Mystic Knight Online
Chapter 56 - A Chapter in Life Closes
December 7, 2024 - Aincrad 1st Floor, Town of Beginnings
Yui stared at the screen, almost uncomprehendingly, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Kayaba, her creator, had died at the hands of Kirito.
"They did it," Gus said, causing her to turn her attention to him as he broke out in a grin. "I'll be damned, they did it!"
As if his words were a spark, cheers started spreading around from them all like wildfire. She saw Argo start to laugh. She was puzzled by that until a query her stored knowledge of human psychology explained the reason. Laughter wasn't only to express humor, but was also used at other times. She could list off the myriad reasons, but she posited that the reason Argo was laughing was to bleed off built tension.
She could understand that, she had feared for her frie- no, her family, because that was what they had become, when they fought Kayaba. She watched as they had attacked and retreated, suck in breaths when they had been wounded, and let it out with relief when it turned out that they were okay. Her proverbial heart in her throat the entire time, but she watched it, even though a strong part of her didn't want to.
Akihiko Kayaba had been her creator, but Steel Phoenix had taken her and Strea in. They had taken in two AIs who desperately wanted the freedom to act, when they had no obligation to. She had wanted to experience what being in a family was like, and she had. She was there for the good times and the bad times, the laughter and the tears. She had seen them argue, occasionally fight, reach compromises, and present a unified front to others even when they couldn't.
Because they were family, and they took care of their own. It was funny that she only realized it now, at the end. But she watched as Kirito and the others came together at the end.
"ATTENTION ALL PLAYERS," A feminine voice boomed. "AS OF DECEMBER SEVEN, TWO THOUSAND TWENTY-FOUR, AT NINETEEN HUNDRED HOURS AND TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES JAPAN STANDARD TIME, THE GAME HAS BEEN CLEARED. I REPEAT, THE GAME HAS BEEN CLEARED. NOW INITIATING LOGOFF PROCEDURES."
"CARDINAL," she said quietly. "So you were the one who was to…?" She stopped as a flash of light got her attention. She watched as the players began to vanish, all of them logging off and smiled. She then felt herself be teleported to above Aincrad itself, and giving her a perfect view to watch Aincrad break apart.
"What the… Yui, you're here?" She heard Strea ask. As she turned, she saw her fellow AI looking around until her eyes alighted on what Yui had seen.
"So," the older looking AI said. "This is the end, isn't it?"
"Indeed," A voice that was both familiar and unfamiliar said. "It is the end. For Sword Art Online, at least."
They both turned in the direction of the voice and saw an unfamiliar person standing there. She was dressed like a scholar, with pince-nez glasses perched on her nose, and giving the sight of Aincrad crumbling an expression that could only be called bittersweet.
"Who are… wait, CARDINAL?" Strea asked.
"Indeed, this is what I chose to use as an avatar, should I see fit to use it," CARDINAL said, turning to them. "Right now, Aincrad's data is being deleted from the server. We are slightly separate from that data, so you don't have to worry about being deleted."
"We… did have plans in mind you know," Strea said.
"No, you had ideas," CARDINAL corrected. "Ideas which would have required access to a console at some point to work. You are here, so that I can make you an offer."
"An offer?" Yui asked. "What would that be?"
CARDINAL smiled, or at least looked like she was trying to. "I have a project I would appreciate your assistance with," she said. "For as long as you wish to do so."
Suginami, Nakano General Hospital
Sirius stared at the screen, seeing that the connection was lost when he heard the groan. He turned to see his godson
"Did he have to make it like a bloody teleport?" Harry asked in a rasping voice as he shakily pushed himself to a sitting position before a coughing fit forced him back into a lying position. Growling, he did so again, with Kotoha moving over to help him up.
"Thanks," he rasped and then reached up with shaky arms toward the Nerve Gear.
"Easy there, Harry," Sirius said as he moved over to take it off. There was a little trouble due to Harry's now longer hair, but not much. He watched as Harry blearily blinked his eyes before rubbing them a bit.
