A/N: The storyboard for this chapter ended up being FAR longer than I intended, so I ended up splitting it into two parts, this chapter being the first.
In any case, thanks for waiting, enjoy.
Slowly opening her eyes, Silica looked at the clock on the wall: 5:16. Because it was the winter season in the Underworld, the early morning sky was bright enough to cast a pale blue glow over the room.
She rolled over on her bed a few times, pulling her blanket over her head to block out the slowly, but steadily brightening sunlight. However, she was missing a familiar, furry warmth she was used to feeling on her bed.
Not feeling her soft, feathery familiar anywhere, Silica got up and started looking for her pet dragon. If Pina was still asleep, there's only one other place she'd be at.
Still half-asleep, she made her way down the hallway to the biggest door on the floor – an elaborately designed silver bordered double door which marked the entrance to the master bedroom.
Opening and walking inside, Silica found Pina exactly where she thought she would – sleeping on Kirito's chest.
Instinctively, she trotted over and climbed onto the bed and rubbed Pina's sleeping head.
"Hehe! So cute…"
But only after a few seconds did she feel the delayed fatigue wash over her.
Looking at the huge bed she was on, she climbed into the sheets and right next to the man Pina was asleep on. She inched closer and cuddled at his chest seeking his body's warmth.
"Mmm… so warm… munya…"
The sun that frantically tried to enter the room as it was shining through the white laced curtains hanging from the window, and the chirping of the sparrows seemed like they were prompting me to get up.
But despite me waking up, my eyelids were heavy and I didn't really want to get up just yet.
"Just a little longer…"
For some reason, staying in the bed felt like the most wonderful feeling in the world. My body was wrapped with the feeling of the highest grade of soft feathers from his bed, while my upper body was covered in the smooth, silk blanket. In addition, my hands were also feeling up a soft feeling…
A soft and squishy feeling…
"Hm… what's this feeling? Did I have something like this in my bed?"
However, right now I couldn't get myself to escape from the comfort of lying down on this high quality bed. Using only my hands while keeping my eyelids closed, I felt up this mysterious feeling, using my hands to squeeze at it.
It was soft and squishy, and smooth too.
-WAIT A MINUTE, I JUST A HEARD A VOICE THAT WASN'T MINE. And it was definitely a girl's voice.
My eyes shot open as I became fully awake instantly. Having a bad premonition, I immediately shot up and flipped the blanket off, and what appeared in front of me was…
In front of me lying on the bed was Ayano Keiko, or better known as the beast tamer Silica. She was a girl I helped in SAO, and eventually became a Cait Sith character in ALO, which was the best race for beast taming.
Wait, that's not the problem right now! The problem is that she was dressed only in her underwear… a two piece bra and panty combo that was white with red borders, with the top piece showing some cleavage even if she was a little underdeveloped…. AHHHH why am I even taking the time to describe it!
The young dagger user slowly opened her eyes and looked straight up at me while still lying down.
"Munya… Ah… Kirito-san. It's morning already?"
"Ye—Yeah, it's morning."
She looked around and saw the bright sunlight radiating through the curtains, and the clock which read 6:57. She stood her upper body up into a sitting position as she let out a yawn in her high-pitched voice. She looked around a little bit while blinking her eyes in a daze, and finally settled upon me who was sitting on the bed in front of her.
I saw her open her eyes wide as she stared at me (most likely, in surprise), then looked down at herself and then saw her turn a little blue (most likely, horrified at some thought), then finally saw her face turn red like a thermometer (most likely, out of extreme embarrassment).
Thinking that returning the same look would increase the awkwardness, I decided to try to play it cool.
"Good morning Silica. Did you sleep well?"
However, it seemed to have the opposite effect as she hurriedly searched for something to cover herself.
"Umm! Umm! Ah! Ah….!" She started stammering as she searched, but couldn't really find anything as we were sitting on the only blanket.
"DON'T… DON'T LOOK…!" the twin-tailed beast tamer shouted as she dived forward with her hands trying to cover my face, which resulted in her tackling me.
As she knocked me flat on my back, we ended up in a position where I was once again flat on my back, but this time with Silica's body pinning me down. Our faces ended up only inches apart as both of us turned red.
Silica and I were looking eye to eye, closer than we've ever been before. Her ruby eyes were staring straight at me, which seemed to have a hypnotic effect. Being drawn into them, I started to lose the strength to move or look away.
"Her skin feels so soft… even softer than Asuna's… HOLD ON WHY AM I EVEN COMPARING SUCH THINGS?"
At the first floor, in the expansive training dojo that was built into the manor, Kirigaya Suguha was practicing her kendo swings using the wooden practice swords around the room. They were heavier than the usual shinai, but doing the same routine day after day made her not notice the extra burden at all. She always trained seriously every day in the real world, and the habit carried over as she started living in the UW.
"Gulp… Gulp… Haaa…"
Finishing her solo practice, she drank down a few liters of «Siral Water», as she grabbed a towel to wipe her beads of sweat off.
Right now her appearance was actually «Kirigaya Suguha» rather than the Sylph magic warrior «Leafa», wearing her practice hakama which was similar to its real world counterpart. Because of the advances of the STL the girls were able to import their ALO data and incorporate it into their natural fluctlights, and she was able to transition to either appearance by just reciting a simple «Sacred Art» spell word that was almost identical to the way «Magic» is cast in ALO. Between her and Sinon, being your 'real' self in a virtual world was something they never experienced before, unlike everyone else who was either a «SAO Survivor» or an artificial fluctlight.
It was like those magical girl transformations she saw in anime as a kid. Although she always thought they were cheesy (and a little perverted), actually being able to do it for real was really fun.
Putting away the practice sword back in its hold she put on her house shoes and ran up the stairs excitedly. She couldn't keep the wide grin off her face. This was because not only because that onii-chan wanted to try being her lover, but also because he promised that he would try out kendo again and would practice with her in the morning.
"It's like we're going to relive our childhood again, only this time our relationship is so much closer than ever…"
She giggled to herself happily as she approached the double door to the master bedroom, which was slightly ajar. Pulling up the menu, she saw it was 7:00, and coughed to herself slightly to clear her throat.
1…2…3… she burst open the door and declared in a bright, loud voice:
"Rise and shine Onii-chan! It's time for practice….! Gah!"
Piri piri Suguha's forehead started to twitch and her face turned bright red as her movements and her entire body froze.
As she pushed both doors open and walked in, she saw an underwear-clad Silica pressing on Kirito's body, as if getting ready to kiss him. Also, for some reason, Kirito didn't look like he was putting up much resistance.
"Wh—wh—wh—WHAT ARE YOU TWO DOING SO EARLY IN THE MORNING?!"
Suguha's loud voice seemed to snap both Silica and Kirito back to their senses as they hurriedly separated from one another.
"I…I see, so that's what happened."
After a bit of commotion, Silica, who was now draped in a silk sheet, explained to a hot-headed Suguha and a dumbfounded Kirito how exactly she ended up there in the first place.
"But, if that's true, where is Pina anyway?" Suguha inquired.
"Ah… Pina likes to wake up early and talk to Yui-chan before breakfast, so I wouldn't be surprised if she was doing that." Silica explained
"Then… I guess that's fine then…"
"Really, Silica you surprised me there." Kirito said.
"Hey… did you not like it? Sleeping next to me…" she replied quietly.
"Eh? Errrmmm… of course I did. Silica is really cute after all!"
"Eheheh. I think you're cute as well, Kirito-san!"
"Okay, okay that's enough. Geez Silica-chan, it's really embarrassing watching you flirt like that right in front of me…"
"Ahaha… sorry about that, Suguha-chan." Silica replied sticking her tongue out.
"Really though, after you told me about that «rule», seeing you in my bed was the last thing I expected."
It was something that the girls agreed on that night Kirito returned from Centoria, who learned of it the next day. The «rule» basically said that the girls would refrain from making 'physical' advances at Kirito until things settled down and such. Asuna, in the interest of fairness, also agreed to abide by it. By extension, everyone were to live in different rooms, for now. It didn't really create any problems, as the manor they were in is as spacious as a place meant for royalty.
Seeing this situation with others, sparks might've flied. But luckily Silica and Suguha were really close, so they would easily forgive one another.
"Anyway… it's time for kendo practice. I hope you didn't forget!"
"Ah… yeah… just give me a second, and I'll be right down."
"Well I'll be heading back as well." Silica said as she got up. "By the way… sleeping with you felt really good. Let's do it again, Kirito-onii-chan!"
"KEIKO….!" Suguha shouted.
"Nyahahaha!" Silica laughed like a Cait Sith as she ran away.
Well, even if the «rule» prevented anything physical, they were free to try to get his attention by other means.
"There and there."
She dipped the last piece of nori into the soy sauce and used it to roll a sheet of rice. With that, Asada Shino finished creating the first portion of her breakfast.
It happened to be her turn to make breakfast today, and since this was her first time at bat for her, she wanted to go all out and leave a good impression. To that end, she chose to create a traditional Japanese breakfast, choosing a main course of miso soup, broiled salmon, and rice, along with various other side dishes.
Cooking here wasn't as simple as it is in normal VRMMOs – In those worlds all you had to do was give the raw food a few touches of your cooking utensils, place them in some cooking implement, and your «Cooking Skill» would do the rest of the work. While the UW is still technically the same kind of world, cooking here is exactly like it is in real life.
