“Hah…… to think that the bath switches from a men’s bath to a women’s bath and vice versa every two hours… even though it’s so huge that you could just build a wall down the middle to separate it into two…… and only the senior knights can use it in the first place, what discrimination……”
Grumbling with complaints, I dropped down onto the sofa with a thud. The cloth-covered sofa unsurprisingly seemed to be high-quality, as the cushions easily took in my weight with their high elasticity.
The room prepared for me and Eugeo on the twenty-eighth floor of the Central Cathedral was, coincidentally or not, structured just like our rooms at the Elite Disciple dormitory at the Swordcraft Academy. When we went through the door marked with a 【２８０８】 plate, we found ourselves in a shared living room that was about twenty jou(6) in size, with doors on the left and right walls, each leading to a personal bedroom about twelve jou in size. The entire room was greatly bigger and had more luxurious furniture than our room at the academy dormitory, but it seems it won’t take long to get used to it.
Yet my partner didn’t bother looking around the room and instead continued standing bolt upright in the middle of the living room. He seemed like a sleepwalker even when we were climbing down to this room from the ninetieth floor; seems like he still hasn’t recovered from the shock.
Can’t say I blame him. After all, he suddenly encountered the woman that he’s been worried sick about and hoping to see again for the past nine years straight; what’s more, she turns out to be an Integrity Knight, as beautiful as a goddess and in the middle of bathing——and to top it all off, seeing Eugeo and hearing his name didn’t help her recognise him as her old friend.
I stood up after a brief sigh, walked around to my partner’s back and placed my hands on his shoulders. Then I pushed him to the sofa, turned his body ninety degrees and sat him down. As I noticed a simple kitchen beside the left wall while looking around the room, I used my unpolished tea-brewing skills to pour in some strongish cofil tea, which I then brought over to the low table in front of the sofa.
After blowing on the cup as it gave off steam to cool it down a bit, I placed it in front of Eugeo, who then reached out to it with his left hand and picked up the handle seemingly under semi-autopilot mode. He then brought the cup to his mouth and sipped on it a bit, before muttering, “How bitter……” At that point, he seemingly regained his consciousness, as he looked at me after blinking a few times.
Not wanting to waste this opportunity, I peered into my partner’s eyes, before asking him a question.
“Eugeo. That Integrity Knight we met…… was your Alice, right?”
It took about a full seven seconds before I got an answer from him.
“……No doubt about it…… There’s no way I’d mix her up with anyone. That knight is Alice. That golden hair that reminds you of a wheat field in autumn, and those eyes, more blue than even Lake Ruhr…… just a glimpse from those eyes caused my head to go so numb that I was unable to think about anything……”
“Perhaps you would have been better off getting a good ‘ol smack from that sword of hers.”
When I cracked a joke, a sulky expression finally replaced his unreadable expression.
“Kirito, you’d be keeping me company in that case, you hear me. Though, Alice isn’t one to do anything like that…… is what I’d like to say……”
“That knight doesn’t seem to have recognised you as Eugeo, after all, huh……”
When I nervously mentioned that, Eugeo bit down on his lip a bit, before nodding. At that point, I placed my left hand on his head before it could droop down, and began ruffling his curls.
“Have you ever noticeably changed your appearance or something since you were a child? Like, changing your hairstyle or something like that……”
As I got started on that idea, I suddenly realised something. Does hair grow naturally for Underworlders like it does for people in the real world? ——Wait, I haven’t cut my hair even a single time throughout those three years since I awoke in this world; the same probably applies to Eugeo. On that note, I’ve never even cut my nails, nor have I seen any nail clippers here.
While it is only natural for hair and nails not to grow in a virtual world, it makes me wonder what happens when they get cut or burnt in some unforeseen accident. There is no avatar customisation option on the Stacia Window, after all.
My question received a curveball(7) of an answer from Eugeo.
“No, I’ve never used any carsha fruit on me, after all.”
“A carsha…… fruit.”
As I muttered the term back like a parrot, Eugeo gave me a puzzled look.
“Kirito, you did have carsha fruit in your hometown, right? Bottles of concentrated juice were being sold at general stores in the Central Capital, after all……”
Guessing what the effects of the carsha fruit thingie were from his words, I answered.
“O-oh yeah, we did…… I think. You apply some juice you get from a fruit on your head and your hair grows, right?”
‘If I got that horribly wrong, I’m just going to pretend I was joking and laugh it off’, I thought for a moment, but, luckily, Eugeo nodded.
“Yeah. It’s a valuable plant, so if the people at Rulid Village were to find any at a forest, they’d normally sell it to a pedlar; barely anyone would actually use it on themselves.”
“So you’re saying Raios’s long…… I mean, long hair(chouhatsu) was the result of using carsha juice on himself……”
“If you wanted to grow your hair that long, even an entire bottle of concentrated juice wouldn’t be enough for the job, I believe.”
“Hahaa…… so that’s why long hair is so common among men of the nobility.”
“It seems some of them are born with hair that tends to grow long, though. My hair and yours, Kirito, would be considered pretty long.”
After he pulled on my forelocks, as if getting back at me, Eugeo’s gaze returned to the front.
“……Anyway, my hairstyle hasn’t changed since childhood. As for my face…… I can’t really tell without an outside opinion, but it shouldn’t have changed so drastically that I no longer have any likeness to my child self……”
As Eugeo seemed to be about ready to sink back into his gloom, I pulled him out of it with my deliberately loud voice.