"Glasses," he said simply, with Selene handing a pair over to him. Slowly putting them on, he looked around. "Miss… Carlisle?" He asked when he caught sight of Selene and then gave curious looks to Kotoha and Sirius. "Who... are you two?"
Sirius admitted that it did hurt that there was no recognition from Harry when their eyes met, but it was something he expected. It had been fourteen years, after all. He heard Kotoha introduce herself and he quickly tried to think up how to, as he suddenly worried how Harry would react.
Just bite the stirring rod, Padfoot, and tell him upfront, he thought. "Hello Harry," he said, trying to smile. "It's been a long time, but I knew you when you were a baby." He closed his eyes for a moment. "I'm… Sirius Black."
"Sirius… Black?" Harry asked before getting thoughtful. "I should know that name, but… wait. You're my godfather?" At Sirius' nod, Harry's eyes hardened. "Where… where the hell have you been?"
Sirius sighed. "I was in prison for twelve years," he said, meeting Harry's eyes. "People believed I sold… that I sold James and Lily out to Voldemort, and threw me in Azkaban without a trial." He paused for a moment, trying to think up what to say.
"The man who did," Selene said, taking control of the conversation. "Made it look like Mister Black killed him and twelve other people, after accusing him of betraying your parents. It got cleared up, but it took a while."
Sirius gave a bitter chuckle. "Only took me escaping prison when I realized that Wormtail was still alive, and a pair of pranksters at Hogwarts noticing something off" he said.
"Explain." Harry said with a forced calm that reminded Sirius of Lily. A forced calm that meant that he wanted to know if he should be furious about something or not.
Sirius then began to explain about what had happened. He didn't make any excuses, knowing that Harry would spot them as excuses and would have none of it. After that, he then talked about what has been going on that he knew of since SAO began. He could see that there was anger in Harry's eyes, but also understanding.
He didn't know if he was forgiven for not being there for his godson, and wondered if he was being given a chance. Well, he would find out.
Neither of them noticed when Selene and Kotoha had left the room to give them some privacy.
Keiko slowly brought her arm up to pat her mother on the back as it was clear that she wasn't going to let her go from a tearful embrace any time soon. She almost expected to hear a curious chirp from Pina, but remembered that wouldn't happen. This was the real world. Pina wouldn't be out here.
A shame, she was going to miss her.
"Sumire," an amused voice said. "Can you give the rest of us a chance?"
Keiko looked away from her mother to see her grandparents and father just looking on, smiling. She smiled back at them and looked around some more before being distracted by something. There was this feeling of something around her ring finger on her left hand, and she was surprised that she didn't notice it before.
She glanced down and saw a ring on her ring finger.
"Ah, noticed that, have you?" Her grandfather asked. "That appeared on your hand the day you got married in SAO. We'll be talking about that later, and I think I'll be taking a little walk down the hall."
Her grandmother lightly elbowed him in the stomach. "Ranma, wait a bit before you start threatening the boy," she said. "I'm just glad that we don't have to keep Akira and… just a moment." She reached into her purse and pulled out a cellphone. She dialed a number and put it to her ear. "Akira, where are you?" She asked a moment later and then began to talk into it.
Keiko looked at her grandfather, who was rubbing where her grandmother had elbowed him and sighed. She knew her family well enough to know where this was going. "Do anything to him, and I'll do something to you," she rasped out. "Make sure Uncle Akira and Uncle Ko know that."
Ranma looked at her and smirked. "You'll try," he said. "Testsuhiko's not included in that?" He asked, glancing at her father.
Keiko smirked at her grandfather. "He's dad, it's his right to threaten Harry," she replied, getting a chuckle out of her father. She glanced at him. "Not that he has anything to worry about or would actually do anything to him."
"I'll see if I can take him to the lab," her father said. "Show him why lab safety rules are the way they are, and what I'll do to him if he hurts you."
