Spoiler Warning: Becasue the SS takes place after the end of Alicization, this fanfic, which takes place right after the SS, will have the same setting. If you're an anime-only viewer that wishes to avoid as many spoilers as possible, then I suggest not reading on.
For everyone else, this is my first fanfic in a very long time, so enjoy!
"That, that is... I forgot to tell you at the beginning... but..."
Asuna continued, "Right now, UW has an acceleration of 10000 times, so we have the remaining time of fifty thousand hours left, so..."
Yui finally said, "Two thousand and eighty three days, which is about five years and eight months"
I was all for it, all for marrying all the girls. With Asuna's blessing, I was willing to give them all the chance to be happy, to give them dazzling memories that would last a lifetime. If getting married for a short time in a different world was all it took, I was all for it.
I thought it would be a one-time deal. We would have a ceremony for everyone, and we would spend our 3 days left of summer together, making a dazzling memory for everyone as well as giving the girls a chance to take a play at being my girlfriend.
But this and that are very different things. It would be like… actually carrying out a kind of harem. That was something that I thought that only the 'worst kind of person' would even think about happening for real, and it was just screaming a lewd and immoral feeling.
The girls knew this, in fact, they planned this from the beginning… and expected me to go along with it. And I knew about Liz's, Sugu's, and Alice's feelings… but Silica and Sinon too? What kind of playboy personality did I develop?!
And all this was because of the UW current acceleration, which meant…
"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SITUATION!"
I shouted this line to the skies, towards no one in particular.
Five years and eight months. Almost six years. Six years! That's almost a quarter of how long that I, Kirigaya Kazuto, has lived if I were to count the years I spent in the UW. After Yui casually mentioned that exact time length, I could only give a blank stare to my companions as my mind seemed to shut down all reasonable thought.
I'm not sure what happened right after, but by the time I came to, lying alone on the 8 tatami bed, the girls were happily chatting away around the manor like it was any old, normal day living together. Lisbeth was sprawled on one of the sofas in the living room, engrossed in reading another web novel. Leafa and Alice were in the training dojo (which I admit I was pleasantly surprised to discover we had) discussing the finer points of swordsmanship. Silica and Sinon were playing with Pina outside in the front yard. And lastly, Asuna and Yui were in the kitchen making lunch for everyone.
While this kind of mood was a normal thing I've seen both in mine and Asuna's house on the 22nd floor of «New Aincrad», «Lisbeth's Weapons Shop» in Yggdrassil City, or even the «Dicey Cafe» in the real world; surely this situation warrants a little more of an anxious feeling like what was causing the heaviness of my heart at that moment. Even the heartwarming scene where my SAO spouse and my «daughter» were cooking together didn't do much to calm me down.
While trying to sound as level headed as possible, I told the former KoB sub-commander that I needed to go out for a bit.
"Kirito-kun, what about lunch?"
"Ah, I've been craving these honey pies from Centoria ever since I left the UW. So don't worry about my portion. I'll be off then, Asuna."
"Un.. okay, see you later Kirito-kun."
"Have a safe trip, papa!"
With that I dashed away utilizing every point of AGI on my fluctlight avatar as possible, avoiding the other girls as I quickly dressed and left. And that's how I ended up in North Centoria, where I am now.
After ordering the delicious honey pie that I used to sneak out of the swordsman academy for, I decided to take a visit to the place where my thoughts wandered to. Taking the familiar 3rd Eastern Street from the bake shop, I ended up at the Master Sword Academy where I spent years at, in UW time.
Thinking back to those days which I recently lived through, it truly did feel like I lived my life all over again. Even the two years I spent trapped in the death game didn't compare, as I literally relived a second childhood unattached from reality. While being 'detached from reality' was also true in SAO, the UW in contrast was completely different: Everyone, including me, was a true «resident» of this world.
My mind wrapped in nostalgia, I thought about the people I spent my days with as I looked at the familiar towers of the Master Sword Academy. Eugeo, Sister Azrariya, Selka, Telin and Telulu, Rina-senpai, Fatiano, Sheta, Lenri, Cardinal, Ronie, Teiza, Alice… It wasn't too long ago when us three childhood friends from «Rulid village» saved the UW together with Asuna, Leafa, and Sinon…
With that last thought my mind was depressingly pulled back to reality. Oh right, the last four girls I just thought of are part of the problem with my current mental state. As my thoughts spiraled downwards like water flushing down a drain as it came up empty on how to deal with it…
As if a voice of salvation invaded my negative thoughts, I heard a familiar female voice coming from behind me.
"Ronie… and Teiza too!"
Behind me standing side by side were my kouhai during my days at the Master Sword Academy. The crimson-haired Teiza and the tea-colored hair blue-eyed Ronie were Eugeo's and mine's «valets», respectively. Under our watch, we saw those two grow from nervous young girls to confident swordswomen that managed to achieve the same rank of «Elite Swordsman» that we held, which was something that would make any mentor proud.
"K-K-Kirito-sama go-good afternoon!" "Kirito-dono! It is an honor to meet again!" Ronie and Teiza both said at the same time, respectively, with a near-perfect 90 degree bow.
There's no doubt that these two girls, having achieved the status of «Elite Swordsman Trainee», have been showered with respect and envy from their peers and underclassman; Not to mention that those two have their own valets that look up to them as mentors as well as perform their menial chores for them. While Teiza has fit into her role nicely, getting more comfortable with me over time; Ronie on the other hand seems to revert back to her younger, nervous self whenever she's around me. Why is that, I wonder?
"If I may so humbly ask, what brings you to the Academy?" Teiza asked. "A vacation, by chance?"
"Ah… something like that." I answered, trying my best to smile.
Ronie and Teiza invited me to their living quarters on the 3rd floor of the academy. It was the same room that Eugeo and I shared during our stay here, and aside from the slightly moved furniture and the more feminine décor, it felt like returning to an old home of mine. Apparently, Ronie and Teiza specifically requested this particular room, citing how "They spent a year cleaning and sweeping the place, we might as well put our hard work to good use!"
Being two of the very few residents of the UW who knew about the entire incident a year ago, I told the three how Alice, after hearing out Leafa, Sinon, and my two other female friends, went to Asuna with a plan to have us all dive into here to «make memories» as this was probably going to be our last few days of summer together. I chose my words carefully, avoiding some unnecessary details (like how they all want to marry me). Seeing Teiza's eyes seemingly light up as if he made a new discovery, she responded first.
"Oh, so that's what Alice-dono was doing. I figured she was up to something when I saw her going to and from Cardina time and time again. It's rare to see an Integrity Knight out and about so much, after all."
"Well, that probably explains why that manor seems newly built." I thought to myself.
"Th-that…" Teiza and I suddenly noticed Ronie trying to say something with her head down in a barely audible tone. "That means, Kirito-sama, a man, under the same roof with 6 girls… making memories together!?"
At the same time Ronie mentioned this, I saw Teiza's face turn from a look of wonder to a look of embarrassment.
"… shameless…" was the one word I heard her mutter.
Even though it's not too much of a stretch to interpret my words in that way, I might've underestimated the supposed «women's intuition» that I'll never comprehend.
"O… Oi… Ronie, Teiza, it's not like that at all!" I replied frantically waving my hands.
"The way you're defending yourself like that, Kirito-sama… suspicious…"
My cute former valet was glaring at me intently, seemingly trying to discern my motives. I can't say her accusation is baseless, but I'm innocent I tell you!
It might be a little late to say this, but as soon as I finished talking to Asuna and the others yesterday I've been wishing for a male friend to talk to. It's nothing against the other gender, but there are just some advices that can only be given from a guy's perspective when it comes to certain situations. This particular situation definitely counts as one of those. Also, talking about a «harem» to girls unrelated to it is just asking for trouble.
Unfortunately, my three best male friends: Klein, Agil, and Eugeo, were unavailable for obvious reasons. I reached the point that I'd even talk to Heathcliff about this if I could. Since I didn't know anyone else I could talk to at the moment, I was left with asking my two cute kouhai for love advice.
"Ahh… this feels so awkward."
