So... I guess I'm writing this sooner than I expected.
In other news (currently this is March 9th), I just happened to go to the Ordinal Scale Wikipedia article and see, 'It was released in Japan, Southeast Asia, and Germany on February 18, 2017, in Mexico on March 4, 2017, and in the United States on March 9, 2017.'
Well, would you look at that (I live in the US)?
(March 12th) I was cutting a bun with a fucking table knife and I managed to cut myself. I feel accomplished. It's a pretty clean cut too.
Me: Using a razor sharp knife or playing with a propane torch and red hot metal held in my bare hands? Not a single mark. Opening a door (yes opening, not closing (it was a sliding door and I got my finger in the gap between the door and the wall and the corner of the wall there was fairly sharp)) or using a table knife? That is when I hurt myself.
"Hello, Nira-kun, Akari-kun," the government somebody says after nodding to the nurse who leaves the room—one which was shared by both Nari and Aki since they managed to convince the hospital that since they weren't sick and just weak and would be stuck in bed, it would be good to have the company of each other. He sits down on a chair next to her bed.
"I am Kikuoka Seijirou of the [Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Virtual Reality World Division]."
Great. What does he want?
"What do you want?" Nari asks bluntly.
"And also, our names are Kai Nari and Kirihura Aki, 'Nira' and 'Akari' are our online usernames. You don't go around referring to people by their usernames in the real world," she adds.
"Right. Kai-kun, Kirihura-kun. I'd like a few questions about what happened in ACO," he says.
"And if we don't want to answer?" Nari asks.
"I'll answer your questions if you do three things for us," Nari says.
"First, we want to keep our NerveGears," Nari says.
Kikuoka sighs. "We can arrange that."
"Second, I want the real names and contact information of a list of people from their usernames in ACO," Nari says.
"And third, I want access to the ACO server, source code, resources, and backups," Nari says.
"What do you plan to do with that?" Kikuoka asks.
"I'm curious about a few... dozen... things," Nari says. And mostly I want the Cardinal System.
"Fine. I'll see what I can do," he says.
He pulls out a notebook.
"Can you write the usernames of the people whose information you want in here?" he asks.
"I can try," Nari says, taking the notebook and pen with some difficulty.
After a few tries at writing in neat letters, she gives up and writes in a large font which ends up legible despite the shakiness.
"Thank you for your 'cooperation'," Kikuoka says as he leaves, muttering under his breath and leaving behind a somewhat smiling Nari.
"Well, so much for getting that being difficult," Aki, who had stayed quiet while Nari had forced stuff out of the government official, says.
"What a pushover," Nari says.
"Well, he doesn't stand to lose much from giving you what you want."
"That's true," Nari agrees.
There's a knock on the door.
"Who's there?" Nari calls out.
"It's us," comes the familiar voice of Hina.
Nari finds the button on the side of the bed which unlocks the door and they come in.
"How are you two feeling? Also, who was the person just leaving?" Sari asks.
"I'm feeling just as weak as yesterday and considerably happier than 10 minutes ago," Nari says.
"Same," Aki says.
"And the person was some government agent who wanted to ask some questions about ACO. In return he's agreed to a do a few things for us, hence the being happier part," Aki says.
"Oh. Anyway, we brought some edible food," Sari says.
"Thanks," Nari says, taking the soup with some difficulty.
It hurt for Sari. Seeing Nari and Aki like they were, stuck in bed and too weak to do basically anything instead of being active and full of energy, but it wasn't nearly as bad as seeing them just lying on that bed with those damned helmets on their heads, unconscious and trapped in another world they may never wake up from.
Roughly a month later, Aki and Nari—who could probably have finished rehabilitation earlier but stayed to keep Aki company—were checked out of the hospital, though they still needed crutches to walk.
"Freedom! At last!" Nari says in an exaggerated manner as the 4 leave the building.
"Can we eat dinner at a restaurant today?" Nari asks.
