Accel World:Volume 1 Chapter 7
Haruyuki’s broken consciousness could only remember what happened afterwards in images of three colors.
The image of that slender form, lying on the brick tiles of the side walk and bent unnaturally—black.
The image of blood spreading out in fearfully large amounts under that body—red.
The image of those still closed eyelids, and of those cheeks which had lost their complexion—white.
The necktie Haruyuki used to stop the bleeding and his own hand were also dyed red in an instant.
The clothes of Araya, who crawled out from the driver’s seat of the white car, which had crashed into the wall of a store while laughing manically, were also red.
A patrol car came with its red lights flashing rushed onto the scene, and the still laughing Araya was forced into its backseat.
Immediately afterwards, a white ambulance with likewise red-flashing lights also arrived and the men in white who got off of it fixed Kuroyukihime onto a stretcher. At his urging, Haruyuki also rode with them and the ambulance had started driving at high speed—.
And now, Haruyuki was looking up at the ER’s red in-operation lamp in a corner of a white hallway.
Until now, Haruyuki couldn’t think about what had happened before.
The only thing that was floating in his mind was a replay of every moment over the past four days since he met Kuroyukihime.
That time too—that time too, and that time as well, Haruyuki should have been able to make different choices.
And if he had chosen that instead, this situation could have been avoided.
Why didn’t he try to believe even a little in the hand that Kuroyukihime extended towards him, and the feelings she showed? If he had obediently accepted it without obstinately looking down, that quarrel between them on the road wouldn’t have happened and they should have been able to notice the approaching car as well.
…Among all the mistakes I’ve repeated so many times in my life until now, I’ve made the number-one mistake that can’t be undone.
Haruyuki went back to every crossroad among each fragment of his broken consciousness and tried to do down a different future one by one, but even Brain Burst couldn’t change the past.
He continued doing that for who knew how long as he gazed up at the lamp.
The lamp indicated that they were still in the middle of operating, but suddenly the door slid open and a female nurse came out. Haruyuki simply looked at that form in a white gown as she then approached straight towards him.
She was a young nurse who seemed like she had just graduated from nursing school. As he faced her, who showed a strained expression under her beautifully arranged bangs, words flowed out almost of their own accord from Haruyuki’s mouth.
“The doctor and all the staff are doing their best.”
The nurse’s voice was slightly hoarse and stiff.
“But…She has too many damaged organs. We fully injected repair-use micro-machines, and the deterioration of her conditions has somehow been delayed. And…that’s right, about her family…we’d like to contact them, but there wasn’t an emergency contact address registered in her Neuro Linker.”
Sitting next to Haruyuki who was at a loss for words, the nurse leaned forward and continued from there.
“I thought that you would know her home’s telephone number. You’re…her…?”
There was a questioning note at the end, but Haruyuki didn’t respond at once.
What am I for that person? A chess piece, an underling. I don’t want to use those kinds of words anymore. But now, I also don’t want to refer to us as friends, or as senpai and kouhai.
Hesitating to speak, Haruyuki heard the words the nurse spoke after a moment’s pause, and unconsciously looked up.
“…her boyfriend, right?”
“Eh…W-Why do you say that?”
Looking at the beauty of Kuroyukihime, which had miraculously not been damaged, and the physical appearance of Haruyuki, there shouldn’t have been anything for her do draw such a conclusion from.
As Haruyuki reflexively shrunk his body, he was quietly presented a small notebook.
Stamped with a metal emblem on its blue synthetic leather cover, it was the Umesato Middle School’s student handbook.
“I saw it just now when I was looking for her phone number and confirming her personal effects. I’m sorry.”
Wearing just a slight smile on her stiffened cheeks, the nurse opened the student handbook to the last page.
In the clear pocket on the left side, there was a student ID with a face-shot of Kuroyukihime.
And on the right side, there was a familiar round face.
Receiving the notebook with trembling hands, Haruyuki gazed at a picture of himself wearing an idiotic expression on his face. From that time—It was without a doubt the sight-capture picture she printed, from when he heard Kuroyukihime’s first «confession» to him in the lounge.
With a dripping noise, a single drop of water fell onto the surface of the picture.
Haruyuki hadn’t noticed that tears had been overflowing from his eyes for a while now.
His murmuring voice trembled greatly. It didn’t take long for him to dissolve into crying like a child.
Holding the notebook to his chest and bending forward, Haruyuki cried.
The tears flooded out one after another, and fell along his cheeks and onto the floor. Within the gouging-like pain his chest, Haruyuki found for the first time, in this moment now, his true feelings.
The operation continued for nearly five hours.
