Sword Art Online: “If You Were Here” chapter 5

Chapter 5

Just like when I had first come here, the twenty-eighth floor hallway was completely deserted.

As I recall, the Cathedral’s floors twenty-one through forty-nine were supposed to be the dedicated living area for the monks, nuns, servants, and apprentice knights, so why is there such a lack of signs of people living here. I’ve started feeling the urge to open up all the doors I kept seeing on the left and right side of the hallway, starting from doors number 2807 and 2806, but this would definitely be considered a breach of rules—— or even more fundamentally, a breach of basic manners.

At this rate, I guess my only choice is to return to the grand stairs and climb down till I catch the scent of food…… with that thought in mind, I was walking along the hallway with a red carpet laid on the floor, when…

From around the corner ahead of me, I heard something that sounded like scraping. If this were a dungeon, I would be preparing for a fight against monsters, but monsters(kaibutsu) wouldn’t be walking around the Cathedral hallways and, in the first place, I didn’t bring my weapon along. Yet I still erased my footsteps as I approached the corner and promptly checked on what lay ahead with my back against the wall.

Naturally, it wasn’t a monster.

A young woman with a gray skirt and ivory apron was sweeping the hallway with a long broom. Each time she swept her broom with a skillful motion, fine dust particles fluttered from the carpet and dissolved into the air, before disappearing.

The 《spontaneous filth》 in this world was mostly just a visual effect of sorts, so a sweep from a broom or a duster was enough to get rid of it, thus there was no need to collect all of it in a dustpan; nonetheless, it probably still takes quite a bit of work to clean up such huge hallways. An ‘I’d hate to get in her way’ thought passed through my mind, but I couldn’t just pass by her ignoring her existence whatsoever, so I made up my mind and went around the corner, before calling out to her from the back.

“……H-H’llo~”

At that, her hands stopped sweeping the broom, after which her slender body turned around.

Once the woman turned around, I saw that she indeed appeared to be in her late teens, her bright brown hair tied into two and dangling in front of her. Given the hairband with white frills on her head and her puffy-sleeved apron-dress, the term 《maid-san》 passed through my mind, though I had to assume that my Sacred Tongue would probably not be understood.

The woman examined my entire body with a look of wonder, before giving a slight tilt of her head. Her eyes of a darker brown than her hair blinked once, before I heard her weakly-intoned voice.

“Who would you be?”

“Ah……s-sorry. I’m Kirito…… an Integrity Knight apprentice who arrived here just today.”

At that, the woman blinked once more, before giving a deep bow.

“Please forgive my impudence. I would be Corsche, the cleaner. I have heard that new Honoured Knights would be gracing us with their presence at room 2808…… though, if I am not mistaken, I was told that there would be two of you.”

Hearing Corsche’s tone that sounded awfully familiar for some reason, I tilted my head in my mind as I answered.

“Yeah…… there’s another one named Eugeo, he’s currently sleeping in his room. Also…… ehm, there are some things I’d like to ask you……”

“If it is something within my capability to answer, please go right ahead.”

Hearing her answer with that serious look of hers, I quickly sorted through the various questions whirling in my mind, before posing my first question.

“Ehm…… for starters, why’s this place so deserted? As I’ve heard, this group of floors should be inhabited by monks and nuns……”

“There would be two reasons for that, my sir. The first is that the rooms for the monks and nuns are located above floor thirty-one, hence you would normally be unable to chance upon them on this floor. The other reason would be that, at this time of day, the monks and nuns would be found studying Sacred Arts at the training grounds and studies below the twentieth floor.”

“……Studies……”

‘Don’t tell me they’re gonna force us to study there too…’, I muttered with that thought in mind. Putting that worry aside, I voiced a new question that was prompted by her answer.

“In that case, who does live on the twenty-eighth floor here?”

“The twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth floors would be where Honoured Knight Apprentices have their residences, my sir.”

“Eeh…… There are other apprentice knights aside from us……?”

