact with a golden handle.