AN: And for my next trick, I'll dissappear for a year, then write like a fiend and pump out three chapters back to back. Though this is the last one I have done at this moment, but hopefully it won't take me long to finish the next chapter.

Review Responses:

Night of StarClan- Oooh. See, when it said in the series that it was specialized medical terminology I thought it was a completely separate word from what would be used in common speech. Because plenty of languages have words like that, where they have one word you'd use in common speech, but another that's only used under certain circumstances? And sometimes if you go to look those sort of words up, they'll have a note that you shouldn't use them in regular conversation since it's not what that word is for? I thought it was like that, and I was more weighing if she'd know it or not, but I figured that people constantly pick up terminology that's generally not used casually, like modus operandi for instance, from just watching TV and the like, so I was thinking it's was possible she'd picked it up reading/watching German stuff. Though apparently I should've been more concerned with figuring out where she learned it was medical vocabulary. It's kind of fascinating to know that most native German speakers wouldn't even know it's medical terminology. Thank you for the compliments on my writing and I'm glad you've been enjoying the fic!

DA Exodus- Well, here's another surprise uodate for ya then!

shadowchaos5150- That is so not true. I have an entire document that's literally titled "NW Notes and Later Scenes" and if a scene pops into my head that I like and niggles me enough that I can't focus on the current scene I'll just go write it out, then edit it to fit any changes that might have occurred to the plot when it's time to put that scene in its place. And if the muses are just jumping a little ahead in the current scene I'll just add like five paragraph spaces to indicate a missing section, then write the upcoming section out. Sometimes it actually helps to have the upcoming part of the scene written out already so I can just focus on bridging what I already have with the future segment of the scene. I'm glad you liked the chapter though! And yeah, you remember correctly, though I have no idea how long the Excalibur Arc will end up being.

AvidReader2425 (technically multiple reviews you left in a row, but they were recent, so.)- I do have an Arc coming up that takes place outside VR, and I'm sorry you dislike that a lot of the HP stuff feels pointless at the moment. Honestly though, no matter what sort of balance I have between the three, it isn't long before someone is asking me to go back to another portion or to stop going over certain portions as much. For example, you want more IRL stuff, but there's an amount of my readers that hates when I put, in there opinions, too much focus on DMC and HP stuff or don't have enough VR stuff going on. I'm not trying to be rude, and I really hope it isn't coming off that way, I'm just saying that at this point I've learned that no matter what sort of balance I try to make, there are going to be people who are unhappy with it, so I've long reached the point of just doing whatever mix seems relevant at the time. I understand you aren't trying to be critical or mean, and like I said I hope you also realize I'm not trying to be rude here or anything like that, but overall I guess what I'm trying to say is that what you see as issues other people see as exactly what they want and would be upset if I focused more on IRL stuff. Which is why they're going to be unhappy with the IRL stuff that's coming up soon, but I've accepted that there's no balance I could possibly find that wouldn't garner unhappy grumbles at best. I am glad you were happier with some of the later chapters with more IRL content though! And yeah, the NW Order of the Phoenix sucks especially with control freak Dumbledore in charge. It's funny that a lot of people seem to think I share Marzanna's views on murder, but I really don't? I'm actually of the opinion that if someone is trying to kill you, applying equal force with extreme prejudice is the way to go, but Marzanna isn't me and she wasn't raised like I was, around the beliefs that you have the right to defend yourself and you should fuckin exercise it.

He was glad that she'd let him comfort her, and that she'd stopped crying so heart wrenchingly, even though she probably needed a good angry cry since it seemed like she'd been bottling everything up for years.

She's been leaning against his shoulder quietly for a few minutes, and he wants to talk to her, but he doesn't want to rush her. As such, he's a little surprised when she breaks the silence, "I still hate you, but…" Then she shifts and rests her head on his leg tiredly, "Let me lean against you for a while." She's silent for a few beats before she continues, "I… killed someone. Five years ago, there was a robbery at a post office in a small Tohoku town. The media said the robber died when his gun misfired. But actually, I was there, and I stole his gun. And I shot him to death."

He frowns sadly, "Five years ago? Then you would've been-"

Sinon cuts him off, "I was eleven. Ever since then, whenever I see a gun, I throw up or pass out. Whenever I see a gun, I can see the face of the man I killed. And I get scared… So scared."

He glances at her sniper rifle, "But."

She seems to understand what he wants to say though, since she responds immediately, "Yeah. In this world, I've been okay. So I thought… If I could be the strongest person in this world, I could be stronger in the real world. I could forget that memory…" She narrows her eyes, "But back there, when Death Gun attacked me, I was scared. At some point, I stopped being Sinon. I was back to being the real me." She wraps her arms around herself tightly, "I'm scared to die. But… But… Living in fear hurts just as much. If I run from Death Gun and those memories, without fighting, I'll become even weaker than I was. So… So…"

He closes his eyes. He still hasn't fully come to terms with this, but he's been getting better in the months since he first started having nightmares in July. Enough at least to let him open his mouth to try to help Sinon and to keep his voice steady for the most part, "I've… also killed before."

Sinon opens her eyes and turns a bit where she's laying to look at him in surprise, "Eh?"

He can't quite look at her, but he pushes on, "I told you before that Death Gun was a Player Killer in SAO, that he was a member of the unofficial player killer guild, Laughing Coffin. That I knew him from there. A raid sized party was formed by the frontliners to imprison them when they became so much of a problem that even those guys who were single-mindedly focused on clearing the game couldn't ignore it. I was one of the members of that group."

He reaches over and clutches his arm, "The information was leaked, and we were ambushed instead. In the horrible chaos that followed, I killed three Laughing Coffin members with my own hands. It's not like I had much of a choice, some of those guys were so crazy they kept fighting even with barely a sliver of HP. There wasn't really a way to safely subdue them in the middle of the battle, towards the end when the majority had been caught, killed, or fled, we started being able to pin them when they went berserk, but before we reached that point, there was nothing anyone could do against those kinds of opponents except kill or be killed. I'm… still trying to come to terms with that."

