Author Notes: It's great to see "Fairy Dance Alternate" finally reach the double digits in terms of chapter count. Not only that, but my story has reached over two-hundred and fifty reviews. It certainly is a great honor to have reached this point, and it is all because of you so thank you. I look forward to reaching more milestones in the future. I greatly appreciate the support my readers have given me so far, and I hope I will continue receiving their support in future chapters.

This chapter will contain a number of scenes that I originally intended to include in the previous chapter. As I said before, Chapter Nine began getting a little too long, so I decided to split it up. Additionally, some of my readers have told me that while they like long chapters, they think some of my chapters are too long. As a result, I've decided that I'll make more use of splitting up chapters, so I can still write long chapters, but they will not end up being too long. It will probably make it easier for me to write and easier for my readers to read through.

As I promised in the author notes of the previous chapter, the Laughing Coffin members that Sugou was planning on recruiting will be making their debut in this chapter. I hope that you will enjoy the introduction that I give them in this chapter. Similar to "The Kirita Chronicles," you can expect there to be more villains in this story than there were in canon. As far as I can tell, having more villain characters can help make things more interesting.

On another note, for those of you who do not know, I recently started a devantart group called SAO-Genderbent in regards to my other Sword Art Online story, "The Kirita Chronicles." As the name suggests, it is a group meant for genderbent or semi-genderbent artwork or stories. I hope anyone who is interested or a deviantart user will check out my group. If anyone wants to make contributions to my group whether it is artwork or stories, I will be more than happy to promote them through the use of the group's journals.

I hope you enjoy this chapter. I was trying to work on it as best and fast as I could, so I could launch it before the end of 2014. As usual, I hope you will all provide reviews for this story. Additionally, I hope you will all participate in the poll I set up. This will be a poll that will be relevant for all of the stories.

/

Fairy Dance Alternate

Story Arc Three: The Origin of the Photo – Part IV

Hatred and Opportunities

/

Hatred is mutual

The target of rage is you

You will wish for death

/

Within Sword Art Online, a player generally has a green cursor over his or her head to indicate this individual was a player and not be mistaken as a NPC. Players who had an orange cursor over his or her head were criminals, and they would not be welcomed in towns or villages. There were different ways a player could receive an orange cursor. They could assault another player, inappropriate conduct with a fellow player, touching a NPC, among other things. Most of them were considered 'minor offenses,' so the orange cursor would usually turn back to green eventually.

For the first three times a player conducted an offense that resulted in him or her receiving an orange cursor, the cursor would eventually reconvert to a green cursor after a few hours. If it happened a fourth time, that player would need to conduct a redemption quest to be reconverted to a green player. However, if it happened for a fifth time, that player would remain an orange cursor player forever.

There was one offense a player could make that would result in that player being labeled with an orange cursor permanently even if he or she had never conducted any offenses beforehand. That offense was known as 'Player Killing.' Despite it's simply words, it specifically referred to one green cursor player directly killing another green cursor player. If a green cursor player was able to indirectly cause another green cursor player's death through methods, such as trapping the player with monsters, it would not count as a crime against the player. While those types of player killings were still widely despised by the players of Sword Art Online since either act resulted in the death of a player both within and outside of the game, it was harder to identify that player since he or she would still remain a green cursor player.

Within Sword Art Online, player killing, whether it was direct or indirect, was not only seen as a grave crime for moral reasons, but the players would literally reduce the chances of everyone managing to escape from Sword Art Online. Ever since the death game began, the ten thousand players that were alive within Sword Art Online had dwindled to nearly six thousand players and only a fraction of those players were capable of fighting on the frontlines and had the courage to actually do so.

Players who conducted the crime of Player Killing were also known as Red Players. Even though the cursor did not turn red, it was still a fitting terms since another player's blood would be on that player's hands. The Laughing Coffin was one criminal group that was filled with players who were more than happy to be labeled as Red Players. They had fun killing others whether it was because they were not convinced dying in the game meant dying in the real world or being in the game warped their psyches. Some of these players enjoyed killing their fellow players directly while others had more fun taking the indirect approach.

During August 2024, the Laughing Coffin eventually clashed with a formation of players that united to put an end to their reign of terror. While the players wanted to originally resolve this conflict peacefully, the Laughing Coffin's inability to listen to reason forced the players to take matters into their own hands and take the Laughing Coffin down permanently. It was a vicious battle that shed the blood of numerous players on both sides, but the Laughing Coffin was eventually defeated.

In the aftermath of the battle, a majority of the survivors were captured and placed in a prison within Sword Art Online. Even though this was the virtual world, prisons proved to still be a necessity to placing criminal players. Apparently, it was impossible for players to escape from these prison cells unless they received outside help. Similar to ceilings, floors, and walls in buildings throughout Sword Art Online, the ceiling, floor, and walls of this prison cell were considered to be 'immortal objects.' This meant that they could not be damaged by the players' actions. Even if they were somehow damaged, they would be fixed.

When players were placed in the prisons, they would be stripped of all their equipment and weapons. They would be forced to wear a standard pale blue uniform, and they would be given nothing else. The prison cells they were forced to reside in contained bunk beds, so two prisoners could reside within the cell. Instead of having bars for one of the walls, the players were surrounded by four solid gray walls. They would be teleported into their rooms. There was one small barred window, so they could see something outside their room. Not that there was much for the prisoners to see. Most of these prisoners did not deserve to see much anyway. Not after the crimes they committed.

/

Date: August 2024

Location: Sword Art Online – Prison

Two of the Laughing Coffins who were captured were identified as Fudo and Ketsueki. Originally, both of these players, along with Fudo's younger brother, were players who fought on the frontlines. However, by the end of 2023, all three of them had decided to quit being on the frontlines because they were losing hope on ever escaping.

At that point, they had been trapped in the game for over a year, and they kept losing more and more players with each floor. They decided to quit while they were still alive. What happened to them after that specifically was unknown outside of them encountering PoH, and they became members of the Laughing Coffin. Instead of attempting to save people from Laughing Coffin, they seemed to have become content with killing people. What brought this change was a mystery no one could solve.

After both Fudo and Ketsueki were captured, they were sent to reside in the same cell as each other. Despite Fudo being the heavier and more muscular of the two, he was allowed to go on the top bunk. Unlike the real world, the virtual would not cause a top bunk to fall due to a weight issue. Ketsueki did not mind giving Fudo the top bunk considering what Fudo was going through. It was a rather small concession in comparison to what Fudo needed to accept.

Fudo was staring at the ceiling from his top bunk unable to fall asleep while Ketsueki was attempting to read something their prison system supplied them with. Fudo had been unable to sleep ever since they had been captured. It was not because of the room they were in or the fact they were captured. It was because of what happened. Fudo could live with being in prison. A part of him was expecting this outcome, but there were other outcomes that he could never prepare himself for regardless of how much he could have tried. This would not only be true for him, but for any person.

After remaining silent for several hours, Fudo finally spoke up. "Tell me something Ketsueki. Is my brother really dead?"

Ketseuki took his eyes off the reading material and looked up to the bunk above him and asked, "Why are you asking me this all of a sudden?"

Fudo jumped out of his bunk bed, so he could look at Ketsueki directly as he told him, "It's a natural thing someone would like to know. Is my brother dead?"

Ketsueki sat up and looked Fudo directly in the eyes as he confirmed his comrade's fears in a cold voice, "He is. If you don't believe me, you can check your friend list again if you want. You'll see for yourself that he's dead."

Fudo was afraid that Ketsueki would ask him to do that. He had been hesitant to even try looking at it because he was afraid of what he would see. He had been trying his best not to even look in his menu until now. Fudo's hands were shaking as he hesitantly activated his menu to see that his brother's name was crossed out of his friend list. Similar to the Monument of Life on the first floor, if the player's name was crossed out, that meant he or she was dead.

Despite seeing proof in front of him, Fudo was beside himself as he kept talking to himself in disbelief, "This can't be real. It just can't be real. This can't be happening."

Ketsueki briefly looked to the ground in shame as he replied in an apologetic voice, "I'm sorry Fudo, but what you're seeing is real. It did happen."

"…" Fudo said nothing as he blankly stared at the screen in front of him. He wanted what he was seeing to be nothing more than a mistake or some kind of glitch. Fudo was having difficulty accepting the reality of the situation.

In a cold tone, Ketsueki told Fudo, "Don't act surprised that something like this happened. We were in the Laughing Coffin, and we killed more than our fair share of players. We kept doing it even though other players told us to stop. We knew that we were going to have to fight. You knew it, your brother knew it, and I knew it. We lost. It's as simple as that."

Fudo angrily told Ketsueki, "It's not about whether it's simple or not. Both you and this list are telling me that my brother was killed. Do you really think I'm supposed to accept that? Do you really think I'm supposed to just accept that my younger brother, someone I've known my whole life is dead?"

"You're going to have to accept it because I saw your brother die with my own eyes." Kesueki sharply told his cellmate, "Your brother's dead, and there's nothing we can do about it. I'm sorry. I really am, but there is no coming back from what happened to him. He was killed because we made one too many enemies, and you will never see him again."

The strength in Fudo's legs that was barely supporting him finally gave out, and he fell to his knees. For a few moments, he appeared to be lifeless as he was lost in thought. Memories of the times he and his brother spent together both before and during Sword Art Online were rushing through his head. Fudo could be heard exhaling and inhaling every breath faster than the last. It seemed like he was having a panic attack until he began to slow down. For a moment, Fudo appeared like he was about to tear up at the thought of his brother's death. However, that quickly changed as he began to grit his teeth, as rage was radiating off of him.

Ketsueki did not take his eyes off of Fudo. A part of Ketsueki was frightened by the looks on Fudo's face even if they were not directed at him. However, regardless of whether he was the intended target or not, Fudo looked like his head was about to erupt like a volcano, and he was the only one around to deal with what Fudo was going to do next.

Suddenly, Fudo looked in Ketsueki's direction and asked, "How did he die?" When he asked that, Ketsueki could sense the fury from within him.

Ketsueki was taken aback as he was not expecting Fudo to ask him this question so soon. "What?"

"You heard me. How did my brother die?" Fudo got back to his feet as he demanded answered, "Tell me how he died!"

Ketsueki warned his comrade, "You don't want to know."

Fudo raised his voice as he replied, "Yes I do." He sounded like a beast that was ready to rip someone apart. Ketsueki could hear Fudo's knuckles crack as he moved his fingers. "I need to know and you're going to tell me the details. I'll know if you're lying if you don't tell me the truth." From the sound of Fudo's voice, he made it clear that Ketsueki would not like what would happen to him if he tried withholding any information.

"…" Ketsueki was silent for a few moments. It was hard to tell if he was truly afraid of Fudo or simply wanted to put an end to Fudo's angry rants as he reluctantly told Fudo, "Fine. I saw your brother get impaled through his stomach with a sword. When he tried to kill his attacker, the player split him vertically in half from the waist up. I saw his body was splitting before it shattered to pieces. That same player also cut down another one of our comrades. His death wasn't pleasant either."

Fudo could tell that Ketsueki was being truthful so far, but he left out the most important detail. "Who killed him?" He demanded an answer.

"…" Once again, Ketsueki was silent.

"I asked you who killed my brother!" Fudo's face was dangerously close to Ketsueki's as he told him, "Tell me who killed my brother now!" Fudo was a powder keg ready to blow and there was no room for this explosion in here.

Ketsueki sighed as he told Fudo, "He wore a black cloak, and the rest of his clothing was predominantly black. I believe he was the Beater players refer to as the Black Swordsman."

Fudo knew exactly who Ketsueki was describing. "Kirito. So that notorious Beater Kirito is my brother's murderer?"

Ketsueki answered, "I'm sure of it."

Shortly after Ketsueki gave his confirmation, Fudo appeared to calm down. He no longer seemed on the edge of exploding. Instead, he calmly told Ketseuki, "Thanks for telling me. Now I know what I need to do."

Ketsueki was curious by what Fudo meant by that. "Are you going to try and kill Kirito?"

"Oh. I'm not going to just kill him." With a sadistic gleam in his eye, Fudo told his comrade, "I'm going to make him suffer and scream in agony before I finally grant him the freedom of death. He needs to suffer for his sins, and I'm going to make sure of it."

Ketsueki was confused by what exactly Fudo had in mind as he asked, "How? This prison doesn't seem escapable. No one is just going to let us out either."

Fudo did not appear dissuaded from his new objective as he said in a determined voice, "Believe me. I'll get my chance. One way or another, I'll get a chance. When I do, I'm going to enjoy every second of it."

/

Date: Friday, November 22nd, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Entrance Nexus

After the end of the Sword Art Online death game, the accounts of three hundred players, including Kirito's, were captured by Sugou Nobiyuki to do with as he pleased. Seven of the accounts belonged to former members of the Laughing Coffin. Until now, their minds had been trapped and confined with the other captured accounts within a station located in the World Tree to be used as part of Sugou's experiments. Due to having a few hundred minds to experiment on, Sugou had made great strides in his research in mind manipulation in only a matter of weeks. He believed it would only be a few months at most before his work was complete.

It had been Sugou Nobiyuki's intention to use the fruits of his labor on Asuna and make her his 'willing' wife before he released her from the virtual world. However, since he missed his opportunity to acquire Asuna after the game was completed and she managed to escape, he was stuck with Kirito instead. While he was trying to create a contingency plan to make Asuna his, he decided that he would make use of Kirito for 'entertainment' to pass the time. He decided the seven former Laughing Coffin members would help increase his entertainment. Additionally, Sugou believed they could prove to be useful subordinates, and he was always on the lookout for more subordinates to expand his plans.

Sugou believed that the progress with mind manipulation would not be slowed down significantly by giving these seven players the freedom to move within Alfheim Online. He figured the entertainment and services that these seven would give him would be more than worth it. Sugou entered a few buttons on the console to free all seven of the Laughing Coffin members. Unlike Kirito, Sugou gave these players a choice to how they could construct their Avatars prior to entering the game.

After hitting the buttons, the seven containers that imprisoned the Laughing Coffins' avatars disappeared from the World Tree. A few seconds later, seven blinding lights appeared at the Entrance Nexus of Alfheim Online. This is where new players entering Alfheim Online for the first time or wishing to create a new account would be. Normally, there would only be one player in this Nexus, but this was a special occasion.

When the lights dissipated, it left behind seven unconscious players on the ground. There were five male players and two female players. They were all groaning as they struggled to wake up. They all opened their eyes to see themselves no longer in the last place they were when Sword Art Online came to a close but rather a circular room where it looked like the walls were made out of blue television screen sets and the floor was dark with these strange glowing orange circles.

All seven of the players were feeling shaky as they tried to get back up on their feet. More than one of them fell back to the ground as they tried to stand up. They all felt weak for some reason, but they could not explain it. A few of them were also overcome with a strong sense of dizziness, and it felt like everything was spinning. After a few minutes, all of the former Laughing Coffin members were able to straighten themselves out and stand up straight.

Fudo and Ketsueki were among the seven Laughing Coffin members who had been transported to this area. It did not take long for the two of them to notice each other. They also noticed a few familiar faces among them, but they were glad to see each other.

Ketsueki was pleased to say, "Well it looks like we're no longer in that prison cell."

On the other hand Fudo was less enthusiastic, "Yeah, but what kind of prison cell have we been put in now?" Fudo looked around the area to see no exits, "It's more spacious, but I don't see any doors or windows. Not to mention, it looks like we might need to share this place with more people."

A female voice heard what he said, "I'm sure it's still much better than the crappy accommodations you had in your prison cell."

Fudo looked to the source of the voice. He recognized it, but he was not sure it was really her. The short-haired black haired girl turned around. She had a trademark eye patch on her left eye along with a few scars on her face. This girl was clearly not happy about being there.

"Wan Shotto!" Fudo was surprised by her presence, "What the hell are you doing here."

"The hell I know." Wan Shotto shrugged her shoulders as she replied in annoyed tone, "I remember an announcement going off about how the Death Game was supposed to be over and we could finally logout of that death trap. After that happened, I remember everything going dark. The next thing I remember is waking up here still wearing the clothes I was wearing in Sword Art Online. I thought I'd be in a hospital room or something. Instead, it looks like we're in another virtual reality."

Before any of the other players could speak out, all the players could all hear a female voice telling them, "Welcome to Alfheim Online. Please select your Avatar." As soon as the announcer finished speaking, menus consoles appeared in front of all seven players.

One of the other four players spoke up and asked in a panicked voice, "What the hell is going on here?"

Wan Shotto spoke up, "Like I said, it seems like we're now trapped in a new game."

Another one of the players shouted, "What the hell?! Not this crap again!"

Fudo commented, "We're saved from what hellhole and now we're placed in another?! Well isn't that just terrific."

The other female player spoke, "What are we supposed to do now?"

Wan Shotto spoke out loud, "I suggest we do what that announcer suggests and create our new Avatars. It's not like we'll make any progress if we stand around here talking. I've got better things to do than listen to all of you panic like a bunch of idiots." Her rather blunt statements were not particularly well received by most of her fellow captives.

The other female player was rather annoyed by this in particular as she said, "Who are you to talk to us like that? Unlike you, we all fought for the Laughing Coffin until we didn't have the strength to fight anymore."

In a sarcastic voice, Wan Shotto replied, "Oh and I'm sure it was a real honor to continue fighting for someone who abandoned you before I made my escape. Unlike you, I played it smart and managed to get way and spend the following two months free as a bird while the rest of you were locked in cages."

Fudo gritted his teeth as he angrily began to say, "Why you …"

Before he could finish his statement, Wan Shotto cut him off. "Are you giving me the generic 'why you' to make me feel threatened or intimidated?" She smirked as she told him, "Sorry pal, but if you want to scare me, you're going to need to do better than that, but I doubt you can." When Fudo looked like he was about to say something else, she cut him off again by telling him with a smug grin on your face, "By the way fat boy, you'll have to come up with better insults than 'scarred girl' or 'used goods.' I've heard them all before."

Despite the fact, Fudo was twice her size, she had no problem with mocking him in front of the other players. One or two of the players seemed rather amused by Wan Shotto's actions while a few of the others were not.

With every statement these former Laughing Coffin members were exchanged with Wan Shotto, the more tension filled the atmosphere. The tension felt like it could be cut with a knife. Since they were part of a criminal guild, it was hardly surprising that a number of the members did not get along with each other. Wan Shotto appeared to be getting some enjoyment with picking fights with her former comrades.

Before things continued getting out of hand, Ketseuki stepped in and said, "She's made a few good points. We should focus on doing what that announcer said rather than wasting time talking. After we do that, we might get some answers to why we're here."

While Fudo was clearly not pleased by Ketseuki interfering he reluctantly agreed, "Fine."

All the players began typing in the names they wished to go by in this new world. They all decided to go by the names they used in Sword Art Online since those were their names for the past two years. Afterwards, they were all given the choice of which of the nine races they wanted to be in Alfheim Online.