"In any case…" Teiza composed herself and continued, "If all of you came here and wanted to 'make memories' with each other, why are you here alone? Shouldn't you be with them?"
"Well you know Teiza, if you were dragged out here against your will, wouldn't you want to take some time off to make sense of things…" I answered honestly.
"KYAAAA!" My heart skipped a beat as I heard a loud shriek come out of Ronie. She then started speaking faster than I've ever heard her talk.
"Dragged here… against your will? Could-Could it be that the girls drugged you in your sleep and tied you up and then dragged you all the way to that house?! And-and-and they were about to jump your pants when you somehow broke free. Then you had to fight them all off while everybody was naked and you escaped all the way out here?! But since you had to escape seeing a bunch of naked women you're male hormones are at the limit so you called us to our room to relieve all the pent up frustration you built up?! UWAAAAA!"
Throughout her whole speech her face was getting redder by the second and you can literally see her eyes spinning.
"Ro-Ronie, wait…" I tried to interrupt her wild delusion, to no avail.
"IT'S OKAY KIRITO-SAMA! Ever since you and Eugeo-senpai saved us that time, I—I-I've always tried to prepare for this day, bu-bu-bu-but let me get my heart ready first…! No no, my heart is ready! But… well… you see, I've-I've never even had my first ki-ki-ki-kiss yet, but if it's you Kirito-sama…"
I tried shooting a look at Teiza in a desperate plea for help, but she was just shaking her head 'Yare yare', like she's seen Ronie like this before; imitating a certain individual I knew very well.
"Of all the things Eugeo taught you you're pulling this on me right now?!" I thought incredulously. I had an urge to pull a tsukkomi on Teiza, but now wasn't the time for that, since as soon as I turned back to look at Ronie she was already down to her undershirt as her uniform coat was already on the ground, and her hands were already beginning to unbutton her blouse…
"I'M TELLING YOU TO LISTEN TO ME!"
"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry…!"
After snapping Ronie out of her trance, I was now stuck with the job of trying to calm her down, as she stood up and bowed repeatedly repeating the same apology over and over again. This time at least, I had Teiza's help in calming my former valet down, which I appreciated greatly as my consoling words had little if any effect on her.
"Uuuu… I showed such an embarrassing side to Kirito-sama…" Ronie whimpered as she was trying to cover her still-red face with her hands.
"Now now, since senpai has so many women around him, I'm sure he's used to dealing with that kind of thing Ronie!" Teiza explained while patting her friend's back.
No actually, that was the first time I ever experienced that. Ronie's skill level in «Erotic Imagination» must be maxed out. That's quite amazing.
"An-Anyway! Please just forget everything you just heard Kirito-sama!"
"Don't worry about it. It's not like it bothered me or anything. In fact, it's strange but I think it calmed me down quite a bit." I answered honestly.
Even though I was initially rattled by Ronie's interpretation of my situation, I couldn't help but chuckle to myself after it finished. The naked bit aside, I can just picture Asuna and the others kidnapping me from my room and tying me up and forcing me into their whole harem plan, with me fighting them desperately to escape. That would've been quite the scenario, and I admit things would've been more fun that way. I wonder if I could succeed holding off the six of them…
"Is that so…? Then that's good!" she replied happily in relief, interrupting my train of thought. I took notice of her expression and stared at her in wonder.
"You finally…" I started to think out loud.
"You finally smiled."
"That is, you finally showed me an honest smile. I was worried as you're always so reserved around me." I said as I rubbed her head gently, much like I did with my other female companions.
"Hoeehhhh…" Like a thermometer, the redness in Ronie's face rised up as if it was dipped into a boiling water pot.
"As I thought, smiling Ronie is the best Ronie after all."
"Ehehe… ehehehehe… eheheheheh…." Ronie smiled happily as she started to giggle uncontrollably.
"U—wa— Senpai is such a lady killer." a flat voice belonging to Teiza commented from the side.
"No wait, Teiza that's not what I…"
"Ehehehe. Ehehehehe." Ronie continued giggling happily.
"Ah this is such bliss! So happy!"
As the afternoon wore on, I, along with Kirito and Teiza, started to catch up on what's been happening since Kirito parted our world that day. Kirito told us of his various adventures with his friends in other worlds called «Aincrad» (which is where our sword style came from) and «Alfheim», while Teiza and I told him about our continuing lives in the academy.
Ever since he left, every day I worked hard to live up to my mentor's fame. Spending countless hours of practice and many sleepless, Teiza and I relentlessly practiced the «Aincrad Style» handed down by our two senpai, Kirito and Eugeo. Of course I had no illusions about matching him in terms of skill and athleticism, but I was determined to become the kind of swordswoman that would make him proud. As a result, our hard work rewarded us with the titles of «Elite Swordsman Trainee», and we became famous due to our unique sword style. I made a promise to myself that one day, when Kirito returns, I would show him how much I grew because of his inspiration.
I just didn't expect that day to come so suddenly.
Just a few hours prior, Kirito just appeared in front of me like the past year were only a day that passed by. I prepared many lines in my head to show him what a cool, strong, reliable swordswoman I've become. Instead, simply seeing his face threw my heart into disarray as I could only nervously talk with him. When I heard how he came with his friends from the other world (who all happen to be female), my thoughts just transformed into an anxious mess, and I showed a side of myself I never wanted to show to him.
I was, to say the least, mortified. I thought for sure that Kirito would now look at me as some kind of weird, strange girl, and in the worst case scenario, start to distance himself from me. As my heart sank, I desperately apologized, trying to salvage the last vestiges of my image.
But Kirito, as expected of a man of his caliber, laughed it away so easily, and even gave me such a complement. In all my years of living, I've never experienced the feeling that I felt at that moment – It felt like my head was up in the clouds dancing somewhere far away; My chest tightened and I could feel the heat taking over my face. And I was smiling and laughing through it all.
Even the happiness I felt when I learned I was to be named an «Elite Swordsman Trainee» came nowhere close to this.
"Really Kirito-sama, how am I ever supposed to get married if you make me fall for you all over again… even though I know I musn't…"
"…what do you think Ronie?"
I heard Teiza's question which was seemingly in sync with my thoughts.
"Ah yes! I like it very much!" I replied with a beaming smile.
"Eh?" both Teiza and Kirito said at the same time. Kirito was showing a surprised look, while Teiza shot a disgusted look.
"U—Umm… what were we talking about again?" I asked fearfully.
"Ahaha… I was telling you two about this time I was helping one of my friends revive her pet dragon, and about how along the way that every monster had slimy tentacles that kept trying to do naughty things to her when Teiza interrupted me with 'Eww… I'd hate to fight something like that… what do you think Ronie?'… and then…"
"Well each person is unique, I guess. If you like it then…" "U—wa- Ronie is more of a pervert than I thought…" Kirito and Teiza said respectively. I furiously shook my head.
"No no no! That's now what I meant! Of course that's disgusting! What I meant was that I liked Ki-" I closed my mouth in horror stopping myself from completing that word.
"Ki-?" the person whose name was the word in question asked.
"IT'S NOTHING!" I yelled out louder than I meant to.
"…. pa… where … you…"
Just at that moment I thought I heard a girl's voice from outside. At first I thought it might've been so underclassman, but the owner of the voice sounded far too young. It almost sounded like a child.
"Papa! Papa! Where are you?"
I heard the girl's voice a little clearer the second time. Thinking that maybe some child got lost wandering the academy, I went to and looked down from my room's 3rd floor window. Strangely, I couldn't find anything out of the ordinary from my field of vision. But the voice sounded so close, so I should've seen the owner immediately…
"There you are papa!"
A small figure with wings flied directly into the room passing by me from above, which surprised me enough that I tripped on my heels and landed bottom first onto my bed. I looked up and saw what I thought was a «fairy» hovering next to Kirito.
"Kirito-dono, what is that…?" Teiza started to ask, being equally dumbfounded as I was. It looked like Kirito was about to open his mouth to answer, but just then the little fairy's entire body suddenly lit up and vanished. What appeared in its place was…
"Papa! I finally found you! I… Mama… Everyone was so worried when you didn't come back…!"