Come to think of it, the Four Empire Unification Tournament is held annually, so it wouldn’t be surprising for there to be ten or twenty apprentices other than us here. So that means that we will have to compete with them in order to become knights proper, and the majority of them are bound to be high-class nobles; wouldn’t that mean that the only thing waiting for us is a repeat of our days at the Swordcraft Academy…… just as I was being dejected by such a thought…

“Yes, currently, there are two other Honoured Apprentice Knights residing on the twenty-ninth floor.”

“……T-two of them? Just a mere two of them?”

Just as I felt as if the wind was taken out of my sails, Corsche gave a nod.

“Yes. Hence, the only people living on the twenty-eighth floor here would be Kirito-sama and Eugeo-sama.”

“…………”

——In that case, give us our own separate rooms! Also, why weren’t we given room 2801 then!

…Was what I felt the urge to shout out, but Corsche wasn’t the one who decided room assignments, of course. Anyway, at least I learnt why there didn’t seem to be anyone on this floor. It’s just that all rooms other than the one Eugeo and I were given are unused.

In that case, where did the winners of the annual Four Empire Unification Tournament go off to? They finished their studies in a single year and moved on to become knights proper…… is what I’d like to think, but then the numbers don’t add up. The Unification Tournament has been held for over a hundred years now, yet Eugeo is number thirty-two, while I am number thirty-three.

As I was seized with a bad foreboding about things, Corsche gave another blink.

“Would that be all with your questions?”

“Oh…… I feel bad that I’m interrupting your cleaning, sorry, just one more…… actually, make that two. Ehm, it’s not like I think we’re better than the monks by any means, but why are the apprentice knight rooms located on the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth floors, while monk rooms are found above the thirty-first……?

“That is because the Dragon Landing Field is located on the thirtieth floor and the Honoured Apprentice Knights have their dragon mounting practices there.”

“…………Dragons……”

Oh that’s right, the Axiom Church’s Integrity Knights double as dragon knights. During my Swordcraft Academy days, I’ve seen huge dragons flying far above in the skies of Centoria numerous times. I’ve always thought of them as beings of a different world, like the stars shining in the night sky, but becoming a knight proper would also mean getting to ride on those dragons.

In that case, I’ll have to get them to let me take the entrance exam for the Cait Sith dragoon squad back in ALO…… with that thought in mind, I opened my mouth once more.

“This will be my final question…… my stomach is so empty that I might die, you see; is there a place where I can get some food?”

‘Being apprentice knights, you are free to visit the Grand Dining Room on the tenth floor to have a meal whenever you wish.’

When Corsche informed me of this, I’m sure that it was only my imagination that I felt her giving me a faint look of shock.

While quickly descending the grand stairs, I finally recalled where I’ve heard Corsche’s polite——or put another way, inhuman tone. The Elevating Operator girl that took Eugeo and me from the fiftieth floor to the eightieth just a mere hour ago. The girl who had even ended up forgetting her own name had a speaking style very similar to Corsche’s.

So does that mean that Corsche also had her natural decline of Life frozen? And that like the Elevating Operator, she has spent tens of years continuously sweeping the hallways of the Cathedral with a broom……?

Once again made aware of my deep awe and slight opposition towards the Axiom Church and Supreme Priest Administrator, I continued descending the stairs. In the morning, it hadn’t seemed like a big deal when we were guided up the grand stairs all the way to the fiftieth floor, perhaps because of the tension I had felt at the time, but now a measly eighteen floors felt like a horribly long distance. Just when my thoughts that the Cathedral’s lower half should have an elevator too were about to burst out of my ears, I finally arrived to the tenth floor.

There were two huge doors further down the wide stair landing; while there was no information plate for it, I could definitely feel a faint but nice aroma coming from beyond them. Having approached them with unsteady steps, I placed my hands on one of the doors, and pushed it.

Beyond the open door——.

“……Wow……”

I found a room so vast that I couldn’t keep myself from expressing my impression. Inside this banquet hall that was close to the level of the 《Grand Corridor of Spiritual Light》 on the fiftieth floor and the Grand Bath on the ninetieth floor in size, there were multiple rows of dreadfully long tables and chairs with a backrest. There was a similar hall in a fantasy movie set in a wizard school that Suguha loved, but this was probably even bigger than that.

