Sword Art Online:Volume 3 Chapter 4
Watching Kirito fight, Lyfa was half-awed and half-stunned.
They were in the skies over the expanse of Ancient Forest in northeastern Sylph territory; a little further and they would pass into the vicinity of the plateau. Sylvain was already so far behind them that no matter how much you strained your eyes, the jade tower could not be seen.
They were pushing through the depths of the so-called neutral zone, so the spawned monsters were powerful and considerably high-leveled. Kirito was currently fighting three one-eyed winged-lizard monsters, «Evil Glancer», simultaneously. Their strength was about equal to the boss monsters of lower level dungeons in Sylph territory.
Besides their basic strength, the real trouble was that their big, purple eyes could release the «Evil Eye» attack – a type of curse magic that would significantly reduce one's stats for a period of time when it hit. Lyfa was maintaining her distance and acting as a support role. Whenever a curse hit Kirito, Lyfa would incant the counter spell, but honestly whether or not the need existed was up in the air.
To Kirito who gripped the greatsword reaching near his height, the words defense and evasion did not exist in his dictionary; and as if to display this berserk style, the lizards were dropped one after another. He simply didn't care about the likes of the lizards' tails' long-distance attacks; as he swung the greatsword while charging, many lizards would be caught in the gale at once, getting hewed into little pieces. With the terrible might of the blows, what was at first five lizards had diminished to one just like that. The last one tried to run away at around 20% HP. It let out a pitiable scream as it sought to take refuge in the forest, but Lyfa raised her left hand, activating a long range homing-type vacuum magic. Four or five boomerang-like blades made of green light quickly caught up to the lizard and cut it to shreds. Shortly afterward, the blue reptile's large body scattered into blue polygons of light, signalling the quick end of the fifth fight of the day.
A large metallic sound accompanied the sheathing of the sword, Lyfa raised her right hand as she saw Kirito lightly approaching in the air.
"Thanks for the cover—"
Their hands met in a high-five, and the two exchanged smiles.
"But how should I describe it... your combat style is just so reckless."
Hearing Lyfa say that, Kirito scratched his head.
"I-Is that so?"
"Generally, it is a good idea to use hit and run tactics for evasion, but you just hit and hit!"
"In return we can finish faster, so isn't it fine?"
"That might work in situations with similar monsters like today, but not if you run into a group of monsters with a combination of melee and long-range types, for example. If we end up fighting a player party they will definitely use magic so you have to be careful."
"Magic—? Can't I just avoid it?"
"There are many types of long-range magic; for power-type magic that go straight, you can read its direction to avoid it, but for homing and area attack magic that's impossible. In the case that there is a mage that uses these types of magic, you have to always maintain a high speed and time your direction changes."
"Hmmm.... Seems like there is a lot to remember."
Kirito scratched his head with a face like that of a child given a difficult set of problems to solve.
"Well, if it's you then you should be able to catch on quickly...I think. You seem to have very good intuition and sharp eyes after all. Do you do sports or something in real life?"
"N-no, not at all."
"Hmm.... Well, okay. Let's get moving."
They nodded to each other, then started beating their wings and resumed movement. Under the setting sun, the golden-green grasslands were beginning to emerge beyond the forest.
Without encountering any monsters after that, the two finally got out of Ancient Forest and entered the mountain area. Just as they neared the limit of their flight time, they descended onto a meadow's edge at the foot of a mountain.
As her soles slid on the grass while landing, Lyfa lifted both of her arms and took a big stretch. Even though the real body doesn't have such limbs, the base of the wings feels mysteriously fatigued after long flights. A few seconds later, Kirito also landed and was similarly hitting his straightened back.
"Fufu, tired yet?"
"Nope, still not yet!"
"Okay, let's do our best. ...Is what I want to say, but we're going to have to postpone the aerial travel for a while."
Kirito raised his eyebrows at Lyfa's remark.
"Do you see that mountain?"
Lyfa pointed to the far end of the meadow, towards the towering, snow-peaked mountains.
"Flying is restricted by a height limit. We cannot fly higher than that mountain, so we have to pass through a cave tunneled through the mountain range. That seems to be the most dangerous place when traveling from Sylph territory to Aarun. I'm not sure because this is my first time here too."
"I see.... This tunnel, is it long?"
"Considerably, but there is a neutral mining town in the middle, and we should be able to rest there. Kirito-kun, until what time are you still okay?"
Kirito summoned the menu window with his left hand, checked the clock, and nodded.
"The real time right now is seven-o'-clock at night, I'm fine for now."
"I see, then let's try for a bit longer then. We should 'Rotate Out' once here."
"Ah, we take turns to logout and rest. Because this is a neutral zone, we can not logout instantly. Therefore, one person will logout while the other defends the avatar when it falls into the soulless state."
"I see, understood. Lyfa, please go first."
"Well then, I'll gladly accept your kind offer. I'll be in your care for about 20 minutes!"
Finished, Lyfa brought up the window and pressed the logout button. When she touched the warning message's YES button, the surrounding landscape streamed into a central point and disappeared.
Sitting straight up in bed after waking up, Suguha removed the Amusphere and jumped out of bed. Quietly running down the stairs, Suguha confirmed that the first floor was empty. The magazine's final proofreading day was nearing so Midori had not returned home yet, and Kazuto was probably in his room, so the first floor was silent.
Opening the refrigerator, Suguha took out two bagels, ham, cream cheese, and vegetables one after another. Quickly slicing the round bread in half, she spread a thin layer of mustard, added the ham, inserted the rest, and then transferred the completed bagel sandwich to a plate. After she poured some milk into a small milk pan and put it on the stove, Suguha went to the stairs, and facing the second floor, shouted:
"Onii-chan, do you want something to eat?"
...But there was no answer. He must be asleep, she shrugged her shoulders as she returned to the kitchen. She poured the now-steaming milk into a mug and took it to the living room table with the plate. After all of ninety seconds, she finished her dinner. Placing the dishes into the washing machine, she ran into the bathroom. Even if it was the virtual world, if you did intense fighting, you would sweat due to stress. After a long dive she started to feel sticky if she didn't wash and change clothes.
Suguha took off her clothes and jumped into the shower at supersonic speed, warm water slowly dripping through the shower head.
In fact, if she played VRMMO too much so that it interfered with eating and bathing, or if she ordered takeout, her mother Midori would scold her, so she tried not to join long party events. However, this time she couldn't do so. She would probably travel with Kirito tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow if it went badly. Maybe due to her personality, Suguha couldn't stand long duration parties, when the day changed she would feel uncomfortable, but for some mysterious reason it didn't happen this time. In this case...
...She was very excited.
Suguha thought as she closed her eyes and felt the soothing touch of the hot water on her skin.
Opening her eyes, her black pupils stared back from within the mirror before her. Within them, there was a mix of excitement and slight unease.
The physique of the real Suguha was by no means big for a kendo practitioner, even so when compared to the wind spirit Sylph, Lyfa, she was obviously big-boned. Her shoulders, stomach and her thighs, whenever she moved them, the line of the muscles seemed to stand out, on top of that she felt that her chest had grown alot recently.
This body has a real feel to it, but deep in my heart there is conflict growing. Suguha closed her eyes again.
...It did not particularly mean that she had become fond of him. It was not about having someone to adventure together... just that, flying in a new world was fun.
That seemed to be muttered in her heart, but that wasn't for the sake of convincing herself, there was truth in it.
Thinking back, she had such a feeling everyday in the past.
As she grew stronger, little by little her field of activities expanded; just flying in the sky of an unknown land made her heart throb. However, as she was raised to the role of a prominent senior player within the Sylph territory, her knowledge and obligations simultaneously increased too. Before she knew it, she was buried within the habits of everyday life. The said duty of battling for the sake of the entire race was holding her wings with invisible chains.
Players in ALO who abandoned their territory were called «Renegades», the English meaning of «Apostates». Those who discarded their obligation after obtaining them, those who are under pressure by their country, until now gave the impression that they are traitors, might have some kind of pride in their heart.
With her mind still thinking about them, she washed her hair and body quickly then rinsed away the foam. Removing the dry towel from the hatch on the wall, she used the control panel next to it, and a burst of warm air blew out from the slits in the ceiling. When her hair was mostly dry, she wrapped her body with a towel and went to the living room. Looking at the clock, there were less than three minutes before the agreed time limit.
She wrapped up the remaining bagel-sandwich on the plate, took some paper and wrote, "Onii-chan, if you are hungry please eat this," on it, and placed it under the plate.
Back on the second floor, she hastily put on her pajamas, laid back down, and put the Amusphere helmet back on.
After waiting through the connection process, through the rainbow colors of the login procedures, Suguha / Lyfa felt the prairie breeze and smelled a refreshing aroma.
From her waiting state, crouching down on one knee, Lyfa stood up and asked.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, did any monsters appear?"
Kirito, who was lying on the grass with a straw like thing in his mouth, removed it and nodded.
"Welcome back. It was very quiet."
"What is that?"
"The NPC from the grocery store said that it was a Sylvain specialty."
"I did not hear of such a thing!"
Kirito handed over that something and Lyfa accepted it with her hand. She concealed her inner tension and took a bite. With a breath, the mint's fragrant sweet aroma emanated from her mouth.
"It's my turn to logout, please guard me."
"Ok, have a good trip."
When Kirito called up the menu window and pressed the log-out button, his body automatically went into a standby position. Lyfa then sat down beside him and started looking casually up at the heavens while sucking a mint straw when the pixie from Kirito`s breast pocket flew out and surprised her.
"Whoa! You can move when your master is not in-game?"
Yui made an 'of course' face and put her hands on her hips and nodded.
"Of course I can. I'm myself. And he's not my master; he's my papa."
"Having said that, why do you call Kirito your papa? Could it be that he set you up that way?"
"Papa helped me, but he also said that I am his child. So he's my papa."
Sure enough, she did not understand it.
"You love your papa?"
Lyfa casually asked, and Yui looked at her with a serious face.
"Lyfa, what is love?"
Lyfa was unprepared for the unexpected question and considered it for a moment before only vaguely answering.
"....It's a feeling of wanting to be together. And when you are together, your heart beats faster, or something like that...."
Kazuto`s smiling face suddenly popped into her mind, but why was it the same with the resting face of the avatar beside her? Lyfa gasped. Not sure since when her feelings for Kirito became similar to her hidden feelings for Kazuto. Lyfa shook her head without thinking. Yui saw her do this and cocked her head, asking:
"What's wrong, Lyfa?"
"No, no, no, it is nothing!"
Lyfa shouted, and at that moment—
Kirito had suddenly raised his head and Lyfa jumped.
"I'm back. What happened?"
Kirito looked at the distressed Lyfa and stood up. Perched on his shoulder, Yui said:
"Welcome back, papa. We were just talking about who she likes and—,"
"Hey, we were not!!"
Lyfa hurriedly interrupted Yui.
"You came back quickly. Did you eat something?"
Lyfa asked to hide her embarrassment.
"Ah yes, my family made something for me."
"I see, well then, let's quickly depart. If we don't arrive at the Mine City before it gets late, it'll be troublesome to log-out. Come on, let's fly to the cave entrance!"
Lyfa quickly finished talking and stood up. Even though Kirito and Yui did not quite understand what was going on, she didn't wait for them to figure it out and gently began beating her wings.
"Ah, yes. Then let`s go."
Still not understanding the reason for Lyfa's expression, he also spread his wings. But suddenly, he turned and looked in the direction of the forest they came from.
Kirito replied, though he still stared towards the forest.
"It feels like someone watching. Yui, can you tell if there are any other players in our general area?"
"No, there is no one around us."
The pixie shook her little head. But Kirito didn't look like he is convinced.
"Felt like being watched... is there some sort of a sixth sense in this game?"
Hearing Lyfa ask that, Kirito rubbed his forehead with his right hand and said:
"It is really hard to do that. If anyone is looking at us, the system would have to «Reference» us, you might just feel the data stream used to do so, or so people say."
"Is that so?"
"But Yui does not sense any people nearby so there shouldn't be."
"Ah, then they may have used a Tracer."
Lyfa whispered to Kirito, who raised his eyebrows.
"What is that?"
"It's a tracking spell. Usually a small magic creature that tells the caster the position of the target."
"That's a pretty convenient spell. Can you lift the spell off of us?"
"If I can see the Tracer then I can lift it, but if the caster's magic skills are high, the distance he can observe from increases, so finding it in a field like this is almost impossible."
"I see. It might be just my imagination, anyway let's hurry and go."
After nodding, they flew up into the sky again. The white cliffs of the mountain range were not far away, and in the middle of the cliff was a huge black cave. Aiming for the cave opening that had sinister cold air coming out of it, Lyfa flapped her wings faster and sped up.
After a few minutes of flying, the two reached the cave entrance.
Almost perpendicular to the huge rocks, the cave was a giant square shape that cut into the cliff face. It's width and height was three or four times bigger then Lyfa. They could not tell when they were far away, but carved around the entrance of the cave were some monster designs. The upper part of the hole had a huge devil's head sticking out, looking with contempt into the eyes of all intruders.
