Sword Art Online:Volume 4 Chapter 9
"Ok class, we'll stop here for today. Assignment files 25 and 26 have been sent to you, please complete and upload them by next week."
With the sound of the bell´s chime declaring an end to the morning period, the teacher turned off the large panel monitor and left the room, after which a relaxed atmosphere drifted across the vast classroom.
I manipulated the old-fashioned mouse connected to the terminal and opened the downloaded assignments for a quick glance. After sighing at the lengthy questions that were likely to be both plentiful and mind numbing, I unplugged the mouse and closed the terminal, tossing both into my backpack.
Still, that chime was quite similar to the sound of the chapel at the starting city on Aincrad's 1st floor. If they had designed the tone knowing this fact, the designers of this school building have quite a dark sense of humor.
Of course, none of the students wearing a matching uniform seemed to worry about that. They were chatting happily while leaving the classroom in groups of three and five to the cafeteria.
Zipping up my backpack, I slung it over my shoulder and was going to stand up when the boy that I got along with in the next seat looked up and spoke to me.
"Ah, Kazu, if you are going to the cafeteria, save me a seat."
Before I could answer, another student who sat next to him answered with a grin.
“Don't bother, Kazu has an audience with the «Princess» today."
"Oh, I see. Damn that's nice."
"Yeah, well, that's how it is. Sorry."
I put up my hand to forestall their usual complaining and slipped out of the classroom.
I walked briskly through the pale green hallway and out into the middle courtyard through an emergency exit, feeling relief as the sounds of lunch time faded away, I took a breath. Brand-new bricks painted a path surrounded by trees. The school building that I could see over the top of the trees was bare concrete with a cold appearance, but it was such an excellent campus that I could hardly believe it was a reused building left vacant by overall consolidation.
I followed the trail for a few more minutes, passing through a tunnel of greenery and found myself in a small round garden. Along the edge of the garden, surrounded by flowers, were plain wooden benches, one of which had a female student sitting while looking at the sky by herself.
Long brown hair hung straight down the back of her uniform's dark green blazer. Her skin was still pale white, but a tinge of red like that of roses had recently started returning to her cheeks.
Her long, slender legs were covered by taut black tights. Her figure, staring intently at the sky with the toe of her loafer making a pitter-patter sound as it tapped on the ground, was indescribably lovely. I stopped at the entrance of the garden, leaning on the trunk of a tree, continuing to watch the girl in silence.
She unexpectedly glanced over to where I was and broke into a smile as soon as she saw me. Then her face changed to a prim expression and she closed her eyes, with a 'Fuun', turning her head away.
I approached the bench with a wry smile and called out to her.
"Sorry for the wait, Asuna."
Asuna looked at me for an instant, pouting.
"Oh, why does Kirito-kun always try to watch from the shadows whenever he sees me?"
"My bad, my bad. Perhaps, I might have what it takes to be a stalker."
I sat down next to Asuna who was making an unpleasant face while leaning away, and stretched hugely.
"Ah... I'm tired... and hungry..."
"You sound like an old man, Kirito-kun."
"Actually, it felt like I've aged five years this month... Also—"
Putting my hands behind my head, I gave Asuna a sideways glance.
"It's not Kirito, but Kazuto. It's a breach of manners to use character names out here after all."
"Oh, I see. Just... then what's going to happen to me! Aren't I all exposed?"
"The reason is because you made your character name the same as your real name. ...Well, It seems I am exposed too..."
In this special «school», the students were players who had been in middle or high school before the SAO incident. Those orange players with a serious history of murder were undergoing more than one year of counseling that included treatment and observation. People like me who attacked others for self-defense, were inquired without leaving a criminal record like theft or blackmail.
People avoid using their names from Aincrad, but our faces are basically the same as in SAO. Asuna was apparently identified immediately after her admission, and I was recognized because I was well known to some upper level players, and in our long history I revealed my name and other things to them.
It was basically impossible to say that it had never happened and just forget it. It wasn't a dream, and our experiences in that world were a reality that we each had to settle in our own way.
I took Asuna's left hand, which was holding a rattan basket on her knees, in both of mine. It was still very thin, but it had recovered a lot since the day she woke up.
In order to meet the school admission date, she had been going through severe rehabilitation. Only till just recently was she able to walk without crutches, but running or rigorous exercise still seemed to be forbidden.
After her awakening, I frequently visited the hospital, seeing Asuna grit her teeth while tears flowed as she struggled through her training to walk, it pained me like my body was being cut. I quietly stroked her fingers again and again as I remembered those days.
Hearing the shocked voice, I looked up to see a slight blush on her face.
"Don't you know? We are clearly visible from the cafeteria."
Looking up, above the trees, I did indeed see the huge glass windows at the top floor of the school. I let go of my hands in a panic.
Asuna gave a shocked sigh and again mincingly turned away.
"I won't give lunch to such a scatterbrain."
"Ah, please spare me."
After desperately apologizing for several seconds, Asuna finally laughed, she opened the basket on her knees. She took out a round bundle wrapped in paper towels, and handed it to me.
Cheerful, I took it and opened it, inside I found a large hamburger with lettuce sticking out. The aroma immediately made my stomach growl, and I quickly took a large bite.