On the long table covered by a white cloth, there were numerous candlesticks, silverware, and water jugs among other things, but no sign of any food. ‘Then where is this nice aroma coming from’, as I looked around the hall with that thought in mind, I noticed that there was a counter in front of the inner wall and heard bustling activity and energetic voices coming from beyond it. It seems that the hall was the Grand Dining Room, while the Grand Kitchen was beyond the counter——it appears.

Drawn in by the aromatic fragrance of roasted meat, I passed between the long tables with unsteady steps and approached the counter. Inside the bright kitchen, more than ten cooks in white clothes were chopping something with kitchen knives, or stirring huge pots, or gazing into ovens.

I don’t know how many monks and nuns this place has, but it seems like they will all be coming to the Grand Dining Room at the same time for a meal and the kitchen staff was currently in the midst of preparing a large quantity of food for them. I hesitated interrupting them when I thought of that, but my stomach was just about to reach my back and I don’t even know if I’m supposed to have my meal alongside the monks as an apprentice knight.

‘Chudelkin, you bastard, you should have told us about stuff like that!’, I thought, but the Chief Elder wasn’t here. As my empty stomach continued to grumble, I took a further ten steps forward and leaned over the polished wooden counter as I called out.

“U…… um, excuse me……”

However, nobody would look at me… or more like nobody could hear me over the clamour in the kitchen. I had no choice but to try again.

“EXCUSE ME! CAN I HAVE A MOMENT!”

“Haaah!?”

The impactful groan came from a sturdy-looking cook who was slicing a huge mass of meat on the front kitchen table. When he turned around, the face I saw easily fell in the top three among the 《scary old dudes》 that I’ve encountered in Underworld. By the way, the other two were Sadore, the metalworker who had fashioned me a sword out of the Gigas Cedar branch I had brought to him, and the officer of Zakkaria’s garrison, who had written a recommendation letter that I needed in order to take part in the Swordcraft Academy’s entrance exam, for me.

The cook who, just like the other two men, I was all but certain could make all the kids he passed by cry if he were to go for a walk on North Centoria’s main street, stroked his white beard that looked like an upside-down broccoli with his left hand as he glared sharply at me.

“Whatcha want, young’un.”

“Eh…… ehm…… I was wondering if I could get something to eat……”

“HAAAAAH!?”

Came another imposing groan. The meat chopper in his left hand that was so huge that you could basically classify it as a weapon at this rate gleamed sharply at me.

“Ye know that dinner starts at six, doncha!? If the priests find out that one of ye monks sneaked out of your studies for a snack, ya’ll be tossed in’ta the dungeon!”

“U-uh no, I am not a monk, you see…… I am… a knight……”

“HAAAHH!? A KNIGHT!?”

When the aged cook stuck his head out, the cylindrical, about fifty centimetre-long hat atop his head tilted to the side. After pushing it back into place with his left hand, he let out an even deeper voice.

“If yer a knight, doncha have yer exclusive dining room on the ninety-fourth floor! If ye ask Hana there, she’ll fix ye up with as much of that fancy noble cuisine as ye can eat!”

It was unclear who this Hana was, but I no longer had the energy to climb all the way to the ninety-fourth floor from the tenth floor, and in the first place, it appears that the floors above the fiftieth were basically all restricted to apprentice knights.

“Um no, I don’t really want any fancy food….. besides, as an apprentice knight, I probably can’t enter the exclusive dining room for knights proper……”

“Oh, so yer an apprentice, eh! Why din’cha say so first!”

Having shouted that out, the cook approached the counter and stared fixedly at my face.

“So that means ya lad are the next apprentice knight after Alice-jouchan and Eldrie, eh.”

————————————————————————————————————

I’ve never heard the name ‘Eldrie’, yet I nodded still.

“Y-yes, kind of…… I am Kirito Synthesis Thirty-three, while my partner is Eugeo Synthesis Thirty-two.”

Once I somehow managed to name ourselves without biting my tongue, the cook snorted, before saying the following.

“We’re still gettin’ things ready, so I can only getcha somethin’ simple.”

“T-that would be more than enough!”

“Then hold on a sec.”