"Haha sorry Yui. Thanks for looking out for me, but you don't have to worry, your papa's the strongest player around, remember?"
"Hehe… I guess that's right. So what did you all day papa?"
"Mmm… just having fun and talking with these two here."
"Me too! Yui also wants to have fun with papa!"
What appeared in its place was a young girl that looked no older than 10 years old with elegant black hair in a one-piece white dress. I was only able to see the fairy's face for a few seconds, but the girl's face looked to be exactly the same.
A million questions ran across my mind that I just wanted to blurt out all at once. What kind of creature was that? How come it can talk? Did it just transform into a human? The most important question that was in my mind however…
"Kirito-dono… just who… what?" Teiza finally spoke up at the duo.
"Oh right… sorry sorry. This probably seems strange to you two right? Well let me introduce you, this girl is…"
"Pleased to meet you! I'm Yui!" the fairy-turned-human girl answered for Kirito, breaking away from the hug and giving a polite bow.
"Ye-Yes… it's a pleasure. I'm Teiza, and that girl over there is Ronie." Teiza replied rather cautiously, looking like she had many questions of her own. As for myself, I had this question that was igniting my curiosity like a fire for a while now, and I couldn't hold it in.
"Umm… Yui… chan? Can I call you that? Umm… you called Kirito-sama "papa" right? Does that mean…?"
"Yup, Yui is papa's daughter!" she answered happily.
Ah, I see now, that makes sense, it's only natural that Kirito's own child would call him papa… papa…? Then that means Kirito… with a girl… made a baby together…
I let out a scream that was probably loud enough to wake the entire city of North Centoria. That's probably an exaggeration, but it seemed to carry enough force to knock Kirito, Teiza, and Yui off their chairs/footing to the floor.
"Ouch." "Oww!" "My ears are ringing…" the three of them responded respectively.
After calming down and entertaining a visit from the Academy guards and even an Integrity Knight (who thought it was some kind of enemy attack), Kirito with Yui sitting on his lap explained about Yui's transformation and her nature. While Teiza and I didn't understand a lot of the more in-depth concepts, such as «Cardinal», «Artificial Intelligence», and «Navigation Pixie», we basically got the gist of what he was saying: That Yui was a non-human-yet-human being that was cut off from her origins in one of the worlds Kirito mentioned earlier, «Aincrad»; And that he and Asuna adopted her as their own.
Of course, even if Teiza and I didn't get all of it, Yui's simple answer of "Papa helped me, and he called me his daughter, so he's my papa!" was easy enough to understand.
"I see, as expected of Kirito-dono. Already raising a child at such an age. Impressive." Teiza said admiringly.
"Oh no you give me too much credit. If anything, Yui is such an independent girl that we don't have to do all that much."
"Hehe. Papa praised me~"
Just from the point of view of the outside looking in, they looked picture-perfect as a normal, happy father and daughter. I had mixed feelings about it of course, but I could only smile as I saw Kirito gently rubbing Yui's head like he did the same for me earlier. If it wasn't for Yui's huge spectacle flying in from the sky, I wouldn't believe that she wasn't a normal human. Really, the world is such a big place.
"I wonder… if… if… Kirito-sama and I had a child, would she be as cute as her?" I wondered shamelessly.
"You know, like papa, I had fun with everyone today too!"
"Oh? What did you do Yui-chan?" I asked her still with my warm smile.
"Me and mama and everyone else made a flower garden in the front yard! I got to fly around and get everyone's favorite flower seeds to plant, and mama said I can plant my favorite flowers too!"
"How nice! Your papa used to plant flowers when he was here too." I told Yui, remembering how Kirito used to diligently maintain a flowerbed of his own at the academy.
"Also, you know, because everyone is going to marry papa, everyone is treating me extra nice too! It's like I have 6 mamas…!"
"… every day is going to be so much fun! By the way papa, you should hurry up and answer mama and the others. It's not nice to keep girls waiting when they ask something like that! They were really worried about it. So we should head back very soon… papa? Papa…?"
"Married… as in… become his wife? Wait… he… is going to marry everyone? As in… six wives? That… that is…?"
While my mind was going into overdrive trying to absorb this new fact, Teiza had a wide-eyed look, while Kirito seemed frozen in place as Yui was trying to get his attention.
"Kirito-sama… is this true?" I asked him, almost whispering. Those words seemed to snap him out of his frozen state.
"I guess there's no use hiding it. Yes, it's true." He answered with an embarrassed expression.
He started to explain how he ended up in front of the academy where we met him, but it seemed to go in one ear, and out the other. Once I accepted it as fact, my initial surprised reaction started to subside, and replacing it was a dark feeling that grew in my chest. I thought back to the time when he introduced me to his lover, Asuna, and what I felt at the time. While I did smile and act polite on the outside, I cried alone in my room for a long while after that. Seeing their love for one another, however, made me accept the fact that they were meant to be together, and I wished them all the happiness for my senpai from the bottom of my heart.
But now, I learned that not only is he going to be with Asuna, but with five of his other friends as well. It felt like that my heartbreak, and the process that I went through to finally give up and move on was ridiculed. If he was really going to get married to all of those girls, why wasn't I one of them? Why didn't he notice my feelings? Why did I have to suffer through that painful experience? Why am I left out? Why… why… why…
"Why… KIRITO-SAMA YOU IDIOT!"
I shouted out tearfully as I ran out of the room as fast as my feet would carry. I briefly noticed the concerned and confused look on Teiza's and Kirito's faces, but I didn't care. I'm sure there's more to this situation that I don't know, but I didn't care. My thoughts were in an irrational mess as I ran… and ran… and ran… all the while with tears that wouldn't stop flowing.
In the end, my feet instinctively carried me to the rooftop of the Academy, where there was a cloudless sea of stars above. After I finally cried myself out, I looked up at the sky, a wave of nostalgia overcoming me. It was a similar feeling I had when I was a little girl – whenever I felt down, I looked up at these stars at night to clear my head. When I learned about how you can make a 'wish on a shooting star', I told the same sea of stars that comforted me that I want to, one day, become an «Integrity Knight».
While I was blessed having the «Sacred Task» of becoming a swordswoman, I knew that only a very small percent of those that aspire to be one of those knights actually fulfill their dream. Being of a commoner background, I had to work much harder than those of noble birth to get my foot in to the academy. Along the way, I met my now best friend Teiza, who had similar aspirations to me.
While Teiza and I were confident in our swordsmanship, compared to the entire population of the academy we were above average at best. We both didn't have a unique sword style, and we both seemed to lack the raw talent that differentiated the elites from everyone else. I almost surrendered myself to a destiny that had me be a simple Norlangarth guard.
That is, until I saw that duel.
It was the talk of the academy that day. The valet of Solterina Celulite, a person of common birth named Kirito, was going to fight Uolo Levanteinn, one of the strongest Elite Swordsman trainers in the academy. The kicker was that Uolo-senpai was actually the one that challenged Kirito-senpai, which left us underclassman speculating on how strong was this unknown valet. While I wasn't as excited as Teiza apparently was, I went along to accompany her anyway.
And that was a decision I did not regret. I was immediately mesmerized by the young valet's determination. Having seen Uolo before, I knew how fearsome his signature move, «Heavens and Mountains Break» was. But here was this young man of commoner birth, much like herself, matching him stroke for stroke, and was even able to combat Uolo's sword skill to a draw at the end. Anyone that's seen Uolo fight would know this fact, that it would take an extreme amount of confidence and willpower to face that skill head to head. And if the rumors were true, he did this with a sword style he invented himself.
I knew that day in my heart who I wanted as a mentor. That confidence, that desire to win, that unyielding spirit that Kirito had, I wanted to make it my own. If I could learn all that from him, becoming an «Integrity Knight» would be more than just a dream. Looking back at it now, that's probably where it all started. After that duel, I admired him more than anyone I ever had before.