He sucks in a breath, "For a while, I tried to force myself to forget what I'd done. But on top of the fact that I have been informed that such behavior is wildly unhealthy," That sentence was stated in a dry tone that manages to pull a weak chuckle from Sinon before he continues more seriously, "it also only made things worse for me in the long run. Like my subconscious was trying to punish me for it or something." He sighs, "I still haven't fully come to terms with it, but I've been making progress towards getting better." He narrows his eyes, "Until yesterday, when I met that man, Death Gun." He thumps his head against the cave wall he's leaning against, "Even if his avatar is different, just seeing that man yesterday made me feel like I was back-sliding all the way to day one."

Sinon nods slowly, "Because Death Gun was a member of Laughing Coffin, right?"

He nods, "Mm. He's undoubtedly one of the ones who survived the chaos that the subjugation raid turned into. Just seeing him brings up one of the worst memories of my life. But, that's exactly why. I have to finish things with him here, in this world, stop him from hurting anyone else. And… maybe this is selfish, but also for my own sake, so I can continue moving forward."

Sinon sits up abruptly, "Kirito, tell me one thing, please. How did you overcome those memories? How did you keep them from controlling your life? How are you able to be so strong now? Because I- I!" She slumps, "It's been five years for me, and I still haven't made any progress at all."

He blinks in surprise, then shakes his head slowly, "I haven't overcome them, just because I've been moving forward doesn't mean it's like it never happened. Last night, I had a nightmare where I saw the three I killed over and over. It wasn't the first time I'd had that nightmare, though it's been a little while since I had it. I could barely sleep. Their faces when their avatars disappeared… Their voices, their words.. I'll never be able to forget them."

Especially since he's started practicing Occlumancy, but he shakes off the thought to pay attention to his companion. She looks troubled by his response, "Th-Then… Then, what do I do?"

He reaches up and grabs her wrist, "It's different for everyone, but therapy really does help you know, and forgive me for presuming, but it doesn't seem like you ever got any. For me, Having people I can lean on when it gets harder helps too, and I think you might be the same, since you said earlier that you've never given a part of yourself to anyone. That means you've never let anyone in since it happened, right?"

She looks away, "But. I… I don't have anyone."

He shakes his head, "That isn't true. You guys may not have known each other for very long, but you have Hanna and Blue Rose. Their family can be a bit… eccentric and they're different in ways even you don't know, so they don't let people in often or easily. But. Hanna and I got married in SAO, and while the government may not acknowledge that, we do, and so does her family. I'm telling you this because I know them very well, and they've definitely decided you're one of theirs. They'd be there for you in a heartbeat if you asked. In game or IRL."

He smiles lightly, "And we may have only known each other for a couple days, but you've got me too. You can learn to accept what happened, and you may not have realized it before, but you do have people you can turn to to help you move forward Sinon. To help you find and walk the path you need to heal. To help you carry that burden when it's too much. You aren't alone, Sinon. There are hands reaching out to you. You just need to take them."

Sinon pulls her hand back, "That…"

He lets her, not trying force her to accept his comfort, "It's OK if you aren't ready to reach back. Just know those hands reaching for you, me and Hanna and Blue Rose. We'll wait. And when you're ready, we'll be there."

She nods hesitantly and after a few moments, lays her head back down on his leg. The quiet stretches for a bit before Sinon breaks it, "Death Gun… Whoever is wearing that cape is a real person, who actually exists, aren't they?"

He nods, "Yeah. If I knew their name from SAO, we could find their true name and address and they could be arrested. That's why I came here, even though I was already sure yesterday that they really had found a way to kill people. I… can't remember who they were back then. If I fight them though… I'll know who they are then."

Sinon nods slowly, "He can't forget about SAO either, and he came to GGO because he wants to PK again, right?"

He looks down at her, "I think it's more than that. When he killed Zexceed and Lightly Salted Tarako… And when he tried to kill Pale Rider earlier… He chose times when a lot of people were watching. That exaggerated cross sign… Even the way he went on about power both times he successfully killed… He's probably trying to appeal to a large mass of people. To show them that he really has the ability to kill people from a game."

Sinon lifts her head a little, "But how is that possible?"

He narrows his eyes as he gazes at the deposit of some sort of red liquid slowly bubbling in the cave, "From what I heard, Zexceed and Tarako didn't die of brain damage, but heart failure."

She blinks in surprise, "Heart failure?"

He glances down at her, "I said this earlier when we spoke before the tournament started."

She raises an eyebrow and dryly states, "I was a little distracted by the possibility of being a target."

He returns his gaze to the tar in mild curiosity, "Fair enough. Anyway. To be honest, I can't even imagine how he's doing it. I'd like to think that there's no way to stop a player's heart by shooting them in a game." Then he lifts his hand and presses the side of his forefinger to his chin in thought, "No, wait. Come to think of it… It's kind of strange."

Sinon turns slightly to look at him, "What is?"

He tilts his head a little, "When I was carrying you, why did Death Gun use his rifle to shoot at me, rather than his handgun? If he'd used his handgun he could've killed me. If he's as fixated on me as what he said to you implies, I'm sure he wants to kill me."

Sinon narrows her eyes thoughtfully, "That's true."

Sinon turns over to place her hand on his leg and rest her chin on it, clearly thinking it over hard. His gaze flicks down to her holster, which had been empty since she'd run into Death Gun. He's not entirely sure how that happened, but it worries him, since it means she's completely without a weapon when her rifle isn't suitable.

A moment later though, it gives him an idea, "Maybe it isn't that he didn't use it. But that he couldn't use it. That black handgun. A reason he couldn't shoot it. His rifle. That cross sign he made. A cape that hides you. Conditions. Rules." His mind flashes back to Kikouka saying he was relieved he'd said aloud that it was impossible to kill someone in a game, "I knew it. You can't really kill someone with a gun in a game. Just shooting them with a gun in the game wouldn't be enough."

She looks up at him, "What do you mean?"

He idly watches a lizard scurry by as he thinks it through, "What if you needed to make some preparations in the real world to kill someone by shooting with a gun here?"

Sinon sounds disbelieving, "Preparations in the real world?" Even though he isn't looking directly at her, he sees her glance down briefly, "If that was the case, how would he find the player's real-world information? He doesn't know who they are."