"This cave... does it have a name?"
To Kirito's question, Lyfa nodded her head and replied:
"It is called «Ruger Corridor». Ruger happens to be the name of the Mine City."
"Whoa, it's like a story I've seen in a fantasy movie!"
Lyfa looked at Kirito in her peripheral vision and saw him smile. He probably meant those classic fantasy books, from which the films were produced. In Kazuto's room, there was a box with such Collectors' Edition books, she had borrowed them all without permission to read.
"I know what you are talking about. To cross a mountain, they went through the underground mines, and got attacked by a big demon. But, unfortunately demon-type monsters do not appear here."
"That is really too bad."
"Ah, but the cave is infested by orcs. If you find it interesting, you can then deal with the whole horde."
Finished, the two began to move forward into the cave.
It was very cool inside the cave, the light from outside was also very thin, slowly enveloping everything in darkness. It's best to use magic lighting; she thought and turned to Kirito walking beside her.
"Oh yes, Kirito-kun did you train your magic skills?"
"Ah, just the race starting magic, but I didn't use it often."
"Exploring caves is a Spriggan speciality with the use of the lights, it is even more effective than a wind mage's magic."
"Hmm, Yui, do you know?"
Kirito scratched his head and Yui came out of his pocket and said in a lecture voice:
"Papa, I'd really advise that you at least read the instruction manual. Using light magic is...."
Yui slowly said the incantation, and Kirito raised his right hand and repeated the words. His right hand sent a wave of gray light, and it continued to spread. When it covered Lyfa, she was able to see in a wide area around them. The light did not appear to be a light source; instead, the spell gave the user night-vision.
"Wow, this is really convenient. Spriggans might actually be of some use."
"Ah, hearing you say that makes me feel hurt."
"Ha ha ha. But seriously, you should at least memorize some useful magic incantations. If you can't even use Spriggans' speciality spells in a life and death situation, it would be a shame."
"Woo, those words hurt even more."
While talking lightly, they continued to move further inside the cave's many twists and turns. Soon, they couldn't see the white light from the entrance anymore.
"I think it was 'ARLU-DENA-RERE..'"
Kirito looked at the shiny purple Reference Manual and tried to whisper unfamiliar spell incantations.
"No, no, reading it like this won't activate the spell. The incantation is not just mechanical recitation, you must understand each «Word of Power» and associate it with the effect of magic while memorizing it."
Hearing this remark, the black swordsman sighed deeply and dropped his head.
"I did not think that I would be learning words that look like English in a game."
"I'll warn you, the high level spells have at least twenty words."
"Aw come on, I'll just be a pure fighter..."
"Crying is useless!! Quickly start over again."
In the about two hours they travelled after entering the cave, they fought with orcs over ten times and won without any problems. Thanks to the map purchased in Sylvain, they went in a straight line and travelled fast. According to the map, there should be a huge underground lake ahead, crossing the bridge over it should lead to the mining city, Ruger.
Ruger was not as big as the Gnome underground capital city, but it held facilities that produced high quality ore and a lot of businessmen and blacksmith players lived there. They didn't meet any other players on the way. This cave wasn't a very good hunting place, and above all, as Sylphs' forte is flight, many would tend to avoid places where they couldn't fly. The cave was plenty large, but as neither sunlight nor moonlight, the sources of flight endurance, reach this area, the wings are not able to recover.
Sylph players who wanted to go to Aarun for trade and tourism usually took the longer route from the northern part of Sylvain, passing into Cait Sith territory near the mountains. Living there are the Cait Sith race with their cat ears and tail. They could use the skill «Taming» by feeding monsters and animals, and had always provided tamed riding animals to the Sylph capital in friendship, so they had been on good terms for a long while. The relationship between the lords of the two races was also very good, it was said that they would soon form a covenant.
Since Lyfa had a few close Cait Sith friends, she had intended to choose the route through the northern pass, but went through the mountains because Kirito looked to be in a hurry. Truthfully, going through underground depths made Lyfa uncomfortable, but in the present situation going through the mountains certainly did not present a problem.
Anyway, the reason why Kirito was in so much of a hurry to get to Aarun, and the World Tree, was still a mystery to her. His attitude made her wonder at the uncertainty of his heart, but his fighting posture seemed very anxious.
She remembered Kirito mention he was looking for someone. People who lost contact in the real world and came looking in game was not too uncommon. On the bulletin board in front of the grocery store, in the asking people corner, the 'Looking for someone' was never ending. Usually it was for revenge or love interest, but neither seemed to fit Kirito. And, searching in Aarun was understandable, but why the world tree? Right now that was like an unreachable area, even if we could reach the bottom, going to the top was almost impossible.
Lyfa walked beside Kirito who was continuing the hard fight with Spellwords, and lost herself in thought. Usually not paying attention in the neutral zone was equivalent to suicide, but on this trip due to Yui's fearsome senses, she would warn them of approaching monsters so there was no need to worry about ambushes.
Then, after a few more minutes, they were about to reach the underground lake when Lyfa heard a sound, it was not Yui's warning, it was very close to the ringing of a phone.
Lyfa raised her head, turned to Kirito, and said:
"Ah, I'm getting a message. I'm sorry, please wait a moment."
Lyfa stopped, near the front of her body below her chest, she pressed the icon shown. A window popped up showing receive of a Friend Message. Lyfa's friend list only had one name , Recon, this was not out of intention, so even before reading it she knew who it was from. It was probably irrelevant content, she thought while glancing at it. But—
'It is what I expected! Be careful, S'
That was the only thing written.
"What the heck is this?"
She said without thinking. It didn't make any sense. What was expected? Be careful of what? And what was the 'S' at the end? Even if he signed the message, wouldn't it be with an 'R', wasn't there some kind of hidden meaning?
"What was it?"
Lyfa explained it to the puzzled Kirito. Then, Yui stuck her head out of his pocket and said:
"Papa, I'm detecting a response in close proximity."
Kirito`s hand clutched his sword hilt, but Yui shook her head.
"No – players, a lot, twelve of them."
Lyfa became speechless. For a group of players forming a combat party, that was just too many. Maybe it was a group of Sylph going from Sylvain to Ruger, or even to Aarun as a trade caravan.
Indeed, once a month there was usually a large party gathering in the Sylph capital for a trip to and from the central area. Usually a few days ahead of departure, they would tell all the players to recruit participants, but this morning when she had looked at the Bulletin Board there hadn't been anything written about that.
Here was an unknown group, if it were Sylphs then it might not have been dangerous, but the chance of it being a PK group of a different race was not unthinkable. Lyfa had a bad feeling about the whole thing, she turned towards Kirito.
"I have a bad feeling about this. We should hide and let them pass."
"But hide where?"
Kirito was puzzled and looked around. They were in a long wide road, with no side branches to hide in.
"Well, leave that to me."
Lyfa grabbed Kirito's wrist and hid in a nearby hollow area. Suppressing the blush brought on by close physical contact, she raised her left hand for the magic incantation.
Soon a green light radiating from the foot upward, wrapped the two bodies. Vision was slightly green-dyed, but from the outside they would be almost completely hidden. Lyfa looked up at Kirito beside her and whispered:
"Speak quietly, if we're too loud then the magic will be lifted."
"Understood. This magic is really useful."
Kirito watched the area they were hiding, constantly scanning the area. Yui poked her head out and said in a low voice:
"In about two minutes you will see them."
The two of them made themselves smaller and moved close to the cave wall. After some tense seconds, Lyfa heard the sound of footsteps coming. Mixed in with the footsteps was the sound of heavy armour clanking, which made her think and look.
Kirito craned his neck, staring at the direction of the unknown group.
"What is that?"
"What? I do not see anyone."
"I don't see any players, but maybe monsters? A small, red bat."
Lyfa held her breath looking at the front. In the darkness of the cave, there was a little red shape flying their way. This was—
Lyfa subconsciously cursed out loud, and jumped from lying low on the ground out to the middle of the road. The Concealment Magic lifted at the same time and Kirito stood up as well bewildered.
"Hey, hey, what happened?"
"That is high level magic Tracer Searcher!! We must destroy it quickly!!"
While crying out, Lyfa stretched out her hands and began chanting a spell. After a lengthy incantation, her fingertips released numerous shining emerald needles. Viiii, sounded in the air as the needles head to kill the red shape.
The bat floated in the air slowly, and tried to dodge the attacks, but since there were so many needles, it soon got pierced with many. It fell to the ground, wrapped by a red flame, and disappeared. Confirmed hit, Lyfa turned towards Kirito and shouted:
"Run toward the city, Kirito-kun!!"
"Oh, no more hiding?"
"The enemy will know when their tracer was destroyed. They will probably send out a lot of searchers, so it will be almost impossible to hide. That magic pet had fire properties. This means the approaching party is..."
Kirito frowned after showing off his knowledge. While they were talking, the rattle-rattle sound of metal mixed with footsteps became closer. Lyfa turned and saw in the distance a dark red light.
Nodding, the two began to run.
As they checked the map while rushing onwards, this straight road will soon end, and in front is a huge underground lake. The way to pass the lake is a bridge, at the other end is the entrance to the mining city, Ruger. It is a neutral city so no attack is allowed inside, no matter how many people they have, they won't be able to do anything.
But why is a big group of Salamanders here?
Lyfa bit her lip. Using a tracer means they were hunting us from the beginning. After departing Sylvain, because of Yui's search power, there shouldn't be a chance for them to cast it. The only possibility is that they used the magic while we were in the streets of Sylvain.
The number of Sylph who can use fire magic is not zero. Each race has an attribute of magic talent, the wind for Sylph, earth for Gnome, etc., and other attributes of the spell can be learned through hard practice and increasing skills.
However, the red bat they killed can follow and track the target, and search for hidden targets, is a very high level magic that requires a fire magic skill almost impossible for another race than Salamander to obtain. In other words—
'There was a Salamander in Sylvain?'
Lyfa thought while running. If this is true, it's not easily done. Although Sylvain is open to travelers of other races, due to the hostile relations with the Salamanders, their entry is very strict and checked. If the strong NPC guardians find a Salamander, they will immediately attack. Getting past that isn't too easy.
"Oh, the lake!"
Running to the right in front of her, Kirito`s voice interrupted Lyfa`s thoughts. She raised her head and saw the rugged mountain road changing into flat stone ahead, the space becoming very open, the dark green lake water shining with a faint light.
A stone bridge spans the middle of the lake, on the other side is a huge gate reaching to the roof. It is the mining city, Ruger's door. Once beyond that door, it's our victory in this game of hide and seek.
This gave Lyfa some peace of mind and she took a look over her shoulder. From behind, the red light was still some distance away. Since this is the case— the two ran at full speed up the stone trail.
When they got on the bridge, the surrounding temperature dropped a lot. They cut through the water scented air, speeding on the bridge.
"Looks like we escaped."
"Don't drop your guard. There is a large monster in the water."
While talking with Kirito, they arrived at the center of the bridge which was a round observation area, and in that instant.
Passing over their head in the darkness, from behind came two points of high-speed light. Its special light and sound effect showed that it is magical. It must be from the Salamanders chasing them, but its accuracy is very bad.
Since it will hit in front of them, they just need to slow down. After slowing, the light landed about ten meters in front.
It exploded as expected, Lyfa raised her right hand to cover her face, but what happened next was completely unexpected. Humming! A huge rock wall rose up from the bridge and blocked up the entire path. Lyfa frowned at the unexpected problem and swore:
"This is bad..."
Kirito`s eyes got wide, but kept running forward and drew his sword to slash the wall.
'It's useless,' didn't have time to exit her mouth. Kirito's sword hit the stone wall, Goun! A loud noise came from the contact and the rebound force made him sit on the bridge. The brown stone wall didn't have a single scratch on it.
"...It's no use."
Lyfa flew over to Kirito's side and stopped, saying it. The Spriggan youth stood up with a reproachful look.
"You should have said that earlier."
"You are too reckless. This is an earth magic barrier, physical attacks can't damage it. Only a lot of magic attacks can destroy it..."
"We don't have the time for that..."
They turned together, the group garbed in armor, gleaming with the color of blood, was approaching the front of the bridge.
"Flying around it... won't be possible, huh. How about diving into the lake?"
Shaking her head at Kirito's proposal.
"Not possible. I said it earlier, there seems to be a very high level water dragon monster living in the lake. Without an Undine's help, fighting in the water would be suicidal."
"So, there's no choice but to fight, right?"
Turning to Kirito who held his sword in a graceful posture, Lyfa bit her lip and nodded.
"We have no choice... but this might be bad... For Salamanders to use such high level earth magic, there must be a rather skilful mage in that group."
The bridge is not wide, so the worst condition of being surrounded can be avoided. Even with this, twelve against two are really long odds, and flight is not possible within this dungeon. Lyfa's excellence in aerial dogfights can't be used.
It all depends on the enemies' combat effectiveness.