/

Avatar Name: Fudo

Real Name: Tsukuda Tadami

Real World Occupation: Sumo Wrestler in Training

Alfheim Online Race: Salamander

Primary Weapons: Mace

Fudo was a rather large and wide individual because he had aspirations of becoming a professional Sumo Wrestler. He had been training diligently to become one by doing the same routine that the profession would recommend. He would wake up at four in the morning and train continuously for hours. For the remainder of the day, he would spend the day eating and resting, so he could build up his weight. Despite his rather large size, he was surprisingly mobile thanks to his training.

After the Nerve Gear was released, he found another fun thing he could do during his resting period since his body would be relaxing in the real world while his mind would be able to have fun in the virtual world. Additionally, he saw the virtual world as a place that he could mentally train himself using his Avatar. His brother purchased his own Nerve Gear and they were able to play games together. It would give them a chance to spend time together while his body could rest in the real world. When they both managed to get a copy of Sword Art Online, they both received more than what they bargained for.

When he was selecting a race, he was not sure if the Salamander or the Gnome race was better. He decided to go with the Salamander race because it was befitting for his name which meant 'Fire God.' Even in this new form, he maintained most of his original features. Similar to the real world, he wore his black hair in a bun, had a round face and blue eyes, and he had a great amount of body mass and a wide girth. His height was also greater than the average Japanese citizen, and only a handful of players in Sword Art Online, such as Agil, were taller than him. In his new form, he had red wings, his ears became pointy, and the clothing he was wearing changed to red.

Similar to Sword Art Online, Fudo's weapon of choice was the mace. He enjoyed feeling the weapon smash into his enemies. He liked the feeling of hearing his enemies bones break whenever he hit them with it. At first he was fine with hearing the sounds of other monsters crying out when he would hit them with it. Eventually, he began to enjoy hearing the sounds of his fellow players crying out instead. What brought upon this change and why was unknown. However, there are some answers better left that way.

/

Avatar Name: Ketsueki

Real Name: Ketto Ketsueki

Real World Occupation: College Student

Alfheim Online Race: Imp

Primary Weapons: Swords

Ketseuki was the tallest member of the group only edging out Fudo by a few inches. He had two noticeable scars on his body with one across his forehead and another on his neck. While Ketseuki's eyes were naturally brown, there were times when someone might mistake his eyes for being red despite that being genetically impossible. Some people believed that they mistakened his eyes for being red because it was a reflection of Ketseuki's own bloodlust.

When he created his Alfheim Online avatar, he decided to make himself an Imp which resulted in his hair being dyed purple and having milky white skin. As he was making his selection, he liked the fact that he would be capable of using his wings even in underground areas while it was impossible for other types of avatars to use them. Additionally, he liked how the wings resembled that of a bat because he felt they looked rather creepy and befitting for the appearance he wanted.

Although Fudo was capable of intimidating him a few times, Ketseuki had proved himself on a number of occasions to be a potential leader through both his own intimidating appearance and his calmer personality. While Ketseuki had his hot blooded moments, he proved that he could be the calm one in a number of different situations. He was well aware of Fudo and Wan Shotto's rivalry. While Ketseuki considered Fudo a friend, he was not supportive of his friend in that exchange. As far as Ketsueki was concerned, Fudo started the conflict with Wan Shotto, and he was an idiot for doing so. The only times he would interfere would be to try and cool the tensions.

Similar to Kirito and Yuuki, Ketseuki's weapon of choice was the sword, and his secondary choice were knives. When he began fighting in this world, he thought of how the sword was the classical hero's weapon. However, that eventually changed after 2023 and joining the Laughing Coffin. Ketseuki felt that killing his targets with knives and swords was the most satisfying way to do things since not only were they easier to handle, but he could feel his enemies struggle more as he killed them.

/

Avatar Name: Wan Shotto

Real Name: Wakahisa Hoshiko

Real World Occupation: College Student

Alfheim Online Race: Cait Sith

Primary Weapons: Knives and Bow & Arrow

Wan Shotto was one of the two female members of the group, and she was the third shortest in the group and the smallest girth. She also had black hair that went slightly past her shoulders. Out of all the group members, she was the most disfigured. She had two facial scars with one jagged scar that went across her nose and a vertical scar that went across where her left eye should be.

If someone took off Wan Shotto's eye patch, they would see that there was nothing left in its socket. If someone asked her what happened to her eye, she would refuse to answer. Despite her generally calm appearance and cold voice, that was one topic that would elicit any anger from her if you pushed her buttons too much. When Wan Shotto thinks people are not looking, she sometimes touches the area where her eye was. In both the real world and the virtual world, Wan Shotto felt like she could feel her eye despite its absence.

While Wan Shotto refused to confirm the reasons for her missing eye, the scar that went across the area of her left eye, started at her forehead, and it bisected her left eyebrow and her left eyelids. The cause of her missing eye was likely related to the origin of that scar. However, someone who was extremely observant could see that Wan Shotto's scar was not a surgical nature, and the scar looked similar to the scar across her nose. Whoever gave Wan Shotto the scar across her nose was also responsible for gorging her eye out.

However, despite her avatar being depicted as having only one eye, she was still given the same eyesight as someone with two. Having her full eyesight back was one thing that Wan Shotto would cause her to find being trapped in the virtual world more bearable, and she was one of the more adaptable players. Thanks to her full vision, she had no issues dodging any attacks monsters or her fellow players attempted to inflict upon her. Having her eyesight back was something that Wan Shotto treasured most of all.

Wan Shotto was one of the few Laughing Coffin members to not receive an orange cursor over her head. Unlike her colleagues, she preferred to use indirect methods to kill her enemies or she killed other orange cursor players since killing another orange cursor player was not deemed a crime in Sword Art Online. Additionally, most of the players she killed were targets she was hired to kill. Wan Shotto preferred to kill for money rather than enjoyment.

The Cait Sith race appealed to her because she liked the fact one of the weapons they appeared to specialize in was the Bow & Arrow. She was a fan of long range weapons, and she jumped at the opportunity to take them. Additionally, she also found the cat ears and tail rather appealing because she loved cats in the real world and found them to be rather cute. Her love for cats was something she tried to keep to herself.

/

Avatar Name: Chiyo

Real Name: YamadaChiyo

Real World Occupation: High School Student

Alfheim Online Race: Slyph

Primary Weapons: Rapier

Chiyo was the second female in the group, she was the shortest in the group, and she had by far the longest hair. She had brown hair which almost reached her waist. She also had a thin scar that was barely noticeable down his right cheek. He wore the same knight-like armor that Diabel wore, but he was far less knightly then Diabel. Out of the group, Chiyo generally appeared to have the meekest appearance, but her personality could be described as being volatile.

In most cases, Chiyo would seem to be the most composed and polite out of all of the Laughing Coffin members. The only exception was Wan Shotto since she felt a great deal of animosity towards Wan Shotto similar to Wan Shotto and Fudo had great animosity towards for each other. If one of the other Laugh Coffin members were getting out of line or becoming counterproductive, she would make sure to discipline them. Despite her short size, she was someone that should not be underestimated otherwise the player was liable to be killed. However, if Chiyo reached a certain point, she would start revealing a more 'vicious' persona that no one would want to be on the receiving end of.

The polite side of Chiyo's personality was only sincere to her fellow Laughing Coffin members. If Chiyo was smiling or being courteous to anyone who was not in the Laughing Coffin, there was a strong possibility was thinking of different methods of either taking advantage of that player or killing him or her. She was a girl that you did not want to turn your back on even for a moment. Otherwise, a player might find a rapier going through their back and exiting through their stomach.

Chiyo enjoyed using rapiers because they had a stronger piercing ability, and they had a higher attack speed. She figured if she could not be the strongest, she ought to be the fastest and deadliest. She had been successful in killing numerous people with that combination.

When creating her avatar, Chiyo considered becoming a Cait Sith because she enjoyed the company of cats as well. However, when she saw that becoming a Cait Sith was Wan Shotto's choice, she immediately choose to become a Slyph. She thought that since they appeared to be neighbors to each other on the map that she might have a chance at getting even with Wan Shotto on the field. Little did Chiyo know that Sylphs and Cait Siths are generally on friendly terms with each other.

/

Avatar Name:Ookami

Real Name: Unknown

Real World Occupation: Unknown

Alfheim Online Race: Cait Sith

Primary Weapons: Spears and Bow & Arrow

Ookami had a small scar right above his left eye that went through his eyebrow. He most likely had a close call in the past from a knife or something. His other most notable feature was the fact he had short white hair that reminded me of the fur of the an 'Arctic Wolf' which were also known as either a 'Snow Wolf' or 'White Wolf' that lived in the parts of North America and Greenland. He most likely customized the look of his hair, so he could have an appearance more befitting for his name.

Similar to Wan Shotto, he chose to take on the form of a Cait Sith. He believed that form would be perfect for his animal like personality, and it was fitting for his name. His user name was the Japanese word for Wolf. Depending on the environment someone encountered a world, they had the capacity of being dangerous creatures that could rip someone to pieces with the strength of their jaws. While Ookami did not have that kind of capacity, he did enjoy hunting down his prey and cutting them down.

During Sword Art Online, he choose his weapon of choice to be a sword, and he decided that he would add the bow and arrow to his arsenal. He liked the idea of hunting, and he saw the bow and arrow as the perfect weapons to accomplish something along those lines in this new world that they had been trapped in. While his accuracy left much to be desired, he would work on improving his accuracy.

Ookami personally enjoyed the idea of disabling his prey by first injuring its legs. Then he would work his way up slowly before finishing it off. He enjoyed taking his time and savoring his prey. He felt that it was no fun if they died too quickly. When he was captured by the team that fought against the Laughing Coffin, they considered executing him right then and there. They believed it would be for the best to kill him off right then since he was not only far from redemption, but he was apparently more sadistic than many other members of the Laughing Coffin which was saying a lot.

The only reason Ookami was not killed was due to the fact some of the players did not like the idea of killing an unarmed player even if he had an orange cursor and killing him would not cause any of them to receive an orange cursor. His fate was decided by a vote. By a small margin, his life was spared, and they threw him in the prison. Unlike the other members of the Laughing Coffin, he was not given a roommate to keep him company.

/

Avatar Name:Kano

Real Name: Unknown

Real World Occupation: Body Builder

Alfheim Online Race: Gnome

Primary Weapons: Axes and Hammers

Besides Fudo, Kano was the most muscular of the group, and he was about as tall as Fudo tying him as the second tallest. He also had shoulder length brown hair and brown eyes to match. He claimed to be a body builder prior to the Sword Art Online incident. He also occasionally mentioned that if he ever returned to the real world, it would probably take him forever to regain his physique since his muscles would have deteriorated greatly over the past two years.

Out of the group, he was probably the most prone to anger besides Fudo. It did not take much to light his fuse and when it did, he would not even try to hide the fact he was angry. He was someone who belonged in anger management and possibly a mental institution. If he was a muscle builder as he claimed, he probably used working out as a cathisis regarding the many things that probably bothered him in the real world.

Similar to Fudo, he was having trouble deciding between the Gnomes and the Salamanders. However, he ultimately choose the Gnomes because they seemed more befitting for how he used to appear in the real world. He also believed if there was an element he could associate himself with the most, it would be earth. Since Gnomes are more capable of mastering Earth magic, he believed that made his selection conveniently simple.

In both Sword Art Online and in this new world, his weapons of choice were the axe and hammer. He liked the idea of using his axes to slash his enemies or decapitating them when he felt the situation called for it. Additionally, the axes allowed him to be more capable of defending against different enemy attacks almost like a shield and give him the capability of counterattacking almost right then and there. However, if he wanted to take his time with killing his enemies, he would use his hammer to shatter their bones and break-in their skulls.

/

Avatar Name:Ukon

Real Name: Unknown

Real World Occupation: Unknown

Alfheim Online Race: Spriggan

Primary Weapons: Sword and Claws

He was the shortest male member of the group and the second shortest in the group. This player had black hair that reached his shoulders complete with a beard and sideburns. It was unusual to see someone with that much facial hair since it was rare to see males in Japanese culture to have that. He had these piercing dark eyes that were frightening if you made eye contact. In additional to that, he was capable of forming a friendly smile that he generally used to hide his true intent.

He was a mixture of Chiyo and Ookami. While he did a good job masking his true personality with a smile, I would eventually learn he was a sadist that wanted nothing more than to see his victims suffer. However, while Chiyo was generally polite to her own fellow Laughing Coffin members, Ukon seemed willing to kill his fellow members. While he never actually did it or was seen doing it, he certainly gave the impression that he might if he deemed it necessary.

Similar to Nori, Ukon choose the Spriggan race because he thought they looked the coolest. Additionally, he liked some of the possibilities that they offered. Spriggans had the appearance you would normally see thieves take on in different games and they had treasure seeking abilities. That appealed to Ukon. As soon as he took on the appearance, he put on a long cloak to cover his entire body in an attempt to make himself appear mysterious.

Ukon did not really have a preference when it came to weapons. He choose to have a customary sword, so he would look like a regular player. However, he did find claws to be a rather appealing weapon. They were weapons that he would wear similar to brace knuckles, except they would have three claws protruding from them. Similar to knives, they were easy to conceal, and it was easy to stealthily stab and kill another player while wielding them.

/

After their awkward reintroduction to each other was finished, Ukon finally asked the obvious question, "Does anyone have any idea where we are? I get that we're apparently in another virtual world, but what exactly is this place."

As far as they could tell, they appeared to be in a nexus that sometimes appears in certain video games. If they had to guess, it was something that would be used to transport the players from one world to another. In these circumstances, that would be close to what was actually happening to them.

Chiyo replied, "I think I heard that AI say we're in a place called Alfheim Online."

"Are you saying someone was crazy enough to create another virtual world after the Sword Art Online fiasco?" Ukon asked in disbelief, "Shouldn't that company, Argus, or whatever it was called been bankrupted because of what happened or something?"

Without warning a voice could be heard saying, "That would be yes to both of those questions Ukon-san." All the players looked around to see who said that, but they did not see anyone in the area.

Kano asked, "Whose there?"

In the middle of the room, a light appeared that was almost blinding. All seven players had to put their hands up to shield their eyes. When the light dissipated, a young tall man with golden hair wearing a grown with a green emerald embed in it appeared. He also had dark green eyes that matched the dark green cloak and robes he was wearing that also had another green emerald pinned to it. He also had light green wings that seemed similar to a butterfly. With his fancy attire, he appeared to be trying hard to give himself a 'royal' appearance.

The moment Wan Shotto looked in his direction she thought, "Well he certainly is trying to make himself look important. I wonder if he's trying to compensate for something."

In a gleeful commanding voice, the stranger introduced himself, "My name is Oberon, and I'm the Game Master of this world. I'd like to welcome you all to my world, Alfheim Online." In reality Oberon was merely the username of Sugou Nobiyuki. He fashioned himself to not only being the king of Alfheim Online, but he saw himself as the god of this world.

Wan Shotto was the first to ask, "If you're the game master, does that mean you transported us to this world? Because the last thing I remember was the announcement that Sword Art Online had been completed and logging out of the game."

Oberon seemed rather amused by Wan Shotto's question as he answered, "There is no point in denying it. The game was complete, and I was able to transfer your accounts here."

When Oberon answered this, it surprised a number of the players in the group. However, Wan Shotto kept up her questions. "Okay. Why are we here? What do you want from us?"

"Well don't you like getting to the point?" Oberon grinned as he answered, "I was hoping that perhaps we could create an alliance between each other. I'm in desperate need of some decent subordinates in this world. Based on what you did in Sword Art Online, you all seem like viable candidates for the work that I have in mind."

"Well you're off to a great start aren't you? First you tell us that you kidnapped our minds and then you want us to work for you right out of the blue." Wan Shotto sarcastically remarked, "So far you're doing a great job giving us motivation to work for you." There was no fear in Wan Shotto as she told Oberon this.

The recruitment of these Laughing Coffin members only began less than two minutes ago, and things were already not going well. However, Oberon partly expected things to start off rather poorly. He knew what he wanted to do in that situation.

Sugou walked over in Wan Shotto's direction as he commented, "You're quite the spirited one aren't you? I suppose having only one eye and a face filled with scars can really do wonders on someone. However," Sugou stopped talking as he grinned. Suddenly, Wan Shotto could feel her body becoming heavy.

As much as she tried to struggle, her legs could no longer support the weight of her own body and she forced to the ground. She continued to struggle, but her efforts were futile as she could barely move. Her right eye was wide open in fright as she thought, "What the hell is going on? What did he do to my body?" Oberon used his abilities as the Game Master to cause the gravity around Wan Shotto's body to become denser, and it caused her body to become too heavy to keep standing.

Wan Shotto could barely move her body as Sugou looked down on her as he continued speaking, "I'm going to need someone who knows their place and is capable of listening to everything I have to say before they make a decision. If you wait until the end, I think you will start to see that I can offer you quite a lot after you have completed your services. Would you be willing to listen?"

For a moment, Wan Shotto had trouble speaking. Being forced on her stomach had knocked the wind out of her and the pressure of this increased gravity was not helping either. Wan Shotto struggled to say, "… Yes. I'll listen."

Sugou grinned as he told her, "That's a good girl." He immediately released the gravity that was encircling Wan Shotto's body and she returned to normal.

"Huff … Huff." Wan Shotto was breathing heavy as she sat up. She looked over to see what the reactions of the other Laughing Coffin members were. A few of them, such as Ketseuki and Ukon were shocked by what they had seen, while others, such as Fudo and Chiyo, were rather amused by this display. Either way, everyone understood that Oberon meant business, and they were not in a position to resist him.

Oberon said in a 'calm,' 'polite' voice, "Now if you don't mind, I'd like to continue. Does anyone else wish to say anything?" No one else said a thing. None of the other Laughing Coffin members appeared to object to Oberon's wishes. Oberon replied to this silence with a smug look, "That's good. It's good to know you all have common sense."

Before continuing his 'recruitment presentation,' Oberon cleared his throat. "Now as I was saying, I was hoping to recruit you all to become my subordinates within this world. There are some tasks I'd like you to accomplish for me. However, when I'm not giving you tasks, you're all free to explore Alfheim Online at your leisure. You'll have certain privileges that most players in this world could dream about. Additionally, unlike Sword Art Online, player killing is legal in this world, so there will be no issues about that." Everything Oberon was saying seemed appealing to the Laughing Coffin members, but Oberon knew he had one or two other things that he needed to bring up to secure their loyalty.

Oberon continued his presentation with, "You also do not have to worry about being trapped in this world forever. After you complete certain tasks I have for you, you will be granted your freedom. Eventually, you'll all be given the opportunity to work for me directly, and I'm looking for some people that might be useful to me in the real world as well."

There was silence in the room, and none of the players seemed like they were ready and willing to jump on board. Oberon looked towards Wan Shotto, and he decided to ask her, "You seem like you have more to say. You might as well say it."

"…" Wan Shotto was not sure if she should say anything at all given what just happened to her a few minutes earlier.

Oberon reassured her, "You don't have to worry. I don't plan on utilizing that gravity ability on you again, so you might as well speak your mind."