It only takes him a few seconds of thought to answer, "No, even a regular player could find the target's address." When she makes a confused noise, he looks down at her, "The governor general's office. BoB players enter their true names and addresses into that terminal. It's in an open space with no privacy."

Sinon pulls away a little bit in sheer disbelief, "No way. When we entered them, he was looking over our shoulders?" Then she shakes her head lightly, "If someone was that close, we'd have noticed."

He glances away, "What if he was using a scope or binoculars?"

She shakes her head again, "That's impossible… He'd get his butt kicked for bad manners."

He lowers his voice, "What if, just hypothetically, Death Gun's cape worked in town?"

She shifts uncomfortably, "He turned invisible and looked over our shoulders? But Death Gun's logged into the game. He can't do anything in real life."

Kirito watches the lizard drink the red liquid as he tries to think. Quite suddenly, the tail moves, showing another tail that had been hidden behind it and the image smashes the epiphany into his head. At the same time the sun shifts from setting to being mostly behind the horizon, and the warm orange light from the sunset turns into a cooler purple that feels a little ominous, "No. No, he can! There are two Death Gun's… Two of them! The first of them is the avatar in the beat-up cape. He shoots the target in the game. The second enters the target's room in the real world and simultaneously kills the defenseless player. That's why he didn't shoot at me earlier. I didn't have time to put my information into the terminal, so he doesn't know my real information. He has to be careful not to shoot me with that gun, or the illusion he's carefully crafting will break."

Sinon sucks in a breath, then sits up quickly, "Even if they knew the targets' true addresses, they'd need a key to get in. What about others in their houses?"

He shakes his head, "Zexceed and Tarako both lived alone, in old apartment buildings. In this day and age, physical key locks are rare. But if the building was older, then electronic locks on the doors were probably also older ones with bad security. And when their target is diving in GGO, their actual body is almost completely unconscious. Senses are left somewhat intact on purpose, partially as a subtle way of reassuring people that the AmuSphere is different than the NerveGear, and partially so diving players can still do things like hear someone they live with calling for them. But the extent that you can experience the real world while diving is very small. So even if they had trouble opening it, as long as they weren't making the sort of huge racket that would draw neighbors' attention anyway, then there's no way they'd be noticed by the players."

Sinon's voice trembles, likely since it's all too easy to imagine, "Th-Then how do the victims die? You said it was heart failure, right? Could you stop someone's heart in a way that's undetectable to police and doctors?"

He grins sarcastically, "There'd have to be suspicion of foul play to do in depth autopsies. And gamers in general aren't exactly known for taking great care of their health, but VR gamers in particular who can trick their bodies in game into thinking they've been taken care of are notoriously worse as a whole." Then he narrows his eyes thoughtfully, "That being said… Some kind of drug… probably."

She cuts in before he can continue, "But wouldn't they find that? Like a pin prick from the injection… or a tox screen or something?"

He shakes his head, "Since they lived alone, the bodies weren't found for a while, so they were pretty badly decomposed already. And it isn't unheard of for hardcore VRMMO players to die of heart attacks after not eating or sleeping for days."

Sinon looks down and shakes her head in disbelief, "No way. Why would Death Gun do all that?"

He nods, "Yeah, it's going a bit far… But he must've wanted to continue being a red player pretty badly. From interviews later, it was learned that for a lot of Laughing Coffin members, being PKers whose actions really killed people was the most thrilling thing they'd ever experienced. A lot of them seemed to have completely reconstructed their identities around it by the time we subjugated the majority of the guild on that raid. I know that for someone who's only ever played normal VR games that may seem a little ridiculous, since most people view the player and the character as two separate entities, but for most of us in SAO, we didn't have that luxury. Before SAO I probably would have agreed that 'Kirito' was an entirely different person. Nowadays, I don't even notice when friends from SAO call me by that instead of my real name IRL because it seems just as natural. And… When I first woke in the hospital, one of the first things I thought was how frustrating it was that I'd gone from The Black Swordsman to someone weak enough that they struggled just to sit up, even though I'd never held a real sword in my life. I was far from the only player who went through something like that."

Sinon glances away, "I kind of understand that. Sometimes, I think to myself that I'm a sniper, and I'll end up having to correct myself mentally… Then the other Death Gun who's killing people in the real world is also…"

He nods, "He's probably another member of Laughing Coffin. But he needs to check that the time closely aligns with his real world partner, or he wouldn't be able to do it." He blinks in surprise as another piece of the puzzle falls into place, "That's it. Maybe that cross gesture is to camouflage checking his wristwatch without breaking the deception that he really has power."

Sinon looks down, "I see…"

Then he purses his lips and reaches up to grip her shoulders, "Sinon, I realize this is private, but do you live alone?"

She nods slightly, "Y-Yeah. The door's locked though." Then she furrows her eyebrows as she glances away, "I have an old electronic lock too. The chain…" Her eyes widening slightly, "Might not be locked."

He glances away, watching some sort of scorpion creep out from behind a rock and start making its quiet way to the drinking lizard, "All right… Listen. You must stay calm and listen." He turns away from the two creatures to look Sinon in the eye, "When he was firing at us from his mechanical horse, he was aiming at you. That means that the preparations are complete, or at least he's checked the time and thinks they should be."

Sinon tilts her head in confusion, though given that she's a smart girl, it's probably more a subconscious rejection of the truth that has prevented her from understanding this herself and asking, "Preparations? For what?"

He squeezes her shoulders lightly, "Death Gun's partner is in your room right now, watching the tournament stream and waiting for you to be shot. Or at least, Death Gun thinks they are. Otherwise he wouldn't be trying to shoot you with that gun."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the scorpion sting the lizard, which seems like some sort of ominous metaphor, or worse a sign, right now. He doesn't spare it any thought beyond that as he continues to stare Sinon down as her eyes widen and her breathing begins to quicken. She clutches her eyes shut briefly, but after a moment they snap open in panic as she jerks away from him breaking the loose hold he'd had on her shoulders, "No… No! No, get away from me! I can't…"

Her eyes blow wide open and she clutches her upper arms as she begins to tremble and hyperventilate. Unlike in SAO, one of the minor differences between that and newer VR was how it handled player heartbeats. Research sometime after SAO had become a Death Trap had come to the conclusion part of the reason players struggled to see each other was due to the little detail of heartbeats. Even in SAO, a player could feel their own heartbeat, not because the NerveGear wasn't capable of hiding the sensation, but because it was quickly learned in development that if a person couldn't feel their heartbeat their brains would start instinctively freaking out. While he'd been stuck in SAO, new research had come out suggesting that people were constantly subconsciously taking in small details about other people, like how fast their heart was beating based on watching minor fluctuations in pulse points like the neck. People weren't conscious of it, but without it players in multi-player games instinctively struggled to see each other as actual people without being able to see those details. As such, though it wasn't a necessity like it had been for feeling your own heartbeat, details like that had soon found their way into VR games.