"It's 9 am and you're thinking about dinner?" Hina asks with a chuckle.
"That would be called 'breakfast' if we had food right now."
"I know that, but food was already on my mind so I happened to think about dinner," Nari defends herself.
"Whatever you say. Anyway, we can have dinner wherever you two want, as long as it doesn't require a reservation made last month or something," Hina says.
"Anywhere particular in mind?" Sari asks.
"Hmm... nope!" Nari says.
She facepalms and sighs, shaking her head slightly in amusement with her hand still pressed to her forehead.
"Come on, get in the car you two," she says.
"Anything you want to do now that you're out?"
"I was thinking maybe going back to the kendo dojo. See if anybody I know is still there. See Shiriu-senpai. And so I can remember what sword fighting looks like in the real world where nobody can move supersonic and jump 10 meters into the air," Nari says.
"Nari, the whole supersonic thing, and generally ignoring physics, is just you."
"Should we go straight there? Anything you want to do, Aki?" Sari, who was driving asks.
"Breakfast first," Nari reminds.
"Nari-chan!" the daughter of the dojo's owner—and one of the main teachers, well as the person who practically ran the place—calls out as she runs over to the 4 of them as they enter, hugging her. The girl would be turning 18 in a couple days, making her roughly 8 months older than Aki.
"Don't break me!" Nari cries out as she struggles out of Shiriu Mai's grip.
"Sorry," she says sheepishly, leaning down and picking up Nari's dropped crutch and handing it to her.
"It's been a while Mai-senpai," Nari says.
"I heard you get trapped in that whole ACO thing. Glad to see you're alright, though, judging by the crutch, I doubt you've come to spar," she says.
"Yeah, just wanted to watch," Nari confirms.
"Maybe you could help out a bit. A few of them," she gestures to the students sparring in the dojo, "seriously need it."
"I guess. Though I can't demonstrate really. Aside from the fact that I have trouble even walking more than a short distance, I've gotten like 25 centimeters taller since the last time I touched a sword and it's been over two years since I've touched a shinai."
Mai, finally noticing the other 3 people says, "Hello!"
"Anybody from still here from when I came here before?" Nari asks as she sits on one of the seats available for watching.
"A few people still come, but nobody's here at the moment. In fact, nobody any good is here at the moment, really."
"How long do you plan to stay here?" Hina asks.
"I dunno. An hour or so I guess."
"We'll probably leave you be for now so as to not make things awkward. Text us when you want us to pick you guys up," Hina says.
"Alright. Bye!" Nari says.
"Bye," Aki says.
"Well, I've got to get back to my students, but feel free to call me over if you need anything!" Mai says and runs off.
Nari facepalms and sighs as yet another of the students makes a stupid mistake, leaving an enormous opening and their opponent fails to capitalize.
"Even I can see all those mistakes..." Aki says.
"I wanna spar with someone," Nari says, stretching.
"You can't walk more than like 50 meters without resting or using a crutch."
"Plenty enough to beat these people. Especially if I do you-know-what," Nari says.
"Sure, but where would the fun in fighting them be?"
"I suppose I'll just fight Mai-senpai then."
"Can you beat her right now?"
"Probably... not," Nari says.
"But it can't hurt to try," she adds with a smile.
"Actually, it very much can. Starting from the fact that losing involves being hit with a bamboo stick and ending with the fact that you could hurt your muscles, especially if you do that," Aki says.
"I'll be fine," Nari says.
"Whatever you say, just don't come crying to me if you get hurt."
"I don't cry from pain. I just swear and get angry," Nari says.
"True. But I didn't mean it literally."
"Mai-senpai!" Nari calls out when Mai finishes with helping the person she was helping.
"Yeah?" Mai asks as she walks over.
"You sure? You don't look like you're in great shape... then again, it might not be enough of a handicap against you."
"I'm sure. I can handle getting a little beat up."
"Alright then, go get yourself into some gear and let's spar."