...But we cannot hope for too much on that.
Murmuring that in her heart, Lyfa stood beside Kirito and drew her katana. With the sound of heavy metal, the approaching enemy can easily be seen. In the front are three big Salamanders, dressed in armor heavier than the Salamanders she fought yesterday, left hand holding a mace or another single-handed weapon, and right hand equipped with a huge metal shield.
Seeing this, Lyfa was momentarily lost in thought. Within ALO the dominant hand is the same as in the real world, so left-handed players should be relatively few.
Before Lyfa can voice this doubt, Kirito looked at her and said:
"Don`t take this the wrong way, but can you be my support?"
"I hope that you can heal me from behind. This way I can fight without care."
Lyfa looked at Kirito's huge double-edged sword. Indeed on this narrow bridge, friendly fire would be possible and avoiding that would be hard. Healing is not her speciality, but she nodded her head and retreated to just before the rock wall. There was no time for argument.
Kirito bent down and drew his sword from behind. He sent waves of pressure toward the three Salamanders. Kirito's body is not too big, so he barely made a sound moving forward. His eyes shone with the accumulation of energy. The distance between the two sides shortened as she watched—
In one breath, Kirito's left foot stepped forward, blue special effect lights appeared as he slashed his sword horizontally at the dark red heavy soldiers. With the loud sound of air being cut, the bridge shook; it was the most powerful slash that Lyfa had ever seen. But—
Lyfa eyes wide open in surprise. The three Salamanders pulled their weapons back, and brought their shields forward, hiding their bodies behind the wall of shields.
GANG! ! Loud roar, Kirito's sword hit the Tower Shields in a row leaving a horizontal scar. The air vibrated and a big wave spread out on the lake. But those heavy fighters were only pushed back, blocking Kirito's attack.
Lyfa hurriedly studied their HP. Probably more than ten percent reduction, but that was only for a moment, as the next instant chants rang out behind them, and pale blue light covered the three front defenders. In reply to the healing incantations, their HP refilled completely. Then, in the back...
From behind the castle wall-like defense of steel, many red-orange fireballs shot out, followed a parabolic path through the air, and exploded at Kirito's position.
Explosions powerful enough to make the lake surface reflect red covered the black-clad boy.
Lyfa shouted loudly, almost in despair. Kirito's HP bar rapidly declined, instantly moving into the yellow warning area. No, in ALO's fully skill-based system, HP increases very slowly, so it's a miracle he didn't die instantly. These are intensive multiple magic attacks. Lyfa immediately realized the other's intent to kill.
This enemy group certainly knows about Kirito and his physical attack power, so they used these counter measures.
Three heavily armored defenders would tank Kirito's attacks, using heavy shields for defense. No matter how powerful Kirito's attacks are, if he can't hit their body directly, he wouldn't cause fatal damage. The remaining nine people are probably all mages. Some would heal the front line defenders, others used indirect fire magic to attack. This is the formation used for fighting boss monsters with strong physical attacks.
But why would so many people be mobilized to attack Kirito and Lyfa?
Leaving her doubt behind, Lyfa started her healing magic incantation. Finally the flames thinned, and as the Kirito became visible, Lyfa used the highest rank healing spell she had. Soon his HP bar began to fill, but she knew it would not last long.
Kirito was also aware of the enemies' tactics. Since a long fight was unfavorable, he lifted up his sword and stormed toward the heavy solider line.
The black blade hit the shields, and bright sparks flashed.
But— Here, the fighting turned into a numbers game.
The damage done by Kirito's sword was soon healed by the mages behind. After that, the remaining mages chanted attack magic and Kirito was hit by another explosion.
There is no room for individual skills; Lyfa hated this style of fighting the most. Now the battle is determined by the mages' MP and Kirito's HP, which will run out first. But the result was very clear.
Numerous fireballs rained down and blasted Kirito. Continuous explosions hit Kirito and his battered body flipped and bounced onto the ground.
Since this is a game, the body in ALO doesn't show «Pain», but bearing the magical explosions directly can cause some bad feedback. The roar shakes the brain, the heat burns the skin, the impact upsets the balance. These effects will be transferred to reality in the flesh, after signing out these effects will remain for several hours as headaches and dizziness.
But no matter how many times Kirito was engulfed in flames he continued to stand up and swing his sword. While chanting healing magic, Lyfa didn't want to see him in pain. This is a game. In this situation, most would give up. While failure is regrettable, under the system constraints, this is a difference in combat strength you can't do anything about. Even so, why—
Lyfa could no longer bear seeing Kirito like this, so she went a few steps behind Kirito and cried:
"Enough, Kirito-kun! It's just another few hours of flight from Sylvain! What items that were stolen we can just buy back, please give up!"
But Kirito shook his head and said in a hushed tone:
His eyes reflected the brilliant red flames surrounding them.
"While I live, I won't let my party member die. I will definitely not allow that!"
Lyfa, at a loss for words, could only stand still.
In such desperate times, different players react in many different ways. There are people who would have laughed at «this moment», there are people whose eyes would open wide and succumb to fear, and there are also those who would resist to the end. But in any case, they are all used to the simulation of «Death». This experience can not be avoided while playing VRMMO games, and has to be accepted. Otherwise there is no way to «Enjoy» this type of «Game».
But the light in Kirito's glaring eyes is something Lyfa had never seen before. Struggling with this system's impossible situation, desperately trying to find a way to live, she got drawn in. At this moment, Lyfa forgot this is a game, an illusionary world.
Kirito who stood up and roared, shook the air with his sound. When enemy fire stopped for a moment, he suddenly rushed forward, ignoring the shield wall ahead. Lowered his sword in his right hand, his empty left hand held the edge of the shield and tried to push it open. This unexpected action disrupted the Salamander's defensive line. When their defensive wall cracked, Kirito forced his sword in.
To break past a defensive wall with mages behind it is something even the veteran player Lyfa had not seen before. Also, that action was not even an attack, so it couldn't deal any damage. But, due to Kirito's crazy action, the man holding the shield cried in confusion:
"Damn, what is with this guy?!"
At this time, a small voice reached Lyfa's ears.
"Now is the only chance!"
Looking around, unknown since when, Yui hung on to her right shoulder.
"The only uncertainty is the enemy players' mental state. Use up all your remaining MP, please block the next magic attack!"
"B..but, even doing that..."
Like pouring water onto a hot stone, Lyfa held back what she was going to say. She looked seriously at the supposedly simple AI, Yui, and saw determination equal to Kirito's.
Lyfa nodded her head, and held both hands upward. The enemy mage group is already chanting the fireball spell, but in order to match the launch time, it was at a relatively slow speed. Lyfa chanted the spell words at her usual high speed. Any incantation error will result in failure, she chanted the fastest she could, just shy of the danger line.
Lyfa completed her spell just a bit ahead of them. From her hands came countless small butterflies flying out, surrounding Kirito's body.
After that, the enemies completed their chant as well. With a shrill sound, the group's fireballs shot into the sky. Flame after flame engulfed Kirito, who was trying to break through the shield wall.
Lyfa's outstretched hands experience the feedback pressure from the explosions, and she clenched her teeth. The defensive magic field around Kirito canceled out the explosions, and her mana points dropped with a clunk clunk sound effect. Not even drinking mana recovery potion can keep up with it. What's the point of defending one such attack, she thought, but then.
Standing on the shoulder of Lyfa, Yui loudly shouted:
"Papa, do it now!!"
Kirito blinked while startled. In the red lotus flames, he raised his sword and stood up. She can hear the subtle sound of chanting. Lyfa matched the spell word fragments to the index in her memory.
'This incantation is... Illusion attribute!?'
Lyfa held her breath for a moment— then ground her teeth. The spell Kirito is casting is an illusion magic that makes a player look like a monster. But the magic is not useful in actual combat. Because the shape depends randomly on the player's combat skills, usually the result is some weak monster, with no change in stats, since most people are aware of this it won't frighten them.
Lyfa began losing MP very fast, soon only 10% was left. She decided to gamble on Yui's idea, but it seems the dice betrayed them.
However, it can't be helped. Knowing the game's «Strength» is needed to support the wealth of knowledge. For Kirito who just started playing a few days ago, asking him to understand each of the huge number of spells is too cruel.
While thinking this, Lyfa put the last of her power into protecting Kirito. the enemy's last wave of attacks finally stopped, just as Lyfa's defense shield disappeared. A whirlpool of flames rolled up, and slowly dissipated—
Inside the fire wall, a shadow moved. For a time, Lyfa thought she was seeing things. That is way too huge.
Standing in front of the Salamanders was a giant twice their size. Doubting her sight, it looked like a giant bent over.
"Kirito-kun, is that you?"
She asked in amazement. She can't think it's anything else. This is Kirito's changed form created by the illusion spell, but that huge size.
In front of Lyfa's eyes, the shadow looked up. This figure is not a giant. Its head like a goat, with curved horns extending out the back of the head. Round shiny red eyes flashing, teeth outside his mouth breathed flames in the air.
His upper body is all muscle covered with dark skin, long arms almost reaching the ground. His back has a whip-like tail. To describe the unknown figure in words, only «Devil» fit.
All of the Salamanders were frozen in place. Watching them like their soul was taken away, the black devil lifted his head high.
"Roarrr———!!" A thunderous roar issued, and it truly shook the world. From the core of the body, instinctive fear spread out.
A Salamander front defender screamed while backing away a few steps. At this instant, the devil moved with a fearsome speed. His iron clawed right hand passed through the open shield wall, his fingers pierced a heavy armored soldier's body— the next moment, red End Frame blowing, the Salamander disappeared.
"Woo ah ah ah!?"
Seeing their partner killed in one blow, the remaining two front defenders screamed in unison. They dropped their shields, their left hands brandishing weapons, and retreated in fear.
From the mage group, someone like their leader shouted in anger:
"Stupid, do not disrupt the formation! He can only reach what he sees, if you become a turtle you won't get hurt!"
However those words did not reach the ears of the soldiers. The dark devil roared and jumped in, it opened its huge mouth and bit the head of the soldier to the right and grabbed the left solider with its iron claws. He violently shook and beat the avatars, gogob! Continuous red death throes splash out, almost the same as blood spatter.
The three front guards were destroyed within ten seconds. Their leader recovered and ordered the mage group, and they began to chant. But without any armor and only wearing red robes, the pure mage group is way too fragile compared to the front guards. With a shruru breath, the standing devil is way more fearsome than the illusion magic effect. Their chanting speed became even slower than before.
Before the chanting could finish, the devil raised his right arm toward the mages and slashed horizontally. The two in front were hit and blown away, they turned into red flames in the air, dissipated and disappeared. Screams and sound of glass shattering, cracking sound effects filled the air. That was from the tree trunk like left arm hitting two more Salamanders, which disappeared.
A high level mage wearing high quality cloth armor became distracted and messed up certain words in his incantation. The Spellword fumble effect covered his hands and boom, he disappeared in a dark cloud.
Kirito, in his Devil-form, took a step and roared again. The Salamander leader screamed 'Hiii!' and waved his right hand around.
"Withdrawal, withdrawal! Retreat—"
Before he finished the sentence—
The devil instantly squatted, then jump forward significantly. Landing in the middle of the enemy, sending shock waves through the bridge. After what happened, it can not be called fighting anymore.
As the devil's claws swung, End Frame followed its path. A few brave ones tried to fight back with their staves, while swinging their weapons, the devil's teeth bit through their heads, and they lost their lives.
Escaping from the storm, the leader reached the far side of the bridge. With a splash of water he jumped into the lake, and swam in high speed for the far side.
In ALO falling into the water, if the weight of equipment does not exceed a certain amount you will not sink. Mages luckily have equipment that is very light, and soon he was far from the bridge— when suddenly, a huge shadow appeared beneath him.
Right after, the leader was dragged into the water with a splash. Leaving little bubbles, he sank into the lake, and before he disappeared, some vague points of red light can be seen.
The devil that is Kirito didn't seem to care about the enemy leader's death, he grabbed the last unlucky mage and raised him up. At the screaming body, he put force into his hands to squeeze...
The violence of this scene shakes Lyfa and at that moment, she finally came to her senses and shouted:
"Ah, Kirito-kun!! Leave that man alive!!"
While Yui said, "That was very impressive," and other senseless comments on her shoulder, Lyfa walked out. The devil stopped and turned around, and with an unhappy sound released the Salamander in the air.
The man fell on the bridge with a snapping sound, his relaxed body breathing heavily, Lyfa came in front of him, and put the long sword in her right hand between his legs. With the metal sound when her sword tip hit the bridge, the man shuddered.
"Now, tell us who sent you!!"
Lyfa was trying to scare him, but that woke him up from his shock, his face pale, he shook his head.
"If you're gonna kill me, then do it!"
At the moment, the devil looking down from above, black mist shrouded him, and the huge body began to disappear. Lyfa looked up, from center of the fog, a small figure jumped out and landed on the bridge.
"Oh, nice rampage!"