"This... the taste is..."
My eyes went wide and I turned to look at Asuna as I greedily chewed and swallowed. Asuna smiled as she said:
"Ehehe. You remembered?"
"How could I forget. This is the hamburger I ate on the 74th floor..."
"Well, it was hard to reproduce the sauce. It is an unreasonable story... struggling to death over there to imitate the taste of reality... and now that I´m back I find myself struggling to reproduce that world´s taste here."
I clearly remembered those happy days, and while feelings of sentimentality swept through me, I once again looked directly at Asuna.
Looking straight back at me, Asuna whispered with a smile.
"Mayonnaise is sticking to your mouth."
By the time I had finished eating my two large hamburgers and Asuna her small hamburger, lunch break was almost over. Asuna poured herbal tea from a small thermos, and spoke while holding a paper cup with both hands.
"Kirito-kun, what are your afternoon classes?"
"Today there are two classes left... Really, they do not write on the blackboard but an EL panel, we write not in notebooks but on a tablet PC, and homework is sent over wireless LAN. If it's like this then it's like having lessons at home."
Asuna laughed with a 'fufu' looking at me complaining.
"It is only now that you can use the panel or PC. Soon, schools will use holographic projectors... Also, thanks to this school, we can meet here like this."
"Well that is true but..."
Although Asuna and I were taking the same electives, because we were in different grades, there was a difference in curriculum, so we could only meet three times a week.
"And it seems this school is also a model for future generations. At least, that is what my father said."
"Hehh... Shouzou-shi, is he doing well?"
"Yes. He was very depressed for a while. He thought he had a bad eye for people. He resigned as CEO and half-retired, after letting off some of the burden on his shoulders, he might have lost his way. Well, if he finds a hobby, he will get well soon."
I sipped my cup of tea, looking up at the sky along with Asuna.
To Asuna's father, Yuuki Shouzou, that man was supposed to be the future husband of his daughter – Sugou.
On that snowy day, even after being arrested in the parking lot of the hospital, Sugou keep struggling in an ugly way. Silence after silence, denial after denial, eventually trying to put all the blame on Kayaba Akihiko.
However, one of his underlings confessed everything immediately after it was revealed that there was a major witness. When the fact that 300 SAO non-returnees were being kept at a server installed at the RECTO Progress Yokohama branch office and subjected to inhumane experiments was brought to light, Sugou's escape routes disappeared. It seemed that the trial started just recently, but Sugou applied for a psychiatric re-evaluation. Though the primary charge was assault, whether or not the crime of abduction and confinement would be established somehow attracted the public attention.
What that guy was working on, the evil research on brainwashing through Full Dive technology was, in the end, proven to be a technology impossible to reproduce outside of a first-generation Nerve Gear. Besides, nearly all Nerve Gears should have been scrapped, it could be said that the results from Sugou's experiments made it possible for countermeasures to be developed.
What was fortunate, was that the 300 non-returnee individuals had no memory of being in the middle of human experimentation. There was no harm to their brains, and none of the return players had mental breakdowns. After enough medical treatment, it was said that it would be possible for all members to rehabilitate into society.
However, RECTO Progress and ALfheim Online... No, the genre of VRMMO games itself, suffered an irreparable blow.
Originally, the SAO incident alone fostered a significant amount of social unrest. That was concluded to be a freak occurrence of an exceptional crime committed by a lone madman, and this time... the incident caused by Sugou in the world of ALO that was previously hailed for its safety as a VRMMO game, drew attention to the possibility that all VR worlds could be exploited for crime.
RECTO Progress was eventually disbanded, but the main RECTO office also bore considerable damage, and all the members of the management team below the CEO were changed, even then, they were lucky to somehow survive this crisis.
ALO operations were suspended. Of course, the five or six other VRMMO that were still operating, though indirectly, received a huge blow in the form of a reduction in the number of users. It might still be impossible to escape the fate of shut down with the little income they were left with.
In that situation, something that could change the weakened and almost pulled out root was—
The «World's Seed» that Kayaba Akihiko had entrusted to me.
I must find out about Kayaba.
At the same time as the collapse of SAO in November 2024, Kayaba Akihiko had also died. That became clear two months ago— It was March 2025.
While Kayaba was Heathcliff in Aincrad for two years, he was in hiding at a mountain cottage built in the depths of an out-of-the-way forest in Nagano prefecture.
Of course, Kayaba's Nerve Gear did not trap him in the «Bonds of Death», so he was free to log out, but as the head of the KoB guild, he seemed to have logged on continuously for up to a week at the longest.
The person who helped him was a female graduate student who was with him in the same course of studies in the industrial department at the University of Tokyo, and was registered as having assisted the Argus Development Division.
It seemed that Sugou also worked in the same laboratory during his school days and harbored a burning rivalry for Kayaba while superficially pretending to adore his senpai. It seemed that this woman was also repeatedly courted by Sugou— I heard all this directly from the woman in person when she was released on bail last month.