As he pointed to the edge of the counter with his meat chopper, I promptly made my way over to it.

Having once again returned three minutes later, the cook placed two white cloth-wrapped packages in front of me. I had no idea whatsoever on what was inside of them, but an awfully pleasant scent hung in the air.

“For now, fill up your tummies with this. If ye wanna get some grub for dinner too, just come on over after the six o’clock bell rings.”

“Umm……”

The cloth-wrapped packages seemed to be about ten by twenty-five centimetres in size and about five centimetres thick. As long as it didn’t turn out that the entire package was only filled with stuff like hajikewatamame (a foodstuff equivalent to popcorn from the real world), it would likely be quite filling.

“Oh no, I believe this will suffice for today.”

“That so. Breakfast is between seven and nine o’clock; if yer late, don’t expect ta find anythin’ left! Also, yer free to do this at breakfast time, but be pretty darn sure ye bring the wrapping cloth back at some point!”

“Y-yes, sir!

Once I nodded, the cook left me with the words, “Well, g’luck out there”, before returning to his work. Upon expressing my gratitude in the direction that his large back had disappeared to, I picked up a package with each hand and left the Grand Dining Room behind.

Just as I once again laboured up the stairway and finally reached room 2808 on the twenty-eighth floor, the five o’clock bell rang out.

‘Touched home base in the nick of time!’(8), muttering this in my mind, I opened the door; when I went around the thick, blacksilver oak partition, I just managed to catch Eugeo drowsily reading the note I had left for him on the table.

Once he raised his face to look at me, a smile found its way on his face as he said the following.

“I see you’ve successfully got your hands on some food.”

“Of course. The capability to find foodstuffs no matter the situation is my greatest skill, I’ll have you know.”

“Haha, I’m just about ready to acknowledge that.”

Having answered thus, Eugeo gave a big yawn; at that very moment, his stomach gave off a lively growl. Once I pushed my red-faced partner on the shoulder to sit down while I placed the two packages onto the table, I brought over a jug from the kitchen and poured some water into our glasses.

Having drunk half of the cold water in one gulp, Eugeo let out a sigh, before turning his gaze to me, sitting next to him.

“Were you the one who carried me to the bedroom, Kirito?”

“Who else do you think could have done that.”

“I was beginning to worry that I started walking in my sleep……”

“I kinda want a glimpse of that, to be honest. Well, let’s dig in.”

After giving Eugeo one of the cloth-wrapped packages, I opened up my own. Unfolding merely a single one of the white cloth’s sides resulted in an alluring aroma directly assailing my nose, prompting me to open the other three sides in a hurry.

Packed inside was a panini-like sandwich, consisting of lightly-fried, rectangular bread slices with tons of ingredients stuffed between them. Seeing loads of various vegetables and roast beef jutting out from the clearly-browned bread, I ended up subconsciously exchanging a glance with Eugeo.

“……Kirito, where did you get your hands on this?”

“There’s a Grand Dining Room on the tenth floor and a pappy who seemed like the head chef there made these for us in three minutes……”

“In three minutes……!?”

Now fully awake, Eugeo carefully picked up his sandwich. Once I did the same, we made eye contact for an instant, before we sank our teeth into the sandwiches at the same time.

The bread was fragrant on the outside yet tender on the inside; the vegetables felt as fresh as just-harvested produce; the meat well-cooked yet quite juicy. There is no culture of eating rare meat in Underworld; nevertheless, the timing for the roast beef’s cooking was quite polished.

Moreover, the sauce on the ingredients was simply irresistible. It tasted like the dressing for Ceaser’s salad with loads of cheese stuffed into it; the taste was just perfect for the vegetables and meat. After devouring nearly half of our twenty-five centimetre-long sandwiches in a trance, Eugeo and I placed the remainder on the cloths and gulped down some water, before letting out sighs of satisfaction.

“……Kirito, at this very moment, the fact that we’ve come to the Central Cathedral is actually starting to sink in for me.”

At Eugeo’s comment, I gave a deep nod.

