So I'm back again, and as a breather between arcs I've decided to write this. The first official Arrun Parallel Story to have a little bit of fun with something a little more relaxed. This story will comprise three updates and be left a little open ended as it's meant to be a snap shot into the lives of some minor, and no so minor, characters.
For those who aren't in the know, I suggest looking up and reading the short SAO side story manga "Ceramic Heart" available on many manga hosting sites and also checking the side story "Old Heart, Young Eyes" written by LGear and available in the Arc 1 Chapter List.
Thanks everyone and please enjoy.
Halkegenia Online – Arrun Parallel Story - Melancholy Heart - Part 1
"Hmm? I'm sorry, could you say that again?" Doctor Shouichi Saitou apologized as he looked up from his clipboard and right into a betrayed glare delivered by a certain blue haired Sylph. That got his full and undivided attention.
Since moving to Arrun, it had become their tradition, his and his granddaughter's, to eat lunch together every day, and today was no exception. Nanami arriving early with a box lunch in hand and an umbrella to ward off the harsh noonday sun just as he finished with his morning staff meeting at the Central Hospital.
But something about her mood today was not quite right. Restless.
"Ah, Nana- I mean, Et-chan, is something wrong?" It wasn't like her to look so upset.
Furuya Nanami, Lumis Eterne, or simply 'Et-chan' to the Faeries of ALfheim, held her glare for a moment longer before releasing a small sigh, accompanied by a shake of the head that sent soft azure hair fanning gracefully. "I asked if you've been getting enough sleep."
"Sleep?" Saitou blinked in the light of the hospital hallway.
"Sleep. Rest. You haven't been back to the house in ages." His granddaughter's voice grew irritable. "It seems like the only time I ever see you lately is when I bring you lunch. I'm worried that you're overworking yourself."
Saitou opened his mouth to tell her that she needn't worry, before thinking better of it. It wouldn't be fair to just pay Nanami lip service. Especially when they were one another's only family.
"It isn't like I mean to be away so much, Et-chan. My work has simply been getting ahead of me lately is all." Ever since they'd made the move to Arrun in point of fact. What they said about the Big City held true even when that city was only twenty thousand people. "But don't worry, I am taking care of myself." He smiled gently. "That is, when you aren't taking care of me."
Eterne nodded her head reluctantly, but nonetheless looked far from happy.
Among the professions that the Fae were lacking in were fully trained physicians. Physicians such as himself, and even more so, Physicians who were comfortable with a less Digital World than the fully networked clinics and hospitals crammed full of advanced automation that had risen up all over Japan in the last decade, an effort to meet the demands of a growing elderly population.
They had many former players with paramedic experience and others with a high enough skill in water and holy type magics to have become knowledgeable in treating a host of injuries in this world. The Undines especially had an innate knack for the practices of healing.
But that wasn't enough on its own to see to the health and well being of the populace. It was essential that a doctor know the 'how' of treating their patients, it was just as important that they understand the 'why'. The knowledge gifted by their transformation into Faeries had seen to the former, but neglected the latter, an oversight that Saitou had been devoting himself to remedying.
For a man who had devoted his human life to the study of medicine, to its practice, and to its teaching, it had seemed most fitting to Saitou that he make it his purpose in this world as well.
While their changed physiology had limited the utility of some of his expertise, the difference in gross anatomy between Fae and humans, much as the differences between humans and many other mammals, were not so great as to render that knowledge entirely useless so long as the differences were kept in mind. More than that, the methodology of good medical practice was a constant across worlds and species, and that was something that he had spent no end of effort on impressing upon his eager new pupils.
The Fae Lords had appreciated this as well, appointing the Medical Professionals to oversee the clinics and hospitals that had sprung up in each of the Faerie settlements. Arrun's Central Hospital, the largest and likely best staffed by virtue of the city's population, had even begun to branch into multiple specialties, each staffed by a chief physician and their assistant doctors and students.
It was by no means a perfect system, Saitou had thought, but they didn't have the luxury of a fully qualified staff. The best that could be done was to be sure that plenty of oversight was given, and that the students gained competence as quickly as possible.
That had meant long hours and extra shifts for one Doctor Shouichi Saitou, but if it came with the peace of mind that his students would know what to do in an emergency, then so be it. He simply hadn't though to realize that Nanami might not see it the same way.
"So when was it?" Eterne pressed him for an answer, taking one half step forward, and then another. "When's the last time you got some rest?"
"It's fine, Et-chan, I've been napping between shifts in a spare room."
