Two hours later.
Having returned to our room on the twenty-eighth floor of the Central Cathedral, Eugeo and I returned our swords to their place at the wall in silence, made preparations for our tea in silence, and sat down on the sofa in silence.
In the end, we hadn’t been able to carry out our sword practice, though we only remembered that we had even had such plans when we were climbing up the grand stairs. The person we had encountered in the giant library room beyond the mysterious door, as well as what we learnt from them, were just that shocking.
The person who invited Eugeo and I was a girl that looked to be about ten years old based on her appearance. Introducing herself as 《Cardinal》, the girl explained that she was another Supreme Priest, who opposed Supreme Priest Administrator, and gave us a long… awfully long account of what had happened.
The information overload from her account was so great that I still haven’t managed to get all the things straight, but if I were to forcibly put things together, it’d go like this.
Administrator had once been a girl who went by the name Quinella and she had been a prodigious master of Sacred Arts. Revered as the child of the gods by the people, Quinella had personally established the Axiom Church and had become the de facto ruler of the Human Empire. The Integrity Knights who were assigned to protect the Church had had their memories sealed by Administrator and had been led to believe that they had been summoned from the Celestial World. Protected by Integrity Knights that were each a match for a thousand, the Church’s rule had been as firm as a rock; however, the 《Great Eastern Gate》 that separated the Human Empire from the Dark Territory would collapse in the not-so-distant future, leading to an assault by the military of darkness that numbered in the tens of thousands. Not even Administrator or the Integrity Knight Order would be able to repel such an attack. However, Cardinal had some sort of means to resolve the issue, and if Eugeo and I were to assist her in disposing of Administrator in order to execute her plan, she would return Alice’s memories——
“……’Assist her’ might sound all well and good on paper……”
Having uttered my first words in the past tens of minutes, I subconsciously surveyed my surroundings, before continuing in a subdued volume.
“But that basically just means we’d have to fight against the Supreme Priest, doesn’t it? To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if she could turn us into toads by just pointing a sword at us……”(12)
Eugeo gave a faint wry smile at my words, but his expression immediately tensed up.
“Though, if that Cardinal-san person’s words proved to be true, we wouldn’t be able to take back Alice’s memories on our own. Even if we were to become knights proper, getting our hands on the 《memory fragment》 taken from Alice, and performing a ritual that could reverse the Si…… 《Synthesis Ritual》 would be……”
“Yeah, it would probably be out of our league……”
Nodding, I dropped a cube of sugar into the black tea that Eugeo had prepared. Seeing as the specialty black tea from the southern empire was very bitter despite its magnificent fruity aroma, I’d very much like to add a second cube, but since sugar was quite the luxury in Underworld, I unconsciously ended up being stingy.
Having stirred it well with a teaspoon, I drank a sip of it. Its muscat-like aroma and faint sweetness permeated my weary head.
As Eugeo had mentioned, if restoring Alice’s memories were our top priority, we had no choice but to collaborate with Cardinal. However, while Cardinal didn’t go into details, I could guess what her 《method》 to deal with the invasion from the Dark Territory was, even if only vaguely.
The young Sage with light brown curls jutting out from her gigantic, square cap never once called it “a way to save the Human Empire”; rather, she simply called it “a way to resolve the issue.” The girl whose name was identical to the name of the system that had ruled over SAO was most likely considering the idea of formatting Underworld itself, wasn’t she? Erasing all the Fluctlights, both the tens of thousands of people of the Human Empire and the likely same number of residents of the world of darkness…… indeed, such a method would prevent the shedding of even a single drop of blood, but that would, however, also mean that even the soul of Eugeo, the person blowing on his black tea beside me, would disappear.
Returning the cup in my right hand to the saucer, I glanced at the two swords hanging by the wall, before saying the following.
“Eugeo, what did you feel from Supreme Priest Administrator?”
At my abrupt question, my partner’s green eyes blinked.
