Mystic Knight Online: All the World's Made Strange
December 12, 2024 - Suginami - Nakano General Hospital
Harry gave the four men giving him severe looks a bored look in return. "So, this is where you all give the obligatory threats to me now?" He asked in a dry tone. He had been introduced to them a few days ago, and had been expecting this since.
Ranma, Keiko's grandfather snorted. "No, that's Tetsuhiko's job," he said in amusement as he pointed to the man that was Keiko's father. "After all, he's Keiko's father, so he has the father's prerogative there."
"And I'll be doing that once I see if some arrangements can be made," Tetsuhiko said. "You know, show you exactly what I will do to you if you hurt her. I'm a scientist specializing in chemistry, so I with some pretty volatile chemicals."
Harry nodded. "As is your right as her father," he acknowledged. "So, then, what's the reason for this?"
Akira and Ko, her uncles, smirked as they held up water glasses. "Oh, we're just welcoming you to the family, Saotome style." Akira said. "Ko, if you will demonstrate."
"No problem," Ko said as he splashed his father with the water, giving Harry a demonstration of the curse that Keiko had frequently talked about with him and… whoa, that was something to see. Where there had been a man in his mid to late fifties, with salt and pepper hair, there now stood a much smaller woman who was… rather well-endowed to say the least. Her red hair was peppered with gray, but she didn't lose any of her bearing, and Harry now understood his fiancée's comment about her grandfather turning into a grannie that could wipe the floor with everyone in the guild even if they had their SAO stats.
"Well now, that's different," he said. "Keiko's told me about this, but seeing it is definitely something." He then gave a suspicious look at the glass in the still smirking Akira's hand. "Let me gues…"
Akira splashed him with the water before he could finish the sentence and Harry felt the change take over him. Bloody hell, it's almost as like when I used polyjuice, he thought. Not as painful, and a lot quicker, though. He then shot the elder Saotome son a glare.
Akira just smirked back as Ko then pulled mirror out from… somewhere and held it in front of a now female Harry.
She looked at her reflection, noting the now straight red hair and green eyes before taking in the rest. Her face was more delicate, if softer and rounder. Her body had shrunk a bit, but also didn't show the signs of the borderline malnutrition endured back at the Dursleys. It was enough that the hospital yukata was loose enough to show her breasts. And most unusual, the effects from having been in SAO were, while still present, much reduced. If anything, she thought that she looked a bit like a younger version of her mother.
"Well, this is different from the last time something transformed me, less uncomfortable" she said and blinked at her contralto voice and then shot the grinning men one woman a look. "I do hope this isn't permanent."
"Don't worry about that," Tetsuhiko said with a chuckle. "My two idiot brother-in-laws did the same thing to me when I was engaged to Sumire, and my retaliation for that would have been worse if it was permanent."
"You blew us up and put us in the hospital," Ko noted.
"It would have been the morgue if there was anything left of you two if it was permanent," Tetsuhiko shot back.
"Just be glad we are doing it here and not after you got out," Akira said, amused. "Then we would have had you dressed in the girliest outfit we could find."
Harry snorted. "Sorry, but Keiko beat you to that last year," she said drily. "Admittedly without the gender change, but she did get me in a dress, all the accessories, and looking quite nice if I say so myself."
Ranma laughed. "Tetsuhiko, go get some hot water," she said. "If he can take this with good humor, he'll fit right in, in Nerima." She then looked at Harry and smiled. "Welcome to the family."
December 15, 2024 - Kyoto, Undisclosed Location
Mizore walked onto the grounds of her home, letting the illusion of her human guise fall away, cursing the need for crutches to walk around again. Had her presence in SAO not been so well known, her mother or one of the healers could have done something to speed up her recovery, but that wasn't going to happen.
She was too well known as an SAO Survivor, one that was well known by even those who had not been trapped in it. Even if it wasn't known that she wasn't human, she now had a public identity that was known to far more outside the magical and supernatural communities than the relative handful who had known prior to SAO.
She was just glad that her therapist and counselor were both in the know about who and what she was. They did their jobs as required, but they also knew that they were treating a youkai and made allowances for that.
She had to have documentation of doing things like physical therapy and attending psychological counseling. She one of the "tragic victims" of SAO that even the expertise of others couldn't help them escape.
She snorted at that thought. Tragic victims? She thought sarcastically. We're survivors you pretentious asses. While we were all doing our best to stay alive and get everyone out of there, what did you do? RECT might not have accomplished anything, but they at least tried.
She could understand sympathy, but what she was hearing from the talking heads and "experts" in the news media wasn't sympathy. It was pity. And she knew how many of those who had been in SAO would feel about that. They would be insulted by the pity being shown, to say the least.