While she was a very decent cook due to living on her own for so long, she was used to preparing western style breakfasts, which is what most people her age ate as it is far easier and shorter to prepare. Because of that, she sought out Asuna for help, who was a far better chef when it came to high class cuisine (both in real life due to her upbringing, and in the virtual world). While they spent last night talking about it, sleepiness overtook her before they could finish. When she awoke, however, she saw a notebook filled with pointers and instructions on making a Japanese breakfast, with Asuna asleep on her desk. Being deeply grateful, she promised herself that she wouldn't let Asuna or herself down.
"It's amazing… doesn't she know I'm doing this for Kirito? I wonder if I would've been selfless enough to help a «rival» like that?"
Maybe she didn't see anyone as a rival… everyone pretty much agreed that Asuna was the '#1' love interest no matter what, so the 'rivalry' would be between the remaining 5 girls.
"Wait before that, is it even normal to think like this? I mean, it's not like I'm deeply in love with him or anything, right…?" When Shino first heard of the idea of forming the «Kirito Kataomoi Alliance», simply agreed to cooperate because she wanted to help everyone. Yes, Kirito was her hero, and for that she admired him greatly while still thinking of him as his greatest rival, but that was it, really!
When she ventured outside GGO – meeting Kirito and his friends in the real world; finding out her actions as a child did a lot of good; adventuring with her new friends in ALO; and finally becoming good friends with Asuna; she saw not only the amount of female admirers he had, but probably, also why they all happened to fall in love with him.
The biggest catalyst though, was the man himself. To Shino, that guy was like a force of chaotic good. He was good-natured, yet mischievous, unpredictable, and likes to stick his nose in his friends' troubles. To a person that's used to being alone and introverted as she was, Kirito shook up her inner world just as much as the «incident» from her childhood did.
And rather than resist it, Shino went with the flow, and followed his pace. While she still had her 'cool' personality, being with Kirito and Asuna and their friends brought out sides of her that she never knew existed. Soon she was more comfortable being more outgoing and cheerful – something that she wouldn't think would be possible had she not met Kirito that day.
Before she knew it, she found that her admiration grew into something greater. Was this what they call «love»? To be honest, she still didn't quite understand that emotion, or at least not as much as Asuna and the other girls seem to. That is when she first came up with this thought: that perhaps, in participating in this «harem plan», she could explore this feeling, and maybe come up with an answer.
And so far, it's been a good feeling. It was something she wanted to experience more…
"Sinon, the fish…"
Realizing she was in her own little world for too long, she saw the salmon she was broiling letting out a charred smell as it was almost completely black on one side.
"Aaaaah my salmon~" she said sadly. "Why didn't you say something earlier? Actually, how long were you two standing there?"
Behind her was both the blond-haired Integrity Knight Alice and the red-haired Leprechaun Blacksmith Lisbeth, who were both trying to fan out the smoke from their nostrils.
"We were having tea in the dining room when we noticed this burnt smell coming from the kitchen. So we just got here a few seconds ago." Alice said.
"Yeah, and you were just standing there looking off somewhere with a funny face…" Lisbeth added.
Sinon's cheeks turned a little red as she used a metal spatula to separate the burnt skin that was making the salmon stick to the pan. "Damn it. As usual, this is all that guy's fault, as always!"
"I know you told us yesterday that you wanted to do this alone but… are you sure you don't need help?" Lisbeth asked.
"No! I'm just fine!" Sinon exclaimed. If she didn't do this herself, that would defeat the point of showing off her personal cooking skill to Kirito.
"Hmm…" Alice said, musing over Sinon's rice rolls. "I didn't expect you to have such technique. I'm impressed."
" '… but it's not as good as what I could do' is what you're really thinking, right Alice-san?" Sinon countered quickly.
Alice looked at Sinon for a little bit, then turned slightly away with a smirk on her face.
"… well, what's true is what's true."
It was two days ago when Alice showed what she could in the kitchen. That day was Alice's turn to make breakfast, and what resulted was one of the most delicious meals Kirito, Sinon, and the other girls ever tasted. She chose a western style course which consisted of scrambled eggs cooked with chives and crème fraiche on top of a slice of sourdough with a hint of olive oil on top, in addition to a stack of buttermilk pancakes. It was a dish that used simple, well known ingredients, but because it was simple it made it all the more impressive how great it all tasted. Even Asuna, who everyone perceived as the best cook out of all of us, was impressed.
While everyone was enamored by the meal in front of them, Sinon observed Alice at that time. It was subtle as she always had a noble lady's expression, but her eyes had a look of triumph as if she won some hard fought contest. Sinon already heard from Asuna how aggressive she was towards Kirito after Alice left the UW with them. She was the only one out of all the girls that actively tried to get between Kirito and Asuna before the whole «harem plan» was devised.
While Alice did accept the proposal by us in the KKA, it seemed to Sinon that she still might have the same goals. To put her theory in simple terms: everyone else was satisfied with being Kirito's #2 to Asuna's #1; but Alice wanted to share that #1 spot with Asuna. While it was true that she didn't want Alice to 'get ahead of her', she was equally concerned that she was trying to intrude upon Asuna's position. For Sinon, who liked Asuna just as much Kirito, it just rubbed her the wrong way.
Lisbeth, who nervously watched the two girls glaring at one another, decided to try to alleviate the tension.
"Ahhhh! Alice, aren't you going to do the usual thing with Kirito today? Look! It's almost already 8:00 you know?"
Alice took one look at her digital window and reverted back to her usual expression.
"You are right. Well Sinon-san, I have high expectations for your meal. Good luck." Alice said as she equipped her sword and scabbard and walked out.
Seeing Sinon give a slightly annoyed expression, Lisbeth whispered to her "Hang in there Sinon!" as she followed Alice out.
After the two left, Sinon redoubled her efforts to finish her work. Firing up another serving of salted salmon, her most time consuming dish, she got to work on the other dishes so she can finish as fast as possible. There was another reason why she was taking notice of Alice besides the whole harem issue…
"There's something I have to see…"
"Onii-chan, your stance is too rigid, bend your knees more!"
"Now you're leaving your side vulnerable." Suguha said as she lightly struck Kirito's side with a DOU attack.
"Urk…" Kirito yelped as he squared his arms, still trying to get used to a fighting style he hadn't practiced since he was a child. He still wasn't used to holding a light weapon with both hands, much less having to deal with the encumbering, vision-obscuring kendo armor.
Suguha sighed as Kirito appeared to revert to his original position. She took her shinai and struck the back of Kirito's knees, in which his reflexes forced him to bend down, while at the same time using her other hand to correct his right arm's position.
"Exactly like that. Now hold that stance and give me 50 overhead swings!"
"Yes, sensei…" he sweatdropped.
Although she appeared like a strict gym teacher on the outside, she was deliriously happy on the inside. It took much of her willpower just to stop herself from breaking out into a teary eyed smile.
Even though it has almost been a decade, she still had a vivid recollection of that day. The day that Kazuto told their late grandfather he wanted to quit practicing kendo. Her brother loved the keyboard far more than the shinai, mostly due to his adoptive mother's influence. Their grandfather with his straight-as-an-arrow personality, however, found it unacceptable and slapped Kirito pretty hard. Not being able to stand by and watch, she shielded Kazuto as he was about to get hit a second time, begging her grandfather to stop saying that she would carry on kendo in his place.
After that day, the two drifted further apart as Kazuto and Suguha devoted themselves to their passions of computers and kendo, respectively. A profound gap opened up between the two of them that lasted for 7 long years, and when Kazuto became involved in the «death game» incident, she deeply regretted not trying to put more effort in closing the divide. Seeing Kazuto in a comatose state restrained to the sickbed with numerous cords and IVs stuck to his body while being trapped by that dreadful «NerveGear» was enough to make her burst into tears. It was the first time ever that she cried, and she would end up crying herself to sleep multiple times during the first few months of the incident.
However, they were able to reunite after Kazuto was able to clear SAO with his own power, and the two wasted no time repairing their relationship. They became closer than ever, and Suguha thanked the heavens for giving them this second chance.
But at the same time, she realized just how much of a different world her brother now lived in. He had a beautiful girlfriend who both loved each other dearly, and also possessed a unique talent that didn't go unnoticed by the people at RATH and abroad. She knew that the day would soon come that the days of playing ALO with Kazuto would soon come to an end, as he would find his calling in life.
This inevitable fact saddened Suguha greatly. It seemed like only yesterday that they were able to become as close as they were as kids again… why must they be pulled apart so quickly?
That all changed when Lisbeth and Silica approached her with this crazy idea…
"What if this summer vacation didn't end?" the red-haired blacksmith told her.
Suguha couldn't believe this opportunity that was presented to her. It was almost like they could turn back time… giving her a second chance. She could have a chance to be given back those years that were lost during their childhood. She could have a chance of having her unrequited feelings towards Kazuto, that blossomed during those 2 long years of the «SAO incident», returned. She could have a chance of righting that deep regret she had of not fixing her relationship with her brother for so long. She could have a chance of being able to stay not only by Kazuto's side, but also by the side of her newfound friends that she's grown close with, even if it's just for a little bit longer.
All that was left was to convince the person in question to agree with them.
