“E-Eh…? That’s strange… Maybe it is because it is dark. I tripped… A-Ahaha.” (Rifreya)
—We will be able to defeat it with only us.
It would be a lie to say that that thought didn’t cross my mind once.
I saw it when I opened the Status Board to exchange for the Barrier Stone, but the viewers had increased explosively, and had become 1.6 billion.
Alex and I had encountered the Demon Lord at the same time. This is most likely the current hottest stream among the Chosen currently.
The Viewer Count Race is decided by the total viewership of the two weeks.
My viewership in the first half was low, so I had to turn it around heavily in the second half or I won’t be able to get 1st place.
I managed to get into a battle with the Demon Lord as planned, and increase my viewership greatly by this.
This is the moment that will define my victory or defeat.
There was probably a part of me thinking like that inside my heart…
—I can revive Nanami.
—I can save her.
—I might be able to save myself with that too.
Those feelings of mine unconsciously leaked out, and that might have made her push herself.
Marchosias was growling, searching for me or maybe Rifreya inside the darkness.
How much was the damage Rifreya dealt I wonder. I can see slight bleeding, but I don’t think it has dealt that big of damage.
I hold up the collapsed Rifreya from the back, and break the Barrier Stone I bought just a few moments ago.
A half-transparent film spreads with me as the center in an instant.
“Haah…haaah…Hikaru…? Are you there…? For some reason, my leg hurts. What’s going on? It is so dark…I can’t see where my potion is…” (Rifreya)
“Sorry, I will brighten it up at once.” (Hikaru)
I undo Darkness Fog. Rifreya looked at me and made a relieved expression.
But her already white face was whiter than usual.
Rifreya groaning in a pool of blood overlapped with my last sight of Nanami, and my heart was beating to a noisy degree.
Even though I myself am not injured, my whole body was trembling as if it were paralyzed, and strength was leaving me.
I took out all the potions I had in my Shadow Storage and used them on the wound, but it simply stopped the bleeding temporarily, and there was barely any point.
Profuse hemorrhage; clearly a fatal wound.
My head understands this, and yet, the sight of the bloodstained groaning Rifreya was taking away my composure.
I hadn’t properly taken into account the possibility of a situation like this.
I was naive.
I have been thinking about how it was okay for me to be hurt…
I had gotten conceited.
I managed to get all the way here without dying, so I was underestimating this, thinking that it would work out somehow.
I was fine even when diving into the 3rd Floor alone.
Even when diving into the 4th Floor, I was fine.
That’s why it would work out somehow with the Demon Lord too. I might have come to that conclusion unconsciously.
More importantly, I can become number 1 if I encounter the Demon Lord. I ended up choosing that without even being properly aware of the risks.
I didn’t think of the risk of waiting in the stairs of the 4th Floor. I didn’t think of the risk of there being only the two of us. I didn’t even see the obvious reality that I myself am weak.
Blood drained from my whole body.
This is the result I invited with my own naivety.
With my trembling hand that didn’t even feel like my own, I brought out a robe from the Shadow Storage, and tied it tightly around the thigh of Rifreya to stop the bleeding.
I must stop the bleeding first and foremost or we won’t be going anywhere.
“Rifreya, why did you do something that reckless? There’s no need for us to defeat that, so there was no need to push it. We just had to think about the time.” (Hikaru)
I speak to her with feign composure in order to not bring any distress to her.
The rope used to stop the bleeding seemed like it barely worked, but it is still a situation where the conclusion approaches.
Should I wait for someone with healing abilities to come…?
No, there’s no time for that.
“…Didn’t you say so, Hikaru…? …That this is for the sake of bringing back your childhood friend… That you had to stand out…to become the number one…” (Rifreya)
“That’s true, but there’s no need to push yourself for that! It would be for nothing if you die.” (Hikaru)
“Haaah…haaah… But if you become first…you might have said it was thanks to me that you got first…and maybe you would let me stay by your side from here on… I am an idiot, so…I just don’t know. But if you became number one…you said you would do anything…I told you…” (Rifreya)
It was almost hazy rambling. Rifreya was repeating those words over and over.
I cornered her. I was in my own bubble with my own circumstances, and I didn’t properly think about her feelings. I even neglected to tell her that I would be able to reach what I wished for if I just worked a bit harder myself.
“The one who is an idiot…is me.” (Hikaru)
“…If I could be by your side…I didn’t need anything more… If I defeated the Demon Lord…you can be number one, right…? When that happened…I thought for sure you would love me back…be together forever… That’s…the only thing I could think of…” (Rifreya)
I don’t know what would be the right response here.
Even if I were to explain to her that we are being watched, or about viewership, there’s no way that Rifreya would have understood being born in a world without even TVs.
Even though I understood that…
In her lacking understanding of this, the answer she came up with was to answer my expectations even more than ever before.
If she were to show how extremely useful she is as an essential direct attack member, she thought my feelings would change…
“…Just you wait. This is but a scratch. You will be okay.” (Hikaru)
Maybe because it was a wound she got while she had the adrenaline from the battle, it seems like she at least doesn’t feel the pain.
…No, she already might be in a state where she can’t feel pain. I can’t really tell between those two.
The gaze of Rifreya is hazy, and I can’t tell if she is looking here or isn’t seeing anything at all.
It was flickering feebly to the point that it made me uneasy when the light would go out.
She was repeating over and over as if in a delirium ‘If he gets first place…’ and it stabbed at my heart.
No matter how beautifully I decorate it, I used her.