She put the crutches to the side and sat down on the stairs that led to the entrance to the large traditional home that was her residence, taking care to not sit on her tail. Again. She had grown so used to having a human body in SAO that she was having to readapt to not only having one again, but also her new center of balance and sharper senses. The sounds and smells had bothered her greatly, probably more than the human SAO survivors, for the first few nights, and they were still an annoyance to deal with.
Still, it was good to be home. She leaned back and closed her eyes to take it all in when the patter of feet sounded and she opened her eyes right before a little blonde missile tackled her to the porch.
"Mizore!" Came the cheerful and childish voice and then began to babble at a rapid place as the source of it, a young human boy, asked her if she was better now, how she wasn't on TV anymore, how he wanted to play with her, and how he missed her. All without seeming to pause to breathe.
"Ruto… breathing," she gasped out. "Can't... breathe."
"He has been eager to see since you got out," an amused voice said.
"Yeah, I can see that," she said drily as she gently got him to loosen his grip on her and allow her to sit up. He had grown quite a bit in the last two years. She then looked at the source of the voice and smiled. "Minato-sensei, Auntie Kushi, it's been awhile."
The blonde haired man just smiled and nodded, while his wife, a woman with dark red hair smirked. The two of them had been her caretakers and teachers when she was younger, getting her used to human norms and using their brand of magic so she could attend Mahoutokoro. They had also included current technology in that, and she had been mildly surprised by that fact. She was used to the conservatism of longer lived Youkai who were unused to the rapid advances made in the last century, and those capable of magic tended to eschew modern technology for their own reasons.
Some just didn't see a need for it as magic sufficed. Others were of the erroneous belief that magic and technology just didn't mix due to how it tended to not work properly, at best, in areas of high magical concentrations. She had heard plenty of reasons. Some were more valid than others.
Mizore patted Ruto's head and looked at his parents. "So, how have things been with you all?" She asked.
December 17, 2024 - Saitama, Tokorozawa General Hospital
Kouichirou caught Asuna on her latest stumble as she tried to walk back to her hospital room. "Should I ask a doctor for a wheelchair?" He asked, already knowing that she would shoot that idea down.
"I'm not made of glass, Kou!" Asuna protested as she shrugged her brother's hand off and struggled to get her crutches back in position. "I have to do this if I hope to be able to not need these things."
Kouichirou sighed at his sister's stubbornness. "Asuna, you've only been out of SAO for ten days," he said as he caught his sister when she stumbled again. "It'll take time. And you've already done your physical therapy for the day. Doing more will just tire you out, not make you recover any faster. So can you swallow your pride for a bit?"
Asuna huffed as she got her crutches set and took another step, shooting her brother a defiant look.
Kouichirou shook his head and followed his sister as she slowly made her way back to her hospital room, ready to catch her if she stumbled and fell. He had seen many of the ways she's changed in SAO, but seeing her like this and experiencing those changes was different. The Asuna who had survived SAO was like a younger and warmer version of their mother, but had the same steel core and iron will.
Not to mention the pride and stubborn streak a kilometer wide that she had either previously lacked, or kept buried before.
"Another week," Asuna said quietly, but not quietly enough. "Another week and I might get out of here."
Kouichirou shook his head, at his sister's impatience. He could understand it, and even knew some of the reasons why as well. For all that she was glad to be out of SAO, she was now having to deal with the fact that her physical body had been affected, and she was now having to deal with that. And the fact that the massive loss of weight and the weakness of her body made her feel vulnerable.
Kawagoe, Mitsui Hospital
Kirito relaxed as soon as he got back to his hospital room.
After a battery of tests done by the doctors and nurses to ensure that he was actually fine the day after SAO had ended, he had started on his physical therapy. Given that the nurses had to stop him and escort him back to his room after he had managed to get out of his bed and use the IV stand as a makeshift walking stick to make his way down the hall, they had determined the sooner he was made ambulatory, the sooner they could discharge him.
Better than having him try to leave the hospital and hurt himself in the process, Nurse Aki, who was one of the nurses handling the few SAO patients in the hospital had informed him. Not that she had to work overly hard to keep him in his hospital room as it was.
Without the weight of his swords across his back, he felt vulnerable when he was out in the halls. He wasn't surprised by his body's weakness from muscle atrophy and a lack of calories in what passed as a diet for him during that time, but he hadn't realized just how used he had gotten to being armed at all times. For two years, the only times he wasn't was when he was at an inn and sleeping, the villa, or bathing, so being unarmed was taking some getting used to.
In his hospital room, he was fine. It was like being at an inn, with the hospital room being the place where he would be sleeping. It was not unusual to be unarmed then, but outside of such places, he had always gone about armed. Even when out of armor, he always had a sword on him.
It was taking some getting used to for him, not being armed, or having access to a means of arming himself at a moment's notice. His habit of trying to open the menu before remembering that this was the real world, there were no menus to call up.
Hmm, wonder if Harry is having the same problem and looking to do something about that, he thought. He pushed that musing out of his mind as he heard someone enter his room and turned to see his sister.