When the time indicator in the corner of his vision changed from evening to late night, Haruyuki simply sent a text mail saying “My friend was involved in an accident today, tonight I will return very late or not at all”, and then simply returned to sitting on the chair.
Kuroyukihime’s home seemed to have been contacted through the school, but surprisingly, instead of her family, only a family lawyer appeared by himself.
Equipped with large-type Neuro Linker and also like a machine himself, the middle-aged lawyer completed only the legal procedures in a very business-like manner, and then went away after about fifteen minutes without even casting a glance at Haruyuki.
After a long, long time pass, the red lamp was finally extinguished at around 10 PM.
The young doctor, who came out in an utterly exhausted state, looked a little confused at seeing Haruyuki alone in the hallway outside, but he still explained her condition in a polite tone.
They had succeeded in stopping the bleeding, but the damage to the internal organs was extensive, and it wouldn’t be strange for her to fall into a state of shock.
The batch of synthetic protein micro-machines were going through tissue reconstruction and assimilation at full power, but in the end it depended on the patient’s physical strength.
“…In short, I have to say that her present condition is serious. The next twelve hours will be the difficult part…Please prepare yourself.”
When he finished saying that with a grave expression, the doctor left the hallway along with the staff.
The only person left was the female nurse from before.
Giving a brief glance to the student handbook still being grasped in Haruyuki’s hands, the nurse spoke in a gentle tone.
“You should also…return home and rest. It seems that someone from her family will be coming tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow…will be too late.”
Haruyuki replied with a stubborn attitude that showed that he had no intention taking even one step away from this place.
“The doctor said that the next twelve hours would be the hard part. Even though senpai is doing her best, that no one would be at her side now, that’s just…too cruel.”
“……I see…That’s true. Did you contact your home?”
“Yes…My parent won’t be returning until around one o’clock anyway.”
“I understand. Then, I’ll bring you a blanket, please wait a moment.”
Leaving for the nurses’ station within the hallway with quick feet and then returning immediately, the nurse nodded firmly while handing a thin blanket to Haruyuki.
“Don’t worry. That girl will surely be all right. She’s so pretty…and has such a nice boyfriend like you. The fun things, it all starts from here.”
Really—so many more things are “all starting from here” than you think. Defeating «Cyan Pile», taking down the legions of the other Kings, and going to the place that person is aiming towards. Of course, I will also go with her.
While instantaneously thinking that, Haruyuki spoke.
“Th…Thank you very much. Umm…when can I meet with senpai?”
“It’s impossible right now, since the micro-machine operation room has been air-sealed. But, you can see camera images of her via the hospital network. For this time only, a special privilege for you.”
The nurse smiled, and manipulated her fingertip in the air. At the same time as she made a flicking gesture, an access gate appeared in Haruyuki’s vision.
Haruyuki was a little surprised that he could wirelessly connect with the nurse’s Neuro Linker even though they were cut-off from the Global Net, but he quickly realized that they were connected through the hospital’s local network.
When he clicked on the icon, a video window was opened. The screen was dim and blurry, but by straining his eyes he noticed a bed with a strange shape in the middle.
It seemed to be a capsule with only its top-half transparent. A semi-transparent liquid filled its interior, and he could see a white body down to the shoulders soaking inside it.
The tubes that were connected to the arms and mouth were painful to look at, and the eyelids remained closed without even a flutter.
Right now, inside that delicate body, countless micro-machines and her life-force were fighting against huge damage. Haruyuki could do nothing to help in that battle. There was nothing he could do, but pray.
“Don’t worry. She’ll definitely be saved.”
The nurse repeated that again, and after gently patting Haruyuki’s back, she got up.
“Since her condition is being monitored in detail, we’ll come right away if something happens. You should rest a little too.”
“Yes. Ah…umm, thank you very much.”
As Haruyuki thanked the nurse who was departing and lowered his head—
As he looked at the video window displayed on the right side of his vision, he unexpectedly felt unease over a certain place within it. His intuition, polished by his enormous virtual game experience, was whispering that there was something he should be seeing, something he should be thinking about.
What—What did I see just now?
Kuroyukihime’s body was naked above the shoulders. But, she was still wearing something.
She was sunk in semi-transparent liquid, so he couldn’t see it well, but—that black thing behind her neck was a Neuro Linker. And, directly connecting to it was a single thin cable. It extended outside the bed parallel to an oxygen tube, and connected to a large machine on the side.
“Pl…Please wait a moment.”
Stopping quickly, the nurse tilted her head while looking back at him.
“No, umm…Kuro, no, senpai’s Neuro Linker, it’s still equipped, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Since we’re monitoring her brain waves.”