Not only did Kazuto embrace the idea, but now he even agreed to practice kendo seriously with her again. Although Suguha really loved kendo, it was because of kendo that they lost their close relationship as children. It was always a point of turmoil that she had to shove into the depths of her heart as she continued the sport. To see her brother accept kendo is like seeing him forgive her for letting herself drift apart from him.
"98… 99… 100! Hah….. Finished!" Kirito gasped as he put down his shinai, resting his tired arms.
"What should we do now Sugu?... Sugu?"
Without warning, Kirito felt his shoulders being touched as he felt Suguha's short, slightly damp hair on his neck. Resting her head on his shoulders, Suguha slowly embraced Kirito from behind. Kirito turned his head to look at her, and saw little droplets forming from under her eyes.
"Sugu? Are you okay…?" He asked.
"Yeah… I'm okay." she whispered to him. "Sorry… let me stay like this for a while."
Kirito simply nodded his head silently as he relaxed his body. He smiled as he covered her small hands wrapping around his waist with his own, while using his other hand to reach up and gently rub her head.
Suguha didn't know how much time passed as they stayed like that, but for her it seemed like it lasted forever as she had a teary-eyed smile on her face.
"Promise you won't leave me behind, okay?"
It was simple, yet meaningful words that resonated from Suguha's heart. She didn't know whether or not the entire meaning was conveyed to Kirito, but he squeezed her hands and smiled at her gently.
"Okay, I promise."
"KIRITO? LEAFA? ARE YOU THERE? I'M COMING IN!"
"WAAAAHHH!" Hearing that sudden declaration, Kirito and Suguha shouted as they both flailed and lost their balanced as they fell to the floor. As the sliding door opened, they hurriedly propped themselves into seiza position as the visitor stepped inside.
The two cousins looked up at Alice with a slightly red face with a nervous smile.
"Hmmm? I knocked about 10 times and there was no response…" Alice said with a wondering look as she saw the two kendo practitioners' sitting posture.
"Ah… could it be that I interrupted both of yours' meditation? I apologize." Alice said as she bowed her upper body formally.
"No! No! It's okay Alice-san! We were just about to finish anyway!" Suguha replied as she waved her hands while winking at her brother, who smiled and winked back.
"Well, that's good. Anyway, Kirito…" Alice turned from Suguha to Kirito.
"It's time. I'll be waiting for you at the usual place." She declared as Alice gave a polite bow and walked out.
As the sliding door to the dojo slid shut, Kirito hung his head with a dejected look on his face.
"Argh… back to the meat grinder."
"Don't worry onii-chan. Since you now have a great warm-up coach in your cute little sister, you'll definitely do better today!" Suguha said brightly, trying to energize him.
"Hmm now that you mention it you might be right Sugu. Because of this practice, my muscles feel a lot more loose." Kirito said as he rotated his right arm.
Kirito grabbed both his and Suguha's shinai as he performed some moves similar to his Dual Blades ability, swinging one hand and then another, alternating between the two in a continuous motion.
"ALL RIGHT! I'm feeling pretty good. Now that I'm all pumped up, I'll take a win today for sure!"
Kirito was running away as fast as he can… running away for his virtual life.
His hair stood on end once again as his body sensed another extreme source of heat closing on him fast, and he performed a quick leap backward to avoid the blast. However, the impact of the blast forced his body to launch into the air more than he expected, and he was forced to roll forward as he landed just to keep himself upright.
Kirito barely had time to look up as he saw Alice finish the incantation for another Fireball spell, seeing another one coming straight at him.
"MAXING OUT A QUICK CAST ABILITY USING ALL YOUR SKILL POINTS IN A GAME WITH NO MP LIMIT ISN'T FAIR-!" he shouted as he started running away again.
"Hmph. Once again, you're saying things that make absolutely no sense." the golden haired Integrity Knight replied as she began casting yet another fire spell.
"As usual, onii-chan is getting beat up again…" Suguha sighed.
The other girls gave a nod as they were watching the «practice match» while sitting on a log just to the side of where the fighting was. Silica, Pina, Lisbeth, Yui, and Sinon joined Suguha in watching the duel that Alice and Kirito would take part in every morning.
"Actually, did that guy even take a match from her yet?" Sinon asked.
"So far, it's 7-1 in favor of Alice-san." Yui answered with precision.
"You can do it Kirito-san!" Silica cheered with Pina imitating her master's fist pump sitting on her head.
"Ugh… I want to cheer for him too, but it seems so one-sided, don't you think?" Lisbeth added.
Alice, who heard Lisbeth's remark in between her casts, gave a light smile to herself.
"It doesn't look that way but… if I don't give it my all like this, there's a good chance that I'd lose."
It started a week ago, which was the day after they all dived using the STL. That morning, Alice approached Kirito who was with Asuna and Yui at the time and asked him for a sparring match. Alice did so under the pretense of 'wanting to keep her skills sharp since she was no longer on regular duty as an Integrity Knight'. While that fact was true, there was one other reason she wanted to fight him, which she kept to herself.
While Alice didn't mind at all using their regular weapons, Asuna insisted that they use simple «Wooden Swords» as she was worried that at our skill level someone would surely hurt themselves too much. When Kirito protested that they couldn't do squat with such a low-object-authority weapon, Asuna went out of her way to buy some materials to have Lisbeth forge high object authority wooden swords which allowed the use of high level skills while keeping the damage to the minimum. Alice was surprised that she would go through all that trouble even though their lives weren't in much danger regardless…
In any case, the first duel was a square off between Alice and a dual-wooden-sword-wielding Kirito. It was on Alice's insistence that Kirito fight using his full ability from the start, as otherwise there wouldn't be any point to this in her point of view. With Asuna and Yui as the audience, Alice gave a valiant effort, but eventually succumbed to Kirito's superior style in a narrow defeat.
For Alice, whether she won or lost didn't matter as she was trying to explore that hidden reason she wanted to fight. To that end, she utilized her sword-fighting ability to its fullest extent… but she didn't feel satisfied. She then asked for a rematch tomorrow, in which Kirito replied:
"Sure we can go at it again, but I'd like to ask the same thing of you."
"The same… thing…?"
"You said you wanted to fight me at my full ability… I also want to fight you with your full ability."
At that Kirito gave her a pat on the head as he walked back to the house with his SAO family.
She stayed on the grassy plain for a long while after that, pondering over her love interest's words. It seemed like Kirito could see straight through her – like he knew her more than she knew herself. In a way she was a little frightened, but at the same time she was glad that it had to be that guy, out of all people. It made Alice feel closer to Kirito, which was in fact part of that other reason she wanted to fight him in the first place.
That hidden reason was simply this: Alice wanted to know what is it that made fighting 'fun' for Kirito and the other girls. It was an emotion she couldn't fathom. She suspected that the main culprit was her «synthesis». When she became skilled in the art of combat through that event she viewed combat as something businesslike and necessary – something that one should take seriously and approach with a cold, calculative attitude.
Even when she eventually regained her memories, that attitude didn't change. It was all she knew after all, and there wasn't much room for distractions during that time of conflict anyway. But when all was settled and peace returned, she found herself to envy the «fighting spirit» she saw from her friends from the real world. It seemed to give them some kind of intangible fighting edge, seemed to bring them closer together, and lastly it made fighting for them 'fun'.
Kirito seemed to sense that desire from her, and Alice decided to follow his advice.
The next day when the two dueled, Alice used her talent in the sacred arts that she nurtured since childhood to great effect. She mixed swordplay and magic and overwhelmed her opponent handily. After the battle, while Asuna was chanting a healing spell on the downed Kirito, Alice approached him once again. This time however, Kirito was the one who asked for a rematch before she could say a word, saying a statement along the lines of "I'll definitely win next time!"
Intrigued by his sudden outburst, Alice stayed quiet and simply nodded, and they fought for a third time the next day. Unlike the previous day, Alice was pushed back and was forced to use stronger spells, forced to make her incantations faster while not fumbling her words, and forced to deliver more precise sword strikes. At the end, she won a more decisive victory than before, but once again Kirito got up with a smile, and told her again that he would win the next time.
Eventually the other girls were attracted by all the flashes and noise and regularly attended the two's duel as they fought round after round day after day. As time passed, Alice found herself excitedly looking forward to mornings. Experiencing Kirito every day trying his hardest to beat her made her try even harder herself. She would spend hours mentally going over the battles in her head while thinking up of new tactics for the next time. She would also spend time training off on her own in the evenings just to make her sacred arts go off a little faster, and make her sword hit its target just that much quicker. It was a new feeling blossoming within her, and for the first time she felt what it was like to be 'alive' as she was fighting.
This change in Alice wasn't something that didn't go unnoticed among the other girls. Lisbeth and Leafa, whom Alice talked to the most frequently, told her that she "smiles a lot more often", which was something she was surprised hearing and made her a little more self-conscious.
Alice hoped that she would keep winning… not because of the victory itself, but because she wanted this feeling to last even longer.
However Kirito kept getting better and better as he adapted more to her attack patterns. In the first few fights, simple low level, single-target-homing spells were enough to give her the advantage. But now, she was using a combination of high level multi-homing attacks combined with multi-target ballistic and area of effect spells to ensure her victory. Right now, despite her meticulously aimed barrage of the «Fireball» spell, his movements started to lean towards rather than away from her.