"Oh, you're back from therapy Kazuto?" Suguha asked.
And that was another thing to get used to, being addressed by his real name, rather than by Kirito.
"Yeah," he said. "It was tiring, as they're trying to get my muscle mass up, but also to be able to walk for longer without crutches. I think their goal is to get it to thirty minutes, and I'm getting there a lot faster than I expected. Not that I'm complaining, being stuck here is… boring, despite the fact that I'm always on guard when in the hallways."
"That's… good?" Suguha asked uncertainly. "And what do you mean being always on guard?"
Kazuto gave her a wan smile. "Sugu, I spent two years in SAO," he said and then sighed. "We went everywhere armed, only taking our weapons off in places where we were absolutely sure it was safe. The rooms we slept in at inns, or the villa when we got that, for example. Otherwise, we always had a weapon on us. Part of it was simply because having a weapon on your person at all times meant that you always had a means to defend yourself. Even in safe zones, we were unwilling to test that after the first month. Not when it not working meant that someone could die, and we all saw it not work the way it was supposed to at least once."
"At least once?" Suguha asked.
"There was only one time that I can confirm the system that kept safe areas safe didn't work," Kazuto said. "Last month, and it was probably what persuaded Kayaba to do what he did. He had used his GM powers to intervene during an exhibition tournament, and the only reason those of us in the know didn't expose him was because… well, he had a very good reason to be so blatant about it. Any of us dying because of our own actions was one thing, he wouldn't interfere. Us dying because the system decided to not do its job is another. As Harry often noted, he was fair in the fact that he wouldn't help or hinder us like that."
"But he was Heathcliff, right?" Suguha asked. "And he was active in clearing the game. I would say that counts as interfering."
Kirito shook his head. "And outside of some GM safety nets to keep him alive, everything he did as Heathcliff was in his capacity as a player, not as the GM," he corrected. "Well, until the end, at least."
December 18, 2024 - Suginami, Nakano General Hospital
Bloody hell, I tried to open the damn menu again, Harry thought before looking around the small shower room and found his glasses on the sink, making him get up from the bench like seat in the shower stall to grab and put them on.
Readjusting to the real world was turning out to be an experience. At least his vision served to remind him to remember his glasses.
It had been eleven days since they got out of SAO, and he was finding himself in a situation that he hadn't experienced in over two years. SAO had been strange when it started. Awesome, but strange. After getting trapped in there, he threw himself into being able to fight, going out and getting stronger. Over time the strange became familiar, a new normal.
At times, the realization that none of his situation was normal would smack him in the face, but it had become normal to him. And to the others. He had believed that it was a real world of its own, despite knowing full well that none of it was real in the sense of what everyone Outside would see as real. And now he was back in the real world, and found it to be strange and unreal.
The irony of it was not lost on him.
He grabbed the hanging hospital yukata that all patients wore and put it on before grabbing his crutches and shakily walking out of the small bathroom that his hospital room had. Both as a walking aid for when he needed them, but also for something to serve as an improvised weapon if need be.
"It's good that you're done with your shower, Mister Potter," a voice said. "I do not want to have interrupted anything, or tarry long."
Turning his attention to it, he kept his face neutral. "Mister Wainwright," he said calmly to the suit wearing man. "What brings you here? Usually it's Miss Carlisle, Miss Hanaori, or both." He then saw the Japanese man who was with Mister Wainwright. "And I see that Mister… Tani?" He had been introduced to him and Mister Ikegami when they accompanied Lady Shiba on a visit to him, mostly for introduction purposes, but he only met the man once and wanted to make sure he had the name right. At the man's smile and nod, Harry continued. "I see that Mister Tani is with you, so I take it that he's supposed to be my watcher from the Shibas today?"
"And Mister Black is currently in England," Richard Wainwright noted. "Or in transit back to be more precise. Miss Carlisle and Miss Hanaori are headed to Narita to pick him and his guest up."
"He's expected to be back later today," Harry said with a shrug. "He isn't letting my cousin travel here unaccompanied, and I'm still a patient in the hospital, so he doesn't have to worry about putting me up and leaving me unsupervised. And that's why I haven't been discharged yet."
"You aren't fully recovered yet," Richard noted.
"That will take some time, but I'm recovered enough that they don't need me here taking up bed space," Harry said. "If Sirius wasn't out of the country right now, I probably would have been released this morning."
"The benefits of a wizard's constitution," Richard dryly said with a smile before schooling his features. "Well now, I have it on good authority that Lord Black should be arriving back in Japan within a couple of hours, barring delays, but you are already aware of that. Once he clears customs, along with his guest, it will still take a couple of hours, so you might be getting discharged by this evening, if not some time tomorrow. But that is not why I am here."
"I kind of figured that," Harry said. "So, why are you here?"
