It's mind was a machine.

The software entity designated [Gorm the Orcish King] operated according to the rules that had been proscribed for it.

There were 17 parties gathered in this space. Correspondingly, 17 additional opponents from the [Thane] template were created. One [Thane] was an opponent for one [Party]. That was the design principle. There were rules for [Thanes] to switch, but those calculations were separate from [Gorm]. It wasn't dependent on them, so it didn't call them.

However, even if it didn't request the calculations for [Threat Scores], inside [Gorm] was a table. One axis of the table was every single Player. The second axis was every single [Thane]. The data listed inside the table was the Threat score that every single Player was assigned by every single [Thane].

On a randomized time interval, [Gorm] updated the table with the most current calculations. Whichever [Threat] was highest: that was the Player that [Gorm] targeted.

The countdown hit zero. The table was refreshed, and the countdown clock was reset.

[Gorm] activated the semirandom walk pathfinding routine. The character animation for jumping was used. Each time that [Gorm] impacted a surface, whether it was the ceiling, the floor, or the walls, the jumping animation was used.

Finally, the distance fell below a proscribed threshold.

The current HP value was checked. Since it was below 50%, it would roll twice. It had cycled through all the [Weapons] so the selection table was reset to full.

The [Primary Weapon] was selected. The right arm was animated to reach across to the left hip and grab the [Water Hammer].

The [Secondary Weapon] was selected. The left arm was animated to reach across to the right hip and grab the [Blazing Axe], which immediately ignited as part of the startup sequence.

The [Wild Roar] sound effect and facial animation was activated.

The [Water Hammer] swung out. The target player dropped his equipped weapons and equipped a round, steel shield between the start of the [Wild Roar] and the instant the [Water Hammer] struck. Because of [Gorm's] strength parameter was substantively higher than any Player, that was already enough to create a [Knockback] condition. However, the special property of the [Water Hammer] was that all [Water]-class items received the inertia directly even through any shock absorbers or protection.

"He's on Hexi!" The party leader of the target shouted. It neither tripped a conditional in the speech recognition of [Gorm] nor caused the Player's own daemon to pass a flag, so [Gorm] ignored it.

Even though the Player blocked with a shield, the Hammer's blow was delivered directly into their [Blood]. There was a reduction for Magic Resistance, but even so, the Player's HP went down.

"I have this!" The target shouted, addressing the party leader back in turn.

The [Blazing Axe] followed, but even staggering back, the Player still managed to raise the shield again. The burning edge crashed down, forcing the Player down to the ground.

"Come on, let's peel the Boss off him!" The leader roared, even while he attacked [Gorm] with his dual scimitars. Two other Players in the party also attacked [Gorm]. Their damage was below the [Emergency] threshold so it was ignored.

"Kibaou! We'll keep this one busy!" Likewise, there was no attempt to coordinate with the [Thane] that was still engaging the rest of the Party.

The axe let up, and the hammer came down again. Once again, the blow completely bypassed the armor effect of the shield and struck the Player's [Blood] directly.

"Hexi-kun!" The Party Leader roared.

If the Player [Died], then the countdown clock would terminate early, the table would refresh, and a new Player would be engaged.

"Athame." The Player spoke. Those words weren't directed at [Gorm] nor were they addressing other Players. However, they were still capable of creating a temporary connection between the Boss and the Player.

The blazing axe came down in a roar of fire, blasting against the shield, chipping away even more HP.

"Sympathy."

That shield, polished steel, had a marking: between two black curved lines, a blue circle with a red slash in it. And when those words were spoken, an invisible vector connected the center of that red slash with [Gorm]. A spell effect.

That slash was the centerline of a crack. Even though [Gorm] was in between attacks, that shield cracked cleanly in half by itself. The shield shattered, and the pixels broke.

Damage was dealt to [Gorm] in proportion to the damage the shield had received. Additionally the spell passed a query to [Gorm] for the definition of the additional effects attached to both the [Water Hammer] and the [Blazing Axe].

The [Sword Skill] that [Gorm] had been preparing was interrupted and canceled as he received damage and was thrown back as the impact was applied directly to the [Blood], bypassing the armor. The reduced knockback calculated against the greater mass of the Boss model resulted in a total displacement of two meters.

"Switching!" The text recognition engine installed in [Gorm] determined that the Players were changing roles and this new Player, the party leader in medium-weight scale-mail armor, dual-wielding scimitars with [Rune]-type enhancements, was the opponent.