Kirito shook his head and said in a relaxed tone, putting the sword on his back. He went to the man who blankly opened his mouth and squatting down beside him, patted his shoulder.
"Yo, Nice Fight."
Kirito stared at the stunned man, with bright, clear tone, continued:
"It was nice fighting tactics. If it was just me, I would have been defeated fast!"
"It's ok, fine."
To Lyfa's unhappy remark, Kirito said while winking.
"Well then, let's talk about items with you."
Kirito opened a trade window and then showed him a list of items.
"These are the items and money I got from fighting your group. I was thinking, if you can answer our questions, then I will give these all to you maybe..."
The man's mouth opened and closed a few times, then looked at Kirito with a sly smile. He looked around, probably confirming that the time had expired on the dead Salamanders, and they were already transported back to the «Save Point», he once again looked at Kirito.
Looking at the two smiling, Lyfa sighed.
"Men can be really—"
"It's like, you can't do anything about them..."
Yui sitting on her shoulder offered a comment. A bit fearful of the contempt from the two women, the two men nodded to each other to signal successful trade negotiations.
The Salamander, who started talking, had a lot to say.
"This evening, Jiitakusu-san, ah he's the leader of the mage group earlier, contacted me with a cell phone e-mail, I was having dinner so I wanted to decline but he forced me to come. When I got there it turned out to be around ten people hunting two people, I thought it might be some kind of bullying, but they said it was the person Kagemune-san fought yesterday, so I understood..."
"Who is that Kagemune-san?"
"He is the Lance group captain. He was a famous Sylph hunter, but yesterday he suffered a rare heavy defeat and retreated home. You guys beat him right?"
Hearing about the Sylph hunting made Lyfa frown. She and Kirito looked at each other. He must be the Salamander group leader they repulsed last night.
"So, why did that Jiitakusu-san want to hunt us?"
"The order seemed to come from someone higher ranked than Jiitakusu-san. Like you are interfering with some kind of «Strategy» or something."
"The Salamander upper ranks are up to something. They won't tell junior soldiers like me, but I know they are after something big. Today, when I first logged in, I saw a large number fly north."
Lyfa put her finger to her lips, and thought. The Salamander capital «Gadan» is in the southern most part of ALfheim, flying straight north, they will hit the mountain range we are currently crossing. Slightly west of that is Ruger Corridor, and east at the base of the mountains is «Dragon Valley». Whichever path they chose, after that is the central city Aarun, and then the world tree.
"Do they want to raid the world tree?"
Hearing Lyfa's question, the man shook his head.
"No way. We are still recovering from the previous complete defeat. The minimum is to equip the army with ancient weapon rank equipment so we are saving money. For that reason our normal routine is very harsh. Even so we only acquired half the target amount of money."
"Well, that's all I know. Is what you said earlier true?"
The second part he asked Kirito.
"I never lie about a trade."
The Spriggan youth operated the trade window. The Salamander looking at the list of items he is getting was very happy and moved his fingers around.
Lyfa looked at the man with a stunned expression and asked:
"Hey you, these were all your companions' equipment right? Don't you feel bad?"
After hearing this, the man raised his voice:
"You don't seem to understand. These were those guys' arrogantly shown off rare items, which increase my pleasure getting them. Of course it would be bad for me to use them. I will sell them all and maybe buy a house."
'I will let the heat cool off for a few days before returning to Salamander Territory.' Leaving those words behind, the Salamander walked in the direction he came from and was soon out of sight.
It feels like the life and death fight ten minutes before seems like a lie. Lyfa looked at the already back to normal face of Kirito.
"Ah, well... That rampaging devil from earlier, was Kirito-kun right?"
Hearing this, Kirito looked up and scratched his chin.
"Yes, most likely."
"Likely? Wasn't that a tactic to deceive the Salamanders and confuse them with a monster?"
"No, I didn't think that far... it happens to me sometimes. During a fight, I lose control and can't remember things..."
"Woo ah, scary."
"Well, I somehow remember the battle earlier. I used the magic Yui suggested, and became very big. Since my sword disappeared, I had to use my hands..."
"Also with the teeth bite yo ~"
On Lyfa's shoulder, Yui added with pleasure.
"Ah, speaking about that. The experience of being a monster is fun."
Watching Kirito smile and laugh, Lyfa suddenly wanted to know something. She gingerly opened her mouth.
"Did you... taste it? The Salamander..."
"...It is something like charred BBQ flavor and texture..."
"Waa, enough, don't say it!"
She waved her hands at Kirito. Suddenly her hand was caught...
Shouting that, he opened his mouth and closed it on Lyfa's fingers.
Lyfa screamed, after that came a Bang sound that made ripples on the lake surface.
"Ouch, it hurts."
While rubbing his face that got slapped by Lyfa, Kirito slowly walked.
"That was papa's fault!"
"That's true. You were really rude."
Hearing Lyfa and Yui on her shoulder say so, Kirito looked like a reprimanded child and argued.
"I was trying to ease the battle tension and pent up energy, with wit and joke.."
"Next time you do that, I'll cut you."
Lyfa closed her eyes and turned away, speeding up the pace.
In front is a huge stone gate that reached the ceiling. This is the city gate of the mining town Ruger.
For re-supply and sorting out information, it's best to stay the night in town. The unexpected large-scale fighting took a lot of time, so the real time is almost around midnight.
This is now the time that ALfheim starts to get busy, but Lyfa is still a student, so the latest she can stay in game is 1am. She told Kirito about this, he considered for a moment then nodded in understanding.
Passing through the gate side by side, instead of BGM, the NPC orchestra played wonderfully happy drums to greet the arrival of the two.
The scale of the street is not large, but at the the central intersection, shops for weapon and armor, all kinds of material, wine, food and many other types, and workshops all crowded together. The number of players were more than imagined. Under normal circumstances, the rarely met musical fairies (Pucas), blacksmith goblins (Leprechaun) and other ethnic groups were here, talking happily side-by-side.
"Oh... So this is Ruger."
Lyfa looked at the first time seen bustling underground city, and could not help but issue a happy voice. She rushed to the closest shop, checking out its display of swords. Even in these simple shops, buying things is a very exciting thing for her.
"By the way..."
While Lyfa started playing with a silver long sword, Kirito behind her with a laid-back tone said that.
"Before the Salamanders attacked, didn't you get a message? What was it about?"
Lyfa greatly opened her mouth, and turned around.
She hurriedly opened the window, and checked the receive directory. Reading Recon's message again, it still didn't make any sense. It might have been cut off due to a connection problem, but there didn't seem to be a continuing message.
In this case, I'll just send him a message, but Recon's name in her friend list was gray. That means he was offline.
"What? He went to sleep?"
"Try to contact him on the other side?"
Lyfa thought about Kirito's suggestion.
To be honest, Lyfa did not like bringing ALfheim world events into the real world. She never went to the ALO community site, and she rarely talked to Recon— i.e. Shinichi Nagata, about game-related things in reality.
But that that enigmatic message had a pull on her is true.
"Then, I am going to log off and check it out, Kirito-kun, wait for me. Please look after my body. ...Yui-chan."
Lyfa then looked at Yui on her shoulder and added.
"You have to watch your papa; do not let him take advantage of my body."
Kirito shook his head in jest and smiled. Lyfa sat on a nearby bench and waved her right hand.
She pressed the log out button, and took her fourth world change of the day. With a feeling of vertigo, her senses returned to the the real world far away.
She hadn't been logged in for such a long time in a while, so it left her feeling a little fatigued. She took a deep breath.
While wearing the Amuspere, she rolled over on the bed and looked at the alarm clock. Soon Midori will be home. It's better to meet with her at least...
While thinking that, she reached for her cell phone on the headboard. The EL panel on the external of the phone displayed calls received while she was logged in.
"What is this?"
Suguha's eyes widened. Twelve missed calls, all from Nagata Shinichi. If a family member, police, hospital or any type of emergency called, the linkage program through Amuspere would automatically log out, but Nagata's number was not in that list, so it was ignored. Why was he calling this late?
She opened the phone, preparing to return the call, but the thirteenth incoming call lit up her phone with a sapphire blue sheen. Suguha pressed the call key, and put the phone to her ear.
"Hello, Nagata-kun? What is it?"
"Ah! You've finally come out! It's too late, Suguha-chan!!"
"What do you mean too late? I was busy inside."
"Big trouble! Sigurd! That guy sold us out. Not just us, but the lord, Sakuya-san, as well. He sold us all out!"
"Sold us out? What do you mean? Explain from the beginning."
"Hmm, there is no time... Well, when we were attacked yesterday in the Ancient Forest by the Salamanders, Suguha-chan didn't you feel it was suspicious?"
Nagata returned to his habitual way of calling Suguha. When talking face-to-face, if he called her the too familiar name of Suguha-chan, she would always attack him physically. But since she couldn't do that on the phone, she had to accept it grudgingly.
Saying that, Suguha was surprised that it only happened the day before. It seemed like a long time ago since she met Kirito.
"Eh? Suspicious? What happened?"
To tell the truth, her impression of Kirito was too strong that she couldn't remember the aerial combat before.
"In the beginning, when we were attacked by eight Salamanders, Sigurd wanted to be the bait and led three of them away right?"
"Ah, that reminds me. He didn't manage to escape either right?"
"That's right. But, thinking carefully about it now, that is not Sigurd's style at all. Whenever the party splits, he always remains as leader, and makes someone else be the bait, usually ."
"Ah. That is true..."
Sigurd was a capable combat commander, but he was self-righteous, and was not satisfied unless he was at the top. Indeed, for him to become bait while the other members escaped, this act of self-sacrifice was unlike his style.
"But, that is, what does it mean?"
"Like I said."
Nagata said like he ate something unpleasant.
"That guy worked with the Salamanders. Probably since a long time ago."
This shocked her to the core, and she clenched her cell phone while shouting.
In ALO, power games between ethnic groups were wide spread and using throw-away accounts for spying was a common occurrence. She was afraid that in her home, Sylvain, many other races, especially Salamanders were camouflaged within as Sylphs.
Basically, those players with low skills, little contributions, and sparse activity were likely to be spies. These people were not allowed near the power hub department. Lyfa was no exception; it hadn't been too long since she was allowed to enter the Lord's mansion behind the Tower of Wind.
But Sigurd had, since the beginning of ALO, actively participated in politics. In the recent election for the Lordship, he had been a candidate which proved his long play. Although the current Lord's high popularity meant he always came up second, he didn't seem to be upset and became assistant. So he had a big impact on the center of power.
Talk of him being a Salamander spy, was hard to understand or believe.
"Hey you, that, do you have proof?"
Suguha asked in surprise.
"I thought something was strange, so since this morning I used «Hollow» to follow Sigurd."
"You really have a lot of time."
«Hollow Body» was Recon's most adept transparency spell. It required high hiding magic and covert action to be mastered to use.
Recon used the name of the English letters «Recon» to refer to the U.S. military reconnaissance team— the correct pronunciation should be similar to RIIKON, it seemed. Due to his role as the lead tracker in hunting, he was the best of the best at tracking. Once, Recon had used his spell to enter the room Lyfa was resting in, he had claimed that it had been to secretly place her birthday present there, but in the end she had made him confess and Lyfa had mercilessly punished him almost to death.
Nagata ignored Suguha's incredulous words and continued.
"After hearing the bad things he said to you in the tower of wind, I followed him looking for a chance to assassinate him with poison. Then..."
"Wow, what a dangerous guy."
"...In front of an ally, he put on an invisibility cloak and disappeared. So he's finally up to something, I thought. Well, just using an item can't hide him from my eyes."
"Enough boasting. Hurry up and talk about what happened next."
"After going into the sewers, and walking about five minutes, there were two people waiting for him. They were also dressed in invisibility cloaks, and when they took them off I was surprised they were Salamanders!"
"Eh? But even wearing those cloaks can't hide them from the guardians. They would be attacked when they entered the street... It can't be..."
"That, it can. They were wearing «Pass Medallion»."
Pass Medallions were for traders and people of other races who come into our territory, and were given those as a pass after a strict examination. Only the ruling ministry could issue those and they couldn't be transferred to another person. Of course Sigurd had the rights to issue them.
"I thought this was a big scoop so I listened. He told the Salamander to put a Tracer on you. But that's not all. Today, Lord Sakuya and the Cait Sith are going to sign alliance agreements, so she left in maximum secrecy for a neutral city."
"Ah I see, no wonder there was no flag hanging at the lord's mansion."
Nagata's loud cries covered Suguha's mutter.
"That guy, Sigurd, he wanted the Salamanders' big army to attack the alliance ceremony!"
For an instant, Suguha's breathing stopped. She had already decided she would not be returning when she left, but Sylph territory was still her home and Sakuya, her beloved lord. The anxious thoughts bubbling up made her shout into the phone microphone.
"This, this thing you should have said it earlier!! That's big trouble!!"
"That's why I said it's big trouble at the start..."
Responding to Nagata's sad argument, Suguha immediately interrupted him.
"That, does Sakuya know? Is there still time!?"