I received her e-mail address by forcefully asking an agent from the emergency rescue headquarters, and after a lot of hesitation, I sent her an e-mail saying, 'I don't want to talk about resentment, I just want to know the details.' It was a week later that a reply came. She took the express from her current residence of Miyagi prefecture and came to where I live, her name was Koujiro Rinko. We went to a coffee shop near Tokyo station, where I heard the story she falteringly told.
It seemed Kayaba had decided to die with the collapse of the world of SAO before the incident even occurred. But it was an unusual way to die. It seems he remodeled a FullDive machine to perform a super-high-power scan of his brain, where it burned out his brain and killed him.
The probability of the scan being successful wasn't even 1 in 1000, but that woman who seemed delicate, yet strong of heart, felt that he'd succeeded.
If it worked as Kayaba intended, his own memories and thoughts, all of the electrical signals in his brain should have become digital code and should exist in the network as a real electronic brain.
After some hesitation, I told her how I had talked with Kayaba's consciousness in the old SAO server, and how he helped me save Asuna, and what he entrusted to me.
She bowed her head for several minutes, and after a drop of tear fell, said to me:
'- I visited the mountain cottage where he hid with the intention of killing him. But, I couldn't do it. Because of that, many young people lost their lives.
What he and I had done was not something that could possibly be forgiven.
If you hate him, please erase the thing he entrusted to you.
But if... if you have something other than hatred within you...'
"—Kirito-kun. Hey Kirito-kun. About today's offline meeting..."
Asuna struck me with her elbow, and I pulled myself back together.
"Ah— sorry. I was in a daze."
"Ohh. Whether there or here, you're still an easygoing kind of person when you are relaxed."
Asuna shook her head as if amazed, then with a sunny smile, rested her head on my shoulder.
Seated at the third circular table from the south, near the windows on the west side of the cafeteria, I was sucking forcibly through a straw, trying to get to the remainder of my strawberry yogurt drink at the floor of the carton. The loud slurping noise of my attempt was quite unladylike and caused Ayano Keiko, seated across the table, to frown.
"Geez, Liz... Rika-san, please drink a little more quietly."
"But that.... ah-, that Kirito, sticking together so much..."
From my height advantage in the cafeteria, I could see over the treetops at the bench where they were sitting, a boy and a girl nestled together with their shoulders touching.
"So outrageous jeez, doing that at school..."
"Yes, that's a bad hobby, peeping!"
I looked at Keiko for an instant before speaking in a slightly nasty tone.
"Saying that, wasn't Silica also looking hard until just a little while ago?"
Keiko, the dagger user Silica —it may have been the opposite— looked down with her face completely red, and began to stuff her mouth with her shrimp pilaf.
I crushed the empty pack and threw it in the trash a few meters away, then set my face on the table and let out a huge sigh.
"Ahh... if it was going to be like this, we shouldn't have agreed to that «One Month Truce»!"
"But wasn´t that Liz-san´s idea?! We should let those two get lovey-dovey for only a month, you said... that was totally naive."
"You have a piece of rice sticking to your face."
Once again, I sighed, then looked up through the glass windows at the white clouds passing by.
How did he find out my mail address? I still don´t know, but in the middle of February I suddenly received an e-mail from Kirito.
I was astonished, and in my head I heard the ringing of a gong for the second round while delightedly heading to the meeting place, but what Kirito had to tell me at that coffee shop was even more surprising.
Kirito seems to have been involved in that huge uproar with the «ALO incident». I was told that among those involved, Asuna was a special type of victim.
He said that Asuna really wanted to see me, so of course I went flying over for a visit. Seeing that figure, like an ice spirit about to melt away, my protective instincts for her in Aincrad were triggered very strongly.
Fortunately, Asuna regained her spirit day by day and was able to enroll with us at school. When I saw Asuna again, rather than seeing her as a rival, I had the urge to protect her like a little sister. With the friend in front of me who loved Kirito in the same way, I had formed the «Let's watch those two in warmth during May» alliance— the pact was done. But.
Sighing for the third time, I swallowed the last piece of my BLT sandwich, and then looked at Silica.
"Are you going to today's off-line meeting?"
"Of course. Lyfa... Suguha-chan is coming too. I can't wait to meet her offline for the first time."
"Silica, you have a really good relationship with Lyfa."
I looked at her while wearing a teasing smile.
"It must be that? There is a sense of closeness, because you're both the same as an «imouto»."
Silica's cheek twitched as she tossed the last shrimp in her mouth, muttered, then smiled as well.
"Liz-san is completely like an «onee-san» these days."
For a few seconds, tension rose as sparks burst between us, then we both raised our head to look at the clouds, and sighed at the same time.
Agil's shop «Dicey Cafe», in front of its surly black door, hung an unsociable blackboard, with blunt characters saying 'Reserved for today'.
I turned toward Suguha beside me and said:
"Sugu, have you met Agil yet?"
"Yeah, I went hunting with him twice on the other side. He is a very big man!"
"I'll tell you, the genuine article is like that too. Be mentally prepared."
Beyond the wide-eyed Suguha, Asuna was giggling.
"Me too, I was surprised the first time I came here."
"To be honest, I too was terrified."
After knocking the frightened looking Suguha's head, I pushed open the door as my face stretched into a grin.