He may not know exactly where Kayaba was, but he'd since learned that the man had been using an experimental device to dive that would take a full scan of his brain at the cost of cooking it and theoretically upload him to the internet, set to activate when he died in SAO. Given that he'd seen Kayaba in ALO and that The Seed he'd given him had included the updates that utilized the AmuSpheres ability to monitor heart rate to include such details makes him firmly believe the bastard had been successful.

All of this was to say that while Sinon hugging herself tightly and hyperventilating was worrying, when her heart starts to beat so hard that he can easily see the vein on her neck throbbing with alarming speed, he grabs her shoulders desperately, "No, Sinon!" He pulls her close and wraps one arm around her in a hug, hoping to calm her down, "Even the tournament's no-log out settings won't interfere with the automatic safety features. If you automatically log out now, you'll be in danger. You need to calm down." He raises his other hand and soothingly rubs her upper arm, "You can do it. Calm yourself."

She chokes on her breath, and he briefly feels a wave of panic that she might not beat the automatic log out safety feature, but after a moment her heartbeat begins to slow and her breaths begin to deepen. She slumps against him more fully as she calms, and he wraps his other arm around her in comfort, "Until Death Gun shoots you, the intruder can't do anything to you. That's the rule they set for themselves. But if you automatically log out and see his face, you'll be in danger. So for now, you have to stay calm."

It's hard to tell whether Sinon is crying or if it's just that her breath is still thrown off by distress, "But… But…" Then she pulls back to look at him, "I'm scared! I'm scared!"

That's as far as she gets before she's burying her face into his chest. For a while, he just runs his fingers through her hair soothingly as the sun fully goes down. He'd thought that it'd get awfully dark in the cave when that happened, but some sort of orange-red crystals begin to glow the darker it gets.

The sun has gone down completely, when Sinon, who seems to have calmed, breaks the silence in a level determined voice, "Tell me what to do."

Though he doesn't want to risk her, especially now that he knows he really isn't in any danger and she is, he knows she's not going to back down. So he stops running his hand through her hair and simply rests it on her head and states in a firm non-negotiable tone, "Defeat Death Gun. Then his partner will disappear, unable to do anything."

Sinon sits up to look at him, "But even without his Black Star, he's pretty good." He assumes the Black Star is his handgun. Sinon narrows her eyes in a mixture of calculation and determination, "Didn't you see him dodge that shot from the Hecate at a hundred meters when he was trying to kill Pale Rider?" She brings her arm up to look at her wristwatch, "And I don't think we can hide like this forever." She lowers her arm and turns her gaze to him, "The other players will realize we're hiding in a cave and start searching them." Then she turns towards the entrance in suspicion, "At any second, we could be attacked with a grenade."

He looks to the entrance as well, instinctively straining his hearing, "I see."

She turns back to him, "We've been a pair this far. Let's fight together to the end."

Even though he knows she's determined, he can't help but at least try to talk her out of it, "But if he shoots you with that handgun…"

She glances away as her tone turns mocking, "That thing's just an obsolete single-action." Then she smiles at him with confident faith, "Even if he shoots at me, you can use your sword to deflect it easily, right?"

He smiles back, "Yeah. I won't let him hit you." Then his brow furrows slightly, "But I still think it's better if he didn't see you."

Sinon's smile dips, "But…"

He raises his hands plactatingly, "I'm not telling you not to fight, I'll gladly accept your help." Then he grabs her shoulder with a smile, "But, Sinom, you're a sniper. You're best firing from long range."

Sinon's expression clears as she looks down, "That's true."

He nods, "Let's do this. During the next satellite scan, I'll show up on the map alone and draw out Death Gun. He'll probably hide far away and try to shoot me with the rifle. We'll use his shot to find his location, and you shoot him. How about it?"

Sinon's brow furrows, "You're going to be a decoy?" He nods without hesitation, and she sighs, "Fine. We'll do that." Then she smiles, "But just be sure you don't get killed by the first shot. You still owe me a proper fight, remember?"

He smiles nervously, "I-I'll try." Then he furrows his brow as he looks away, "But his rifle doesn't make any sound, and you can't see a prediction line on the first shot."

Her smile turns amused, "Who was it that said you should anticipate the prediction lines?"

He leans forward, "Um, that aside, Sinon…"

He tilts his head back and looks up at the floating holographic looking circle above them. Sinon follows his gaze and lets out an explosive sigh as she drops her head back down and closes her eyes, "Crap. I should have paid more attention."

He tilts his head, "Uh, what is it?"

She tilts her head back again, "The live broadcast camera. Normally, it only focuses on battles, but there aren't many players left, so it came here. Well, they're called cameras, but to be honest, during events like this, the system records everything around players so they can get all sorts of crazy shots for the streams and later highlight videos, those are really just a way of telling players they're being shown on stream."

He quickly turns back to her, "That's bad. Our conversation…"

She laughs lightly, "It's okay. It's programmed not to pick up voices unless you yell." Then she smiles, "Why not wave?" Her smile turns to a mischievous grin, "Unless there are people you're worried about seeing this and misunderstanding?"

He looks away as he scratches his cheek nervously, "N-No, well… Wh-What about you? I think most people seeing this will assume we're both women."

Sinon's expression turns to surprise, "I-Its fine. I don't care." Then she closes her eyes, "If a rumor goes around that I'm into that, at least it should reduce the number of people who try to flirt with me and ask me out."

He grins at her teasingly, "Are you saying I have to pretend to be a girl?"