“Then, umm…that machine connected to it by cable isn’t stand-alone…?”
“Of course not, it’s connected to the hospital’s network.”
Seeing Haruyuki lose his breath, the nurse put on a quizzical expression and smiled as if to make him relieved.
“What’s wrong, are you worried about the security? Don’t worry, the medical-treatment level of the hospital’s network has amazingly tough protective firewalls. There isn’t a hacker that can do anything bad to that girl.”
As he watched the back of the nurse, who was waving her hand with a “See you later then” and disappearing into the nurses’ station, Haruyuki replied back in his mind as if groaning.
—Normally, that would be true. But, “that” isn’t normal. “That”, which can easily invade the social security camera network that should be equipped with the strongest firewalls in the country, and can steal real time images…
Only Brain Burst could.
Now alone in the hallway, Haruyuki sat down with a thud while holding the blanket in his left hand.
Kuroyukihime’s Neuro Linker was completely severed from the Global Net. However, due to the direct connecting for the sake of treatment, she was connected to the hospital’s network. —In other words.
Haruyuki murmured with a trembling voice.
Instantly, all sound and the world froze.
Standing up in his pig avatar form, Haruyuki clicked on the flaming B mark from among the icons lined up on the virtual desktop on his left with feelings of praying.
The Brain Burst console activated and the matching list opened.
Following the Searching indicator, the name «Silver Crow» appeared at the top of the list.
And, placed just a little below it was—the name «Black Lotus».
If he operated his Neuro Linker and disconnected from the hospital’s network, he could disappear from the matching list. But, Kuroyukihime, whose brain waves were being monitored, couldn’t do that.
Of course, they weren’t connected to the Global Net, so people couldn’t limitlessly intrude from the outside. But, if there was a Burst Linker in this hospital—and if they activated Brain Burst, saw «Black Lotus» and challenged her to a duel—
The unconscious Kuroyukihime would without a doubt be hunted.
No, it couldn’t be so convenient, there was no reason for a Burst Linker to be in the same hospital. At this hour, there shouldn’t be anyone going in and out of the hospital anymore, and if there were a Burst Linker besides Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime currently connected to the hospital’s network, their name would also have to appear on the matching list.
So there’s no need to be impatient.
Haruyuki tried to tell himself that. However, the sweaty feeling running over his avatar’s round hands didn’t go away at all.
No—not yet. I’m still overlooking something.
What if…there was a Burst Linker who was in a position to know that «Black Lotus», Accel World’s largest bounty, had sustained serious injuries and was hospitalized, and would even know which hospital she was in?
After trying to keep thinking that “There couldn’t be such a person”, Haruyuki opened his eyes wide along with a profound shudder.
There was. There was just one such enemy. «Cyan Pile».
A mysterious enemy whose true identity could only be traced through the virus they had put in Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker. At this point, it could only be said that they were someone at Umesato Middle School.
And Kuroyukihime’s accident had already been notified to the school. When the cause was Araya driving and plunging a car without a license into her immediately after being bailed, this was already big news. By now, this topic would without a doubt be coursing through the gossip network of the Umesato Middle School students.
The hospital she was staying at wouldn’t be specified yet. If her admirers from among the lower-year female students or her fan club members knew about her hospital destination, they would be rushing through here in throngs by now.
But—the teachers would already know. Like that, it was just a matter of time before it spread among the students. If well-wishing students were to appear in great numbers and «Cyan Pile» was mixed in among them, picking him out would be difficult.
Haruyuki dropped his shoulders crestfallenly, and sat next to his blue frozen real self.
Kuroyukihime was fighting for her life right now. Considering that, it was a fact that she wouldn’t be able to fight in «duel» yet.
Fortunately, challenging the same opponent to a duel was limited to once a day. Until Kuroyukihime’s condition recovered, it would be alright if she was defeated once or twice and lost some points—
No—idiot me!! What did Kuroyukihime say back then!?
Haruyuki clenched both his fists, and stood up with a rush.
The final command she used to save Haruyuki, «Physical Full Burst».
The compensation for using that transcendental effect, which accelerated not just one’s consciousness but also the physical body, was the loss of 99% of one’s Burst Points.
Most likely, if the current Kuroyukihime, whose Burst Points were on the verge of annihilation, were to lose even once against the lower-level «Cyan Pile», her Burst Points would become zero all too quickly.
And at that instant, Kuroyukihime’s Brain Burst would be forcibly uninstalled.
To that person…to Kuroyukihime, who kept fighting just to struggle to reach the goal of Level 10, that was nearly synonymous with death.