Nari gets up and picks out a set of gear her old size, realizing quickly that it was far too small now and taking a few tries to get a set her size.
She gets into it with a little trouble and grabs two swords.
"Two swords? Since when do you use two swords?" Mai questions.
"Since a little more than 2.5 years ago. Anyway, you ready?" Nari says.
"I'm ready. Be careful and don't hurt yourself or something," Mai says.
Both of them get in their stances and Mai says, "Ready... go!"
She charges forward with an overhead strike.
To Nari the strike is so slow it might as well be moving through honey, even without accelerating her consciousness, since she was used to the speeds of ACO avatars and enemies. That said, her own movements were equally slow—if not more so—so parrying the strike was not trivial. The loud clack attracts the attention of the various people in the dojo.
That said, she was able to see through Mai's motions and combined with effectively slowing time when she was unable to keep up, she was able to dance around and deflect Mai's attacks with minimal movement and effort until Mai slips and leaves an opening Nari takes, winning the match and moving at a speed which she regrets several seconds later.
Their audience, Aki included, clap.
"Fuck fuck," she mutters repeatedly as she clutches her side, where she had hurt herself when she twisted to increase the speed of the blow.
"Are you alright?" Mai asks.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I shoulda seen that coming. Or rather, I sorta did."
"Since when is your reaction time that quick?" Mai asks, "Fighting you felt like you were seeing things in slow motion. You reacted as perfectly as possible with your physical limitations and danced around my attacks."
"Since I started fighting at literally supersonic speeds," Nari says. She sheathes her swords on her back, only to realize that she didn't have any sheaths there.
She chuckles awkwardly and Mai smiles.
"I'd like to see that. I can't imagine what could react fast enough to fight you like that, though."
"Computer programs, mostly," Nari says.
"Even if it's you, it's still embarrassing to lose to someone who can barely walk," Mai says.
"I think I need to sit down," Nari says, taking off the kendo gear and attempting to throw it back in its place, failing miserably as it slips out of her weak grip and flies a short distance. She sighs and walking towards it before Mai says, "I'll get it, just sit down."
Nari is about to protest but then says, "Fine."
"I hate being so helpless," she mutters.
"And I hate being beaten by a girl who considers herself helpless, and probably is, at least compared to her full potential," Mai calls.
A little while later Aki and Nari said goodbye to Mai as Sari and Hina came to pick them up.
"Nari decided it would be a great idea to spar," Aki says.
"I never thought it was a good idea. I just wanted to do it anyway," Nari says.
"I'm not sure whether deliberately doing something stupid is better than doing something stupid without realizing it."
"I suppose it is since if you know it is stupid, you are consciously taking risks and if the risks were greater would likely not do the same," Sari says.
"Yeah... I don't think greater risks have ever stopped her before," Aki says.
"I totally do take into account risks!" Nari says.
"Like that time you nearly died to save an idiot who how got himself into trouble in the first place because he was greedy and stupid. Or that time you killed a floor boss alone. Or that other time you killed a floor boss with me for support and nothing else. Or that one time you killed a floor boss with just Kirito's help. Or all those other times you acted as one-girl-army. Or that one time you decided to a fight a mass-murder perfectly willing to kill you on your own. Or that one time you let Kayaba actually kill you to beat him."
"Hey! That last one wasn't something I did deliberately! I didn't let Kayaba kill me, he was just very good at his own game," Nari protests.
"Well that's a relief," Aki says sarcastically, "At least you have enough self-preservation to not let someone kill you."
"If I could have planned what I did, I would have just done it from the start. It's not like I took him by surprise. If you recall, my attack went straight through his shield, unimpeded."
"And several [Immortal Objects] after that," Aki says dryly.
"And the second-to-last one wasn't even stupid. He didn't have a chance against me," Nari adds.
"Which is why he nearly cut your head off."
"He missed me by at least half a second."
"Nari," Hina says in a cool tone.