As the bell sounded with a 'clang-clang' sound, shouts of joy, whistles, and applause rang out loudly to cover it.
The shop that couldn't be called large was already tightly packed with people. Big bass speakers played a loud BGM —to my surprise, it was a BGM from Aincrad, the theme of Algade city played by an NPC orchestra— under that music, everyone had a glass shining in their hands, everything seemed like it was well underway.
"—Hey, we aren't late."
I said my excuse, then uniformed Lisbeth stepped forward to say.
"Yes yes, the main character has to appear at the end. You guys were told to come at a little later time. Well, we welcome you."
The three of us were pulled into the crowded shop quickly, and boosted on to a small stage at the back. The door closed with a 'Bataan', right after, the BGM shut off, and the lights were dimmed.
Suddenly, the spotlight fell on me, and once again Lisbeth's voice sounded.
"Ah, everyone together ready... now!"
"Kirito, for clearing SAO, Congratulations!!"
Everyone chorused. Loud sound of crackers. Applause.
While my face showed a dumbfounded look, I was showered by the flashes from many bulbs.
Today's off-line meeting— «Aincrad Capture Commemorative Party», was planned by me, Liz and Agil, but it seemed to have went ahead without me. The shop was full of people, exceeding my expectations by many times.
After a toast, everyone introduced themselves and then came my speech – this was not in the schedule at all – after that, Agil brought out several huge pizzas he had made specially for today, and the party dissolved into chaos.
I accepted the thanks from the men with a shake of their hands and some of the female players got a little too close to me when they gave their thanks, and I finally staggered to the counter and sank on to a stool.
"Master, bourbon. On the Rocks."
I told my unreasonable order to a very big man dressed in a black butterfly vest over a white shirt, who stared down at me for a few seconds. Surprisingly, he poured an amber liquid into a tumbler already holding rocks, and placed it in front of me.
I gingerly licked the liquid, relieved to find that it was Oolong tea. I looked up and frowned at the happily smiling shopkeeper, then a tall man sat down on the stool next to me. He was wearing a suit with a cheesy tie and a bandana wrapped around his forehead that was equal in bad taste.
"Agil, give me the real thing."
That man— Klein, the katana wielder, while holding his tumbler, turned on his rotating stool, and stared with a slack face at the corner of the shop table where a group of gorgeous girls were laughing.
"Hey, is that ok? You have to return to your company after."
"I can't work overtime without drinking. Anyway... that's nice..."
Looking at Klein drooping his nose, I sighed and took a drink of my tea.
Well, the scene was certainly a feast to the eyes. Asuna, Lisbeth, Silica, Sasha, Yulier, Suguha and other female players assembled in full force were worth taking a picture of. No— In fact, I should take a picture for Yui.
Someone had already sunk into the stool across from me, he was wearing a suit, and unlike Klein, he gave off the impression of a decent businessman. He was the supreme leader of «The Army», Thinker.
I raised my glass and said:
"By the way, I heard you married Yulier-san. It's bit late but— Congratulations."
Clinking our drinks, Thinker smiled with embarassment.
"Well, I am still doing my best to re-adjust to the real world. My job is finally on the right track..."
Klein also raised his tumbler and leaned over.
"No, I'm really happy for you! Damn, I wish I'd found a partner over there too. That reminds me, I saw that new publication: «MMO Today»."
Thinker once again revealed a shy smile.
"No, I'm ashamed... It is still lacking on content... Also with the present MMO circumstances, capture data or news is pretty much meaningless."
"This feeling is like the chaos at the birth of the universe."
I nodded, and looked at the shopkeeper who was shaking the shaker with a 'chakachaka' sound.
"Agil, how did it go? After that— about the «Seed»."
The bald headed giant grinned, exposing a smile that could make a child cry, and very happily said:
"Awesome. There are now about 50 mirror servers... around 100,000 downloads. About 300 large servers are running it."
The «World Seed» entrusted to me by Kayaba Akihiko's conscious modeling program -.
Several days after my meeting with Kayaba's female assistant, with some help from Yui, I downloaded the huge file that had been stored in my Nerve Gear's local memory onto a memory chip and brought it to Agil's shop. The reason I took it there was because I thought he was my only acquaintance who could help the seed germinate.
For Kayaba and his creation, the floating castle Aincrad, of course there were some feelings of hatred. The world of that death game had killed some people who had ties to my heart. For those people who died in fear— And also for her, I would never forgive Kayaba.
However, even among that great hatred, there exists a feeling of sympathy, which I unfortunately can't deny.
Because there was life and death, that castle truly felt like a real and different world. Even though I was eager to escape that world, at the same time, I loved it deeply. There was surely an everlasting feeling of hope deeply etched in the depths of my heart.
Thus, I thought that I should at least find out what buds from the «Seed».
The Seed of the World.
Developed by Kayaba, it was the complete sensory environment for the FullDive system, it was called «The Seed», a preset series of program packages.
Kayaba modified the SAO server autonomous control program «Cardinal», downsizing it to be able to run on small servers, above that he added game components for development to the package.
In other words, if you want to create a VR world, you need a so-so big server with enough bandwidth, download the package, design the 3D objects or put in an existing one, run the program, then a new world will be born.
