Sword Art Online:Volume 3 Prologue
There were three deep green lighted dots, they were aligned like a modest constellation.
Kirigaya Suguha extended the finger of her right hand, probing the lights.
The LED indicators displayed the current operating status of the FullDive model VR machine, «Nerve Gear». Situated on the front part of the headgear, the indicators monitored—from the right—the main power, network connection, and cerebral connection. At the moment that the light on the far left edge were to turn red, it would signify the destruction of the brain of the gear's user.
The owner of the gear was on a spacious gel bed in the middle of a completely off-white hospital room, in a never awakening sleep. No, that was not an accurate expression. In actuality, his soul was currently fighting day and night in some far away parallel universe—risking his liberation along with several thousand other people being held as captive players.
Suguha called out to her quietly sleeping brother, Kazuto.
"Already two years have passed, huh.... I, next time, will be a high school student, you know.... If you don't return soon, I'll eventually get ahead of you..."
She lowered her finger from the LED, tracing a line on her brother's cheek. During the long coma, Kazuto's muscles began to wane, and that razor-thin line gave his profile an exceedingly feminine gloom, despite his originally androgynous impression. Even his mother joked, calling him the family's «Sleeping Beauty».
His face was not the only part that thinned. His whole body had grown thin and worn out—he was in a pitiful state compared to Suguha, who had been training in Kendo from a young age—his body weight now was obviously insufficient. She wondered, if this kept up, would he be reduced to nothing...? Recently, she had been seized with such a fear.
However, Suguha had been struggling against the possibility of crying while in the hospital room since a year ago. At that time, a member of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication's «SAO Incident Countermeasure Team» had informed them. A government official—with long forelocks that draped over his black edged spectacles, and wearing somewhat respectful clothing—informed them in a blurry voice that her brother's «level» was standing at the top few percentages of the whole group within the game—that he was constantly going to the dangerous front-lines to battle and was one of the few capturing players.
It was confirmed that today as well, her brother was fighting in a battle adjoined with death. That was why Suguha would not cry here. Apart from that, she thought of holding his hand to cheer him on.
"Do your best.... Do your best, Onii-chan".
As always, Kazuto's bony right hand was wrapped by both of her hands—as she prayed earnestly in silence, a voice suddenly came from behind her.
"Ah, you came, Suguha".
She turned around in a fluster.
"Oh, mother ..."
The one standing there was her mother, Midori. This hospital room's sliding door used a motor drive, so the sound of its opening and closing were dreadfully silent; this resulted in Suguha failing to hear her mother enter.
Midori then, after nimbly arranging the bundle of cosmos in her right hand into the bedside vase, lowered her back onto a chair next to Suguha. Probably returning from her workplace, she wore a cotton shirt with slim jeans and a leather blouse on top, giving her a rough appearance. With her thin makeup and hair that was simply tied behind her back, one could not see the appearance of a woman turning forty next year. Although her job as editor-in-chief of a computer information magazine may be partly to blame, the person herself did not have any intention of acting more appropriate her age—so to Suguha, you could say that her mother was more like an older sister.
"Mother, you came properly. Isn't it before proofreading is completed?"
Suguha said, and Midori laughed.
"I forcefully slipped away and came. I don't always come very often, but at least for today."
"That's right.... Today was onii-chan's...birthday, wasn't it?"
Both of them kept silent for a brief while, intently watching Kazuto as he slept on the bed. The curtain swayed as a sunset colored draft entered the room, wafting the aroma of the cosmos faintly through the air.
"Kazuto is... already 16 years old, huh..."
Midori muttered and sighed.
"... Even now, I recall that incident like it happened yesterday. That time when Minetaka-san and I were watching a movie in the living room, and Kazuto suddenly said from behind, 'Please tell me about my real parents' ".
Suguha motionlessly gazed at Midori's charming lips with very light rouge, a light nostalgic bitter smile appearing on them.
"At that time, I was really surprised. Kazuto was only 10 years old. Till Suguha entered high school... it was a secret that we had planned to keep for 7 more years, but he found out about his Juki Net's erase records."
When Suguha had heard about that for the first time, before she was surprised, she gave the same bitter laugh as her mother.
"That's seriously just like Onii-chan, huh?"
"We were so surprised that we didn't feign being ignorant and hurt. That seemed to be Kazuto´s strategy, and later Minetaka-san said 'we had been had' and was chagrined."
"Ah, haha," the both of them went laughing, and for a brief while they gazed at the sleeping Kazuto without a word.
The brother, Kirigaya Kazuto, who had always been living together with Suguha from the moment she had awareness of things around her, was to be precise, her «cousin».