Reluctantly, Wan Shotto told Oberon, "What you're saying sounds good and all, but why should we trust you? You did kidnap us after all. How should we know you won't back out of your word and keep us here?"

Oberon grinned. "I figured you would say that. To be honest, you don't know, but I can give you something to prove I'm a man of my word. I can give you something you all want."

This time it was Kano's turn to speak out, "Oh really and what would that be?"

Ukon asked, "How could you know what we all want?"

"Give me a moment, and I will give you an extremely good reason to believe me. Then you'll see how much an alliance between us can be mutually beneficial." Oberon was confident that he would be able to win this group.

Fudo replied, "Let's hear it."

"I've been keeping tabs on the Sword Art Online Rescue Force." Oberon explained, "There were a group that helped medevac your bodies from your homes to the hospitals. They were able to keep track of the information regarding the different players' accounts. That's why I'm aware of the existence of your guild, 'The Laughing Coffin.' You were all player killers, and you murdered a number of different players. Rumors of your existence have been revealed to the public and most people are afraid of what might happen if you reawaken." Oberon snapped his fingers, and articles regarding the Sword Art Online survivor and the rumored existence of the Laughing Coffin appeared in front of the Laughing Coffin members.

After giving the Laughing Coffin members a few moments to read through some of the things she gave them, Oberon stated, "Instead of prosecuting the Laughing Coffin members for murder, it has been decided to lay the blame for your actions on Kayaba Akihiko, and they are being treated in mental hospitals instead."

All the Laughing Coffin members looked at each other in light of these revelations. Ketsueki was the first one to speak up, "Are you saying that you can help us avoid something like that after you return us to the real world?"

Oberon was happy to reply, "Oh yes. I'd be more than happy to help pull a few strings and make it seem like working for me can be a strong alternative to being locked up in a mental institution. You'll be free to do what you want if you work for me."

Wan Shotto kept to herself as she thought, "Maybe, but you'd still be controlling us. We wouldn't really be free would we?"

Oberon then stated, "I bet my proposal to work for me is starting to sound much more appealing to you now isn't it?" Pretty much all of the players in the Laughing Coffin appeared to be in an agreement to work with Oberon. As soon as Oberon saw things were going his way, he could not help but grin again as he told him, "That's excellent. However, that's not the only thing that I'll be offering you. I also have something else that I'm sure you really want."

None of the other Laughing Coffin members spoke up this time. Instead they allowed Oberon to continue talking. "I'm also aware that a few months ago a group was formed to stand up to your guild and they ultimately destroyed you. A number of your fellow players were killed and the rest were either captured or forced into hiding."

"Wait a minute." Wan Shotto asked, "How did you know something specific like that? I can understand you knowing about us being Laughing Coffin members because of our Sword Art Online account records, but how would you know about that specific event? Did they mention it in one of those other articles? Did one of the players who did escape from the game talk about what happened?"

"More or less." Oberon replied, "As I said before, I have connections inside the Sword Art Online Rescue Force, and I know they've interviewed a few of the players that did return to the real world. Some of them mentioned this event." That did not surprise the Laughing Coffin members that the Sword Art Online survivors would spread the word of this event.

Oberon grinned as he gladly told the former Laughing Coffin members, "I also know the identity of one of the key players in that operation that destroyed your guild. One of the players responsible for your misfortune had the misfortune to be one of the three hundred players I have captured from Sword Art Online. I figured you would like to say hello to this player yourself."

That immediately caught the attention of all the Laughing Coffin members. Ookami eagerly asked, "Who do you have?"

It pleased Oberon that he had their attention as he was more than happy to give them an answer, "You might remember him. He goes by the name of Kirito."

"Kirito?" Fudo was the first to speak up, "Did you say Kirito?"

"Indeed I did." Oberon gleefully smiled as he asked, "Would I be correct that his name is ringing a few bells?"

"Oh he's doing more than that." There was a strong sense of anticipation in Fudo's voice as he said, "I remember him all too well. He was a Beater who was responsible for more deaths than I ever caused, and he killed my brother. I've been wanting to get my hands on him ever since. Are you saying you'll actually give us a chance to break the mighty swordsman Kirito?"

Sugou replied, "That and much more."

Fudo put his fist into his open palm as he said, "Oh this is going to be fun."

Kano chimed, "I agree with that. Seeing him cry in pain will be spectacular."

Chiyo activated her menu to pull out a rapier that was given to her after selecting her Avatar and asked, "That Kirito had a girlfriend named Asuna right?" Hearing Asuna's name did cause a slight reaction with Oberon, but almost no one noticed it.

Ukon replied, "I think so, but I'm not sure if she and him were together. I heard that the Knights of the Blood Order's Flash was quiet taken by the black swordsman, but I wasn't sure they actually were a pair.

Ketsueki interjected, "Actually, I heard a few rumors the two of them got married two months after the attack on the Laughing Coffin. Apparently, it happened after killing another member of the Laughing Coffin."

"Oh so they got married huh." Ookami chuckled as he stated, "This makes it even more delicious since she wielded a rapier just like you Chiyo."

"If that's the case, I wonder how he'll feel getting impaled right through the stomach with one of these." Chiyo flicked her rapier with one of her fingers as she viciously grinned, "I bet it'll be really painful for more than one reason."

Almost everyone in the area had rather gleeful expressions at the idea of getting even with at least one of the key players involved in the Laughing Coffin crusade. The only one who did not seem interested in this revenge was Wan Shotto. Instead, she just stood there not saying a word or making any facial expressions to indicate any excitement. The expression she was making was neutral.

As Wan Shotto stood there, she thought, "It's amazing how some people like that idiot Fudo actually think what happened to his brother is actually a crime that he's entitled to have revenge for. He and his brother both choose to become killers. It was only a matter of time before one of them got killed off. For these others, I'm not sure whether its revenge they're going for, entertainment, or a mixture of both. Either way, I'm not really interested."

Wan Shotto's silence did not go unnoticed by Oberon. He walked over to Wan Shotto and asked her, "You seem a little quiet Wan Shotto. Don't you want revenge?"

Without hesitation, Wan Shotto replied, "No. I'm not interested in getting revenge on the Black Swordsman. I have other interests."

"Is that so?" Oberon walked up to Wan Shotto until the point he was invading her personal space as he looked down on her, "Should I take that silence as a sign that you aren't interested in working for me?"

In this rare instance, Wan Shotto appeared nervous as she backed up a step and replied, "Not at all. I'll provide you with my services. During Sword Art Online, I always pulled my jobs under contracts and what your offering is more than enough to motivate me to work for you."

Oberon asked in an amused tone, "Is that right?"

Wan Shotto asked, "If I work for you, you'll give me the freedom to go check out different places in Alfheim Online, and you'll eventually let me return to the real world correct?"

Oberon took a step forward as he answered, "That's correct. Do you want to know what would happen if you rejected my generous offer?"

Wan Shotto answered, "If I don't work for you, I'm guessing I'd rather not know what would happen to me."

Oberon reached out with his right and grabbed Wan Shotto's cheeks as he told her, "You're a very intuitive person indeed."

Wan Shotto did not dare to knock away Oberon's hand as she said, "Like I said, more than enough motivation for me."

Oberon let go of Wan Shotto as he told her, "I'm glad to hear it." He then patted her on the cheek a few times before walking away.

With Oberon's back turned, Wan Shotto put her hand on her face. Having Oberon's hand on her face felt most unpleasant. Even if she were to return to the real world right now, Wan Shotto believed she would need a shower to get rid of the disgusting feeling she felt. She had to do everything in her power not to cringe in case Oberon decided to turn around and look at her.

Oberon addressed the group, "I'm sure I have an understanding with the rest of you, and I'm sure you can all see that joining forces with me will be to your benefit." His voice sounded mockingly, polite as he told them, "However, I can see that at least a few of you might not be completely on board with this idea. I understand that this is an 'important' decision that you need to think over carefully. I'll give you another day to think everything over. I'll be back tomorrow. Until then, you are all dismissed."

After Oberon was finished speaking, he waved his hand. Suddenly white circles appeared around the Laughing Coffin members. When the circles glowed, all of the Laughing Coffin members disappeared without a trace. He sent them all to their own accommodations that he had set up for them. Even though Oberon did not need to do this, he did it because he wanted to further demonstrate to the Laughing Coffin members that he would be the one in charge, and they should not go against him.

/

All of the Laughing Coffin members were free to leave their respective rooms and enter a joint area where they could talk to each other. The only exception was Wan Shotto, who Oberon really wanted to teach a lesson to for some of her smart remarks before. He wanted to give her an even better idea of what fate would await her if she decided not to join him.

Wan Shotto was in a personal room that was better looking than most of the Inn rooms in Sword Art Online with a nice bed, a desk, and a chair for her to sit on. However, the fact she could not open the door made it clear that she was being confined. There was no other way for her to get out of this room other than the door.

After Wan Shotto finished looking around the room, she sank into the nearby chair. She thought, "I bet this was still much better than the prison cells those idiots got themselves locked up in. However, a good looking prison cell is still a prison cell." Wan Shotto sighed, "I guess I really can't do anything besides accept the offer. It might be crappy, but it probably won't be as crappy as anything else he could offer."

Wan Shotto had been sitting there lost in her thoughts before suddenly hearing a mysterious voice say, "Hello Wan Shotto. Or would you rather me call you Wakahisa Hoshiko?

Since Wan Shotto was already familiar with the mysterious voices, she remained calm as she asked, "Who are you? Are you Oberon again?"

No sooner had Wan Shotto asked that, the voice replied, "No I'm not him. I can assure you of that." A screen appeared before Wan Shotto. It was a young man who appeared to be in a lab of sorts speaking to her from the real world apparently. He introduced himself in a polite voice, "My name is Hideyoshi. Just like you, I'm one of Sugou Nobiyuki's involuntary subordinates."

"Who the hell is Sugou Nobiyuki?" Before Hideyoshi could answer her question, she then asked, "Are you talking about that Oberon guy?"

"I see that he decided introduce himself with that wannabe 'god' Avatar of his." Hideyoshi stated, "That was him."

Wan Shotto asked, "How can I be sure that you and this Oberon aren't the same person. Your voice and appearance maybe different but how do I know you didn't just alter them in the virtual world? After all, I'm sure you're more than capable of customizing your avatars, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was technology to alter someone's voice when they're in the game."

"Let me put it this way. There is no comparison between that two-faced bastard and me. He thinks he has it all figured out, but he's wrong." Hideyoshi's voice was filled with venom as he stated, "I want to make sure he learns that he can't screw around with his subordinates and not expect some retribution. I want him to know what kind of a dumbass he really is."

Wan Shotto considered what she was hearing. "Based on what I saw, that Oberon or Sugou seemed too proud to insult himself, even if it was to pull a fake out. He might be telling the truth that he and Oberon are separate people." Wan Shotto let out a sigh as she told him, "All right fine. You have my attention. What do you want to talk about?"

Hideyoshi asked, "First things first. Do you want me to call you Wan Shotto or Wakahisa Hoshiko?"

Without hesitation, Wan Shotto answered, "Call me Wan Shotto. I'm not Wakashisa Hoshiko when I'm in these virtual worlds. As far as I'm concerned, I've stopped being Wakashisa Hoshiko for a long time. I'm nothing like her now."

When Wan Shotto said this Hideyoshi replied, "Wan Shotto it is." He was also thinking, "I can understand why. Considering the colorful history she's had even before she entered Sword Art Online regarding her left eye. It is truly sickening what some people will do for a souvenir."

As Hideyoshi was thinking this Wan Shotto noticed something was up with him. Instinctively, she put her hand over her eye patch and angrily told him, "I can tell you're thinking about my eye from that look you're giving me. Let me give you some advice. If you want to talk to me, you better not bring it up."

Even though they were literally worlds apart, Hideyoshi could not help but feel nervous at Wan Shotto's words. A part of him seemed worried that Wan Shotto would jump from the other side of the screen and attack him. It took a moment for him to calm down and reply, "Fair enough." Hideyoshi moved on to his point, "Anyway, I was hoping to recruit you."

This caused Wan Shotto to raise an eyebrow. "You want to recruit me to get revenge on this Sugou, Oberon, or whatever the hell his name is." Hideyoshi nodded and Wan Shotto asked, "Why would you want to recruit me?"

Hideyoshi stated, "Your profile shows that while you are a member of the Laughing Coffin, you managed to avoid attaining the 'Orange Marker' that would appear above your head to indicate you're a criminal."

Wan Shotto did not seem interested in what Hideyoshi was say as she asked in a bored tone, "So?"

Hideyoshi did not appreciate the tone that Wan Shotto was giving him, but he continued his point. "So if you were able to avoid being labeled a criminal, it means you either avoided killing other players, or you were able to eliminate your targets in a way that prevented the system from labeling you as a murderer. If that's the latter case, then you're a very careful person who's cautions and capable of discretion. Would I be correct in assuming you did the latter?"

Wan Shotto seemed amused by Hideyoshi's analysis as she remarked, "I can see you put quite a bit of thought into this." She confirmed, "Yes. I did kill most of my targets indirectly unless they were already orange players I could kill without a problem."

Hideyoshi smirked as he stated, "I had a feeling that would be the case. I could use someone of your abilities. Would you be willing to work with me Wan Shotto-san?"

As interesting as this conversation has been, what makes you think I'll work for you like that?" Wan Shotto snapped her fingers. "I don't really know anything about your or what would I have to gain from working with you when I already know what I can gain from deciding to work for Sugou." Wan Shotto thought, "He'd probably give me a greater reward if I tell him about you."

Hideyoshi did not seem bothered by Wan Shotto's statement since he figured she would probably say something like this. "You mentioned that you were not motivated by getting revenge on the black swordsman, but you didn't say whether or not 'revenge' in general could be a factor in securing your services. I'd imagine there's at least one bastard that you might be interested in getting even with. Someone we both know very well."

Wan Shotto did not outright deny Hideyoshi's claims. Instead, she leaned her head on her left hand and asked, "What makes you so sure I'd be interested?"

"You made it clear how much you value your freedom. Well you and I have both been robbed of our freedom by the same person." Hideyoshi stated, "In addition to that, he humiliated you and touched you rather inappropriately in front of your former guild members. I'm sure you and I can agree we have a common enemy."

Wan Shotto waved her hand and told him, "Go on."

"If you work for me while still playing along with Sugou's game, I promise you everything he put on the table and much more. You can be sure of that." Hideyoshi's voice was filled with confidence as he made this promise to Wan Shotto.

Wan Shotto seemed somewhat interested in what he was saying, but she was not completely sold on it. "What would this more be?"

Hideyoshi answered, "Money would be one thing."

Wan Shotto immediately asked, "Do you actually have this money?"

That question slowed Hideyoshi down as he told her, "Not at this point, but I will."

"So you're making me a promise on something you don't have and might not get later?" Wan Shotto sarcastically remarked, "That's a real good strategy you've got there."

Hideyoshi indignantly replied, "I'd have more faith in my abilities if I were you."

Wan Shotto sighed as she then asked, "Leaving the money issue aside, how do I know that I can trust you? How do I know you aren't at the very least a loyal subordinate of his trying to test my loyalty who would double cross me?"

"Well I can assure you that he has no loyal subordinates." Hideyoshi clarified, "He has a few other subordinates working for him, but he treats them like crap, and they're too afraid to do anything about it."

Wan Shotto replied in a deadpan voice, "That's easy to believe."

"Anyway, a part of me was hoping you'd ask questions like that." Hideyoshi almost seemed happy about that as he stated, "It shows you really are a careful, suspicious girl. I need someone like that on my side."

Wan Shotto stated, "The flattery is charming, but it doesn't answer my questions."

"If you want some kind of proof, you can listen to it yourself." Hideyoshi held up the recording device he used to record his earlier conversation with Sugou.

The contents of this recording piqued Wan Shotto's interest, especially the part about Sugou using his research to hotwire their minds into more or less becoming his slaves. Wan Shotto's right eye briefly opened up wide in light of this revelation. However, she quickly calmed down.

After listening to the recording, Wan Shotto stated, "Well you definitely caught my interest. I should've figured he wouldn't really hold up his end of the bargain."

Hideyoshi stated, "Sugou is far from the type of person who would uphold any bargain. He promised he would leave me alone eventually, but I doubt that'll ever happen. That's why we need to work together before it is too late for either of us."

To Hideyoshi's surprise, Wan Shotto remarked in a cold tone, "If you're expecting me to say yes to the whole team up thing after hearing that, I'm afraid you're mistaken."

"What?" Hideyoshi was clearly caught off guard by that.

Wan Shotto told him, "First of all, you've had this recording, and am I to believe that I'm the first person you gave it to. Not any policemen or something like that."

"…" Hideyoshi remained silent.

The silence was all the confirmation that Wan Shotto needed. "I really am aren't I? In that case, why me? Why not show this to the police or anyone else? I'm sure they would've loved to listen to it. I'm sure that would put that bastard away for a pretty long time."

Hideyoshi replied, "It's not that simple."

Wan Shotto theorized, "He must have some pretty good dirt on you if you feel like you can't hand it over to the authorities. You must think you can even cut a deal that would allow you to avoid prison time. That's why you feel that he's took your freedom."

"You certainly can put two-and-two together quite well can't you?" It was hard to tell if Hideyoshi was annoyed or impressed by Wan Shotto or a mixture of both.

Wan Shotto crossed her arms as she remarked, "Certain incidents in the past have forced me to work on my people reading skills."

Hideyoshi asked, "I guessing you're talking about the same incidents you told me to never ask or talk to you about?"

"That's right." Wan Shotto told Hideyoshi in a demanding voice, "Now if you want me to be on your side, you have to tell me what he has on you first. If you want me to work for you, I need to know more about you since you clearly know a few things about me." Wan Shotto's voice sounded rather sly as she told him, "Not to mention, since you want things done discreetly, you probably can't do it yourself, and you know you can't possible convince the others. They're all obsessed with getting revenge or having entertainment on the Black Swordsman, and they don't have as much motivation to go after this Sugou as me. Basically, I'm your only choice, so don't try to lie to me because I'll know." Wan Shotto declared, "This is non-negotiable."

Hideyoshi reluctantly replied, "Very well. I had a feeling you would probably ask me a question like this." He then began to tell Wan Shotto what his story was.

As Hideyoshi was telling the story, Wan Shotto's right eye briefly opened up wide before returning to normal. After he was done telling her the story, she remarked, "If that's true, I can see why you can't try taking action yourself. He'd crush you without a breaking a sweat."

"…" Hideyoshi refused to give a remark to that last part.

After giving what they talked about some more thought, Wan Shotto told Hideyoshi, "Very well then. You've acquired my services. Be sure to put them to good use. However, I will be sure to collect on the debt you'll owe me for this."

Hideyoshi smirked as he replied, "Don't worry I'll be capable of paying it."

Before Hideyoshi could cut off their connection, Wan Shotto stated, "One more thing before I forget."

Hideyoshi asked, "What's that?"