She narrows her eyes, "I didn't say anything that ridiculous. And really, it's not like you really have to try, you Trap. I-"

A weird hard to describe noise draws their attention back to the camera, just in time to see it finish disappearing, causing Sinon to mutter, "It's gone." Then she turns back towards him with a sigh, before turning serious again, "It's nearly time. There are two minutes until the next satellite scan." She stands up, then offers him a hand to help him to his feet, "I'll stay here and you'll go outside and check your terminal, right?"

Then she moves over to pick up her rifle. He furrows his brow and looks away slightly, "Oh, come to think of it…"

Out of the corner of his eye he sees her turn her head towards him, "What now? There's no time to change the plan."

He looks towards her, "No, the plan stays as is. Not that. I was just thinking that, in the end, Death Gun's true name… Or his actual character name anyway really was Sterben. Hanna was right from the get go."

Sinon tilts her head, "Oh. I see. Yeah, I suppose so."

There's a beat of silence before he starts to head out, "Anyway. I'm going outside."

Sinon sighs lightly, "Be careful. Just because he can't kill you doesn't mean we can afford for you to get taken out."

He gives her a thumbs up over his shoulder as he heads out.

She sighs tiredly as she rides into the desert she'd last seen her mate and friend heading towards. Cleaning out the city of players had been exhausting, and with the situation being what it was, it wasn't even very fun, even though she'd had a blast last tournament. Though she hadn't placed very high then, due to the sheer bad luck of running into Blue Rose before it was even halfway over. He'd wiped her out, then placed right above her when someone took advantage of his low HP to finish him off.

That was then though. She still hasn't seen Blue Rose yet, and at this point she's certain he's been knocked out of the tournament. Which was fine, since she's been hitting the tournament way harder than she had last time, enough that she was certain she'd gotten the 'most kills' award by a landslide, she had managed pretty well at taking the other players out on her own.

Her watch beeps to tell her there's one minute until the satellite goes overhead, so she reaches out and turns it on where she'd placed it in the slot for it on the handlebars.

She clicks on one of the two dots that pops up, then adjusts her direction towards Kirito when she sees it's him. She purses her lips. Unsurprisingly, Death Gun wasn't anywhere to be seen, though she could see Yamikaze not far off from being opposite her position relative to Kirito. Sinon wasn't anywhere to be seen, but the desert area Kirito was in had a lot of cover that could hide someone from the satellite, and while the satellite didn't always display a player's location, it did always displayed the number of players left, which was currently five.(1) Plus, she had faith that he'd protected her since last she saw them in the city.

As the player locations flicker, a sudden sense of danger has her recklessly jumping off of the bike, just in time for a bullet to hit it. The bike detonates, flinging her away. As she rolls through the sand another spike of danger has her flinging her hand out to force herself into a backflip, and a split second later another bullet whizzes by underneath her. She yanks her head in the direction it came from as she draws the handgun modeled after her dad's Ebony and her own Silence, it takes her a split second to spot the glint of the sniper barrel, but as she does the bullet line appears where it's just starting to shift onto her.(2)

She grits her teeth. This was neither the real world, nor ALO, without anything within grabbing reach, there was no way for her to dodge when she was midair like this.

She yanks her gun up. Her dad was accurate enough to hit his own bullets midair right on the end with the succeeding one(3). She didn't have that sort of accuracy, but she'd be damned if she couldn't at least hit a full grown man, even at this distance with him laying on a rock.

She manages to get three shots off before the sniper round tears through her throat. She's flung back and fires off two more shots before she finds herself rolling through the sand again as her avatar goes completely slack and stops responding. Seconds later the world goes dark as the words 'You are Dead.' appear in front of her. Then she finds herself in a dark void similar to the one minute wait area before players are warped to the preliminary matches, though this time rather than a large hovering screen displaying a countdown to her match, there are multiple floating screens showing the remaining players.

She grins when she sees Sinon in the cave Kirito enters. Sinon quickly gestures away from them, and Kirito shakes his head, then pulls out his satellite scan terminal. Even without the satellite above, it would still show a map, and he gestures to where she'd last seen Yumikaze, then points towards the same direction Sinon had gestured and then points to roughly where she'd been on the map.

Death Gun's sniper may be silenced, but the explosion of her bike sure wasn't, and that wasn't even mentioning her guns. He'd put two and two together, which meant he knew it had to have been her and Death Gun fighting. She smiles, a little bitterly, "Sorry, Sleepy Head, I'm gonna have to leave the rest to you and Sinon."

Yui clenches her hands in worry. Her Papa was strong, but protecting both Yamikaze-san and Sinon-san would be much harder without Mama there to back him up.

On the TV, the announcers voicing over the clips are going crazy, "I can't believe she hit four of those shots from that distance with a handgun, including that last one when she was being thrown back by the hit, and especially since she's using manual aim! I thought we saw something spectacular earlier when she borrowed Gunner X's rifle, but this might even top that! Can we see a replay of that?!"

Ojīsan laughs lightly as the clip replays, "That's my little girl! Even if she lost, that was still some damn fine shooting!"

There are a few hums of agreement around her as the clip ends and she watches Papa driving Sinon-san on the bike as Cloudy-san pipes up, "Well! I guess she isn't known as Sureshot Hanna for no reason! Honestly, she took part in the last BoB as well, and I think that's the first time I've seen her miss!"

Sunny-san, makes an enthusiastic noise of agreement, "Absolutely! It's completely deserved, but I do wonder how on earth she got so good! And I'm sure everyone is wondering as well, how can we get some of that for our own gaming?!"

Papa drops Sinon-san off at one of the huge pieces of spaceship rubble(4) before taking off again. Cloudy-san in the background laughs heartily, in the background, but she tunes it out in favor of listening to Ōojisan, "What are those huge things anyway? They don't look like buildings."