"I am here, Mister Potter, to inform you that the responsibilities of my organization towards you have been fulfilled," Richard said formally. "I am also here to once again offer my most sincere apologies for what you went through, as it was my responsibility to ensure your safety while you were in our custody. A responsibility, which we partly failed."
"Your apologies are accepted," Harry replied with equal formality. "What happened was through no fault of your own, and you made sure that I was protected out here, so you still discharged your duties. As for what happened in Sword Art Online, the dangers I was in were by my own actions, and thus the responsibility falls onto me. I was under no obligation to risk myself in there, so you do not need to take any responsibility for that."
"My responsibility was ensuring that you remained unharmed," Richard said. "But I am relieved that you are not blaming us for the dangers you faced inside there. It is your right to do so, as it was still something that was avoidable by not allowing you to get trapped in there." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a letter. "And the Patriarch of my organization is also tendering his apologies in this matter."
Taking it, Harry nodded. "Thank you, and I won't continue to ask about who hired you," he replied. "No point in asking for something like that. I know you won't provide the identity of a client."
Richard let out a partially relieved breath. "I'm glad that you are understanding of that," he said. "On an unrelated note, congratulations for getting out of Sword Art Online on your own merits," he said before nodding at Mister Tani and walking out of the room.
Harry watched him leave. For all that he didn't like the man and the organization he represented, he could respect their professionalism. Besides, the man's lack of confirmation or denial when he voiced his suspicions to him yesterday was telling in its own right. He then looked at Mister Tani. "And is there anything on your end I need to know, if only to know what mess I stepped in this time?"
"Lady Kaoru does want to talk with you," he said. "And you know the reasons why. She is waiting for you and all your friends to be discharged. Well, not Yui and Strea for obvious reasons, but we're still trying to track down what happened to them."
"Any clues?" Harry asked with a hopeful voice.
"We have some suspicions where they might have ended up," Chiaki said. "RECT maintained the SAO servers while you were all in there, and they used a lot of what they learned to make a VR game of their own."
"They call it Alfheim Online, and from what we can tell, they used data from SAO, or at least the servers used in the beta test. They might have hopped over to there, but we don't have any way to confirm that without getting some AmuSpheres and going in. We're not anti-technology, and we have a fair number of modern conveniences, but none of us really saw the point in playing it."
Harry nodded. "Is it safer than SAO?" He asked.
Chiaki nodded. "RECT made sure of that," he said.
"A VRMMO that's safer than SAO," Harry mused. "I can see taking a look at that and seeing if I can get into contact with them. If they are there, of course, but it would make some sense, if only because Strea would get bored and want to do something. Anyway, you said that Lady Kaoru would wait until we're discharged?"
Chiaki nodded. "It would be easier to do it all at once, though we made sure to send someone to inform them all not to talk about certain things until then," he said, gaining a professional bearing that was at odds with his previous one. "Not just for their protection, but yours as well. This way we can debrief everyone at once and inform them of their responsibilities."
"And mine as well?" Harry asked.
"You will be briefed further later, but I can at least tell you this right now," Chiaki said seriously. "Until you are all adults, you're responsible for them. There are going to be other things, but that's for later. Miss Ayano will be similarly briefed for obvious reasons."
Harry nodded. "She and her family have known about certain things since long before SAO, so she should have done something to stop me," he said. "But what you're saying is that the responsibility is primarily mine. That's fair enough, since it was me who… you know."
Chiaki nodded and then lost his professional demeanor. "On an unrelated note, you doing it when you did netted me thirty thousand yen," he said jovially. "We had a bet on if and when you would."
Harry snorted. "Nice to know that something good came out of it," he said drily. He heard his cellphone ring and reached over to get it. Fiddling with it and cursing his unfamiliarity with such, he finally accepted the call. "Moshi moshi."
Narita International Airport
"So, visiting Japan for the Christmas holidays?" A girl's voice asked in English with an American accent.
Dudley blinked and turned his attention to the speaker. She was clearly of Asian descent, if showing signs of mixed heritage, and her English had that educated air that some of his teachers at Smeltings had. The best he could guess is that she was around fourteen or so, but he was no expert at guessing a girl's age.
"Visiting my cousin for the hols," he replied. "And will actually get to talk to him for a change, rather than see him just lying there in a hospital bed and unable to respond."
She raised an eyebrow. "He was hurt when you last visited?" She asked. "If it's not too much, what happened?"
Dudley shook his head in the negative. "No, it's not too much," he said. "He was trapped in SAO. It's over with, so he's now free." He frowned. "But I'm not looking forward to how he might take my presence." He said quietly before shaking his head.
"You two don't get along?" She asked.
Sharp ears, he thought. "He has reasons, good ones, to not fond be of me, to say the least," he said with some shame in his voice. "I'm not proud of being responsible for many of those reasons, but it is what it is." He saw her nod, though he could see that she was thinking about what he said. "So what brings you to Japan?" He asked, changing the subject.