"Yes?" Nari says in a small voice and shivers, cowering in the corner of the backseat of the sedan.
"Do you think before you act?"
"Mostly. Not when somebody will die if I take the time to think," Nari says.
"Well, telling you to act differently is pointless now since you're probably, and hopefully, not going to end up in a situation like that again."
"Anyway. I'm alive. Can we change the subject."
Roughly a week later, when everybody else had gotten out of rehab, the [Black Swords], Heathcliff, Nari, and Aki all met at the Dicey Cafe. The [Black Swords] minus Asuna.
As such Kazuto was not particularly celebratory, though he does smile at the pair. It was the first time they were meeting in the real world and he says, "You're taller," to Nari.
"I noticed," she says sarcastically.
"Really helped with being able to walk again. Not only did I not have muscles, but I'd also grown 25 centimeters in the span of roughly 3 seconds from my perspective," she adds. She chuckles.
"I was just thinking about how during the beta I had the same problem in reverse since I made my avatar taller than my real self. I'd also trip for a few minutes after logging in or out," Nari says.
"Hey Akari- sorry, Aki-chan, right?" Kazuto says.
"And sorry in advance for all the times I will inevitably refer to you by your usernames," he adds.
"That'll probably go both ways."
"I'm sure it will."
"So... any ideas on what's going on with the still trapped players?" Nari asks.
"Sadly, no. I was going to ask you if you thought it might be Kayaba, though it doesn't seem like the kind of thing he'd do from my limited interaction with him, I figured you'd have a better idea since you got to talk to him."
"Doesn't seem like what he'd do. I'm reasonably sure that it was never his intention to keep the players trapped forever and that he intended to release everyone once the game was cleared."
"Did he give any hints? Anything?"
"I don't think so. Unless it's somewhere in his research notes or unpublished papers which I have yet to read. As much as I doubt that, it is possible. Or..."
"I received a message from some unknown phone number a little after I woke up. It was a mess of characters and I decided that it was probably from sort of spam. Thinking about it, though, it could also be a puzzle."
She gets out her phone and copies the message to Kazuto.
"Feel free to take a look at it. I think I will too. Any ideas what it is, though?"
"Not immediately, I'd need to perform some analysis to figure it out. Potential usefulness aside, this looks like it could be fun. It's probably a puzzle since nobody sends spam like this. I remember solving puzzles like this when I was younger. Puzzles with no obvious rules where the even what the puzzle was asking for was part of the puzzle."
"Alternatively, someone could have sent this to the wrong number and it was encrypted with something like a 1-time-pad, in which case breaking it would be literally impossible and completely pointless."
"You two shouldn't get caught up in my gloominess, go celebrate."
"We want to free Asuna, and the rest of the 300 players, too," Nari says.
"And being gloomy with me during the party helps with that how?" Kazuto asks.
"Oh! I have an idea," Nari says.
"I'll ask Agent Kikuoka about the phone number. If it turns out to be Kayaba's, for example, we'll know it's worth solving the puzzle."
"Go ahead, though I doubt he'll just do that for you."
"I think I can encourage him," she says with a smile and takes out her phone again.
"What? Right now?" Aki asks.
"We're at a celebration, not a place where you call bland government agents."
"It'll be quick," she says, already going to contacts and calling the man.
"This is Agent Kikuoka of the [Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Virtual Reality World Division]," comes a voice across the phone as he shortly picks up.
"Hey. It's Nira," Nari says.
"What are you calling for?" he asks.
"Could you do me a favor?"
"What do you want?" he asks with a sigh.
"I have a phone number which I want to know the owner of," she says.
"And why would I do that?"
"It may seriously help with getting the 300 still-trapped players," Nari says with a smirk.
"Fine. What's the phone number?"
Nari gives him the phone number and hangs up.
"I suppose that counts as it going well."
And that ends this. The rest will be in the next arc if there ever is one.
Thanks for reading this atrocious story and please review!