“Hmm, what did I feel….. an incredible impact that you’d naturally expect from the person in the highest position in the Human Empire…..”
“Did you think of her as a bad guy? As an utter villain, tens of times more rotten than Raios or Humbert?”
When I asked this following question after lowering my voice to the bare minimum——
“…………While I did think she was scary…… I didn’t really think that she was a bad person.”
Eugeo answered thus, despite some hesitation. After closing his mouth for a moment as if chewing on his words, he immediately continued.
“Though Cardinal-san said that the Esteemed Supreme Priest possesses only a desire for control, I didn’t feel like that were true. After all, she did tell us 『Do your best』. ‘Course, I can’t excuse the fact that she stole the memories of Alice and the other Integrity Knights…… but I feel that this, too, wasn’t done because she was evil or anything.”
Eugeo’s words practically perfectly represented what I had felt myself. That’s right——I felt something akin to an unshakeable will as great as Cardinal’s from Administrator.
In which case.
“……Then, those two have something they must do before their battle.”
“Something they must do……? What would that be?”
“Talking it out, of course. Both Cardinal and Administrator have a common goal of protecting the Human Empire. They’ve just chosen different methods to achieve it…… in that case, wouldn’t it not be impossible to find common ground if they were to take time to talk things out to the end?”
Once I said that, Eugeo stared fixedly at my face, before a strangely-nuanced smile found its way on his face.
“……The heck’s up with that expression of yours?”
“Oh nothing…… hearing you, Kirito, the guy who’s solved basically all of his problems so far with his sword, saying things like that…… it just reminded me that people are capable of growth.”
“Hey hey, you do know that I’ve chosen methods that didn’t involve swords to solve problems on multiple occasions before.”
Unable to give an immediate answer, I chose to distract my partner by giving his sides a good ‘ol rub. Continuing my persistent attack on my partner as he tried to wriggle his way out of it, I used half of my brainpower to think.
Bringing Administrator and Cardinal to a discussion table. Much easier said than actually done. According to Cardinal’s explanations, the two of them had been vigilantly eyeing for an opportunity to obliterate the other for hundreds of years by now, thus merely calling them out to the same place would only lead to the beginning of a battle of extermination, with high-class offensive arts flying left and right. My words alone would most likely not be enough to stop that. We needed some kind of extra factor in the mix.
Once I had finally released Eugeo, I drank up my black tea that had been getting cold and then poured in seconds from the pot. Holding back from using any more sugar, I sipped some of the tea.
At a time like this, what would Asuna do, I wonder.
Would she try to sway them with nothing but logic? While her old vice commander of the Knights of the Blood self would have probably taken this option, I feel that the current Asuna would opt for a different course of action. Something that would resonate more deeply with the other person’s heart than pure words…… yes, such as……
After looking around the tea utensils——the tea pot, tea cups, spoons, and sugar jar lined up on the table, I suddenly stood up. Completely exhausted from my tickling attack, Eugeo looked up at me with a questioning look.
“……What’s up, Kirito?”
“We’re going to the Grand Dining Room!”
“You’re already hungry despite eating that jumbo sandwich?”
“That’s not what I……”
Just when I began denying that notion, I noticed that my hunger parameter had actually risen up by now. Since I had to kick my brain into full gear in an attempt to understand Cardinal’s account, the system had probably sped up the digestion of that sandwich.
“……What about you?”
“Me too, actually……”
Giving a grin to Eugeo as he pressed down on the area of his ventriculus, I said the following.
“A’ight then, let’s get some more food while we’re at it.”
“At what, exactly?”
“That’s still a secret.”
As Eugeo gave a displeased look, I offered him my hand and helped him up, before quickly cleaning up the tea utensils. Just as we went out to the hallway, the eight o’clock bell rang out. I had failed to ask how long the dining room stays open, so we’d best hurry up.
——Come to think of it, how is the etymology for the word 《sandwich》 explained in this world?
As such thoughts ran through my mind, I quickly descended the grand stairs.