In order to get 1st place.
And this is the result.
The red blood is the same as the one Nanami spilled.
Even if it is a parallel world, it is not like people bleed blue, and it is not odorless like in games.
The red of the blood that was sticking on my hand, her pale smiling face, rough and faint breathing, intense heartbeat…
They were all increasing the contrast of the world and telling me…
That this is reality. That what’s here is everything.
(What am I doing…?) (Hikaru)
I hid in the darkness to protect my heart, but my heart was still left behind on Earth.
The me in this world was something else aside from myself, and the real me must have been watching from above somewhere this whole time. Somewhere in me, I thought that this is not reality…that this isn’t happening.
That’s why I could do any reckless thing. I thought it was fine to even die.
The world I was spectating from above was unrealistic, and my only reality was that Nanami died.
That’s why I wasn’t looking at it straight.
At this world.
At this reality in front of me.
At this girl who saved me countless times….
And even at myself…
“It is okay, Rifreya. I will heal you at once. Just wait.” (Hikaru)
“O-…Okay. I am fine…” (Rifreya)
There’s no way you are fine. I don’t know if this is just her acting tough, or if she has always been acting tough. I don’t understand anything.
What’s certain right now is that there’s no time.
The heat that’s draining steadily from her.
Her right leg that looked like it had become an ornament was practically severed, and it would be impossible to heal it with normal means…with potions or scrolls that can be exchanged with Crystals.
I held Rifreya’s body as if hugging her while moving my irritatingly trembling finger to open the Status Board.
I have zero Points.
I only have a few dozen Crystals.
…There’s no means to heal her wound.
The aiding means that God readied. There’s nothing other than that.
That was in a slightly deep part of the Status Board.
<<Will you get a loan in Points? You can get a maximum of 3 Points in advance.>>
The aiding mechanism of God: Point Loan.
…Of course, there’s demerits.
But I chose the 3 Points without hesitation.
<<Will you get 3 Points in advance? YES/NO>>
I push the YES.
<<Warning! When you get Points in advance, you won’t be able to use anything aside from the Points you have gotten in advance until you have paid them back in full. YES/NO>>
I push YES.
<<Warning! When you get a loan in Points, it will be taken as you forfeiting from the current campaign, the 1st Viewer Count Race. YES/NO>>
That’s right. This is the demerit. I have currently gotten all the way to 1st place in the Real Time Ranking of the Viewer Count Race. If I push this button, that effort will disappear into nothing.
At the same time, it means that I would lose my means to revive Nanami forever.
Of course, it is not like I am putting the life of Rifreya on a scale.
And yet, I was disgusted with myself for even hesitating for a second there.
“Hikaru…where are you…? I…have failed, right? Run away, Hikaru… If you hadn’t saved me back then…I would have died anyways…” (Rifreya)
Rifreya mutters as if in a trance with trembling lips.
Her eyes had lost their light, and were powerlessly searching for me.
“I am here. I am right here now. Properly by your side, Rifreya.” (Hikaru)
“Fufu…you are so weird…” (Rifreya)
“Sorry, I had you face so much pain because of my mistake. But I will heal you at once. Don’t worry.” (Hikaru)
There’s white meat peeking from the almost split thigh of Rifreya.
There’s no way the bleeding would stop from a mere rope, and blood was spilling out endlessly, dyeing the ground red.
It wouldn’t be strange for her to die at any moment from the shock.
And if she dies…
Her body would be lost forever, and she would turn into a stone that doesn’t tell any stories.
“I know… I know…!” (Hikaru)
I shout to no one in particular as I press the YES in the Status Board. And then, I tap the High Heal Scroll from the item list that costs 3 Points.
The ‘1st place’ that I could glance at in the Viewer Count Race had changed into ‘Forfeit’.
I made Rifreya hold the scroll that had appeared at the same time as that happened.
“Rifreya, open the seal of this. By yourself. Now.” (Hikaru)
“…Eh? Hikaru… Where…? I can’t tell…” (Rifreya)
“Aah, geez. Like this. You just have to pull the string here.” (Hikaru)
I put my hand on hers while supporting her body with mine from the back.
“…Okay. Like this…?” (Rifreya)
With her fingers that had mostly lost their strength, she somehow managed to break the seal of the scroll.
…At that instant.
The scroll burned in blue flames, and the body of Rifreya was enveloped in gentle light.
“Ah…aah… Wa… Hikaru…what’s this…?” (Rifreya)
“I am glad I made it in time. It is…alright now.” (Hikaru)
Her leg that was on the verge of being severed by the fangs or the claws of the Demon Lord was slowly but surely being restored to its original state.
At the same time, the color of her face was returning.
I am glad I have used the High Heal Scroll before.
If I hadn’t used it before, I might not have been able to act as fast as I did now.
Strength left me from the relief, and sweat came flowing out like a waterfall at this point in time.
It was close.
If the Demon Lord’s attack was a bit deeper, or if the hit had been on her body and not her leg, she wouldn’t have survived.
After a few minutes, the body of Rifreya returned to how it was.
Only the pool of blood remaining there was proof that she had received a fatal injury.
The Demon Lord couldn’t find us who were inside the barrier, and was repeatedly howling.
The voice coming from that big frame probably reaches the whole floor.
With that, the other explorers will be able to find it and subjugate it…or will be able to buy time. Our fight against the Demon Lord hasn’t ended yet.
However…our…no, my battle has ended.
Author Note: For information about the Point Loan, refer to chapter 26 or 48.