"How were you even able to record that in the first place?" That was a head scratcher for Wan Shotto, "Did you just go out and decided to buy an electric recorder or something? I'd imagine this Sugou would have been capable of noticing you buying and carrying around a recorder."

Hideyoshi answered, "I didn't buy a recording device, I made it myself."

Wan Shotto stared at him in disbelief. "You made a recording device. How were you able to pull that off? Wouldn't the cameras have spotted you doing something like that?"

Hideyoshi boasted, "With someone of my intelligence and more or less being forced to stay inside a lab of a tech building, you'd be amazed at what I can do?"

"I still don't get it." Wan Shotto asked, "Wouldn't he or someone else have noticed you building something like that through security cameras or something? There are security cameras right?"

"Of course there are, but there's always blind spots, and you'd be amazed at how arrogant that bastard truly is." Hideyoshi smirked as he told her, "As long as you don't remain in the blind spots too long, he'll never notice a thing."

Wan Shotto stated, "I wouldn't be too sure about that. He seemed pretty arrogant to me just now."

Hideyoshi reassured her, "Believe me. You don't know enough yet."

Wan Shotto remarked, "Something tells me I don't want to."

Hideyoshi stated, "You'd be correct about that. That recording gave you another taste of his arrogance. Trust me. You don't want to be in the same room as him when you have to experience it for yourself."

"I'll take your word for it." Wan Shotto then stated, "Anyway, if you want me to work for you, you better give me any idea of what I should do soon."

"You don't have to worry about that." Hideyoshi commented, "Anyway, I hope we can get along." Hideysoshi chuckled as he said, "This should be the start of a great partnership that will prove to be mutually beneficial to both of us."

Wan Shotto smirked as she replied, "I'm sure it will."

/

Date: Saturday, November 23rd, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Field

It was a beautiful day in Alfheim Online, and Kirito decided it would be a good time for him to get some more practice with flying. Kirito was getting used to flying without using the controller. The wind was rushing against his face, and he could feel it blowing his short hair back. Yui was comfortably taking a passenger seat in his front pocket, and she was enjoying her Papa's flying session as well.

With Kirito's wings, he soared up to the clouds, and he was able to get a view of the surrounding mountains. In this territory, Kirito could see the mountain range stretch out for miles, and he could see there were entrances to different caves similar to the ones he and the Sleeping Knights had been in. Most of the mountains looked relatively similar to each other, but he did not mind since some of the mountains in Sword Art Online tended to look similar to each other too. Kirito liked the idea of possibly landing on the top of one of the mountains and lifting off from there. He wondered how much higher he could get if he launched off something like that.

As Kirito flew in the air, Yui spoke up to her Papa and asked, "You've gotten used to flying huh Papa?

Kirito enthusiastically replied, "Yeah, and it's great." Kirito explained, "Flying maybe a new mechanic for me, but I think being trapped in a virtual reality for years has helped me get used to the idea of adapting to new things that would never be possible in my world."

Yui commented, "I remember it wasn't that long ago that you were incapable of landing properly, and you had to crash into something before you'd stop. Now you're handling yourself pretty well."

"Man." Kirito looked down and asked in annoyed tone, "You are never going to let me live that down are you?"

Yui cheerfully replied, "Nope."

Seeing Yui smile like that caused Kirito to smile as well despite Yui's comment. "Anyway, let's keep testing what these wings can do!"

"All right!" Yui enthusiastically replied as she held on tight.

/

As Kirito was enjoying his flight, Ran was carefully watching his activities. She could see how much fun Kirito was having with flying. It reminded her of herself when she first came to Alfheim Online. However, Ran had other thoughts going through her mind.

"The way he's enjoying his flight makes it easy to believe he just started recently." Ran put her hand on her chin as she thought, "I remember when I started this game, and how much flying amazed me. I still enjoy flying, but after spending so much time in this virtual world its second nature to me rather than something that would fascinate me."

Ran continued to ponder about some of the other things she has noticed about Kirito. "I didn't get to really see him fight too much during that quest, but I can tell that he's clearly had experience in the virtual world, but I can tell he's new to this one. However, if he started out new into this world, he'd start off pretty weak. Could he have been given these abilities as he was sent to check up on us or did something else happen? I'm not really sure what to make of this."

As Ran continued to think about Kirito's abilities, Sieunee walked over and called out to her, "Excuse me Ran-san."

Ran was taken out of her train of thought. "Yes. What is it Sieunee?"

Sieunee seemed rather uncomfortable talking to Ran as she told her, "There's something I'd like to talk to you about. Could we speak in private?"

Ran briefly glanced back at Kirito flying before looking back at Sieunee. "Of course."

/

Date: Saturday, November 23rd, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Ran and Yuuki's Room

Sieunee waited until both Ran and her were in the privacy of Ran's room before telling her the grim news that Clovis and Merida told her the other day. Since it was not good news she was going to share with Ran, she was not in a rush to tell her. In fact, a part of her would not have minded if they took forever to get to Ran's room. While Sieunee was reluctant to tell Ran about the news at first, she felt it was important for Ran to know what was happening since she was the leader of their guild.

After hearing what Sieunee had to say, Ran looked solumenly out her window as she replied, "I see. So Clovis and Merida told you that?"

Sieunee sadly nodded, "Yes. They didn't want me to tell anyone else, but I felt you were the exception since you're the leader of our guild."

Ran continued to look out her window and sighed. "I'm glad you told me. You don't have to worry. I won't repeat what you said."

Sieunee was relieved to hear Ran say that. She was worried that she would need to ask Ran to keep it a secret for the time being. "Thank you Ran-san. If you don't mind, there is some other matters I'd like to attend to."

Ran turned around to look at Sieunee as she asked, "Back in the real world."

Sieunee answered, "Yes."

Ran told her, "Go right ahead."

"Thank you. I'll be back soon." Sieunee took her leave and exited Ran's room. She planned on using her own room to logout of the game and return to the real world.

After the door was closed, Ran hit the wall with her fist as she thought, "This isn't good. From the looks of things the Sleeping Knights are all but guaranteed to lose three members during 2025. A whole third of our guild gone. If that happens, will our guild hold up? Guilds have fallen apart for lesser reasons after all. Not to mention, it's possible we might lose more than three at the rate we're going. I might need to rethink a few things. If we don't do something fast all of us right might die without accomplishing anything worth remembering. I can't let something like that happen. I just can't."

/

Date: Sunday, November 24th, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Neutral Village

The Sleeping Knights members Jun and Thatch were in the middle of having a friendly match. As Thatch promised, he was helping Jun becoming stronger. As expected, Jun was doing a decent job fighting Thatch, but his strength paled in comparison.

"Oomph!" Jun was knocked to the ground Jun.

Thatch casually walked towards Jun, "That wasn't too bad Jun. You're getting better every time we fight."

Jun got his back off the ground and sat up straight as he told Thatch, "Maybe, but it's still not good enough." He then looked at Thatch and told him in a determined voice, "I want to go another round."

Thatch chuckled as he replied, "I admire your spirit buddy, but I've knocked you down five times already. Are you sure you don't want to call it a day?"

"No." Jun got to his feet and held out his sword and gripped it with both hands as he told Thatch, "I'm just getting started."

"If that's the way you want it," Thatch readied his hammer, ready to fight Jun again, "you got it."

Jun charged in Thatch's direction and attempted to cut him down, but his attack was easily blocked by Thatch's battle hammer. With very little effort, Thatch knocked Jun back and attempted to attack Jun. However, Jun managed to avoid Thatch's attack with a back flip.

Thatch was amazed by Jun's previous move as he asked, "Have you been working on that?"

Jun commented, "I always need new tricks."

Thatch was still surprised by what he saw Jun do before as he asked, "Why didn't you try putting this much effort into the other five times?"

"Well you know me. I try not to overuse my energy at the beginning. I'd rather have a good finish." Jun then charged at Thatch another time.

The sounds of their weapons clashing could be heard for quite some time afterwards.

/

Date: Sunday, November 24th, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Field

At the foot of one of the mountains in the area, Clovis and Merida found a group of bird type monsters. They appeared to be eating something, but neither Clovis nor Merida could see what it was. However, this provided them with a great opportunity. They were looking for a bunch of monsters to ambush, and they could not have asked for anything better.

The two players tried approaching the monsters as quietly as possible until Clovis signaled them to stop by holding up his hand. Clovis quietly told Merida, "Okay. I'm going to move in closer, so I can get a better shot at them. When I give you the signal, you use your magic to kill as many as you can, and I'll try to shoot as many of them down before they get a chance to escape."

Merida nodded, "Okay."

Clovis quietly got closer to the monsters before hiding behind a large rock. He felt that this was a good enough range and he readied his bow and arrow. He held his hand up and waved to Merida to get started.

On his signal, Merida used her instrument to conjure up music magic that she launched at the monsters and managed to destroy a few of them. She managed to wipe out three of them in one shot. The four remaining monsters attempted to fly away, but Clovis was able to shoot them down with a few quick shots with his bow. He shot one through the eye, two of them through the neck, and the last through the main body where the heart would be. They all died instantly from Clovis' attacks and shattered to pieces before they hit the ground.

While Clovis was shooting the monsters down, he felt like this was similar to something he watched on a video. When Merida walked over to him, he turned around and told her, "You know. It's kind of funny how this situation is kind of similar to that classic duck hunting game except without the annoying dog."

Merida was bewildered by this strange topic that Clovis was bringing up. She asked in a confused tone, "What are you talking about?"

Clovis asked in disbelief, "You never heard of it?" After Merida shook her head, Clovis began to explain, "Well it was a game made long before we were born. You'd have a gun shapped peripheral and you'd try to shoot down as many ducks as you can. If you failed a stupid looking dog would mock you."

"Was the game fun?" Merida was rather curious about this game.

Clovis shrugged his shoulders. "I wouldn't know. I never played it myself. I just watched some videos on the internet."

Merida replied in a disappointed tone, "Oh."

"I have a feeling it would be fun though." Clovis stated in a hopeful voice, "Since what we're doing now is pretty fun, I think we'd probably like that game too."

"Yeah I guess it is, but I wonder how much longer we really will have to keep having this fun. I know the doctors gave us an approximate timeframe, but still …" Merida trailed off after she was not sure what words she could use to continue her sentence.

While Clovis tried facing away from Merida, she could tell that he was troubled by the prospect of their oncoming death. There was no doubt in their minds that 2025 would be their end, but whether they would die before or after the approximate timeframe was another issue. Neither one of them were sure how they should handle it or if they should tell the rest of the guild.

Clovis sighed as he told Merida, "Maybe we should try not thinking about it too much. I know we can't ignore it, but it might be better to focus on helping the guild. Being members of the Sleeping Knights has helped give us more of a purpose after all, so it's the least we can do for the others, especially Ran-san."

Merida asked, "Do you think we should tell the rest of the guild about the news? We already told Sieunne about it."

"To be honest, I'm on the fence about that." Clovis admitted, "I want to be honest with them, but I know it might affect our efforts too. If we tell the rest of the guild that our time is nearly up, it will probably hurt the morale." Clovis tried to maintain a straight face and a calm voice as he told her this, but it was becoming more difficult for him to do so as he continued speaking, "We need to try and keep the group focused on our goals. So I guess it might be for the best not to tell the others right now."

Merida sighed as she told Clovis, "That's easier said than done, but I'll try the best I can."

/

Date: Sunday, November 24th, 2024

Location: Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Neutral Village Outskirts

On the edge of the borderline of the Neutral Village the Sleeping Knights were staying away from prying eyes, Taruken and Nori were having a duel of their own. Due to their respective weapons, there was no sound of clashing swords. You could only hear the sounds of the two players attempting to attack the other or dodge their attacks. If the players used their weapons to block their opponent's attack, the spectators would hear a 'clopping' sound.

Both Taruken and Nori were relentless in their attempts to hit the other. After managing to dodge one of Nori's attacks, Taruken shoved his spear forward towards Nori's head. Nori managed to move her head to the left just in time to avoid taking the hit, but the edge of Taruken's spear managed to graze her. The minor injury could be seen with a red glowing scratch running right along her upper right cheek.

Nori jumped a few feet away before using her right hand to touch the scratch on her face. At first she appeared nervous, but she brushed it as she told Taruken in a cocky voice, "Not bad Taruken, but let's see how good you are when I return the favor."

Taruken was not intimidated by her as he boasted, "I'm ready for anything you've got."

Nori used her hands to do a fancy spin with her quarterstaff before charging at Taruken to try and whack him in the head with it. She was smiling as she made her attempt to hit Taruken. She tried to outstretch her quarterstaff similar to how Taruken tried to attack her. However, instead of moving to the side, Taruken moved back and Nori's staff missed his nose by inches.

Seeing that her attack just missed, Nori pulled her quarterstaff back and took two steps forward as she tried to Taruken with a side attack. Taruken was able to dodge right underneath that attack. While bending down, Taruken counterattacked and aimed right for Nori's stomach. Nori was the one forced to jump back and the tip of the blade managed to nick her, but it was enough to count as a 'real hit.'

Nori touch her stomach area. Even though she knew it was not a big deal she thought, "Damn! That was a pretty close one too. If he would've gotten me with that, I'd have lost."

Similar to Sword Art Online, there were different duel options available in Alfheim Online. One of the options, was a 'First Hit Duel,' which was also a dueling option available within Sword Art Online in both the Beta Test and the Death Game. Taruken and Nori had decided that this would be the duel they would have, and they also agreed this would solely be a ground fight. For the past few minutes, they had been trying to get the first hit on the other while doing everything they could to avoid getting hit themselves. Since both of their weapons were mid-range, this proved to be rather difficult for the both of them.

Taruken chuckled as he boasted, "Apparently, I'm still pretty good even when you try to return the favor."

Nori hit one of the tips of her quarterstaff on the ground and pointed at Taruken as she loudly warned her opponent, "I'd be careful if I were you Taruken. I wouldn't want to get on my bad side if I were you."

Taruken was not intimidated by her words as he replied, "Funny. I was about to tell you that you need to be careful Nori-san. You've nearly taken two direct hits from me and all I need is to get one. Chances of you getting a direct hit seem a little higher than mine right now."

As usual, it was hard to argue with Taruken's logic. Nori could only say "You know. It is really amazing how much your personality changes when you're in a fight. I like that." She grinned with excitement as she told him, "It's a lot harder to pick on you."

Once again, Taruken could not help but chuckle as he commented, "I guess I should take that as a 'Nori' compliment."

"Something tells me that isn't supposed to be a good thing," Nori thought to herself in annoyed tone. Nori then hit the top of her quarterstaff on the ground again as she told Taruken, "You should take it as just a compliment you smart-ass idiot."

Nori charged at Taruken again and tried to hit him with a vertical attack, but Taruken managed to block her attack with the wooden part of his spear. Taruken grinned as he then push Nori's staff back and attacked her again and missed her. Nori then tried to attack Taruken with a side strike, but Taruken blocked her attack with his staff again and then he used his strength to bring both the tip of his spear and one of the edges of her quarterstaff to the ground with his spear on top of her weapon. The two opponents were almost at each other's faces like two hockey players going head to head when they were about to start a game.

As Taruken was trying to keep their weapons pointed at the ground, he commented, "Maybe I'd take it as a normal compliment if you were better at giving them like Merida-chan."

Hearing Taruken make a comparison between her and Merida caused Nori to start shimmering. Her reaction was visible on her face as she thought, "Always Merida-chan! I swear it's like I'm always getting compared to her. Is it because she's more girly than me or that she has better manners? Oh forget it! I'm going to knock him out for that!" She angrily told him, "Well excuse me for not being more well-mannered."

Nori used the strength in her arms to begin lifting her weapon out of his parry. Taruken then broke off the parry himself and let her try to attack him. As he kept dodging her attacks, he told her, "Maybe you need to be less reactive to what people say."

"Shut up." Nori once again tried to attack Taruken with a side attack that he was able to duck under. As soon as he did that, he tried to attack her with a thrusting motion aimed at her stomach again. However, this time, he took another step forward so the attack would be faster and harder to dodge.

Before Nori had a chance, Taruken's spear impaled the front of her stomach and exited the other side. She looked Taruken in the eyes as he told her, with a gleeful smile, "After all, your enemies might be able to figure out your weaknesses more easily."

/

After managing to strike Nori, Taruken withdrew his spear, and a large sign appeared above their heads to indicate that Taruken was the victor. A screen appeared in front of Taruken to congratulate him on his victory. Since Taruken and Nori put some money on the table, he was awarded some Col.

Nori rubbed her stomach to nurse the sting she received as she told Taruken, "Well you got me good, but if this was a regular duel, I'd still wipe the floor with you."

Taruken sighed as he shook his head in a disapproving manner. "We didn't sign up for a regular duel, and this is another great example of a 'Nori' compliment."

"What do you mean?" This time Nori was less annoyed by what she was asking and was a little concerned by what he was saying.

Taruken calmly told her, "You start out saying something good, but then you end saying something else that ruins it."

Nori appeared visibly surprised by that as she hesitantly asked, "… Is that so?"

Taruken explained, "Of course there have been a few occasions where you say something bad then followed by something good. To be honest, I'm not sure which is worse, but they're both still pretty bad."

After hearing Taruken's explanation, Nori appeared to be taking his words to heart as she hesitantly said, "Well I um … Okay fine you beat me fair and square, but I'll be sure to get you next time." She asked in an uncertain tone, "Does that sound better?"

"Yeah that does sound better. I think." Taruken put his hand to his chin as he thought, "It kind of sounds similar to what she said before, but the way she said it sounds slightly better. However, was it really an improvement? I'm not really sure"

While Taruken was thinking this, he did not notice Nori was walking up to him. When she was next to him, she put her arm around Taruken's neck and put him in a headlock. "What do you mean 'you think'?"

It did not seem to register in Nori's head that her actions positioned Taruken's head a little too close to her breasts which caused him to blush. However, he tried not to focus on that and attempted to answer her question in an embarrassed tone, "… Well I um … I'm saying that I think it sounds better, but it kind of sounds similar to what you said before. There's really not much more to it."

"So you're saying that I could still be better with giving out compliments?" Nori earnestly wanted to know the answer to that.

Taruken replied, "To put it bluntly, yes."

Nori let go of Taruken's head and told him, "Fine. Anyway, you did a good job getting me this time." There was a small blush on her face as she said this, "You'll have a hard time getting me next time though. Later."

As Taruken watched Nori head back to their temporary headquarters, Taruken thought, "She really can be reactive and sensitive about a lot of things. It's kind of cute, but I don't think she realizes how much she leaves herself open on the battlefield because of that. She's going to need to work on that."

/

Date: Thursday, November 28th, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Neutral Village Area

From the moment that Yuuki met Kirito, she was interested in fighting him in a duel. Today she would be getting that wish. Kirito decided that he wanted to see for himself how his and Yuuki's abilities matched up to each other's. Since Yui told him that Yuuki rarely logged out of the game, for all he knew, she could have enough experience that could rival his own. Based on what he saw during the quest, he knew that she would not be an easy opponent, and it would be unwise to take her lightly. It was the same for Yuuki as well.

