Last Rites of the Full Moon
By: Lord Archive
Sword Art Online belongs to Reki Kawahara and licensed by ASCII Media Works, Madman Entertainment, and Aniplex USA. All rights reserved and used without consent.
This was a trip I had to take alone. As much as Asuna or Suguha would want to come with me, this has nothing to do with them.
I could've asked Kikuoka for the information on where to go, but I did not want to be further indebted to the government official. It wasn't hard to find out what I wanted to know anyway. An Internet search for specific information about a specific day resulted in only one match. And that lead me to this place.
I looked around at the various stone pillars with names engraved. For some it marked where their ashes were interred, for others merely a public place for people to pay respect to those who passed before them. Finally I found what I was looking for: five short pillars marked with names I had not known then... The real names of the Black Cats of the Full Moon Guild. It was fitting that their memorials would be placed together.
It wasn't time yet I noted and knelt before the names. Memories of the past came unbidden to me. A time when the people those names belonged to had laughed, fought and lived inside a game.
I quickly jump to my feet and bow to the one who spoke. "Sorry, I hope I am not intruding."
The woman shook her head. "Were you a classmate?"
I frown and failed to look at the relatively tall woman whose appearance was too close to Tetsuo for me to think of her as anything but his mother. "I'm afraid not... I first met them just over two years ago."
The woman gasped. "You were..."
I could only answer with a shallow nod.
"Do you... know how my nephew died?"
I bit my tongue on the slightly missed guess on relation, but I was not surprised at the question itself. I tried to rein in my sigh that wanted to escape my lips. This was part of the reason for coming here. "Yes... I was there. Would it be possible to get all the families together?"
The woman nodded. "Actually, most of them should already be on the way here. I'll call them to make sure."
The families began to show up not long after Tetsuo's aunt had arrived. They eyed me warily and spoke quietly to each other. With the arrival of Keita's parents, they approached me to begin.
I told them everything. I began with the deception that started during our first meeting when I pretended to be of a lower level than I was while helping them fight off a group of monsters. Told them how that lie continued as they invited me join their group... their family. How that even though I helped them to level up, I could not tell the truth as I wanted to stay with them. Yet my lies resulted in something far worse than rejection, it led to the deaths of their children. Had I told the truth, four of their children would not have fallen to the deadly trap and the fifth would not have jumped to his death. As I finished, I placed a flower in front of the grave memorials in the order they had died.
Suddenly I felt the stinging sensation of a hand slapping me across the face.
"It's your fault Takuya died!"
Odd that Ducker's mother would be the one to slap me first, especially as he was the one who opened the trapped chest despite my protests. There were times I wanted to blame him, but that would've only added to the lies.
Ducker's father held onto the woman's hand before she could hit me again. "Dear, shut up. It was Takuya's fault for walking into an obvious trap."
"He lied to them!" she hissed out angrily.
He looked sadly at her. "And I can guess exactly what Takuya would've done had he known this kid was a top level player. He would've been MORE reckless. Wanting to go to even higher level dungeons, to level up even faster, all the while believing that this kid would protect them. If I had been the one to play it, that's how I would've reacted."
"I wish you had insisted on playing first!" She pulled her hand free before she turned and stormed away.
Ducker's father shook his head. "You were smart to not even mention your game name. On the divorce papers she listed wrongful death of our son as the reason. I don't blame you for wanting friends and some semblance of a life."
More like being a coward considering I still used my Sword Art Online name in MMOs, so giving that name was akin to giving my real name. Both would lead back to me.
"I can't thank you."
I bowed my head to Tetsuo's real mother waiting for her verdict.
The woman continued, "It wouldn't be enough to convey what I want to say. To know my son wasn't just strong enough to fight, but that he desired to help by working to free everyone. That he did not lose himself to the fighting and continued to live. 'Thank you' is simply not enough."
That was not what I had expected to hear from any of them, though I hoped by telling them the truth they could find some closure.