The married couple Kirigaya Minetaka and Midori's own child was Suguha, while Kazuto was Midori's sister's; this meant that he was the child of Suguha's aunt. Her aunt and her aunt's husband, without a choice, left their only child, who was not even a year old, and passed away in an accident. The serious nature of the injuries they bared eventually putting an end to their lives, and Midori was left to take charge of Kazuto.
That fact was told to Suguha by both her parents during winter two years ago, around that time, Kazuto was trapped in a virtual reality game going by the name of «Sword Art Online». Suguha, who had already received a big shock from the incident, was in a cruel state of confusion; she went to Midori, asking why she did not tell her earlier and why she was the only one not being told, and took out her confusion on Midori.
Two years had passed, and even now within the bottom of her heart, the feeling of alienation was lurking, of being the only one who did not know anything. However, during this time she had finally come to understand her parents' feelings at that time.
Their original plan, of informing Suguha of the truth after she entered high school, had been hastened, in short, she was told everything of the truth of her family while Kazuto was still alive, which was the bitter decision both her parents made. Within a month's time of the outbreak of the SAO incident, there was an absurd number of 2000 deaths. Under those circumstances, the both of them could not help but make a compulsory resolution for Kazuto's certain death. At least after everything was over, they would not regret that Suguha «did not know it», which was what both her parents must have certainly thought.
Suguha, who was still carrying a great number of conflicting emotions, frequently visited this hospital room, which Kazuto was admitted to, and continued thinking earnestly. The matter of her brother not being her real brother and what was lost.
Before long, she came up with an answer that it was nothing.
That nothing would change. There would not be a single thing hurt. As before she knew the truth and after she knew, she, as always, had only been praying for Kazuto's well-being and his return.
Henceforth in those two years, only half of Suguha's prayer had been delivered.
"... Hey, Mother."
While gazing at his profile, Suguha let out a soft sound.
"... Onii-chan, ever since he was in junior high that time, he has always been only playing net games, right... Do you think that there is a relation?"
That question, which omitted a single word of him not being the Kirigaya family's own child, made Midori immediately shake her head.
"No, it's not related. That's because when this child was six, he constructed a self-made machine using my room's junk parts. Rather, my PC maniac blood was inherited. Mentally that is."
Gently smiling, Suguha nudged her mother's arm with her elbow.
"Speaking of which, Mother really liked games as a child, too, or so I've heard from grandmother."
"That's right; I have been playing net games since I was in primary school. Kazuto somehow is not worth worrying about."
Once again, the both of them laughed wholeheartedly, Midori focused her loving eyes on the bed.
"... However, no matter in whichever game, I was never a top player. I did not have enough patience and resolution. That blood is not in common with me but with you. Even continuing Kendo for 8 years, you have that same blood flowing, which is how Kazuto is surviving even now. Eventually, he could unexpectedly return."
"Plop", Midori placed her hand on Suguha's head and stood up.
"So, I'll be leaving first. You also don't be home too late."
"Okay, I understand."
Suguha nodded, and Midori looked at Kazuto one more time, and softly said "Happy Birthday". Afterwards, she did several quick winks, turned around, and quickly left the hospital room.
Suguha grabbed the hem of her uniform skirt ready with both hands, took a deep breath, and again looked at the LED indicators of the headgear covering her brother's head.
The green lights, that displayed the net connection and cerebrum connection statuses, were repeatedly flickering rapidly.
Right now, on the other side of the network, there were the SAO server and Kazuto's consciousness, and through Nerve Gear, a countless number of signals were being exchanged.
Regarding to where her brother was right now. He could be wandering with a map in one hand in a gloomy dungeon. He could be in the middle of an evaluation at a second-hand shop. Or maybe, facing a dreadful monster, he could be boldly crossing swords with it.
She gently reached out both of her hands, and wrapped them around his thin, white right hand, again.
Kazuto's true sense of touch was totally canceled by Nerve Gear at the medulla oblongata, before it reached the brain. However, looking at the skin that Suguha made contact with, she believed that her encouragement would have surely reached him.
This was because Suguha could feel it once again. This young man's, her brother's, who, to be accurate, is her cousin, soul is emitting intense temperature. He had the firm intention and would definitely survive and return to the real world.
Over the other side of the white curtain, the flickering golden light soon changed into vermilion and again into purple; although it was that time when the hospital room was wrapped in dim light, Suguha continued to stay there. Without moving, she listened attentively to her brother's modest breathing.
The urgent message of Kazuto awakening was reported from the hospital. That was a month later, on the 7th of November, 2024.
- Juki Net is a national registry of Japanese citizens.
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