While I'm still nervous around him now, it was really nothing compared to when we first met as official mentor and valet. From the duel, I could already tell that he wasn't some insufferable person like the many students of noble birth she's seen; But still, I had no idea what kind of mentor he would be. I just automatically assumed with that kind of fighting spirit, along with being the master of his own sword style, that he would be an inflexible person who wouldn't tolerate failure.
I laughed to myself a little as I remembered that. Really, if I knew back then that senpai was such a whimsical, easygoing person, I would've ridiculed myself for getting so worked up over that first meeting. As I got to know him during that first year, I couldn't believe that such a strong fighter would have such a gentle personality. He was tolerant and patient when it came to mentoring me. He loved the thrill of battle, yet was honorable both in victory and defeat. Towards his seniors and peers, he was respectful and kind. And finally, towards Teiza and me, he treasured us as his important kouhai.
Because of that, soon I became nervous around him for a very different reason.
Thinking back to all my good memories of him, it allowed me to clear my head of all those dark feelings I felt towards him earlier. That kind of person would never wish any ill intent on his friends and companions. Also, because of his relationship with Asuna, he would not take something like marriage towards her or other people so lightly. In fact, because of his heroic traits, he would be the type that would try to make everyone happy.
"Wait… "being forced here"… "making memories together"… "not giving an answer yet"… oh I see. Could that have been the reason he 'ran away'? If that's the case… what can I do…?"
Hearing a familiar female voice behind the exit door, the door opened quickly to reveal the crimson-haired owner.
"There you are Ronie! I knew you would be here! Hey… is everything okay?" my crimson-haired friend asked me worriedly.
"… yeah I'm fine now Teiza. But where's Kirito-sama and Yui-chan?"
"Ah… I told them to search the courtyard and the first floor… because well… I figured that you'd need some time to yourself before seeing him…"
I gave her a warm smile, and Teiza, sensing the meaning, smiled back at me with the same expression. Really we know each other so well that she already knew where I would be, and even did me a favor of buying me some time to collect myself since Kirito would definitely get himself around and search for me. I couldn't have a better friend.
"But are you really okay now Ronie? I know that… towards Kirito-dono, you…"
"It's fine now. Thanks for worrying about me. But more than myself, I think Kirito-sama is the one that needs help right now."
"He needs… help?"
"That's right." I replied confidently. "Hey Teiza, go tell Kirito-sama that I'm waiting for him… at the «Master Swords Academy Large Practice Field»."
"That place? But why there? Ronie, don't tell me you…" she started to say, but seemed to understand mid-sentence. She looked at me with some hesitation, but I looked at her with my determined expression and she gave me a nod. She started to head downstairs from the roof, but stopped midway and turned back around.
"You know Ronie, you've changed."
"How do I say it… it's like you're giving off the feeling of a real «Elite Swordsman now, or something. It's like you just suddenly grew up under my nose. I think I know who you have to thank for that." She said as she smiled, then looked down with a forlorn look.
"It was the same for me… towards Eugeo-dono…" she said softly just loud enough for me to hear, and then finally turned around and left.
"Teiza, thank you. I promise I'll do my best, for not only Kirito-sama, but for you as well."
The «Master Sword Academy Large Practice Field» is the largest sports hall in the academy, complete with 4 sparring arenas and had enough spectator seating to accommodate the entire student body and faculty. Usually, it is only reserved for large or important events, but because of my status as «Elite Swordsman Trainee», I was allowed many forms of preferential treatment – 'using the field for personal reasons whenever I want to' being one of them.
The lamps that lit the arena I was standing alone in hummed in a steady glow, completely bereft of any swaying motion at all, as if it sensed my solitude and concentration at the moment. There has been countless times where I was standing on this stage, or an arena similar to it. The many practice battles, sparring matches, and swordsmanship tests I've been through flashed through my mind as I prepared myself to what I perceived to be my biggest test yet.
Because of the silence, I noticed the thunderous footsteps of several people approach the field from the direction of the main large practice field entrance. Eventually, the double large wooden door burst open as I saw Kirito, Yui, Teiza, and several other students who were probably attracted to the stir that both an Elite Swordsman Trainee and a former Elite Swordsman Trainee were causing running around all over the academy, from my vantage point in the middle of the northeast arena.
With the rest staying behind the entrance in wonder, Kirito alone ran up and climbed into the arena to come face to face with me.
"Ronie, listen, I'm really sorry I upset you. I really didn't mean to hide that fact from you at all…"
As I listened to him, my heart wavered a bit. That voice coupled with that genuinely apologetic face really just made me want to blurt out that she was okay, and perhaps receive another pat on the head that sent me into bliss just a few hours before. However, my heart steadied as I knew that he was seeking out help inside his heart, and that simple words from his kouhai wouldn't be enough.
Without saying a word in reply I reached my hand back towards my scabbard mounted on my back. Grabbing the jade colored hilt with my right hand, I drew out my metallic-colored weapon that was custom made for myself as a present from my family in recognition of my elite status, the One-Handed Straight Sword, «Arabel Blade». In one motion the sword went from its sheath to pointing at the man that I have admired for so long.
"Kirito-sama, fight me."
"Eh…!?" he exclaimed, taking a few steps back fearfully.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry at Kirito-sama about that or anything else." I replied in a less stern tone, turning my blade away from him and to the side. "It's just that I want to show you, right here, right now, how much I've grown under you."
I looked at my mentor with unwavering eyes, which was one of the first lessons he taught me: To show your opponent your resolve and your determination before you even began to cross blades. It was both a sign of respect, and a sign of intimidation to lesser and unscrupulous foes. I wanted to show him, my mentor, that my words were serious and my heart was in it.
Looking like the former Elite Swordsman Trainee got the message, his expression changed from a nervous look to a sharp one as he gave a little smile.
"Okay then Ronie, let's do it." He said as he drew a black sword from his back. It was a weapon forged from the venerable «Gigas Cedar». It was a «Wooden Sword», but I knew that name didn't do the weapon's strength justice.
In the background, my declaration and Kirito's acceptance of the duel caused a buzz among the students, as the observation crowd kept growing wondering what was going on. When our intention to fight reached their ears, there were a lot of 'Ooooos' and 'Ahhhhhs' and 'Oooohhhhs' coming from the crowd. I was already well known among the student body, but hearing Kirito declare loudly that he was my mentor immediately caused the observers to fill the spectator seats excitedly. This wasn't as big of a crowd as the Uolo-Kirito duel as this was essentially impromptu, but it was a fairly large gathering nonetheless.
Kirito and I waited for all the shuffling and murmur to die down, as I looked to the side of our arena where Teiza, holding Yui in front, was standing. Teiza had an anxious expression while Yui had a curious one with a question mark seemingly written on her face.
When all the distractions settled, my mind went into its battle state as I eyed my opponent steadily. I brought my sword to my front in a stance I was taught in the «Aincrad Style» from my opponent himself – maintaining my body in a side stance while keeping my sword arm in front and my off hand behind me. My opponent took a forward stance with his off hand at his fore – a more defensive stance.
Just seeing this sight caused some whispering within the crowd. Most warriors in this world used a kind of fighting style that used their bodies' full efficiency. This meant that the two-handed heavy weapons were the most popular as you could utilize both of your arms to full effect. Those that used only one hand to wield were mostly those that used quick, lightweight weapons, such as the short sword or rapier. The biggest advantage of using a heavy one-handed sword was that you could use a secondary combat tool with your off hand, such as a shield or to wield «Sacred Arts».
However, the «Aincrad Style» used neither, although it clearly uses heavy one-handed swords. The style preferred to use the off-hand for balance, unarmed moves, or to reinforce your main hand to heavy strikes. Theoretically, none of these uses really make for the advantage of using a two handed style or a shield, but my two senpai, and by extension myself and Teiza, have proved otherwise.
This should be the first time that two users of this style would duel in a public setting.
Observing the figure of my senpai, I noticed that for whatever reason, his stance wasn't as tight as I remember. It's not something that a spectator would notice, but rather, something that a peer of the same fighting style within the moment of battle would see. As a result, the side of his body on his sword arm showed a slight opening.
Seeing this kind of imperfection coming from such a person helped me confirm my suspicions earlier.