"I feel bad. When I was leaving the sewer, I kicked a stone by mistake..."
"You fool! Making a mistake at that time!"
"...It seems, recently I am starting to enjoy Suguha-chan's anger..."
"You big pervert!! So!? Did you contact her!?"
"The Salamanders' search magic saw through my disguise. I was thinking if they killed me I would be resurrected at the tower, then I could go to the lord's mansion. But they hit me with a poisoned arrow instead, it was really cruel."
Thinking back her previous statement, Suguha suppressed her rebuttal.
"So, what happened to Recon?"
"The Salamanders caught me while I was paralyzed... So I had no choice but to log off. Suguha-chan never answered my calls, and I don't have any other contacts in the real world. Hmm, the conference with the Cait Sith Lord is at one o'clock. Oh no, there's only forty minutes left! What should we do, Suguha-chan!?"
Suguha took a deep breath, and quickly asked:
"Do you know where the negotiations will take place?"
"I don't know the exact location... But it's inside the mountain pass, the «Butterfly Valley» area."
"Understood. ...I will go and try to warn them. There's no time to waste. I am hanging up."
As she was preparing to press the end key, Nagata's minced voice came.
"What is it?"
"Ah, it's about that guy Kirito, what is your relationship with him?"
Suguha immediately ended the call, threw her phone to the headboard, lay her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. She mouthed the only Spell Word that works in the real world, then her consciousness gradually shifted to the other, conspiracy filled, world.
Lyfa opened her eyes and stood up.
"Woah, you surprised me!!"
The surprised Spriggan almost dropped the mysterious food he had bought —something on a skewer that resembled small reptiles— but he managed to hold onto it.
"You are back, Lyfa."
Facing Kirito and Yui who welcomed her back, she didn't have time to say 'I'm back.'
"Kirito-kun... I'm sorry."
"Eh, eh eh?"
"I really need to go to a certain place. I have no time to explain, but I probably won't be able to come back here."
Kirito gazed at Lyfa for a moment and then nodded.
"Is that so? Alright, let's talk while we move."
"It doesn't matter where to; we have to use our feet to get out of here anyway right?"
"I see. Then let's run and talk."
The two began running in the direction of the gate leading to Aarun, passing the streets of Ruger.
They passed through the crowd, through the stone door, there was another lake with a bridge through it. While running at full speed, Lyfa explained the situation to Kirito. Fortunately, no matter how fast you run in this world, you won't run out of breath to speak.
After Lyfa finished her story, Kirito turned back toward the front as he considered.
"Can I ask some questions?"
"Why would the Salamanders attack the Sylph and Cait Sith Lords? What good does it do?"
"Well, first of all, it can prevent an alliance. As someone from Sylph leaked intelligence to the Salamanders, the Cait Sith there will definitely not stay silent if it is used against them. In the worst case, it may result in a war between the Cait Sith and Sylph races. The Salamanders are currently the strongest force, but if the two races entered an alliance it would probably reverse the balance of power. I think the Salamanders want to prevent that at any cost."
As they crossed the bridge into the cave, Lyfa brought up a map and kept running as she checked the route.
"Also, if they kill the Lord, they will get some amazing bonuses. They will unconditionally receive 30% of the lord's funds stored in the mansion, and for ten days, the territory that the lord rules over would become occupied, then they are free to set taxes and take that money. That is a tremendous amount of money. The reason why Salamander became the largest force in the game was because in the past, they had set a trap for Sylph's first Lord and killed him. Normally lords don't venture into neutral territory. In the history of ALO, only one lord has ever been killed."
"Is that so..."
"That's why... Kirito-kun..."
Still running, Lyfa glanced at Kirito's profile and continued:
"This is a problem for the Sylph race, so you have no reason to get involved. After you get out of this cave, it is a straight forward route towards the city of Aarun. If you go to the conference site, it is not likely you will survive. You will respawn at Sylvain and all of the time it took to get here will have been wasted. Well, to put it bluntly..."
Lyfa had no time to appreciate the complexity of her inner emotions, and before she could stop herself, she said:
"If your objective is to go to the top of the world tree, it may be best to cooperate with the Salamanders. If the Salamander's strategy is successful, then they will get a lot of money. It is almost guaranteed that they will use it to challenge the world tree. Spriggans can be hired as mercenaries. ...I won't complain even if you kill me here."
If that happens, I will not resist, Lyfa thought. It was not something she would think of generally, but this time she was sure she had no chance of winning. She also found the prospect of fighting the boy she had become acquainted with over the past day to be unpleasant.
If that really does happen, then I may never play ALO again. As all of this ran through her mind, Lyfa looked at Kirito's face again, but his expression did not change; instead, he continued running forward and said:
"This is a game after all, so anything can happen. If you want to kill, then you can kill; if there is something you want, then you can steal it."
Kirito paused for a moment before speaking:
"...People who've said that, I have met too many of them. On one level, that is true, and I used to think that way too. But it isn't right. Especially in a virtual world, there are some things that you must protect, no matter how stupid you look. I was taught that by a person very important to me..."
Here, Kirito's voice grew very soft, taking on a warm feeling.
"VRMMOs are called games, but this is a contradiction; splitting the player and the role is not a good idea. If you take on traits in this world, your personality in the real world will reflect these changes. Players and their character are one. I like Lyfa, and I want to be your friend. No matter what the reason, I will not kill you to further my own self-interests, absolutely not!"
"Kirito-kun..." Lyfa suddenly felt unable to breathe so she stopped running. Noticing her falter, Kirito also paused.
Lyfa wrung her hands in thought, but words could not express the feelings racing through her; she continued staring at the dark eyed boy in front of her.
I see... so this is it... Lyfa muttered in the depths of her heart. That was the reason why Lyfa had not become close to anyone in this world. She could not be certain if what she saw was their true character, or if it was just a personality assumed with the avatar. She could not know if what they said were their true intentions and ideas. She didn't know how to approach them, and to escape their offered hands' weight, she wanted to fly away.
But, she didn't need to worry about that. She just followed what she felt, and that would be enough, since it was real to her.
Lyfa said the words that gently rose from the depths of her heart, knowing that if she spoke more she would start crying.
Hearing that, Kirito laughed in embarrassment.
"Sorry, I exaggerated a bit. It's a bad habit of mine."
"No, it made me happy – then we will say farewell once we exit the cave."
After hearing this, Kirito raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"I'll be going with you though."
"Oh no, we've wasted a lot of time. Yui, please navigate while we run."
Seeing the Pixie that sat on his shoulder nod in agreement, he turned to Lyfa.
"Lend me your hand for a moment."
Kirito reached out his left hand and grasped Lyfa's right hand. This situation had happened before, but this was the first time they actually held hands; Lyfa's heart suddenly began noticeably beating very fast. The next moment, Kirito bolted forward at breakneck speeds, abruptly breaking through the wall of the air and creating a wind tunnel. They had been running at a considerable pace earlier, but now they were going even faster. Their incredible speed made the rock texture appear to melt as they passed. With her right hand in Kirito's, her body floated out behind in a horizontal line. Kirito scanned around while cornering in the twisting and turning cave. There was nothing the least bit romantic about it.
Lyfa cried in a high-pitched voice as, looking ahead, she saw blinking yellow cursors getting closer. A group of orcs seemed to have made a nest in the cave.
"That— Those monsters."
Before she finished her sentence, Kirito ran right into the group of Orcs without showing any signs of slowing down.
Lyfa`s screams mixes together with the roar of the monsters. But one after another, the rain of heavy weapons missed. Kirito saw a gap in the monsters and rushed through with a furious dash. The orcs turned around, voiced their anger, and began to give chase, but Kirito had already broken through into the next passage. After that, they met Orcs and other monsters several more times, but Kirito simply dodged around and rushed past them all. At some point, a giant wave of monsters was following behind Kirito and Lyfa, their movement creating an earthshaking, avalanche-like tremor. On a side note, their action of «Aggravating» is considered very bad manners, as any unwary team that got in the way would most likely be unable to escape annihilation. Fortunately, a point of white light appeared before such a tragedy occurred.
"Oh, that's probably the exit."
After hearing Kirito say this, her vision suddenly went white, and, with a single step, the ground disappeared.
Lyfa instinctively closed her eyes and screamed as her feet thrashed about, but she soon noticed that the roaring around her had disappeared.
Gingerly opening her eyes, Lyfa found herself floating through the vast, infinite sky. It appeared that Kirito had not slowed down at all, instead catapulting from the cave opening that was halfway up the mountain. Looking back, she saw the sheer grey cliffs that seemed to continue forever in all directions. Soon after their exit, gravity quickly returned, and their fall drew an arc through the sky.
Hurriedly spreading her wings and gliding, Lyfa exhaled.
Breathing rapidly, Lyfa took a look behind them; in the distance was the cave exit, and huddling around it were the monsters that had chased them out. She turned back to Kirito.
"I think years were just shaved off my life!"
"Haha. It definitely saved us some time."
"...For dungeons, it shouldn't be.. while searching for the enemy, make sure you don't gather monsters.. what you did was like another game.."
Lyfa calmed down as she complained, and she began to re-examine the area. The vast plains spread out below, the blue of water sparkled here and there, the water's connection to a meandering river, and beyond that—
Lyfa gasped involuntarily. At the far end of the sea of clouds floated a huge shadow. A gigantic trunk pierced the earth and heavens like a pillar supporting the sky, with branches and leaves growing on the same scale as celestial bodies.
"So, that... is the World Tree."
Beside her, Kirito whispered in an awed tone. Even from their spot, just a distance ahead of their exit from the mountains, the World Tree had an overwhelming presence despite being almost twenty kilometers away. It was hard to imagine what it would be like to stand at its base. The two of them remained silent as they stared at the World Tree, but before long, Kirito recovered and said:
"Ah, it can't go on like this. Lyfa, where is the Conference of the Lords?"
"Ah, right. The World Tree is situated at the center of the world, in a large bowl created by the surrounding mountains. There are three large passes that lead to the World Tree: from Salamander territory is «Dragon Valley»; from Undine territory, «Rainbow Valley»; and from Cait Sith territory is «Butterfly Valley». The conference will be taking place at «Butterfly Valley», and near the inland exit."
Lyfa looked around and pointed northwest.
"I think we should fly in that direction for some time."
"Okay, how much time is remaining!?"
"If they want to attack the conference, the Salamanders will be coming from that direction."
Kirito's finger moved from the Southeast to the Northwest.
"If they arrive earlier than us, we'll be in trouble. Let's just hurry. Yui, do a search, and tell me if a large number of players come into range."
Yui nodded, and Lyfa and Kirito began accelerating.
"Anyway, are there no monsters in this area?"
Kirito asked while cutting through a cloud cluster.
"The Aarun Plateau is a field with no monsters. So the conference is being deliberately held close to this place."
"In other words, if monsters attacked midway through the talk, it might be a bit of a problem. However, in this case, it would've been very fortunate."
"What do you mean?"
Kirito just laughed with a mischievous smile.
"Like what happened earlier, I was going to lead a bunch of monsters directly through the Salamander force."
"...You have time to think like that? The Salamander group is supposed to be bigger than the one that attacked us in the cave. If we can warn them in time, we will all run to the Cait Sith territory; if we gather a big group of monsters, who do you think will die?"
Kirito stroked his chin with a thoughtful look on his face. At that moment...
"There it is, player response!"
Yui suddenly cried out.
"The group in front has 68 players, these probably are the Salamander assault force. In addition, there are fourteen more people on the ground, I expect those are the Sylph and Cait Sith delegations. The two sides will meet in fifty seconds."
Yui finished talking just as they cut through a large cloud. Lyfa looked down on a very broad, green plateau from extremely high in the air.
Somewhere at a lower altitude were innumerable, creeping shadows. Flying in five-man units, they were like a flock of sinister figures sneaking up on their target without a sound.
Her glance was then drawn toward their destination. She could see a small circular platform. There was a long white table with seven chairs on each side, an impromptu conference hall.
The people sitting in the chairs, still deep in conversation, were unaware of the looming threat.
"...We're too late."
Lyfa said from Kirito's side.
There was no time to warn the Lords before the Salamanders arrived— not enough time to escape. Thus, the others must be prepared to become a shield, even at the cost of their lives, to at least allow the Lords to escape.
Lyfa took her hand and held Kirito's.
"Thank you, Kirito-kun, for bringing me here. You go to the World Tree, and though the time we traveled together was short, I was very happy."
Lyfa said with a smile, but as she folded her wings to an acute angle for diving, Kirito caught her right hand. Lyfa turned to him, and on Kirito's face floated his usual fearless smile.
"It is not in my nature to run away!"
Kirito let go of her hand, moved Yui off his shoulder into his breast pocket, and, beating his wings violently, suddenly accelerated. BANG! Lyfa closed her eyes from the force of the sonic boom, and, when she re-opened them, Kirito was diving toward the platform.
"What!! What are you doing!!?"