As Alice launched her third volley of the area effect homing skill, Kirito stopped running, stood his ground, and bent his knees forward.
"Don't think things will work so well the fourth time! UWAAA!"
Kirito sidestepped two of the fireballs, and leaped over the third one, using the vaulting momentum to catapult himself towards Alice as he brandished his two swords. Several of the girls cheered that he was finally going on the offensive, but this was within Alice's range of risk.
Not flinching by his aggressive move, she raised her own wooden sword high above her, glowing a bright light as she stepped forward. With precise timing, she initiated the 1-hit sword skill «Vertical» right as Kirito moved in to her sword's attack range.
Not expecting such a quick counter-attack, Kirito crossed his dual swords above him to absorb the impact of the downwards swing. He was successful in fending off the sword skill, but his eyes met with the palm of Alice's free hand as it started to glow a bright white.
"You've got to be kidding me…" Kirito muttered, seeing Alice finishing her incantation as she unleashed the frontal cone area effect spell, «Lightning Blast».
Kirito quickly pushed Alice's sword aside and turned tail to dive backwards as fast as he could as Alice launched 7 consecutive short range lightning bolts in a forward arc. He was able to escape the most damaging zone of the spell, but he felt the electrical charge on his back as he wasn't able to evade it completely, which drained about 1/5 of his «Life».
"Ow…! Hey, you've got to give me an opening!"
"Hmph! In battle there are no freebies!"
Alice couldn't contain her smile as she raised her off hand once again and chanted a short, three-word sacred art as her hand glowed in a bright, emerald light. From her hand launched seven consecutive bolts of pure magical energy that locked in on the Black Swordsman, the multi-homing spell «Magic Missile».
In ALO this spell had a reputation of being the most accurate in the game, which would only miss if the target was well out of its range or if it was behind cover. Kirito figured it would have the same properties in the UW, and he didn't have the benefit of either of its counters. Unfazed by this fact, he eyed the pathing of the missiles and shifted his body to a position where four were coming from his right side, while three were coming from the left.
Kirito's sword on the right hand glowed light blue. With superhuman speed, he performed a vertical cut followed by a quick upward to downward motion, finishing with a strong upward slash – high speed 4-hit skill, «Vertical Square». All four strokes intercepted the center of the four bolts coming from his right side, as they dissipated harmlessly in the air…
As his right hand was moving under the «System Assist», Kirito switched the output in his brain to his left hand as that sword glowed bright orange. The wooden sword left an orange trail of light as it moved in a wide forward arc three times, swinging from left to right to left and back to the right again – a 3-hit skill designed to deal with multiple foes, «Sweeping Strike».
Similar to the sword skill in the right hand, he was able to intercept the remaining three magic bolts homing in from his left. It was a combination of Kirito's two self-taught outside system skills «Spell Blast» and «Skill Connect».
But as Kirito started his taunt, his eyes found Alice, who moved forward during the time he spent deflecting her spell, already having her sword wrapped in a bright crimson light as her sword's tip was pointing straight towards him.
"This is the end…!"
His mind was screaming 'DODGE!', but as he just used a pair of multi-hit sword skills, his body was frozen stiff due to the delay, and escape was impossible.
"G—Go easy on me…"
Whether his last words reached Alice's ears was unknown to Kirito as he helplessly watched Alice's sword double in length as it thrust toward him with the roar of a jet engine.
"Zu Fylla Heilugr Astral Drott Svall Vaagi!"
Leafa finished chanting the most powerful healing spell she knew, as Kirito's torso which was glowing an unnatural red after being impaled, started to close up while his «Life» slowly filled back up.
"You really shouldn't pull the same trick twice in a row, you know." Alice told him curtly.
"Haha… but what choice did I have?"
Kirito actually used his trump card of combining his two outside system skills in yesterday's duel, which surprised Alice enough to almost turn the tables on her. This time, she not only expected it, but was able to design winning strategy around it.
"But still that was amazing Alice-san. I can't even cast spells as fast as that, and you're not using a staff either!" Leafa told her admiringly.
"Ah… th-thank yo-"
"I know right?! And it was so cool when she called out her attack like some anime superhero!" Lisbeth interjected.
"Yeah, yeah!" Silica agreed.
"She was like…" Yui wound up her arm in the same motion along with Silica, Lisbeth, and Dragon.
"This is the end… VORPAL STRIKE!" as those three plus a dragon mimicked Alice's finishing move.
Alice, who always carried herself with an air of a proper lady noble, and who never let her emotions get the best of herself in a proper duel, suddenly felt deeply embarrassed as her face heated up like a hot water kettle.
"I… I did no such thing!" she vehemently denied.
Sinon, who has been quiet up until now, was the first to respond to her.
"… It was so loud, there was no way we didn't hear it."
"I heard it."
"I heard it too."
The last two were Liz's and Leafa's words.
While she didn't think they were lying, Alice really couldn't recall if she shouted like that or not. Was this what they called «losing youself in the battle»?
"You must all be mistaken! I mean, the battle was so loud with all the sword and magic that it just sounded like I shouted something… right? Right?!" Alice panicked as she looked at the last person who hasn't said a word yet.
However, Kirito just gave her a smile. "Well don't worry about it, it's not like anyone's laughing at you. No big deal."
"It's a big deal to me!"
"Ah that's right, I recorded the duel because I wanted to show mama later." Yui said, who touched open one of her files as a 17 inch wide window opened up. Everyone gathered behind her.
"This is the end…!"
"G—go easy on me…"
"Amazing! Alice-san sounds so cool!" Yui said brightly as she kept pressing on the same time index replaying it over and over.
"VORPAL STRIKE!... VORPAL STRIKE!... VORPAL STRIKE!... VORPAL STRIKE!"
"She said it."
"Yup, she said it."
"She definitely said it."
Sinon, Liz, and Silica said at the same time, respectively.
Alice, whose face heated up so much it was starting to become blue, turned around and sprinted away so fast it left a sonic boom.
"I'M NOT THAT KIND OF PERSON-!"
The girls looked up with a perplexed expression as they looked at the fading back of Alice as she ran farther and farther.
"Haha, such a troublesome girl, that one is." Kirito remarked like a wise old man.
"Oi… Kirito… you're pretty calm even though you lost pretty badly. Could it be that…?" Lisbeth started to ask.
"Hmm… what could you be talking about?" Kirito said innocently.
"Ahem…" Sinon interrupted as Lisbeth was about to open her mouth. "Might I remind you, that if we wait too long, the meal I have so meticulously worked hard to prepare for all of you will get cold?"
"Ah that's right, it was Sinon's turn today." Kirito said as his stomach grumbled. "It looks like all this exercise made me hungry. All right everyone, let's go eat!"
"O-!" The rest collectively raised a fist pump in agreement.
When they entered the dining room table, each seat had its own serving of miso soup with tofu and steamed rice. Sprawled around the middle of the long table were many servings of side dishes, which consisted of tamagoyaki, seaweed, pickles, bonito flakes, and salad. Finally, a big plate in the middle contained three broiled, salted salmon, which dominated the aroma around the room along with the miso.
"Ja—Jan" Sinon said in her usual monotone befitting of an ice, cold sniper. "Presenting your breakfast."
"Waaa!" the girls squealed in delight as they ran to their chairs to have a closer look. Lisbeth almost found herself having to wipe the drool from her mouth as she turned back to Sinon.
"Wow, and you actually made this all yourself! How long did this take you?"
"Just an hour. I think of myself as an iron chef after all." Sinon replied holding up a peace sign. She then turned her eyes cautiously towards the only male in the room, to see what kind of reaction he would show.
"Wow… amazing… so you can cook after all…!"
"Obviously." she said coolly. "You can't live on your own like I have and eat take out all the time, you know."
"Ahaha… sorry, sorry, I didn't it mean it like that. I'm just surprised since I never had a taste of your cooking before. Now I regret that I haven't tried it sooner…"
"Then you're in luck. This just happens to be the first time I made any of these."
"Really? Then it's a great honor that I'm able to be the first guy to sample Sinon-sama's magnificent cooking." Kirito said as he gave Sinon a playful bow.
"Wha-…. It's, It's not like I made this especially for you or anything!" she retorted in a definitely-not-monotone-voice.
"All right, all right… Enough with the tsundere act. Can we eat now? I'm hungry!" Lisbeth shouted from the table.
"WHO'S A TSUNDERE?"
As Sinon shouted back in an un-Sinon-like tone, the group heard a feminine voice coming from the entrance hall.
"…yawn… Mmm… something smells good…"
"Mama, good morning!" Yui shouted happily.
Emerging into the room was the long chestnut-colored haired Asuna, still wearing her clothes from yesterday. Still a little drowsy, she took a long, hard look at the dining table and instantly lit up.
"Looks like last night's mission was a success Sinonon!"
"A great success!" Sinon smiled as the two high-fived one another.
"Eh? Mission? Did something happen?" Kirito asked dumbfoundedly.
"Hehe, that's a girl's secret, Kirito-kun." Asuna told him with a finger to her lips.
"Right?" both Sinon and Asuna said at the same time as they smiled at one another, which only served to confound Kirito even further. Kirito closed his eyes attempting to think about it further…
"Onii-chan/Kirito-san/Papa, we're hungry….!"
… but decided to just leave it be as he heard the pleas of the three youngest residents of the house.