Not wasting the opportunity, I took the initiative and made the first move, lowering my stance and dashing in off my front right foot, closing the distance to the cheer and delight of the crowd. Imperfection or not, this wasn't the kind of opponent I could win against unless I went all out from the beginning.
Kirito countered my charge by shifting his footing to the right, readying his sword for a standard horizontal swing. Seeing the shift, I slightly changed the direction of my dash to the left, trying to keep as much momentum as possible. I met Kirito's blade with my own.
"YAAA!" I shouted, as the two swords clashed with a heavy ringing sound. The crowd erupted with cheers as the swords made first contact.
Because of the inertia from my dash, my attack had a greater force than my opponent's which forced him on the defensive as he was unable to counter momentarily after the clash. I followed up with another attack, using the same attack motion to build upon the first strike with consecutive strikes to Kirito's sword arm. This forced him to use both hands to parry the heavy fast strikes I was delivering while still maintaining his balance.
I kept up my offensive flurry using normal swings, as using a «Secret Art» (or a «Sword Skill» as was the terminology of this style) against this person who knew all of the preset motions, would certainly result in myself losing the initiative because of the delay after using one.
Looking at Kirito's expression, it contorted with a sense of frustration as he was most likely seeking an opportunity to go on the offensive. This really wasn't like him at all – every time I saw him in a sparring match he would always have this calm, controlled expression, not seeming to let his emotions get too high or too low. That look was ever so reliable whenever I watched him duel, and ever so intimidating when I was the one he was crossing blades with.
I knew he would most likely react this way, but I still felt a tinge of disappointment. As a warrior, I wanted to test myself against his all…
Shaking those thoughts from my head, I steeled myself and continued my offensive. I maintained my string of attacks long enough to push Kirito to the edge of the arena, where a «Ring Out» would be an automatic loss per Academy rules. Of course, my aim wasn't to win on some technical victory, and I wouldn't accept such a win in any case.
As my opponent was running out of footing, I let up on my attack. I swung my sword one last time which was inevitably parried, and used that delay between attacks to step back and create some distance. If I was in my opponent's shoes in this situation, seeing this movement from myself after having the advantage would look like an obvious setup for a nasty counterattack, and the most prudent course of action is to move yourself back towards the center while keeping up your guard to reset the fight.
Because of the growing impatience I sensed from him however, he took the bait with no hesitation. Seizing the perceived opportunity to go on the offensive, he rushed in raising his sword up for an overhead strike.
"HAAAA-!" he shouted as he closed the distance.
As he raised his sword arm, the opening that I saw at the beginning of the battle in his stance was exposed. I filtered out the image of Kirito's charge and focused my attention solely on the sword arm side of his chest.
"Too naïve Kirito-sama."
With my eyes squarely on his weak point, I leveled my sword and dashed forward in a left-diagonal trajectory. In the same fluid motion I started my attack motion straight to my opponent's exposed side as the «Arabel Blade» let out a bright aqua glow. It was the basic one-hit slash sword skill «Horizontal».
Kirito, his eyes growing wide sensing imminent danger, adjusted the motion of his overhead sword. Seeing the «Wooden Sword let out a crimson colored glow, he activated the only sword skill that was quick enough to intercept my blade in time with a minimum delay – the downward slashing sword skill «Vertical».
As expected of my senpai – almost anyone else would've lost the duel right there. In a split second, he was able to, in such a situation, react to an unexpected maneuver in a split second with a proper defense. However, because my body was in the middle of my follow through for my skill, while Kirito had to contort his body just to meet my attack in time, the match in balanced and power between our two sword skills was overwhelmingly in my favor.
"CHIIIIING!" As our sword skills met, it resulted in a spectacular sound as sparks flew between our blades. Kirito felt the force of the unbalanced clash as the force of my sword skill broke through Kirito's guard as his sword was forced back, immediately putting him on the defensive once again as he struggled to regain his balance.
I was waiting for this moment. Executing my battle plan to perfection, it created this opportunity for me to break through and take this match.
The second Kirito was able to begin stabilizing his stance, the delay on my sword skill finished and I immediately started the sword motion to activate a second sword skill. Leveling my sword again and beginning a horizontal slash, my sword glowed with a bright aqua glow once again. Kirito, seeing the activation of a sword skill, immediately reacted with a sword skill of his own.
From his past experiences with sparring with me, Kirito most likely is thinking that he was going up against the sword skill «Horizontal» once again. While I was still under his tutelage, I never could quite utilize the multi-hit sword skills of the «Aincrad Style» that my senpai seemed to activate so effortlessly. I once got frustrated over this mental wall, but Kirito said that it's okay to master the basics first, since he told me "It took me almost 2 years of fighting all day, every day to master this style."
Taking his advice, I practiced the basic, one hit sword skills of the style over and over again. By the time Kirito returned to his own world, I was quite confident in my proficiency in those skills, although I didn't quite grow past that. However, the countless duels between me and Kirito and Eugeo, allowed me visual memory of all the skills of the sword style; and after countless hours of practice I was finally able to make a few of them my own.
Kirito began a sharp diagonal downward motion as his sword started to hum with a sky blue glow. I recognized the attack pattern – the two-hit skill «Vertical Arc». Had I been using «Horizontal», the first hit would meet my blade, while the second hit would knock my blade back leaving myself wide open for a counter-attack.
My first horizontal strike, as expected, was deflected easily, and Kirito's attack chained to an upward diagonal motion of the second hit in the combo. Contrary to his expectations, my own chain had not ended as I met the second strike with another horizontal slash, and both of our swords skills met with a sharp grinding sound. As Kirito's «Vertical Arc» ended, the sword's jade light started to fade gradually.
However, my own sword skill has not yet ended, as my sword continued to glow brightly. With nearly impossible speed, my body spun full circle into a third horizontal strike. Kirito, still recovering from the effects of the short delay of his sword skill, was barely able to dodge the strike as my weapon grazed his upper body. Finally my sword, like a spring, quickly bounced up and left straight at Kirito's just-ready sword. This time, my sword skill met a sword that didn't have a skill activated and had little power due to his delay, and it resulted in the «Wooden Sword» being deflected greatly.
The sky-blue diamond shape around Kirito from the strokes of my sword skill flashed brightly, then scattered outward. This was my own, self-proclaimed signature move; a move that I was once defeated by and finally made my own - the Aincrad style 4-consecutive-hit skill, «Horizontal Square».
As Kirito was forced completely off balance at the exchange as I awaited my own skill delay, the crowd broke into a thunderous cheer as many seemed to be in disbelief as to what they just witnessed. I was aware of my own popularity with my underclassman, but I never really showed my sword skills to this extent before. Both Teiza and I were good enough to only really rely on the basic one-hit sword skills to surpass any test or win a duel in a public setting, and even the strongest upperclassman in the Academy could only boast 3 consecutive hits at most. Our long road of training to get this far on our path was mostly done in secret.
With my skill delay ended, while Kirito's weapon was still deflected upwards completely off balance, it was time to deliver the finishing blow. Aiming directly at the area between the hilt and the blade on Kirito's sword, I activated the lightning quick one-hit thrust skill, «Linear», aiming to knock the weapon clear out of his hands to completely disarm him.
"This is my win Kirito-sama! HIIYAAAAAAA-!"
"I guess, this is my loss."
I wasn't really shocked at Yui revealing what I've been trying to avoid. In fact, I had a feeling I would've probably told those two about it eventually. What I was really shocked at, was that while us three have been talking, catching up, I was trying really hard to forget about the whole marriage mess in my head – and Yui's little speech pierced that veil, hard.
While I was thinking of a solution out of my turmoil once again, Ronie suddenly burst out of the room crying, calling me an idiot. My knee-jerk reaction that came a minute after watching her leave was to find her immediately, and apologize.
Telling Yui to stay put in Ronie and Teiza's room, us two split up to search for her. While running through the familiar rooms and hallways, my mind kept asking my soul the question: "Why am I having a hard time accepting this fact? You were fine with it before the whole 6 year thing, so why are you running away?"