“Then there’s no room for doubt! Alice has lost her memories of her life at Rulid.”
Seeing my partner’s face jolt up at that, I gave him a deep nod.
“That’s the only explanation I can think of. What’s more, the one responsible for that, most likely, isn’t the God of Darkness Vector, but rather the Axiom Church.”
Muttering this as his face went pale, Eugeo looked up to the tapestry adorning the wall with the Axiom Church’s crest; at that point, I strongly grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Get it together, Eugeo, if it were God Vector’s handiwork, there’d be nothing we could do, but it stands to reason that there should be a way to undo something that a human has done, right? We’re going to get Alice’s memories back.”
“Bu…… but, how do you plan on doing that……”
“Our only option is to put in our best effort to investigate the matter. Don’t worry, we’re already Integrity Knights, even if only apprentices. We should have considerable authority even inside the Cathedral…… We no longer have any need to be scared of any teachers or dorm managers as we did in our academy days.”
“You were the only one scared of them, though, Kirito.”
With that rebuttal, Eugeo finally showed a faint smile as my hands gripping his shoulders were met by his hands.
“You’re right…… We’ve managed to claim victories in the Swordcraft Academy Graduation Examination, Norlangarth Swordsmanship Tournament, and even the Four Empire Unification Tournament. If we break down here, all the effort we’ve put in so far will have been for naught.”
After uttering these confidence-radiating words, he lowered his hands. Then he reclined on the soft sofa and closed his eyes.
“……Besides, Alice is safe…… and doing well. I have to be glad…… most of all……”
Even when his whispers turned to calm sleeping breaths, I did not try to wake my partner up. It was still only just past three in the afternoon, but a lot has happened today ever since morning and there’s no need to comply with academy regulations anymore. Even if today isn’t a rest day, he’s free to sleep if he wants to…… probably.
After three minutes of waiting, Eugeo’s breathing stabilised and I slowly stood up. Deciding to assign the left side bedroom to my partner just like at the Elite Disciple dorm, I opened the door to it. Then I returned to the sofa, gently picked up Eugeo’s body, and laid him down on the large bed in his bedroom. I then took off his shoes and placed them on the floor, before covering his body with a thin blanket and then taking a breather.
I didn’t tell Eugeo, but the one responsible for sealing Alice’s memories was most likely the Supreme Priest of the Axiom Church, Administrator. If she is capable of halting the natural decline of Life with her arts, meaning that she has obtained de facto perpetual youth and longevity, it would come as no surprise that she is also capable of manipulating memories as well.
If my conjecture is correct, reclaiming Alice’s memories will, unfortunately, not be that easy of an ordeal. It doesn’t sound likely that the silver-haired and silver-eyed ruler with astounding beauty and giving off such an intimidating presence would be so eager to listen to a request from mere inexperienced apprentice knights. For the time being, we’ll have to obediently put in our best efforts with that practice or whatever while we gather information in the meantime. Why did the Supreme Priest seal Alice’s memories—— what on earth happened to her when she was brought to the tower as a criminal?
“Just a little more to go, let’s keep at it.”
Muttering to Eugeo’s innocently sleeping face, I took a step back. Scheming to one day get my hands on that concentrated carsha fruit juice and apply it to my partner’s hair while he’s sleeping to cause him to have long hair, I silently left the room.
Once I had finished organising the baggage in my own bedroom and had changed into a shirt and trousers of simple design yet high-grade texture that had been left for me in the wardrobe, I returned to the living room.
Taking care not to cause any loud noises, I cleaned up the cup and pot, before thinking, ‘What to do now…’ As it seemed that the practice with that Number Twelve-san whatsit that Chief Elder Chudelkin had mentioned would only begin tomorrow, I guess I’m free to consider the remainder of today to be my leisure time, but when I recall that unexpected encounter with Knight Alice, I feel the temptation to idly wander about the tower.
At the Swordcraft Academy, there were heaps of ‘you can’t do this’ and ‘this is bad’ regulations, resulting in me leading a very suffocating student’s life, but now that I’m left alone to my devices in an environment without such regulations, I ended up at a loss at what to do. Though of course, even the Cathedral probably has a variety of rules around——such as the fact that the Grand Bath switches from a men‘s bath to a women‘s bath and vice versa every two hours ——but at the very least, no one left a list of regulations in this room.
However, thinking from a different perspective, this means I could make use of the ‘It’s not my fault that nobody told me about it!’ excuse to get out of trouble. Even Alice, who ended up giving us a bath scene, simply let us off with a “I guess nothing can be done if you weren’t aware of that” in the end. Though, she did seem really reluctant to do so.
I bet we’ll be informed about heaps of regulations either orally or in written form tomorrow, so today will be the final day I can use my blissful ignorance to go around the place freely. For starters, my hunger meter has been been going up quite a bit for awhile now, yet aside from a variety of tea leaves, there’s not a single cookie left for us in the simple kitchen, so that leaves me with no choice but to wander around in search of food in order to prevent the decrease of my Life.
Upon reaching that conclusion, I took the notepad——as paper in this world is a valuable commodity, this too is quite a luxurious item——that had been left for us on the low table and wrote down:『I’m going out to look for food for a bit; be back by the fifth hour bell.』, onto it; after some hesitation, I decided to leave the room without my beloved sword.