The group sans Alice shouted as they couldn't wait to taste the deliciously presented food. With Sinon and Kirito sitting on one end, the rest of the girls were sitting on the side with one empty seat as Pina and Yui in pixie form sat on the table in the other end. Yui pretty much exclusively had meals in her miniscule avatar, the reason being that she didn't have to eat as much.
As for the other end of the table, the girls agreed to take turns sharing the one spot to Kirito's side, reserved for the girl whose turn it was to cook that day.
"Ahh… I'm glad to be alive today. Waiting for Sinon's cooking was worth it!" Kirito declared as he helped himself to another slice of fish.
The rest of the group nodded in approval as they rained more praise on the little sniper which made her feel happy and slightly embarrassed at the same time. She looked to the side at Kirito frequently and noticed his wide, innocent smile, almost unbefitting of a fighter skilled enough to slice bullets in half. Sinon, being the quietest of the group, was always taking note of her friends' expressions, so it's not like she hasn't seen him like this before. But this is probably the first time that he's showing such a face because of her.
"By the way, where did Alice go?" Asuna asked. "Don't tell me… you beat her so bad you made her run off crying Kirito-kun?!"
"No way! Onii-chan got destroyed, as usual."
"Oi… Sugu, you don't have to put it like that…"
"That's right Mama, I'll show you the video later!"
"Alice-san was so cool, since she beat him in one blow!"
"Right, right! Using that sword skill finishing move—"
"—VORPAL STRIKE!" all of them except Asuna and Sinon shouted at the same time, while Asuna had a question mark written on her face.
"Hm? What's wrong Sinon-san? You haven't touched your food all that much." Leafa asked.
"Ah! Nothing!" Sinon answered with some fluster in her voice. "I'm just not too hungry, that's all."
Indeed, while the others were already on their second helping of miso soup and steamed rice, Sinon only finished about half of her first serving. It was true that she wasn't too hungry, but more importantly, she simply felt a lot of satisfaction watching the smiles on their faces as they shared her meal.
"But really, this stuff is on par with something from a ryokan. If you can make stuff like this so fast, you should open your own café." Kirito told her.
"Eh… well… I don't know about that. I'm not much of a people person."
"Hmmm…" Kirito thought about these words and created a scenario in his head:
Hearing great reviews about this uptown restaurant named «Sinonon's», me and a few of my friends decided to check it out today.
Opening the door, we were greeted by the owner/manager, who was a short, petite, aqua-hair-colored hair girl that was dressed just like a Cait Sith.
"Irasshaimase-nya! Please wait to be seated right here-nya! Thank you for visiting my restaurant-nya!"
"You're right, it would be impossible." Kirito agreed.
"Hey… right now, you just thought of something rude, didn't you?" a suspicious Sinon said as she narrowed her eyes at him.
"Ahaha… how could that be?" Kirito responded as he tried to laugh it off. "Anyway, can you pass me the tamagoyaki?"
Sinon let out a little "Muuu…" sound as he grabbed a small plate of pickles on her side of the table. While she thought for sure that Kirito thought of her as some nekomimi maid or something close to that, she let him off the hook in deference to this growing warm feeling in her chest.
For some inexplicable reason, she felt her heart beat faster from simply having a conversation with the smiling Kirito who was eating her cooking happily. Was it because of the atmosphere? Was it because of his words? Is this what 'being in love' is supposed to feel like? Like before, she still didn't know the answer; but now that she was free to explore this feeling with him, she definitely wanted to take action.
"Sinon…?" Kirito asked, waiting for her to set the plate down.
Hiding her face, she took a pair of chopsticks and picked up a serving of the cube shaped omelette, and swiftly pointed it at Kirito's face.
"…. Here. I'll feed you." She whispered.
"Like I said, I'll feed you." She kept whispering as she pointed at her chopsticks.
"Wait… feed me as in «Ahhh~» feed me? Right here?!" Kirito whispered back to her loudly.
"… Is there a problem with that?"
"N-no! It's just that... that's kind of the last thing I expected to hear from you…" he said as his cheeks turned red in embarrassment.
"I'm serious about this… and I'm embarrassed about this too you know!" she replied in a whisper-yell, hiding her face from him even more.
Seeing her seriousness, it wasn't possible for Kirito to refuse now. While he did look back around at the other girls, he knew this was the personal risk he took when he accepted being everyone's «fiancé» in the first place.
"So… here Kirito… Ahhh~"
"Ye-yes… Ahhh~" Kirito mimicked Sinon as he opened his mouth wide.
Needless to say, that got everyone's attention.
While she was looking only at Kirito, Sinon heard the symphony of four different sets of chopsticks dropping on to the table. Of course, she felt more embarrassed as every other set of eyes were probably on her and Kirito at the moment. But somehow, the exhilarating feeling of pulling something like this off in addition to her desire to try doing this in the first place overrode whatever anxiety that was being produced.
She gently placed the pickle on the tip of Kirito's tongue, as he chewed on it little before swallowing it down.
"Would you like another one?"
"Eh? Uh well, just one more, I guess?"
"Then, here's another one… Ahhh~"
She was a lot more natural the second time. While Sinon knew she shouldn't really do this, but the teasing personality within her sparked her curiosity enough to peek at the other four girls' reactions: Leafa's face turned red as she her mouth was sputtering like some kind of goldfish; Lisbeth's eyes were wide, yet seemed eager to see what would happen next; Silica's mouth was pursed as she was staring at the two making an "Uuu…" sound; and finally Asuna was showing her usual, angelic smile, but her face was ever so slightly starting to twitch.
Kirito, on the other hand, didn't dare to turn his as his Battle Instinct were alarming him of a sense of danger coming from that way. In contrast, Sinon found herself both happy ans amused at the same time. Playing along further, Sinon beamed a smile as she grabbed another helping of tamagoyaki.
"Would you like another one?"
"NO! I mean, no I think I'm full now!" Kirito said quickly.
"Hoh, that's too bad… Oh, you got a little bit of food on your face." Sinon noticed as she inched closer. "Here…"
As Kirito turned to look at her, he was taken aback at how close she was suddenly and jerked his body backwards in reaction, almost falling off his chair.
"… hold still."
Expecting her to use some kind of towel, Kirito merely nodded and waited. To his horror, Sinon had her eyes closed with her mouth slightly open sticking her tongue out, with its moist exterior inching closer, and closer…
"WAIT A SECOND!"
As Asuna, Silica, and Leafa stood up and shouted this at the same time, Sinon stopped herself and smirked as she stuffed Kirito's face with his table napkin.
Sinon chuckled as the others almost fell over in disbelief.
"You didn't really think I would do that did you?"
"Puhaaa!" Kirito exclaimed as he removed the napkin from his face. "Hey there's a limit to these pranks you can pull!"
"But it made your heart beat faster didn't it? It was exciting wasn't it?"
"Well, I can't deny that but… Hey! What are you making me say in front of everyone?!"
"Of course, when we get married, let's continue where we left off, ne?" Sinon said as she gave off her deadly, radiant smile.
At the same time Kirito turned red, Asuna, Leafa, and Silica were starting to see red.
"Gochisousama!" Sinon said her thanks to the meal quickly as she did a quick backflip off her chair and ran out laughing the whole way.
"Sinon-san is dangerous…"
"Too sly, Sinonon…"
… came the responses of Leafa, Silica, and Asuna respectively.
"Well don't mind, don't mind!" came Lisbeth's voice. "It's not like she broke the «rule» or anything. Besides, all of you could've tried the same thing, you know!"
Hearing this, Silica, Leafa, and Asuna all thought back to the day when they had their turn at cooking. Occupying the chair next to Kirito, Leafa talked about sword-fighting and kendo, Asuna talked with everyone like a normal meal, and Silica was nervous the whole time watching Kirito trying out her simple-ish cooking.
"… why didn't I try feeding Kirito too?!" the three thought dejectedly as they realized they wasted an opportunity.
"Haha… well… don't worry, it's not like you three won't get another chance." Lisbeth said sympathetically, although she was more impressed by Sinon's boldness.
"Anyway, Kirito! It's time to do that with me again. Are you ready?" Lisbeth turned to him.
Kirito, who was still flustered during the whole conversation, sprang back at that line.
"Yes now! I think I'm the girl you spend the least amount of time with anyway!" Lisbeth pouted.
"… are you keeping track of that kind of useless stat or something?"
"It's just a feeling! A feeling! Anyway, let's go!"
Kirito let out a sighed exhale as he let out a "Right, right…" as Lisbeth pushed him out of the dining room.
"… make sure to keep the food warm for Alice okay?"
"Okay!" Silica, Leafa, and Yui shouted back.
After smiling back, Asuna left the dining room and out into the hallway. After finishing the traditional Japanese-inspired breakfast that she helped Sinon come up with the idea with, she left the younger ones to do the menial clean-up work of fixing the table and washing the dishes minus Alice's portion. Normally, she would help them with the task and felt bad about pushing the work onto those three, but she had this bad feeling that she had to investigate.
Namely, it was about her best friend, Shinozaki Rika - aka Lisbeth.
Asuna was initially shocked when she heard that Lisbeth was in love with Kirito from way back when all the way back to the old SAO. Asuna then felt bad and instantly sympathetic as she realized how she much have felt to stand at the side and smile as Kirito and her spent time together, getting married (virtually), and eventually sharing a real life relationship. She then realized that perhaps, all of the other girls felt the same as Lisbeth, which was her main motivation for going along with the harem plan soon after.