"I'll kill you!" The Player roared, his scimitars bursting into fire as prepared [Runes] on the surface ignited with an effect.

However, the target had not changed. The target of the Boss was the same.

[Gorm] used a dash-type attack skill to dodge sideways and move past the attacking Player and continue to assault the original target, who had changed equipment to a one-handed spear and a rapier-type sword.

"Bastard!" The party leader shouted impotently as [Gorm] simply circumvented him, rather than engaging him.

The spear thrust forward in a desperate counterattack that chipped away more HP, but the fire-shrouded axe came around. The target Player barely caught it with their rapier, stopping the attack from actually passing into the model. However, it was still enough contact that [Gorm] was queried for information about knockback and fire-type damage.

The countdown reached zero. The timer was reset and [Gorm] refreshed the table.

The Player raised his weapon. The tip was shaking from muscle fatigue, but that person was no longer the target.

[Gorm] activated the semirandom walk pathfinding routine. The character animation for jumping was used. Each time that [Gorm] impacted a surface, whether it was the ceiling, the floor, or the walls, the jumping animation was used.

Finally, the distance fell below a proscribed threshold.

The current HP value was checked. Since it was below 50%, it would roll twice. The current equipment [Water Hammer] and [Blazing Axe] were removed from the selection table.

The [Primary Weapon] was selected. The right arm was animated to reach across over the left shoulder and grab the [Ghost Halberd].

The [Secondary Weapon] was selected. The left arm was animated to reach straight back over the left shoulder and grab the [Gale Spear].

[Gorm] animated a crouch as it hit the roof, bending the legs in a spring-like motion. Because the [Gale Spear] was equipped, the long-range procedure was called and [Gorm] used several quick thrusting-type [Sword Skills] towards the target, even though they were halfway across the zone. Blasts of wind emerged from the spear thrusts, shooting towards the Player.

[Gorm] jumped, landed crouching on the floor, in the middle of a group of Players who were engaging a [Thane]. Once again the long-range procedure was called and several quick thrusts were used.

One impacted a Player in the Party that surrounded where [Gorm] had happened to land. The collision mechanics determined it was a hit so [Gorm] passed the damage information, but as an event that unintentionally resulted in Player HP loss, [Gorm] also passed a report of the event to [Cardinal] as a possible bug.

[Gorm] jumped. This time the distance passed into the minimum threshold, so [Gorm] ran the [Berserk Scream] animation.

[Gorm] used thrusting skills for both the [Ghost Halberd] and the [Gale Spear], timing the skills so that they would complete ten centimeters inside the Player's character model.

Although they were both piercing-type attacks, because of the high strength they were used with combined with the additional wind effect, [Gorm] passed the knockback data.

However, the Player did not budge. Although the female character model had heavy armor equipped with a heavy halberd as the weapon, that still wasn't enough to win against the high strength of [Gorm]. But even so, the Player was not knocked back.

[Gorm] reset the attack skills. The commands that had been cued were thrown out because intermediate events were outside expectation.

The Player attacked, using a three-hit attack combo.

[Gorm] canceled the attack command reset and used an automatic counter, bringing the [Ghost Halberd] up to block, and following through with a thrust of the [Gale Spear].

However, it wasn't the Player that lost the strength test and was knocked back, it was [Gorm]. Because of that the counterattack with the [Gale Spear] was penalized and did less damage.

The [Ghost Halberd] still passed damage to the Player's equipment, however. It was set to always do zero damage to Players but to bypass the [Hardness] and deal relatively high damage to equipment. That meant the [Ghost Halberd] was designated for blocking and parrying at higher priority than the roles assigned to [Primary] and [Secondary] weapons.

[Gorm] called a tumbling skill check and animated righting, coming to rest in a crouch with both hands animated in a dramatic raised-arm position as it came to a halt.

Other Players in the target Player's party attempted to attack [Gorm]. All of them had heavy armor and weapons equipped. Since they were all flagged as the same [Guild], it was tentatively presumed that they had similar buffs to the target Player.

[Gorm] changed the baseline assumption that it would win strength checks against Players from that [Guild], as a special condition.

[Gorm] activated the [Furious Howl] animation, and then jumped to avoid the attacks of the other Players in the guild. While it was two meters above the ground, [Gorm] continuously used light thrusting skills with the [Gale Spear] to attack the target Player, who stood in a defensive stance to tank the shots.

[Gorm] swung the [Ghost Halberd] once the range was close, and called a continuous-attack routine for light weapons to quickly trade blows with the Player. Because of the high strength parameter, [Gorm] could treat the [Ghost Halberd] as a [Light Weapon]. Therefore [Gorm] would simply overwhelm the Player's defense with multiple rapid blows. However, the Player kept up with the continuous-attack routine, they were able to block or parry every attack that [Gorm] launched. The Player had some buff condition that allowed them to also treat their halberd as a [Light Weapon] even without a size bonus.

[Gorm] hung, caught in a loop. The continuous-attack routine continued in blow and counter-blow. [Gorm] did not have any openings programmed into it's pattern for the Player to exploit, and the Player did not present any human errors that [Gorm] had a high enough rating to exploit.

Fortunately the special effect of the [Ghost Halberd] ended the loop when the Player's halberd lost all durability and shattered.

[Gorm] called the animation [Victory Roar], and then switched to offensive attacks with the [Gale Spear].

The Player stepped back, raising her arms into a defensive guard, retreating back while tanking blows and blocking with the heavy steel plates of the forearm equipment.

Other Players in the party attacked, circling around [Gorm] and repeatedly using attack commands.

[Gorm] moved forward towards the target Player. Attacks that could be dodged without stepping outside of the movement lane towards the target were checked against the dodge parameter.

The countdown hit zero. The table was refreshed, and the countdown clock was reset.

[Gorm] activated the semirandom walk pathfinding routine. The character animation for jumping was used. Each time that [Gorm] impacted a surface, whether it was the ceiling, the floor, or the walls, the jumping animation was used.

Finally, the distance fell below a proscribed threshold.

The current HP value was checked. Since it was below 10%, the [Primary Weapon] was automatically assigned and the [Secondary Weapon] was randomly selected. The current equipment [Ghost Halberd] and [Gale Spear] were removed from the selection table.

The [Primary Weapon] was assigned. The right arm was animated to reach around to the small of the back and unsheathe the [Duke of Lancashire's Sword].

The [Secondary Weapon] was selected. The left arm was animated to reach straight up over the left shoulder and grab the [Earth Pole].

The [Angered Scream] animation was activated, as [Gorm] closed in on the target Player.

The target player was tall and thin, with a staff-type weapon equipped. Medium armor was visible underneath an open knee-length white cloak with red triangles along the bottom hem.

The target Player stepped back, and two other Players stepped forward. One had a heavy spear that was swung in a spiral that converged to point at [Gorm]. The motion of the spear-tip left ice in the space it traveled through.

Beside that Player, another Player stepped forward and swung their axe in a low attack that collided with and passed through the ground. When it came up, earth followed in the wake, forming a pillar-like shape.

[Gorm] took damage as it smashed into and shattered the spiral of ice. The target Player juked sideways, so that the pillar of earth was between the target and [Gorm]. The other two players were flanking the pillar with their weapons raised in guarding positions.

[Gorm] checked the distance. It wasn't too far.

[Gorm] swung out and down with the [Earth Pole]. Because it had the special property to "pass through [Earth] as if it were [Air]", objects with [Earth] or [Ground] flags were ignored by its collision detection.

The [Earth Pole] passed through the pillar of earth in the way, cracking the target Player on the head, and then passing down through the ground as [Gorm] swung it completely around in a complete circle.

The target Player staggered and collapsed to one knee, but didn't fall down, instead moving back to get out of the way.

The other two Players attacked in tandem.

[Gorm] called the [Wild Roar] and then jumped, touching down on the top of the pillar before leaping towards the target Player.

The target Player pushed away another Player that had been helping them stand, and then raised his staff in a cross guard.

The [Duke of Lancashire's Sword] crashed down into the staff. [Gorm] passed the damage information for a blocked blow and the Player's health creeped down appropriately.

[Gorm] swung the [Earth Pole] down, around through the ground and up to catch the target Player in the sternum.

However, the Player that had been pushed away returned the favor, shoving the target Player out of the way with their own body, receiving the impact onto their own torso. [Gorm] passed the knockback parameter and the Player was launched on an appropriate parabola.

[Gorm] thrust forward with the [Duke of Lancashire's Sword], but the earlier Player with the spear used a dashing attack skill to streak past and under the attack skill, and swing the spear around in a hook. The blow [Gorm] had aimed at the target Player was diverted as it crashed into the sweep of ice left behind by the hooking motion of the spear.

[Gorm] side-stepped and thrust with the [Duke of Lancashire's Sword] again, but a wall of earth erupted in-between the attack and the target Player. It crumbled under the blow, but it slowed the attack enough that the target Player managed to dodge.

[Gorm] received damage as the spear slashed his side. There was additional damage effect from the ice.

[Gorm] ignored it, calling the [Growl] animation and using a triple-hit attack with the [Duke of Lancashire's Sword]. The target Player dodged the first attack.

The second attack was a marginal hit across the face that didn't count as a head-shot. The damage was low.

The third attack was parried. Not by the target Player, but by a player with super-light armor and fist-type equipment that had kicked aside the arm holding the sword with an added wind effect.

The player with the axe scored a back-attack on [Gorm].

[Gorm] attacked by swinging the [Earth Pole] around. The spear using Player intercepted it with a sliding block along the shaft of the spear, diverting the attack and following up with a thrust skill.

The target Player reached up and touched their head, using the healing spells that had earned him his high Threat rating.

This time, the healing effect failed. That was the special effect added by the [Duke of Lancashire's Sword]. It imposed a severe penalty against magecraft healing of wounds it inflicted.

The Players surrounding [Gorm] stepped back. The players that were partied with the target Player guarded for him.

A Player behind [Gorm] shouted so fiercely it could be compared to the [Berserk Scream] that [Gorm] had.

It was the Player with the medium-type scale-mail armor and the dual scimitars. It thrust both scimitars into the Boss character model up to the hilt and then released them, diving away in a roll.

The [Explosion Runes] that were marked on both swords activated inside [Gorm].

The damage information was passed to [Gorm].

[Gorm] deducted the damage from his HP. As a result, the HP had dropped below zero. [Gorm] passed information to [Cardinal] to announce the defeat of the [8th Floor Boss], and then activated the [Last Howl] animation.

[Gorm] burst into shining pixels, and then disappeared.

II I I

[Congratulations!]

Kirito glanced down from the announcement hanging in the air in the center of the room, down at the Players that were gathered around Kibaou and cheering, and finally over at the rest of his party.

Silica looked relieved the battle was over, Asuna looked annoyed that [Armored Thane Brod] had vanished without them actually defeating it, Ilya was pouting and scowling towards the guy who had gotten the Last Attack, and Shirou relaxed out of the starting stance for the [Ranger Dash].

Kirito swung his sword down, and then flipped it up and slid it into the sheath on his back. While doing so, he looked down at the announcement floating in front of him. Casually he stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it around, even though he knew it wouldn't accomplish anything more than placebo effect. That [Boss] had been really loud.

While scanning the list of changes that was now a typical announcement after a [Boss Fight], his face scrunched up as he made a sour face.

"Ugh, [Ranged Weapons] are getting patched in?" He complained out loud, sincerely expressing his discontent.

"Don't you use [Throwing Knives] or something like that?" Asuna asked with a slightly tart expression as she called Kirito out on the contradiction; her eyebrows were raised in an arch expression. It made Kirito squirm in place a little bit.

"That's different." Just looking at her face Kirito could tell he'd rolled a failure on his [Conversation] skill, so he hastened to follow up with a saving throw. "[Throwing Picks] do so little damage they're more like a [Taunt] skill to kite enemies with." Their burst was merely mediocre, but since reloading was a pain, their actual DPS was downright terrible. However, picking mob groups apart and finishing them one-by-one was a fundamental tactic for a soloer. That was why Kirito needed them.

As the sort of girl that would laugh at her friends, naturally Ilya choose then to say something rude. "Leaving aside Kirito's hypocrisy, there were whole categories of [Ranged Weapons] in the Beta." She said it so matter-of-factly, that you would assume it didn't involve her at all, except she had built an alt solely around putting arrows in people's eyes.

That was during the Beta so having an arrow in your eye hadn't actually hurt, only numbed it, but it hadn't inflicted the [Blind] debuff either as a balance matter. Being able to see out of an eyeball with an arrow stuck in it was really distressing. After reading about it on a forum Kirito had thrust an arrow into his own eyeball (in the game, of course) out of sheer morbid curiosity.

As a result of that, he'd also discovered that no matter how much you wanted to, there was no way to vomit inside the game. Supposedly [Berserkah] had used barbed and/or poisoned arrows too.

"That didn't entirely answer my question." Asuna replied to Ilya in a patient voice. It was like she was trying to decide how to ask the same question again without offending Ilya.

