Sword Art Online: “If You Were Here” chapter 3

Chapter 3

When the enormous door was opened, with great effort taken to make as little noise as possible, we found a grand passage extending straight ahead beyond it. As far as I could see, no people to be found.

As we timidly pressed on, we soon reached a dead end. Though instead of a staircase leading to the upper floors, we found something strange. A tube made of transparent glass that could very well be three metres-wide.

‘Whuzzat’, as I gazed attentively at it, a strange sound came from the upper part of the tube. ‘Pssh’, came a sound that seemed like air gushing out…… no, that’s exactly what it was. A huge disk, with shiny green air gushing out out from its bottom, slowly came down.

Eventually, the disk stopped atop the floor before us. The bottom part of the glass tube opened like a door and a person riding on the disk—— a girl wearing a simple one-piece dress with an apron gave a bow.

“Pardon me for the wait. Which floor would you like to travel to?”

——’Ain’ it an elevator!’ came to my mind, but I didn’t let it slip my mouth. Eugeo seemed to have been taken aback just as well, but eventually he timidly called out to the girl.

“Ehm…… So you could take us to the upper floors?”

“Indeed, my sir.”

“……We are apprentice knights that have just come to the Central Cathedral today; is it okay for apprentices like ourselves to ride it?”

“The order given to me is solely to operate this elevating disk, my sir.”

“I see. In that case, we’d gladly take up your offer for a ride; to the topmost floor, please.”

When I jumped on the disk with these words, Eugeo followed suit with an expression of having resigned to his fate. The aperture of the glass tube closed shut and the girl placed her hands on the glass tube sticking out from the centre of the disk.

“In that case, I shall take you to the eightieth floor, the 《Cloudtop Garden》. System call, generate aerial element.”

The air elements generated by the rite numbered ten. The upper limit of what could be generated at a given time. When the girl made three of them burst, air fired out of the hole at the bottom of the disk, causing it to begin its ascent.

Its speed was a bit slow, but during that time the girl told us some astounding things. That this year would be her one hundred and eighth year working on this job. That she had already forgotten her own name. That her favourite food was a bun filled to the brim with sweet, boiled beans, as well as well-cooled milk——

Eventually, the disk slowly came to a stop and the glass tube door once again opened up. Once we gave our thanks and got off the disk, the girl gave a bow and descended without a sound.

Exchanging a glance with Eugeo, I muttered.

“……She did say a hundred and eight years, right?”

“……She did, yes. Though, I can’t bring to see her as older than us……”

“Meaning, Sacred Arts were used on her Life to……”

I couldn’t bring myself to put the rest to words. Deep down, I had considered the possibility of needing to resort to violence within the Cathedral in order to take back Alice, but if Supreme Priest Administrator possessed the kind of power…… that even allowed her to halt the natural decline of Life, we might get turned into pill bugs or something just for thinking of opposing the Church.

——Regardless, we can’t just stop now though.

Once I told myself that, I once again looked around our surroundings.

As before, no people in sight. A passage like the one on the fiftieth floor extended to the south, another door standing at its end, of course. I had specified the topmost floor, but this didn’t appear to be the actual highest floor of the Cathedral.

“She called it the《Cloudtop Garden》, but it sure looks nothing like a garden…… For now, how’s about going beyond it.”

“……Yeah.”

When Eugeo gave a nod, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder beside him as we walked through the passage. Stopping in front of the door, I tried knocking on it just in case, but it barely made any sound, perhaps because the door was just too huge. Naturally, we didn’t get any response either.

After making eye contact with my partner, I placed my hand on the left door while Eugeo placed his hand on the right. Once we put some force on it, the door began moving unexpectedly smoothly.

Golden rays of sunlight flooded us from inside, bombarding our eyes.

After several blinks, we peered inside. That very moment a “Wooow……” escaped our mouths. This was indeed a garden. The room, as wide as the fiftieth floor, was brimming with greenery; multi-coloured flowers bloomed in profusion and small butterflies fluttered about. The centre was taken up by a small hill whose summit I couldn’t see.

“……No one here either, it seems.”

When I muttered this, Eugeo also tilted his head.

“True…… The Central Cathedral is surprisingly sparsely populated, I guess……”

“Well, the fact that you’re number thirty-two and I’m number thirty-three adds up to only slightly over thirty Integrity Knights in total, after all. Though I have no idea how many priests and Sacred Arts users are around here……”

After giving matching hmms as we lost ourselves in thought, we looked up at the same time. We can’t just stop now after coming this far. ‘It’s all Chief Elder Chudelkin’s fault for not appointing a guide on our return trip from the fiftieth floor!’, shifting the blame onto someone else, I stepped into the Cloudtop Garden.