As Kirito prepared himself for the upcoming fight, he thought, "Yui said that she could sense most of the players have remained in the virtual world for prolonged periods of time. It's possible that she might've been in the virtual world for almost as long as I have. I wonder if that means her reaction speed is as good as Asuna's or mine. I wonder if she could give Heathcliff a run for his money. I guess I'll have to find out for myself."

The other eight members of the Sleeping Knights stood around Kirito and Yuuki in a circle to observe the duel that was about to take place. Whenever a player outside of their build decided to duel one of their fellow members, made it a point to observe the duel for themselves. Most of the time, the Sleeping Knights figured if either Ran or Yuuki were fighting, the duel was a done deal. However, most of the guild members knew that Kirito was a different story who would most likely give Yuuki a run for her money. They were eagerly waiting in anticipating to see how this fight would turn out.

Along with the Sleep Knights, Yui was observing the fight from a distance. Kirito asked his AI daughter to wait on the sidelines since this fight was going to be different. Yui was understanding of where her Papa was coming from, and respected his wishes. She flew to the side to where she figured would be outside the area of where they would fight.

Unlike Sword Art Online, it was possible to select ground and aerial fights since anyone was capable of flying in this game. Kirito and Yuuki agreed to a special type of duel that could utilize both possibilities to make the duel more exciting. However, the rule would be that neither could use their wings for the first three minutes. After the fight began, there would be another timer that they could see on the edge of their screens that would tell them when they could begin flying if they wanted to.

Both players had their swords drawn as they were about to begin the countdown to the duel. The two player had their weapons ready to begin the fight even before the countdown clock began. Neither one wanted to give the impression to the other that they were feeling a little nervous about their upcoming fight. They did not want to give any sign of weakness even before the fight began. They needed to look strong, and they both wanted to have fun.

Kirito activated his menu to issue the duel challenge as he asked, "You ready for this?"

When the challenge appeared in front of Yuuki, she grinned as she told him, "You bet I am." She then hit the 'Yes' button, and a large timer appeared between the two of them and began counting down from sixty.

As the countdown clock began to countdown from sixty, everyone felt on edge. Even though Yui was an AI, even she was anxious about what would happen in this fight. The Sleeping Knights who were watching the fight were wondering who really might win. Ran seemed to be the most on edge out of all of them.

From this point onward, none of the spectators, not even Yui, dared to say a word out loud. Not even to cheer for either one. They did not want to cause any indirect outsider interference. This was a battle between Yuuki and Kirito, and no one was going to ruin that.

Before the countdown hit zero, Yuuki spoke up and told Kirito, "I'm going to give you a fair warning. The only player to ever beat me has been my sister Ran."

Kirito did not appear to be daunted by Yuuki's boast as he gave one of his own, "In that case, I'll have the honor of being the second player to defeat you."

Yuuki could not help but grin at Kirito's remark. "Now that's the kind of attitude I like to hear. Come at me with everything you've got!"

The countdown had reached zero. Kirito and Yuuki practically leapt off the ground as they charged at each other. Both players charged at each other at the fastest speed both of them could muster in such close range. The virtual dirt under their feet was dug up with every step they took. Each step brought the players closer to their eventual clash. Even though only a few seconds had passed since the duel began, it felt like everything was going in slow motion to Kirito, Yuuki, and the spectators.

As both players were almost within striking range of each other, they began to swing their blades. It seemed as if their blades were inching towards their intended targets. When their blades finally met, a loud 'clang' could he heard throughout the surrounding area. In that moment, the 'slow motion,' seemed to have dissipated as Kirito and Yuuki tried to overpower each other.

With their blades clashing together, both Kirito and Yuuki seemed evenly matched. Neither one of them were giving an inch to the other. Both of their hands were on the handles of their respective blades as they tried to gain the upper hand over the other with no success. After a few moments both player s understood that they would need to do something else to be victorious.

Simultaneously, the two players broke off their clash and jumped backwards to put distance from their opponents. The two began to walk opposite of each other in a circular pattern.

As they walked to see who would make the first move, Kirito looked at his opponent intently as he thought, "She's fast. Her reaction time is almost as good as mine, but I think mine is still better than hers."

Yuuki smiled as she told Kirito, "I knew that you'd be a strong opponent. It looks like you probably won't disappoint me."

"I was about to say the same …" Kirito did not get to finish his sentence because without warning Yuuki made the next move.

Yuuki rushed with a 'Horizontal Strike' that Kirito managed to block. No sooner had Kirito blocked her attack, Yuuki did a follow up with Alfheim Online's equivalent of a 'Slant' or 'Diagonal' attack that Kirito managed to barely dodge with a well-timed back step. Yuuki then quickly attacked him with a 'Vertical Strike' that Kirito managed to parry and instead of letting their blades clash, Yuuki withdrew her blade and attacked him again. Yuuki kept attacking Kirito with one attack after another that Kirito needed to keep blocking or dodging which kept him on the defensive.

As Kirito was defending himself he thought, "Making a move while I was talking? Not a bad idea. It's a legal move too, so I'll give her credit for that. After all, if someone decides to talk, it doesn't mean that this fight is supposed to stop."

While Yuuki tried to keep up her offensive, she thought, "Kirito-san's doing a good job defending himself. He's got good reflexes, but he'll need to do more than that."

"Being on the defensive is no good." Kirito blocked another one of Yuuki's attacks as he thought, "I need to take the offensive if I'm going to win. Even if it means I'll take a blow."

Kirito took his own advice and attacked Yuuki at the same time she launched another attack of her own which looked like a 'Horizontal Strike.' Instead of using a horizontal or vertical strike, Kirito thrusted his blade straight towards Yuuki's arm. With Kirito's attack, his sword managed to pierce through Yuuki's left shoulder and exited the other side while Yuuki's blade managed to slightly cut Kirito upper chest.

Before Yuuki could make a move Kirito raised his left foot and kicked Yuuki in the stomach which not only knocked her back, but he roughly withdrew his blade from her shoulder. "Gaah!" Yuuki screamed out in pain from both getting kicked in the stomach and getting the blade that was impaled her shoulder ripped out of her so harshly.

If they were in the real world, Yuuki's shoulder would be bleeding profusely and she might have coughed up blood after that kick. However, since this was the virtual world, her shoulder was represented by red marks that appeared on both sides of her shoulder while a red gash on Kirito's chest represented the wound she delivered him.

This was yet another example of the similarities between Sword Art Online and Alfheim Online. While Yuuki held her stomach, Kirito charged her, so she would not have a chance to recover. He swung his sword down with as much momentum he could muster. Yuuki was able to put her blade overhead to block the attack but his attack managed to graze her right shoulder and arm with that attack.

As she tried to block the attack, Yuuki thought, "Looks like I'm going to have to take a different route with this."

Yuuki used a mixture of her arm and foot strength to break off the parry. As she backed away, she tried focusing energy on her feet for her next move. Kirito was not pushed back too far from Yuuki's previous move. He then attempted to cut her with a horizontal strike moments later.

To Kirito's amazement Yuuki used the strength in her feet to jump over his sword as if she was jumping over a bar in a pole vault. With a swift motion, Yuuki attempted to cutoff Kirito's sword arm in one motion. If she had been fighting almost any other player, she probably would have succeeded. However, Kirito could see what she was doing, and he was able to move his body enough to prevent his arm from being sliced off. Yuuki was successful in cutting her blade into Kirito's flesh, but the wound was too shallow to cause Kirito to lose his arm. Although, his arm was seriously injured by the attack.

"Gaah!" Kirito could not contain the pain he was feeling from the attack as he tried to jump away from Yuuki.

Yuuki immediately attempted to pursue Kirito. However, Kirito then swung his blade down with a 'Vertical Strike' in her direction which forced Yuuki to stop in her tracks. Kirito's blade managed to scratch her right cheek. It would have been worse if she did not stop herself when she did. Kirito then attempted to attack her again, but she managed to jump away from his attack.

Both of those sword attacks were not nearly as powerful as the ones he used before, but using those sword strikes hurt Kirito's right arm when he tried using them.

"That was pretty good Kirito-san. You managed to prevent me from cutting off your arm. Your reaction speed is rather impressive. Very impressive indeed." Yuuki sounded like she was genuinely impressed by what Kirito had done.

Kirito replied, "I'm not falling for that again."

Yuuki innocently asked, "Falling for what?"

Kirito decided not to waste his time answering that question as he thought, "My arm might not be gone, but it still took a lot of damage. It looks like I'm going to have to do something else." Without looking away from his opponent, Kirito quickly placed his sword in his left hand.

Yuuki was surprised by what Kirito was doing. "Are you ambidextrous?"

Instead of answering her question, Kirito went on the offensive against Yuuki. When he attacked Yuuki, his attacks were still fast, but she noticed that they were a little slower. Yuuki was able to block a few of his attacks before they found themselves in another crossed swords struggle. Kirito placed his right hand on his sword again to put extra power behind his attack as the two players were attempting to overpower the other.

As they attempted to outdo the other, Kirito thought, "It feels a little weird using my left arm. I've only really used it when I'm dual wielding or using karate moves, but it doesn't feel too awkward. I guess that practice in perfecting dual wielding wasn't wasted after all."

While Yuuki tried to gain the upper hand, she observed, "His left hand might not be as good as his right hand, but it definitely seems strong enough to hold a sword, so he must have had practice using his left hand in combat before. The injury he gave my right arm and left shoulder before puts us at about the same level." Yuuki then noticed something on her screen as she thought, "So it looks like it's almost time already. Time sure flies when you're fighting."

Using the strength of both his arms, Kirito managed to push Yuuki back. He quickly attempted to a follow-up attack with a horizontal attack, but Yuuki jumped away and activated her wings and flew away from him. "Did three minutes pass by already?" Kirito immediately checked his screen to see that the timer for the flight restrictions had ended. "I should've paid more attention to that. I thought pushing her back seemed a little too easy."

As Yuuki floated with her bat-like wings extended, she told Kirito in a playful voice, "The time limit is over. Time to take this to the next level."

Yuuki immediately dived right at Kirito and attempted to strike him. Despite the injuries on her arms, she was able to attack him quickly and the added speed from her flight made it more difficult for Kirito to block her. She was able to use her energy to attack Kirito three times in a row as she flew past him.

Kirito was still primarily holding his sword with his left hand, so his ability to block her attacks was not as effective. Despite this, Kirito managed to block two of Yuuki's attacks, but one of her attacks gave him a slight wound on his left shoulder. Kirito gritted his teeth as he thought, "Damn. She's trying to reduce the strength of my other arm too. If I let both of my arms get too injured, I'll definitely lose this fight."

Even though Kirito had been getting better at using his wings, he was reluctant to activate them. This would be his first time trying to fight someone in aerial combat, but he knew that he had to be capable of fighting Yuuki in the sky if he wanted to even the odds. "I guess they're my best chance at winning." Kirito's own wings extended and lifted him off the ground.

Seeing Kirito starting to fly, Yuuki playfully said, "It's nice of you to join me. Too bad it won't be enough for you to win." Yuuki flew down in Kirito's direction in an attempt to finish him off while Kirito flew up to meet her in the sky.

The two players were charging at each other just like when the duel had begun, but they were now in the sky. Yuuki was flying diagonally downwards while Kirito was flying diagonally upwards. Both players held their swords with both hands as they were readying themselves for yet another clash. They lifted the swords and when their blades met, a clash could be heard ringing throughout the area again.

Once again, Kirito and Yuuki were struggling to determine who was the stronger of the two as their wings tried to keep them in the air. With the injuries the both of them had inflicted upon each other, they appeared to be at a stalemate. Both of the players gritted their teeth, and looked at each other with determined looks. It was clear that neither one were going to back down, but it also seemed like it would only take one move for a victor to be decided.

A few moments into the stalemate, Kirito gave up on trying to trying overpower Yuuki and he let Yuuki's sword swing down. Since Kirito knew it was coming down, he was able to dodge it easily by moving slightly to the right. Before Yuuki knew what was going on, she looked up to see Kirito's right fist in front of her face as it was about to make contact.

Yuuki could feel Kirito's knuckles from his right fist collide with her left cheek. She could feel the knuckles in his virtual fist connect to her virtual teeth and jaw bones. The force of this hit felt like it was going to make an indentation on her face. Yuuki thought that he would knock out all of her teeth with this attack. In that moment, it was hard for Yuuki to focus on anything other than her mouth. Even though this was the virtual world, it was difficult to avoid thinking about the pain.

While Kirito's punch was unexpected and stunned Yuuki, it did not cause much damage. He noticed that Yuuki's health points only went down slightly after he punched her. In Sword Art Online, Kirito had gained martial arts abilities, and he was able to retain them to an extent in this world. Unfortunately, the damage they were capable of in this world was much lower than what they were in Sword Art Online. However, the fact that Yuuki was stunned was more than enough because Kirito did not give Yuuki a chance to recover.

While Yuuki maintained a grip on her sword after Kirito punched her, she did not see what was coming next. Kirito immediately sliced Yuuki twice in a row with one horizontal and one vertical slash. Before Yuuki had a chance to counterattack, Kirito followed up with a third attack similar to the Slash attack. In Sword Art Online, the Slash attack was a useful in both injuring enemies and sending them flying away.

The force of this attack sent Yuuki flying and spinning in the air. If this was a normal person they would have gotten sick from spinning up and down so many times. Yuuki spread her wings and flapped them in an attempt to slow down. After a few moments, Yuuki managed to stop the spinning, and she set herself up right. Yuuki felt a little dizzy after what just happened, and she shook her head to try to set herself straight.

Yuuki managed to regain her baring in time to see Kirito attempt to attack her again. However, she was able to parry his attack this time. If she had been a second or two later, Kirito would have been successful in striking her again.

When Yuuki managed to successfully block him, Kirito grinned as he told her, "It's good to know a little combo wasn't enough to finish you off."

"It'll take more than that to beat me." After Yuuki broke off the parry, she flew away for a temporary retreat.

When Yuuki felt that she was a comfortable distance, she grabbed her jaw with her left hand while she continued to hold her sword with her right hand. She wanted to make sure that her jaw was still okay and she still had all her teeth. In the virtual world, a player could still lose his or her teeth. Even though they would regenerate, it was a rather unpleasant feeling.

As Yuuki was checking her teeth, Kirito chased after her. He had no intention of giving her a moment of reprieve. However, Kirito's inexperience in flying did give him a little difficult in attempting to keep up with Yuuki.

Yuuki turned back as she was flying away from Kirito and told him, "Good punch, but you won't get me like that again." Yuuki then suddenly changed directions and headed straight for him.

Kirito did not expect Yuuki's sudden counterattack. He stopped in his tracks, but he was able to block her attack at the last moment. As soon as he blocked her new attack, Yuuki flew past Kirito for a few moments before stopping.

With a grin, Yuuki told her opponent, "You've proven to be more entertaining than I thought you'd be. Almost no one else has managed to last this long against me. That rarely happens."

Kirito returned the grin as he replied, "I guess I'll take that as a compliment. However, I'll do much more than that."

As usual, Yuuki was amused by Kirito's comments as she told him. "I wouldn't get too far ahead of myself if I were you! After all, I think it's almost time for me to put an end to this fight."

Kirito confidently told his opponent, "You're right that this fight is almost over, but I'll be the one finishing it!"

Yuuki stated, "We'll see about that!"

The two players went head to head again. Instead of attempting to prove which one was stronger, they wanted to see which player was faster. The two players would charge at each other. Instead of trying to clash swords with each other, the two players would fly by each other and attempt to either attack or block the other. Then they would fly past each other, turn around, and they would charge at each other again.

As the two of them continued to clash, Kirito thought, "I could have used players like her in Sword Art Online. If she was there, she and the other members of the Sleeping Knights would have been on the frontlines, and they'd have outdone almost everyone there. She'd probably have given Heathcliff a run for his money."

Both Kirito and Yuuki traded blows with each other, and they each sustained a few injuries. Kirito received a few minor wounds on his left leg while Yuuki received an injury or two on her torso. Their respective health points had declined slowly below thirty percent, and it was likely whoever managed to deliver the next decisive attack would be the victor.

These clashes would not last much longer. There was a limit to how much longer the two of them would be able to keep using their wings. Yuuki knew that she would be the first one to reach her limit since she activated her wings first. The difference between when she activated her wings and when Kirito activated his may have been a difference of only a few seconds, but she knew that a few seconds could easily make all the difference.

While doing the best to remain calm, Yuuki thought, "I'm going to need to do something about his wings before mine run out." A second later Yuuki thought, "I think I know what I need to do. It might be a little risky though."

When Yuuki and Kirito clashed again, Kirito was able to deliver Yuuki a hit that caused her to be knocked away. Yuuki's health points decreased slightly and if he could get another few hits in, the duel would be his. Kirito immediately followed after Yuuki in an attempt to finish her off.

Kirito was within striking distance of Yuuki attempted to strike her. However, Yuuki had been paying attention to Kirito's movements, and timed his attack perfectly. She used her wings to move herself out of the way just in time, and she was able to move right above Kirito's head. After Kirito missed, he looked over his head to see Yuuki was right above him and she had her sword ready to strike him down.

Yuuki was attempting to strike both Kirito's back and his wings along with them. If she succeeded in her attack, she would more or less be clipping his wings. She was putting everything she had with this attack.

On instinct, Kirito changed the direction his wings were propelling him towards. Yuuki's attack was meant for the direction Kirito was heading towards. If he kept going the path he was moving, her attack would most likely make contact. If he changed the direction of it, there was a chance, he could avoid the attack.

Yuuki's sword neared Kirito's back with every nanosecond that passed. As her blade neared its target, Kirito's body was slowly moving towards the left. The sword came down to where her opponent should be. When the sword struck the area, she thought she was bringing it down on, the sword caught nothing but air. Yuuki's attack missed by only one inch.

By missing her attack, Yuuki left herself vulnerable. Kirito spun around and struck Yuuki with his attack and his sword managed to successfully strike the right side of her body. Another large red gash appeared on her torso. Kirito quickly struck Yuuki two more times before she had a chance to strike at him again.

With those strikes, Yuuki felt that nearly all of her health points had been depleted. One of Kirito's strikes had managed to severe her right arm. She saw her right arm shatter to pieces as her sword fell to the ground below. Between these strikes and how much time Yuuki had been using her wings, she could feel that she could no longer maintain her wings. Without the strength to maintain her ability of flight, gravity took hold of Yuuki's body as she began to fall to the ground herself.

As Yuuki fell, she could see the distance between her and Kirito was becoming wider as he became smaller from her point of view. Yuuki held out her hand for a moment in a futile attempt to grab something to stop her descent, but she quickly gave up on that notion. Her long hair looked like it was flying upward as it moved past her face. Yuuki could feel that her descent to the ground was going faster and faster, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

While Yuuki continued her descent to the ground, she thought, "I guess … I guess I lost. Oh well. At least it was to someone good. I wonder if he might be stronger than Ran after all."