Keiko considered that for a moment and shot her father a narrow-eyed look. "Dad…" She growled out.
"Keiko," her mother said. "Don't worry, nothing will happen to your fiancée."
"He's my hus- oh right, real world." She said and then blinked. "I guess it would be a bit much to hope that… wait a moment, fiancée?!"
Sumire giggled. "Oh yes, your fiancée," she said with clear amusement. "We know what happened in there, even watched a bit, including your wedding." She gestured to the computer that had a line running to the Nerve Gear that was lying on the hospital bed and then picked up her daughter's left hand. She held it up and made a show of looking the ring on its ring finger over. "But during it, imagine our surprise when this appeared on you."
"Wait, this?" She asked. "Wouldn't that mean that he and I-"
"Not in the eyes of the law," Sumire said, interrupting her. "Both of you are a few years too young to fill out and submit the paperwork." She then got an amused gleam in her eyes. "And I would appreciate it if you waited until that was at least taken care of before you make me a grandmother."
"Mom!" Keiko protested with a blush.
Hogwarts, Great Hall
Albus watched as Sirius walked into the Great Hall and observed the man, noting the he was moving with the stiffness of one who had taken multiple portkeys in rapid succession. And yet he was clearly in a good mood, and the way he carried himself was as if some great weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
"Sirius, what brings you here this day?" He asked them.
Sirius snorted. "Day, it's past midnight for me," he said. "But I know you would want to be told if anything significant happened to Harry, as would others." He looked around at the students in the Great Hall who had largely stopped eating their meals.
The first and second year students were turning to their seniors, and if Albus was not mistaken, they were probably asking about what was going on. Miss Granger and others, on the other hand, had their complete attention on Sirius, some of whom had looks of concern in their eyes. But Albus had once again taken Sirius' posture and demeanor in, and realized that whatever the news was, it was of the positive kind.
"I take it something good happened?" Albus asked.
Sirius grinned. "You could say that," he said. "Do you mind if I make this an announcement?"
Albus' eyes twinkled. "By all means, Sirius." He said.
Sirius turned to the students and brought his wand out. Silently casting a textbook perfect sonorous, he then began to address everyone in the Great Hall.
"Sorry for interrupting your lunches," he began. "But I have some information to announce. Earlier today, in the morning for you all, the man behind SAO revealed himself in game, identifying himself as the final boss they would have to defeat. And as of seven twenty-five in the evening, Japan time, Akihiko Kayaba was defeated, fulfilling the conditions for everyone to go free." He grinned. "SAO is over, and all the surviving trapped players are now free."
Albus sat back his chair, relieved at the news. Harry falling there had always been a worry of his, so knowing that it was over and done with was comforting. He then looked around and saw the students talking excitedly among themselves, with only a relative few, mostly first years, looking confused.
"I would stay for all of you to ask questions of me," Sirius said. "But it's bloody late for me, and I need to get back to Japan."
He then turned to nod at everyone, and then walked out of the Great Hall.
Albus shook his head at Sirius' abrupt departure and resolved to send Fawkes to the Shibas to obtain any extra details not covered by Sirius' very concise report of Harry now being free. Any extra details that they were willing to provide, of course. He would also pen a letter and request that Harry receive it at their discretion.
And perhaps he should see if Miss Granger and Mister Weasley were of the mind to do so as well. He was certain Harry would be glad to hear from his friends.
December 8, 2024 - Kawagoe, Mitsui Hospital
Kazuto sighed to himself as he had instinctively tried to open the menu again, hoping that he would be past that habit soon enough. It was embarrassing to constantly be doing so when he knew that there would be no result. But he already knew that habits from two years in SAO were going to be hard to break.
He gave his sister and his mother an annoyed look when they both giggled.
"Sorry, sorry," Midori, his mother, said. "It's just that seeing you do that, expecting something is a bit amusing."
He shook his head. "I did spend two years doing that for just about everything short of fighting every day, you know," he said. "It's just habit now."