"I'm here to see my sister, Nijika." The girl said. "She was in SAO as well. As far as I know, she's still in the hospital recovering. My mom should be waiting for me."
Dudley nodded. "Yeah. Well, I hope she gets better soon then." He said.
"Same," the girl said and then looked at which flights were next to go through customs. "This is taking forever. Hope my mom isn't kept waiting too long." She complained before turning back to Dudley. "Nanairo Arshavin," she said, holding out her hand.
"Dudley Dursley," he said, as he took it and they shook. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Arshavin."
"Hey Dudley," Sirius said as he walked up to them. "Just got off the phone with Harry and… well, well, talking with a girl?"
Dudley gave an aggrieved sigh. "Before you ask, Sirius, I'm not trying to chat or pick her up," he said. "I'm not you." He looked at Nanairo. "Miss Arshavin, my cousin's godfather, Sirius Black. Just ignore him, and he might stop begging at the table. Sirius, Miss Nanairo Arshavin. She's here to see her sister, who's an SAO survivor like Harry. We basically struck up a conversation to kill some time." He looked at the waiting list for flights. "Shouldn't be too long." He looked at Nanairo questioningly.
"My flight is next for line two." She said.
"Cool, we're next for line three." Dudley said before turning his attention back to Sirius. "How's he doing?"
"Bored out of his mind," Sirius said. "If we can get through soon enough, we can make it before visiting hours are over, maybe even allow him to be discharged, though that will probably have to wait until tomorrow."
"Umm, excuse me," Nanairo said. "Since this Harry is an SAO survivor, what was his handle? You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
"What?" Sirius asked.
"Hadrian, but most of his friends called him Harry," Dudley said and then paused as he saw Nanairo look shocked.
"Your cousin… was he a member of Steel Phoenix?" She asked hesitantly.
"Yes, but what does that ha-" Dudley began to ask when Nanairo gave an excited squeal.
"He was in the same guild as my sister!" Nanairo said excitedly. "Her handle was Rain! What a coincidence!"
Dudley parsed that and then chuckled. "Small world," he said and then glanced at the listed queue. "Well, looks like our flights are up. It was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Arshavin."
Nanairo nodded. "The same, Mister Dursley, dosvidaniya," she said as she walked to where she would claim her bags.
As they walked to fetch their bags before heading to their customs line, Sirius gave Dudley a sly look. "So, talking with the sister of one of Harry's friends," he said. "Smooth."
"I see a newspaper, don't make me grab it and whack you with it," Dudley threatened. "And her saying that at the end, I assume it's Russian. If so, then she's definitely Rain's sister."
Suginami, Nakano General Hospital
Keiko watched as Sirius walked into the common area. "Where's Harry?" She asked when he got close enough.
"He's talking with his cousin," Sirius said, glancing in the direction of Harry's hospital room. "I figured I would tell you he might be delayed."
She shot him a look. "His cousin," she said flatly. "The same cousin who used to bully him before SAO?" It wasn't a question. While Harry had some hopes for his cousin, she would reserve judgment until she met him. Word of him changing for the better meant little when compared to what Harry told her during their time in SAO.
"Lady Shiba's there to keep the peace if needed, though I think Chiaki could do it just as well," Sirius said. "I don't think anyone would try to cross her, so if things get a bit heated, she can cool their heads. But they need this."
"I hope it's with a bucket and not her sending them into Tokyo Bay," her grandfather said. "It'd take a bit of time to fish them out and bring them back here."
"She better not," Keiko said. "Harry doesn't know how to swim. So, he was right about his cousin then?"
Keiko considered what she would say in response and decided to take a page out of Asuna's book. "I hope you don't mind if I see for myself," she said. "It's not that I think you're lying, but I need to confirm this for myself."
Harry looked at Dudley with a neutral expression from where he was seated on his hospital bed, and would admit to being a bit satisfied at his cousin shuffling nervously. He noted that Lady Shiba standing back next to Mister Tani, but focused on his cousin. "You've lost some weight," he said neutrally. "You're still big, but it's more muscle now. But you're not so fat that you look like a whale trying to be a person now."
"Boxing practice, following a diet, and a lot of time in the gym will do that." Dudley said. "And you look like you could stand to gain a few stone."
"I was on the Aincrad diet plan," Harry said, using a joke he, Keiko, and a few other SAO survivors in the hospital had. "Guaranteed weight loss, or your brain's cooked."
Dudley winced at the dark joke before taking a deep breath. "Harry, nothing I can say can really make up for what I did." He said. "I was a right pillock back then."
"That you were," Harry said, keeping his expression and voice neutral. "So, what prompted your change of heart?"
"The staff at Smeltings remembered Dad," Dudley said. "They didn't want another him and decided to set me straight. My classmates helped in that as well. They're in prison now, you know."