Yuuki's fall ended suddenly with a loud crash on the rocky ground. It was the roughest, most uncomfortable landing of her life. When she hit the ground, it felt like she shattered every bone in her virtual body even thought that was not the case. However, Yuuki still seemed to have some life in her. According to her status, her health bar was still about five percent. Technically speaking, the duel was not over yet, but she knew that she had no chance of victory as she saw Kirito descending upon her position, and she could barely move. Yuuki could see that Kirito's wings were outstretched as he slowed his descent to give himself a graceful landing.

As Kirito was about to land, Yuuki noticed that her sword landed nearby, but it was outside of her reach. The tip of the blade hit the ground, and the sword was protruding from it like it was the sword in the stone. Even if she attempted to retrieve it, Kirito would finish her off before she could get up. She doubted she had enough strength to keep moving after the last few hits that she took. Not to mention the fact, she only had one arm now while he still had two.

Kirito landed next to her body and pointed his sword at her neck and told her, "Surrender. I would rather not kill your avatar." By the sound of his voice, Yuuki could tell that he sincerely did not want to kill her avatar. She figured that even though this was a virtual world, Kirito did not like the idea of killing someone's avatar.

With a reluctant voice, Yuuki said, "Okay. I surrender."

Yuuki did not have much of a choice in this scenario. Even if she refused, she was in no position to stop Kirito from finishing her off. Her sword was beyond her reach. Even if she did have it in hand, Kirito probably would have been fast enough to finish her off anyway. It would only take one hit from him to finish her off, and she would probably need at least four to six hits to beat him. She knew that this was her lost, and she accepted it. As much as Yuuki liked fighting and knew this was not like the Sword Art Online Death Game, Yuuki was not a fan of dying in this world. She preferred to do what she could to avoid that. In this case, she gave Kirito her unconditional surrender.

As soon as Yuuki confirmed her surrender, Kirito was declared the winner of this duel. He took out healing items and healed both himself and Yuuki. With Yuuki's health points fully recovered, Kirito offered Yuuki his hand to help her to her feet. Yuuki was more than happy to accept his gesture. Even though Yuuki did not like losing, she was gracious at accepting it.

/

After Kirito helped Yuuki to her feet, Yuuki wasted no time complimenting Kirito. "That was amazing Kirito-san. You really got me good."

Kirito replied, "You were pretty close to doing the same thing to me."

"The key words being 'pretty close.' You managed to get out of the way of my sword right in time. My sword was just inches away from slicing you, but you managed to avoid it and turn the tables on me." Yuuki was clearly amazed by what her opponent had been capable of doing in their duel. "No one other than Ran has ever been able to pull something like that on me before. How were you able to do that?"

"There's not really much to say. I've got pretty good reflexes. I've played a lot of games before coming here, so while some things are new to me, a few things feel natural." While Kirito was not giving the whole story, he was not exactly lying either.

Yuuki scratched the back of her head, as she said, "I know what you mean."

Kirito smiled as he told Yuuki, "Anyway that was a great fight. I'd be happy to have a rematch with you sometime."

Yuuki eagerly asked, "Really?"

Kirito answered, "Not right now."

Yuuki replied in a disappointed and somewhat dejected tone, "Oh. I didn't think you would. Anyway, there's something I got to do. See you later."

"Later." As he saw Yuuki walking away, Kirito thought, "Something tells me she was hoping I would be up for another fight right away."

With the fight over, some of the other members of the Sleeping Knights walked over to talk to Yuuki while Yui flew over to her Papa and said to him, "That was a great fight Papa! You were amazing!"

Kirito happily replied, "Thank you Yui."

"For a second, I thought you were going to lose, but I then I realized that's ridiculous. You're my Papa." Yui proudly said, "No one can beat you."

"I wouldn't go that far Yui." Kirito tried to do his best setting things straight with his AI daughter. "I'm not invincible. I've lost before. I came close to losing this time. If that last attack of hers hit me, that attack could've been a decisive blow that might've been enough to finish me."

Yui stated, "It's a good thing you have such advanced reflexes Papa."

"Yeah." Kirito looked over to see that a majority of the Sleeping Knights were still talking to Yuuki, so he felt it was okay to talk to Yui out in the open for a little bit. Kirito let out a sigh of relief as he said, "Without those reflexes, I would've been toast. I'd rather not rely on that strange regeneration ability that person who trapped me in here gave me. I want to rely on my own skills."

Kirito was referring to how when he received certain injuries, his injuries and health points would usually regenerate far faster than a normal player's would. It was possible it was meant to prevent his Avatar from getting killed. Kirito was not sure what it would mean if his Avatar got killed in this world, so he did not want to take any chances.

"Mmm-hmm," Yui nodded in agreement.

"You know her reaction speed seems pretty similar to Asuna's when we were in the Death Game." Kirito explained, "Before we became friends, Asuna challenged me to a duel, and I was able to win because my reaction time was faster than her attack speed."

Yui asked, "That was when you and Mama had a difference in opinion regarding defeating a boss right?"

Based on his previous conversations with Yui, Kirito did not seem too surprised that Yui witnessed that fight. "That's right."

Yui replied, "I remember watching that fight. That was when I sensed there was hostility between you two."

"Now I can't help but wonder what she didn't see." Kirito could not help but ask, "How could you possibly remember that? You were witnessing a lot of things back then."

Yui answered, "My programming allowed me to remember a lot of players. I also recognized that you two had worked together during the earlier floors which is why it felt peculiar to me that you two would be hostile."

"Thankfully that didn't last too long." Kirito decided to change the subject, "You mentioned how Yuuki and Ran rarely logout right?"

Yui nodded her head, "That's right."

"I wonder how long Ran and Yuuki have been in here to build up reflexes like that." Kirito asked, "I wonder how long it will be before their reaction time surpasses mine."

Yui replied, "I wouldn't worry about it Papa. As long as you keep up your skills they'll never surpass you."

Kirito said in a deadpan voice, "Well I wouldn't mind keeping up my skills after I find a way out of here. I wouldn't want to be capable of keeping up my skills because I still can't get home."

Yui sheepishly replied, "Oh right."

Seeing that some of the other Sleeping Knights were heading his direction to congratulate him on his victory, he told Yui, "We'll talk about this more later."

/

Date: Thursday, November 28th, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Neutral Village Area

While some of the other members of the Sleeping Knights were congratulating Kirito on his victory, Sieunee and Ran stayed to the side. They felt like Kirito was busy enough as it was, and they could talk to him a little later. When Ran saw Yuuki walk away, she considered going after her, but Ran decided to leave Yuuki alone for the time being.

"That was really an amazing fight would you say Ran-san?" Based on the sound of her voice, it seemed like Sieunee had a hard time believing what she had just saw.

"Yes it was." Ran was having a hard time believing what she witnessed too. "It's almost hard to believe Kirito-kun won. I knew he was good, but I didn't think he'd be that good."

Sieunee commented, "Well it was only a matter of time before we met someone who could defeat your sister besides you. He might be strong enough to defeat you too."

"He might be. He just might." Ran appeared to be deep in thought as she said this.

Sieunee patted her friend on the shoulder as she said, "Don't worry about it too much Ran-san. I'm sure you'd probably win. I've seen how incredible you are in the field. You'd be a tough act for him to compete with."

Ran glanced over to her friend. "Thanks."

Sieunee then headed to go congratulate Kirito on his victory. As Ran was left by herself, she continued to look at Kirito as he was surrounded by the other members of the Sleeping Knights. Ran put her hand on her chin as she thought, "Now that I've been able to see more of what he's capable of the more I can see how unnatural these abilities are for a newcomer. However, I know he didn't steal them, and they weren't given to him. The skills and reflexes he has are not the type that someone can cheat to get. They were built up over a long period of time."

Ran thought to how Kirito has reacted to some of the things in this world. "I do believe he's new to this world. I can just tell he wasn't lying about that, but how could he have built up this power. Did he get it from another game?" Ran snapped her fingers at her eureka moment. "That's it. He must have built himself up in another game that's compatible to here and converted his Avatar. That would explain a lot."

No sooner had Ran thought that, she hit a roadblock. "However, what game could be compatible to Alfheim Online? I didn't think there was one. I don't remember it ever being mentioned in any of the forums that converting Avatars from one game to another was possible right now. That would put a damper on this conversion theory unless it involved a game I wasn't thinking of." Then it suddenly dawned on her, "Wait a minute! There might have been one, but that can't be possible. Anyone who was in that game would probably never want to come to the virtual world, so it couldn't even be a possibility. Could it?"

/

As Ran saw Kirito walking in her direction she told herself, "I'll have to think about this later."

When Ran was sure Kirito was within hearing distance of her, she told him, "Congratulations on defeating my sister Kirito-kun. You are the only person besides me to defeat her."

Kirito replied in a playful voice, "I'm honored to have joined such as 'prestigious club.'" Kirito's voice sounded more serious as he told her, "Your sister was definitely not an easy opponent. I can see why so many have lost to her."

"I would hope you wouldn't think Yuuki is an easy opponent." Ran proudly stated, "Yuuki has defeated some of the best players in this game besides me. However, I had a feeling that you'd probably give her a run for her money after how the quest went."

Kirito scratched the back of his head as he replied, "Thanks I guess."

"You're full of surprise though." Ran told Kirito, "I didn't expect you to use your left hand and your ability to use a sword and those reflexes of yours were quite impressive."

"I might as well tell her something." Kirito stated, "In the real world, I did some Kendo with my little sister, so it gave me some experience with swinging a sword. As I may have mentioned before, I also had some experience playing other games which also helped me with my reflexes."

"He's probably skipping a few details, but he does seem to be telling the truth." Ran asked in an interested tone, "Oh so you have a younger sister?"

Kirito answered, "Yeah that's right."

Ran asked in a curious voice, "What's she like?"

"She's a good person who has a lot of spirit." When Kirito thought back to his younger step-sister/cousin, a lot of warm members flooded Kirito's mind as he told Ran, "I think you and the rest of the guild would like her a lot too."

Ran replied, "If she's anything like you Kirito-kun, I'm sure we would."

Hearing Ran call him 'Kirito-kun' reminded Kirito of how Asuna called him that during Sword Art Online. Kirito tried to put that aside as he replied, "You'd be in luck because she's better than me in a lot of ways."

"Is that so?" Ran was curious about that last thing Kirito, said, but she decided not to inquire any further with that and said, "In that case, I'd definitely like to meet her. Does she have an account here?"

"None that I know of." Kirito stated in a sad tone, "She never really liked video games or the virtual world for that matter."

This was something that Ran could not ignore as asked in a concerned tone, "Is something wrong Kirito-kun?"

"Not really." Kirito sighed as he tried to change his tone. "I just wanted to say thank you for letting me stay with your guild."

While Ran was rather surprised by Kirito's words as she responded, "You're welcome, but what brought this on all of a sudden?"

Kirito put his hand through his hair before he answered, "Well it's only been over a week since I met you all, but this has been a fun experience. Some of the most fun I've had in a while. I wanted to make sure you knew that."

"I hope this doesn't mean you plan on leaving us anytime soon." Ran stated, "Having you around has really helped spice things up around here."

Kirito reassured Ran, "I don't plan on leaving right now, but you never know what can happen in life. Sometimes unexpected things are not always good things." As he was saying this, Kirito thought to how the Black Cats were killed in a trap or how he and Asuna were separated after the game ended, "I've come to learn that it is a good idea to try and be honest. That way there are no misunderstandings or unresolved issues later, especially when you might not be in a position to do anything about them."

"That's understandable. In that case, I want you to know that I think you're a strong warrior, and you're a kind person." Ran told Kirito in a sincere tone, "Your sister and friends are lucky to have you."

This caused Kirito to lightly blush as he replied in an embarrassed tone, "Thanks."

While Kirito was talking with Ran, Yui was sitting in his pocket observing the conversation, but she did not say a word this time. Instead she thought, "There's usually something strange about Papa whenever he talks to Ran-san. Is it because Ran-san is kind of similar to Mama? I know Papa loves Mama, but I hope he's not tempted by Ran-san."

"It was the truth." Ran truly meant what she said.

"Thanks." Kirito attempted to awkwardly excuse himself by saying, "Anyway, if you'll excuse me, there's something I'd like to check out."

As soon as Kirito said that, Ran thought, "I can't help but feel a lot of people are using that excuse to put an end to conversations." Ran politely responded, "Of course. I understand. I'll talk to you later."

"Okay." As Kirito began to walk past Ran, he told her, "See ya later."

Ran's eyes continued to follow Kirito as he walked away. While she was watching him, she thought, "If I'm right about him, I can't help but wonder about what deeper meanings there are behind his words. For all I know, he might have lost more than me. If that's true, I don't think I'd envy being him."

/

Date: Friday, November 29th, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Taruken's Room

It was early in the morning and Taruken was in the middle of writing an entry regarding the fight between Kirito and Yuuki when he heard a knocking at his door. He turned around and said, "The door's open. Come on in."

Taruken was surprised that his guest was Ran. Normally, he would have thought it would either be Merida or Nori. He even said, "Hello Ran-san. I didn't expect to see you here."

Ran asked in a teasing voice, "Were you expecting Nori-san?"

Taruken did not appear to catch onto Ran's teasing as he casually replied, "She's usually the person would be knocking on my door. Anyway, what can I do for you?" Before waiting for Ran to give him an answer, Taruken said, "Did you want to talk to me about that fight yesterday? If you're concerned, I'm pretty sure Kirito-san did not cheat. Everything seemed fair and square to me. It was really quite a fight."

Ran answered, "Actually, I wasn't really concerned about that. I never thought Kirito-san cheated or anything."

Taruken replied, "Oh that's good. Have you talked to Yuuki about it?"

"She told me that she wanted to think about a few things on her own, so I'm giving her some space for now." Ran almost seemed troubled by that.

"I see. I can understand that. It was a pretty close fight and she lost because she missed a key strike. I can imagine that would be frustrating for anyone." Taruken stated, "She did give that impression when we tried talking to her before."

Ran stated, "I'd imagine so, but I'd rather talk about something else if you don't mind."

Taruken replied, "Sure. What is it?"

Ran got right to the point, "I heard Alfheim Online was created using the same technology that created Sword Art Online. Do you think that's true?"

This was a topic that Taruken was not expecting, but it was something that interested him. Taruken put his hand to his chin as he replied, "Hmm. I think it probably is. Based on the short time span between the release of this game and Sword Art Online, it seems logical that Recto Progress recycled Argus' technology and data after the company went bankrupt and had to sell its assets. Argus was the first company to complete a virtual reality so successfully while their competition seemed to be far behind them."

Ran asked, "If that's the case, do you think it's possible that any old programs with that game could be compatible here?"

That question caused Taruken to raise an eyebrow as he asked, "Why do you ask that?"

Ran answered, "I'm just curious about that."

Instead of trying to inquire further, Taruken decided to consider Ran's question. "Well I guess that might be possible. It'd probably be the equivalent to how certain video game consoles are backwards compatible. From my understanding the Nerve Gears that Argus created are compatible with Alfheim Online."

"They are?" Ran seemed surprised by this bit of information as she asked, "Why would Recto Progress allow that?"

"It might have been done so people who already bought the Nerve Gear would not feel forced to buy something else right away to enjoy virtual reality." Taruken further explained, "Besides, the new device's technology and what we use was based on the Nearve Gear's capabilities, except for the possible brain microwaving feature. They wanted to avoid that from ever becoming a possibility for the new product. Needless to say, most Nerve Gear users have converted to the new technology or abandoned the idea of virtual reality because they wanted to avoid becoming victims of someone attempting to recreate the Sword Art Online incident."

"Hmm." Ran considered what Taruken said, "I suppose that makes sense."

Taruken replied, "While this world is backwards compatible with the Nerve Gears, I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to test out whether the data within Sword Art Online would be compatible too. Wasn't everything deleted after the game was cleared a few weeks ago? Some of the online articles I've read indicate that survivors of Sword Art Online stated the game was destroyed after they logged out."

"I'm not too sure about that." Ran stated, "I heard some players are still in their comas, so I don't think everything was deleted."

"You heard right about that." Taruken asked, "There are three hundred people that are even more unfortunate than we are don't you think?"

Ran replied in an uncertain tone, "I guess."

"When I think about it, I feel like all of the victims are people I wouldn't want to trade places with them. I'd rather my head not be blown up when I die or even be threatened with a death like that." Taruken shivered at the idea of his head being blown to bits. "At least when the disease kills me, my body will probably still be in one piece." Taruken sighed as he mused, "I can't imagine how that game destroyed so many families. It must've been so horrible for them. I know how much my condition has affected my family, but they know the process for me is slow. For those families, I bet almost all of those victims were healthy and it just happened so suddenly without warning. I can't comprehend how they must've felt having a family member or friend ripped away like that."

"I don't think I can comprehend something like that either. However, it does make me think about how ironic the virtual world can be. It brought some together while it shattered others." Ran looked directly in Taruken's eyes as she told him, "None of us probably would've met if it hadn't been for the virtual world. Nor would we have been able to have all this fun."

Taruken replied, "I know. It goes to show that a lot of things have a double edged sword, and the virtual world is no exception."

"Yeah." Ran scratched the back of her head, "I guess it also sometimes being in the virtual world has caused me to forget what's going on with my real body too."

Taruken reassured Ran, "You wouldn't be the only one guilty of that. Anyway, is there a special reason you decided to ask me about this?"

Ran replied, "Not really. I was just curious about a few things in the real world since I haven't gone out there too much recently, and I know you've logout more than us."

Taruken seemed to buy that excuse as he said, "That's true. If you want me to look up anything for you in the real world, I'll be glad to."

Ran was happy to hear Taruken make that offer, "I'll be sure to keep that in mind. Thanks."

Taruken smiled. "No problem."

/

Date: Friday, November 29th, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Kirito's Room

Similar to Taruken, Kirito was writing something as well. He was using the paper that Taruken had given him. While he had his back turned, Yui transformed from her Navigation Pixie to her normal body. There was something on her mind that she wanted to talk to her Papa about, but she was having difficulty coming up with the right words. It was awkward for Yui to say anything, and she was having difficulty looking at her Papa.

Without looking at Yui, he said, "Hey Yui."

Yui hastily asked, "Yes Papa?"

Kirito said, "Remember when Taruken gave me this paper and he told us about that special class he was taking?"

Yui replied, "Yes."

"Well it's been a few days since he told me that." Kirito asked in a curious voice, "Do you think what Taruken told me about being in a special class sounds legit? He seemed like he was telling me the truth when he said it."

"There were no signs that Taruken-san was deceiving us." Yui stated, "Out of all the Sleeping Knights, he's the one who does leave the virtual world the most. That would add some credibility to his story."

Kirito inquired further, "What about the other Sleeping Knights? Have you felt any of them leave over the past few days?"

"Actually, I have felt some of them leave once in a while." Yui thought about how often she's felt some of them leave before telling her Papa, "It's possible they attended that special program Taruken-san mentioned."

Kirito asked, "If that's true, wouldn't it mean that they are basically logged in all the time besides occasionally going to this special program?"