“I couldn’t agree more…… If this is only a snack made in three minutes, I wonder how big of a feast a proper dinner is…… Wait, hold on. I was told there was also an exclusive dining room for Integrity Knights on the ninety-whatsit floor of the tower. I wonder what kind of grub they serve there……”

“Whoa, Kirito, don’t tell me you’re planning on sneaking in there again.”

As a worried look appeared on Eugeo’s face, I gave him a broad grin.

“Oh well, I’ll set that aside for whenever we become official knights.”

However, according to what I learnt later on, the meals offered to the monks at the Great Dining Room consisted of, if I had to put my finger on it, a very bland menu; it’d be far fetched to call it anything close to a feast. Meaning, the head chef went out of his way making those deluxe sandwiches for a mere apprentice like me.

Furthermore, Eugeo and I would only be able to actually eat some of that 《fancy noble cuisine》 at the dining room exclusive for top-ranked knights on the ninety-fourth floor of the Cathedral after an entire year at best. However, completely ignorant of these facts, we finished eating the remainder of our sandwiches while savouring the taste, whereupon we reclined on the sofa, greatly satisfied.

“Hmm, my stomach is stuffed full…… I really don’t think I could possibly eat anything more before dinner.”

As Eugeo muttered beside me, I also stroked the area around my ventriculus(9).

“That’s what I figured would happen, so I told pappy that we won’t be needing dinner today. Tomorrow’s breakfast is between seven and nine o’clock, I heard.”

“That so…… Though, it’s still a bit early for bed. What’cha wanna do for the rest of the day?”

Asked by my partner, I gazed at the southern window.

Beyond the window with fine, slanted bars, I could see the sky dyed in gold. It’d probably take over an hour for Solus to fully go down.

“Let’s seeee now…… for what it’s worth, wanna do today’s practice quota?”

“Yeah, I was just about to suggest the same thing.”

Upon nodding happily for some reason, Eugeo stood up with great vigour. He then courteously folded the two wrapping cloths and carried them away along with the glasses to the kitchen. Once I also got up, I went over to the two swords hanging on the wall fixtures.

Grabbing Eugeo’s Blue Rose Sword with my left hand, as well as my own black one with my right, I took them off the fixtures and, ‘I’ve really gotta give my sword a name already……’, with that thought in mind, I walked over to my partner as he washed the wrapping cloths.

Once the two of us descended the grand stairs to the first floor and stepped outside through the magnificently gigantic front—— door’s neighbouring small side entrance, Eugeo and I simultaneously took a deep breath.

In front of us spanned a perfectly-maintained front yard. A pure white pavement that was likely around twenty metres-wide, canals to its sides reflecting the sunset, a soft-looking lawn—— Although the Cathedral’s interior was also vast, we nevertheless could feel our shoulders lightening up the moment we inhaled some of the outside air, probably because we had still continued feeling tension somewhere in our minds till now.

The Central Cathedral’s perfectly-square plot was surrounded by a chalk-white wall that reached fifty metres in height. This wall was integrated into the 《Everlasting Wall》 that divided the vast Human Empire into four regions; even a guy like me hadn’t considered climbing over it during my Swordcraft days.

Dead center on the four walls were gates that led to the four imperial capitals. Eugeo and I had come through the northern gate this morning, but because the only entrance to the Cathedral itself was on the southern side, we had had to go in a semicircle via the passages along the outer wall to reach it. In that instance, our guide monk had chosen the eastern path, hence we had been able to gander our eyes around the right half of the plot quite a bit; however, the left half——the western side was still an entirely uncharted area for us. Peering into my partner’s face as he seemed to be looking for a place where we could swing our swords, I gave a broad grin.

“Say, Eugeo Synthesis Thirty-two-kun.”

That very moment, a flash of caution appeared in his green eyes.

“What is it, Kirito?”

“How about we go out exploring for a short bit before practice?”

That very moment, a deliberately emphasised sigh.

“……Hey now, have you already forgotten the big trouble we got ourselves into the last time we did that right after our audience with the Supreme Priest?”

“Though, if we had been good boys and went down the stairs back then, we wouldn’t have found out what the upper half of the Cathedral was like, nor would we have learnt how Alice was doing. We basically still know nothing about the Axiom Church; it wouldn’t be a waste of time to go looking around here and there.”