She tilts her head towards him, but doesn't look away from the screen since she's scared to miss anything, "GGO takes place in a post apocalyptic Earth where the people left on spaceships before coming back at some point. In fact, the capital city of the game is a huge spaceship, it's name SBC Glocken is short for Space Battle Cruiser Glocken. The in-game explanation is that when people returned after the war, they basically just grounded the ship and the city was built on top of and around it. Those are essentially meant to be fragments of spaceships that crash landed, though whether it was during the war that turned the majority of the GGO world into wastelands or is meant to be a ship that unsuccessfully attempted to land on the surface like SBC Glocken is never stated."(4)

He makes a noise of understanding, then they fall silent just in time to hear Sunny-san say, "It certainly doesn't hurt to try! Unfortunately we'll have to cut this short, because it looks like things are heating up again! Sinon looks to be in position! And our newcomer Kirito is… Out in the open?! My he's bold!"

A hum from the Cloudy-san, "Bold or foolish. Only time will tell I suppose!"

"Mm! With the feeling of drama we've been getting from those players, I feel like someone sitting on the edge of their seat, watching the season finale of an exciting show here! I can't wait to see how this plays out!"

She watches as Papa stands right out in the open with his eyes closed. The image on the screen cuts in half, the new section showing Yumikaze-san making a bee line for Papa's position with a smaller square in the top quarter showing what's essentially Sinon-san's perspective tracking him. Then without warning he suddenly turns. For a moment he just gazes into the distance with narrowed eyes, before he suddenly bursts into motion, just in time to dodge a bullet that ends up barely missing his face.

It continues on, impacting another piece of spaceship rubble than the one Sinon-san is on, blowing off a massive section at the top of it. Then Papa brings up his plasma sword, which Ojīsan insisted earlier is a copyright free lightsaber, and deflects another round meant for his head and another aimed at his chest before he takes off towards Death Gun's position, deflecting bullets when necessary. As he does his side of the screen gains an overlaid image from Death Gun's point of view aiming and firing at him, much like Yumikaze-san had with Sinon-san.

On the other half of the screen, Yumikaze-san ducks partially behind some cover and simply watches. Unfortunately for him, Sinon-san is already lining up her shot on him. He turns at the sound of Sinon-san's gun going off, just in time for the bullet to rip a massive hole in his chest. A second later a pop up proclaiming him to be dead appears above him.

Yumikaze-san's side of the screen becomes completely dedicated to Sinon-san, who immediately pulls the bolt lever on her rifle and shifts her focus to Papa. She watches him deflect bullets for a moment, before following the trajectory back to Death Gun and lines up her shot.

As she's waiting to time the bullet circle, Death Gun, tipped off by the now visible bullet line, immediately turns to her and lines up his own shot. They fire at practically the same time, though neither of them hits the players themselves, Death Gun's shot destroying Sinon-san's scope and her shot ripping his rifle to shreds. Luckily for Sinon-san, she'd jerked her head away immediately after firing, and as such, Death Gun's bullet doesn't continue on to hit her.

Sunny-san immediately makes a choked noise, "C-Can we get a replay on that?!"

A moment later, the image of what's going on currently moves up to only take up the top half of the screen as Papa closes the distance between himself and Death Gun as quickly as possible and Death Gun starts climbing out of his sniper hole still clutching the barrel of his broken gun, while the bottom shows replay of Sinon-san shifting targets from Yumikaze-san to Papa to Death Gun, then it cuts to a perspective near Death Gun, who jerks as the bullet line from Sinon-san appears near him. Immediately he turns to get a bead on Sinon-san, and then it flickers back and forth quickly between Death Gun and Sinon-san both homing in on each other and waiting to time the bullet circle. They fire pretty much simultaneously, and the camera follows Sinon-san's bullet, doing a slow motion shot panning around the way they barely miss one another but push each other just the slightest bit off course, before following Death Gun's bullet back up to Sinon-san and showing it destroying her scope, then shifting over to a replay of Sinon-san's bullet completely destroying his sniper rifle.

The whole thing was pretty cinematic, especially given that while MMO Today did get a little crowdsourcing help by the fact that their system automatically logged which perspectives were currently most common and which get spikes in downloads to tell them which shots might be cool, there were still real people behind the scenes who had to put that kind of stuff together, and they didn't have a lot of time to do it even if they were dividing the work properly and didn't have the entire clip put together before it started playing.

The entire shot wasn't very long, so the replay screen at the bottom disappears pretty much at the same time that Papa lunges at Death Gun. Though the body her Mama made her doesn't work the same as a regular one, she thinks that what she's currently experiencing as she watches Papa fight Death Gun would best be described as 'heart in her throat'.

Death Gun grips the leftover barrel of his rifle and for a moment she wonders if he intends to use it as a makeshift weapon, then he grabs part of it and pulls something out of it and tosses the rest of the barrel aside as he bursts into movement, dodging Papa's strike and stabs him in the shoulder. Papa immediately jabs with his plasma sword, but Death Gun leans back before jumping away, the distance revealing that he now had an Estoc, a sort of edgeless sword used only for stabbing. Actual Estocs looked like a fairly normal sword at a glance and one would only realize it didn't have cutting edges when inspecting it, but this one was totally rounded.

Her brow furrows in worry as she watches Papa face off against Death Gun.

He narrows his eyes at the estoc in Death Gun's hand, "That's a rare weapon… Actually, I never heard anything about metal swords in GGO."

Death Gun tilts his head, "Looks like you should have studied more, Black Swordsman. A high level Knife Creation skill and high level Weapon Creation skill, when combined allows you to make one. Though the length and weight can't be much more than this.

He smiles grimly, "Then I'm afraid it doesn't seem like a sword I'd like could be made."

"You still prefer blades with high strength requirements?" His head tilts as he glances down at the plasma sword he's holding, "Then that toy in your hand must be rather disappointing."

He shifts his grip on the sword, which actually possessed《Shadow Light》as its name.(5) He shifts his weight, "It isn't a toy. To be honest, I'm enough of a nerd that I've always wanted to use something like this. And… A sword's a sword. If I slice through you and deplete your HP, I win."

Death Gun chuckles, "Bold. Can you do that? You've breathed too much of the real world's rotten air. If the old you had seen that weak Vorpal Strike, he'd be disappointed."

He blinks at that in surprise, "Not particularly. It was more that I mistakenly thought you were unarmed, so I wasn't trying too hard. Besides, even if that was true, the same would go for you. Or do you still think you're a member of Laughing Coffin?"