The moment of farewell and her sad words of parting made worthless, Lyfa argued back, but Kirito had already left her far behind. Stunned, she hurriedly chased him.
At their destination, the Cait Sith and Sylphids finally noticed the large group. One by one, they jumped off their chairs and drew their shining silver swords, but, compared to the Salamanders and their equipment, they seemed very fragile.
Flying over the grassland, the Salamander vanguard held their lances up like birds-of-prey ready to dive on defenseless rabbits. The troops behind fanned out to the left and right, half surrounding the platform. Moments before the killing, the world was shrouded in silence.
One Salamander raised his hand, and just as he was about to let it drop...
A huge cloud of dust rose from center of the platform between the two groups. Then an instant later KA-BOOM! A loud explosion seemed to cause even the atmosphere to tremble, and Kirito landed like a black meteor without slowing down.
All the players on the ground stood frozen in place. As the dust gradually thinned out, Kirito slowly stood up, in general contempt of the Salamander Army. He leaned back, took a deep breath, and yelled:
"Both sides, put your weapons away!!"
Lyfa, still diving, instinctively dropped her head. What an incredibly loud sound, although it's not as loud as that earlier explosion. It caused even Lyfa, who was still about ten meters in the air, to shake. For the Salamanders, whether it was from physical pressure or just shock, they were trembling a bit as they moved back little by little.
It was not the voice that surprised everyone; it was the fearless courage within it. What exactly is that guy doing? No one could guess.
Lyfa looked at the scene as a cold sweat went down her back. Behind Kirito, Lyfa landed near the green clothed group who should be Sylph. Looking around, Lyfa immediately saw a familiar figure.
Hearing someone call her name, that Sylph looked around with a dazed expression and opened her eyes wide when she saw Lyfa.
"Lyfa!? Why are you here!? No, what is going on here...?"
Lyfa opened her mouth while thinking, this was the first time she has ever seen Sakuya so confused, and said:
"It's hard to explain, but right now, our fate is in that person's hands!"
"What is going on?"
The Sylph lord looked at the small back of the figure dressed in black. While sympathetic to her thoughts, Lyfa studied the current Sylph Lord, Sakuya.
The woman had a beautiful slender straight posture, with waist-length green hair so dark it was nearly black. She had pale white skin, slightly slit eyes, a high nose, and thin lips. if you were to describe her beauty, it would be the beauty of a finely honed blade.
Wearing long Japanese style clothes that hugged her body, from her obi hung a katana nearly two inches longer than Lyfa's. Delicate white feet in high crimson clogs peeked out from beneath the hem of her clothes. Looking at that unforgettable figure, it was no wonder she won the election for Lord with an impressive 80% of the votes.
Of course, the votes didn't just come from her beauty alone. Because of the pressures of being the lord, she could rarely participate in hunting, so her numerical stats can not be called terribly high. However, her sword skills were such that she was usually in the final round during tournament duels, and her just personality also maintained her overwhelming popularity.
Moving her eyes, Lyfa's gaze came to rest on a petite female player beside Sakuya.
The wavy, blond hair surrounding the big triangular ears on both sides of her head marked her as a Cait Sith. She wore armor that resembled a one-piece swimsuit, boldly exposing delicately-tanned skin. From both sides of her waist hung claw-type weapons with three huge protruding nails. A colorful stripe near her hips emphasized her tail, which was twitching and trembling in tension.
Looking at her profile, you could see long eyelashes that covered big eyes and a slightly round small nose. Her avatar in ALO was unusual, but it could be described as a charming little girl. Although it is the first time Lyfa had seen her, it was probably safe to say she was the Cait Sith Lord, Alicia Rue. Like Sakuya, she maintained her position as Lord through overwhelming popularity.
Behind the two lords who stood together, six Cait Siths and six Sylphids stood by the long white table, all showing bewildered expressions. She didn't know any of the Cait Siths, but all the Sylphs were members of the council group of strong players. Taking a closer look at this group of people, Lyfa confirmed that Sigurd was not present.
As Lyfa turned to look at the Salamander forces on the southern part of the plateau, Kirito again shouted:
"I have something to say to the commander!"
This fearless attitude seemed to overwhelm the Salamander soldiers, their Lance group opened up a path. From that path in the air came a large soldier.
Bristling flame-like hair framed a face reminiscent of a dark-skinned bird of prey. His strong body was covered in the ultra-rare Blood Armor, and he carried a huge sword far stronger than Kirito's.
Seeing his eyes flash crimson for a moment, Lyfa felt a cold sweat run down her back. Though she wasn't facing him directly, this was the first time Lyfa had felt such an intimidating aura from an opponent.
With a Gasha sound he landed in front of Kirito, without any expression he looked down at Kirito with contempt. Eventually, the Salamander opened his mouth and, with a deep, penetrating voice, asked:
"...What is a Spriggan doing in such a place? Not that it will stop us from killing you, but I will listen to your story in deference to the courage you are displaying."
Kirito, without any hesitation, said loudly:
"My name is Kirito, and I am the representative of the Spriggan-Undine Union. Am I to understand that by attacking this place, you wish to start a full-scale war with all four of our races?"
Lyfa was speechless. The idea was just too illogical. This time real cold sweat streamed down her back from the outrageous story he was telling. At this point, Sakuya and Alicia Rue turned to Lyfa in surprise, only to see her desperate wink.
But the Salamander commander also seemed to be truly surprised.
His expression soon returned to normal.
"You say that you are the ambassador, but where is your escort?"
"Ah, yes. I came here to conduct trade negotiations with Sylph and Cait Sith. However, if you attack us at the conference, it will be a different matter. In essence you would be forcing all four races into an alliance against the Salamanders."
Suddenly, the world again fell into silence, only to be broken by the Salamander leader's remarks.
"Hmm, even if you are who you say you are, how can I believe someone who came alone and with such bad equipment!?"
The Salamander put his hand to his back and loudly unsheathed a huge, double-edged sword. It had a dark-red gloss and two intertwined dragons were etched on its surface.
"If you can withstand my attacks for thirty seconds, I'll trust you as an ambassador!"
"You're so generous, aren't you?"
Kirito drew his own double-edged sword as he spoke. Unlike the Salamander, his sword is a dull reddish-black with no decoration.
Kirito's wings started vibrating and he floated into the air, hovering at the same height as the Salamander. Lyfa thought it felt as though the fighting spirit was being compressed between the two, and it would start bursting out in white sparks.
Lyfa gulped with a deep sound.
Given Kirito's abilities and strength, this should be quite generous. But from the murderous intent that practically oozed from the Salamander commander, Lyfa could tell he wasn't an ordinary case either.
In the tense atmosphere, Sakuya, who was standing next to Lyfa, whispered:
"This is bad..."
"That Salamander, the two-handed sword he's holding, I've seen it before on a website reviewing legendary weapons. It's the «Demonic Sword Gram», which would make that man «General Eugene». Did you know that?"
"...Only the name..."
Lyfa held her breath and nodded her head, and Sakuya continued:
"He is the brother of Salamander Lord «Mortimer», possibly in the real world as well. He has the pure strength to match his brother's wisdom. He is said to be the Salamander`s strongest warrior.. which means he's..."
"...The strongest player!?"
"That's right... This has turned out to be quite terrible."
Lyfa clasped her hands tightly to her chest.
The two people hovering in the air faced each other across the intervening distance, seeming to measure their opponent. Low-altitude clouds covered the sun, and pillars of light shone through the gaps. One of those beams reflected brilliantly off of the Salamander's sword, and, at that moment.
Eugene launched his attack without any predictable movements.
Phew! With a ring, Eugene moved at super-high-speed, causing the air to vibrate. His sword drew a crimson arc in the air as it was swung toward the diminutive Spriggan.
Kirito's reaction speed was unbelievably fast. He acted without any excess movements, expanding his wings and blocking Eugene's overhead strike. After parrying his opponent's attack, Kirito would immediately counter— Predictable enough, Lyfa thought, but...
At the moment the black sword and the crimson sword crossed, the crimson sword seemed to change to vapor. It passed through Kirito's sword, and returned to normal.
Dagaaan!! With a burst of sound that could shake the world, Kirito was hit in the chest by an explosion of tremendous strength. He looked like a black leaf blown through a storm as he plummeted earthward. There was another roar, and the dust rose as he struck the ground.
Lyfa's speechless question was answered by Alicia Rue.
"«Demonic Sword Gram» has a special ability called «Ethereal Shift». When it comes in contact with defensive shields, swords, or other objects, it phases. In other words, it has a 'pass through' extra effect."
"How, how could..."
Lyfa hurriedly checked Kirito's HP value. But suddenly, a shadow leaped from the dust cloud, rushing straight at the still-hovering Eugene.
"Oh, he's still alive!"
As if nothing had happened, Kirito stopped and asked:
"What was that earlier attack!?"
Kirito remarked while swinging his sword.
KLANG KLANG! Metallic sound continued. Kirito didn't seem to be one to give up due to having inferior weapon. Even though Lyfa's eyes could not discern Kirito's countless strikes, Eugene was repelling the attacks with his two-handed sword.
For just a brief moment, Kirito's assault seemed to pause, but that was enough.
Gram once again shined a fierce light. As Kirito was about block an attack aimed at his side, the sword dissolved, only to reappear beyond his guard and bite deeply into his abdomen.
Kirito cried as he coughed up air from his lungs, this time he was spun in the air. With his wings fully extended, he managed to stop and regain his balance.
"That is definitely effective.. Hey, hasn't thirty seconds passed yet?"
Hearing Kirito's remarks, Eugene just laughed arrogantly.
"Sorry, now I really want to cut you down. I'm changing the plan, this time I'll remove your head!"
"This guy.. I'll make you regret it!"
Kirito again prepared to attack, though unfortunately, there seemed to be no doubt as to who the winner would be.
To prevent the special attacks from «Demonic Sword Gram», Kirito could do nothing to defend. Instead, he had to avoid all attacks. But that was almost impossible in this high-speed, close-quarters-combat.
Coming to the same conclusion, Sakuya whispered:
"The situation is grim. Although the players might be seen as equal, the performance of their weapons is far too different. For the one and only «Demonic Sword Gram», only the legendary weapon, «Holy Sword Excaliber», can compete against it, but no one knows where or how to obtain it..."
Even so, if it is Kirito... Although he appeared to be just a novice, he had demonstrated great strength... This Spriggan was certainly an enigma. While thinking this, Lyfa clasped her hands to her chest as if praying.
Eugene's red wings blurred into a band of light as he thrust his sword forward. Kirito avoided the attack with dangerous random flying.
While fighting, the two of them flew in a complex pattern, time and time again there were attack effect flashes before they separated. Kirito's health had already been reduced to about half by the two attacks he had taken. Eugene was not a normal opponent though, easily able to cut through Kirito's defenses that had withstood multiple magic attacks earlier.
Kirito suddenly turned around and thrust out his right hand. He chanted an incantation, and black dust sparkled from his outstretched hand...
Bang, bang, bang, bang! Jet-black streams of smoke erupted around the two opponents. A long-range fascination magic quickly expanded to cover the entire airspace.
The darkness descended to above Lyfa's head and the surroundings became dark. Lyfa`s vision was obscured by the darkness, and she desperately searched for Kirito.
"Lyfa, lend me this for a little bit."
A voice suddenly whispered in her ears, and she felt her katana being drawn from its sheath at her waist.
Lyfa hurriedly turned around. There was no one there, but her sheath was inexplicably empty.
"Are you trying to stall!!?"
Eugene cried from the center of the thick smoke. Immediately came the sound of a spell incantation.
WHACK! A red light burst out in an expanding sphere, dispelling the smoke. The smoke faded quickly, once again restoring light to the world.
Lyfa hurriedly looked to the blue sky. There was...
No sign of Kirito.
The only one hovering in air was the Salamander general. The little Spriggan is nowhere in sight.
"No way.. he fled..."
Behind, a Cait Sith cried in astonishment. But before he finished, Lyfa cried out:
"Of course he didn't!"
There is absolutely no way. Even if any other player would flee, he would not run.
This young man, Kirito, did not «play» VRMMO games; he «lived» them. He believed that this world was another reality, and that all the trust cultivated, all the bonds formed, and all the love created here was the truth.
Therefore, hey.. I can hear it...
It was coming from above, the sound of a flight so powerfully beautiful it resembled the sound from a flute. Approaching closer and closer, louder and louder.
The moment she finally found his figure, it was cast in rainbows by the tears appearing in Lyfa's eyes.
From the middle of the sun, the object that created the strongest light effects in ALfheim, falling from the sky through the white light of heaven, a small shadow rapidly descends.
Eugene noticed a few seconds later than Lyfa and looked up. Frowning at the strong effect, he raised his left hand to shield his eyes from the sun's strong light. An average player would have moved horizontally to avoid the sun's rays and to follow the space where the shadow was falling.
However, the general Eugene, worthy of his reputation, closed his mouth, then opened it greatly.
With a yell that seemed to make earth and heavens tremble, he turned toward the sun like a true Salamander. With a streak of red light, he shot up like a rocket.
Kirito incoming from above held his black greatsword, which he normally used with both hands, in his right hand only. His left hand was hidden behind his back so it could not be seen.
In the strong light, what he held in his left hand flashed, and it was raised up high.
What caused that silver flash? That was the katana that Kirito had just taken from the sheath at her waist, if Lyfa was not mistaken. That was, Kirito now held a sword in each hand.
Two-sword style— This concept was not entirely new. Despite the many people that attempted to use it, Lyfa didn't know of any who had succeeded. It was incredibly difficult to manipulate swords with both hands and to have them work in sync.
During kendo competitions in the real world, it was not against the rules to use two bamboo swords, one large and one smaller. However, it was prohibited in middle or high school competitions, and the number of university students who could use two swords is very small. Anyway, she had never used two swords. It might have its advantages, but it was too difficult to be practical. It was said that the same was true in the virtual world.
Still, Kirito was armed with two swords. Eugene apparently thought it was an act of desperation and had a contemptuous smile on his face.
Lyfa opened her eyes wet with tears and wholeheartedly believed in Kirito.
The Salamander raised his demonic sword and, with a solemn twist, swung it at Kirito. The Spriggan's left-hand sword rose in an intersecting orbit to meet it.
Bang! The dark red sword began to vibrate. «Ethereal Shift» activated, penetrating Kirito's guard and plunging toward his neck.
KLANG! With a sharp metallic sound, Gram was deflected. What stopped it was Kirito's exactly timed thrust using the greatsword in his right hand. Like threading the eye of a needle, perfect timing.
Kirito faced the astonished Eugene, and issued a thunderous roar.
With swords in both hands, he attacked with speed so overwhelming that the swords appeared to turn into mist.
The katana in his left hand swept out, followed by a thrust with the great sword in a perfectly linked motion. As the greatsword pulled back, the katana slashed once again, from the lower left, and, after returning along the same path, the greatsword chopped down heavily from above.
Silver and black melded together as the onslaught of attacks fell like meteors through the night sky. How much training it would take to achieve that kind of speed with a two-sword style, Lyfa could not imagine. Eugene retreated and tried to use Ethereal Shift to fight back, but his sword could not pass through twice, it was blocked by Kirito's double barrier.
As General Eugene was rapidly forced toward the ground, he roared deeply. The special effects of his armor formed a thin wall of flame like a hemisphere, pushing Kirito back a little. In that moment, the demonic sword came up—
KONG! With loud noise, Eugene went on the offensive.
Kirito did not hesitate in rushing in either, and the katana in his left hand gleamed as it swung down at a speed matched only by lightning.
JANG! The shrill scream of metal flowed out. Blinding sparks cascaded down in an arc through the air.
Before the Ethereal Shift could even activate, Kirito's sword hit Gram's side and deflected it. Eugene's attack grazed Kirito's left shoulder and moved to his back. Right after...
With amazing ease, the sword in Kirito's right hand thrust straight forward.
Thunk! Low notes sounded, the black blade went through the Salamander`s body.
Kirito's nearly god-like speed coupled with their incoming speed resulted in terrific damage. Eugene's HP bar plunged into the yellow zone in an instant.
Kirito's attacks did not stop there. As Eugene tried to recover, Kirito quickly pulled his great sword back, resuming his attack form and using his left hand katana to start a combo that Lyfa was unable to follow. In one breath, four cuts of his sword drew a beautiful track in the air, forming a square that wrapped around the Salamander`s huge body.
General Eugene expressed astonishment as his upper body, from right shoulder to his left waist, slid away without a sound. The light forming the square dispersed in every direction.
Right after, General Eugene`s body began burning, and he collapsed into a huge End Frame.
No one moved.
From the Sylphids and the Cait Siths to the over fifty members of the Salamander assault force, everyone froze.
It was a battle at such high level that no one had ever seen anything like it.
In general, fighting in ALO was a graceless brandishing of weapons at close-range or a mindless reliance on magic without even a hint of skill in long-range combat. Defense and evasion were techniques performed only by very experienced long time players, things like face-to-face high skill combat could only be seen at the final rounds at fighting tournaments.
But this time, the fight between Kirito and Eugene was much more than that.
Ornate sword-dancing tearing the air, high-speed flight, Eugene and his earth-shattering sword, and Kirito's ultra-high speed two sword style that defeated it...
Sakuya was the first to break the silence.
She said in a forceful voice as she clapped her hands.
"Amazing! Nice fight!"
Alicia Rue said immediately, followed by the twelve people behind her. Grand applause, mixed with whistles and a loud "BRAVO!" resounded in an immense tumult.
Lyfa watched the Salamander forces with bated breath. Surely, in the case of their commander being defeated, they won't be able to take it lying down—
Surprisingly, the wave of applause also transmitted from the Salamander troops there. Continuous cheers rang out, they raised their lances and waved them like a banner.
Lyfa smiled unintentionally.
Up till now, she had only thought of the Salamanders as enemies – a lawless group of robbers, but they were still players of ALO before any of that. The amazing duel between Eugene and Kirito was enough to sway their hearts.
Caught in the exaltation, Lyfa also clapped her hands with all her heart.
In the center of the ring of applause, Kirito's face emerged with a smile, he resheathed his sword and raised his right hand.
"Ah, thank you, thank you!"
Kirito bowed in every direction, turned in Lyfa's direction, and shouted:
"Will someone please use revival magic?!"
Nodding, Sakuya floated through the air and stopped beside Eugene's Remain Light. With the hem of her kimono fluttering, she began the incantation for revival magic.
A blue light emerged from Sakuya's hands and wrapped around the red flame. The complicated magic circle solidified and the flame expanded, eventually forming a human shape.
Then with a final strong flash, the magic circle disappeared. Kirito, Sakuya and the revived Eugene landed in silence on the platform edge. Silence once again descended upon them.
"...That was impressive skill. You bastard, you are the strongest player I have ever seen."
Eugene said with a calm tone.
Was Kirito's short response.
"That a Spriggan like you exists, the world is a very big place."
"My story, do you believe it now?"
Eugene narrowed his eyes, suddenly silent.
At this time, from the Salamander vanguard, a player ran over to Eugene. The player in armor stood at attention, then used his left hand to lift his visor.
He had a rugged face, Lyfa could tell as he bowed to Eugene before speaking.
"Gene-san, do you have a moment?"
"Ah, Kagemune, what is it?"
Where have I heard this name before? —Lyfa thought for a moment, before remembering. That was the name the surviving Salamander from the lake had mentioned. Kagemune was the captain of the troop of Salamanders that Kirito had wiped out at the Ancient Forest yesterday.
"I think you already know, but yesterday my party was annihilated."
Hearing him talking about that, Lyfa swallowed her saliva and strained her ears to listen.
"It was this Spriggan, I'm sure, but he also had an Undine companion."
Surprised, Lyfa looked at Kagemune's profile. Kirito's eyebrows twitched momentarily before his poker face settled back into place. Kagemune continued:
"In addition, from the information of the 'S', a team was sent to hunt this man. They seem to have been repulsed."
'S' was probably a code for a spy. But the 'S' might also stand for Sigurd...
Eugene looked down at Kagemune's face. Most people around them began whispering to each other, and Lyfa's palms began sweating, waiting for the other's response.
Finally, Eugene nodded and said:
"Is that so?"
He smiled slightly.
"I'll leave it at that..."
Then he turned to Kirito.
"Neither our Lord nor I have any desire to provoke the Spriggans and Undines under the current conditions. We will leave this place, but, one day, I would like to fight you once again."
"I await that day."
Kirito thrust his fist in front of him. Eugene knocked his fist against Kirito's and turned around. Spreading his wings, he kicked off the ground and flew away.
As he flew away, Kagemune looked back at Lyfa, and, with a laugh in his eyes, awkwardly winked his right eye. I repaid what I owed you— that's probably what he meant, Lyfa thought with a slight smile on her face.
Seeing the two Salamanders fly away, Lyfa released the breath she had been holding.
As the people on the ground watched, the Salamander troops formed up neatly and with very little confusion. As they left, their wings issued a dull tremble with Eugene's wings leading. Their presence soon faded, and, as they entered the clouds, they were swallowed up and completely disappeared.
The silence descended once again, this time to be broken by Kirito's laughter.
"...So there are Salamanders who can understand talks."
Lyfa was lost for a few seconds, then the words building in the depths of her stomach finally flowed out.
"...You, are too much."
"I've often heard that."
"...Ha ha ha."
Their laughter was finally stopped with a cough from Sakuya, before she said:
"Sorry... but it would be helpful if you could explain the situation."
As the calm was restored on the platform, Lyfa told the whole story, although some of the content was speculative. Sakuya, Alicia Rue, and the elders of the two communities listened quietly until Lyfa finished, then they all made a deep sigh.
"...So that's what happened."
Sakuya, arms crossed over her chest, gorgeous eyebrows arched down, nodded her head.
"For the past few months, Sigurd's attitude became very restless. I felt he was up to something, but I couldn't remove him from the council for fear of being seen as a dictator."
"Sakuya-chan, it seems your popularity put you in a difficult position."
Alicia Rue, who had been in power even longer than Sakuya, nodded deeply.
"Restless... from what?"
Lyfa asked since she still couldn't understand Sigurd's mindset, Sakuya answered:
"It was probably that his heart could not forgive the situation. He could not tolerate being second place to the Salamanders."
"Sigurd is a man driven by power, both in his character's numerical stats and in his political power as a player... hence the thought of the Salamanders conquering the world tree and ruling over the skies of ALFheim, the idea of looking up at them from the ground... that is something he would not forgive."
"...But even so, why would he spy for the Salamanders?"
"Did you hear about «UPDATE 5.0», soon to be introduced? Rumors say that it will include a «Rebirth System»."
"He may have struck a deal with Mortimer because as long as the race's Lord agreed, he would be able to become a Salamander. But Rebirth is supposed to cost a huge amount of Yurudo. I doubt that cold-blooded Mortimer would have held up his end of the bargain anyway."
Lyfa had complicated feelings, so she tried to empty her mind by staring at the gold-colored sky and the distant cloud covered world tree.
Reincarnation as an ALF and being freed of the shackles on flight... this has been Lyfa's dream since she first experienced flight. It was the reason she joined Sigurd's team, it was why she was eager to hunt, turning almost all of the money over to the Sylphid council.
If I had not met Kirito and quit the team, Sigurd may have tried to sway me into his Salamander reincarnation plan. If that had happened, what would I have done?
"ALO really is a sinister game that tests the desires of the players."
Kirito said suddenly, his voice mixed with a wry smile.
"The designer must have a bad character."
"Fufu, that's right."
Sakuya responded with a smile.
Lyfa decided to follow her heart a little. She had held Kirito's left hand in her right and put weight on it. Moving close to Kirito, who seemed unfazed no matter the situation, Lyfa's heart gradually settled down.
"So... what will you do, Sakuya?"
Upon hearing this, the beautiful smile faded into that calculating look of those in power, and her eyes closed. They immediately opened, this time the dark green eyes emit exceptionally bright, clear light.
"Rue, you've been training your dark magic skills, right?"
Upon hearing Sakuya's words, Alicia's large ears twitched back and forth expressing her affirmation.
"Well, then please use «Moonlight Mirror» on Sigurd."
"That's fine, but it is not night yet, so it won't last long."
"Never mind, it will soon be over."
Moving her ears again, Alicia Rue raised her hands, took a step back, and started to chant.
Alicia's tempting voice rose in the rhythm of the rarely heard dark magic incantation. The surroundings darkened suddenly, and moonlight poured quickly out of nowhere.
The moonlight immediately began collecting in front of Alicia, and, like liquid-gold, it formed a round mirror. Everyone watched in silence, and the mirror had a slightly wavy surface, reflecting a view from some other blurred place.
Lyfa let out the small sound. Projected in the mirror, was a place she had visited a countless number of times: the lord's mansion council room.
Lyfa could see a huge emerald green desk. Behind the desk, in the chair reserved for the Lord, sat a man. He had his legs crossed and propped up on the desk while he leaned back into the chair. His eyes were closed and his head was cradled in his hands; this person was Sigurd.
Sakuya stepped in front of the mirror and called out in a voice like a tightly-strung harp:
In the mirror, Sigurd suddenly opened his eyes and jumped up like a spring. He probably saw in the mirror, coming eye-to-eye with Sakuya, his mouth open and his body shook constantly.
"Yes, unfortunately, I'm still alive."
Sakuya replied indifferently.
"Why... no... the conference...?"
"It's likely to end successfully. But the signing of the treaty has just begun. Oh yes, we had an unexpected visitor."
"General Eugene told us to say hello to you!"
This time, Sigurd seemed to have undergone great surprise. His fine face turned pale, and his eyes shifted restlessly as he searched for words. His eyes locked on Lyfa and Kirito behind Sakuya.
Suddenly, his eyes opened wide, and he finally seemed to grasp the situation. Sigurd bared his teeth in a predatory smile.