“…………”

The moment he heard Alice’s name, Eugeo’s expression became tense.

The reason why we passed through the Cathedral’s gate wasn’t to become upstanding Integrity Knights, but rather to go back to Rulid together with Eugeo’s childhood friend Alice. To achieve that, we had to get Alice’s memories back no matter what.

Probably having come to the same conclusion without any need for me to point it out specifically, Eugeo gave a short sigh and nodded.

“Okay, okay; we still have some time till Solus comes down, and it’s not like anyone told us we can’t have a look around the yard, after all.”

“Attaboy.”

Giving a light pat on my partner’s shoulder, I aimed for the plot’s western side.

“So for starters, let’s try going over there.”

“Uh-huh.”

‘Once you agree to something, you never complain about the details; I like that part about you, Eugeo-kun……’, muttering this deep in my chest, I began descending the wide terrace stairs diagonally.

On the western side of the Cathedral, there was a pleasant surprise that far exceeded my expectations waiting for us.

There was a building that looked like a large storehouse deep within a row of tall trees; inside, a group of probably the biggest creatures in the Human Empire——dragons, which were used as rides by Integrity Knights, were resting their wings.

After staring at the entrance to the storehouse-turned-dragon-stable for a full three seconds or so with wide-open eyes, Eugeo and I tried to sneak inside. But, at the last moment, a man in the prime of his life, who got behind us without our notice, stopped us.

The man, wearing strangely-textured overalls and holding a mop in his right hand, introduced himself as Khainag the stablemaster; since there were pregnant she-dragons inside right now, he told us that even us knight apprentices would not be allowed inside. If that was the case, I had no intention of complaining about it. Since we were also told that he wouldn’t mind us sightseeing from the entrance, we spent an extra five minutes or so gazing at the dragons, before leaving the stable behind.

‘When we one day graduate from being apprentices to being knights proper, I wonder if we’ll also get dragons of our own……’, as we discussed such things with some excitement, we walked along the stable further to the north. The path among the mossy old trees was, however, obstructed by a bronze fence.

The fence did have a door, but there was a latch on it. Though I couldn’t see anything similar to a padlock to actually lock that latch.

“……Seems like that door can be opened up from this side, huh.”

When I mentioned that, Eugeo responded with a resigned look.

“I believe it would be pointless to try to stop you; I’ll just let you be the one to open it and get scolded for it later, Kirito.”

“Sure, leave it to me, my dear friend.”

Striking my chest with my right hand, I stepped up to the door. The large latch sure looked tough; it would probably hardly be possible even for us to destroy it by ramming the door from the other side. I peeked inside through the gaps in the fence, but a hedge got in the way, so I couldn’t really see anything.

Making up my mind, I grabbed the latch and applied upward force to it. It creaked a bit at first, but then it came off the receiver, turning two hundred and seventy degrees, before dangling down.

After waiting three seconds or so, I grasped the handle below the receiver. When I pulled it, ‘Creeeak’, the door opened with an ear-grating sound. Since all the doors inside the Cathedral moved smoothly, this door most likely hasn’t been used for a long time. Nevertheless, now that it was open, the rest was in the bag.

Beckoning Eugeo, who was still giving me an unenthusiastic look from his position a few steps away, I passed through the door.

That very moment, a faintly sweet smell tickled my nostrils.

This side of the bronze fence had passages partitioned by a tall hedge; the source of the smell seemed to be the countless buds dotting the hedge. A few of the buds had taken on a pale red colour, but I couldn’t tell what kind of flower they were based on my knowledge.

As I stared fixedly at the sharp-ended buds——

“Kirito…… these are all roses.”

Eugeo said in a hoarse voice beside me. ‘Oh I see, so these are roses’, I nodded, before blurting out, “WHUUT.”

In this world, the anemone, marigold, dahlia, and cattleya flowers, which had stored really high-purity resources, were called 《The Four Great Sacred Flowers》; however, roses were ranked even above them as 《The Divine Flower》; even nobility wasn’t allowed to cultivate them. If you were to find one of the horribly rare wild roses in the hills and fields, you could sell it for a ridiculous sum of money, as I’ve heard; in that case, just how many tens of thousands…… make that hundreds of millions of shears, would the entirety of this hedge be worth……

As I performed my wild calculations, Eugeo lightly pulled on the hem of my coat.