Walking along a stone-paved path, crossing a clear streamlet, we headed towards the central hill. We climbed the gentle slope with caution. The peak covered in short grass was——empty. Not even a single tree grew here.

Exchanging glances with Eugeo, we descended the slope. There was a large door on the opposite wall; upon leaving the room through it, we were met with a set of large stairs this time. It seems we’d need to climb up with our own feet, rather than use an elevator, this time.

Resolving myself to go as far as we could now that it’s come to this, I began climbing up the stairs. Once we reached the eighty-first floor, I peered into the passageway, but there was no one there either. Same went for the eighty-second and eighty-third floors.

In the end, we climbed all the way up the grand stairs to the ninetieth floor. We were told by the monk that served as our guide that the Central Cathedral had a hundred floors in total, as far as I recalled, thus we were practically near the very top floor by now.

Rather than a passageway, we found yet another grand door blocking our path on the ninetieth floor. If this were an RPG, this sure would be right about the time we encountered a locked door, huh, let’s just be good boys and head back if it’s locked…… as such weak-minded thoughts came to my mind, I put my hand on the door.

However, it wasn’t locked. ‘Gogo’……giving off a loud noise, the door moved, white smoke creeping out from inside this time.

‘Something’s on fire!?’, I thought for a moment, but it didn’t smell like something was burning. Apparently, this wasn’t smoke, but rather water vapour——or steam, it seemed. ‘If that’s the case, then what for’, as such a thought came to my mind, I carefully walked in.

So spacious. Just like the fiftieth and eightieth floors, the entire floor was taken up by a single room, it seemed. The walls on the left and right were all just huge windows, thus there was ample afternoon light pouring in and being reflected off the shiny, amorphous floor. That floor…… wasn’t a floor. It was water. To be precise, hot water. This was a bath.

A stone-paved path ran down the centre of the spacious room, huge pool-like bathtubs on either side. Hot water streamed down with great force from the mouths of several statues, producing a load of steam. Because of that, I couldn’t see far inside.

“……And here I thought that the bath in the Elite Disciple dormitory was big……”

Eugeo’s whisper prompted my agreement.

“This sure is incredible…….You think anyone would mind if we made use of it ourselves?”

“What are you talking about, now’s not the time for that.”

“I mean, when are we ever gonna have a chance to come here again……”

Exchanging whispers, we slowly walked along the pathway. A cluster of steam lingered in the air before disappearing, and appeared again after disappearing.

Suddenly——

“Is that you, Fanatio-dono and…… Scheta-dono?”

Hearing a voice from the front, we suddenly put ourselves on guard.

‘Splash’. Someone apparently got out of the bathtub and came up to the pathway. Because of the steam, I could only make out the person’s silhouette, but——oh shit. After all, the voice clearly belonged to a young woman.

Shouting ‘we’re so————rry!’ as we ran away… was an urge that I considered seriously. However, Eugeo beside me wouldn’t budge. He stood there stock still and dumbfounded, as if his spirit had already left his body.

A figure was approaching us from within(4) the steam. Little by little, the colour and contours of her body became clear. As the last steam dissolved into the air——

There stood a woman with long, dripping-wet, golden hair, and a beauty on the level of the Supreme Priest. A white towel was hanging down in front of her body, but in this world, it was as good as nonexistent. Her lapis lazuli-blue eyes were wide open, first tinged with surprise, then it gradually morphed to anger.

Pressing down on her towel with her right hand, the woman suddenly extended her left hand to the side. Following that, a strange thing took place. From a basket at the edge of the pathway, a golden longsword gently rose up, flew through the air, and found its way to the woman’s left hand.

Pointing the long sword, still in its scabbard, straight at us, the golden-haired woman shouted.

“Do you ruffians know that I am the third-ranked Integrity Knight, Alice Synthesis Thirty!”

————————————————————————————————————

——Alice!

The moment I heard that name, the around ten different apology phrasing variants I had come up with on the spur of the moment were all blown away from my head.

Alice. That was the name of Eugeo’s childhood friend, who had been taken away from Rulid Village by an Integrity Knight nine years ago.