Kirito pulled himself back into the conversation at hand.

"Um, I read about it." Silica volunteered, inserting herself into the discussion with a hesitant smile. "It was the top story on [MMO Today] for about a week."

Kirito slapped his fist into his palm as he realized what she was talking about. "Oh, the very first [Boss Raid], right?"

Silica nodded her head enthusiastically.

Seeing the expression on Asuna's face, Kirito changed his class to [Bard] and began telling the story. "The [Boss] of the First Floor was the same in the [Beta] as it was in the [Initial Launch], that is, [Illfang the Kobold Lord]." He began, nodding to accent his words. "However, since the Boss was found on the fifth day of the Beta period, everything in the whole game was still really new, so we didn't really understand all the differences between an old non-Virtual MMO and a VMMO."

"The ranged [DPS] kept splashing the tanks, and it destroyed the cooperation, so the raid collapsed and wiped." Ilya interrupted him to give away his whole story in one sentence. Since hits were fundamentally decided based on collision detection by the physics engine rather than simply being a comparison of competing statistics, it meant splash damage could happen by accident. It was something that would have been obvious to an FPS developer, but Kirito had heard rumors there hadn't been anyone on the design team with an FPS background for political reasons. That was getting off-topic, though.

Kirito shot Ilya an annoyed and slightly exasperated look before turning back to his audience. "Basically." He conceded. "But it was a PR disaster because it blew up into a huge fight and spilled onto the forums, and the biggest of the Clearer Guilds that had emerged by then ripped itself apart very publicly." Kirito had very nearly joined that Guild, and afterwards had counted himself lucky that he hadn't. Probably preventing that kind of thing from happening was why [Guild Formation] was hidden behind a quest gate in the Official Launch.

"That's the story that I read about on [MMO Today]." Silica nodded, before frowning. "But there were patches afterwards, right?"

Kirito nodded. "Yeah, but watching arrows phase through your party members and strike the enemy somehow really broke verisimilitude. And that broke game balance in the other direction, because people would just cheese mobs by having a tank lock them down while the rest of the party spammed them."

"But at the same time, if a mob actually entered melee with the archers, it was an instant fail condition." Ilya added.

Kirito nodded enthusiastically. "Right. In a regular MMO it's possible for a Player to use their ranged weapons at point-blank, but that wasn't really possible in a VRMMO." He sighed, shaking his head. "So [Ranged Weapons] were really strong if you were cheesing, but really weak if you weren't." Since [Ranged Weapons] were extremely scalable, it had pushed the asymmetry between partied players and solo players even further. That was the reason Kirito personally had been against [Ranged Weapons] generally, even if he used one as a support skill.

"So they were good for griefers and bad for everyone else." Ilya brightly added with a completely unironic smile.

Kirito couldn't help but chuckle at her chutzpa. "Yes, that sums it up." In the end, the theory that Kirito had pieced together from a couple threads was that Argus had just decided to push forward so they could get first place in the race to be the first company to release a VRMMO, and then jammed everything they couldn't get to work nicely into a folder called [Future Content] or perhaps more accurately, [Problems for Later]. Thus, [Ranged Weapons] had been removed from the [Official Launch].

Asuna nodded slowly, frowning with a contemplative expression on her face. "I see." She paused for a moment, before she started thinking out loud. "If that's the case, why introduce them now?"

"Well, this was just a rumor." Kirito began, instantly drawing the attention of the whole party. "But supposedly there was also a big divide in the devteam over whether they should keep trying to fix it in time for the [Official Launch] or just scrap it, and in the end, the [Just Scrap It] faction won. So if Kayaba was personally a member of the other faction, he might be doing it for his own goals." Well, that seemed almost petty compared to whatever this [Death Game] was, but on the other hand, maybe it served whatever purpose Kayaba had. As far as Kirito knew something like a [Magic System] had been ruled out as far back as the first draft of the business prospectus, but the [Thaumaturgy Patch] had been installed anyway.

"I wonder." Ilya said with a completely casual tone. Kirito thought it was very suspicious.

For the first time, Shirou spoke up. "But [Archery] was one of those skills, right?" He was looking directly at Kirito as he asked the question.

"Oh?" Ilya said with a warm smile. "So you think you might qualify for the [Archer] class, then?"