That and he was distracted by the fact he was still digging through his memories for Death Gun's old name, but he didn't need to know that. He was already up to June of 2024 and the Laughing Coffin raid took place in August. Since PoH and a few other members escaped, that wasn't the end of them, but they were a skeleton of what they once were, so it's unlikely that he recognizes Death Gun from after that. Actually, he already found a memory with Death Gun's old avatar in it, he was one of the three who attacked Yoruko, Schmidt, and Kains, but he got the feeling that wasn't the memory he was looking for, so he kept digging.

Death Gun tilts his head down to look at where the bandages have come loose and exposed more of his tattoo before turning back to him, "Oh? You remember that much? Then you should understand the difference between you and me. I'm a real red player, but you aren't." He tilts his head down and steam billows out from between the teeth of his skull mask, "You simply killed out of fear, to survive. You're a coward, who never thought about what that meant and tried to forget everything."

He narrows his eyes, "You seem awfully sure that you know me. I won't deny that I pushed it away for longer than I should have, but I've been coming to terms with that day for months now. You're the one who can't let go of the past. You call yourself a real red player, but I already know the truth of how you actually managed to kill Zexceed and Tarako. It isn't that gun's power, let alone your own."

Death Gun tilts his head in curiosity, "Then what is it? If you're so certain you know, tell me."

He lifts his head in challenge, "You used that Optic Camo to watch the players inputting their addresses in the terminals at the governor general's office. You have your partners sneak inside their rooms to inject them with a drug at the right time making it look like death by heart failure. That's the truth. Internal Affairs has all the SAO players' real names and character names. Once they know your old name, they'll know your real name, your address, and be able to get proof of how you committed your crimes!"

Death Gun is silent at that. After a beat he continues, "End this… forfeit, log out, and turn yourself in!"

Finally Death Gun responds, "I see. You have a fascinating imagination. But you aren't quite there. You can't stop me. Because you can't remember my old name."

He narrows his eyes, surprised that Death Gun knew he was still struggling to dig through his memories and find the relevant one, "What? How can you be so sure?

Death Gun chuckles, "You've even forgotten the reason why you forgot. Listen. After that battle ended, I was about to give you my name. But you told me 'I don't want to know your name, and there's no reason for me to. I'm never going to see you again.' You don't know my name. That's why you can't remember it. I'll defeat you here, and you'll lie on the ground as I kill the girl, and all you'll be able to do is watch!"

Then he lunges. He blocks it instinctively, even as his mind races, 'The raid. I know him from the raid. He… he was the first guy that attacked me. Though we ended up getting separated and taking on different opponents.'

Because it's a melee weapon in a game focused on guns, the plasma sword has frankly ridiculous stats in an attempt to keep it balanced even though it was only added in as a joke. Though seeing as it's meant to be a joke, it's possible it had the effect of making the stats even more ridiculous than what the developers might have planned on otherwise. It was even capable of slicing through things like Sinon's bullet, so it should cut through a metal sword like a hot knife through butter.

However, just as he's about to attack, certain that the tip of the estoc has been ruined and Death Gun is practically weaponless, he sees Death Gun shift to continue attacking. Blocks another blow, surprised to see the estoc still intact.

Death Gun chuckles, "This is made from the best metal you can get in this game, space battleship armor."

He narrows his eyes as he readies his sword. Then Death Gun closes the distance and the time for talking is over. He'll admit that Death Gun is good, the flurry of blows was quicker than even Asuna was capable of.

But it couldn't keep up with what Vergil and Trish threw at him in training, and while his Nephilim body may actually be superior to his Seed Nexus avatar, it wasn't such a massive difference that he couldn't keep up. Although Death Gun was fast enough that with the initiative he'd grabbed, he didn't have enough time to attack to switch things around and put his opponent on the defensive.

He narrows his eyes as he dodges and blocks, 'He's strong. One moment… I just need one moment. If I can break this rush… Ah. I regret resetting my avatar now. I wonder if I should see if I can get my old data from my NerveGear and make a separate account from this one with it. Just in case I ever need it again… He's right though… I refused to hear his name! Stupid, stupid! I never wanted to think of him again, but that's no excuse! And it wasn't possible anyway, not if I really want to move on.'

He finally gets enough of an opening to throw some attacks of his own out, but then their positions are simply reversed and Death Gun is the one blocking. They end up locked when Death Gun blocks an overhead swing, but a moment later he drops backwards and kicks him in the stomach when he loses his balance.

His momentum has him tumbling in the sand for a moment, then he quickly has to dodge Death Gun's blows from the ground before he finds enough of an opening to get back to his feet. Death Gun lunges again. The fast paced battle and Sinon's life on the line throws him back to SAO, not in a flashback, but in the sheer desperation in the fight.

Being limited by his avatars' capabilities forces him to focus more and more, and his mind begins to disregard other things it deems unnecessary one by one until even color seems to bleach from the world(6), except for those glowing red eyes, 'Red eyes… During the meeting before the attack… we were going over higher ups… Poh… Jonny Black… and…'

"XaXa." Death Gun, XaXa jerks in surprise and misses the lunge he'd been trying to execute. He narrows his eyes, "Red-eyed XaXa! That's your name!"

He pushes the estoc away and they disengage as they stare each other down. Before either of them can break the stare down and seize the initiative, a glowing red circle appears on Death Gun. Given how many players were left, there could only be one explanation. Sinon was aiming at Death Gun, even though her rifle's scope had been broken by Death Gun from what he saw when he glanced over there using GGOs version of the Vision Enhancement skill he'd been working on in ALO, Hawk Eye.

After a brief moment of surprise, Death Gun begins to back away. Immediately he moves to close the distance and capitalize on the opening, 'This attack via prediction line is an illusion containing all of Sinon's experience, insight, snd fighting spirit. I can't waste this last attack… This phantom bullet!'

Before he can finish closing the distance and swing, Death Gun begins to chuckle as his Optic Camo starts to engage. The distance is still too far for him to attack with the plasma sword, so without hesitation he reaches back and grabs his gun, unloading four rounds into Death Gun pretty much point blank.

The damage forcefully disengages his cloak's Optic Camo. Death Gun tries to recover and attack, but he doesn't give him the chance, simply moving his head out of the way of Death Gun's lunge, before cleaving him in half with a roar.