After about half an hour of searching, Yui and I were sitting side by side near the main entrance sitting down for a breather. At around that time, Teiza found us and told us where Ronie was waiting for me, and I wasted no time in going there. I saw that Yui was about to dash with me, but Teiza held her back, saying "You should let them talk things out themselves."
When I reached the large practice field, Ronie seemed to be okay, but suddenly she ended up challenging me for a duel. To be honest, having a 1v1 match was the last thing in my mind. But after looking her straight in the eye and seeing how serious she was, in addition to what I did to her earlier, there was no way I could refuse her request.
There was a big problem though. It was something I was self-aware of from the beginning: my head was unable to get into a true battle-ready state. I didn't even imagine it was because of my problems at the moment – in all of my past battles where something on my mind weighed heavily, I was somehow able to find a way to concentrate on the fight at hand. But this time, I just couldn't. My sword somehow weighed heavier than usual, and my movements and stance were too stiff.
"I guess it's okay though. Ronie is someone I should hold back on after all to make it a fair test of skill…" was what I thought. But those thoughts became foolish quickly as Ronie stormed on the offensive and I was forced to give it my all just to stay in the match.
It wasn't that she was doing any fancy maneuvers or feints to drive me back. It was your standard, normal flurry of attacks. But my mental and physical speed seemed so sluggish, that every parried hit seemed to have the speed and strength of a sword skill. I couldn't find any opportunity to go on a counter-offensive as I kept getting pushed further and further back.
I became angry and frustrated at myself. "Why am I so useless? So weak?", which held a double meaning in my head. I was okay with losing to Ronie, but not like this. Surely, such a senpai that she looked up to couldn't be this mentally weak.
I finally found the opportunity to counter when she let up for a few seconds. Finally seeing a chance, an outlet for this pent up frustration, I immediately made an irrational, over-aggressive move; Which was something she was waiting for and immediately punished me for my mistake.
And to top it all off, she outsmarted me with her sword skills. I clearly underestimated her, thinking that she was still the same nervous, clumsy valet that could only manage one-hit sword skills. While I had to struggle to even barely defend it, I could only admire how beautiful her «Horizontal Square» was. The last hit deflected my blade upwards, leaving me wide open.
And that brought me to the present moment.
"I guess, this is my loss."
Strangely, the feel of taking Ronie's sword and the sight of her graceful sword dance was enough to calm down my rage and frustration. With the stress of the match suddenly gone, I saw many things clearly for the first time. A million thoughts ran through my head as I started realizing what was really wrong with me, and it was as if my own mind was accelerated a hundred fold in comparison to the UW. It was as if time stopped as I stared down the long, glowing blade of Ronie's finishing blow.
It was simple, really.
I simply wasn't confident in myself, and that's what carried over to this duel.
Getting married in this accelerated world for 6 years, I just didn't have faith in myself. It was hard enough trying to do so with Asuna… can I do the same with my 5 other friends? Can I treat each of them as a special person in my heart? Can I… make them all happy?
I know them all well enough that they wouldn't ask for something like "marriage so casually; and what they asked in return wasn't easy. I'd have to give each and every one the attention a significant other deserves.
Was that something I could do? Do I care about them deeply enough to give similar feelings in return, like I did with Asuna?
"Kirito-san is a good person. You saved me!" Silica once told me, whose kind and simple words helped heal my wounded heart.
"I've always been searching for that. For a special something that's real in this world. For me, that was the warmth from your hand." Lisbeth once told me, who always put her entire being into the weapons she forged for me.
"Yes. I will go… no matter where… together…" Suguha once told me, who was always by my side even when my mind was trapped in another world for so long.
"You can't die… you can't die like this!" Sinon once told me, who often shows me a side of her she wouldn't show anyone else.
"Kirito… I've been waiting for you… I'll wait forever so…" Alice once told me, whose feelings for me never wavered even after eight long, long years.
To think how they all felt about me – for the first time I felt lucky for the fact. Rather than thinking I was "the worst kind of guy" for hogging everyone's hearts, I should in fact feel blessed that I was the target of affection of such wonderful, lovely girls.
In fact, if I didn't have Asuna in my life, I might have…
But now that wistful thought became a very real opportunity. Thanks to this event, I really did have a chance to make them all happy; to fulfill the wishes in their hearts that only I can grant; and finally, to give them a well-deserved reward for holding back their feelings in deference to mine and Asuna's happiness in the real world.
To be honest, despite my newfound determination, I still wasn't very confident that I could actually make them all happy.
But I sure as hell will try. One thing is for sure, I love them, I love all of them. As long as that feeling is there, it will all work out somehow.
After all, it's the "«Black Swordsman»'s forte to kick rules to the curb and make the impossible happen!
The crowd was raptured in excitement as Ronie's final sword skill activated. Teiza held her breath in suspension as she knew what was about to happen. Yui had her big eyes open wide, following the mechanical details of the duel and knowing the inevitable result.
"This is my win Kirito-sama! HIIYAAAAAAA-!"
A bright light accompanied by a loud sound rippled through the air as Ronie's sword skill made contact. However, as Ronie's sword's glow faded completing her one-hit skill, Kirito's weapon was still in his hand.
"I don't believe it…!"
The audience's collective jaws dropped as it was in stunned silence. They couldn't believe what just happened. Instead of Kirito's sword's hilt, Ronie's «Linear» instead made contact with something completely different…
Kirito's free hand was letting out its own glow as it was holding the tip of Ronie's sword – it was the master level unarmed skill «Guard».
"No… no way…" Teiza muttered in disbelief.
"Waaaa!" Yui squealed delightedly.
As if he was holding a wooden stick, Kirito used the momentum of the sword skill to throw it and its wielder straight through behind him. Ronie momentarily lost her footing as she was thrown almost to the edge of the arena, but managed to drag her sword in the ground to stop herself short from falling over the edge of the arena.
Teiza worriedly looked at her friend, who was so easily cast back. But when she expected her to have a similar, shocked expression as her and the crowd had, she wore a relieved smile on her face instead.
"What's this… it's like she expected this to happen…" Teiza thought bewilderedly. She then thought back to the rooftop – Ronie had a very confident look… compared to Kirito, who seemed to not be himself throughout the match. It was almost as if the two switched bodies.
"Could it be, she planned this all from the beginning?" If she was right, Ronie applied a principle that was taught to them by Kirito and Eugeo – that some things can only be communicated through two warriors by crossing blades. What Ronie planned out, and what she executed on the arena floor…
"I see, you really were able to help him. You really have grown."
Kirito turned around as Ronie stood back up with the help of her sword. They looked at each other face-to-face, both showing a cool, confident smile to one another.
"Welcome back, Kirito-sama."
"Ronie, thank you. I'm back."
As if their simple exchange ignited a fuse, the crowd suddenly roared as they were shaken out of their stupor, amazed at the unbelievable skill the black-haired swordsman displayed.
"Sorry about before, this time, I'll give you all I got. So show me… no…"
Kirito interrupted his line as another scabbard materialized behind him. Sheathing his black wooden sword, he then pulled out a familiar light blue sword that had a silver grip, decorated by an inlaid delicate flower.
Teiza let out a gasp, it was a weapon that those Ronie and her would recognize anywhere - Eugeo's favorite weapon, the «Blue Rose Sword».
"…show BOTH of us, how much you've grown." He finished saying as he stomped his right foot on the ground with all his strength, creating a minor tremor as he dashed forward with his other leg, closing the distance of about 10 meters in almost an instant.
"Uooooooo…!" he let out a battle cry.
"Haaaaaaa!" Ronie cried back, facing his charge head on with the charging sword skill, «Sonic Leap».
Kirito's sword glowed a bright light blue color and met Ronie's charging downward strike with the defensive skill «Parry», blocking it completely. Ronie then used the momentum of her blade being deflected back to spin to her right for a reverse horizontal strike.
But by the time, she spun her head around, Kirito was no longer in her vision.
"Behind you, Ronie." She heard a whisper to her ear from behind.