While it’s not like people can’t have identical first names even in Underworld, the actual incidence of that would probably be considerably lower than in the real world. I don’t know how many people are living in the Central Cathedral, but wouldn’t the possibility of a second person with the same name living here be rather low?

Though, the woman, who was hiding her bare body with a white bath towel while thrusting her golden sword towards us, had mentioned something that I couldn’t ignore when she gave us her name. The third-ranked Integrity Knight—— that’s definitely what she said. Meaning, not only is she one of the Integrity Knights, who are the strongest swordsmen as well as arts users in the Human Empire, she’s also in the top three among them…… wait, that’s not the issue here. As I recall, Eugeo’s childhood friend Alice Zuberg was supposed to have broken the《trespassing into the Dark Territory》 taboo and thus taken away to the central capital as a criminal. And they made Alice into an Integrity Knight, one of the guardians of the law, after all that? So there had been such a hidden route to becoming an Integrity Knight, aside from winning the Four Empire Unification Tournament? While I did expect a scenario where she was forgiven for her crime and became a Sacred Arts user, I didn’t even consider the possibility of her becoming an Integrity Knight.

Although the mystery only keeps intensifying, Eugeo should at least be able to confirm whether or not the female knight before us is Alice. Even if it’s their first meeting in nine years, he should be able to tell if she looks like her.

Arriving at this conclusion in those two seconds of deliberation, I whispered to my partner beside me.

“Hey, Eugeo.”

However, no reaction from him. When I glanced at him for a moment, I noticed that his eyes beneath the flaxen curls were both stuck in a wide open state. Witnessing a woman clad in but a single bath towel…… was likely not the cause here.

“I said, hey, Eu……”

“It seems you have no reasonable justification for this, I see.”

My attempt to call out to Eugeo was interrupted by 《Alice’s》 firm voice. Holding down her towel with her left hand, she brandished the sword in her right hand. Although it still had its sheath on, I was certain that it’d take away eighty… make that ninety percent of my Life if she were to strike me with it using all of her strength.

“……H…… hold it hold it, we do, we do have a justification!”

Seeing as it didn’t seem Eugeo would be rebooting anytime soon, I took a step forward and fervently employed my mouth. The female knight’s sapphire-like eyes faintly squinted.

“Go ahead and try then.”

“Um, well you see…… this guy and I were appointed as Integrity Knight apprentices just thirty or so minutes ago and while we were exploring…… I mean, looking around the Cathedral, we happened to come into this room. I swear to Goddess Stacia that we had not a single milise of an intention of peeping on milady knight’s bathing!”(5)

To be precise, we didn’t come up to the ninetieth floor for sightseeing; rather, we were looking for Alice, but I couldn’t just tell that to——……

Wait, hold on. Even if the reason why Eugeo froze up like that was because we ended up finding Alice this easily, how come Alice herself doesn’t recognise Eugeo? As kids, the two played together every day and, even when Eugeo was given the calling of 《Gigas Cedar Cutter》, Alice would bring him a boxed lunch every single day, as far as I’ve heard. Even if their appearance changed considerably over nine years, you’d think she’d at least have some sort of reaction to him.

If it’s come to this, guess we have no choice but to give her our names…… just as I had that idea, Alice had the perfect timing to ask us to identify ourselves.

“Knight apprentices…… you say? You two, what’re your names and numbers?”

“Y-yes, ma’am! I am Kirito Synthesis Thirty-three and this guy…… is Eugeo Synthesis Thirty-two!”

I uttered my partner’s name with as clear a pronunciation as I possibly could.

However, the knight‘s expression showed no reaction to it.


Sword Art Online: “If You Were Here”

Sword Art Online: “If You Were Here”

Score 7
Status: Completed Type: Author: , Artist: Released: 2019 Native Language: Japanese
If You Were Here is an Alicization what-if story, answering the question of what would have happened if Raios and Humbert hadn’t been around to force Eugeo and Kirito into breaking the Taboo Index.In this timeline, Eugeo and Kirito graduate from the Swordcraft Academy, win the Four Empires Unification Tournament, and become Integrity Knight apprentices at the Central Cathedral. However, Quinella (Administrator) and Cardinal are still at odds with each other. Can Kirito find a way to resolve their century-old conflict and bring the two to work together?— The story was released as a bonus with the 8th BD/DVD volume of the Alicization cour 1-2 Blu-Rays/DVDs and is based on Material Editions 28 and 29, with 50 pages of original content not part of the M.Es.

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