The development of a program to control the input and output of five senses was extremely difficult. All VR games which were currently operating in the whole world were controlled by the cardinal system developed by Kayaba in Argus, with a terrifyingly huge licencing fee.
With the fallout of Argus, the program rights were transferred to RECTO, and when RECTO Progress was dissolved, there were offers to sell the rights, but with the enormous price tag, and the decline of the VR game genre due to social criticism, not a single company accepted, so the VR genre itself seemed to be in retirement.
What appeared on the stage was the completely free compact VR control system, «The Seed». Agil made full use of his connections to thoroughly inspect the program entrusted to me, confirming there was no danger of any kind.
Where Kayaba's real intention was— to say that there is no risk in the program, and what happens after it was released, no one knows other than Kayaba himself. However, I think the basis of his intentions originate from one simple feeling.
That was the pursuit of «another true world», an endless dream.
I asked Agil to help upload «the seed» to servers around the world, completely free to everyone, whether personal or companies.
For the dead ALfheim Online, it was saved by ALO players, who had many people from venture companies.
They funded a new company, and bought all of the ALO data from RECTO for a very small fee.
The vast land of ALfheim was given birth in a new cradle, all the player data was completely inherited. It seems less than ten percent of the previous players left the game due to the incident.
Of course, ALfheim wasn´t the only new world born from this “Seed”.
Hundreds of companies and individuals who previously couldn't afford the licensing fees, started VR game servers one after another. Though some charged and others were free, they came to be connected mutually as a natural flow, and some meta rules were introduced. Now, they are implementing a mechanism that will allow a character created in one VR game to be converted to other game worlds.
Also, The Seed's use isn't only for games. Education, communication, tourism, new categories of server are born everyday and every day produces new worlds -.
The day when «real area placement» of the VR world exceeded the size of Japan would not be far away.
Thinker continued with a wry smile, his eyes still immersed in a dream somewhere.
"We are probably witnessing the creation of a new world. To bind that world to the term MMORPG is too narrow. I'd like to update the name on my homepage... though the right word doesn't come easily."
Klein folded his arms with his brow furrowed deep in thought. I elbowed him, and laughingly said:
"Hey, nobody expects anything from someone who has the sense to name their guild «Fuurinkazan»."
"Say what! To tell you the truth, I'm being flooded with applicants for the new Fuurinkazan!"
"Ooh. I hope there is a cute girl."
Seeing Klein struck speechless, I laughed then turned to Agil and said:
"Well, has the plan for the second meeting changed?"
"No, tonight at 11 o'clock, in Yggdrasil City."
"So that means..."
I said, lowering my voice.
"Yes. It seems they grouped the new servers and used them as one, after all it's the «legendary castle». The number of users has increased, and the capital by a great deal."
"I hope it runs smoothly."
—After initialization, the old SAO server was completely discarded. However, when the development data from Argus was given to the new managers of ALO, it contained something that no one expected.
I finished drinking my tea, and held the glass in both hands while looking at the ceiling of the shop. The dark panelling looked like a deep night sky. Faint gray clouds flowed through. The moon appeared, dying the world blue. Then something huge emerged from the distance—
"Hey Kirito, come here!"
Lisbeth who looked dizzy suddenly shouted as she waved her arm to get my attention. "...That girl, she couldn't possibly be drunk..."
While my eyes were fixed on the huge glass filled with a pink liquid she was holding, I whispered. Hearing me, the outlaw shopkeeper wore a straight face and said.
"It's below 1% so it's fine. Tomorrow is a holiday anyway."
I shook my head and stood up. It was going to be a long night.
Through the jet black night sky, Lyfa was soaring.
She kicked the atmosphere with the four pieces of her wings, slicing through it, accelerating endlessly. The wind roaring in her ears.
Before, for the sake of gaining the maximum flight distance from a limited flight, for the most efficient cruising speed, it was necessary to use a flight method cycling acceleration and gliding, a lot of things had to be taken into account while flying.
But that was now a thing of the past. The shackles that bound her did not exist in the current system.
After all, there was no City in the Sky above the World Tree. The fairies of light, ALF, did not exist. The Fairy King bestowing rebirth to those who visited him was a fake king.
However, this world collapsed once, it reincarnated in a new land, the new rulers— no, moderators, granted the inhabitants of every fairy race with wings of eternal flight. Not as an ALF, but as the people of green wind, Sylph, Lyfa felt that it was plenty.
Logging in an hour before the meeting time, Lyfa was flying from the capital city of the Cait Sith, «Freelia», the place she was staying at for the moment, she had already been flying continuously for nearly 20 minutes. Meanwhile, without even resting for a second, her wings simply oscillated with full strength on her order, the magical propellers emitting a glass green light did not lose power in the slightest, continuing to respond to Lyfa's will.
According to Kirito, this new world's acceleration theory was very similar to a car's.
Immediately after taking off, extend the right and left wings to a greater extent, «torque oriented» —was what Kirito said, but she didn't understand it— this flight method allowed a strong kick in the air.