"I've heard as much," Harry said and then took a deep breath. "Sirius showed me the newspaper articles, so I know that you talked to the press, which helped with putting both there. However…"
"You know, I can't feel sorry for them," Harry said. "You might not want to hear that, but it's true. I didn't want that for them, I just wanted to be shut of them, but..."
"I know," Dudley said. "Their actions came back around on them, and it wasn't just the abuse. Abuse that I was a part of. I was… still am, actually... angry about them now being in prison. But not at you. They brought it on themselves." He then gave a wan smile. "Working out in the gym helps with the anger. So does boxing practice. Makes for some great stress relief and letting it out. Sparring and getting my arse kicked makes for some good anger management practice as well."
Harry snorted before schooling his features. "Surprised that Aunt Marge didn't take you in," he commented.
Dudley snorted. "Her?" He asked incredulously. "Thank God, no. She ended up in a spot of trouble when she tried and some social services people checked to see if she was suitable. She wasn't found suitable, obviously."
Harry nodded. He could tell there was more to it, but he really didn't need to know. "So who's responsible for you now?" He asked.
"Sirius is, surprisingly." Dudley said. "I don't know how he did it, but… Anyway, he worked out a deal with Smeltings to allow me to keep attending, so long as I keep my grades up. Easy enough, since I have to if I want to remain on the boxing team. Well, maybe not that easy, I'm not that smart, but I'm putting in the effort."
"That's all you can do," Harry said. "Still, that leaves us with one question, where do we go from here?"
"Nothing can make up for what I did," Dudley said. "But…"
"The past is the past," Harry said and then smiled. "It's good to see that what I had hoped for you, that someone would set you straight before it was too late, happened. The rest… well, you know what I feel about Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon. So let's just start from here." He held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Harry. I hear you're my cousin?"
Dudley smiled and took it. "Hi, I'm Dudley, and I've heard the same," he said and they shook.
"Well, I have someone to introduce you to," Harry said as he reached for the crutches right next to the bed.
"Who?" Dudley asked.
"My wife," Harry said and then paused for a moment. "Well, fiancée really, but I've gotten used to thinking of her that way. Give us a few years so we can file the paperwork, and it will be the case again." He tried to get up.
Dudley moved over to help him, but was waved back. "I need to do this on my own," Harry said as he finally got standing. "There we go. Now, I take it that she's in the common area?" His question wasn't directed as Dudley.
"Indeed, Mister Potter," Kaoru said in clear English. "But I hope you won't mind any assistance if you need it."
"I'm stubborn, but not that stubborn, ma'am," Harry said with a grin.
"You're better than my godson in that respect," she said, which got a raised eyebrow from Harry.
December 19, 2024 - Chiyoda, Nihon University Hospital
Nijika sat back in her bed, boredly looking out the window. She had some manga that she could read courtesy of her mother, but she really didn't feel like picking one up right now. She was waiting for her mother and sister arrive, she had been called earlier, so she knew that both were on their way.
She heard the door open and turned to it in time to see her mother, Airi, come in. "Mom," she said. "Is she…?"
Airi turned to the outside and Nijika could hear her tell someone to come in. "Come on, don't be shy," her mother said kindly as she led in a young teen. Her hair was such a light brown that it could be confused for a pale blonde, and her brown eyes were staring at her curiously.
She was here. Her sister was here.
"Nanairo?" She asked.
Nanairo nodded. "It's… it's been awhile, hasn't it, sestra?" She asked. Her Japanese was halting, and her using the Russian for "sister" showed her clear unfamiliarity with the language of her birth.
Not that Nijika cared.
Nijika got off her bed and stood up on shaking legs. She took a couple of halting steps before stumbling, and catching herself.
Nanairo walked forward and held her up. "Easy," she said in English, only to suck in a breath as Nijika wrapped her arms around her. "Nijika?"
"Moya sestra... ty zdes'" Nijika said in Russian with tears of happiness running down her cheeks. She looked up to see her mother smiling. If she hadn't known that Nanairo had come here on her own, with their father's permission, and why he wasn't here, she would ask where he was. She had some choice words to say to him, but that didn't matter right now.
She was seeing her sister for the first time in ten years. Giving her father a piece of her mind could wait.
Andrew smiled as his wife, Kathy, continued to tell him stories of the things that happened in the last two years, and how her having his own actions in SAO had attracted more patrons, especially after he was one of the groomsmen for Harry's wedding. She was currently telling him of an Englishman who was in Japan to watch over his godson, Harry Potter, or Hadrian, as he was called in SAO, had become something of a semi-regular customer.
Andrew was surprised to hear that Harry had someone from England come here to see him. He never asked for details, but Harry had let him know that his home life was bad enough that he didn't consider his family members as such. To know that someone actually gave enough of a damn and cared enough to come here and be a semi-regular at the bar was surprising.
"So he would regularly have someone picking him up from the cafe?" He asked.
"Oh yes," Kathy replied. "They were an interesting bunch. The local Yakuza were… well, they were very polite to them and cut back on the protection racket, wary of provoking them. Especially to the pair that routinely came to pick him up. A Chiaki Tani and Ryunosuke Ikegami, if I recall right."
Andrew started when he heard those names. "Kathy, say those names again," he said. It couldn't be, he thought.
"Chiaki Tani and Ryunosuke Ikegami," she said. "I figured that they're important enough people and high up enough in the pecking order, or work for someone who is, that the Yakuza don't mess with them. I never asked, though."
Agil nodded. "Best that you didn't," he said. "They're not into anything shady that I know of, but they work for a family that is known in the underworld. I don't know any details, but I've overheard the Yaks mention them as people they are not to fuck with a few times in the past, and to cut down their usual activities if they're regularly in the area. That's all I know, and I know better than to ask."
Kathy nodded. "I figured as much," she said. "Still, they're good customers and you might have a chance to meet them after you get out." She checked the time. "And it looks like it's time for me to head back to the cafe and prepare it for opening. It's supposed to be about a week until you get discharged, right?"
"A week at the least," Andrew grumbled. "It might be sooner, but you know how doctors are. Still surprised that I'm not going to be stuck here longer. The wonders of modern medical technology, though the rehab's going to last longer than I'll be here."
"Just be patient, dear," Kathy said and then gave him a kiss before she walked out the door. As it closed he heard her greet someone.
"Oh, Airi! You came here to see your daughter? And who is this young lady?"
Andrew laid down on his hospital bed. So, his wife knew Rain's mother? He had met the woman when she visited her daughter, and Rain had introduced them when he stumbled upon the two of them as he was hobbling back from a therapy appointment. He had been surprised that he was in the same hospital as one of Steel Phoenix, let alone a few doors down, but the hospital had a ward for those caught in SAO, so he probably shouldn't have been. He had run into many a former customer, who often sent cheerful greetings or jeers his way, as well as the mutually shared gripes about still being in the hospital, the carefully monitored diets, being bored out of their minds, and what they'll do when they get out.
None of them doubted that they'll be having to do physical therapy and other rehabilitation related activities for months to come, but all of them were showing signs of clear and rapid improvement. Hell, he had put on five kilos once the doctors were assured that he could eat solid food, and the calorie and nutrient rich diet was doing him wonders, despite how carefully monitored it was. He was still underweight for his size, but he at least wasn't looking like someone who was recovering from a moderate famine any more. All of them had joked on more than one occasion about having been on the Aincrad Diet Plan.
December 20, 2024 - Toshima, Ikebukuro General Hospital
Hiyori sighed as she looked out the window of her hospital room, taking in the skyline, including the Sunshine 60 building which was clearly visible from her location. It had been nearly two weeks since she had participated in the battle that freed everyone from SAO, and she was beginning to get bored and frustrated with her continued confinement in the hospital. She mentally cursed the businesses her parents worked for sending them both on required business trips out of the country. Her mother was due back tomorrow, but that didn't change her current situation.
She had already exhausted the manga collection her mother provided yesterday, her educational future was still undecided so she didn't have any textbooks to crack open or read on a tablet, let alone use the hospital's Wi-Fi to browse the internet on, and the TV in the floor's common area was playing news broadcasts that she already knew the content of. Her cellphone was off to the side, but went largely unused. The ones she most wanted to talk to right now, if only to have someone to share gripes with about her hospital stay, she didn't have their numbers for.
She heard the door to her hospital room open and looked over to see Nurse Aikawa look in. "Miss Kashiwazaka, you have a visitor," she said politely. "Would you like to see them?"
A visitor? She thought in confusion. She didn't know of any family members planning to visit. Given the distances involved that they would be required to travel, she would have been notified by now. Still, something to alleviate the boredom outside of the normal was appreciated. "Thank you, Nurse Aikawa, I would like to see them," she said.
"Very well, Miss Kashiwazaka," the nurse said and looked outside the room. "She's ready to see you now."
Lux wondered who it was when Harry and Silica walked into her room on crutches. "Harry, Silica!" She said excitedly. There were two others with them, but she was focused on them. "You've been released?"
Both of them smirked and nodded. "We got out yesterday," Harry said. "More because the two of us were annoying the staff, I think."
"You mean we were constantly getting out of our rooms to be found sleeping in the common area of our floor," Silica said. "Oh, and remember, it's Keiko out here, Lux." She then looked at Harry.
Hiyori grinned. "Only if you remember to call me Hiyori," she said. "So, how is it to be finally out of the hospital?"
"Weird and nerve-wracking," Harry admitted. "This city is huge and worse to get around than the labyrinths in SAO. All the people around keep making me have my guard up. If it wasn't for the lack of mobs, it would be like being out of the towns in SAO."
Keiko nodded. "I still find myself reaching for a dagger that's not there at times," she admitted. "Your instincts are going to be going wild out there, so keep that in mind when you get released."