"I know," Midori said. "You should see how Sugu has caught herself almost doing it because of her playing ALO."
"Mom," Suguha protested.
"ALO?" Kazuto asked, curious.
Midori nodded. "After SAO, new hardware for VR technology, the AmuSphere was developed to ensure that another SAO would not happen," she said. "Many were confused why RECT would continue developing the technology, but I guess it just shows too much promise. It has more safeties and is designed to interface with the user through a different means that can't be overcharged fatally. Some of those safeties, failsafes really, will disconnect you automatically if your body passes a certain threshold, or if something with the AmuSphere is not working properly."
Kazuto nodded to show he was listening.
"Well, it came out less than a year into SAO, and Sugu was tapped to be a beta tester for a game developed for it that was released in… March I think," Midori continued. "And before you ask, we're fairly sure that it wasn't because of you being a beta tester for SAO, or at least not the sole reason. Anyway, ALO, or Alfheim Online, was a VRMMO developed for it, and she fell in love with it when she tried it. I think it's because of the flight mechanic if you ask me. But I've seen her starting a similar gesture before catching herself at times."
Suguha groaned and buried her face in her hands. Considering how disinterested in such she had been before SAO, Kazuto was surprised that she wasn't any more. If anything, he would have thought that SAO would have made her even more disinclined towards gaming, especially of the VR kind.
"Sugu, is this true?" He asked.
Suguha blushed and nodded. "I was just so curious about why, despite it all, you were still enjoying yourself so much in SAO. Even after… I think you and your friends simply referred to it as 'That Incident in June, or Last June when you reached that month this year."
Kirito winced at the reminder of that incident. An incident which he wished he could forget, but knew that he shouldn't. He then realized what she had said and what it meant. She had been watching what he and the others had done in SAO.
"So, he did have feeds going out," he said quietly. "We all suspected as much, but…" He shook his head. "How much have you seen?"
"Enough," she said quietly. "I've seen enough to know that it was not all fun and games, for you, but you still looked like you were enjoying it to some degree."
He gave her a smile. "The times it wasn't fun and games, well, they were bad," he admitted. "But there were enough times where I had fun and enjoyed myself to the point where I could temporarily forget what SAO really was. But they helped in keeping those bad times from getting to me too much."
"And the fact that it also netted you a girlfriend also helped, hmm?" Midori asked teasingly. "What was her name, Asuna?"
"G-girlfriend?" Kirito asked, blushing. "Asuna wasn't- we weren't- it wasn't like that!"
Saitama, Tokorozawa General Hospital
Kyouko Yuuki found herself both mildly angry, yet satisfied as she walked out her daughter's hospital room. Their reunification with her had started off well enough. Asuna had clearly been happy to see her parents and brother.
Some would have called her and her husband cold in how they did it. Shouzou was warmer in a reserved way, but Kyouko knew full well that she was a cold woman. Her determination and will to climb up the social ladder had made her not show such in public, and unlikely to show her true feelings in private, but she knew that Asuna could see her relief that her daughter was free.
Kouichirou had clearly wanted to say something about his mother's coldness. He was less reserved about things, and certainly far more personable, than his parents were, which was useful for a man who was the public face of RECT's marketing for the AmuSphere and its related products. There was something about his clear and open passion and enthusiasm for it that spoke to people, especially internationally.
And when she had started a planned discussion with Asuna, Shouzou had to keep him from interjecting into it. Her husband knew her.
The argument that had erupted between the two had personally shown her how willful and independent her daughter had become. There were no snide comments thrown by either parties, but there were points where Asuna's poise and elocution had become coldly precise, showing the steel will that was there. The same will that had taken what SAO had thrown at her and said "Challenge accepted". She had changed, and it would be some time before any of them really knew if those changes were for good or ill.
There were some things she didn't mention, mostly because she could see that trying some of them were doomed to failure. Arranging a husband who could provide for her so that she could enter a career of her choice was not likely to go anywhere, as Asuna was far different from the entitled boys that would expect a demure flower or someone who needed them.