I can’t allow that to happen, I absolutely won't let just that happen. I can’t allow «Cyan Pile» to battle Kuroyukihime even once.
Kuroyukihime risked her life to protect me.
That’s why this time, I’ll protect it. That person’s other half.
From this moment on, I’ll watch the hospital’s entrance without a wink of sleep. With the resolution to consume all my points if I have to, I’ll accelerate every time an Umesato student appears, find «Cyan Pile» and challenge him.
And then—I’ll beat him. I’ll beat that guy who’s on the verge of exhausting his points and banish him from Accel World eternally.
“I’ll protect you. I’ll definitely protect you.”
In the blue world where there was only himself, Haruyuki spoke out.
“Because…I…I have something I have to say to you. When we meet again. That’s why, this time, I’ll fight.”
Turning his eyes towards the direction of Kuroyukihime, who should be laying on the other side of the blue wall in front of him, Haruyuki declared that firmly.
Returning to reality by giving the Burst Out command, Haruyuki hugged his knees and sat down sideways on the bench, wrapped the blanket around his body and stared fixedly on the entrance to the left inside the hallway.
There were other entrances within the hospital, but one had to authenticate their Neuro Linker at this entrance in order to connect to the hospital’s network. So «Cyan Pile» should definitely appear there.
The time was half-past ten at night.
The chances of them appearing at this hour, when visiting hours had already passed, was low, but the enemy was also cornered right now. If they aimed at Kuroyukihime while she was in an unconscious state, they could certainly start attacking as soon as they learned the name of the hospital.
Haruyuki operated his Neuro Linker and set the awakening alarm at the highest volume. With this, if he was close to falling asleep, it would ring at a practically deadly level of noise and wake him up.
This was the first time in Haruyuki’s life that he stayed up to such a late hour at night.
However, he never found himself bored, let alone sleepy. Haruyuki kept turning his wide-open eyes to the dim light of the entrance most of the time, and occasionally glanced at the miniaturized video window of the ER.
The white form of Kuroyukihime lying in the capsule bed didn’t even twitch, but Haruyuki distinctly felt that she was going through a desperate battle there.
Do your best. Do your best.
Every time Haruyuki looked at the video, he prayed that inside his heart. He and that person were connected through their respective Neuro Linkers, the hospital’s network and also the Brain Burst program. That’s why his prayer should surely be answered. Haruyuki unquestionably believed that.
Around 2 AM, the worried-face nurse came with a paper cup of coffee to see how he was doing. Declining milk and sugar, the taste of the black coffee he drank for the first time in his life was so bitter that it stung his tongue.
At 5 AM, the first light of dawn shined through the entrance slightly. After hesitating briefly, Haruyuki dashed to the toilet and then returned full circle to the bench after coming out in the shortest time in his life.
6 AM. As the staff who came and went on this floor increased here and there, Haruyuki strengthened his vigilance even more.
7 AM. The night duty staff that had finished their work were going home one after another. That nurse handed another cup of coffee and a sandwich, and then left as well while leaving warm words to him.
After the late night staff at the reception desk had been changed, the automatic door of the hospital's front entrance opened.
As if they had been waiting for that, several people, mainly elderly patients, came through the entrance.
Feeling more alert than before, Haruyuki opened both his eyes fully and stared fixedly at the flow of patients.
Even if one said that already half a year had passed since he entered school and that it was a small-scale school with only three classes per grade, he couldn’t remember the faces of all the students at Umesato as expected. When he saw the faces of young people he was uncertain of, he didn’t hesitate to accelerate and check the matching list.
As he continuously strained his concentration, the digit of the digital time indicator in the corner of Haruyuki’s vision slowly, slowly changed, seeming to laugh at him.
Thirty-five minutes. Forty minutes.
Kuroyukihime hadn’t gotten out of her serious condition yet. Of the twelve hours the doctor had told him, more than ten hours had already passed.
Please regain consciousness quickly. And release the cerebral monitor.
Haruyuki desperately prayed.
Once more—once more, I want to me that person in the accelerated world for just the two of us.
And I’ll say it this time. My feelings. I’ll speak honestly from the bottom of my heart.
At last, Haruyuki saw a face that was familiar before his eyes for the first time since he became vigilant.
For an instant, his breath was caught—and then, he let it back out without a long sigh of relief.
That face wasn’t just familiar. It was one of the two faces he had seen for the longest time in this world.
That tall and slender figure with good posture was wrapped in mature velour’s jacket and chino-pants. His hair, which had an airy feeling, shined a transparent brown in the morning light.
So he came…
Haruyuki removed the tension from his shoulders and smiled a little.