As her and the other girls settled down for this first week, Asuna watched as they all vied for their fiancé's attention, in their own way. She found that she didn't mind it as much as she would've thought – in fact they all reminded Asuna of herself back before Kirito joined the «KoB» in SAO… she always trying to get his attention in one way or another. She did get annoyed from time to time with the more aggressive Sinon and Alice, but they were all quite innocent when it came to dealing with romance, so she wasn't able to stay mad for too long.
Lisbeth, however, was a different compared to the others. Rather than dive head first into the «competition» of sorts, she preferred to lay back and observe. Laughing at how silly everyone was and talking with Kirito and everyone else the same as how she did before they started living here. In the middle of this, Lisbeth called Kirito out to spend some time in private every now and then.
Asuna at first didn't think much of it; After all, she has as much right as anyone to get closer to Kirito considering what she's been through. But then she started noticing a disturbing trend, every time she saw Kirito after these 'meetings' he was always tired, perspiring a little, and had his face slightly red; while every time she saw Lisbeth in the same context she seemed immensely satisfied, relaxed, happy, and was also red in the face. Also, Lisbeth seemed to call out Kirito in an irregular fashion – sometimes in the morning and afternoon, and sometimes really late at night.
"Suspicious! Really, really suspicious!"
Alice seemed to be the only other girl that noticed, as the other girls were probably too innocent or too happy to care. Despite being her biggest 'rival' in the past, Asuna agreed with Alice that they should at least make sure there's no weird stuff going on between the two, and that the next time one of them saw the two go off in private again that they would follow them.
Asuna first walked up the grand staircase right in front of the main entrance, split into two sets of stairs which went in opposite directions towards the second floor. Going to the right split she silently walked all the way to the end of the hallway where the master bedroom was at. She peeked in and saw that there was no one inside, then went to the attached bathroom and found nobody in there as well.
She was a little nervous the whole time since this was technically an invasion of privacy, but since she convinced herself this was for the greater good, she shook it off and moved on.
Exiting back into the hallway, she walked in the opposite direction passing the doors to all of the girls' rooms. It was a good thing this huge manor had so many empty, spacious rooms… even in her family's mansion back in Japan wasn't as large as this place. Running silently to the other side of the manor, she came upon a door that had the crest of «Lisbeth's Weapon Shop» hung on the outside, which was a metal piece that Lisbeth crafted soon after they arrived here.
The door was slightly ajar, with the light of the morning sun glowing from the inside that was noticeable from the darker hallway which had its curtains closed. With her heart beating faster, she slowly took a peek inside. Looking at the familiar room that she visited frequently her heart relaxed as she saw nobody in there. After exiting the room and returning the door to its previous position, she leaned on the wall next to Lisbeth's room.
"Hmm… there's nobody in Kirito's and Liz's rooms and the rest of the rooms are locked… But I definitely heard them walking up the stairs so where could…"
At that moment her foot felt a slight contour upon the hallway's carpet she got the hint she was searching for.
It was ever so slight but it definitely had the shape of a bare foot, and by just eyeballing it, it looked to be Lisbeth's size. She couldn't really make out the shape of any other prints, but just by being able to notice one, she knew that Lisbeth was here very recently.
"That's right, I'll just use that!"
Her pupils pulsed a green glow as she activated her perception skill Tracking, which was a skill she refined through her experienced in SAO, but was one that she hasn't used in a long time.
Focusing on the one footstep she saw, the skill then painted a whole trail of steps that lead from Lisbeth's room all the way to another door. Following the trail, it led straight to an unmarked door. The foot trail went inside the door and there were none leading out, meaning that Lisbeth was surely inside.
While the girls occupied six different rooms, there were still about 8 or so rooms that were empty… or at least presumably empty. She's never been inside this particular one, and there was a fire-like glow emanating from under the door's cracks. Asuna carefully tested the door knob and found out it wasn't locked, but her courage wasn't strong enough to boldly burst open the door.
"Hold on, it's not like I know they're doing anything weird yet! I'll just put my ears to the door and listen for a bit… yeah, that would be okay right?"
Asuna jerked away from the door in shock, but kept enough of her wits to quickly put both of her hands to her mouth to stifle her scream.
"A… Alice…!" she whispered loudly. "What are you doing here?"
The person who suddenly called her from behind was none other than her golden-haired partner in crime, who was wearing a casual blue dress.
"I was downstairs eating brea—MMMMMMPPPPHHHH."
"Shhhhh!" Asuna hushed as she put a hand to Alice's mouth. "Not so loud!"
"Huah… Like I was saying, I was downstairs eating breakfast when I heard about those two again. So I excused myself and rushed up as fast as I could, then I found you standing here…"
Asuna then updated her with a concise explanation on what she was doing so far.
"… so they're definitely inside."
They heard a little shuffling inside which made the two girls jump to both sides of the door. After about a minute, they calmed down and again moved directly in front of it.
"A—Anyway, let's listen for a bit." Asuna said as she put her ear to the door.
"Indeed…" Alice said as she did the same.
The two heard only some movement noises for about a minute, but then finally heard a male voice they knew all too well.
"Liz… do we have to do this now? I'm still tired from that duel earlier you know?"
Hearing this encouraged the two eavesdroppers as they pressed their ears closer.
"Of course! We haven't done it in two days already! You shouldn't keep girls waiting like that, you know!"
"Yeah, yeah… anyway, hurry up and lie down, let's get this done already."
"Iyaa… Kirito is so forward!"
"I—Idiot! Just do it already!... Hey… I can't start unless you take it off first."
"I know! Have a little delicacy… geez… "
Asuna's and Alice's faces were already beet red as they heard someone's clothes being taken off and landing somewhere.
"He-Hey hold still Liz… I can't start unless you stop fidgeting"
"Ahaha… sorry. Even though this is the sixth time already, it's still kind of embarrassing…"
"… Don't be so nervous… I think Lisbeth's skin looks as pretty as everyone else's."
"Oooh… you lady killer you. I bet you've done this with the others already huh?"
"No-no… actually, I haven't even done this with Asuna yet…"
"Ah so I was the first girl huh? Hehe… that makes me happy somehow…"
"N-n-no way… could it be… could they have…" Asuna's eyes were starting to twirl as a million thoughts suddenly ran through her head.
"… Anyway Kirito… I feel sensitive since we haven't done this for a while… so be gentle… just like the first time…"
"Sorry did that hurt?"
"… No I'm fine. Hah… keep going…"
"Mmm… Ahh… Mmm…"
"Ugh… you're so tight Liz…"
"It's because it's been so long… Mmm… Ahh… Ahhhn… right there, that spot...!"
"Ahhhn! Yeah… do it harder…"
"How does it feel now?"
"Mmm… it feels sooo good…"
Before Alice could comprehend, Asuna kicked open the door and rushed in with the loudest scream she has ever heard coming from her. Alice's first instinct was to look away as her image of what Kirito and Lisbeth were doing was… provocative, but found herself laying her eyes on the room since she and Asuna were found out anyway.
And what the two found was…
"Asuna?! Alice too?"
… a dark room with all its curtains shut, only illuminated by a soft fire. Lisbeth lying down face first on a narrow mattress with a 1 piece bikini on, with Kirito standing next to her, fully clothed, with his hands on Lisbeth's shoulders. In other words…
Alice voiced that thought out loud while Kirito and Lisbeth stared at Asuna, whose face was turning more and more red by the second.
"Uh… can I help you?" Kirito said to Asuna shyly, trying to break the silence.
"… just to be sure, what exactly are you two doing?"
"Hm? Getting this guy to give me a shoulder rub, of course."
"Ah so that's it! A massage! Ahahaha!" Asuna let out a monotone laugh as she took a few steps back.
"… and now that we told you. I think it's your turn…" Lisbeth told her flatly.
"Eh? Us? We were… we were just exploring the house! Yeah! Alice and I wanted to go on a little adventure, because this place is so huge! You know what they say… "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Ohohohoho….!"
Asuna eventually back stepped all the way to the door, and was about to turn around…
Giku! Asuna shivered as she was stopped in her tracks by Lisbeth, who was smirking like she could see right through her.
"What was that 'Noooooo!' all about?"
Giku Giku! Asuna did a double take, not being able to tell her the answer.
"… You heard it too, right Kirito?"
"Yeah I was going to ask her that. Why 'Noooooo!', Asuna?"
Giku Giku Giku! Realizing there wasn't much choice now, Asuna knew she would have to talk her way out of this.
"I—I think you heard me wrong! I didn't say 'Nooooooooooo!', I said 'Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaa!' like, I couldn't hold my excitement when we found a room we haven't been to yet…! Right, Alice?"
Asuna gave a nervous wink to the Integrity Knight behind her, desperate for some kind of lifeline out of this predicament. Alice in the meantime was lost in her thoughts seeing her love interest's hands on the half-naked Lisbeth, and was only half paying attention to the situation.
"That's right! It's not like we came up here to spy on you two doing something perverted or anything!"
Asuna turned a pale white, and felt like she wanted to disappear on the spot.
"Asuna, you…" Kirito sighed.