Opening her eyes wide in surprise, she turned around as fast as she could. Her eyes were met with a black sword quickly descending on her in a diagonal motion. She hurriedly raised her sword in defense and barely blocked the attack in time. But there was no time to think of her next move as she could see the sword start glowing blue once again.
If not for her reflexes, she wouldn't be able to have taken the quick sidestep that she just did to avoid Kirito's quick one-hit sword skill, «Slant».
She hopped about 3 meters back to gain some distance, but Kirito, showing the same, confident smile from before, stomped on the ground once again and charged at Ronie with a diagonal slash from the upper right.
Ronie countered his attack with an upward thrust from the opposite direction, creating sparks and a loud metallic noise as the two heavy one handed swords met at an incredible speed. It took almost all of Ronie's strength just to be able to parry his slash.
Kirito however, took his blocked sword and quickly swung again as if his weapon had no weight at all. Ronie had no choice but to give ground as she was pushed further and further back. She tried to counter-attack a few times, but they seemed to be perfectly read by Kirito as he casually dodged all of her strikes which just led to his sword being free to continue attacking.
She started sweating profusely as it was taking all of her physical and mental strength to be able to read and deflect every sword slash that was aimed at her. She knew there was no way she could continue fighting him at this rate.
She had to take a chance and use a sword skill, even if defeat was the price of failure due to the skill delay. After dodging a diagonal slash, she abandoned her defensive stance as she took her sword in and raised it up over her head.
Kirito saw that motion that he's seen many times before, the start of the one-hit sword skill «Vertical». He immediately began to activate «Rage Spike» to counter her, but as his weapon began to glow light red, Ronie's weapon never changed color. Realizing the feint, but unable to stop the skill, Kirito did a short leap forward and followed with an upward slash. Ronie, who knew the motion of this 1-hit skill, sidestepped it lightly as the sword skill hit the air beside her. As the skill ended she performed a quick thrust at Kirito's «Blue Rose Sword».
Even though there wasn't much power behind it because it was a regular attack, it caused a minor deflection which caused Kirito to flinch. His eyes opening wide, Ronie knew this was her first and last chance.
Not hesitating, she once again activated her most powerful attack, «Horizontal Square». Ronie's sword glowed a bright blue as she slashed with impossible speed. She was confident that at least 1 hit would get through, Kirito's stance was off-balance and there was no way he could use his unarmed skill to counter 4 strikes.
Kirito however, never panicked as his eyes focused on Ronie's sword. A hard, scraping sound rang out four times, as he parried Ronie's combo front, side, rear, and front again.
"No way… he defended that… without a sword skill?"
The entire four hit combo parried, Ronie was hopelessly frozen in a long skill delay after using a multi-hit skill. Kirito didn't let go of that chance. His sword glowed in an orange light, and he attacked with all his power.
Aimed directly at Ronie's outstretched sword, Kirito delivered five high speed thrusts, then slashed up, down, and up again. Unable to maintain her grip, the skill knocked the weapon clear into the air, which landed with a loud clanging noise on the ground outside of the arena. Ronie herself was knocked straight to the ground due to the impact.
"That was… 8 hits… what kind of sword skill…" Ronie asked as she lay flat on the ground, staring at Kirito's face above her.
"Aincrad style, 8-hit sword skill, «Howling Octave»."
The spectators all went crazy after the duel ended.
"Best duel ever!"
Kirito and Ronie heard all these praises around them as both of their conscious faded from their battle state. They both smiled at each other as Kirito extended his hand to help her up. The noise only became louder as the both of them acknowledged the crowd by bowing in every direction, right at the center of all the applause.
After Ronie went and retrieved her sword and the audience began to file away, a worried Teiza and a jubilant Yui made their way up the steps into the center of the arena where the two were.
"Ronie! Are you okay? Kirito-dono that's too harsh!" Teiza said harshly, causing Kirito to be somewhat embarrassed.
"No it's okay Teiza. I wanted to fight him for real after all." Ronie said consoling both of them.
"Papa! That was so cool! You were amazing!" Yui exclaimed as she jumped into Kirito's arms.
Ronie smiled at the cute scene, though she had somewhat mixed feelings since it was in her expense.
"Ah…" Yui said as she turned toward Ronie and bowed. "You were strong too Ronie-san. Thank you for helping my papa!"
"Eh, but I never said…"
"Mmmm… well I used to be a kind of «Mental Health Counselor» after all, so I know what you're thinking quite well."
"What… what an amazing daughter." Ronie and Teiza both thought.
"I'd like to properly say my thanks too. So once again, thank you for the fight." Kirito said as he joined Yui in a deep bow.
Seeing her senpai/mentor/hero/love interest actually humbly bowing in deep gratitude toward her was a little too much for her heart to handle at the moment as she turned red as her face heated up.
"N-N-No, I-I-I didn't do that much…"
"No Ronie." Kirito said as he gently patted her head Nade Nade again. "You definitely helped me out a lot. It's because of you that I know what to do, what's important to me now. Also, you're an amazing swordswoman. I'm really proud to be your senpai."
Ronie looked at Kirito's close face as she felt his gentle hands with both her mind and her heart racing at light speed. Her heart was fluttering and beating quickly at the same time. There was one more reason she wanted to duel Kirito aside from wanting to break him out of his stupor. Maybe now… now was the right time to say it.
"Um… you know senpai…" she said in a soft voice. "It's too bad I lost, I was actually planning on asking you for one request if I had won."
Kirito and Yui had a questioning look on their face. Even Teiza raised her eyebrows slightly.
"It's such a shame I lost though!" she continued as she turned around, stealing looks at Kirito.
"Uh.. well…" Kirito started to say. "As a reward for your hard effort I'll grant your request. Consider it a belated present from your mentor for making Elite Swordsman Trainee… yeah…"
"REALLY?!" Ronie squealed louder than she meant to, startling the three.
"Ah sorry… I mean… Really? You'll listen to my request?"
"Of course, just name it!" Kirito said with his fist at his heart.
"Then… This is something I always wanted to do. But I'm still busy with my last year in this academy. So, please wait until I graduate, and when I do…"
Kirito, Yui, Teiza all leaned in. Ronie's heart was beating faster than ever as she paused. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and shouted:
"… PLEASE MARRY ME AS WELL KIRITO-SAMA!"
As the three heard this outrageous declaration, they could only open their eyes wide in silence. Ronie seemed to be waiting for an answer, but after a minute of not hearing a sound, she slowly opened her eyes, and was met with this scene.
For Kirito, it was so sudden he didn't reach to phase of being surprised yet. All he could do is utter a simple 'Huh'.
"Like I said, please marry me Kirito-sama!"
"Umm… marry… as in husband and wife?"
"Because you promised you'd grant my request!"
"Let's get married!"
"Because you promised!"
Finally at that point, it seemed her words finally reached him, which finally let his mind fully process all the information, which also let him react properly…
Kirito shouted out in the empty practice field, his volume amplified by his echoes on the wall. Ronie gave a big smile like she was expecting it and latched on to Kirito's right arm.
"Uh Ronie… you know… I know it might be fun to be around me and the others and all… but shouldn't you save marriage for someone you love…?
"Obviously! And it's okay after all, since I love you very much!"
From his side, Kirito looked at Ronie give a beautiful smile. This only made him embarrassed as he turned red and looked slightly away. In addition to the surprise of her request, he was even more taken aback that she just confessed to him, completely straight-forward like, which was something he never really experienced.
"This girl… she's amazing… I dunno… wasn't she supposed to be all shy and stuff?" Kirito thought, thinking how reserved she's been at his time in the academy.
After calming down slightly, he turned his head and looked eye to eye at the girl latched on his arm. Her eyes were sparkling in expectation, waiting for Kirito's response. Kirito averted his eyes again slightly while scratching his cheek.
"Well… when you graduate, I'll give you an answer… is that okay?"
If it was possible, Ronie's wide eyes grew even wider at his answer, with little tears forming at the bottom of her eyes.
"Yes of course! ALSO! I… I know you already have Asuna-sama and Alice-sama. So I don't mind being your #3. Wait, I guess there's also Sinon-sama and Leafa-sama too, so I'll be #5? Ah, but Yui-chan said that you had 6 wives, so that would make me #7…"
Kirito can only look at Ronie in amazement as she was talking about polygamy as easily as it is to talk about the weather.