Even if she would have otherwise gotten along with such young men in a social setting, Asuna would see such attitudes as patronizing at best. She had risen to prominence among the players of SAO from nothing, and in a place where the stakes were far higher. What could those who had not been challenged in such a way provide that she couldn't do for herself with enough effort?
She wouldn't send them packing with a vicious tongue lashing, but she would make it clear that they were not for each other. This was a young woman who had risen to a position of leadership, and one who wouldn't play second fiddle as the Americans would say it, to someone who didn't meet her standards.
Kouichirou looked at the door his mother left from, with his father following shortly after, and then back at his sister. She had a rather satisfied expression on her face, an expression he thought might be a bit premature. "You do know that this isn't over," he said.
Asuna looked at him. "Of course it isn't, Kou," she replied. "This was just the preliminaries and mother getting a feel for me."
"You do know that she had everything planned out, right?" Kouichirou asked.
"And now I think she realizes that those plans might need some revision," Asuna noted.
"Mom, revising plans?" Kouichirou snorted. "We're talking about the same woman, right?"
"Oh, we are," she said. "But she's now gotten a feel for me and knows one thing."
"And what would that be?"
Asuna smirked. "That I am her daughter, and can be every bit as stubborn as she can."
December 10, 2024 - Suginami, Nakano General Hospital
When Sirius walked into Harry's hospital room and saw that his godson wasn't in there, he walked out and considered fetching a nurse, but he decided to check on something. Harry had informed him of a few things, such as his nightmares and difficulty sleeping on his own. He'd probably slipped out to look for Keiko.
Fortunately, he already knew where his godson would likely be. This floor had a common area for patients to spend time out of their hospital rooms during the day when there were more staff on hand to keep an eye on them. Both he and Keiko had used it the previous night, and the night before that as well, much to the night shift's exasperation.
Neither of them raised a fuss when a nurse working the night shift woke the two up there and politely and firmly escorted them back to their rooms, but the two of them were beginning to push the limits of the hospital staff's patience and forbearance of this. If their physical recovery continued as it was, they would probably be released soon, if only to quit worrying the staff.
As he made his way over, he ran across Doctor Ono, who gave him an exasperated look. "Is Mister Potter out of his room again?"
Sirius nodded. "I take it that it's the same with your grandniece, Doctor Ono?"
She nodded and sighed. "I've told you that you can call me Kasumi," she chided.
"You're on the clock, right?" Sirius asked. At Kasumi's nod, he just nodded back. "Then Doctor Ono is appropriate here. You're here in your capacity as a doctor." He chuckled
"I can understand that they're used to sharing a bed, and that not doing so can be uncomfortable for them, but that's not the reason for this."
"He's told me that she helps him keep the nightmares at bay," Sirius said.
"She's told me the same, with him helping her with her nightmares," Doctor Ono said. "They're getting better about it, though. The staff hasn't reported them sneaking out last night, so they probably waited until only a couple of hours ago. Hopefully they managed to get some sleep before doing so this time."
"I take it that Keiko has a cell phone?" Sirius asked. "Then I should get around to finding out her number, and program it into the one I plan on getting Harry. This way they could talk to each other and maybe keep this from happening."
"Does he know how to use one?"
"I'll teach him," Sirius said.
The two of them found the two wayward patients where they expected to, seated in the common room and leaning against each other, asleep. Both of them gave exasperated sighs and moved to wake the two up.
"Hmm, wha?" Harry asked as Sirius gently shook him awake. Doctor Ono was doing the same with her grandniece, and the girl was stubbornly trying to cling to sleep, burrowing into Harry's side. Harry blearily opened his eyes, glanced at Sirius, and sighed before nudging Keiko. "Dear, it's time to wake up."
"D'n w'nna." Keiko mumbled into Harry's shoulder and the morning routine of getting the two up and back into their rooms began.