For gradually speeding up, sharpen the angle of the wings, reducing the amplitude. At the highest speed, the wings are folded almost in a straight line, oscillating at a speed so high that from the point of view of the ground, it looks like a colorful comet flying past. When that stage is reached, the acceleration decreases, how fast you can go depends only on your spirit. Most players would soon start to slow down, overcome by fear and mental fatigue.
In the «cross-ALfheim race» that was held last week, Lyfa and Kirito were in a dead heat. She had jumped ahead at the last second, taking first place by a very small margin. Those two were so much better than the other players, that they endanger the chance of a 2nd race.
...That time, was a lot of fun...
Lyfa made a small, reminiscent smile while flying. Just before the goal, when Kirito had overtaken her, he used a dirty trick in order to make Lyfa laugh, he had yelled a stupid joke and she had burst out laughing. For revenge, she made an antidote potion into an object and threw it at him, if it missed then her top position would probably have been in danger and stolen.
Flying in such an event was nice— but after all, when she was able to empty her head and just concentrate on accelerating to the absolute limit, that was the thing that she found most comfortable.
Her speed had already risen to the limit after a few tens of minutes of flight. The earth wrapped in darkness flowing by quickly became just a strip, small city lights occasionally appeared ahead, but quickly passed behind.
She felt that she had reached the highest speed so far— while thinking that, she opened her wings for an instant, bent backward and threw herself into a quick climb.
Overhead, the huge moon was shining through a break in the clouds. Aiming toward the blue white disk, she rose like a rocket.
After a few seconds, with a subtle change in the sound of the wind, she plunged into the sea of clouds. She flew through the black veil like a bullet shot from a gun. Lightning flashed from point-blank range, dying the clouds white, but she charged on without minding it.
Before long, she passed through the sea of clouds. Below spread the world of pale blue moonlight, the clouds forming an endless plain. The only things she could see were the clouds and the tip of the World Tree. As her speed was slightly reduced, Lyfa closed her lips, held out her fingertips and intently aimed for the moon. It might have just been her imagination, but the diameter of the silver plate of the moon seemed to get slightly bigger. A number of craters were clearly visible.
It might have been an illusion, a group of lights in the big central hallow seemed to shimmer and twinkle. Might there be a town in which the people of the moon live? A little more— Just a little closer—
However, at last the end of the world, a wall at the altitude limit caught her. Acceleration decreased, and her body seemed to grow heavy. The end of the virtual space was just ahead. She couldn't rise beyond that, so it couldn't be helped. But...
Lyfa stretched out with her right hand as much as she could. As if to seize the moon, she spread her fingers.
She wanted to go. Even higher. Far, far away. Beyond the stratosphere, separating from gravity, until the moon. No, beyond the orbit of the planet, beyond the passing comets, into the ocean of stars -.
Her climbing speed finally descended to zero, then became negative. Still with her hands spread wide, Lyfa began to free-fall in the night sky. The moon gradually receded.
But Lyfa closed her eyes and smiled.
For now, it's unreachable, but—
From what she had heard from Kirito, there were plans to connect ALfheim Online with another larger VRMMO, making a nexus. For starters, they should be connecting to a game with the moon's surface as a stage. That way, it might be possible to fly to the moon. With each game world added as a planet, the day when there was a ferry that comes and goes across the sea of stars will come.
Fly anywhere. Go anywhere. But... There is a place she absolutely cannot go.
Suddenly, Lyfa felt lonely.
While falling toward the fluffy clouds, Lyfa hugged her body tightly with both hands.
She understood the reason for her loneliness. Tonight, in the real world Kirito— Kazuto, brought her to a party, it was that party's fault.
It was very fun. Until now, new friends that could only be seen in this world, meeting them for the first time in the real world and talking with them about many things. Three hours had quickly passed by.
However, at the same time Suguha felt it. They are linked with something that couldn't be seen... a very strong bond. In «that world», the floating castle Aincrad that currently no longer existed, they fought together, cried, laughed, and loved, the memories— those, even when they returned to the real world, still shone from their hearts as a strong light.
Her feelings of love toward Kazuto hadn't changed.
At night, saying good night in front of the door. In the morning, running together to the station, it always felt like soft and warm sunlight.
Whether or not they became real brother and sister, they might become strangers living in different cities, and that would make her shed tears of sadness. But right now, living under one roof every day made her happy. She didn't need to have all of Kazuto's heart. As long as there was a corner that was just for her, it was good enough.
—Finally, she was able to accept it like that.
At that party, she had a feeling that Kazuto was going far away, to a place that she would never reach. She was not allowed to trespass within those people's bond. That place had no room for Suguha. Because Suguha had no memory of «that castle».
Body small and rounded, Lyfa continued to drop like a meteor.
The sea of clouds was approaching. Because the meeting place was the newly established Yggdrasil City at the top of the World Tree, she should have opened her wings and started gliding. But, because her heart was filled with cold loneliness, she couldn't move her wings.
Cold wind blew past brushing her face. Steadily stealing the warmth from her heart. She would just fall like that into the dark sea of clouds, sinking deeper and deeper—
Suddenly, her body was caught by something, and she stopped falling.
Lyfa opened her eyes in surprise.