"You… you really thought this through didn't you?" he replied, sighing heavily. "Well… I guess for a girl who overthinks things to the point of having an amazing delusion, I should've expected it."
"Mou… Kirito-sama you meanie…"
At that moment, Teiza finally snapped out of her own shocked state with a loud "KYAAAAAA!" as she hugged her friend from the other side.
"Oh my god! You did it Ronie! Congratulations!"
Letting go of Kirito, Ronie embraced Teiza as they were both squealing happy while lightly hopping up and down. At the same time, Yui, who reverted back to her Pixie form during the whole commotion, landed on Kirito's shoulder.
"Hmm… I'm a little reluctant, but since Ronie-san is a good person, I will allow this marriage too Papa!"
Kirito almost fell flat on his face as he heard that. "Didn't I just ask her to wait for an answer?" Between the two girls jumping for joy and Yui's approval, it was like the wedding was set in stone already.
"Still…" Kirito thought as she looked at Ronie's happy expression. She was like a reborn person, like her heart was finally set free from a huge burden. "Does that mean, this whole time, she… towards me…?"
"Well, If she became this happy and cheerful by being with me, then…"
It was already almost midnight when Yui and I said our goodbyes to Ronie and Teiza at the North Centoria gate leading out the city.
"Farewell, Kirito-dono, Yui-chan."
"Bye bye Kirito-sama! I'll be waiting for you! I love you!"
Ronie's line, which was shouted loud enough for the whole street to hear, drew some onlooker's stares. While they were mostly smiling, I was still quite embarrassed at it. In contrast, Ronie didn't seem to care at all.
"So papa, how will you answer her?"
"Hmm… well I hope you accept. I like Ronie-san a lot!"
"That girl, she's quite something."
"Yes, she reminds me of Silica-san, a little."
"Oh really? How's that?"
"Well, Pina-san once told me…"
Yui and I had some small talk as I was walking back to our house in «Cardina» with her sitting on my head. She mentioned that her wings and feet were tired from searching for a certain pair of people all day, in which I can't blame her.
But as we were talking about random things, I was getting more and more anxious the closer I got to our home. Surely, all the girls were probably angry at me for running away after the effort it took to set this whole event up, in addition to not getting any answer from me when they basically asked me to take their hands in marriage.
I shuddered a little as I thought of the wrath I'd have to face from them. Silica and Sugu probably won't be too hard, but Liz, Sinon, and Alice, especially Alice, might do everything but impale me for making them wait. I remembered the time when I was at Asuna's old house in «Salemburg» trying to dodge her party invitation - I don't think I've ever seen a more deadly butter knife.
"Hey Yui, the girls, they didn't seem… too angry when you left, did they?"
"Hmm… actually after making that flowerbed, they didn't seem to be angry at all. In fact, it's like you never even left papa."
Well that surprised me. However, girls are still mysterious creatures to me, it's hard to tell what they're thinking.
"I wonder how I should apologize to them. Surely, they must be a little mad at me for not giving them an answer…"
Yui stayed quiet for a minute as she heard my musings, and then finally said:
"Don't worry papa, as long as you're sincere, everything will be okay!"
"Heh, you're probably right."
Sometimes the simplest and most innocent answers are the best advice.
"By the way, I already sent mama a message that we're on our way back, and she said they'll be waiting at the door!"
All of them? Are they all going to give me a group hug? Or am I getting a public lynching?!
After about half an hour walking the slowest I possibly could without Yui getting impatient, I finally arrived at the huge double door at our house… no I should say mansion. If such a manor existed in the real world, any person would surely think whoever lives there was the owner of some major commercial chain.
I passed by the newly plowed flowerbed, but I made a mental note to check it out later as my mind was pre-occupied by imminent danger.
"Ah! We're finally home!"
"Yes… I'm home…" I responded half-heartedly, as I furrowed my brow as I stood my ground in hesitation.
"Hm? Aren't you going to go inside papa?"
"Just to be sure Yui, they're all waiting right behind the door right?"
"If what mama's message said is true, then yes."
I guess it's times like these where one has to 'man up' and face the music. It's like what Klein told me once: "Sometimes, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!"
"Then, I'm going in…" I said, and put both my hands on the two door knobs. Yui, perhaps sensing the tension, flew off my head and hovered beside me.
"Damn it, there's no use fretting over it. I'll just rush in and apologize quickly!"
Closing my eyes I burst open both doors quickly and immediately bowed my head.
"I'M SORRY FOR BEING AWAY FOR SO LONG! PLEASE FORGIVE ME!"
When I opened my eyes a second later to see their responses, what I saw was something I wouldn't expect in 100 accelerated years.
All six girls were standing in a huge semicircle. With both their hands in front they all gave a light bow in sync, while they were wearing…
"WELCOME BACK, MASTER!" they all said in chorus.
They all had on an outfit that consisted of a black dress with a white pinafore on top, wearing a frill on their heads with knee-high stockings. Something that I'd only see as a cosplay or in certain cafés in real life…
"… Why are you all dressed as maids? Wait, before that, what's with this 'master' talk?"
"Actually, we… realized that we pretty much forced you into going along with this idea of ours." Sinon spoke up, whom, with Silica, were wearing cat ears and a tail along with the maid uniform.
"Even if I thought that it was normal for a hero to have many love interests, I guess this isn't the norm in the real world." Alice said.
"When onii-chan fainted, Asuna-san told us that you would probably escape on your own, and that when you did, to just let him do what you wanted, and that you'd come back to us eventually!" Leafa explained.
"That's… that's why Kirito-san…! We thought that maybe you hated us now, and we didn't want that! So, we came up with this solution to apologize!" the other cat-eared maid said.
"We all thought… maybe if we served you, that you wouldn't think bad of our actions." Lisbeth added.
Finally Asuna, who was in the middle, spoke up last.
"Kirito-kun, I know these girls were asking you for a lot, but it's only because they really, really fell in love with you. I know that now - how everyone feels - because I felt the same way! If you fell in love with one of these girls instead of me, I'd definitely do the same thing they're doing. So please… please give them a chance!"
After Asuna's concluding statement, all the girls were giving me different looks. Lisbeth's and Sinon's faces were red, both looking away from me slightly. Leafa and Silica, in contrast, were looking at me with glistening eyes looking like they were about to cry. Lastly, Asuna and Alice were giving me a straight-forward, expectant expression eagerly awaiting my answer.
I would bet that in their minds, they were preparing their hearts for me to reject them. If it were the earlier me, I would probably have laughed it off as some kind of elaborate joke, and they, being the good people they are, probably would've played along while burying the pain deep within. Then we would all return to the real world, and we would've looked back at this event 20 years from now and laugh all about it.
But now, I wasn't willing to let that happen, by any means. The last thing I wanted to do was have them experience heartbreak a second time - when I think back to how painful it was for Suguha when we found out our real identities during the ALO incident, I wouldn't want to wish that on even my worst enemy.
Anyway, thanks to a certain young lady, I was able to realize this. I couldn't thank her enough. Giving the best smile I could muster, I told everyone my answer.
"To tell you the truth, I'm still very inexperienced, and I don't know if I'm good enough to make all of you happy. But even after knowing this, if you don't mind being with me, then…"
Like a light bulb, I saw everyone's expressions instantly brighten.
"Let's try it, together with everyone, this «Harem Plan»."
And I was immediately tackled and subsequently glomped by six ecstatic girls and one little pixie. I'd like to give the fairy tale ending and say we lived happily ever after, but our story was just beginning.
(End Chapter 1)
Next Chapter Preview:
Kirito: Finally being able to return their feelings, me along with everyone else started living our peaceful life together. However, for me it seemed anything but peaceful – so many different people wanting one person's attention would invariably lead to some conflicts. To settle this – everyone decides to take part in a friendly competition. But things don't quite go as planned, and then…
Next time on The One Ultimate Way: A Typical Day at the KKA House.