He drops to his knees and tries to catch his breath. Not because it's necessary in this world but partly due to habit and partially because he's only just become aware of how hard and fast his heart was beating and he's trying to force it under control.

Suddenly, Death Gun starts talking, "It isn't over yet… I won't let it end until they find out, and…"

Towards the end, his voice starts trailing off, and his voice changers effect make his voice deeper and deeper like it's losing power. Then the red glowing eyes flicker before shutting off, right as he falls silent and the 'dead' notification pops up.

Despite that, he can't help but respond, "No, it's over, XaXa. We'll find your accomplices. Laughing Coffin's murders are over."

Then he turns and walks away.

He keeps walking until he meets up with Sinon. For a moment, she just smiles at him happily before she bends down to rest the end of her rifle on the ground and simply holds it steady with a hand around the barrel. Then they share a fist bump. Then he rests his hands on his hips as he looks up. Even in this game, with zero light pollution to steal its beauty away one fake inferior man-made star at a time, the night sky was breathtaking.

His voice lowers and softens as he gazes at it, "It's over…"

Sinon was probably looking up too, if the serene gentleness to her voice was any indication as she simply murmurs, "Yeah."

Quiet descends over them for a few moments before he looks back down at her and smiles, "We need to end the tournament.

She nods, "Yeah, we do. The audience is probably sick of waiting."

Turning more serious, he gets closer and lowers his voice a little more, nervous of the cameras even though they aren't supposed to be programmed to hear normal conversation, "With Death Gun gone, his partner that was after you should have left." Sinon nods in understanding, so he continues, "So if you log out, you should be safe. But it would be safest to call the police anyway."

Sinon furrows her brow, "What would I even tell them?"

He frowns, "Ah. That's a good point… Um. My employer is a government employee, so I could ask him for some help. Especially since he's the one who put me on this. That would require you to tell me your real name and address though, and most people aren't comfortable with that sort of thing…"

She smiles lightly, "It's fine. I'll tell you."

He gives her a surprised look, then nods, so she leans forward and whispers in his ear for a moment. When she's done and has taken a step away, he tilts his head, "I'm surprised though. That's really close to where I'm diving."

Her expression turns startled, "Really?"

He glances away briefly, "If you'd like, after I log out I can head over to make sure you're OK?"

She smiles widely with relief and something else he can't place, "Would yo-" Then she cuts herself off and glances away, "I have a friend that lives nearby. He's the one who introduced me to GGO, and he's probably watching the stream. He'll probably come over immediately, and his dad's a doctor, so he take care of me if it's necessary."

He nods, "Alright. Then when I log out, I'll contact my employer and have him send the police."

Sinon nods, "Okay." Then she sighs in irritation, "Anyway, are you just going to have me reveal my personal info, and that's it?"

He lifts his hand to rub at the back of his neck awkwardly, "Oh! Sorry…" Then he drops his hand and smiles again, "My name is Kirigaya Kazuto."

Her smile returns, "Kirigaya Kazuto… So, 'Kirito', huh? That's a pretty obvious name."

He furrows his brow, "I don't want to hear that from you. Yours isn't much better! Yours is also just a variation of your actual name, isn't it?"

She nods, "That's true…"

Then she laughs, and he can't help but join her. Then he looks away, "Now, if we're going to log out, we need to end BoB. What do you want to do, Sinon? I promised you that once Death Gun was taken care of that I'd give you a real fight. We could have another duel like yesterday?"

Sinon shakes her head, "To be honest, I don't really feel like fighting you right now." Then she grins and punches him lightly, "You should come back so we can have a proper fight during the next BoB."

He hums, "I suppose I could."

Then Sinon reaches behind herself, "Now, let's end this."

He raises an eyebrow, "But if you don't want to fight, then how do you want to do this? Unless one of us loses all their HP, there's no winner, right?"

Sinon smiles at him, "They say the first BoB had two winners." She reaches out and grabs his hand, pulling up to be palm up between them, "Because the person who was going to win lowered their guard, and got hit by a gift grenade."

He tilts his head in curiosity, "A gift grenade? What's that?"

Sinon doesn't answer him verbally. She just sets a round ball in his hand and clicks the button on top. It's only when it starts beeping that he recognizes it as a grenade. He fumbles it in surprised panic, but before he can get a good grip to throw it away, Sinon throws her free arm wide with a laugh, then steps forward and hugs him, pinning the grenade between them.

Just before the grenade goes off, he can't help but chuckle in amusement at her trick. That was certainly one way to end the tournament.

(1): In canon, it's just Kirito, Sinon, Death Gun, Yumikaze, and two players left in the City who take each other out before the scan is over, but with Hanna actively trying to take the players out as fast as possible it would probably clear out a little quicker.

(2): Bullet lines, and bullet circles for that matter, canonically don't appear until you squeeze the trigger a little, though not enough to fire.

(3): This is actually a thing that Dante did. In canon. In a cutscene in the third game. It's why I constantly say Marzanna isn't as good at fighting as her family and whenever someone is like 'she's so overpowered!' I'm just like, 'Uhmmmm. So you clearly aren't familiar with Devil May Cry. Welcome. Nice to meet you. You might want to find a different fic because this isn't gonna be your cup of tea.' Seriously, for you guys unfamiliar with Devil May Cry just look up DMC 3 cutscene Dante Vs Vergil, DMC 3 cutscene Mission 8 (the specific video I'm talking about was uploaded by DMC DBZ), DMC 4 cutscene Dante vs Savior, or DMC 4 cutscene Dante vs Nero. They aren't very long and you'll get a much better picture of just how ridiculous the DMC characters are and why I insist Marzanna really isn't that powerful.

(4): I actually skipped the majority of the pre-preliminaries episode stuff, so I can't remember if this is information I got from the novels alone or if it's mentioned in the show.

(5): That's canon from the novels, and is also a really cool name, just saying.

(6): I acknowledge that everything but the red of Death Gun's eyes turning black and white is probably just a stylistic choice for the show, but the brain can do some real weird shit sometimes, so I chose to interpret it as Kirito's vision actually going almost completely black and white and his subconscious leaving the eyes red and a way of trying to tell Kirito's conscious mind "Hey, that's really important too!"