There were plenty of those around, thankfully, the hospital had been established in one of the larger buildings, with room reserved to expand as the staff saw fit. Nor was Saitou the only one who regularly stayed at the hospital around the clock.
Eterne pursed her lips. "That's not fine at all! You've been taking shifts back to back for weeks. There's no way you've been getting more than four or five hours of sleep a night like that." Anger defused into worry. "You might be young again, Jii-chan, but you can't keep that up forever. And even if you can, its going to make you sloppy. So if you won't do it for yourself, think a little bit about your patients, okay?"
Shouichi paused, it had been so long, he'd forgotten just how much like her mother Nanami could be. The stubbornness as well. Which meant he wasn't going to win.
Smiling good naturedly, Saitou gave a small bow of the head. "You're probably right. I'm sorry Et-chan."
"I don't want you to apologize for it." Eterne grumbled. "I want you to take better care of yourself. I don't want to you get set in bad habits."
The serious set of her face made Saitou chuckle as they proceeded back down the hall, there was a garden nearby that he preferred to take his lunch in. It was secluded, but his students would know where to find him if he was needed. "I think it's a little bit too late for that . . . Nanami." He poked at his granddaughter's real name, chuckling again as she huffed. As with most of their newborn race, Nanami had been quick to adopt the habit of reserving her real name for private use among close friends. And Saitou, being supportive of his granddaughter, had mostly respected that wish. "Don't you know it's hard for the elderly to change?"
"Says the old man who was so eager to try those 'New Fangled Full Dive Games'." Eterne stuck out her tongue.
Point taken, Saitou thought, habitually running a hand along the smooth line of his jaw, reminded that when he looked in the mirror every morning it was the soft, still slightly childish features of a teenage boy that greeted him. And of course, the youthful body to go along with that face.
If he was being honest with himself, Nanami wasn't wrong to be concerned. He had been growing fatigued lately. Even a healthy person could only work themselves so hard for so long. And in the meantime, he had been neglecting Nanami as well, which had never been his intention in taking this job. Far from it, he'd been eager to take up his profession once more so that he could provide for himself and his granddaughter.
It wasn't that he was averse to taking a little time off, it was simply a question of what he would do with himself if he wasn't working. After over a decade of retirement and feelings of uselessness, trapped in a feeble body that barely permitted him to perform the simplest tasks for himself, he wasn't eager to be still for even one moment.
He recalled old hobbies that he'd acquired after retirement, most had simply lost their appeal now that he wasn't confined to his own home. What else was there?
Fishing? He'd never really had the patience for it, even as an old man.
He enjoyed reading immensely, but he couldn't imagine reading all day. The isolation simply didn't appeal to him and he'd have started to feel useless soon enough.
He'd never been much for the arts. By his own admission he was tone deaf, and even at her kindest, Nanami, bless her heart, had been brutally honest about his complete lack of culinary ability.
He would have preferred doting on his granddaughter now that things were a little safer and more settled, perhaps taking her to see Cadenza, he'd read that the orchestra that had been formed in the wake of the Transition had been shaping up nicely, and there was the harlequinade that had been founded along with the Cait Syth that was fast gaining popularity among the populace of Tristain, human and Faerie alike.
But Saitou couldn't imagine Nanami, however much she loved him, would want to spend that much time around her old grandfather. Playing a game was one thing, living in this world was quite another. Nanami would always have him at her side when she needed him, but she also had her own friends, and her own life to live, he'd come to realize over these past weeks. She wasn't the little girl sitting on his knee anymore.
That left only his work to fill his time.
'All of these young people.' Saitou thought as they reached the gardens and he helped Eterne to lay out a blanket beneath the shade of a maple tree. The hot summer was beginning to set in. 'So busy forging ahead.' Making new lives for themselves.
Nanami had told him once that she thought he had a real advantage in this world having already been an old man in his past life. It meant that he had left that other world with his affairs settled and his life fulfilled and needn't worry about those things now. But it seemed like there were advantages to being young as well. Young people grew up knowing that they had a whole life ahead of them, while the Sylph Saitou was still coming to grips with what that meant.
He hadn't thought about it much at first, of course much too occupied with comforting his granddaughter and helping those in need. But as the weeks turned to months, and as plans were settled for winter, as the likely future had pushed past the outer limits of the time he'd once had remaining . . .
'Two years, at most.' Saitou had been told not so long ago by a physician who had worked beneath him before he'd retired. At that time, he did not remember being frightened by the idea of death. He'd done as much as anyone to live his life with purpose, and had done what he'd set out to do. He could not remember many things he'd regretted in what he'd thought were his final days.
Which meant that now, rather paradoxically, he'd begun to find himself at a loss when confronted by the prospect of another five or six decades of life. It was like he had been approaching the finish line of a long race, satisfied with his standing, only for the end posts to suddenly be moved. And now, he hardly knew what to do with his second wind.
Nanami offered him first choice of the contents of the box lunch, eagerly biting into a heavily pickled plumb while Nanami watched on in awe.
"I think my mouth would eat itself if I bit into one of those." She mused. "How can you stand something like that Jii-chan?"
"Your pallet forms in your early years." Saitou said as he savored the intense flavor. "Youngsters should try broadening their tastes. After all, they say the point of life is to experience." Saitou teased gently as he accepted a cup of unsweetened tea.
"And shouldn't the elderly be avoiding spicy things?" Nanami shot back with an amused look.
Saitou wasn't quite sure what she was talking about before discovering that the tempura he was eating had in fact been wrapped around a hot pepper. The Sylph youth's eyes suddenly watered as he downed his tea and then poured himself a second helping and drank that too.
"Cou-cough-! You -cough- could have warned me Et-chan!" How was it that kids these days put it? It had been a real 'low blow' not to point that out!
"I thought you knew, Jii-chan." Nanami answered composedly as she bit into her own pepper with hardly a bat of the eye. "Didn't you also know that Sylvain's unique cuisine selection in ALO was themed around being spicy?"
"Yes, but -cough-, knowing and knowing are too different things." Wiping at his still burning lips with the cuff of his shirt. There had been a time when he'd enjoyed such things, but he'd lost that taste in his fifties.
"Speaking of experience." Nanami waited for his coughing fit to subside. "How are your students coming along, Jii-chan?"
Saitou gave the question some thought, not that it hadn't been at the forefront of his mind, but Nanami was an outside observer, so he wanted to make his explanation clear. "About as well as I could expect." He decided slowly. "They're all very hard workers, I think most of them will make fine physicians if they can merge the knowledge they've been given with what they can learn here."
"Most of them?" Naturally, Nanami would notice.
Saitou sighed softly, he did not like to speak ill of anyone, least of all people who had humbly asked for his help. "A few are, how to put it . . . over eager with themselves. They don't mean any ill but . . . "
"They're getting big headed." Nanami finished knowingly.
"Yes." Saitou was almost surprised. "But how . . . ?" No, he should have known that about Nanami as well, always an observant child.
Eterne shook her head. "I see it a lot too. It's the same problem with powerful mages." To demonstrate her point, Nanami snapped her fingers, generating a small spark of light as a prepared barrier spell unfolded beside her. Placing her cup on the floating translucent surface as if it were a table, the self style "Barrier Maiden" smiled. "Basically, they're so impressed with what they can do now, it's hard for them to accept that they don't know everything there is to know."
Saitou nodded in agreement. "They mean well, but it's the difference between Knowledge and Wisdom. One can memorize knowledge by rote, but one must acquire wisdom by experience. It's simply very easy to confuse the two in our state." He decided thoughtfully. He was at an advantage in the regard, he had a lifetime to fall back on, many of the players were still relatively young and had acquired their skill too easily, without appreciation for their own limits.
Like flying. It felt so natural, like he'd been born with it, and likewise with his mastery of healing magic, instructions bubbling to the surface, sometimes so subtly he didn't realize it wasn't something he'd learned in school until he remembered that he was channeling magic into a wound to promote healing, or sensing pulse and breathing with hearing that was literally super human.
It was easy to get giddy over powers like that. And Saitou had been far from mastery of any of his magic. Many of his pupils were in fact much more skilled in that regard, struggling to teach him the full exploits of magic while he instructed them in medicine.
"If you think you know best, you don't want to listen to someone else." Eterne concluded. "Honestly, I'm surprise there aren't a lot more narcissists because of it."
"The best medicine for it is a harsh taste of reality." Saitou advised. "The trick to humble them in a way that no one gets hurt."
"That's true." Eterne said. "Leafa-chan told me it's how the watch treats new recruits in all of their training exercises. I just wonder . . ."
A wistful look entered his granddaughter's eyes, leaving Saitou curious. "Oh?"
"I just thought . . . Well, you know how the Caits have all their cat instincts and Imps can get agoraphobic?"
"It's not actually so severe as a phobia." Saitou corrected, having dealt with more than a few imps since coming to Arrun. They certainly were most at ease at night and in smaller spaces, but he hadn't known many who were bothered by being under an open sky. They'd be fine Faeries then, he mused, scared to fly.
"But it is an instinct isn't it?" Eterne wondered. "That means it's always there. You can overcome it, push against it, but it's always at the back of your head."
"You're talking about nature versus nurture." Saitou realized. He'd been having this talk on and off with his colleagues for weeks now.
"I guess so." Eterne admitted. "It's hard not to, I mean . . ." She looked up at the sky. "About five hundred meters up, there's a good cross breeze heading East right now." Saitou blinked quickly, pondering his granddaughter's prediction. He couldn't see it for himself, though he knew more than one Sylph who could. "What we see and how we see it effects what we think about, right?"
It was one of Kiriyu's very favorite subjects, speculating on just how their Faerie racial senses worked. Either some additional component of the eyes or some kind of synasthesia between whatever magic organ performed the sensing and the traditionally perceived senses.
"And what we know also changes how we act and who we are. I guess . . ." Eterne laughed a little nervously. "I've been wondering recently what that's doing to us."
Saitou closed his eyes, holding his tea in one hand. "My. Such a serious topic for lunch time. You've certainly been meditating on exalted matters."
His granddaughter wasn't wrong though. He'd had the opportunity to observe it in himself. His posture, they way he walked and moved, he'd realized, had begun to change since coming to inhabit this body. As he remembered what it was like to be coordinated enough to catch himself in a fall, and resilient enough to not be hurt if he didn't. He still saw the signs in his little habits, and those of the people around him, though he doubted anyone else did.
"Sorry." Nanami looked down at her own hands. "It just seemed like the right time to ask about it."
"Don't be sorry. I think you're right to wonder about it. But I don't think you should worry too much either, because . . ." He looked her in the eyes as he reached out to squeeze her hand. "You are still Furuya Nanami, my granddaughter, and I am still Shouichi Saitou, your grandfather. Just as we were yesterday, just as we were a month ago, just as we were a year ago, and just as we were the day you were born. Of course we've changed." He smiled kindly, they'd changed more than most as a matter of fact. "Every living thing changes. The only difference is how quickly it happens."
At first his words didn't seem to penetrate his granddaughters melancholy, but slowly, her head began to nod. "Right. I guess I just wanted to hear someone say it."
"As long as you haven't gotten a big head like those others, I don't think you have anything to worry about, Nanami." He promised her.
"Like that's going to happen as long as I have you around, Jii-chan." She told him, leaning against him like she had when she was just a child.
First he'd taken care of her, then, she'd taken care of him. It was nice that now they could take care of each other. Maybe he would make some time for himself. He didn't have to spend it all with Nanami after all, he could go and try something new whenever he liked.
"Hmm? I something wrong Saitou-kun?" Eterne asked him.
"No. Nothing at all." Saitou promised her. "I think you're right though. It's good for me to spend some time away from work." Being with family never failed to improve his mood. "I'll see about taking a day off. Think of something special you'd like to do, whatever you want."
"Anything?" Nanami looked unconvinced.
"Anything." Saitou promised standing up slowly to stretch. "I have an appointment to keep with a patient. But I promise I'll make it home for dinner tonight, so why don't we go out?"
Seeing his granddaughter's eagerness, he knew that she would be okay too. Nanami's personality was just too strong to be changed by a little thing like becoming a Faerie. The thought put him at ease, lifted his spirits as he checked his clipboard once more.
He knew that this patient was to be handled with a degree of discretion. That had been the instructions sent down directly from the Fae Lords. It did trouble him that Lady Sakuya didn't trust him to maintain doctor patient confidentiality, but reading the file started to make things clear.
'The mother requested me by name.' He mused as he read the short, very short, case file. Not that any of the Fae had long case histories. It wasn't really that strange. Between his help autopsying the undead, murder victims, and Spriggan Assassin, treatment of the injured returning from Albion, and his regular medical practice, he was the closest thing to an authority on the Fae physiology and the likeliest to detect anything out of place, even among the Undines. What was odd was that they would know to ask for him by name.
'A Maeve . . ." He read the race of the daughter. Extremely rare. The rumor was that they were a special beta test of the Alf race and that only a handful existed. 'Ah, that would be why.' He read the name of the mother again, feeling a little surprised to see that the girl known as the White Flash had a daughter. 'Weren't the SAO survivor avatars modeled on their real bodies?' He'd met Kirigaya Yuuki Asuna briefly in the past and was certain she couldn't have been out of her teens. There was a story there, but it remained to be seen if it was something he needed to know.