“We really should be going back, Kirito; if you were to carelessly break even a single bud, I believe you wouldn’t get off with a mere scolding.”

“Ah, yeah…… well, you do have a point……”

Even a guy like me would want to avoid being sent to the disciplinary chamber——though it was unclear whether such a thing was present at the Central Cathedral——on my first day. Thinking that I should stop our exploration here, I was just about to head back to the door when it happened.

One of my forelocks was suddenly pulled to the right…… or so it felt. I reflexively looked to the right, yet I couldn’t see anyone on the path between the hedges. As Eugeo had been on my left behind me, it would be impossible for him to have been the one responsible for it unless he had used some kind of psychokinesis, like the time Integrity Knight Alice pulled her sword to her hands.

“……?”

With my head tilted, I was about to start walking back to the door again, but…

My hair was pulled again, prompting me to inadvertently yell out, “What gives!” Feeling Eugeo’s questioning gaze, I looked around our surroundings. But as expected, there wasn’t a single creature, let alone a person, in sight. Don’t tell me some apparition is playing tricks on me……? Is some living ghost, like the one we had encountered in a deserted inn on our way to the capital,(10) trying to prank me?

Such guesses of mine were overturned in an utterly unexpected way.

Something small jumped off my head and landed on the brick-paved passage. I strained my eyes, but since it was only about five or so millimetres in size, not to mention that the lighting was quite dim right now, I could only tell that it was probably some kind of blackish bug.

The tiny bug that seemed to be responsible for my hair being pulled started hopping left and right atop the bricks, before jumping away further down the passage, as if telling us to follow(11) it. I can’t say I didn’t get a bad feeling about this, but neither was I mature enough to just ignore it like that. If this were to have happened in SAO, it would undoubtedly be the starting point for a quest.

“We’re goin’ after it!”

Once I hurled a restrained shout at my partner, I set about running after the tiny bug down the passage to the west. In response, the tiny bug started hopping further down the passage, strictly maintaining a distance of one metre between us. At the end of the passage, it took a turn right, then a left at a crossroad, and we continued weaving our way through the labyrinth-like….. actually, make that genuinely labyrinthine, passageways among the hedges for the next three minutes.

Noticing that our path led to a dead end, I increased my running speed. While it may be a dead end, the walls were actually rose hedges, thus a tiny five millimetre or so bug would have no trouble going through the gaps. If I lost sight of it here, I would probably never find it again, nor did I feel like we could find our way back to our starting point.

“Hey…… hold……”

As I blurted this out, an unforeseen phenomenon took place beyond my fervently outstretched right hand.

A white, glowing plate-like object gradually rose up from the ground just before the hedge that was blocking the path. The light disappeared right away, revealing that the object was no mere plate, but rather a door.

As I hit the brakes with my feet, Eugeo collided with my back, letting out something like “Mugyu.” Just as I was about to fall frontwards, Eugeo pulled me back up.

Three metres ahead of the spot where we had come to a stop, the door’s knob turned in a semicircle on its own. ‘Clink’, a faint sound rang out as the door began opening towards us. Beyond, utter darkness lurked.

The tiny bug jumped through the door that had opened by ninety degrees, disappearing from sight. I exchanged glances with my partner for starters, but neither of us seemed to be able to say anything. When I looked at the door again, thinking what we should do now…

“Oi, would thee step hither already!”

Came a voice from the darkness beyond the door. While it seemed like it belonged to a young girl, the voice also sounded like it belonged to an old sage, causing my body to flinch. I ended up taking a step back with Eugeo, but my gamer spirit hadn’t died down so much that I could possibly pretend I didn’t see anything here.

We were guided here by a small bug, then a door appeared, and then we were told to get inside. If I were one capable of choosing not to go inside, I wouldn’t have played SAO in the first place.

“……Let’s try going inside.”

At my whisper,

“I knew you’d say that.”

Answered my partner.


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.

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset