Author Notes: The time has come for the fourth chapter and to officially begin the alternative version of the Fairy Dance Arc. However, it was thanks to writing the three previous chapters that gave me the inspiration for a few new plotlines I have planned for the future. Sometimes the key to getting inspiration is by looking back and drawing upon the past.
Finally, you may have noticed in the previous chapter, while most of the chapter featured a first person narration by Asuna, there was one scene that featured a third person narration. I also mentioned something to that effect in the Omake of Chapter 1 as well. It is my plan for the story to have a mixture of first person and third person narrations since there will be parts of the story that will not be seen through Asuna's eyes.
Story Arc Two: Return to Reality
Chapter Four: The Puzzle with a Missing Piece
Life is a puzzle
All the pieces are needed
Find the last piece
Date: Sunday, January 26th, 2025
Asuna looks at her old NerveGear and stares at it nervously. She opened up the compartment of her NerveGear helmet and inserted something into it. Asuna took the NerveGear helmet and was about to place it over her head, but she hesitates and puts it back on her lap. It had been less than three months since her escape from Sword Art Online. Because of her experience with the NerveGear, Asuna was having trouble placing the device on her head again.
Another girl in the room asks her, "Are you okay Asuna?"
Asuna looked at her friend and nervously told her, "Yeah I'm fine. I'm just nervous."
Her friend did not act judgmental to Asuna's words or her reluctance to put on her NerveGear helmet again. Instead, her friend gave Asuna a kind, understanding look. She assured Asuna, "Everyone understands that, especially me. I'm pretty nervous too, but we know what's probably at stake here. Remember that you are not going to be doing this alone. We all got your back Asuna. You can count on us."
Asuna takes in deep breath and responded, "That's right. Thank you."
Her friend smiled at Asuna, "It's not a problem. That's what friends are for."
Asuna nodded and then took another look at her NerveGear and said to herself, "I can do this . . . No! I have to do this!"
After Asuna placed the nerve gear on her head, she then laid on the cushion to comfort her body, and said, "Link Start!"
A few moments later, Asuna found herself on a virtual platform. She was given the choice to modify her character avatar by selecting her 'race,' the name of her avatar, and a making a few other choices. After Asuna made several choices, the process was complete.
As soon as Asuna's avatar was complete the announcer voice stated, "Welcome to Alfheim Online Erika."
No sooner had Asuna heard that voice there was a flash of light, and she found herself in the middle of a town. Asuna noticed that she was the first to arrive, so she took a moment to gaze upon her surroundings. She thought to herself, "This feels just like Sword Art Online. Everything about this place feels so real."
As soon as she thought that, Asuna suddenly feared the worse. Asuna activated her menu and reviewed her options. She was relieved to find a "logout" button. She let out a sigh of relief and thought, "I never would have thought seeing that button would put me at ease like this. However, I guess I would not have thought that I would be entering another Virtual Reality game so soon, but this is something that I need to do. I am certain he is here, and I will find him. I won't rest until I find him and nothing is going to stop me, especially not Sugou. If I am right about this, I will make sure he pays for this crime even if I have to take care of it myself."
Before Asuna's adventures in Alfheim Online can begin, it is important to detail the events that have led up to this moment. Over the past two months, Asuna had returned to her life in the real world, but the final result of the battle with Heathcliff did not give her the conclusion she had hoped for. An important piece of her life had been lost until now. All this time, she had been helpless to do anything about it. However, the events that occurred over these past two and a half months had led to this moment of hope. She would soon discover whether it would lead to a happy ending, an unforgettable tragedy, or perhaps a mixture of both.
It had been over two months since Kirito-kun defeated Heathcliff, the avatar for Kayaba Akihiko, and put an end to the death game Sword Art Online. As soon as I woke up, I attempted to find Kirito-kun on my own, but I was 'persuaded' by the nursing staff that it wasn't the time to be doing that. As it turns out they were right. When I asked the hospital staff, I found out there were no patients by the name of Kirigaya Kazuto in my hospital.
Before I found Kirito-kun's location, I kept thinking back to our last moments in Sword Art Online. When we thought we were about to be deleted, we only told each other our real names and we said nothing about where we lived. Since we figured we were about to die, we didn't think it was important to swap addresses as well. However, I knew that I couldn't let this obstacle stop me. I would not rest until Kirito-kun and I could embrace again in the real world.
I remember after I woke up, the hospital staff informed my family that I had finally regained consciousness. The first one to arrive was my father, Yuuki Shouzou. Apparently, my father had ended a business meeting early when he found out about my recovery. I was surprised my father would actually do such a thing because I had never known him to do that before. However, I suppose he considered the fact I had finally woken up to be more important. It made me happy to think that, so I didn't ask him if that was the reason. I didn't want this moment to be ruined.
When he entered my hospital room, my eyes had mostly regained their normal sight, and I remember seeing how happy he appeared. The happiness on his face was unlike anything I had ever seen him express before.
The first thing he said to me was, "Is this real? Have you finally come back to us Asuna?"
I remember how his voice was trembling and the tears of joy on his face. In his head, he knew this was real, but he probably had a hard time processing that it was actually happening.
I smiled and assured him, "This is real. I'm back."
My father then walked up to me and cautiously hugged me. I guess he realized that my body was still pretty fragile, and he wanted to make sure he didn't hurt me by accident.
He joyfully said to me, "Welcome back Asuna."
I did my best to return the hug. We remained hugging for a few minutes, but it felt longer than that. It was truly a tranquil moment of peace that I had been hoping for. I looked forward to when Kirito-kun and I could enjoy a moment such as this too.
My mother, Yuuki Kyouko, and brother, Yuuki Koichirou arrived shortly after my father. Their reactions were similar to my father's. They had a difficult time processing my return to reality. My family stayed by my side until the nurses told my family that visiting hours would be over in about a half hour. Before they left, I told my father if I could speak with him in private the following day. I told him it was a matter that I could only talk to him about for the time being. My father seemed to understand and kept it a secret from my mother for the time being. The conversation I had with my father would mark the beginning of my search for Kirito-kun and my friends from Sword Art Online.
My father did what I asked and spoke with me in private the following day. I knew that if I was going to locate Kirito-kun that I would need some help, and I knew that my father would probably be the best person to ask. I wasn't sure how he would respond to the fact I fell in love with someone in the game, but I had to tell him I needed his help. If I was going to get his help, I was going to have to tell him something.
After my father arrived, he asked, "What did you wish to speak to me about Asuna?"
I decided it wouldn't do me any good to beat around the bush, so I got right to the point, "There is someone that I want you to help me find."
"Is this someone that you met in Sword Art Online?" My father phrased it as a question, but I could tell that he already knew the answer.
Regardless, I still told him my answer, "He is."
My father looked at me in surprise. "He? Who would he be?"
I explained, "His name is Kirigaya Kazuto, and he is my boyfriend."
I almost said the word husband, but I remembered that this was reality and in-game marriages did not transfer to reality, so I used the next best word. When I think back on it, I definitely made the right call. I had a feeling my father would have had a more negative reaction if I would have said that.
My father was shocked when I said Kirito-kun was my boyfriend. That was probably one of the last things he would ever expect me to say. He asked in a bewildered tone, "Boyfriend? How did this happen?"
I scratched my head as I told him, "Well it is a long story. If you have some time to spare, I would be happy to tell you."
His previously shocked expression had worn off by then, and he gave me a more understanding look. He then smiled at me and said, "Of course I do. I put most of my appointments off for today, and they were willing to postpone due to the circumstances. I should have more than enough time to listen."
I was grateful to hear him say that. After all, this was going to be a really long story, and I would need a lot of time to explain things to him. "Thank you." I then began to tell him my story, "The two us first met each other about a month after the game began, and he saved my life in more ways than one."
It took a while, but I explained to him about the relationship Kirito-kun and I shared, and we promised to meet in the real world if we ever escaped. I left out a few parts, such as the "ethics-off" episode that Kirito-kun and I shared together and our adoption of Yui-chan. I had a feeling the former would cause unnecessary trouble even though we did it in the virtual world. While I wanted to tell him about Yui-chan, I felt it would be too difficult and painful to explain.
I still haven't forgotten that at one point I did not consider AI's to be living beings. I did eventually learn that was not true, but I still regret what I used to think of AI. When I think about how I used to think of them and how willing I was to sacrifice them, it fills me with nothing but shame. I am not sure if I will be able to live that down. While AI's may not be able to exist in the real world, I have seen that they are just as capable of being human like the rest of us. While my father can be an understanding person, I am not sure if this was one topic he could ever comprehend unless he was able to meet an AI such as Yui-chan. I will not only consider her to be my daughter but she is one of the people who helped change me into a better and more understanding person.
After I finished explaining to him, my father was quite accepting of what I had said. He didn't ask me about any of the game mechanics or to tell him further details about certain events, such as the frontline battles or the Laughing Coffin. I guess he figured that I had already gone through enough, and I didn't need to tell him anymore unless I felt like I needed to.
My father only asked me one thing, "If you don't mind me asking how do you know his name? Based on what Koichirou told me, I was always under the impression that people who play games of this nature use an in-game name."
That detail involved something I also did not tell my father about. I figured it would be difficult to explain to him that I 'died' in the game, but I was spared and I didn't really understand what happened either. It also made me wonder how some of the other players would react if they saw that Kirito-kun and I were alive despite what happened. However, I decided not to think about it at that point and focus on what I needed to say.
Instead of elaborating on the circumstances of how I found out Kirito-kun's name, I told him, "When the game ended, I asked Kazuto-kun what his real name was. Before the game's deletion process was completed, we told each other what our true identities were. However, things were a little crazy during the log out procedure, so we weren't able to exchange what our home addresses were. That's why I need your help to find him. We made a promise to each other that we would reunite in the real world, and I intend to keep that promise."
After I told my father that, he was surprisingly willing to help me. He told me, "All right. I'll help you find him." I had hoped he would help me, but it was surprising to see how cooperative he was. I remember that he said, "He sounds like a kind young man. I should probably go see him myself. It sounds like I owe him my daughter's life." He chuckled a bit after he said that, but what he said was true. I could never argue about that.
Unfortunately, despite the happy reunions that Asuna had with her family and would soon have with her friends from Sword Art Online, there was a meeting that would act as the trigger for a domino effect of events further down the line. Several days after Asuna's return to reality, Yuuki Shouzou had called an old family friend for a private meeting. The family friend was none other than Sugou Nobuyuki. No ordinary person would have been able to guess the unfortunate consequences that would come of this.
Due to Sugou Nobuyuki's connection with the Yuuki family along with his intellect and talent, he became the director of the research institute of Recto Progress Incorporated the company that Yuuki Shouzou was the CEO of. Time and time again, Sugou had proven to be an invaluable asset to Shouzou, and he had Shouzou's full confidence. After their years of working together, Shouzou had intended to name Sugou as his successor. However, there was another matter Shouzou wished to discuss with Sugou in person. Little did Shouzou know that Sugou had been anticipating this meeting in order to further his own ends.
As soon as Sugou entered his office, Shouzou welcomed him with a customary handshake that Sugou was happy to return. Shouzou warmly said, "Nobuyuki-san I am glad you were able to make it today despite of your busy schedule."
Sugou smiled at his employer and politely responded, "It is no problem Yuuki-san. I am always willing to open time in my schedule for meeting with family and friends."
Shouzou told Sugou, "You don't have to be so formal with me Nobuyuki-san when it is just the two of us."
Sugou chuckled a little, "Very well Shouzou-san."
Shouzou decided deviate from the subject of the formalities and stated, "I am sure you are aware that my daughter has recently regained conciseness from her coma due to that Sword Art Online death game."
Sugou was skillfully able hide the distaste he had for that news with a happy façade and responded, "I have heard that sir. That is exceedingly wonderful news. I would have gone to see her myself, but I believed that she needed to spend time with her family first before seeing me. Besides, I was not certain that you would want me to visit her without permission."
Shouzou graciously said, "That is very considerate of you Nobuyuki-san. However, you should not feel you need my permission to go visit Asuna. After all, you have been a friend of our family for years now. I am grateful for your loyalty and all the work you have done for me over the years, especially during the first few weeks Asuna was first imprisoned in that dreadful game. You can visit her tomorrow if you would like. I will be sure to inform the hospital to add you to the visitor list."
Sugou smiled and convincingly said, "Thank you. I would love to do that."
Shouzou decided it was time to begin getting to the point for this meeting, "As you can guess it fills me with joy that after two whole years, my daughter has finally come back to us. Unfortunately, there is a related matter I need to speak to you about."
While Sugou did not like the sound of that, he was interested in what this 'related matter' could be. He asked, "What is it?"
Shouzou had a grave face when he said, "It's about that matter we spoke of a few weeks ago."
Even before Shouzou could go any further, Sugou knew where this was going. "You mean the possibility of me being engaged to Asuna?"
Shouzou answered, "Correct. Unfortunately, it would appear that Asuna's heart resides within another. She told me that she met someone during her time trapped within the game."
That caught Sugou's attention as he raised an eyebrow. "I take it that she wishes to find this person and be reunited with him in the real world."
Shouzou nodded and said, "That is correct."
Sugou was interested in knowing more. "Based on the nature of our conversation, you are going to help Asuna find this boy."
Despite Shouzou's wishes for Sugou to be married to his daughter, he knew it would not be right to ignore his daughter's wishes. He told Sugou, "I am. My daughter has been trapped within that game for two years. I do not consider it unrealistic that she would grow to care for someone during that time. If my daughter wishes to continue her relationship with this boy, then I will stay out of her way. Although, depending on the boy's background, I have a feeling my wife would have a different perspective of the matter."
Based on what Shouzou had said, Sugou guessed what he was implying. "Does that mean you will be doing this behind your wife's back?"
Shouzou sheepishly said, "I am for the time being. I will be sure to inform her afterwards. She will probably have some objections to this, but I am sure she will keep it to herself for a little while. After all, our daughter has only just come back to us. I am sure she would not want to do anything to cause Asuna any problems so shortly after our reunion."
Sugou knew what kind of woman Shouzou's wife was, and he did not have any problem agreeing to that assessment. "I suppose that is true."
Shouzou stated in a voice that was filled with regret, "As much as I would have wanted you to be my son-in-law, I will respect my daughter's wishes and help her find this person. I hope you understand."
Sugou convincingly sounded supportive when he said, "I understand completely sir. I have no problem with this situation whatsoever. If Asuna truly wishes to be with someone else then I will respect her wishes. Her life is hers to choose."
Shouzou was impressed by Sugou's faux support. "Well said Nobuyuki-san."
Sugou knew that this was his chance to finally gain the information that he needed, and he was going to take it. "If you don't mind me asking sir, what is the name of this individual that Asuna wishes to find?"
Unfortunately for some people, Shouzou had no problem revealing that information to Sugou. "I suppose I can tell you. His name is Kirigaya Kazuto. I believe there are some people that I can speak with that can resolve this matter quickly."
Sugou made sure not to reveal how happy he was to have obtained this information. On the surface, he appeared moderately interested, but on the inside he was filled with delight. That was the information he had been hoping to obtain, and it was easier to find out than he thought.
He said to Shouzou in a tone someone would think was sincere, "I have no doubt you will be successful in finding him. Unfortunately, I might not be helpful to you because while I have been able provide assistance in keeping the players alive, I do not have a list of the living players at my disposal at the moment. However, I believe there might be people in the Sword Art Online Case Victims Rescue Force that might be able to assist you since it is likely they would have a list of the players."
Shouzou chuckled at Sugou's suggestion. "Great minds think alike Nobuyuki-san."
Sugou let out a chuckle of his own before he excused himself. "Now if you would excuse me, there is another matter I would like to attend to."
Shouzou nodded at Sugou before dismissing him. He kindly said, "Of course. Thank you for your time."
After Sugou left Shouzou's office and returned to his own office, his polite façade was quickly replaced by a look of bliss. Under normal circumstances, he would have been angry about his possible engagement to Asuna being cancelled, but he had known in advanced that would probably be the case, so he was fine with it for the time being. Now he had something else at his disposal that could help him course correct his plans.
Sugou thought to himself, "It appears I do have an ace in the hole after all."
When he had an opportunity, he made a phone call to one of his subordinates and stated, "It would appear that your guess was correct Hideyoshi. The little brat indeed has a connection with Asuna."
On the other end Hideyoshi seemed relieved at hearing that. "I was hoping that would be the case. At least it means the work we have been putting in for the new area will be worthwhile eventually."
Sugou asked in a curious tone, "How has the Sword Art Online survivor been fairing in the game?"
"Unsurprisingly he has managed to adapt relatively well in Alfheim Online during this past week." Hideyoshi did not make it known, but he appeared to have a certain degree of respect for Kirito due to his adaptability regardless of his circumstances. "I would suppose it would be due to his experience trapped in Sword Art Online that has made him capable of adapting to the new virtual world regardless of its difference from Sword Art Online."
"That is excellent news." From the way Sugou say it, it would make things more entertaining when the moment he has been waiting for would finally come. "Is there anything else you wish to report?"
Hideyoshi responded, "There is nothing else really worth reporting. It would appear that you were correct that he wouldn't go around asking people for help. As far as I can tell no one other than his AI companion is aware of his situation."
Sugou said in his normal arrogant tone, "I knew that would be the case. Speaking of which, do you have any information regarding that AI companion of his."
There was not much that Hideyoshi could really tell Sugou other than some basic facts and some interesting observations he made. However, he knew Sugou needed to hear something, so he told him what he could. "There is nothing I can really say other than the fact that it apparently transferred with him from Sword Art Online as some kind of item along with his stats and abilities. His AI has become a navigation pixie, and it has been able to help him learn several things about the game, such as the mechanics of flight. From my observations, they appear to have some kind of bond with each other that I have not seen between an AI and a player before."
Sugou had a hard time comprehending that. "What do you mean?"
"It is rather difficult to describe, but he appears to care about this AI in particular. He seems to treat it as if it was a real human being." Hideyoshi was rather interested in Kirito and his AI companion's relationship and how it could have been possible.
Sugou's interests in the relationship between Kirito and his AI companion were of a much different and more sadistic direction. "That sounds very interesting indeed. We may have another component that we can use. I will be sure to prepare something special for that thing when the time comes. By the way, how long will it be until we will be ready to offer him a welcoming card?"
His subordinate informed him, "I would estimate approximately the date would be December 1. Then we can officially begin the following week."
"It appears everything is going according to schedule then. I enjoy it when everything falls into place. Be sure to keep it up Hideyoshi." Sugou said that last part with a bit of venom in his voice before he hung up the phone.
After Sugou ended their phone conversation, Hideyoshi thought to himself, "Things definitely are falling into place Sugou, but they might not end so well for you. You failed to take my advice before, and I am sure your arrogance will lead to the downfall of this experiment. When that happens, I will be ready then I will take my chance to be free from your employ and fulfill my own goals."
While I was still waiting to hear news from my father, I remembered receiving a strange chill one morning. It was the type of chill you feel on your skin that you are incapable of warming up from even if you wore all kinds of heavy clothing. This was a chill that was foretelling me that something bad was on the horizon. Unfortunately, I would soon find out what that reason was.
Later that day, I received a rather unexpected and completely unwanted guest. It was none other than Sugou Nobuyuki. As soon as I saw him, I could tell he was exactly the same as he was the last time I saw him. He acted like he was the kindest and most polite person alive whenever my father or someone he wanted to suck up to was around, but he was nothing more than a snake. He always terrified me, and I hated him to his core.
Besides meeting Kirito-kun and some of my friends, I was also grateful that Sword Art Online prevented me from having to see this man's face for the past two years. However, another thing that the game made me was a stronger person. While I was still physically weak from the coma, I was not the same person that he knew. I used to be too afraid to say what I needed to say, but that wasn't true anymore. Thanks to my life in the game and my friends, my personality is much stronger now.
As soon as Sugou entered my room, he tried to win me over by politely welcoming me back to reality. He said, "Welcome back Asuna-san. I'm so glad to see that you have awoken . . ."
However, I was not going to accept that garbage coming out of his mouth. I interrupted him, "Shut up and don't you come near me! You can save your politeness for someone whose buying it like my father."
Sugou was visibly surprised by what I had said to him. I suppose not even he was expecting me to change this much. He tried to sheepishly say to me, "I don't know what you mean . . ."
I interrupted him again. "Don't think I have forgotten what type of person you really are. I remember it like it was yesterday, and I can tell you haven't changed a bit, so don't think you can fool me."
After I said that Sugou finally let go of the façade and showed his true self. He told me in his usual smug tone, "Very well. What exactly are you going to do about it? Are you going to tell your father about what you really see in me?"
I scoffed at him. "I should have done that a long time ago, but I have a feeling he wouldn't believe now even if I told him. You have blinded him."
He then approached me and said in an arrogant tone, "If that is the case, what are you going to do about it?"
The look in his eyes frightened me. They reminded me of Kuradeel, the sick psychopathic survivor of the Laughing Coffin guild who infiltrated the Knights of the Blood and used his excuse as my 'bodyguard/escort' to stalk me. I have not forgotten the look on his face when he tried to kill Kirito-kun and me. The look of bliss he had when he impaled Kirito-kun or the enthusiastic look he gave me when he attempted to attack me. The fact he enjoyed committing such acts was terrifying.
Having a wave of those memories come back to me caused me to be frightened of what Sugou might do. If this was Sword Art Online, I would have stabbed him with my rapier and made short work of him. Unfortunately, here in the real world, I have no abilities, and I was incapable of even getting out of this bed without using all my strength. When he walked towards me, I was almost panicking because I thought there was nothing I could do.
However, I did my best to remain calm and mask my fears. I remembered there was something that I still had that could help me. I grabbed a device that was next to me, and I firmly warned him, "Don't come near me. If you take so much as a single step closer to me, I will press this button." The atmosphere in the room became tense. I then said to him in a cold voice, "Although, I guess if you do get closer to me, it might help me with my case." I held my "Call Nurse" button in my hand, and I made it clear to Sugou that I was not joking.
To say that Sugou seemed upset by what I was threatening to do would have been an understatement. After a few moments, Sugou decided to back away. I suppose even he could see that it would not be worth it to get into any unnecessary trouble.
Before he left he looked back and said to me in a venomous voice, "You win for now Asuna-san."
When he left, I was just happy that he was gone. I did not think too much on what he had just said to me. I was too relieved to dwell on that. Unfortunately, I would later realize that was the closest thing I would have to a warning for the trouble that was ahead of me.
As soon as Sugou left the hospital room, he made his exit as quickly as possible because it was difficult for him to remain composed. When he knew no one could see him, he let the anger swell up in his face to reveal his true fury. He was angered at the fact he was forced to leave because of something Asuna of all people had threatened him with. When he gazed upon her eyes, he could tell that she was not the same girl he knew back then.
He angrily thought to himself, "It would appear that Asuna has changed quite a bit since our last meeting. If I could have trapped her in Alfheim Online, it would have been satisfying to strip her of that pride in one fell swoop. Seeing her look at me like that is just to damn infuriating. I cannot let that stand."
After a few moments, he began to compose himself somewhat and thought, "However, I suppose Plan B will have to do. Perhaps those results will be more enjoyable. After all, I will break both her and him at the same time. I'll just wait for some time to pass before I begin putting it into action. It would be unrealistic if she started acting too submissive without giving her a chance to understand not only her situation but his as well."
Thankfully after that unpleasant visit with Sugou was over, he never showed himself again during my recuperation period. I was just happy that he was leaving me alone. Unfortunately, it would not be the last time I would see him, and when I would see him, it would leave me in a pathetic state.
Within a few days, my father managed to find someone who knew Kirito-kun's location. The man's name was Kikuoka Seijurou. That man was an investigator for the Sword Art Online Case Victims Rescue Force. Kikuoka-san along with many others volunteered and helped move all of us trapped within Sword Art Online to the hospitals. Due to his position as an 'investigator,' he knew many details about what had happened within the game, such as the existence of the Laughing Coffin, that Kayaba Akihiko acted as the player avatar Heathcliff, and that Kirito-kun was responsible for ending the game.
Apparently, Kikuoka-san had interviewed multiple players, including Agil and Klien. Apparently, all of the players who witnessed Kirito-kun's fight with Heathcliff had confirmed to him a number of the same details, such as Heathcliff's identity and Kirito-kun was a hero. Kikuoka-san was interested in interviewing players who ended the game with high levels, including me. He probably figured those players would be the most useful for his investigation. Before I could visit Kirito-kun, Kikuoka-san wanted to have an interview with me as well.
In addition to the information he had from these interviews, Kikuoka-san somehow was able to know what our levels were and whether we were 'green-cursor' non-criminal players or 'orange-cursor' criminals. I figured they probably were able to access our information through our NerveGears. However, it made me wonder if they were aware that we had been consistently 'leveling up' to free ourselves from the game.
If they knew that, it could help explain why we were able to keep living in the game for so long. I could imagine Heathcliff letting the authorities view this information, so they would know that we were making progress. If the authorities had any reason to believe there was no hope for us, I wonder if they would have actually pulled the plug on us. While Heathcliff wanted us to be trapped in the game, he probably didn't want us to die unless it had something to do with the game. It gives me the creeps to even think about that.
However, I decided to not focus on what might have happened and focus more on the present. I realized that all I had to do was have an interview with Kikuoka-san, and I would finally be able to meet with Kirito-kun in the real world. I still remember how excited I became thinking about that.
All kinds of thoughts popped into my head: "I will finally get to meet Kirito-kun. Will he be how I remembered him in the game? Will he still want to date me? How will he react when we meet for the first time?" However, I soon realized how silly some of those concerns were. If I learned anything about Kirito-kun from our relationship together in Sword Art Online, he was a man that I could always trust and he loved me unconditionally.
Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed by what else my father had to say. My father told me that neither Kirito-kun nor three hundred other players had awakened from their comas as of yet. When I heard him say that, I felt my heart had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific. I thought to myself, "How can this be possible? We beat the game, and Kayaba fulfilled his word about letting us go. Did something happen during the log out procedure?"
After thinking it over, I realized that when the game ended, it resulted in a mass exodus from Sword Art Online. Over six thousand people had logged out of the game at the same time, so I guess it was possible that there could have been some kind of overload problem while the people were logging out. Although if that was the case, I wondered if that meant their minds were gone or were they being delayed in their awakening? That was a question I would not have the answer to for some time. However, that did not stop me from wanting to see him. I didn't care if he was still asleep or not. I wanted to be by his side. No one could convince me otherwise.
Before I met Kikuoka-san, I was expecting someone more intimidating for some reason. I guess it was probably because I was Heathcliff's subordinate for so long that I would generally picture authority figures to be intimidating. I know my father wasn't exactly an intimidating person, but I always considered it different because he was family. In reality, Kikuoka-san was a tall man with gray hair, brown eyes, and glasses. Despite his gray hair, he appeared to be relatively young, but I had no way of determining his age by looking at him.
At this point, I was still in a wheelchair. I had only just started physical therapy treatment, and I wasn't capable of walking on my own yet. It was still difficult for me to even hold onto basic things, such as a cup. I felt kind of embarrassed being seen in this light. In Sword Art Online, I was one of the strongest players in the game who also happened to be one of the best cooks too, but here in the real world, I was barely capable of feeding myself. It would be a while before I would regain full use of my legs and my strength. Kikuoka-san seemed understanding of his interviewees physical conditions, and he did not try to cause me any unnecessary stress.
He asked me a few questions about my experiences in Sword Art Online, and I told him about how I eventually joined the Knights of the Blood and became the second-in-command under Heathcliff. It was not until November 7th, 2024, the day when Kirito-kun discovered Heathcliff's identity and defeated him that I found out the truth about Heathcliff.
Kikuoka-san gaze displayed a certain amount of skepticism. "During your time as the Sub-leader of the Knight of the Blood, you did not suspect you're superior to be Kayaba Akihiko?"
To be honest, such thoughts never came to my mind. I respected Heathcliff's abilities too much, and he appeared to be a man of integrity as well. It has made me wonder if I have inherited this trait of being a 'horrible judge of character' from my father. Although, I suppose in my case it is not nearly as severe since I have proven to be a much better judge than him.
I answered his question as best as I could. "That's correct. Even though I was his second-in command for over a year, I never suspected him. When I think about a number of things in hindsight, such as his health never depleting to a certain point, they should have been clue. Everyone always thought it was due to his 'legendary skills,' but I should have realized something was wrong. However, I never considered the possibility that Kayaba would actually be playing the game along with us. Only Kazuto-kun was able to piece it all together and put an end to the game."
That seemed to be enough to satisfy Kikuoka-san since the next words of his mouth were, "I see. I have heard from multiple players that Kazuto-kun played an active role in clearing the game or as you liked to call them the 'frontlines.' Do you believe that your victory of Sword Art Online would be possible if it were not for him?"
As soon as he asked that, I quickly told him, "No. I don't think so. I fought alongside Kazuto-kun numerous times. There were plenty of players who owe him their lives, including my own. Not to mention, I don't think anyone would have been able to deduce Heathcliff's true identity. Heathcliff himself stated that he didn't expect to be discovered for at least another twenty floors. All the players who are still alive now are alive because of Kazuto-kun's actions. He's a hero."
Kikuoka-san then inquired further, "Is that why you wish to reunite with Kazuto-kun in the real world?"
I sheepishly answered, "It is a part of the reason, but the real reason is that I made a promise to him that I would find him after we escaped."
"Why would you make such a promise?" Before I answered that he said to me in an apologetic tone, "I apologize if I seem to invasive, but I wish to know your reasoning before I can let you contact him."
I could understand his reasoning. I suppose if I was in his position, I would be hesitant as well unless I knew the whole story. "A few weeks before the game ended, Kazuto-kun and I married in-game and moved into together. We were hoping that we would be able to continue our relationship in the real world if we escaped."
Kikuoka-san's eyebrows raised a little after I said that. He responded, "I see. That is reasonable I suppose, but you are aware of his condition correct? That he has yet to regain consciousness."
I nodded, "Yes I do."
He then asked me in questioning tone, "Even knowing that, you still wish to be by his side?"
When he asked me that, I just let my feelings do the talking. "That doesn't change anything. I am sure he will wake up one day. When he does, I want to be by his side."
After I said that, I remember Kikuoka-san gave a small smile when he heard me say that. I guess his question was some sort of 'secret test of character,' and I passed it because he then said, "That's fair enough. However, there is another thing I need to ask of you."
I asked, "What is it?"
He pulled out some files from some of his previous interviews and stated, "Multiple witness reports indicate that Kayaba Akihiko's avatar managed to kill you and fatally wound Kazuto-kun prior to his defeat. A few of your acquaintances from the frontlines were surprised to hear that you were still alive. Could you tell me what happened exactly?"
When he asked me that, I almost said, "I would like to know that too." That was a question I don't think I will ever have the real answer too. The only one who can answer that is Kayaba Akihiko, and I am not sure what happened to him after he left Kirito-kun and I on that platform. He could be dead or alive for all I knew.
I gave Kikuoka-san the best answer I could come up with. "I think before he fought Kirito-kun, Heathcliff modified the system. After the duel was over, the two of us ended up on some kind of strange platform in the sky. It was some kind of strange purgatory. From that platform, we witnessed Sword Art Online's deletion process firsthand. While we were there, Kayaba Akihiko spoke to us directly."
Kikuoka-san was visibly surprised when I said that, "Kayaba Akihiko spoke to you? What did he say?"
I told Kikuoka-san the truth, "He told us that everyone who was still alive in the game successfully logged out. Even though I had no reason to believe him, I felt that he was telling us the truth. He also told us that there was no way to restore life to the four thousand players that died. Afterwards we tried to understand why he committed this crime of trapping ten thousand minds in a game in the first place."
Kikuoka-san was interested in knowing more. "Do you remember what his answer was?"
I remember the answer the Kayaba gave us, so I tried to sum it up as best as I could. "He basically told us the origins of this crime came to him in a fantasy. He truly wanted to believe in a world with a floating castle."
Kikuoka-san scratched his chin when he said, "I suppose having an imagination like that would be required in order to create Sword Art Online."
When Kikuoka-san said that, I almost said, "You mean a creative way for conducting indirect mass murder." However, I decided to keep quiet. Who knows if that could cause any kind of unwanted trouble.
Kikuoka-san then inquired further, "Did anything else happen afterwards?"
I answered him, "He congratulated Kazuto-kun and I for clearing the game then he disappeared. Shortly afterwards the game's deletion process was complete. I remember a white light engulfing Kazuto-kun and me and the next thing I knew I was back in the real world again."
Before the interview was over, he asked me one last interview question, "When you were on your way out, do you remember anything else happening?"
At that time, I had no clue what he could have meant by that. "What do you mean?"
He explained himself, "Due to several hundred players still not awakening from their comas, we are taking up any leads we can possibly find to answer this question and reawaken them. We believe that there might have been a problem in the 'logout' sequence. As a result, we have asked multiple players what they experienced during the 'logout' procedure."
I figured that Kikuoka-san must have come to a similar conclusion as me that it must have been the log-out process' fault. Eventually, I would find out that was partly true. It was much more disturbing than that.
At that time, I could not completely recollect what happened after the light was about to engulf Kirito-kun and me. When I thought about it, I faintly remember hearing a voice but that was it. I answered Kikuoka-san, "After the deletion process was complete, I remember hearing a voice, but I don't remember what I heard. After the light that engulfed me, it caused my memory to be kind of a blur."
Kikuoka-san had a slight reaction to what I said, but I dismissed it because it was hardly noticeable. "I see."
I was a little suspicious of the slight change in his facial expression, and I questioned him, "Was there anything wrong with that? Before Sword Art Online I had never experienced a video game before, let alone a virtual reality game. I didn't really think much of what I heard. I thought it was some kind of 'goodbye' to the players from the game."
He convincingly said to me, "That is exactly what it was. A number of your fellow players said the same thing to me. It appears that we will need to look over something else in that case."
When he told me that, I was relieved. I was afraid that he would say that was a sign of me losing my sanity due to the game or something like that. Of course, I would later find out what he said to me was a lie.
He saw that I was interested in the investigations process, but he decided to change the subject and asked me, "Are there any other players you would wish to contact?"
I could see he was trying to distract me from the case. I figured that he probably couldn't tell me even if he wanted to, so I answered his question. "There are a few that I would wish to contact. However, unlike Kazuto-kun, I do not know what their real names are."
Kikuoka-san gave me a slight smile and assured me, "That should not be a problem. Our database not only has the list of people who have survived Sword Art Online, but it also provides us with their avatar names. If you provide us with the avatar names, we will be more than happy to reunite you with your friends."
When Kikuoka-san said that, I was so happy to hear it. While I was in Sword Art Online, I rarely thought about attempting to find a way to maintain contact with any of the people I became friends with. I was always focused on ending the game that I did lose sight of what I should do after it was over. I only started thinking about that after I began a relationship with Kirito-kun, and between the time that started and when the game had ended, I didn't have time to make any kind of arrangements.
A part of me was afraid that I lost my chance to reunite with the others entirely. When I heard Kikuoka-san tell me that all I needed was to give him the avatar names, and I could meet my friends again, I was ready to jump at that chance. Although, I would soon find out that all of us who were students during the Sword Art Online incident would be placed in a special school that would allow us to catch up on our missed school work and become reacquainted with society. Since most of my friends were students like me, we were going to meet up again anyway. However, I am glad I was able to meet them again before that because I think I would have had difficulties with the problems ahead of me without them.
I said to him ecstatically, "Really?"
Kikuoka-san kindly responded, "It would be my pleasure. After all, you have survived with these people for two years in a death game. It would be rather sad that you would not have the opportunity to meet them again. Here you can write down the names of the ones you want to contact."
I graciously told him, "Thank you. I appreciate it."
After I wrote down the names I could think of, I handed it right back to him. He then said to me, "I will be sure to provide you with contact information for these individuals shortly. If you ever wish to contact another player, do not hesitate to contact me." He then handed me his contact information.
"Thank you again." I almost ended the interview with that, but before I left I remembered something that had been on my mind for a while now. I have wanted to know the answer to this question every since we escaped from Sword Art Online. Before I left, I asked him a question of my own. "Do you mind if I ask you about something?"
He looked at me quizzically, "What is it?"
I wasn't entirely sure how to get started, so I asked the best question I could think of off the top of my head. "You said you are aware of the Laughing Coffin's existence right?"
He answered, "That is correct."
I continued my questioning, "Then you know who they are right?"
Kikuoka-san stated, "That is also correct."
I took a deep breath before I finally asked the real question I wanted to ask him, "What is going to happen to them?"
Kikuoka-san did not answer my question right away. He appeared to be contemplating something. I guess he was deciding whether he should tell me or not. Ultimately, he told me, "As of this moment, we have decided that we are not going to expose their identities to the public and they will not be held accountable for their actions within the game?"
My eyes opened wide when he said that. I said in a tone of disbelief, "What? But that is crazy. I have seen what they have done to other players. They were monsters, and you can't just let them back into society. They will probably cause more problems in the future."
Kikuoka-san attempted to calm me down, "I have no reason to doubt you Asuna-san. The information you have provided us is consistent with what other Sword Art Online survivors have told us as well."
I desperately said to him, "Then can you do something about them?"
Kikuoka-san told me, "There is something being done about them, but it is not in a way you would prefer."
From the way he said that, I did not like what it was implying, but I still wanted to know. "What do you mean?"
He informed me, "The ones that have awakened are currently being treated at a separate facility separate from the school you will be attending. They are currently under close supervision, and they will remain so until they have been deemed fit to return to society again."
I was horrified when he said that, "You have to be kidding. Those people tortured and murdered players for fun despite knowing that such actions would kill the players in the real world. Too many good people were lost because of the Laughing Guild, and they had no intention of stopping. That's why Kazuto-kun and I participated in the crusade to stop them before they became too powerful. We may have destroyed their guild, but too many of them escaped. Chances are the survivors will eventually kill people in reality as well."
From the look in Kikuoka-san's eyes, he seemed to believe me. It seemed more along the lines that there was nothing he could do about it. He told me, "You probably are correct in your belief. Unfortunately, it was decided almost unanimously that the game had caused their psyches to be strained, and the blame for their actions is entirely on Kayaba Akihiko. As a result, it has been decided they will not be punished outside of receiving additional observation in a separate facility, and the public will not be aware of their actions within the game. However, as you might have heard, it hasn't stopped rumors of their activities from spreading, but no one will have any clue who the perpetrators were."
I still couldn't believe what I was hearing. I responded, "That's just not right. I have seen their actions with my own eyes. I still remember when they tried to kill Kazuto-kun on two separate occasions and he had to kill them in self-defense. That was draining on him, but he continued to press forward for the sake of himself and the other players."
Kikuoka-san looked at me with sympathetic eyes, and said, "I wouldn't doubt that. I would imagine taking a life regardless of a reason would affect someone. As much as I would agree with you, there is nothing that can be done now. Anyway, we haven't been able to begin our observations on several of them."
The last thing he said caught my interest. I wished to know more, so I inquired further, "What do you mean several of them?"
He didn't answer my question immediately, but when he did, he told me, "Some people would look down upon me for giving you this information, but since you are a survivor of Sword Art Online, I believe you have a right to know this. Of the several hundred players who have yet to return to the real world, seven of them were members of the Laughing Coffin. We were able to find this out due to their profile information."
I have a hard time remembering how exactly I reacted to that. I think the closest thing I could think of was relieved. I would be lying if I said a part of me was happy knowing that some of the dangerous people in Sword Art Online were still in a coma. In Sword Art Online, I was one of the strongest players in the game. Your size did not usually matter assuming you had leveled up enough. Unfortunately, in reality even after my body had substantially recovered thanks to physical therapy, I was less than comfortable about my physical abilities. There had been times during the two and a half months following the game's completion that I walked in an area filled with a lot people, and I would feel fear.
In the game, you generally couldn't harm other players in 'safe-zones.' Even if you were stabbed or wounded or received a blow to the head, you were not likely to die instantly. I recall a few times I received an injury in Sword Art Online that would have killed me in the real world. Here if I ran into the wrong person, I could face the same fate I was trying to avoid in Sword Art Online in an instant. I would not be able to utilize the skills I had developed during the two years I was trapped in the game either. The idea that I could die from something as simple as a knife wound scared me. It was something that I don't think I would have feared if I had never been trapped in Sword Art Online in the first place, but I think the fact I was trapped in that death game so long, it has caused me to have a radically new perspective on things for better and worse.
After the interview was finished, Asuna was escorted out of the room. Shortly afterwards, one of Kikuoka Seijurou's subordinates asked him, "You were lying to her right?"
Kikuoka answered, "Yes and no."
His subordinate wanted to know more. "What were you lying to her about then?"
Kikuoka informed his subordinate, "I was lying about the voice. None of the other survivors of Sword Art Online I interviewed have stated they heard a voice on the way out. So far she is the only one to recall such an occurrence."
Even though it did sound interesting, Kikuoka's subordinate reminded him, "She stated that she vaguely remembers. It is possible that the other players heard a voice too. It is also possible that something similar happened to them, and it caused them to become unable to recollect it when you asked them about the logout procedure."
Kikuoka knew that possibility was also true, and there was no clear evidence to suggest whether the logout procedure could have affected their memories or not. "That is true, but I still find this to be suspicious. My interview with her has fueled some suspicions I have had. Unfortunately, I still lack any concrete evidence to support them."
His subordinate asked, "Do you mind filling me in sir?"
Kikuoka stated his point, "I do not believe all the three hundred players remaining in their comas has been the result of a glitch or any problem with a system.
His subordinate was bewildered by how Kikuoka came to that conclusion. "Why do you believe that? By all accounts it would appear that something happened during the logout procedure."
Kikuoka confidently told his subordinate, "You are right about 'something' happening, but I am sure it was a 'someone' who perpetuated it."
His subordinate was baffled by what he as saying. "What do you mean?"
Kikuoka explained, "While Kayaba Akihiko is a horrendous criminal who should be found guilty of mass murder, there are no doubts to his talent as a programmer. He not only managed to reconfigure the entire system to ensure there would be no way for the players to logout, but his programming skills prevented other programmers from being able to free the players without killing them. Not to mention, he apparently modified the system so he could speak with Kazuto-kun and Asuna-san directly. Based on his flawlessness as a programmer, I doubt he would be able to make such a mistake with something as simple as a logout button."
While his subordinate was intrigued by this, he was still unsure if he should completely support his superior's theory. "What basis do you have for that theory?"
Kikuoka told his subordinate his story, "On the day all the Sword Art Online survivors were logged out the game, I was monitoring a number of their 'account statuses'. I remember when the announcement displayed itself on the monitor that the game had been cleared and everyone who was still alive would be logging out. While that was happening, I noticed something odd was happening to several of them, and I did not have the faintest idea of what could be happening. When I cross checked with the hospitals those patients were the ones that were still in their comas."
The subordinate did think that was suspicious, but it was not enough to prove anything. He told Kikuoka, "That could still be explained as some kind of strange bug or glitch that happened when some of them were logging out. After all, no one had been able to logout of the game before and it's possible that so many people leaving the game at once along with its subsequent deletion of the game might have caused problems."
Kikuoka stated, "For a while I thought that as well, but I also noticed that what happened to those players' accounts also happened to Asuna's as well?"
Kikuoka's subordinate was both interested and confused by this. "If that's the case why was she able to awaken?"
That was one question that Kikuoka did not have an answer to. "I am not sure. For a few moments her account appeared to be suffering though the same phenomenon that the other three hundred were dealing with, but all of a sudden it stopped and her account returned to normal."
His subordinate stated, "It's possible her account was beginning to have the same trouble as those others, but her account corrected itself before anything happened."
Kikuoka did not find that idea to be convincing. He stated he gave his own theory. "While it is possible, I consider it unlikely it was all by luck. I believe it had something to do with the voice she mentioned. Perhaps whatever that voice was, it helped her return to reality." Kikuoka then continued his point further, "As soon as Asuna-san's account reverted to normal, I noticed the account that was attempting to log out after she did, her boyfriend Kirigaya Kazuto, suddenly experienced the same phenomenon as the others. It appears to me, when whatever or whoever was causing certain players to remain in their comatose state failed to secure Asuna-san, it moved onward to Kazuto-kun. Based on what I saw before, it was a simultaneous effect for all of those accounts with the exception of Kazuto-kun. It was as if whatever was meant to happen was suppose to happen to a set number of players, but when it failed to secure Asuna-san, it targeted the next available account."
His subordinate was rather impressed by what his superior had to say. "You do make a very compelling argument sir, but do we have any proof that is what happened?"
As much as he was certain he was right, he had to admit, "Unfortunately not right now, but I believe if we continue investigating, we might be able to uncover the truth behind these ongoing comas."
Assuming that Kikuoka was correct, his subordinate realized the implications of what this will be. "If we do uncover evidence that someone kidnapped these player's mind, this could really change the face of the world. It was bad enough when Kayaba Akihiko trapped those 10,000 players into Sword Art Online in the first place, but now we might have a case of a person committing virtual kidnapping."
Kikuoka said in a calm voice, "Yes that would definitely seem to be the case."
After a few moments passed, his subordinate asked, "What should we do first?"
Kikuoka had already given some thought of what their plan should be. He stated, "We need to investigate those who would have the best chance of interfering with the accounts. One place we can start is keeping an eye on Asuna-san and anyone she interacts with. Her account was the only one who experienced that phenomenon and still managed to return to the real world. I hardly consider that to be a coincidence."
His subordinate asked in a horrified tone, "You don't think she is involved somehow do you?"
In truth, Kikuoka was all but certain that Asuna was innocent of this crime. He calmly explained to his subordinate, "While I would not rule out any possibilities, I doubt she has any responsibility in what happened to those players. With the possible exception of Kayaba Akihiko, players were incapable of leaving the game or contacting the outside world. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she truly cares for her boyfriend and wants him to wake up. The sincerity in her eyes makes me believe she played no part in this. However, I believe she has a connection to this crime, and she could be the key to freeing the other players."
Kikuoka's subordinate realized that there was no proof that Asuna had any connection to this crime either even if it was indirect. If his superior was wrong about this, they could be wasting a lot of valuable time. "That does seem like you are taking a shot in the dark with this."
Despite that, Kikuoka confidently stated, "Perhaps I am, but my instincts are telling me that she could be useful to us in some way. However, I also realize we cannot focus all of our efforts on her. We need to research other potential leads as well."
His subordinate could see the look in Kikuoka's eyes that he was determined to get to the bottom of this case. "You seem very dedicated in getting to the bottom of this. I mean more so than you usually do."
Kikuoka causally explained, "I would prefer to not leave matters half done. However, there is one person in particular that I would like to speak to when this is over."
His subordinate inquired further, "Who would that be?"
Kikuoka smiled and stated, "It would be Kirigaya Kazuto. Multiple eyewitnesses have confirmed that not only did he see through Kayaba Akihiko's avatar disguise in the game, but he managed to kill Kayaba's avatar and ended the game personally." Kikuoka appeared to have numerous ideas going through his head at once filled with the endless possibilities that a partnership with Kazuto could bring. He stated in a somewhat 'enthusiastic' tone, "I believe someone such as Kazuto-kun could prove to be a useful asset to us in the future. Wouldn't you agree Katsu?"
Katsu smiled and stated, "I suppose I would."
After I received the contact information, I saw it was for the Kirigaya household, Kirito-kun's family, and it also told me the hospital that Kirito-kun was at. During the past two months that I have come to know Kirito-kun's family, I made sure to use his real name Kirigaya Kazuto. I don't think Kirito-kun would be happy if I told anyone besides other Sword Art Online survivors his avatar name. He probably would want to keep his in-game and real life identities separate. Before I would visit Kirito-kun's hospital room, I decided to give his family a call. It was a call that I would never forget.
An older woman answered the phone, "Hello."
I asked the woman, "Is this Kirigaya Midori-san?"
Kirigaya-san answered me in a questioning tone, "Yes and who might this be?"
At first I had a little bit of difficulty answering her, but I managed to tell her, "You don't know me, but my name is Yuuki Asuna. I met your son Kiragaya Kazuto while we were trapped in Sword Art Online."
Kiragaya-san didn't seem to need any other explanation, "I see."
Starting a conversation with Kirito-kun's mother was a little harder than I thought it would be. I did what I could to get the ball rolling. "I heard that Kazuto-kun hasn't regained consciousness yet. Is that true?"
She said to me in a voice that had a mixture of grim and sadness, "Unfortunately, it is. When we heard the other Sword Art Online survivors had regained consciousness, we were hoping the Kazuto-kun would shortly. However, we are still waiting for that day to come."
It wasn't like I didn't believe what I had heard before. However, I needed to be sure. I remorsely said to Kiragaya-san, "I'm very sorry to hear that."
She told me in a more optimistic voice, "It's okay. I know that Kazuto will awaken. I am sure of it."
I tried to share that optimism with her. "Yes, I believe that too. When I knew him in the game, he was a very strong person."
Kirigaya-san said in a grateful voice, "I appreciate that Yuuki-san."
When she called me that, I thought it didn't seem right for her to refer to me by my family name. "You can call me Asuna-san if you wish."
She seemed amused by what I said. "Very well Asuna-san."
After a few moments of awkward silence, I decided to talk to Kirigaya-san about why I really called. "There are a few things I would like to talk to you and your family about in person. If you don't mind, I was hoping that we could meet at the hospital where Kazuto-kun is. I know that Kazuto-kun has yet to regain consciousness, but I promised him back in the game world that I would find him. Even if he is still unconscious, I still want to see him and be by his side."
After I said that, I noticed there was something strange about Kirigaya-san's voice when she said, "Is that so? I need a moment to think about this."
I realized what I said may not have come out the way I had intended. I sheepishly told her, "That sounded weird didn't it? I'm sorry. It sounded a lot better in my head."
Kirigaya-san reassured me, "No its fine. I understand that this is probably an awkward topic to talk about. I appreciate that you decided to contact me directly rather than randomly introducing yourself at my home or the hospital. I am also glad Kazuto was able to make at least one friend in that game."
I could see where Kirito-kun received his understanding side from. His mother must have been a great influence on him while he was growing up. I kind of wanted to know more about her as well.
After she said she was happy that Kirito-kun made a friend, I could see that his less than stellar social skills were part of his regular life as well, but in the game he did manage to make a few friends. I decided to tell his mother, "He actually made a few other friends while he was in there too. I think most of them will be attending a special school with me and the others who escaped from Sword Art Online next year. I am sure you would probably like them if you ever had a chance to meet them."
"I am sure I would." Kirigaya-san gave a small chuckle, "About your request."
I nervously said, "Yes."
She told me in a kind but firm voice, "I would like to talk to you as well in the hospital's lobby. Depending on how our conversation goes, I will allow you to visit Kazuto. I do not mean to offend you, but there are rumors about certain individuals in that game who killed other players for fun, and I want to know you a little better before I let you see Kazuto."
When I heard Kirigaya-san mention that, I knew exactly what she was referencing. While most of the 'Laughing Coffin' members were wiped out, I knew there were still several that survived Sword Art Online. We believed that there were at least ten of them. After we were released from the game, the authorities were aware of the fact those players had killed other players because they were able to look up their player profile information, but they were taking no legal action against them. It makes me angry that the authorities are blaming those players' actions solely on Kayaba Akihiko for apparently straining those players mentally. While I would say it was partly true, it just doesn't seem right to give them a free pass on their crimes.
While rumors about the player killers spread, everything ended up as Kikuoka-san stated. None of their names were ever released to the public, and they were placed in a separate facility for observation and mental recuperation. Apparently, most of them were eventually released back to society. It scared me to think they were still out there. Unfortunately for me, while they may know who I am, I would not know who they were because most of them wore masks that hid their faces, so I could pass one of the in the street and not even know about it.
I decided to be upfront about the rumor rather than hide it. The last thing I needed to do was lie and have her find out that it was true later. It wouldn't do me any good to take the risk of her thinking I was a liar. I said to her in a stern voice, "Unfortunately, the rumors you heard were true. There was a guild that did not care if the player death rules applied or not, so I perfectly understand your concern more than you may know."
After I said that Kirigaya-san said, "I see." I am not entirely sure, but I am pretty certain that Kirigaya-san believed in my sincerity.
I let a moment pass before I asked my next question. "When would you be available to have this meeting?"
She immediately answered, "I am usually very busy, but I will have the day off this upcoming Sunday. Would you be able to come at 1:00 p.m.?"
"Yes. I will be there." Before it slipped my mind, I told Kirigaya-san, "However, I must tell you that I will have an escort with me. As of this moment, I am barely able to walk, so I will be using a wheelchair."
Luckily for me Kirigaya-san did not have any problem with that. She stated, "I understand. After being in a coma for two years, it is no surprise that you would lack the capacity to move freely."
I said to her in a grateful tone, "I appreciate your understanding. I look forward to meeting you."
Kirigaya-san concluded the conversation, "As do I."
Prior to the meeting between Yuuki Asuna and Kirigaya Midori, the Kirigaya residence received another call. It was from a number that Midori did not expect to hear from so soon.
After Midori answered the phone, she heard a familiar voice on the other end, "Excuse me Kirigaya Midori-san. If you remember me, my name is Kikuoka Seijirou."
Midori responded, "Yes I remember. You are the one in charge of the Sword Art Online Rescue. You informed me that it was my son Kazuto that was responsible for ending the game correct?"
Kikuoka answered, "That is correct."
Midori said in a voice filled with appreciation, "Thank you again for doing what you can for my son. I greatly appreciate your help."
Kikuoka politely told her, "There is no need for thanks. I have not truly earned it until your son has returned to reality. However, there is something else that I need to speak to you about."
Midori asked, "What is it?"
Kikuoka spoke in a matter of fact tone, "As you might know, I have been keeping watch on a number of Sword Art Online survivors to ensure there are no unnecessary problems. It has come to my attention that a Yuuki Asuna had contacted you. Is that correct?"
Midori did not bother asking how he could know that since she figured he had his ways, and it was his job to know such information. She responded, "Yes. I will be meeting with her on Sunday. Is there something wrong?"
Kikuoka informed her, "No. It is perfectly fine. I had spoken to Yuuki-san personally earlier this week, and I was the one who provided her with your contact information. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds, but I believe it is important for you two to speak. Additionally, I can speak on Yuuki-san's behalf that she was not one of the rumored player killers, so you have nothing to fear from her."
Midori was relieved to hear that. "I was hoping you would say that. She did not sound like someone who would be a threat, but why else did you believe it was important that we speak with each other?"
Kikuoka told her, "According to our sources, she aided your son Kazuto-kun with ending Sword Art Online and freeing the surviving players." That was enough to catch Kirigaya Midori's attention. "After everything she has been through, all she wants is to be reunited with those she cared about in the game back in reality. That is why I provided her with your contact information. Once again, I apologize if I overstepped my bounds."
While Midori would have wanted Kikuoka to have contacted her beforehand, she did not appear tohave any problem with Kikuoka's actions this time. "It is fine. I can understand why she would want that. Since we don't know what happened while they were trapped in the game, you never know who they socialized with. To be honest, I am rather interested in speaking with her myself. However, I would appreciate it if you would contact me beforehand if anyone asks for the same thing."
Kikuoka responded, "I can assure you that I will. It's good to see you are an understanding person."
Midori said to Kikuoka in an unsure tone, "I appreciate the information, but should you be telling me about this? A number of the things you have told me have sounded like classified information."
Kikuoka bluntly told Midori, "Technically I am not supposed to, but I thought an exception was in order considering what your son had accomplished. I believe you of all people should know the truth, and I am certain you wouldn't tell anyone else. Am I correct?"
Midori answered, "Of course I have not Kikuoka-san. You warned me that it was in my son's best to keep this information to myself. Not even my daughter or husband knows what you have said. I am guessing there would be some people who might not be happy that my son ended the game right?"
Kikuoka stated in his normal serious tone, "That is my sentiments exactly. Unfortunately, there are a number of players who did know the truth, and it is likely that rumors of your son's accomplishment will spread regardless of what measure I may take. It is important that your family understand both the good and the bad."
Midori responded, "I appreciate it Kikuoka-san."
Kikuoka concluded the conversation, "You're welcome. I will be sure to fulfill my role as well to ensure the Sword Art Online incident ends well for the remaining players. I also hope your first meeting with Yuuki-san goes well. I wish you a good night."
After Kikuoka had finished his conversation with Kirigaya Midori, his subordinate Sato Katsu asked, "Sir was it necessary for you to call the Kirigaya household? I doubt they were going to turn Yuuki-san away. She's a good girl."
Kikuoka answered, "Probably not, but I believe it is necessary to her and Kazuto-kun's family to form a friendship, and I wished to reduce the chances of something going wrong. Despite Yuuki-san's good nature, it is possible that Kazuto-kun's family might have difficulty speaking with another survivor of the game, especially after the 'Laughing Coffin' rumors were spread to the public."
Katsu asked his superior, "How did that rumor spread in the first place?"
While Kikuoka did not know the entire answer, he had an idea. He responded, "While I am not sure about the specifics, it is likely that other survivors told their family members and friends about it in private, and it led to wide spread gossip. I wouldn't be surprised if there are numerous people worried that all the Sword Art Online survivors have become sociopathic killers and we should not try to rehabilitate them to society but leave them in asylums." Kikuoka let out a sigh before continuing. "As a result of that fear, I along with several others have been attempting to quell that public fear. This is especially true for Yuuki-san's case. I believe it would be invaluable for her to cultivate relationships with multiple people, including the Kirigaya household."
Katsu could see that Kikuoka was sincere about that, but he could also see in his eyes there was something more. "I can definitely understand that. However, I also know you well enough that you have larger goals in mind. You probably believe this will somehow give you a lead to helping the players who are still in their comas correct?"
Kikuoka explained, "As I mentioned to you before, I wish to establish a connection to Kirigaya Kazuto. It will be much easier to do if he knows me through his aunt and his girlfriend. Based on description alone, that young man might very well be an important asset to us, but unless the situation is handled correctly he may not be receptive to us. First impressions are important after all." Kikuoka then changed the subject to reiterate his other goal. "Additionally, if Asuna truly has a connection to these strange ongoing comas, I believe having her establish multiple relationships could help provide us with a lead even if it a small one. If there is a connection, one of these relationships should trigger something that can help us. I can worry about future goals and prospects later. For now, it is important to consider the present situation. It is as simple as that."
As soon as Kukoka stated that, Katsu nodded and did not say another word. He knew that his superior's methods may not always be pure, but they did manage to accomplish what needed to be done. That is one of the reasons he was loyal to him. Unfortunately, the same could not always be said about others.
Date: Sunday, November 17th, 2024
Location: The hospital Kirigaya Kazuto is located in
Prior to meeting Kirito-kun's family, I decided to buy him a belated birthday gift. Before we logged out of the game, he told me that he had only turned sixteen a month ago. While I knew that it wouldn't do him any good since he was still in a coma, I still wanted him to have a present waiting for him when he woke up. I did not plan on revealing the contents of this gift until Kirito-kun would wake up.
When I arrived with my escort, Takahashi Hayato, Kirigaya Midori and another girl were waiting for me. Even before the other girl introduced herself, I figured that she was Kirito-kun's younger step sister/cousin. Her name was Kirigaya Suguha. She had short black hair, dark grey eyes, and a childish look on her face. Despite her childish look, I noticed that she had larger assets than me. I couldn't help but feel a little jealous about that, but I partly blame the coma I was in for that.
When they inquired about the gift in my hands, I told them, "Before the game ended, Kazuto-kun told me that his birthday happened recently, and he had turned sixteen years old. I decided that I would bring him a belated birthday gift for when he finally woke up." After I said that, I started laughing a little, "I find it funny that I am actually older than him by one year. There was a time when I assumed that he was older than me."
My escort, Takahashi-san, was kind enough to give me some privacy to speak with Kirito-kun's family. We talked to each other for a while. I answered a number of questions about what happened during Sword Art Online, and how Kirito-kun and I came to know each other. While I was not sure whether or not this was a good idea, I told them about Kirito-kun and I getting married several weeks earlier. I figured they had the right to know about our relationship even though I guess I had already made it obvious to them that Kirito-kun and I were basically a couple.
Kirigaya-san said to me, "An in-game marriage? That sounds pretty serious."
I responded, "It was. Whenever people married in the game, they combined their inventory as a representation of their trust in one and another. As a result, it was a practice that was rarely done in the game."
Suguha-san asked me in a curious tone, "When did you two get married?"
"We were married during October, so we were living together during the last few weeks of the game." As I was saying this, it brought back fond memories of my time with Kirito-kun. "Being together with Kazuto-kun was one of the happiest experiences of my life."
Suguha-san was pretty surprised by everything I had said, "I never would have thought brother would ever get into a serious relationship with a girl."
When I heard Suguha-san say that, I wasn't surprised. After all, there was a time when I didn't think Kirito-kun and I would ever have a relationship. I told the two of them, "To be honest, I never would have thought that I would enter such a relationship with him either. We met each other numerous times during the first year and a half, but it was mostly whenever we were fighting boss battles on the frontlines, and he stayed mostly to himself. We had quite a few disagreements about how we should proceed in those battles too, but in the end I think he was right because he always went the extra mile to ensure it ended well for as many people as possible. I was just focused on clearing the game until he convinced me there was value in our experiences within the Sword Art Online. It wasn't until April that I finally decided that I really wanted to get to know him. After I spent more time with him, I was enjoying myself, and I realized that I was in love. However, I didn't think he reciprocated my feelings until he told me last month. I was so happy when it finally happened."
After I said that, I noticed that Kirigaya-san was smiling at me. She said to me, "It makes me happy there was at least someone who tried to get to know my son during his time in that game. My son has always been a good person, but he hasn't always had the abilities to convey that. His interests have always lied elsewhere. Kirigaya-san then asked me, "I take it that you would want to see if the relationship you had with Kazuto can continue in the real world as well?"
As soon as she asked that, I immediately answered, "Yes. I want that more than anything. I don't know why he hasn't awakened yet, but I want to be there for him for when he does."
I think that may have been the line that finally proved to Kirigaya-san that my feelings for Kirito-kun were real. Afterwards, she allowed me to visit Kirito-kun's room.
Before I was escorted into Kirito-kun's room, I knew exactly what to expect, so I was ready for what I was about to see. On the bed, I saw a comatose Kirito-kun with his NerveGear Helmet still on his head. His eyes were closed, and I saw that he was attached to life support machines like I was when I woke up. It looked as if he should wake up at any moment, but it didn't happen.
When I gazed upon his sleeping face, it reminded me of when I would wake up before him during our honeymoon on the 22nd floor of Sword Art Online. I remember how his sleeping face would reveal his more naïve, innocent side. It was because of that face I began to suspect he was younger than me.
However, looking at Kirito-kun's sleeping face was harder than I thought it would be. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but I wanted to look into his eyes and hear his voice for the first time in the real world. I wanted to speak with him and get to know more about the real Kirigaya Kazuto beyond what I learned from his Kirito alter-ego. I wanted us to fall in love again in the real world and continue our relationship. I don't care about any problems we would experience along the way because I am certain that regardless of anything that could happen, we would be able to pull through together.
Unfortunately, due to something that happened which I was not yet aware of, everything I desired was not going to happen. In this moment, I was so physically close to Kirito-kun, but I never felt further apart from him than at that moment. It felt as if there was an invisible wall that was dividing us and we were worlds apart from each other. I would eventually find out that was not far from the truth.
When I was close enough to Kirito-kun's body, I reached out and grabbed his hand, and I held on with as much strength as I could muster. Due to my condition, it was difficult for me to even do that, but I felt like I needed to hold his hand. Since Kirito-kun couldn't hold my hand, I decided I would hold his for him. While I was holding his hand, I kept telling myself in my head, "Please wake up Kirito-kun. Please," but it was to no avail. It took everything I had to keep myself from crying as I continued to hold his hand. I held onto his hand for as long as I could before finally letting him go.
I placed my present on the table next to his bed and before I left I told him, "I'll be back, Kazuto-kun. I will be here for you until you wake up. I promise you that."
After my first meeting with the Kirigaya family, I was allowed to be one of Kirito-kun's visitors, and they welcomed me to visit their home whenever I wanted to. During the two and a half months after the conclusion of Sword Art Online, I did just that, and I became friends with Kirito-kun's sister, Kirigaya Suguha, rather quickly. She is a very kind girl who is upbeat, outgoing, and social. I never would have thought she and Kirito-kun were related if I did not know otherwise.
During my time with Suguha, I confirmed what Kirito-kun had told me back in Sword Art Online that she was actually his cousin. Kirito-kun's real parents were killed in an accident when he was a baby, and his aunt took him in and raised him as if he was her own son. He apparently began to distance himself from his family after he found out the truth and immersed himself in video games.
After learning this, a few things started to make more sense, such as his lack of social skills and his reluctance to make friends. While I believe he would always act as a loner to a certain degree, I think he had changed a little by the end of the game. He probably would be willing to spend time with some of the survivors of Sword Art Online in the real world, like Klien, Agil, and Lisbeth.
I also learned from Kirigaya Midori-san, Kirito-kun had a love for computers. She believed his interest in computers was influenced by her being an editor for a computer systems magazine. According to her, Kirito-kun had immense programming skills, and he was able to build a computer from parts while he was in elementary school. Apparently, his skills are what led him to his discovery that he was adopted. That would explain why he was able to successfully save Yui-chan before she was deleted by the Cardinal System.
That also reminded me of the unfortunate truth. With Kirito-kun still in his coma, that meant we would not be able to restore Yui-chan either since she was stored in his NerveGear helmet. However, I tried not to dwell on that fact too much.
One time when I was visiting the Kirigaya household after I had recovered enough to walk on my own, Suguha-san and I were talking to about Kirito-kun. She learned the truth about her being his cousin after he became trapped in Sword Art Online, so she was clueless about why he was distancing himself from her. Apparently, after Kirito-kun fell into a coma, she had been attempting to understand him better in her own way.
Suguha-san said to me in a dishearten tone, "I guess after he found out the truth, he couldn't care about me the way that he used to. I still care about him, but I guess our relationship can never go back to how it used to be."
I immediately told her, "That is not true."
She gave me a bewildered look and said, "Huh?"
I told Suguha-san the story, "Kazuto-kun told me about you several months ago. He told me that he regretted his decision to distance himself from you. He wanted to make amends if he could, but he wasn't sure if you would want to. However, I was able to convince him to at least try. Kazuto-kun is a man of his word. I am sure when he wakes up, he will be more than happy to fix his relationship with you."
Suguha asked me in an excited tone, "Really?!"
I said to her confidently, "I guarantee it."
She was so happy when she said, "That would be wonderful."
After a few moments, I decided to change the subject, "By the way, what did you mean that you have been doing things to understand him more?"
Suguha's face lit up when I asked her that. "Oh. Sometime after Onii-chan went into his coma, I was introduced to this virtual reality world, Alfheim Online." Before I said anything, Suguha explained, "The game was thoroughly tested and approved before it was released, so there was no public fear of people having their minds trapped."
I said in a somewhat nervous tone, "I see. Do you enjoy playing this game?"
She excitedly told me, "Yes. After playing this game for a while, I can see why Onii-chan enjoys these types of games so much. My skills in kendo work really well in this game, and you can fly. My avatar's name is Leafa, and I have sort of become famous in that world. You should try it sometime. We can form a party in the future. It would be really great."
To be honest, I was surprised to hear another virtual reality game was allowed to be made after the Sword Art Online incident. I know Suguha-chan said public fear was quelled due to the "thorough testing," but I haven't forgotten that Kirito-kun was a beta tester for Sword Art Online. Kayaba Akihiko was able to use the positive reception the beta testers generated for the game to ensure that the 10,000 unit launch would sell out immediately, so he could trap all of us in there.
Although, having experienced virtual reality myself, I can understand why some people would be too ambitious to discard such projects entirely. I can't lie to myself. The idea of entering another game fills me with excitement and fear. Being able to fly has been a dream of mine not to mention it would be great to be able to do other things that would not be possible in the real world again such as moving at near impossible speeds. However, I am afraid of what could happen if someone like Kayaba Akihiko took control and modified the system. I know I might be paranoid, but it is a feeling I cannot shake.
I scratched my head and sheepishly told her, "I might be willing to try it in the future. However, I think I would rather stay in the real world for now."
After I said that, Suguha-san realized where I was coming from. She apologized to me, "Oh I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude. After all, you just spent two years trapped in a virtual reality world."
I reassured her, "It's okay. You don't have to worry about it. I am interested in trying the game out. I enjoyed partying with Kazuto-kun, and I think it would be fun to party with you as well. However, I just need some time for now."
Suguha then said to me, "I understand."
I thought it would be for the best to change the subject, "By the way Suguha-san, you mentioned that you were a national quarter-finalist for Kendo in middle school right?"
She answered, "Yes." She definitely didn't know where I was going with that.
I asked her, "Could you teach me?"
Suguha gave me a surprised look and asked, "You want to learn kendo?"
I smiled and cheerfully said, "Sure. When I was in Sword Art Online, my preferred weapon was the rapier. I know a rapier and a kendo sword are two different things, but I think I would like to know how to handle something like that in the real world. After using a sword to save my life so many times in the game, it would be great to actually learn how to use one for fun as a change of pace."
Suguha-chan was thrilled to hear me say that. She said, "That sounds great. I would be happy to teach you. When do you want to start?"
I boldly told her, "Would you be willing to start now?"
She then said in a concerned voice, "I guess I could, but do you think your body is ready to handle something like this?"
While I had managed to recover a great deal of my strength due to the gym's recuperation program, I still had a ways to go. However, I was feeling pretty confident. "Not for anything too fancy, but I think I can handle the basics without straining my body. Besides, it would probably be good to give my body some exercise."
What I said seemed to be enough to put her doubts to rest. "Okay then. Just tell me if you feel it becoming too much for you to handle."
As she promised, Suguha-san became my kendo instructor. It was a little weird receiving instructions from someone younger than me, but I should probably be use to that by now. Anyway, she was a good instructor, and I was able to get a grasp of the basics. However, I think it's going to be a while before I can have a practice fight with her. My body still needs time to recuperate, and I have seen how fast Suguha-san could move. Something tells me if she was trapped in Sword Art Online, she would have been in the top ten percent along with me and Kirito-kun.
Eventually, I introduced Suguha-san to some of the friends Kirito-kun and I made during our time in Sword Art Online, such as Klien (real name: Tsuboi Ryoutarou), Lisbeth (real name: Shinozaki Rika), Agil (real name: Andrew Gilbert Mills), and Silica (real name: Ayano Keiko). I was able to find three of them thanks to Kikuoka-san, and the other one was purely by luck. After we became reacquainted in the real world, we made sure to exchange contact information, so we could remain in touch.
Over the months, we would sometimes meet in a place known as the Dicey Café. During one of our get-togethers, I decided to bring Suguha-san with me. I figured it would be great if they became friends with her too. The only one who wasn't surprised to see that Kirito-kun had a sister was Silica, but they were all welcoming to her. As I said before, Suguha-san is pretty sociable, so she became fast friends with them.
Klien: Similar to his Sword Art Online avatar, he likes to wear a red bandana on his forehead, and he has reddish brown hair. He told me that Kirito-kun and he became friends during the first day of Sword Art Online's launch, and Kirito-kun helped him with the basics. After it was announced that the game had been altered to a life-and-death scenario, the two of them went their separate ways because Klien wanted to find his friends and Kirito-kun thought it was imperative they move on ahead before the other players and level up. Kirito-kun told me that he regretted abandoning Klien, but Klien has told me that he doesn't hold a grudge. He is still looking forward to the meal Kirito-kun promised him before he dueled Heathcliff.
I met Klien a few times in the frontlines, but we never had a formal introduction until right before we fought Gleam Eyes boss on the 74th Floor. After we were formally introduced, I found him to be strange and awkward at first because he tried to hit on me, but Kirito-kun shut him up before it got any weirder. Apparently, that was enough to get Klien to see that Kirito-kun had feelings for me. He told me to take care of Kirito-kun because he is a good person but his loner tendencies could be a problem for him. I have taken Klien's words to heart.
During Klien's time in the game, he ended up becoming a talented fighter who made the survival of his friends his first priority. He jumped in and helped Kirito-kun and I save the surviving Army guild members from Glean Eyes without much hesitation. Klien's guild, Fuurinkazan, was composed of six members, including themselves. Their names in Sword Art Online were, Issin, Harry One, Dale, Dynamm, and Kunimittz. Unlike other guilds, they did not lose a single member, and they were all regular participants in the frontlines.
Knowing this made me interested in the adventures the Fuurinkazan experienced. While I know that other players have their own stories to tell, I think it would be extremely important to know more about Klien and his friends. There is no telling what kind of adventures they had gone through whenever they not participating in the frontline boss battles. When we met in the café, I have occasionally asked him for a few stories.
I figured it was always important to start from the beginning, so I asked, "What was it like setting up your own guild with your friends?"
Klien boldly told me, "It wasn't that big of a deal actually."
I had difficulty believing that, so I inquired further. I skeptically said, "Really? During my time in the game I saw quite a few guilds have a hard time getting their feet off the ground and dispersing soon after. Did you have some prior guild experience?"
Klien explained to me, "Yeah I have. I used to run a guild in another game, so I was fairly confident that I could lead another one despite what was at stake in Sword Art Online. After I managed to find my friends in the arena, we quickly agreed that sticking together was the best way to survive and we did. I think it's because of that all my friends are getting reacquainted with the real world like us."
It made me smile to hear him say that. I have seen a number of tragedies take place in front of me with players dying or hearing about players committing suicide because they couldn't stand living in the game any longer. Instead, their story involved sticking and working together, and they forged their own hope for survival. In the end, all their hard work paid off, and they earned their happy ending to rejoin the real world. Hearing stories like this, feels like a much needed victory story that more people needed to hear.
I happily told Klien, "I am glad all your friends were able to make it out okay."
Klien smiled back at me, "Thanks. I appreciate that. Although, we would never have made it out of that game if we didn't work together with fighters like you and Kirito."
I graciously accepted his gratitude. "Don't mention it." I then said, "I would like to hear more about your guild if you don't mind."
Klein seemed surprised to hear me say that, "You mean you want to know about our exploits outside of the frontlines?"
I responded, "We all had separate stories outside of the time we spent on the frontlines. I think it is important to know more about them. I am sure you have a lot of stories to tell."
Klein then said in an enthusiastic tone, "In that case, I would be happy to tell you."
Lisbeth: During her time in Sword Art Online, she became a blacksmith, and she was talented and prideful. I met her while she was building up her business, and I was happy to be her customer. She even created my rapier, Lambent Light, which served me well during the days of the game, and apparently Kirito-kun used my rapier to kill Heathcliff after my 'death.'
Eventually, I recommended to Kirito-kun that if he wanted another sword, Lisbeth would be the person he should go to. Apparently, the durability of her current swords were not strong enough. This led the two them into going on a quest that involved Kirito-kun fighting a massive dragon. After they gained the necessary material, she created his sword, Dark Repulser, and she became his personal blacksmith.
After we were released from Sword Art Online, I wanted to meet Lisbeth in the real world as well. If I were to give a priority list of meeting people in the real world from Sword Art Online, I think she would be second right after Kirito-kun. Unfortunately, unlike Kirito-kun I did not know her real name. After I asked Kikuoka-san to find Lisbeth for me, he told me the gym where Lisbeth was attending her rehabilitation session. After we reunited there, we have remained good friends. I remember our first meeting in the real world like it was yesterday.
When her rehabilitation session was over, she saw and called out to me, "Asuna is that you!"
She immediately approached me in her wheelchair. With the exception of her hair being brown rather than pink, she looked exactly like she did in Sword Art Online. Similar to her avatar, she wore white hairpins to keep her bangs out of her eyes which were dark pink. She also appeared to have a few freckles on her face as well.
I was so excited to finally see her again for the first time in the real world, "Lisbeth! I'm glad you are all right!"
She playfully scoffed at my remark, "Of course I'm all right! Unlike you, I was only the person that created and supplied you with the equipment for fighting on the frontlines rather than risking my life in those boss fights. Being able to fight monsters like those was never really my thing."
It really wasn't. Lisbeth had nine different abilities she was able to utilize in Sword Art Online, and seven of them were used for her blacksmith profession. One of her abilities was being able to equip "Light Metal Equipment" and her only offensive ability was using the "One Handed War Hammer." However, even though Lisbeth had only one offensive ability, she wasn't terrible at fighting.
When I saw her fight a few monsters on her own, she did show that she was capable. She told me that her level before the end of Sword Art Online was 79, which was fifteen levels below me. I guess she probably occasionally fought monsters in order to gather up some raw materials to forge weapons and equipment in her shop.
During our reunion in the real world, we made sure to exchange contact information with each other. As it turns out, Lisbeth originally lived in the country-side which would explain why she decided to set up her blacksmith shop on the 48th floor in a 'country-side' styled area. The setting probably allowed her to feel more at home. Since the school will be located in Tokyo, she has been living in a hostel that was set up for her and other survivors for the course of their rehabilitation and schooling.
During our first meeting in the real world, Lisbeth asked, "Did Kirito-kun really clear the game?"
I was surprised when she asked me that, "How did you know that? Did one of the players who witnessed the fight tell you?"
She told me, "Nope I figured it out on my own." Lisbeth confidently told me, "When it was announced that the game was cleared, I knew in my gut that it was Kirito-kun that cleared the game. We may have only met a few months prior to the game's ending, but the time I spent with him, the skills he possessed, and the guilt he felt for some of his past decisions made it clear to me that if anyone could end Sword Art Online it would be him. Before I logged out, I declared, 'We will, definitely meet again, Kirito!'"
Kirito-kun had told Lisbeth his story about the Black Cats Guild as well. It wouldn't be until later that I would find out his reason for telling her about them, but the reason would not bother me too much as it would other people. I guess it was because of the trust I had in Lisbeth that I knew she would not lie about such things.
Anyway, when she told me that, I felt a lump in my throat because I had to inform her about the grim news. I sadly told her, "Unfortunately, Lisbeth I don't think you will be able to do that for a while."
After I said that, Lisbeth's confident smile disappeared and her eyes widened. She said in a tone of disbelief, "You don't mean . . ."
I assured her, "No he is still alive, but he hasn't regained consciousness."
At first Lisbeth seemed relieved, but that relief soon dissipated when she realized the implications of what I had said. She said in a tone that was a mixture of disbelief and sadness, "What do you mean he hasn't regained consciousness? What happened? The game ended, so he should have woken up too right?"
I told her, "They are not sure what is wrong. Unfortunately, no one knows the answer to this question. It isn't just him either. There are about three hundred players who have failed to wake up as well."
It appeared Lisbeth had a hard time believing what I was saying when she weakly said, "No way."
I didn't say anything at first. I wanted to say something, but I wasn't sure of what I could say. While I did hope that Kirito-kun would wake up, I didn't want to give false hope either. When Lisbeth saw my conflicted face, she changed her tone and said to me, "Don't worry Asuna. This is Kirito we are talking about here. If anyone can get out of this it's him right?"
When I heard Lisbeth say that, it did renew some hope for me. I then said to her in response, "That's right."
I have a feeling she said that because she realized I was already troubled enough by Kirito-kun's situation and her reaction to the news wasn't helping me. Regardless of her reason, she succeeded in making me feel better. If it weren't for Lisbeth, the times I experienced over the following months would not have been as smooth as they were.
Out of all my friends, she is the one that I speak and hang out with the most, so just like our friendship in Sword Art Online we know each other on a much deeper level than our other friends. She has also remained one of the few people I feel that I can confide in. She was the only one I have told of my fears regarding Kirito-kun's condition. During the first few months outside of Sword Art Online, I think she provided me with the most vital role in readjusting to society again. She is a true friend.
Agil: He is one of the few foreign civilians that were trapped in the game. Agil has an African heritage, and he is an extremely tall, bulky, bald man with a brown goatee and brown eyes. Similar to his Sword Art Online avatar, he has two earrings on his left ear. Kirito-kun and I both met him two years ago when we were about to fight the boss on the first floor. One would generally be intimidated by his appearance, but we all knew we had nothing to fear from him.
Agil was one of the few people Kirito-kun was willing to socialize with. I respected Agil because he was a caring, level-headed individual that was able to shut up that obnoxious Kibaou. He also proved to be an invaluable fighter on the frontlines. Similar to us, he had a lot to fight for, and I never saw that death game break his spirit. If it weren't for him, Kirito-kun and I might have died during the first boss fight.
When he wasn't fighting on the frontlines, he was running his own shop within the game. According to Kirito-kun, he used his profits to support lower-level players and the younger players who lived in the Saintly Church. As it turns out, Agil was not a stranger when it came to running businesses. In the real world, he runs a café known as "The Dicey Café" with his wife. We now use his real world café as an occasional meeting place.
One time before I ordered something, I decided that I needed to talk to Agil about something. "If you don't mind Mills-san, I would like to talk to you about something?"
Agil told me in a kind but firm voice, "You don't have to be that formal Asuna. You can refer to me as either Andrew or Agil if you prefer."
I guess the reason I was more formal with Agil at first was due to him being the senior in our group at age twenty-nine. Not to mention he was massive in stature. Even though Klien was twenty-four, I didn't feel the need to be formal due to his personality, and he wasn't that much taller than us or intimidating.
Of the two names I choose to call him by the name I knew him best by. "All right Agil. I will be sure to keep that in mind."
I had become too use to using our Sword Art Online avatar names, that I find it difficult to refer to them by any other name. My friends don't seem to mind me calling them by their avatar names, but a few of them have reminded me on more than one occasion not to refer to them by those names if we are in a public place.
He then asked me, "What did you want to talk to me about?"
I responded, "I never really thanked you for the time you saved both my life and Kirito-kun's life during the first boss battle. We owe you a lot."
Agil waved it off by saying, "It was not big deal. Unlike some players I knew that we were all in this together and we had to act like it. I figured by helping you guys that you would not only do the same, but other people would get the same idea."
That reminded me other something else I wanted to talk to Agil about, "Speaking of which, I am not sure Kirito-kun ever said this, but I could tell he was grateful to how you temporarily pacified those players who were blaming the Beta Testers for the deaths of the players during the first month of the game. I am grateful for what you did too. If it weren't for you, we probably would have had so much internal conflict during the first boss battle that we might have lost from the get go."
He shrugged that off as well, "There is no need to exaggerate that much Asuna, but you're welcome."
I happily told Agil, "I will be sure to have Kirito-kun thank you as well when he wakes up."
Agil said with a playfully smug expression, "I will be sure to look forward to that."
After he said that, we both shared a few laughs at that idea. While we both knew Kirito-kun is someone who would be grateful to others, he was sometimes awkward in how he handled certain situations. It could range from being a normal 'thank you' that you would expect from anyone else to him somehow saying things the wrong way that could cause a person to misunderstand him. People like Agil and I would understand where he was coming from or what he was doing, but other people would probably see him as being rude.
Silica: She was one of the youngest people to be trapped within Sword Art Online. She has brown eyes and hair which she wears in pigtails with red ribbons. Kirito-kun told me that he saved a girl named Silica from a group of Drunken Apes in the Forest of Wandering. Afterwards, he successfully helped Silica resurrect her pet dragon Pina, who was originally killed defending her from the Apes, before the three day time limit expired. Apparently, during their adventure, he also singlehandedly captured the orange/criminal guild Titan's Hand and threw them in prison.
We met after a rehabilitation session at the gym. I overheard her talking to one of her friends, and she mentioned something about having a dragon named Pina. I remembered that name from one of the times Kirito-kun told me about his solo adventures during our time in Sword Art Online. I introduced myself to her and asked her if she knew Kirito-kun which she confirmed. Afterwards, we had quite a lot to talk about.
It was a little awkward to begin the conversation. I walked up the girl and asked, "Did you say you had a dragon named Pina in the game?"
She answered in an unsure tone, "Yes, why?"
I then asked, "Your avatar name would have happened to be Silica would it?"
"Yes." At that point, I wasn't sure if I was accidently making Silica nervous or interested in where I was going with this.
I finally got to the point, "Did you happen to know someone named Kirito-kun?"
When I asked her that, her face seemed to light up, "Yes I do. Do you know where he is?"
It was a shame when I had to tell her that Kirito-kun was still in a coma. I remember the sad look on her face after hearing that. However, I told her the same thing Lisbeth told me that if anyone can return to the real world Kirito-kun could. That seemed to be enough to raise her spirits.
Despite her being much younger than me, we became fast friends. She is a sweet girl, and I wish I could have met her while we were playing the game. Interestingly, she has a similar story as Lisbeth because she is from the country as well and has been living in the same hostel too, and they were already friendly with each other.
Most of them time when I spoke to Silica about her time in Sword Art Online, she told me a lot about her relationship with her AI pet Pina. Unlike other players who thought of AI's as being of lower importance, she spoke of Pina as if Pina were a true flesh and blood being, similar to how Kirito-kun always thought of AI and what I eventually came to accept as well thanks to him and Yui-chan. Hearing Silica talk about her relationship with Pina has further made me regret my previous attitude toward AIs.
I said in an amazed tone, "It sounds like you and Pina had a close friendship."
"Yes we did." She fondly reminisced about her times with her dragon as she said, "Pina was always there for me when I needed her. She was even capable of healing some of my injuries whenever I decided to fight monsters to level up. I don't think I could have survived in that world if Pina wasn't always by my side."
The look on her face when she said that was bittersweet. I had a feeling that while she was happy to have escaped Sword Art Online, she was saddened by the fact Pina couldn't come with her. I guess Kirito-kun and I would feel the same if we were in the same position with Yui-chan.
Silica-chan attempted to change the topic by asking me, "Did you have any pets during our time in Sword Art Online Asuna-san."
While I would never think of Yui-chan as a pet, she definitely came to my mind when Silica-chan asked me that question. I told her, "I never had an AI as a pet, but Kirito-kun and I did form a special relationship with one AI in particular before the game ended."
Silica-chan seemed interested in what I was talking about, "Who was that?"
I didn't tell her that Yui-chan was adopted AI daughter of Kirito-kun and I nor the fact she was suppose to be a counselor system that was blocked from performing her duties by Heathcliff, but I did tell Silica-chan, "Her name was Yui-chan. She was a sweet girl who cared for others. I know some people would make fun of me for caring for her, but she was real to me. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought she was a player like us." I then came to a rather unfortunate conclusion. "It makes me sad that we will probably never see her again now that Sword Art Online has been deleted."
Unfortunately, what I said was a painful reminder to what Silica-chan was keeping in the back of her mind. She sadly said to me, "I know what you mean. When I heard that the game was cleared, the first thing I thought about was how it was too soon to say goodbye to Pina. Before I knew it, I was awake in the real world and Pina was nowhere to be seen. I am happy to be back in the real world again after being trapped in the game for so long, but I just wish I could see Pina again." Tears were beginning to form in Silica-chan's eyes as she said, "Even if it was just for one moment."
When Silica said that, it made me remember what Kirito-kun said about the memory data of the NerveGear. We were all allowed to keep our NerveGears after the incident as a trophy of sorts for surviving the game. Since the NerveGears didn't destroy our minds when we escaped it was possible all the information in them was still there.
I tried to stop Silica-chan from crying by asking her, "Silica-chan, do you mind if I ask you something?"
Silica-chan was still a little teary eyed, but she was distracted enough from her depressed thought when she answered, "Sure. What is it?"
I responded, "Kirito-kun told me that when Pina originally died, she was stored as an item on your inventory right?"
Silica-chan said in an uncertain tone, "Yes." I could tell she was not sure where I was going with this.
I explained to Silica-chan, "Kirito-kun told me that information from our characters, including items were stored in our NerveGear. I would assume that as long as the NerveGears aren't destroyed any information stored in them would remain. I don't want to get your hopes up, but I think that might mean the same could hold true for Pina"
After the Sword Art Online incident, we were allowed to keep our NerveGears as a trophy of sorts to our accomplishment of surviving Sword Art Online. My brother allowed me to keep his NerveGear because I 'earned it.' He also apologized to me for what happened, but I told him it was fine.
Silica-chan's face brightened up after she heard this. She excitedly said to me, "You might be right, but how would we be able to get her back?"
Even though I wanted to, there was nothing I could do, so I told her the truth. "I'm not sure, but when Kirito-kun wakes up, we should be able to ask him. He knows a lot about that type of computer related material. I saw what he was capable of first hand. There is no doubt in my mind that he could do the same for you."
I had never seen Silica-chan face appear so happy when she asked, "Really?"
Seeing Silica-chan's smiling face caused me to smile as well, and I happily told her, "Yep."
I was trying to hold onto hope for the both of us. Kirito-kun told me that he converted Yui-chan into an item before she was deleted by the Cardinal System. If our data, including our inventory, was saved in our NerveGear, it is possible Yui-chan is in there as well. Unfortunately, since I was not savvy with computers and Kirito-kun was still in a coma, there was nothing that I could do for Yui-chan or Pina. However, I still held onto hope that Silica-chan and I would be able to reunite with our AI companions one day.