"...Those incompetent lizards. So... Sakuya, what do you want? Reprimand money? Kick me out of the Ministry of Power? But if you lose me as army commander, what happens to your political power..."
"No, if you can no longer stand being a Sylph, I'll grant your wish."
Sakuya elegantly waved her left hand, and a huge system menu exclusively for the Lord appeared. The numerous windows were not stacked, but formed hexagonal columns of light. Sakuya found one particular window and slid it out with a finger.
In the mirror, Sigurd stared as a blue message window appeared in front of him. Looking at the message, his face flushed instantly, and he stood up.
"Why, you..! Are you insane? You... to me... You are going to banish me!?"
"Yes, you will become a renegade and wander the neutral zone. I pray that you can find new fun in this game soon."
"Well... I'll sue you! I will go to a GM with a complaint of an unjust use of power!!"
"As you wish. ...Goodbye, Sigurd."
Sigurd raised his fist and began to continue his tirade. Sakuya touched a button on her menu, and Sigurd disappeared from the mirror. Since he was banished from Sylph territory, he would be randomly transferred to a neutral city other than Aarun.
The gold mirror now reflected an empty council room, but, before long, the surface began to distort. With a loud metallic clang, it shattered, and the shroud that had been covering the setting sun disappeared.
The silence once again returned, Sakuya's eyebrows furrowed, and Lyfa sensing her feelings called out gently.
The beautiful lord waved her left hand once again, dismissing the menu window, and sighed with a smile.
"Whether my judgement was right or not will be decided at the next lord election. Anyway, thank you Lyfa. I'm very glad you, who stubbornly refused to join the council of elders, came here to the rescue. Alicia as well, I'm sorry you got mixed up in the Sylphid civil unrest and came under danger."
"We survived, so it doesn't matter!"
Following the casual voice of the Cait Sith lord, Lyfa shook her head.
"I did not do anything. If you want to thank someone, you should thank Kirito."
"Yes, now that you mention it... what are you..."
Standing side by side, Sakuya and Alicia Rue looked at Kirito with a question written on their faces.
"Are you actually the ambassador of the Spriggan-Undine Union?"
Out of curiosity, Alicia asked, her tail flicking. With his hand on his right hip, Kirito answered confidently:
"It was all a big lie, of course. A random bluff, but it was necessary for negotiations."
Their mouths dropped open, at an utter loss for words.
"... What an unreasonable man. And boasting such a thing in that situation..."
"When you've been dealt a bad hand, you have to raise the stakes."
Kirito bragged unapologetically. Suddenly, Alicia was smiling, and, with the mischievous smile of a cat, advanced a few steps nearer Kirito, and she looked at his face from close-up.
"You big liar, you're really strong though! Do you know? General Eugene is probably the strongest player in ALO. You actually beat him face-to-face, so you're the Spriggans' secret weapon, right?"
"How could that be? I'm just a humble wandering warrior."
This arrogant answer made Alicia laugh, and she took Kirito's right hand and hugged it to her chest. Tilting her head, she gave him a sexy look.
"Free means you can come to Cait Sith territory as a mercenary. I can offer you three meals a day and an afternoon nap."
Lyfa felt her lips draw tight. But, before she got a chance to speak up, another voice abruptly interrupted.
"Hey Rue, no cutting in line."
In came Sakuya, with a more amorous voice than normal. She was now dressed in a sleeveless dress and grasped Kirito's left arm.
"He came to rescue the Sylphs originally, so that should give us preferential negotiation rights. Kirito-kun, we will go for a drink in Sylvain, which will double as a courtesy, and then we can take care of some personal matters..."
Pili Pili. Lyfa's face turned red with rage and started to twitch uncontrollably.
"Ah, too cunning, Sakuya-chan. I oppose seduction."
"You have a right to say that? You are too close to him!"
Two very beautiful lords were double-teaming Kirito, and his uncomfortable look changed to a red-faced look of embarrassment...
While thinking that, Lyfa grabbed Kirito's collar from behind and cried:
"No! Kirito-kun is my..."
All three turned to look at Lyfa. At the same time, she realized what she was saying and returned to reality.
"That is, m... my..."
Unable to find the words, Lyfa was left in an awkward silence, and watching it all, Kirito smiled and said:
"I appreciate your kindness— But sorry, I promised to go with her to the central region."
"Oh.. is that right? That is unfortunate."
The usually reserved Sakuya voiced her regret truthfully, and turned her gaze to Lyfa.
"You're going to Aarun, Lyfa? Is it a pleasure trip, or...?"
"I was leaving the territory— or so I thought. But, though I don't know when, I will definitely go back to Sylvain."
"I see, that's a relief. You have to return, with him of course."
"Make sure to stop by my house when you do, and I'll roll out the red carpet."
The two Lords left Kirito, and their expressions became solemn. Sakuya put her right hand to her chest and tilted her body gracefully, Alicia bowed her head and her ears drooped a little, both of them thanked Kirito and Lyfa. Sakuya raised her head and said:
"I would like to thank you, Lyfa and Kirito. If we had been defeated, the difference between us and the Salamanders would have grown out of control. I wish to express my gratitude..."
"No, such a thing..."
Seeing Kirito scratch his head with a troubled look on his face, Lyfa suddenly thought of something. She stepped forward and said:
"Well, Sakuya, Alicia. The reason for this alliance, is it for attacking the World Tree?"
"Well, ultimately, that is our goal. We will challenge the World Tree together; if both races are reborn as ALF then that's great, but if not, the race that succeeds is responsible for assisting the other during the next Grand Quest. That is the bone of the alliance."
"Please let us take part in the attack as well, as soon as possible."
Alicia Rue and Sakuya exchanged glances.
"I don't mind you accompanying us. It's more like we want you to join us. But we don't know yet about timing, but why?"
She took a peek at Kirito. The enigmatic Spriggan boy cast his eyes down for a moment and said:
"The reason why I came to this world is to reach the top of the World Tree. There is a certain person that I must meet, and there is a possibility that person may be there..."
"Person? Are you talking about Fairy King Oberon?"
"No, I think it is someone different. It is someone who I can't contact in the real world, but who I must meet by any means possible."
"Oh, at the top of the world tree means a person on the management side? A really mysterious story, don't you think?"
The topic seemed to have attracted Alicia Rue's interest, as she said with shining eyes, but her ears and tail drooped immediately.
"But... to prepare and fully equip the party members' equipment will take a while... it's not possible in a day or two..."
"I see, that's true... No, my goal is just getting to the base of the tree for now... After that I will think of something."
Kirito laughed slightly and, 'Oh yes', as if reminded of something, Kirito waved his left hand. He quickly manipulated the window, and materialized a huge leather bag.
"This should help in the way of funds."
Saying so, Kirito handed out the bag. Judging from the sound, it seemed to be heavy and full of Yurudo. Alicia who accepted the bag staggered for a moment then hurriedly hugged it with both hands, she looked inside and her eyes instantly became rounded with astonishment.
"Sa... Sakuya-chan, this..."
Sakuya bowed her head as her right hand entered the bag. From the inside she drew out a large coin with a white green shine.
Seeing this, Lyfa also cried out in an incredulous voice. The two lords continued to stare at the contents of the bags, seemingly frozen in place. The twelve people watching from behind cheered.
"...One hundred thousand Yurudo Mithril coin... all of this!?"
Even for Sakuya, she said in a blurred voice while staring at the coin in doubt. Still amazed and shaking her head, she returned the coin to the bag.
"This kind of money, it is almost impossible to earn this without fighting the Evil God-class monsters in Jötunheimr... Are you sure? With this much money you could build a castle in a prime location."
"I don't mind. It is no longer necessary for me."
Kirito didn't seem to have any deep attachment and nodded.
Sakuya and Alicia once again looked in the bag, released a deep sigh, and lifted their heads.
"...With this much, I think we are fairly close to the target amount."
"We will prepare the equipment immediately and will contact you when we are ready."
"I will leave it to you."
Sakuya opened a menu window, and Alicia put the bag into it.
"Just the thought of wandering around in the field with this much money makes me shiver... Let's get back to Cait Sith territory as quickly as possible before the Salamanders change their mind."
"That's true. We'll continue the conference when we return."
The Lords nodded to each other and signaled to their followers. The long table and chairs were cleaned up quickly.
"We owe you a lot. We promise to do our best to make your wish come true, Kirito and Lyfa."
"I'm glad I was able to help."
"We will wait for your contact."
Sakuya and Alicia shook hands respectively with Kirito and Lyfa.
"Thank you! We'll meet again!"
Alicia once again exposed a mischievous smile, wagged her tail near Kirito and kissed him on the cheek. She left the flustered Kirito and turned toward the frowning Lyfa —What did she mean?— and gave her a quick wink. She then spread her pale yellow wings wide.
The two lords waved their hands and flew straight up, with a streak of light they moved toward the red sky west. The six people from each race lined up in beautiful V, a formation like that of wild geese, and followed.
Lyfa and Kirito watched them until their figures disappeared in the sunset sky.
The sound of wind whistling and the leaves playing on it were the only reminders that a fierce fight had just occurred. A fight with the fate of three races on the line now seemed like nothing more than an illusion. Lyfa felt a bit cold, and nestled up to Kirito.
"...Everyone is gone now."
"Yeah, it is finally over..."
The break with Sigurd and the series of events that followed it, Lyfa felt as though it had been a long time. Not just the seven or eight hours that had truly passed.
Together with Kirito, this was the true real world, she felt that this winged her was her true self— Lyfa / Suguha thought, but could not express it in words. Instead, she pressed her body against Kirito's chest, and tried to feel his heartbeat, then...
"Why you, I said no cheating, papa!"
Yui jumped out from Kirito's breast pocket and spoke in an indignant voice. Lyfa hurriedly put some distance between her and Kirito.
"Why so sudden..."
Yui flew around the flustered Kirito's head a few times after he said that, then she sat on his shoulder and her cute face pouted.
"The Lords sticking to you seem to make your heart beat faster for some reason!"
"I-... I am a man, so it can't be helped!!"
Lyfa was relieved when she found out Yui wasn't talking about her, but she had a new doubt so she asked Yui.
"Hey, Yui-chan, am I okay?"
"Lyfa-san seems to be alright."
"Well, Lyfa doesn't seem to give off the feeling of a woman..."
This blunt reply, came from Kirito.
"Wai... wha... What do you mean by that!?"
She could not ignore those words, Lyfa's hand unintentionally drifted to the handle of her katana.
"N... no, I mean... Like easy to get close to... It's good meaning, yes."
A smile rose on Kirito's face while a chuckle emerged.
"Instead of worrying about that, let's hurry and fly to Aarun! The sun is going down!"
"Ah, hey, wait!!"
Lyfa spread her wings and kicked off the ground.
Kirito aimed for The World Tree accelerating, she chased after him while beating her wings at full force and took a quick look behind. Past those huge mountains, is the vast expanse of Ancient Forest and familiar Sylph territory. However, she didn't linger on it as the stars started to emerge in the navy blue evening sky.
The sun which seemed to be absolutely still while it hung at the zenith of the sky, slowly tilted, dyeing the horizon with the bright red of sunset.
Now, since the last time Oberon had come to visit Asuna, it has been at least five hours, so she sat up. It is probably past midnight on the other side. She prayed that she was not being monitored and stood on the tile.
Ten steps forward and she came to the golden gate. She could not help being surprised that she had been confined in this small place for more than two months.
But— that ends today.
While thinking that, Asuna stretched out her right hand to the password input board beside the door. Five hours ago, she had used the mirror to see the sequence of numbers needed to open the door when Oberon left, and memorized it. Now, one by one she said them and reproduced the sequence. Whenever she pushed one of the small buttons, the touch received a click in response, and a wave of nervousness passed through her constantly trembling body.
While praying, she entered the final numbers, with a loud metallic sound, the door cracked open. Asuna involuntarily bent her right arm and tightly clenched her fist. When she realized that she was making one of Kirito's favorite gestures, a bubble of laughter floated from her mouth.
"Kirito-kun! I'll do my best!"
Asuna whispered this as she pushed the door open. Beyond that, another branch, much more twisted then those of the cage, formed a small road connecting to the trunk of the huge tree. She left the cage, one step, two steps, the door automatically shut behind her, making a quiet click. Asuna swung her hair, lifted her chest resolutely, and walked toward a different world she was sure to find ahead.
A few minutes later, she glanced back to see the golden cage has been covered by overlapping dark green leaves, and was out of sight.
Asuna stopped in the middle of the long tree branch of the world tree, and sighed. She felt like she had walked several hundred meters. It really is extraordinarily large.
For the impatient Oberon, the log out system terminal should not be that far away from the cage; but it seems she'd thought wrong. If he is using the SAO type window or voice activated controls, it will be quite difficult to access the system.
Nonetheless, I cannot return to that place. I must go as far as I can.
I will certainly survive and return to the real world. To meet him once again.
Asuna engraved this wish on her heart and continued forward.
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