For some reason that made Shirou smile back. It was a bitter expression that looked like someone laughing at something that wasn't funny at all, but somehow, there was something strangely like anticipation or maybe even enthusiasm lurking in the corners of Shirou's eyes.

"Perhaps." Shirou said vaguely.

There were many times when Kirito suspected that Ilya was saying something that was intentionally going over everyone's head, even including Shirou.

However, this was the first time that Kirito had ever felt like Shirou was saying something to intentionally go over Ilya's head. Ilya's teasing expression became strange, as she made an expression like she also felt the same way Kirito did.

Ignoring that byplay completely, or perhaps having just missed it while she continued to read the [System Announcement], it was then that Silica spoke up. "Yes, [Archery] is one of the [Projectile Weapon] types, compared to the [Thrown Weapon] types."

After saying that, Silica frowned cutely while looking down, before saying something completely unrelated. "Huh... I wonder what [Mystic Codes] are." Seeing the questioning expression on Asuna's face, Silica explained. "It's the last item on the update list, that [Mystic Codes] are now enabled."

"Enchanted tools." Ilya casually answered without turning from where she was studying Shirou's expression with a careful look on her face.

There was a pause as everyone took that in.

"Really?" Kirito said, his excited tone and cheerful smile completely giving away his feelings.

Asuna had a thoughtful look on her face, as she was nodding slowly.

"Shirou." Kirito addressed the other man in the party directly, and turned to address him directly. "Let's craft a [Lightsaber]."

"Eh?" Ilya tilted her head to the side while Shirou blinked with a completely unsure expression.

"A [Lightsaber]!" Kirito reiterated. "A [Laser Blade], a [Plasma Cutter], a [Beam Sword], whatever they end up being called, let's make one." After listing synonyms, Kirito thought about grabbing Shirou's hand and striking a dramatic pose, but discarded it. He was aware his eyes were probably shining. "That makes that 'vmm' sound effect and everything!" He looked around at the rest of the party, who were clearly not nearly as enthusiastic about it as him.

"Asuna!" He said, reaching out for someone he could always rely on to support him. "Even if you prefer [Trek] over [Wars], even then you still want one, right? A [Lightsaber], that is."

Asuna had a tepid expression that made Kirito feel slightly betrayed.

Rather than respond to him with a negative answer, though, instead she changed the subject.

"Shouldn't we have advanced to the next floor by now?"

Even if she was blatantly changing the subject, it was also true. There had been a few times when the [Door] leading to the next Floor wasn't immediately obvious, but usually someone had found it by now.

Indeed, hadn't the [Paladins] already checked every single wall of the whole room by now? Maybe there was a trick, like it was hidden behind the throne or something?

Kirito settled into a puzzle-clearing mode, considering whether he should Reinforce his vision so he could see better detail resolution or add the ability to see the flow of mana, but just as he was getting into it, he was pinged with a PM.

It was from Argo. He opened it, read it, and grunted sourly.

"Attention everyone!" Diabel called out as he stepped onto the throne, turned to face the whole room as he projected his voice to address the whole room. "I just received a message that the next floor's main city was directly added to the [Warp Gates], so it appears there isn't a [Door] this time!"

"Okay, let's try it." Shirou said.

"Huh?" Ilya said, frowning.

Kirito realized that Shirou had been addressing him. "Yes! Definitely! Combined with the [Thaumaturgy Patch], we'll even unlock the [Jedi] prestige class!" Kirito clenched his fist in a dramatic manner.

"Boys." Asuna said with the tone of someone writing off the situation completely.

"Shirou, you know you don't have to." Ilya's voice had a whiny lilt to it, but she also heaved a resigned sigh at the end of it. Apparently she knew better than anyone when Shirou would stubbornly dig in his heels about something.

"It does sound kind of interesting." Silica admitted with a slightly embarrassed expression.

Ilya rolled her eyes. "It's so lame."

"I will become a Jedi, like my father before me." Shirou said it so dryly and directly that it took Kirito a second to realize the other boy was even making a joke.

"Didn't Luke say that before he found out about Vader?" Silica said with a puzzled frown. Her tone indicated she was asking a leading question.

"That's not really all that ironic though." Ilya said sourly without looking at Silica, before huffing dramatically. "Well, if you're going to help Kirito make something like that, you have to at least promise to do as much with me using [Alchemy], okay?" Ilya crossed her hands and pouted. "I'll show you how much better it is than mere special effects."

Asuna sighed like she was surrounded by idiots. Kirito didn't really understand why.