Passing the sun dial in the hospital's front plaza, Saitou lengthened his stride, he was running late, and he didn't like to keep a patient waiting without good cause. Especially children, anxious enough as it was when they heard the word 'Doctor' and started to think of scary men in masks with big needles.
Or at least, that had been the impression he'd had when he'd been a child.
"Shouichi-sensei!" He caught sight of short slip of an Undine, hands stuffed into the pockets of her white coat jogging to catch up with him.
"Good afternoon Kiriyu-san, you'll be sitting in on this as well?" He waved his clipboard.
"Hmm?" The Undine woman frowned. "It's news to me."
Saitou read the name again, Kiriyu had been requested as well. "You're attached to the TRIST board aren't you? That's probably why." That would explain it. Lord Mortimer had gotten his organizational mitts into the research the division and since then, everything over there had been going in the direction of centralization. "You can double check at the front desk." Saitou advised. "It should be in room two fourteen."
"Right. And thanks for the heads up." Kiriyu fell in beside him, a small, bemused expression on her lips.
"There's a story you're keeping in, I suppose?" Saitou noted. Gossip was a thing across worlds, that it was.
"Is it that obvious." The tanned and platinum haired little Undine woman wondered.
Saito nodded seriously. "If it's confidential you should try to hide it better."
"I don't really know." Kiriyu pursed her lips. "I don't suppose it would break confidentiality to ask if we have plans in place for a maternity ward?"
Saitou's brows rose. "Another one?"
"The first I've dealt with directly." Kiriyu admitted. "The symptoms were so mild I didn't think much of it until I found out she'd missed her period."
Something that they would also have to worry about in the not so distant future. So far the confirmed reports were sporadic and split among all of the settlements, but that was still over a hundred and fifty confirmed pregnancies. And likely thousands more that hadn't been reported yet. If there was one things humans could be relied on to do, it was fooling around.
"How did she take it." Saitou asked. Kiriyu was probably right, they needed to put some sort of system in place for educating and preparing the expectant mothers, and hopefully, fathers.
"Better than most." Kiriyu said dryly. "I think she's old enough to handle it. I talked her through the shock and she was okay enough after that. She just . . . punched a hole in a solid brick wall on her way out." Waving a hand. "I'll tell you the rest later, two fourteen? Got it!"
At least this appointment promised not to be so fraught with surprises, Saitou told himself, stopping by his office long enough to grab his coat. Even though people should have known better by now, in this teenage body, it helped to be taken seriously.
"Good afternoon Kirigaya-san." Saitou said as he pushed open the door to the examination room with his foot, distracted as he patted down his pockets for a piece of pencil.
He made it all the way into the room before actually looking to Kirigaya Yuuki Asuna. Teenage, perhaps sixteen or seventeen, he confirmed mentally. If her avatar at all resembled her real self, then her daughter must have been adopted in this world. Likely a relative or close family friend. He'd have to be sure to ask for clarification.
"And good afternoon to you too Saitou-sensei." Asuna bowed politely. The young mother was dressed for the summer heat, short sleeve blouse and short skirt. A pair of wide straw hats filled the chair beside her. One no doubt belonging to her daughter. "It's been a while. We didn't run into you when you were in Tristania. Thank you again for taking us on such short notice."
"It's no trouble at all." Saitou smiled warmly. "In fact, I'm honored to know you think so highly of me Kirigaya-san. Now then." Saitou turned to the examination table. "You must be Yui . . ."
Saitou would not say his heart stopped, but he did forget to breath for a moment, forgot where he was, and when he was as he met the patient and curious expression of a beautiful little girl.
Even with pointed ears and Faeries wings, he had to remind himself that he was not looking at a ghost.
It was a face that brought back fond memories, and with them a melancholy. A face that had been beside him for over half of his life and now awakened a regret he'd almost forgotten. Always so busy with his work, but always waiting when he got home, from his days in university to his days as a general practitioner. Until one day . . . she wasn't anymore.
A grave regret that reminded him of his years and a loneliness he'd never quite learned how to fill.
It was a credit to Shouichi Saitou that he was able to turn the pause into a mere moment of distraction. " . . . Yui-chan. It's nice to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you too." Kirigaya Yui smiled brightly. A face so sweet it wasn't hard at all to imagine that she was her parents' joy. "Please take good care of me, Shoichi-sensei!"