There was a face in front of her, it belonged to Kirito. He was holding her with both hands, hovering just above the clouds. 'Why?' —Before she could ask, the dark-skinned Spriggan opened his mouth.
"I was worried about how far you were going to rise. I came to pick you up because it is almost time."
"...I see ...thanks. "
Lyfa laughed with a smile, flapped her wings and flew from Kirito's grasp.
The new ALfheim Online administrators, had transferred all of the game data from RECTO Progress, which included the character data from the old Sword Art Online. Therefore, thanks to the administrative body, the former SAO players were able to choose to whether or not to use their old characters in ALO, including appearance.
Because of this, the players that Lyfa played with daily, Silica, Asuna, Lisbeth have characters infinitely close to reality, beside their fairy racial characteristics. But when Kirito was given a choice, he did not revive his earlier appearance, choosing instead to continue with the figure of a Spriggan. He had also chosen to re-initialize his stats, dissolving his previous impressive skills and training from scratch.
At this point, Lyfa wanted to know his reason, and asked her question while they hovered in the sky.
"Hey, onii-cha... Kirito-kun, why didn't you return to your original figure like the others?"
Kirito crossed his arms, his eyes became cloudy as he seemed to look into the distance. Then he answered with a small smile.
"The role of that world's Kirito has ended."
Lyfa also wore a small smile.
She had met the Spriggan warrior Kirito first and they went on a journey to the World Tree. Thinking of that made her a little happy.
Moving in space while standing up, Lyfa took Kirito's right hand.
"Hey, Kirito-kun. Let's dance."
Pulling Kirito whose eyes were wide, she began to glide above the clouds as if sliding.
"This is the recently developed high level technique. While hovering you can slowly move in a lateral direction."
"Oh I see..."
Nothing stimulated Kirito's mind like a challenge, his expression turned serious as he began to match Lyfa while gliding. However, he soon lost his balance and toppled.
"Hehe, it won't work if you try to move forward. Instead, all you need is a little upward thrust, at the same time glide sideways."
Lyfa pulled Kirito's arm as he unsteadily struggled for several minutes, but as expected of his ability to adapt, he soon looked like he had mastered the trick.
"Oh... I see, so it's like this."
"Right. Good, nice."
Lyfa smiled as she pulled a small bottle from a pocket at her waist. Opening the lid and letting it float in the air, drops of silver light spilled from the bottle, and at the same time a clear string instrumental ensemble that came out of nowhere could be heard. It was an item sold by a high-level Puca ministral, stuffed with their performance.
With the beat of the music, Lyfa slowly stepped into dance.
Large step, small step, another large step, they gently danced upon the air. With their two hands clasped together, staring into Kirito's eyes, improvising to match the direction of movement.
Two people glided, turning round and round on the endless sea of clouds, lit silently by the pale moonlight. At first a slow movement, but gradually speeding up, each of their steps going farther.
The green light being scattered from Lyfa's wings overlapped with the white light scattering from Kirito's wings, vanishing on collision. The sound of the wind receded. Lyfa closed her eyes gently.
The feelings in Kirito's heart flowed through his fingertips, and she felt and accepted them.
This could be the last time, Lyfa thought.
To date, there had been several times when, with a moment of magic, the feelings of the two had intertwined. It was probably the last time for that, too.
Kirito— Kazuto, had his own world. School, comrades, and an important person. His wings were strong, and his steps too big, the hand he extended couldn't quite be reached.
Two years ago, since the day he didn't return from the journey he started in that world, indeed their paths had started to grow further apart. In order to become closer to his back, Lyfa had tried on fairy wings, but half of Kazuto and those people's hearts were even now still occupied by the mirage of the castle that floated in the sky.
With the advances in science and technology, the virtual world becomes a real one without limits. It goes beyond the boundaries of a game, turning from a virtual world into a reality. However, people are not clever enough to live in many realities. Kazuto had surely accumulated far too much of his share of joys and sorrows, and of love in that world. A world of fantasy that Suguha would never be able to visit.
From her closed eyelids, Lyfa felt the tears pour out.
Kirito's voice reached her ears.
Lyfa opened her eyes, looking into his face with a smile. At the same time, the small bottle that was full of music waned, fading out, disappearing along with the faint sound of the bottle breaking.
"...I, for today, will be going back."
Lyfa said as she let go of his hand.
Once again, her tears overflowed.
"...It's too far away, onii-chan's... and everyone else's place. For me, I can't go there..."
Kirito looked at her with serious eyes. He lightly shook his head.
"It's not like that. If you think you want to go, you can go anywhere."
Not waiting for an answer, Kirito grabbed Lyfa's hand again, and with a firm grip, turned around.
With the powerful sound of wings, he began to accelerate. Straight toward the the World Tree towering beyond the clouds.
Kirito flew at a breakneck speed that didn't even allow words. Their linked hands never even loosening slightly, Lyfa frantically tried to keep up.
The World Tree grew to cover the sky as they approached it. Among the many branches, at the point where they divided from the trunk, there were innumerable lights shining. The lights of Yggdrasil City.
From the center rose a remarkably high tower shining brightly, toward which Kirito soared.
From the collection of lights, the light leaking from the windows of the building, and the streetlights illuminating the streets were beginning to be seen individually— it was at that time.