While Asuna was kneeling with her face in a complicated expression, Alice, with her honorable straight-as-an-arrow personality, unreservedly told Lisbeth and Kirito everything leading up to what happened, with Asuna adding on why she burst in at the end.
In fact, her scream was loud enough to draw Leafa, Silica, Sinon, and Yui up the stairs earlier. Kirito met them outside the room and simply told them Asuna hit her toe on the door, which gave them a laugh as they left the area. He silently apologized to their retreating backs, as they might be a little too young for this.
"Kirito, please forgive our rudeness!" "I'm sorry, Kirito-kun." Alice and Asuna both said to him, getting in a seiza position giving a deep bow.
"Well, it's okay, no harm done. But…"
Kirito turned his eyes to a certain person, with Asuna's following suit.
"Ohohoho! Ahahahahahaha! Oh my god! Hahahaha!"
"It's not THAT funny Liz!" Asuna frowned.
"But… but… you actually thought that me and Kirito...! Hahaha! I'm just imagining your face listening to it… Ahahahahahaha! Oh my sides hurt…!"
Seeing her best friend literally rolling on the bed laughing, Asuna had mixed feelings. On one hand, she was glad that she didn't get angry or upset at all. On the other hand, it felt like she was soundly 'defeated' somehow, which gave a brooding feeling she didn't enjoy.
"Hahaha… oooh… sorry… sorry… but you know what Asuna? Kirito here is really skilled with his hands! Must be because he's ambidextrous or something? Or maybe because he's really buff for his size…"
"Actually... being a good massager is all about technique, you know." Kirito interrupted.
"In any case, you should ask him for one too, Asuna!"
Asuna met Kirito's eyes who was smiling as if inviting her. Asuna averted her gaze and turned slightly red.
"Err… that is… that might be nice… maybe later though…"
"Ehh? Why are you getting all shy now? I mean, it's not like you two haven't done it alrea—"
"THIS AND THAT ARE DIFFERENT THINGS!"
The three of them were shocked with their hairs on end as they heard a loud crushing noise come from the direction of the other occupant of the room. They all looked at Alice, who just stood up and stomped the ground with authority, as if being decisive about something. Kirito wondered for a second if Alice performed the giant monster skill «War Stomp», but wisely decided not to say that out loud.
Holding their breath, the three could only look at Alice as she silently approached Kirito with determination in her eyes.
"… want one…"
"Uhh… come again?" Kirito asked her timidly.
"I want one too! Kirito's massages!" Alice shouted. Asuna and Lisbeth looked at each other, then let out an exhale as they relaxed. Kirito did the same and smiled back at her.
"Oh that's it? I'd be happy to—wait what are you doing?!"
In the middle of his sentence, Alice started undressing herself. Elegantly unbuttoning her back and undoing her sash in two swift motions, the blue dress dropped straight down to her feet.
"… this is the proper attire for receiving one, no?"
What Kirito, Asuna, and Lisbeth saw made them grow wide-eyed. Unlike Lisbeth, Alice only had her undergarments beneath her clothes, and what beheld them was the figure of a 20-year old beauty with almost translucent skin whose body had perfectly shaped curves. The firelight reflected on her hair to give it an almost glowing gold radiance. It was almost like something from an impressionist painting.
Even Asuna and Lisbeth can only admit they found her beauty breathtaking. Noticing the three staring at her, Alice folded her hands over her chest.
"… Don't stare so much."
Kirito did want Alice to show her expressions and desires more, using their everyday duel as a catalyst. He thought she made a major breakthrough earlier today, even if she was vehemently (and hilariously) trying to deny it. However, he didn't expect things to escalate this quickly! Truly, he still had a ways to go to understand girls.
Before anyone could say anything else, the door to the room, which was shut tightly, burst open with a force similar to Asuna's from before.
"Onii-chan! We heard a really loud noise from up here again. Are you oka—"
Suguha froze mid-sentence as she dropped the scabbard she was holding on her other hand with a loud *clang*. Silica and Sinon, who were a few paces behind her, entered the room and peeked inside from behind her, who both soon had the same reaction as the blond-haired sylph.
During the silence, Kirito looked around and calmly analyzed the situation in his head.
"Hmm… putting myself in Sugu's, Silica's, and Sinon's shoes… I walk in to a room to see my love interest next to a half-nude Lisbeth who are both watching an almost-nude Alice, who is literally right in front of him… Also, all three of them look rather comfortable and not putting up any resistance… Which would only lead to the thought of us doing 'stuff' that they weren't used to seeing in real-time…? And surely they realize by now we were hiding this from them… which means... this isn't going to end well."
Kirito was impressed at himself for being able to calmly reach this conclusion, chalking it up to all the life-or-death situations he's been in that taught him to never panic. After all, for some reason this situation felt like a life-or-death situation.
"O…O…O…O..." Suguha sputtered out that first syllable sounding like some kind of female gopher.
"Dame!" came a shout from Silica as she rushed forward and jumped between Kirito and Alice, while Sinon silently tossed Alice's blue dress over her shoulders to cover her body.
"No fair, Alice-san, Lisbeth-san! The «rule» said no physical seduction, remember?!"
The three older girls were surprised that Silica was the one to jump in first, who was usually as demure in these situations as Alice was.
"No… I just wanted a…" Alice started saying, but was interrupted by Lisbeth.
"Oi Oi, calm down Silica, we were just having a little fun!"
Kirito and Asuna gave Lisbeth a glare which was telegraphing: "Wrong choice of words idiot!"
The young beast tamer who obviously took it out of context, turned deep red.
"Anyway… no means no!" Silica shouted. Sinon then swiftly came to her side and looked up at Alice, who already put her clothes back on.
"I have to agree with Silica here, that's quite an underhanded trick to pull off there, Alice-san." She said in a half-smirking, half-accusing tone.
"Wha…" For some reason, hearing those words come from Sinon got on Alice's nerves.
"I bet my food tasted so good that you had to resort to breaking the rule just to 'catch up'" Sinon continued, taking another shot.
"You… What do you know?" Alice glared at Sinon angrily, sparks flying between the two.
"ONII-CHAN!" Leafa shouted as she finally collected her wits. "Anyway, follow me!" She continued as she got behind Kirito and started pushing him towards the exit.
"Wa-Wait, where are you taking me Sugu?!"
"Away from here, obviously! Besides, didn't you say the other day you wanted to learn some new spells? Let's do that, right now!"
"Hold, hold on a second!" Silica shouted as he dashed in front of Leafa and Kirito. "Kirito-san already promised me that we'd go shopping together! Isn't that right?" she said as she looked at Kirito with fire in her eyes.
"Well that's true Silica, but right now is…" Kirito started to say, but lost his train of thought as someone latched on to his arm, pulling it close to her bare skin.
"I think you're all forgetting, this guy hasn't finished giving me the full course yet. You're not a man that would leave things half done, right Kirito?" Lisbeth said seductively.
"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?!" Kirito retorted to Lisbeth, who was clearly enjoying this whole situation grinning from ear to ear.
"Hmm… doing what on purpose?" Lisbeth asked innocently. Of course, Kirito didn't really have the time to refute her as his two 'little sisters' latching on to him became increasingly flustered.
"REJECTED!" they both shouted at Lisbeth, who waved her arms in surrender as she backed off with a smile.
"Anyways Onii-chan is coming with me! Let go Silica-chan!"
"Muuu… even if it's you Suguha-chan I'm not going to lose here!"
As Kirito had his body pulled both ways like a rag doll, he tried looking at the only person that could possibly help. Looking at Asuna with pleading eyes, she saw her stand up from her kneeling position, and approach him with her long auburn hair casting a shadow over her eyes.
"A voice of reason!" is what Kirito thought, but then…
"No fair all of you! It should be my turn! I'm the only one that didn't spend any time with Kirito-kun today…!" she cried out as she glomped him from behind.
"Same here…" he heard Sinon's voice as she clamped to his left arm. "I haven't had any alone time with you also." she whispered.
"Kirito! Massage!" Alice clamped on to his right arm. "You… you already saw me like that already. Take responsibility!"
"I oppose that kind of forced seduction, Alice-san." Sinon commented.
"I don't want to hear that from you!" Alice shouted back at her. "Holding his arm to your chest like that!"
With Leafa and Alice clinging on to his right, Silica and Sinon clinging to his left, and Asuna hugging him from behind, Kirito was at a loss in what to do. The fact that he can feel most of the girls' Assets from this position certainly didn't help his concentration any. Also, the close proximity of the five girls in the slightly hot and humid massage room combined into a sort of pleasant mixed odor that made Kirito feel light-headed, as if a torrent of female pheromones were assaulting him.
"I didn't know girls could smell so nice… Ahh… so hard to think… Wait, isn't this supposed to be every guy's dream? I should just enjoy this…"
Kirito opened his eyes, finding himself lying down and looking up at a ceiling that wasn't immediately familiar. As his blurry vision began to focus, he noticed a black-haired fairy and a small blue dragon floating overhead waving small hand fans at his face.
"Ah! Papa you're awake!"
Kirito sat up and found myself in the middle of an 8 tatami bed, which he immediately recognized as the very same one he woke on surrounded by everyone just a week ago. His short-term recalled that he should be in a different room than this one.
"What am I doing here?"