Whenever we were done with our rehabilitation sessions or jobs, or we had a day off, we would occasionally meet up and hang out in Agil's Dicey Café. I would say it was on at least a semi-weekly basis. Whenever we met during the day, it is usually just us with the exception of a few regular customers. According to Agil, the café is much busier during the nighttime. I guess it would have to be if his business was to make a profit. While I would keep my thoughts about his supposed lack of customers to myself, I have a feeling Kirito-kun would voice it out loud.
Hanging out with friends in such a casual atmosphere has been fun. We no longer needed to worry about living in a world that was filled with all kinds of monsters or player killers from the Laughing Coffin. We can just be normal people again and rejoin society. Although, I don't think we would honestly be this happy if most of us weren't trapped within Sword Art Online in the first place.
The game may have constantly placed us in life-and-death situations, but it was far from being all bad. A lot of good came out of it as well. For one thing, I doubt any of us would have become friends or even known each other if it wasn't for Sword Art Online. The game was like a puzzle box, and we were the pieces that created a picture.
Unfortunately, we are still missing an important piece to our puzzle, Kirito-kun. I am sure everyone would agree with me. If it weren't for him, we would still be trapped in that game. Based on how much harder the later boss battles were becoming, I have a feeling some if not all of us would have died. Not to mention, we couldn't rely on the life support devices that sustained our physical bodies indefinitely. I doubt I am the only one who feels this way. I can see it in their eyes they feel the same. Until the day Kirito-kun awakens from his coma, I don't think our puzzle will ever be finished.
Agil reminded me of that one time during one of our conversations. He grimly said to me, "I heard he still hasn't woken up yet."
I answered in a sad tone, "That's right. I have gone to visit his room a lot over the past few weeks, but he has remained the same. There are no signs that he will be waking up. I keep telling myself, 'He is going to wake up this time,' but I am not really sure what else I can really do. "
When I look back on what I said, it was just an excuse I kept telling myself. While it was literally true at the time there was nothing I could do, it didn't make me feel any better. The only thing I could do at the time was go to his side and hope that the authorities could somehow restore Kirito-kun and the other comatose players.
Agil stated, "I know it's not just him, but three hundred other players haven't waken up yet either." Agil sighed and said, "I don't get it. I thought that when Kirito beat the game everyone would be freed, but here we are. While the rest of us are free to return to our original lives, they are still prisoners in their own bodies. Something doesn't seem right about this in more ways than one."
There was no denying that Agil was right about that. Unfortunately, we would one day find out he was more right than he would have wanted to be. The ignorance we had in this situation was not bliss by any means. If anything, it would leave us feeling horrified at the end.
The only response I could think of was, "It does make me feel a little guilty. I wish we knew why Kirito-kun and the others are still asleep."
Agil responded, "Regardless of the reason, until those three hundred have been saved, we cannot claim our victory over the game."
No matter how I looked at it Agil was right. Until we managed to wake up Kirito-kun and the other players, our escape from Sword Art Online is just a hallow victory. However, as far as we could tell, there was nothing that we could do to wake them up. Even if Kayaba Akihiko was the one still trapping the minds, there is no word on his whereabouts. Personally, I did not believe that is the case based on the conversation he had with Kirito-kun and me on the day the game had ended. However, he was the same man who could not comprehend the atrocity he had committed or at least he pretended to not comprehend it. Whose to say, he wouldn't do something like that again. Unfortunately, we did not have any way of knowing the truth at the time.
Occasionally we would meet two other pieces of the puzzle, Yuriel and Thinker, at the café as well. Kirito-kun and I befriended them less than two weeks before the game ended when we helped Yuriel save Thinker from a dungeon trap. During the past two months after the game, they have become engaged, and they will be marrying later this year. They went from being married in-game to getting ready to marry in the real world. Additionally, from what they have told all of us, their net gaming information site "MMO Today" had been gaining popularity.
Seeing those two makes me think of how Kirito-kun and I were married during the final weeks of Sword Art Online and adopted Yui-chan. I felt both happy and envious of them. Most importantly, they gave me hope. They are living proof that a romantic relationship formed inside Sword Art Online can be successfully integrated to the real world. I want to know if Kirito-kun and I can do the same. In my heart, I truly believe we can have a lasting relationship regardless of where we are.
It was times like this that cause me to think back to after the time Kirito-kun and I married in Sword Art Online and moved into our new home on the 22nd floor a few days before we met Yui-chan. We were gazing upon a beautiful view from our balcony when Kirito-kun gave me an uncertain look.
I remember Kirito-kun asking me, "Our relationship, is it only in-game? Is it going to disappear once we return to the other world?"
His eyes were filled with uncertainty thinking about the future that lay before us. In retrospect, I do not blame him for thinking that way. If it weren't for my father or Kikuoka-san, it would have been difficult for me to find him and some of my other friends in the real world. I wouldn't be surprised if some people who were in relationships during Sword Art Online have not been able to continue them outside the game due to not being able to find each other. I can only hope those players will be able to have happy endings.
When he asked me that, I refused to believe we would stop caring for each other if we left the game. I told him, "That makes me angry to hear you say that Kirito-kun."
What I said shook him out of that uncertain look, and I looked into his eyes filled with conviction. "Even if this was just a normal game rather than this strange situation, I would still love you. I will always love you."
He didn't respond to what I had said. From his facial expression, I couldn't tell that was enough to convince him. I decided to take some action to prove my point by putting my hands on his cheeks and telling him, "I learned something here, and that was to keep trying and never give up. If we make it back to the real world, I'll definitely come find Kirito-kun again, and I'll still love you." Afterwards, I sealed the promise with a kiss, and he didn't ask me a question like that again.
I meant every word I said, and my feelings have not faded. If anything, they became stronger as I spent more time with Kirito-kun during our time in Sword Art Online and whenever I visit him in his hospital room. While he isn't aware of my presence, I am happy to be by his side. I know if the shoe was on the other foot, I know I would wish for him to do the same, and I know he would do so.
There are also times when I think back to the final hour hours prior to Kirito-kun clearing the game that I told him my desire to date him for real, for us to get married, have a family, and grow old together. I also told him that I was afraid we would never have that chance. I have a feeling what I said partly influenced his decision to fight Heathcliff. While it was a real gamble he took, it ended up working out for most of us. In the end, the game has been cleared, and we are both alive even if he remained in a coma. After I found out he was still in a coma, I have told myself over and over again that I would do anything to make my desire to have a happy ending with Kirito-kun a reality and those are words I have every intention to fulfill.
According to Agil, his wife ran the café on her own. It was hard work, but she knew that Agil would survive and return someday. She waited for him to come home, and he fulfilled her hopes when he finally awoke. Similar to Yuriel and Thinker, I could see how much Agil and his wife loved each other. They were meant to be just like I believe Kirito-kun and I are meant to be with each other.
I feel like situation for Agil and his wife was parallel to my own because I was waiting for Kirito-kun to awaken, but there was a major difference. My heart was telling me that waiting wasn't good enough. I didn't know why at the time, but I believed there had to be something I can do to wake up Kirito-kun.
Whenever I would see him in that hospital bed unable to open his eyes, it made my heartache so much. I wanted to look into his real eyes. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted to know what a kiss from him would feel like in the real world. Most of all, I just wanted to spend time with him again and fulfill the promise I made to him.
Unfortunately, I knew that wishing for it to happen was not going to do anything, but not knowing what I could possibly do made me feel so helpless. My inability to help Kirito-kun caused me a different kind of pain. Not only was Kirito-kun the love of my life, but I owed him my life for numerous occasions and there I was less than five feet away from him, but there was nothing I could do to help him return to reality. The only thing I could do was tell both him and myself if there was anything I could do to help him that I would do it without hesitation. That resolve would eventually be put to the test in a way I never thought would be possible.
Date: Thursday, November 7, 2024 at 4:00 p.m.
Location: Forest Area within the game Alfheim Online
A boy with the appearance of the game's 'Spriggan' race who wore dark clothing, as well as short dark spiky hair and pointy ears appeared in the forest. After a few moments, he began to regain conciseness. After he regained his senses, he realized that he was still alive, but the place he was in was not familiar to him. He then realized his appearance was different from what he remembered in Sword Art Online when he touched his head and noticed that his ears were pointy.
When he picked himself up, he desperately shouted, "Asuna! Agil! Klien! Is anyone here!? Answer me!"
Kirito desperately kept calling the names of his friends at the top of his lungs, but there was no answer. While Kirito was used to being a loner in Sword Art Online, this was a different kind of loneliness. At the very least, he was able to message his friends and find out where they were if he needed them through his friend map options. However, when he opened his menu, he saw that he did not even have that option. It caused his heart to sink.
Kirito sadly thought to himself, "What happened to all of you? Where are you?" He rubbed his head with his right hand and continued to think, "I have no clue what is going on here, but I need to get to the bottom of this."
He kept browsing through his menu until he noticed there was a logout button. When he attempted to press it, a message told him "Action Failed." Kirito thought to himself, "This is even worse when I was in Sword Art Online. At least, the menu didn't have a log-out button. This one here is staring me straight in the face, and it is refusing to let me out."
Kirito said out loud, "Is this your work Kayaba Akihiko?! Is this your sick joke?! I thought the game was over!"
There was no answer, but Kirito was not expecting one. He figured there had to be a reason that he was transported here. He could not help but wonder, "How am I even alive in the first place? What is going on?"
After he thought that, he thought back on his final moments with Asuna overlooking the deletion of Sword Art Online. They both made their final declaration of love to each expecting to die when they were engulfed in a white light. Kirito remembered feeling some kind of strange sensation when he was leaving the game. He realized whatever that feeling was must have been the reason for why he was in his current predicament.
Kirito told himself, "There is no point in dwelling on this now. For now, I need to find if there is a town nearby. Whatever is going on, it must be a test or something. Maybe if I accomplish whatever I am suppose to, I can get out of here. Hopefully, if I explore this place long enough, I will find an answer."
Kirito then thought to himself, "Is Asuna trapped in this new world with me as well, or did she somehow return to the real world? Either way, I need to find her. I won't give up until she is in my arms again. That is what I am destined to do."
Kirito: I thought I was supposed to be one of the main characters of this story too.
Asuna: You still are.
Kirito: I feel like I am being treated as a posthumous character. The only times you see me in this chapter are during the flashback sequences or when you visit my comatose body.
Asuna: Well don't forget that during the canon story arc that takes place in Gun Gale Online my screentime was limited, but I'm still considered to be a main character for the series. You are practically the only character in this series that is guaranteed to get the limelight in every story arc while others may get temporarily demoted to extras. Luckily I managed to get some more time in the limelight during Volume 7 of the series and to a certain degree in the subsequent volumes as well.
Kirito: I know, but it still bugs me a little. I guess this is something I will need to get used to or something like that.
Asuna: (Asuna pats him on the back) Don't worry Kirito-kun, you will be getting plenty of screentime soon.
Kirito: (His facial expression turns into one that is less than pleased. It is as if he is expecting something bad to happen.) Yeah, but I don't think its going to be so ideal.
Asuna: (She knows what he is referring to) That's true. I suppose it makes what I go through in the canon storyline seem better by comparison.
Kirito: You're telling me, but I guess beggars can't be choosers, so I will try to make the most of it.
Asuna: That's the spirit Kirito-kun.
Kirito: Although it still makes me nervous about what's to come. This is going to be difficult. I'm starting to think the author has a sadistic side.
Author Notes: This marks the end of the longest chapter I have ever written for a fanfiction story so far. Believe it or not, this chapter was going to be even longer than this. There were a few scenes that I had written out or made plans for, but I decided this chapter was getting extremely long, and I was not entirely sure where I was going to place them. Instead, I have decided to put those scenes into the next chapter. I think it will work out for the better because those scenes will involve not only Asuna adjusting back to the real world, but it will further develop her relationships with certain characters as well.
Regarding the relationship between Sugou and Asuna's father, during episode 15 of the anime and the Volume 3 of the light novel, Suguo put up his kind and respectful façade in front of Shouzou, and he was quick to take it off as soon as Shouzou left the room. I figured that if they had a conversation in this scenario, it would probably go something like this. After all, Shouzou was extremely trusting of Suguo, and he was his first choice as Asuna's fiancé. Additionally, since Sugou mentioned that Asuna had always disliked him, I figured that he revealed his true colors to her before the beginning of the series.
On another note with regards to Shouzou helping Asuna, we saw that Asuna's father was fine with Kirito visiting Asuna's room during the two month period, and he was comfortable with Kirito being near his daughter. That is why I could picture him being willing to help Asuna find Kirito after Asuna explained to him a few things. Not to mention that his 'character interview,' indicated he cares for his daughter's happiness, so I would picture him putting her wishes in front of his desire to see Sugou as his son in law.
So far, I think development for the future storylines of this fanfiction have been going well. As you can see, this chapter established several plotlines, and I have plans for or have partly written out several of the future chapters for the story. Additionally, I already know exactly how I am going to end this story and have written out the plans. Now it is only a matter of getting to there, and it will take quite some time, but I believe the journey there will be well worth it, and I hope you will feel the same.