Yui replied, "Based on this logic yes."

Kirito scratched his head as he thought about the implications of this. "In that case, I wonder if there's something wrong with them in the real world. I understand the virtual world can be addicting, but this would be taking it to another level." Many thoughts were going through Kirito's head as he said, "They seem to more or less be living here rather than the real world, and they actually have the option to leave."

"Unfortunately, I have no information regarding anything like that." Yui's mind was drawing a blank on what possibilities she could tell her Papa, "When I was being programmed for Sword Art Online, was not made aware of too many possibilities regarding the real world."

"Well I suppose that's something we can think about another time." Kirito asked, "However, do you think it's likely that they might not be aligned with the Game Master after all?"

"It is difficult to say." Yui replied, "However, based on our observations, they don't appear to be a threat. The different Sleeping Knights, especially Taruken-san, Nori-san, and Ran-san, were genuinely kind to you. However, I've noticed that they seem suspicious of you sometimes."

"Yeah. You warned me of that before." Kirito stated, "I could never really blame them for feeling a little suspicious about me. I've done a few things that would seem strange." Kirito then reminded his AI daughter in a polite voice, "Not to mention Taruken was suspicious of you when you decided to talk to him." Yui looked a little sheepish after hearing her Papa say that, "However, it couldn't have been that bad since it hasn't really been an issue right? They've continued acting nice to me this whole time."

Yui reminded her Papa, "My abilities to read players emotions are more limited, but they seem to be fine with you. Their friendly nature towards you has appeared to be genuine."

"That's a relief." Kirito sighed, "I always felt that they were good people, but I'm just not sure what to really make out of them. Even though I'm sure that they aren't working with whoever is keeping me locked up in here, a part of me has still been afraid of that possibility."

Yui stated, "None of them strike me as the type that are hostile or sadistic. I think they really are players here even if there is something more to them."

"I couldn't picture any of them being like that." Even though Kirito had been sure that was the case, he liked receiving a confirmation. "Not with the way I've seen them interact with each other or the way they've treated me."

Yui asked, "You really like this guild don't you?"

"Yeah. They're a fun bunch of people, especially Ran." Kirito's voice was filled with admiration as he said, "When that quest began, I liked how she was giving everyone orders. She knew to keep calm and what to tell the group. Even if everything didn't go too smoothly, we still won."

"…" Yui remained silent, but a frown formed on her face and she looked down as her Papa was making these comments.

After a few moments passed, Kirito noticed Yui's silence and glanced in her direction and noticed that something seemed off about her. "Is something the matter Yui?"

Yui looked up and replied, "Hey Papa. I know you're busy with your writing, but can I talk to you about something?"

Kirito put his pen down and told his adopted AI daughter, "Of course you can Yui. You can talk to me about anything."

"Are you sure?" Yui appeared to be nervous when she said that.

"Is everything okay Yui?" Kirito was concerned about his AI daughter, "You're acting kind of like how I was the other day. Did something happen?"

Yui answered, "Not exactly, but something has been bothering me."

Kirito tried to reassure Yui, "Whatever it is. You can tell me."

Taking up her Papa's invitation, Yui bluntly asked, "Do you have feelings for Ran-san?"

"Um … wh … what?" Kirito was taken aback by Yui's rather unexpected question.

Yui repeated her question, "Do you have feelings for Ran-san?"

Before answering Yui's question, Kirito asked, "What brought this on?"

"I've seen how you've talked to her, including how you talked to her after your fight with Yuuki-san." Yui explained, "I'm not sure how to put this into words I noticed how you had a few emotional shifts and your heartbeat changed when you talked to her. It reminds me of some of your interactions with Mama. I understand that you were together with Mama because you had 'feelings' for her, which originated from such interactions. That's why I'm asking you if you have feelings for Ran-san."

Kirito was still surprised that he was having this conversation with Yui, but he promised her that she could talk to him about anything, so he would attempt to make good on his promise. However, it proved to be difficult for him as he hesitantly said, "It's … It's not really like that."

Yui inquired further, "Then what is it like?"

Kirito put his hand on his head as he replied, "Could you give me a chance to explain. It's not an easy answer."

"… Okay." Yui knew it would not do either of them any good if she did not give her Papa a chance to tell her the truth. Kirito got up from his seat and told Yui it would be for the best if she sat down because it was going to be a long explanation.

After Kirito was finished rubbing his head, he began to tell Yui, "After we first met all the Sleeping Knights, you warned me not to get attached to them. Unfortunately, I did. Being around them has been pretty fun. I like how these guild members are not only friends, but they seem to treat each other like family too. Despite the fact they rarely logout of this world, I don't feel like I should worry about them stabbing me in the back." Kirito's voice sounded happy as he told Yui, "It's nice being around some players who don't know anything about the whole 'Beater' fiasco or anything like that. Not to mention, a few of them remind me of some of my friends from Sword Art Online. I could see them getting along with each other."

"…" Yui remained silent as she let Kirito continue his explanation.

"Taruken is a smart guy who seems creative. I could picture him and Lizbeth getting along pretty well, and I bet she'd get along with Nori too since the two of them both would probably have a few things in common too." Kirito began picturing his various friends from Sword Art Online interacting with the Sleeping Knights. "I bet Silica would get along with Clovis since he can tame monsters. I bet Clovis would be impressed with how Silica tamed Pina, and Silica would probably like Merida's music. Agil and Thatch are both the 'big guys' of the different groups, so I could see those two taking a liking to each other." Kirito thought to how Klein tried to hit on Asuna before the Gleam Eyes fight, "Klein would probably be awkward around the girls at first, but I'm sure he'd have no problem becoming friends with all of them."

After listening to Kirito say that, Yui interjected, "What about the others?"

"With Suienne's personality I can't really picture anyone." Kirito thought, "She kind of reminds me of Sachi." Kirito went on to say, "Yuuki is a bit eccentric, but I'm sure they'd get used to her rather easily. Then there's Ran. I remember how a part of me mistakened her for Asuna. She has a resemblance to Asuna, and they do have a few personality traits that complement each other. They're both extremely determined to meet larger goals. Ran wants to accomplish something to make her guild famous and Asuna did her best to help lead the frontlines in completing the Death Game." As Kirito spoke, there was a feeling of admiration emitting from him that Yui could sense. "They both took small steps in order to meet the bigger the goal. They're both kind people who care about others, and they're leaders who people both respect and love. Although Asuna did tell me that she was pretty rough to her subordinates, but Ran and her might have that in common because I can see Ran being like that too."

Yui knew that was not all to what Kirito had to say. She could sense it. "There's even more to this isn't there?"

"It's hard to hide anything from her isn't it?" Kirito admitted, "Yes. During the quest, my vision as a little blurry after I transformed back to my human or Spriggan form. While my vision was blurry, I thought I saw Asuna, but it was really just Ran fighting." When Kirito told Yui this, Yui's eyes were wide open. She did not expect her Papa to tell her something like that, but she could tell that he was not lying.

Kirito held out his hand and looked down at it for a moment before continuing, "Aside from feeling Asuna's hand, I felt that moment was the closets I had to meeting Asuna again. Sometimes when I talk to Ran, I feel like she is closest thing I have to Asuna. I know it's probably not right nor fair to her, but I can't help but feel that way sometimes. Some of those similarities are a little too hard for me to get over. A part of the reason I thought the Sleeping Knights might be working for whoever is keeping me here is because of Ran's resemblance to Asuna. Sure they don't look 'identical,' but the resemblance is enough to surprise anyone. The way she used that attack earlier. The speed and accuracy of those movements made me think of Asuna. I couldn't help but think Asuna would do a move like that. Not to mention it's funny how her twin sister's name is the same as Asuna's family name." Kirito could see that he was starting to get off track, so he tried to get back to his point. "Anyway, I guess it has caused me to have some feelings or her. However, I don't love Ran. I admire her, but I don't love her. I can assure you Yui that I had no intention on acting on any of these feelings."

"…" Yui was silent again. She seemed to be considering what her Papa was telling her. It was hard to tell whether she believed him or not.

Kirito rubbed his forehead as he told Yui, "I know this might be hard for you to understand Yui, but it's not unusual for someone to feel an attraction to more than one person. However, what really sets people apart is whether or not they act on those feelings." Kirito was beginning to sound a little desperate as he told Yui, "I would never betray your Mama. I love her, and there is no one else that could make me feel like that no matter how much she resembles her. You believe me don't you?"

After thinking about Kirito's words, Yui sincerely replied, "Yes. I believe you Papa."

Kirito breathed a sigh of relief, "You really do?"

Yui replied, "I can tell you are telling me the truth. I wasn't too afraid that you would be unfaithful to Mama, but I was a little troubled by some of your interactions with Ran-san. I didn't want you to be confused or something."

"You don't have to worry." Kirito reassured Yui, "Ran may remind me of Asuna, but in the end she's just a friend, and she'll never be more than that. I guarantee it."

Yui smiled and she believed her Papa without a doubt. She was feeling much better than she did a few minutes ago. It was proof that it is better to not keep things bottled up. Otherwise, it could cause problems later on.

Kirito stated, "Anyway, since we are talking about you Mama, there's something else I should say."

Yui asked, "What's that?"

Everyday I'm trapped in here, I always find myself wondering what Asuna is doing or what she had done today." Kirito sadly stated, "I try not to think about it, but I can't stop myself from thinking like that. I want to be in a position, so I can ask her that rather than needing to always think about that."

Yui asked, "What do you think she's doing?"

Kirito answered, "They're probably putting her and other Sword Art Online survivors through physical therapy."

Yui asked in a curious voice, "What is physical therapy?"

"You probably don't know this, but in the real world our bodies have probably become nearly useless since we haven't been able to move them for two years." Kirito explained, "They would put our bodies through physical therapy, so we can regain full use of them."

"I think I understand." Yui then stated, "Whatever else Mama is doing besides that I'm sure she's doing her best."

Kirito replied, "I hope you're right."

/

Date: Friday, November 29th, 2024

Location: Real World – Hospital

Later that day in the real world, Yuuki Asuna and Kirito's step sister/cousin, Kirigaya Suguha, had agreed to meet at the hospital to pay his body a visit. After meeting each other for the first time less than two weeks earlier, both Asuna and Suguha appeared to be on good terms. However, neither one had really said too much to the other yet.

After they met each other at the hospital, Asuna's escort let Suguha take over pushing Asuna's wheelchair. The two of them wanted to be alone in Kirito's hospital room. When they entered the room, they encountered Kirito's nurse Aki who was finishing up her check up on Kirito's vitals.

When the door opened, Nurse Aki turned around to see Asuna and Suguha. She smiled as she asked in a polite tone, "Here for another visit are we?"

Asuna was pleased to see Nurse Aki as she answered, "Yes we are."

Aki smiled as she told them, "I'm sure Kazuto-kun will be happy that you tow have visited him so much while he was asleep." She told them, "Just give me a few more minutes, and I'll be out of the way."

Suguha replied, "Okay. Thank you again for everything you've done for my brother."

"It's not a problem Suguha-chan." Aki stated, "It's my job after all."

Asuna commented, "You do it well." It was hard for Nurse Aki not to keep smiling after hearing that.

/

Date: Friday, November 29th, 2024

Location: Real World – Hospital – Kirito's Room

After a few minutes passed, Nurse Aki was finished with what she needed to do, and she left Asuna and Suguha in Kirito's room. She trusted them not to cause any problems. There was something else she felt that she needed to do anyway.

As usual, Kirito had a peaceful look on his face while still having the Nerve Gear on his head. It looked like he would just wake up anytime. As much as Asuna and Suguha wanted that to be the case, they knew it was unlikely. At least for the time being, it looked like Kirito and several hundred other Sword Art Online survivors would not be awakening from their comas anytime soon. As far as everyone could tell, Kayaba Akihiko was still at large, and he was the only one who could fix this.

For a while, both Asuna and Suguha were silent. It was difficult for the two of them to break the ice which made things awkward. Three weeks ago, Suguha did not know Asuna existed until her mother told her that they would be meeting someone who claimed to have met her brother in the Death Game. She was surprised that her brother became friends with someone who would want to track him down, and she was even more surprised that she apparently married him in the game. It was a lot for her to take in. However, Suguha could tell that Asuna was a good person, and she should give Asuna a chance.

Suguha was sitting in a chair next to Kirito's bed, and she was looking directly at Asuna. The first words that came out of Suguha's mouth after Nurse Aki left were, "Asuna during the Death Game you always knew my brother by a username right?"

"That's right. He didn't tell me his real name until the game was ending." Asuna sheepishly admitted, "Of course I didn't tell him my real name until that point either. Would you like to know what his username was?"

Suguha shook her head. "I don't think he'd want you to tell me something like that."

Asuna replied, "You're right. He probably wouldn't."

"I'd rather him tell me what his username was when he wants to." Suguha looked to her side to as she said, "However, I would like you to tell me what he was like during those two years in the virtual world if you don't mind. I want to know what kind of person he was in Sword Art Online."

Asuna replied, "An answer like that would take a while."

Suguha looked over to Asuna and told her, "You don't have to tell me the whole story right now. I'd be fine with receiving it in increments."

"That's makes things easier. I can tell you from the first time we met, he proved to be very heroic." Asuna happily told Suguha, "When we first met, he saved my life in a dungeon without hesitation. After I was knocked unconscious, he dragged me out of the dungeon. He didn't even know who I was. He just did it."

Suguha chuckled as she said, "Sounds like he made a good first impression with you."

"Actually, that didn't quite happen." Asuna's voice sounded sheepish again as she told Suguha, "Normally, that would've been the case, but we actually got off to a rather awkward start after I woke up. When I came to, we were outside the dungeon instead of thanking him, I actually accused him of possibly being a pervert and threatened him."

Suguha looked at Asuna in disbelief as she asked, "Seriously?"

Asuna replied with a hint of shame, "Yeah."

Suguha commented, "Talk about starting things on the wrong foot."

"Tell me about it, and it was entirely my fault too." There was more shame in Asuna's voice as she said, "When I think back on it, I should have been more grateful. I may have more or less thanked him later, but I should've been nicer. I know I was on edge because this was a Death Game and everything, but it's not really an excuse."

Suguha asked in a deadpan voice, "Obviously, there are a lot more stories that are much better than this right? After all, you two did end up getting married in the virtual world."

"Of course. There's plenty that are better, but there are a few that are unfortunately much worse." Asuna voice sounded rather sad as she told Suguha, "Kirito went through some pretty hard times in Sword Art Online. I tried to help him through some of them, but other times there was not much I could do, or I wasn't even around to help him."

Suguha replied, "You must have a lot of stories to tell."

"That's right." Asuna chuckled, "I have so many stories I could probably write a book or something."

"Well I want to know as much as I can." Suguha stated, "I want to know both the good and the bad."

Asuna promised, "I'll be sure to tell you what I can."

Suguha sighed, "You know I'm a little envious of you."

Asuna asked, "Huh?"

Suguha doubled back as she told Asuna, "I don't envy the fact you were in a Death Game and nearly got killed. I envy the fact you have stories to tell about my brother. You really got to know him over the past two years and see how he changed. The only thing I can say is that I've visited his unconscious body at his hospital room hoping that he'd wake up, so I don't really have much to say."

"As I just promised, I'll be more than happy to tell you everything that I know." Asuna did her best to smile as she told Suguha, "Bit by bit. You'll know everything you need to know about your brother when he wakes up."

"I look forward to hearing them." It made Suguha happy to hear Asuna say that, "Hopefully they'll be better than the first one you told me."

Asuna replied, "Like I said, a number of them will be better, but a few of them would be some of the 'bumps' the two of us hit."

"I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by that." Suguha thought back to how her relationship with her brother became rather rocky during the last few years before his imprisonment in Sword Art Online. "I've seen more than my fair share of bumps. Anyway, I know this is short notice, but would you like to come over to my house this weekend."

"You'd like me to come over?" Asuna seemed surprised by the sudden invitation.

"My mom and I said you'd be welcome to come over. Since you did become my brother's wife in the game, I guess that makes me your sister-in-law." Both Asuna and Suguha chuckled when she said that. "I'd like to get to know you better. I'd like to know the person my brother fell in love with. That won't happen if I only meet you at the hospital to visit my brother. Since you two got together in the Sword Art Online, I'd like to become your friend."

Asuna happily told Suguha, "I'd like to become your friend as well. I'll be happy to come over." Asuna held out her hand. It was a little shaky when she held it out, but she was strong enough to do something that simple.

Suguha grabbed Asuna's hand and shook it gently since she did not want to hurt Asuna. "I look forward to it. Would Sunday morning be good for you?"

Asuna replied, "Sure."

/

Date: Friday, November 29th, 2024

Location: Outside the Hospital

As Asuna and Suguha were talking to each other in Kirito's room, Nurse Aki was in the alleyway outside of the hospital. She was in the middle of a phone call with someone. She made sure that no one was anywhere within the immediate vicinity of her as she began talking to this person. She did not want anyone to overhear her conversation. After she was sure that everything was okay, Nurse Aki made her phone call.

"Asuna-san has paid another visit to Kazuto-kun." Aki stated, "She appears to be very devoted to him."

"So it would appear her affections for the young man was genuine then?" The speaker on the other end of the phone belonged to none to Kikuoka Seijiriou who was leading an investigation into why the three hundred players remained in their comas.

Aki replied with all certainty, "Without a doubt sir. I've see the way she is and how she looks at him. I can tell she's always hoping this is the day he'll wake up only to see her be disappointed when he doesn't. She would never wish to harm him."

"I'm glad to know I was right about her." Kikuoka sounded genuinely pleased to hear this, "True love can be a remarkable thing."

"Yes it can be." Aki asked, "Do you wish for me to keep an eye on her?"

Kikuoka ordered, "Yes. Not just her, but keep an eye on anyone who tries to talk to her when in the hospital or in the area."

"Understood." Aki declared, "I'll do that from now on to the best of my ability."

Kikuoka stated, "I'm sure you will."

/

Date: Saturday, November 30th, 2024

Location: Kikuoka's Office

Kikuoka had his other investigators Jiro and Katsu gather in his office. Jiro and Katsu sat in the chairs across from Kikuoka's desk. The two of them were hoping that Kikuoka would have some news for them since they have not had too much luck over the past few weeks.

Katsu "Have your informants told you anything useful yet?" Katsu appeared rather eager to know the answer while Jiro was not as hopeful.

Kikuoka replied, "Agil has not been able to tell me much since he and the other survivors are still going through physical therapy. However, the Sword Art Online survivors that he's reunited with have agreed to occasionally meet up at his Café as a social gathering after they regain more use of their bodies. It's possible he might notice something useful when that happens."

Jiro stated, "That seems doubtful. And the other one?"

Kikuoka answered, "Aki more or less confirmed that Asuna-san is not directly involved in what happened."

Katsu seemed confused by what Kikuoka said, "I thought you ruled out Yuuki-san as a suspect from the get go?"