"Part of me wants to punch you for failing to keep my daughter alive."
I grimaced as Sachi's father was a lot bigger than I had imagined him to be. Yet this man had every right to carry out that threat. He then grabbed me by the chin.
"I know that look in your eyes. You've been beating yourself up over this for two years. You didn't come here to let us know how our children died, you want us to punish you." Sachi's father shoved me away. "All you've done is confirmed for me that shit-head Kayaba murdered my daughter. If I was to blame anyone else for it, it would be her boneheaded friends who forced her to fight. You gave them a fighting chance, they fucked it up."
That last comment from Sachi's father garnered the man glares from some of the other parents, not that I could blame them for their sons were not at fault.
Keita's mother stepped forward. "I had always suspected that was the case. That my son was not with the others when they died. After hearing the others had died, I rushed to the hospital... I could only sit there and pray. Suddenly his heart monitor almost stopped... then it sped up dangerously and then... the hiss... the smell..." Tears flowed from her eyes. "I knew then he found out he was alone and went to join them."
I clench my fists. Never before had I heard what it was like on the other side. To be there when the Nervegear overloaded. I had avoided thinking about what kind of reaction it would cause. Now I could not help but imagine the horror of seeing a loved one having his brain cooked right in front of you. Kayaba may be the forth person I killed in battle, but in his case I have no remorse. The hells he put ten thousand families through and all the deaths he caused, he deserved nothing less.
Sasamaru's mother frowned. "I told you to never mention that again. I shouldn't have been here. I did not need to know my son died while he was scared out of his mind."
"That isn't what you should be thinking about, Mom," Sasamaru's little sister squeaked out. "They may have been in a game, but they still lived in it! They even helped that gaming dork."
Sachi's older brother folded his arms. "There's one thing I want to know. What happened to Shithead?"
I smirk at the refusal to call Kayaba by his proper name. "He subjected himself to the same rules as the rest of us. The reason the game ended at the seventy-fifth level was because that was where he died."
Sachi's father let out a chuckle. "You might have failed to keep my daughter alive, but you avenged her, didn't you?"
I could not answer him. In truth while I was the one who had killed Kayaba, the final strike was to avenge Asuna, not Sachi, nor any of the other nearly four thousand players who had died.
Tetsou's mother placed her hand on my shoulder. "You have helped us more than words can say. We may finally be able to move beyond this tragedy."
I did not want to hear them thank me as they began to leave. It was my lies that led to the deaths of the Black Cats of the Full Moon two years ago today. They have every right to blame me, to curse me. Yet only one of them did so.
Sachi's father lingered behind until it was only the two of us.
"Do you have a family? Friends? A girlfriend?" the man asked with odd seriousness.
I nod to his questions, uncertain why he would ask such things.
"Let them help you get out of the game. My daughter rescued me from the battlefield I couldn't leave even after I returned home. She brought me back into the world. Loved me even though her father was a good little soldier who killed people on command."
There was no need for him to explain what he meant. Even now I sometimes feel like I'm still in Aincrad of old, in the tunnels fighting with my life on the line, and worse when the enemy was no in-game monster, but the red guild Laughing Coffin of whom two fell to my swords when we tried to destroy that guild and later a third with my bare hand.
And then I was left alone to my thoughts. Once again I was in the room where it all ended for Sachi and her friends. Her final words echoing in my mind. "Thank you. Good-bye."
This was something I'm surprised was not covered by the original author. Kazuto's guilt would not go away after learning Sachi's final words. He was able to move on from there, but he would still feel responsible. He would at the very least seek out Sachi's family to tell them how she lived and died in the game.
Finding the grave markers for Sachi and the others would not be a difficult task when all he needs to do is find five obituaries of teenagers who attended the same senior high school, four boys and one girl, who died on a specific day in June 2023. Being the second anniversary of their deaths, he knew someone would be visiting the graves.