Multi-layered bells began to sound. It was the bell signaling midnight in ALfheim. Inside the World Tree, set up in the large upper cavity above the elevator connecting Yggdrasil City to Aarun, the sound echoes through the whole world.
Kirito spread his wings wide, suddenly braking.
Lyfa was unable to stop, and they almost collided. Hovering, Kirito spread his arms and as she bumped into him, stopping her by hugging her gently.
"We didn't make it in time. —Here it comes."
Not understanding the meaning of his words, Lyfa looked at Kirito's face. With a wink and a grin, Kirito pointed to a corner of the sky. Turning her body around while still in his arms, she looked up at the night sky.
The huge full moon, glowing a bright, clear blue. —That was all.
"The moon... What about it?"
"There, look carefully."
Kirito further extended his arm. Lyfa stared hard.
The shining circle of silver, at the upper right edge— was slightly chipped.
Lyfa's eyes opened wide. Lunar eclipse...? She thought for a moment, but then remembered that such a thing had never happened in ALfheim.
The area of the black shadow eroding the moon increased steadily. However, its shape was not circular. It was like a triangular wedge biting into it—
Suddenly, Lyfa's ears caught the sound of a low growl. 'Gon, gon' the solemn sound echoed. From far away, the whole sky shook, as if something was falling.
The shadow that appeared finally stretched to cover the whole moon. However, the moonlight still shone from beyond the shadow, illuminating the vague triangular shape. Steadily getting bigger and bigger. It was coming closer.
It appeared to be a cone-shaped object. The sense of distance couldn't quite be grasped. She strained her eyes, wrinkling her brow. And—
Suddenly, the suspended object began to shine.
Bright yellow light was being emitted in all directions.
It looked like it was made with many thin layers stacked together. Light spilled from the space between the layers. Three huge pillars hung down from the base, their glowing tips dazzling as well.
A ship...? A home...? Lyfa tilted her head in puzzlement. In the meantime, it grew bigger. Already, it had come to completely blanket that part of the sky. A bass sound shook her body.
From the bottom layer to the next, she noticed something as she stared. Many small projections stretch from the bottom to top. No— Those are—
Buildings! Huge buildings with windows on many floors seeming to be tightly packed. However— From calculating the size of the buildings, that one building that's over ten floors is about the same height as the Tower of the Wind. Then, the floating cone's full height must be... hundreds of meters, no, a few kilometers...?
"Ah... No way... No way, that is..."
As she thought about what she was seeing, lightning flashed in her mind, illuminating the truth.
She turned around and looked at Kirito's face.
Kirito gave one big nod, and spoke in a voice which couldn't hide his excitement.
"Yes. That is— the Floating Castle, Aincrad."
"—! ...But ...Why? Why here...?"
The huge floating castle slowed, then stopped moving just before touching the upper branches of the World Tree.
"It's for a rematch."
Kirito said in a quiet voice.
"This time, we will perfectly clear each floor, from floor one to floor one hundred, and conquer that castle. Earlier, it ended after being three-fourths completed. Lyfa..."
Kirito placed a hand on her head and continued.
"I have now become weak... Give me a hand."
Lyfa choked on her voice and looked at Kirito's face.
—If you think you want to go, then you can go anywhere.
Tears fell down her face again, onto Kirito's chest.
"—Yes. I will go... no matter where... together..."
Snuggling up to Kirito, she watched the absolutely huge floating castle, from the direction of her feet came a voice.
"Hey, you're late Kirito!"
Lyfa looked at the source, a yellow and black bandana around his red hair, a formidable long katana on his waist, Klein was rising up.
Beside him, the Gnome with brown glowing skin, carrying a huge battle axe on his back, was Agil.
Carrying a Leprechaun-only silver hammer, dressed in a pure white and blue apron-dress was Lisbeth.
With gorgeous long black ears and tail, a small water color dragon on her shoulder, was Silica.
Flying hand in hand, was Yulier and Thinker.
Still unused to flying, holding a stick while flying unsteadily was Sasha.
Unknown when they were gathered, Sakuya and Alicia Rue, along with several other Cait Sith and Sylph players were next.
Waving his hand and raising came Recon.
Along with General Eugene and an army of Salamanders.
"Hey, we are going to leave you behind!"
Leaving only Klein's yelling sound behind, the huge party flew ahead into the night sky, heading to the castle in the sky.
And finally in a white tunic and mini skirt, a silver rapier on her waist, a small pixie sitting on her shoulder was Asuna, her long blue hair glittered as she stopped in front of us.
"Let's go, Lyfa-chan!"
Lyfa timidly grabbed Asuna's outstretched hand. Asuna smiled, moved her water colored wings and turned.
Yui flew from Asuna's shoulder onto Kirito's shoulder.
"Hey, Papa, hurry!"
Kirito's piercing glance looked at Aincrad, for a moment he was downcast. His lips moved, whispering a name, but she couldn't hear it.
When Kirito raised his head vigorously, his face had his usual dauntless smile back on again. He spread his wings wide, aiming for the sky in front.
"Ok— Let's go!!"
- Imouto means little sister
- Onee-san means big sister.
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