"Not quite." Kikuoka tone sounded far more serious as he reminded Katsu, "I told you before that I didn't rule out any possibilities, but I considered Asuna's level of suspicion to be low. Since we didn't actually investigate her beyond that interview, I didn't have enough to go on to truly rule her out. Now I believe I can. However, I believe it would be good to review what progress we've made on our investigation so far."

"Fine." Katsu and Jiro pulled out all the documents they gathered in their respective folders and placed them on Kikuoka's desk. Katsu stated, "So far we've investigated Yuuki Asuna, her immediate family, and some of her friends from Sword Art Online thoroughly. So far it doesn't look like we're getting any bites."

Jiro stated, "Based on what I've seen, I highly doubt that any of these people are responsible for what's happened."

"My investigation has not borne fruit either." Kikuoka did not seem deterred as he stated unflinchingly, "However, we will not let that stop us. Now we move on and turn our attention to others, such as known family friends of the Yuuki family, such as Fujimoto Akira, Akiyama Saki, Sugou Nobiyuki, Tachibana Mariko, and Nakano Kouta. Most of these people might have been in a position that could have affected the outcome of Sword Art Online. Now let's see who we can rule out next and come closer to nailing the real culprit."

Both Jiro and Katsu replied, "Yes sir."

/

Date: Tuesday, December 1, 2024 – Night Time

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Kirito's Room

Kirito had been completing quests with the Sleeping Knights for about two weeks now. Thanks to their help, Kirito and Yui had explored more than half of the Imp Zone. Progress had been a little slower due to all the mountains and caves. While Kirito's wings could have allowed him to cover a lot of ground faster, it was not ideal for doing a thorough investigation. Unfortunately, despite Kirito's efforts, there have been no signs of any other players from Sword Art Online. Kirito and Yui felt it was unlikely that they would see any signs of players in the other areas either. While they were enjoying their time with the Sleeping Knights, it gave them a nice distraction. It was hard to ignore the fact that they were still getting nowhere, and they might have to move on.

Just as Kirito was getting ready to turn in for the night, Kirito received a notification on his screen. Kirito had a feeling that this was something that could not wait. The moment he looked at the specifics of the notification, his eyes widened in disbelief. He could not believe who just sent him this message.

Yui noticed her Papa's reaction and asked, "What is it Papa?"

Kirito replied, "I just received a message."

Yui asked in a curious voice, "Who's it from?"

"If what I'm reading is correct, it's from the Game Master." Kirito seemed to be having a hard time believing what he was saying.

"The Game Master?" Yui's voice seemed to intensify when she said those words.

"That's right." Kirito opened the message and read that it was an invitation to an upcoming tournament. "Well isn't this interesting."

Yui nervously asked, "What does the message say Papa?"

"The Game Master just sent me an invitation to a tournament that he plans on hosting." Kirito stated, "He promises 'major awards' for the victor."

"Do you think that means he has been watching us this whole time?" Yui stated, "It feels a little convenient that he would just gave you this invitation right after we've explored a number of territories, and we weren't that far away from moving to the next one."

"I remember what I told you before Yui? I mentioned that he might be monitoring us." Yui nodded her head in acknowledgment. "Well I guess this convenient invitation proves it."

Yui asked, "Are you going to accept it?"

"Of course I will." Kirito hit the confirmation button to indicate he would be interested in participating in the upcoming tournament. "If I don't try to do something, I'll never leave this world. This might be some kind of test he wants to see me pass or something. If I win, I might finally be able to confront this Game Master face-to-face."

Yui declared, "Whether that's the case or not, you don't have to worry Papa. I'll be with you every step of the way. I promised I'd help you reunite with Mama, and I will."

Kirito smiled, "Thanks Yui. I don't know what I would do without you."

Yui smirked as she replied, "Not a lot."

Kirito laughed at Yui's comment as he confirmed that he would be taking part in the upcoming tournament. Little did Kirito know that there would be far less than what he hoped for awaiting him in the near future.

The invitation Kirito received were distributed to every active player in the world of Alfheim Online. The ratio of players who accepted to players that declined were relatively low. A lot of players were afraid of looking like fools in front of others in a tournament. It as one thing to be killed on the field when only a handful of players would see you. It was another if a stadium filled with players watched it happen. Only the truly confident players dared to say yes.

/

Date: Tuesday, December 1, 2024 – Night Time

Location: Alfheim Online – Slyph Territory – Lord's Mansion

The newly elected Lord of the Slyphs, Delano, had contacted his confidant Michiko to discuss the upcoming event. When Michiko entered the room, he saw Delano had his back turned from the door, and he was going through his menu checking through several things. Delano glanced over his shoulder when he heard the door open.

After Michiko entered the room, he had a good idea what the conversation was going to be about. He asked in a curious voice, "Lord Delano I take it that you received an invitation as well?"

Delano turned around and replied, "Yes I did, and before you ask, I've accepted it. It would be for the best if I represent the Slyphs in this upcoming tournament."

Michiko replied, "That doesn't surprise me at all. However, aren't you worried that if you get killed in this tournament, it could cost us a lot of problems?"

Delano stated, "You don't have to worry about that for two reasons."

"What reasons are those?" Michiko asked in a curious tone.

"One, I won't be killed in this tournament." Delano stated in a confident tone, "Two, the invitation I received read that I would not need to worry about any of those 'Lord Death' rules. Even if I did die, it would not affect our territory. The tournament more or less suspends these rules similar to how the Olympics would temporarily suspend conflicts in Ancient Greece."

Michiko was relieved to hear that. "That's good to know. In that case, you can fight on till your heart's content."

"I'm sure I will." Delano then asked, "What about you? Have you accepted it?"

Michiko nodded, "Yes sir. I have. Would you not have wanted me to?"

"No. I'm actually pleased you did." Delano smiled as he replied, "At least I know I'll have some decent competition to contend with."

Michiko asked, "Do you think Sakaya or Sigrud will accept the invitation too?"

"It's hard to say." Delano considered the possibilities, "They are both good fighters, but they both know I'd accept the invitation and neither one stands a chance against me, but I suppose we'll have to wait and see."

Due to Delano only being recently elected as the Lord of the Slyphs, he had until recently been training intensely. He knew that his time to train would be drastically reduced after he began his time as Lord, so he wanted to avoid being too weak. Delano made arrangements that he would be able to keep up some level of his training even after his reign began. The tournament was coming at a rather convenient time for him.

Michiko replied in a concerned tone, "I'm sure that General Eugene will accept his invitation, so we should be careful of him."

"He's more than welcome to. If he has the misfortune to fight me then I'll be glad to crush him in front of everyone." Delano seemed certain that he would definitely win.

Michiko smiled as she stated, "That would be a sight to see."

Delano then asked her, "I'm sure that boyfriend of yours Juho will be accepting the invitation too."

Michiko lightly blushed as she told Delano, "He's not my boyfriend, but you're probably right. I'm sure I'll be seeing him there too."

/

Date: Tuesday, December 1, 2024 – Night Time

Location: Alfheim Online – Salamander Territory – Lord's Mansion

The current lord of the Salamanders, Mortimer, was also discussing the recent opportunity that they all received notification too. He was accompanied by his younger brother General Eugene and another member of his fighting forces, Juho, who was a childhood friend of Michiko. Mortimer had declined the invitation because his specialty was more in strategizing rather than fighting, but General Eugene and Juho were more than willing to accept the invitations. Mortimer was certain that either of those two would be victorious.

Mortimer stated, "I have to admit that this is quite an unexpected surprise."

Juho replied, "Yes my lord I did not see that coming. However, this could prove an excellent opportunity for us."

General Eugene concurred, "My thoughts exactly. We'll be able to prove the superiority of the salamander to not only the Slyphs and the Cait Siths, but to the rest of the world as well."

"As much as I appreciate your enthusiasm brother, you should be careful about what you say." Mortimer warned General Eugene, "I wouldn't want you to get overconfident and lose early in this upcoming tournament. After all, overconfidence can be your downfall. Besides, we don't even know how this tournament will work out. The invitation didn't give us too many specifics about the rules."

General Eugene: "I appreciate the concern, but it's hardly necessary. I'm going to win. That's all there is to it."

/

Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2024

Location: Alfheim Online – Imp Zone – Alpines Area – Kirito's Room

Kirito had a feeling that this tournament would probably be 'legitimate' to an extent. He doubted that this Game Master would only send one invitation. Based on what Kirito figured out, this Game Master enjoyed toying with him. Chances were, he sent this invitation to all the players in Alfheim Online because he wanted to see Kirito fight.

Shortly after Kirito woke up, he saw that Ran was having 'breakfast.' Similar to the real world and Sword Art Online, it was important for players to keep their Avatar's fed. However, she was eating it slower than she needed to. It was if she was savoring this moment.

He sat next to her and decided to make some small talk. He asked, "Did you all receive that invitation for the upcoming tournament?"

After she was finished swallowing some food, Ran replied, "We all did. It was quite an unexpected surprise."

Kirito asked, "Did you all accept the invitation?"

Ran replied, "I can't speak for my other guild members yet, but I accepted it right away. I think some of them wanted to think more on it."

"I had a feeling that would probably be the case. I wonder who else decided to accept the invitation too." Kirito casually commented, "It looks like the two of us will be competitors this time."

Ran replied, "We are going to have wait and see how the game master plans on arranging this tournament. It's possible that the two of us will end up on different brackets."

"I think that would be rather interesting if it ends up being the case." Kirito commented, "Your sister told me that you're an even stronger player than her, and she was a tough one to beat."

Ran chuckled as she playfully boasted, "Well there is a reason why I'm the one in charge of this guild."

Kirito: "In that case, I do hope we are in different brackets, then we can face each other in the final match."

Ran playfully replied, "If that happens, I'm sure our battle will be a fight of a lifetime. You can be sure of that."

Kirito thought, "Well I've definitely had more than one fight of a lifetime. I guess I could use one that is not as life threatening. Regardless, I need to win this no matter what."

/

Omake:

Asuna: I don't envy you Kirito-kun.

Kirito: Me neither. Most of those Laughing Coffin guys are bent on getting revenge on me.

Asuna: You really can't catch a break can you?

Kirito: No I can't, but this wouldn't really be a Knowledgeseeker66 story if I did. Even if I did get a break, chances are something would happen soon afterwards.

Asuna: Kind of like how things are going with the Sleeping Knights.

Kirito: Yep. Pretty much. I might be having a good time with the Sleeping Knights, we know that can't last both due to what readers know about what's supposed to happen in the future and Knowledgeseeker66's history.

Asuna: Knowledgeseeker66 has written plenty of heartwarming scenes in the past.

Kirito: Yeah, but there's also plenty of dark and sad scenes to go along with them sometimes they are intertwined.

Asuna: However, I have a question. Was there really a point to giving me a scene with Suguha in this chapter besides managing to give me at least one scene for this chapter, so I can make my obligatory appearance?

Kirito: Well it was meant to give you a little more screentime with my little adopted sister Suguha and show more of what happened to you after you escaped. Not to mention, it is another scene that emphasizes your devotion to me.

Asuna: I guess that's true. However, didn't we go into what happened to me during Story Arc Two? We got to see plenty of my life.

Kirito: We did, but it's not like Knowledgeseeker66 could cover everything. While you and Suguha did have a few scenes, I think Knowledgeseeker66 wanted to show more of a scene that transitioned you two from being strangers to sort of becoming friends.

Asuna: I guess that's true. However, I just want to move back to the present where I can retake my role as the main character of this story.

Kirito: You don't have to worry too much about that. Knowledgeseeker66 is getting much closer to that moment. We just need to give the author a little more time. We'll get there eventually, and then a number of things will change in this story.

Asuna: For better or worse?

Kirito: It might be a mixture of both, but the author is sure the overall consensus will be the former in terms of reception. However, in terms of the status of the different characters in the story that might be another story.

Asuna: Well isn't the author a confident one.

Kirito: The author does try to live up to those promises.

Asuna: Hopefully, Knowledgeseeker66 will live up to that promise. I also hope we're not put on hiatus again for over a year like we were between Chapter Seven and Eight.

Kirito: I'm pretty sure that won't be an issue.

Asuna: Let's hope not.

Kirito and Asuna: (Looks at the audience) Be sure to continue showing your support by providing reviews.

/

Navigation Pixie Time:

Yui: The duel between you and Yuuki was pretty cool, but didn't it contradict canon?

Kirito: What do you mean?

Yui: Aren't duels in Alfheim Online only supposed to be aerial or ground not both?

Kirito: I'm not sure, but fanfiction stories more or less exist to contradict canon one way or another. You'd be hard pressed to find a fanfiction story that doesn't take some liberties with the canon material. After all, 'The Kirita Chronicles' does that almost all the time and look how popular that story has become.

Yui: Okay I guess.

Kirito: Anyway, in this duel, this duel was meant to allow players fight both on the ground and air, but there were limits. As discussed in the story, three minutes had to go by first before either player could go into the sky.

Yui: What happened if either player activated his/her wings before three minutes?

Kirito: That player would be disqualified.

Yui: That sounds a little harsh. Even if it was an accident.

Kirito: I doubt there could be an accident in that situation, but yes even if it was an accident.

Yui: I also noticed that you had the duel end with Yuuki's surrender rather than killing her avatar. I thought duels in Alfheim Online normally required the opponent to be killed.

Kirito: Normally, duels like this end when one player kills his/her opponent's avatar. I could have killed Yuuki's avatar when I had her at my mercy, but I decided to give her a chance to surrender. I'm not really big on the idea of killing other players avatars after what happened in Sword Art Online.

Yui: I understand.

Kirito: Anyway, I'm looking forward to the tournament in the next chapter.

Yui: Me too. I wonder what the rules will be in the tournament. Will you be allowed to use magic and wings or will there be restrictions?

Kirito: I'm sure the author will come up with the rules in the next chapter. Chances are we'll probably be asked to explain some of the rules later on. That is part of the reason why this segment exists.

Yui: I guess you're right. I just wish that we could do some of that now.

Kirito: Well the author is still working on the rules as we speak, and it will also help avoid spoilers by not giving away everything upfront. Not to mention, it decreases the chances of the author making a continuity error. The last thing the author would want to do is to write down one rule here and then break that rule in the following chapter.

Yui: That does make sense. I guess I'll try to be patient.

Kirito: Hopefully the readers will be patient too. Knowledgeseeker66 wants to make the tournament entertaining with a few fight scenes, and fight scenes do take a bit of time to complete. However, I think they'll be worth the wait.

Yui: I'm sure they will be.

/

Author Notes: The beginning of this chapter was composed of scenes I originally considered having during the later parts of Chapter Nine. However, as that chapter became too long, I decided that it would be better to have it at the beginning of this chapter. I think it was probably for the better because I used it to introduce the new antagonists. That way they were able to receive more focus here and not take too much focus away from the Sleeping Knights in the previous chapter.

In the canon version of the Fairy Dance Arc, I was not too fond of the fact there were not enough real antagonists to challenge Kirito outside of General Eugene who was more of rival than an antagonist and Sugou who was easily defeated by Kirito after the tables were turned on him. I wanted there to be more of threat in my story, so I decided that out of the three hundred players Sugou trapped in the game were also surviving members of the Laughing Coffin guild.

I decided to create my own Laughing Coffin members rather than using PoH, Johnny Black, and XaXa because I figured we see enough of them in later story arcs in canon. Not to mention, it always bothered me that they were the only named members of the Laughing Coffin we knew of besides Kuradeel. I decided it would be more interesting to create some characters of my own.

In canon, we only really know of male players who were within the Laughing Coffin. I do not believe they confirmed whether or not they were female members too, but I will go along with my belief there were. After all, we have seen at least one female player who was the leader of her own criminal guild. It does not seem farfetched that there would at least be a few female Laughing Coffin members.

Unlike other original characters that I created, I really do not care about whether you like them or not. After all, most of these characters are psychotic killers, and they are not meant to be likeable. However, it will be interesting to see if you will end up liking these characters because they are unlikeable and you love to hate them similar to how my readers love to hate Ketsuki in my other story "Of Science and Magics: The Side Stories."

Some of you might recognize the names I used for the Laughing Coffin Guild, specifically Fudo and Wan Shotto. Even though I introduced these characters in my other story "The Kirita Chronicles" before I introduced them here, I actually planned on making them characters here first. During the writing process for both of these stories, I thought why not have alternate versions of these characters make appearances in both stories? It seemed like it would be more efficient to create different versions of the same characters, and I personally like what I've done. While they may be alternates versions, I can use them in various ways in both stories. Not to mention, this story can help illustrate how dangerous these characters will eventually become in my other story.

Regarding the fight scene between Yuuki and Kirito, it was established in canon that when Yuuki defeated Kirito in their duel, she had been in the virtual world longer than he had been in by at least a year. That would partly explain why Yuuki's reaction speed is greater than Kirito's in canon since she had even more experience than him, and she more or less lived in the system to the point she was practically one with it. However, since Kirito is the one with more experience in this scenario, I decided that this was enough to give him the edge of Yuuki and defeat her. The fight was still close, but Kirito won.

Additionally, the Yuuki in this story is not quite up to the same fighting level and power that the Yuuki we know from the Mother Rosario story arc. It is to be expected that while she is still strong, she is slower and weaker than her canon counterpart. In this story, Asuna might be capable of defeating Yuuki too, but I am not sure if I will produce a fight scene between them in this story.

In canon, I'm fully aware that apparently the only choices for duels are ground or aerial. However, I decided to take some liberties with the rules, and allowed for a duel that could happen both ways. That way the fight would be more fun for me to write and for you to read as long as I put down a time rule to make it work better.

During Kirito and Yui's discussion, Yui mentioned that some of the Sleeping Knights have seemed suspicious of him, and she has mentioned this to him, similar to how Kirito became aware that Taruken might be suspicious of him. Those discussions were more or less something that partly happened off-screen in one of Kirito and Yui's other conversations during the days I did not write a scene between the two of them. I have written a number of scenes between the two, and there is a limit to the number of scenes I can and will write between two characters. Since Yui is capable of noticing what players are feeling and their presence, she would have felt them feeling suspicious at certain points too. However, Kirito was not surprised that they were suspicious because he noticed their tone at certain points and the fact he knows that he would have found himself suspicious.

Finally, I decided to include a few mini scenes that would give a small introduction to a few of the characters who will receive a more formal introduction in the next chapter. There will be other characters who will appear in the next chapter too. In regards to the Sylph area, I know that in canon the Salamanders did manage to kill the Sylph lord at one point and managed to gain a lot of money from that. I do not believe they actually mentioned a specific date for when that happened, so I am going along with the idea it did not happen at that point and this tournament would either delay or possibly prevent it from happening. For those of you who like Sayaka, she will be appearing, but she will not be the Lord/Lady of the Slyphs since the Lords are apparently elected monthly, and she was not chosen this time.

I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter. The next chapter will be a major chapter filled with fights, so it will take a while for me to write it. In the meantime, I hope you will leave reviews and participate in the poll. The poll I mentioned at the author notes on the first page is regarding which story or stories you would want to see me put more focus on during 2015. You will have two choices. Until next time.