"Mou…" Yui sighed. "… Mama and everyone need to learn how to hold back a little…"
Yui then went on to explain to Kirito how she and Pina went looking for everyone since there was no one around, and when they found the massage room seeing him being sandwiched between Asuna, Alice, Silica, Sinon, and losing consciousness, she shouted at all of them pleading for them to stop.
"…It was a huge mess after that, papa. Even though everyone was panicking I just told them you simply needed some air, so then Alice-san carried you all the way back here. Did you know papa, she was the only one strong enough to lift your whole body!"
"That sounds like Alice alright… by the way, just out of curiosity, how was she holding me?"
"Hmm… I wasn't really paying attention but then Mama and the others started to become mad about it for some reason. I looked it up and it's called «Princess Carry» I think?"
Kirito silently thanked the fates that he wasn't awake to experience that. He could just imagine the embarrassment… and the glares form everyone else.
"Besides that papa, after Alice-san carried you here they all wanted to look after you but then they started fighting again! Can you believe that? They were so noisy that I shouted how all the noise would bother papa and ordered all of them, even mama, to wait downstairs! Sometimes, I just don't understand them. Mou…"
"Heh, rather than a daughter, you're more like a mother Yui."
"Kyu!" Pina seemed to agree as it nodded its head.
"Uuu… it sounds like a compliment but somehow I don't like being called that."
Kirito chuckled as he rubbed the heads of both Pina's and his daughter's thanking the two for taking care of him. He then arched his back as he kicked himself up landing his feet on the floor.
"Wait papa! You just woke up, you should rest a little more!"
Checking the shape of his body, Kirito stretched his neck and legs and rotated his right arm. Seeing no problems, Kirito turned back to the little pixie on the bed and grinned.
"I think I'm good to go. I should get back to them quickly anyway. Are they still waiting downstairs?"
"Hmm… probably. I don't think anyone went out anyway. But are you sure papa?"
"Of course Yui. I made a promise to myself to not run away again after all!" he declared, opening the double doors and walking out.
As Yui looked at her father's retreating back, she could only wonder what both he and all the other girls were going through. Being around both of her parents since they adopted her, as well as everyone else for this past week, this thoroughly exposed her to what it's like to «love». In addition, Yui was familiar with the feeling ever since she became self-aware for the first time as she was originally created to be a counseling AI. Despite all that, she really couldn't understand how humans fell in love.
Did love mean to always want to be with them all the time? In that case, Yui was sure she loved her Papa and Mama very much. Did love mean you want them to be happy? In that case, Yui loved all of her friends as well. Still, Yui knew that her version of «love» was very different from what the girls thought of Kirito. She could simply see it on their faces: how happy they are when they talk with him; how anxious and nervous they can get while thinking of him; and how their heart races whenever they're close to him.
It was these observations that she never experienced herself before – therefore there was no way she could possibly understand it. But there were two things Yui did know: that this past week was the happiest she's seen all the other girls been since she's known them; and that her Papa understood their feelings, which was the source of his confidence.
As long as those things remained true, everything should all work out… probably.
"But I wonder… will I ever know what it's like to fall in love?" Yui though wistfully.
Yui felt the soft feathers on her cheek as Pina rubbed its head on hers in concern.
"Ah… it's nothing Pina-san, I'm okay."
"Hehe… don't worry, my papa will be fine. Silica-san too, of course!"
"Kirito-kun?!" "Kirito!" "Kirito-san!" "Onii-chan!"
Seeing Kirito emerge into view from the stairs' bottom flight, the six girls jumped up from the sofas they were sitting at and looked at him with expressions of relief and happiness. Kirito gave a big smile back and did a frontal somersault off the side of the stairs and landed cleanly in the living room area next to the house's entrance.
"Ha! Looks like I'm A-OK." He told them.
"Kirito-kun! Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?" Asuna ran up to him feeling his head, full of concern in her eyes.
"I'm okay Asuna." Kirito replied, turning red at seeing her face so close. "Yui took good care of me after all."
"Is that so? That's good then!" Asuna replied as she went on her tiptoes and gave a quick peck of her lips on the place on Kirito's forehead that she just touched.
"Ahhhhhh!" came the collective shout of Leafa, Silica, and Alice as they ran up to the two quickly.
"That's cheating, Asuna-san!" Lisbeth pouted.
"Even if it's you Asuna-san, no breaking of the «rule» is allowed!" Leafa declared, getting between her brother and Asuna.
Asuna, who Kirito expected to smile and back down, unexpectedly started narrowing her eyes and furrowing her brow back at his little sister.
"I think after all the time I nicely gave up to everyone to be with Kirito-kun, I think allowing a little kiss is more than fair, no?"
"Muuu… you've already been a lovey-dovey couple for almost two years haven't you? I think that you're the one that's been hogging up all the time with him!" Leafa retorted.
"Suguha-chan is right! We had to hold back our feelings for a long time, you know?!" Silica added.
As the thought of wanting to intervene between the three surfaced into Kirito's mind, he was suddenly tapped on the shoulder by someone behind him.
"Since you got a kiss from Asuna… can I give you a kiss too?" said Sinon, who looked uncharacteristically embarrassed. With her face red giving a bashful look as she looked at up him, Kirito was both surprised and felt his heart beating faster.
"Was Sinon always this cute?!"
"Hey!" This time, it was Alice's turn jump between Kirito and a girl. "What do you think you're saying? And you said I was the underhanded one!"
Like a switch, Sinon's expression instantly changed to a snarking one.
"Tsk. Once again the girl whose only method of getting attention is to strip is getting in my way…"
"Wha—What did you call me?!"
Kirito took some steps back, flustered at how things escalated so quickly. Asuna and Leafa were staring holes into each other on one side, while there was a back and forth verbal assault between Alice and Sinon on the other side. He really wanted to step in and say something, but he had little experience dealing with this kind of thing and hesitated. But he knew he had to do something about it, somehow.
As he frantically tried coming up with some words in his head, he suddenly heard two voices whispering from behind.
The voice belonged to Lisbeth.
"Come here, come here."
Kirito turned back and saw her crouching down, inviting him to join. Taking a last look at the two arguing pairs, he kneeled down next to her creating a huddle.
"Wha-What is it? I'm kind of busy here…" Kirito said in a low voice.
"It's fine Kirito, that's why I called you down here." Lisbeth whispered back. "While watching this was interesting for a while, I'm getting tired of all these pointless arguments all the time too…" Lisbeth sighed.
"Well I'm glad you finally came around." Kirito replied sarcastically. "Anyways, go on…"
"That's why I came up with this. I think it's a good idea too, so…"
Lisbeth whispered a lengthy explanation, with arguing voices in the background.
"So… what do you think?" Lisbeth asked, giving a wink at Kirito.
Kirito looked at the red-haired blacksmith who was both looking at him expectantly. Kirito meticulously ran through the information in his head a second time, but he could only come up with one word, which is the same answer that came in his head the first time he heard it.
With Lisbeth's help, in addition to Yui's and Pina's (who both came in later sensing an argument once again), Kirito managed to separate the Asuna, Leafa, Silica, Alice, and Sinon and had them sit quietly on the sofas. Though they were looking away from one another with a 'Hmph!' expression on their faces, it seems he managed to quell the fires at least temporarily.
"So? What did you want to tell us onii-chan?" Leafa spoke up.
While it was Lisbeth's idea, Kirito knew it was up to him to get the message across and get them to listen. Now that he had a chance to calm down along with the rest, he finally found the words that needed to be said.
"… It's really obvious isn't it?"
"Eh… what is?" Alice questioned.
"You girls aren't getting along, are you?"
As if those words were like breaking news to them, or perhaps that they were suddenly aware that Kirito has been watching them all along, the five girls let out a surprised "Eh?!".
"No way! We… we get along!" Asuna waved her hand nervously.
"That's right! Let me explain… Asuna… and the other girls… and Alice… umm…" Sinon stuttered as she was at a loss for words.
"Ahaha! Kirito's right you know, I swear watching you all was like something from a bad soap opera or something!" Lisbeth said to them.
"Just so you know…" Kirito interjected. "…you're not completely guilt-free of this as well."
"Ugu…" Lisbeth made a defeated sound as she stuck her tongue out.
"Ahem… anyway" he said turning back to the other five, "I'm at fault too for letting this get out of hand since you're mostly fighting over me I'm sure. That's why I'm here to help!"
He declared that line as he held forward a white leather scabbard holding a sword with a silver grip. He then drew the blade, which was the weapon that once belonged to his best friend, the «Blue Rose Sword».
"That day we first arrived here, an important person reminded me that some things can only be communicated between two warriors by crossing blades. Therefore…"
He brandished the sword and swung with a speed that could rival Asuna's, stopping the blade in front of him as he pointed the shining clear blade forward at the five girls, his black hair waving slightly due to the speed.
"… let's work off all this bad karma - With a «fighting contest»!"
(End Chapter 2)
Next Chapter Preview:
Suguha: Onii-chan that's so…
Sinon: …so corny.
Asuna: *Sigh* I think Kirito-kun has a long way to go to understand girls…
Lisbeth: He's just a battle-maniac after all!
Yui: Papa! The preview…!
Kirito: Right… to help the girls settle their grudges, I make a suggestion for them all to take part in a friendly competition. It's meant to be a simple, fun contest, but things don't go quite as planned, and then…
Next time on The One Ultimate Way: A Dance of Swords and Magic.