“Hey, Taku! Over here!”
As Haruyuki overly loud shout passed through the hospital from the hallway to the entrance, Takumu—Mayuzumi Takumu suddenly stopped his right leg while stepping forward.
It seemed that he hadn’t noticed Haruyuki yet. His eyes turned left and right from the furthest inside the entrance, and then finally turned straight towards the hallway that was connected to the emergency room.
He made eye contact with Haruyuki who had gotten off the bench and waving his hand, and then—
Takumu inclined his head a little, and blinked intensely several time.
And then, he gave his usual bright and cheerful smile.
After quickly raising the right arm of his navy-blue jacket, he tapped his blue Neuro Linker with his finger.
‘Wait until I’ve been authenticated by the hospital’s network’, is what Haruyuki immediately guessed from that. At the same time, he smiled, thinking ‘What a methodical guy as usual’.
Regardless of whether the goal of visiting the hospital was for a check-up or to visit a patient, it was a national regulation in all hospitals that one must sign in their Neuro Linker to the hospital’s network while walking through the entrance, and then show one’s ID at the reception desk and get a name tag.
However, one has to stand and wait at the entrance for only thirty seconds until the strict authentication is finished, so there’s not much difference if one saves time by moving while it does so. Actually, when Haruyuki came here last night, he didn’t stop running even for a moment until he reached the front of the ER, so the authentication had ended after Kuroyukihime had disappeared to the other side of the door.
But it seemed that Takumu didn’t intend to commit even that kind of trivial violation of regulations. Even while looking at Haruyuki with a frustrated face, he stood in the middle of the entrance and waited for the sign-in completion.
Then, as if he suddenly noticed something, Takumu turned his body to the side.
His eyes turned to the direction of the automatic door, and he put his left hand over his mouth as if he were calling out to someone in a loud voice.
As Haruyuki thought ‘Did Chiyuri also come?’, he also tried to look through to the other side of the front entrance.
Just before his gaze left Takumu. A faint uneasiness came upon him.
Takumu, who had good conduct unlike Haruyuki, was shouting inside a hospital?
Rather using his hand in place of a megaphone, it was as if—his mouth. And the words he was issuing from there.
To Haruyuki, it seemed like he was trying to hide them.
At that instant, the uneasiness changed into a shudder. A needle of ice pierced straight through Haruyuki’s spine.
Even as his eyes widened and he stood upright, several thoughts flashed through his mind at the same time.
I—Why did I conclude that that guy, that «Cyan Pile», was a student at Umesato Middle School?
Of course, because he put that virus in Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker. Because he was using Chiyuri as a stepping stone, and attacking Kuroyukihime like a ghost from somewhere within the school’s local network.
But. What if he made that Backdoor for the sake of accessing it from the Global Net? In that case, the suspects wouldn’t be limited to within Umesato Middle School, but extend across the entire country.
However, at the same time, a new filter to narrow the suspects down appeared.
Why Chiyuri? Of course, because she was within easy contact for him.
Someone outside the school, who is the closest to Chiyuri. Someone so close to her side, that he could direct connect to Chiyuri’s Neuro Linker. There was only one person who fit these conditions. Someone who, right this instant, was standing just twenty meters in front of him—
The instant his thoughts reach that point, Haruyuki’s mouth moved automatically and sent the command.
—The boy who was both Chiyuri’s childhood friend and boyfriend. Takumu.
A cold and dry froze the world.
Ahead of him, Takumu, with his left hand in front of his mouth, hardened into blue.
But, that wasn’t true. Within that palm, Takumu was also reciting the command at the same time. And his consciousness was being accelerated in a different frozen space from Haruyuki.
You? It was you? No way. Impossible. Why. Why?
Even while he made incoherent shouts in his mind, the right hand of Haruyuki’s avatar flashed to the top of the virtual desktop at the highest possible speed.
Right at this instant, Takumu should also be doing the same thing. Activating the Brain Burst console, and waiting for the update of the matching list. And then, like touching a dropped fruit, he would click on the name «Black Lotus» and challenge her to a duel.
Before that happened, Haruyuki had to challenge «Cyan Pile».
Haruyuki clenched his teeth, opened his eyes wide, and stare at the searching indicator of the matching list.
With a ping, there was his own name at the top. «Silver Crow».
Next, the beloved person he had to protect. «Black Lotus».
And then last, the name of the enemy he had to defeat finally appeared as a real string of characters for the first time before Haruyuki’s eyes. «Cyan Pile».
Be in time————!!
While sending out that scream with all his body and soul, Haruyuki clicked the name at super-speed and hit the duel command from the window with a pop.