Hiyori nodded and then gave the two who accompanied them a curious look. "And they are?" She asked.
"Oh, right," Harry said and then pointed at one of them. The bigger one. "This one is my cousin, Dudley Dursley. Don't worry, we talked some things out and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt."
"And this one," Keiko said, pointing at the other. "Is my uncle, Akira Saotome. He's here to make sure Harry behaves himself and doesn't find a place to have his way with poor, defenseless, and innocent little me."
Hiyori snorted. "Innocent, you?" She asked and then laughed. "You're a lot of things, but innocent isn't one of them. Besides, who is to keep you from having your way with him?" She looked at Dudley.
"Don't look at me," he said in heavily accented Japanese. "I'm not stepping in the way of a woman who is determined to get what she wants."
"Wise man," Akira and Harry both said with a nod, causing Hiyori to giggle.
"Yeah, wise of you," Hiyori said with clear amusement. "It's a pleasure to meet both of you." She said and bowed from her seated position.
"So Hiyori, outside of the boredom of being stuck in a hospital, how have you been?" Keiko asked.
"Fine enough, I guess," Hiyori said with a shrug. "The food's okay. Not up to Asuna's level, but okay. Once they let me start eating solid food that is. The crutches are a pain to deal with. Physical therapy is painful. And the psychological counseling every few days is a pain. You two?"
Harry and Keiko shrugged. "About the same," Keiko said. "We're down to doing the counseling once a week, but that's probably because we're no longer patients in the hospital. We were having to talk to psychologists and counselors about as often before."
"Yeah, but I don't think counseling sessions are supposed to last three or four hours," Harry grumbled.
"Before we all start complaining about psychologists and their prying questions," Hiyori said. "What brings you both here? How did you find out I was here?"
Harry looked at her. "I apparently have friends in interesting places, or my dad's family does," he said. "Anyway, we both came here to check up on you, get your cellphone number, and give you ours." He smirked. "We already met with Rain earlier, she's at Nihon University Hospital. Got to meet her sister and mother there, and Agil's staying at that hospital as well. It was quite the coincidence to find out that Dudley here met Rain's sister at the airport when he arrived." He then gave his cousin a smirk. "Was quite funny to see her threatening him in a mix of Japanese and Russian to keep his hands off her sister, or else."
Dudley snorted. "That's putting it mildly," he said in English.
Harry turned his attention back to Hiyori. "I seem to recall that you reminded us all that we can get into contact after we got out a few months ago, we're making sure that happens." He said.
Hiyori looked at her cellphone before scrambling to get it. She turned it on and then looked at Harry and Keiko. "Well, what are you waiting for?" She saw the rings on their left ring fingers and paused. "And are those rings I see?"
Both Harry and Keiko looked at her and then at each other. Harry turned his attention back to her. "We were wondering if you would notice," he said, flushing. "It's a bit of a story, one we can't tell here, but to summarize it… we're engaged."
Hiyori gave the two embarrassed teens a blank look, and then looked at the rings. "Oh… um, those don't look like…" She shook her head. She could bring it up later, and she suspected that certain things that they couldn't discuss in public were involved, so it would have to be someplace that was private. "So, you were saying something about trading cellphone numbers?"
December 21, 2024 - Nerima, Ayano Residence
Keiko felt herself relax as she entered her home. For all that she and Harry could put on a front, they had told everyone that being out and about was going to make them very alert and cautious with regard their surroundings. The habits developed in SAO, of always being alert until you could verify for yourself that a place was safe, was making her wish she still had her dagger, and she had seen Harry tapping his hand on his right hip or clutching his crutches in a way that showed he was ready to use it as a means of self-defense often enough to know he felt the same. Being free of SAO wasn't the problem, but the crowds and not having clear lines of sight made them on edge.
She was just glad that the press had kept back for now, but she doubted that it would last for long.
The two of them had finally gotten a hold of everyone, ensuring that they could remain in contact, though it had been a near miss with Kiri- Kazuto, who was making arrangements to be discharged when they got to his hospital. It was nice to meet his family, though. The way his sister, Suguha, moved demonstrated her kendo training, and she would admit that if she was in good enough condition, she would like to have an opportunity to spar with her. Or maybe she could pick up that Alfheim Online she heard about. Kazuto did inform her and Harry that his sister played it, and that he might try it out, if only to see how it is.
All of them had been discharged from their respective hospitals now, with Kazuto being the last one. Both she and Harry had received text messages while on the way to Mitsui Hospital from their guildmates informing her of such.
She heard her cellphone's ringtone, a cutesy bit of song that she had on it before SAO, and reminded herself to change it at some point. While it was a nice callback to the more innocent times before SAO, she had long since lost track of what was "in" now. Pulling it out of her small handbag, she checked the number and recognized it as Harry's.
Wondering why he would want to call her when they had both only separated only ten minutes ago, she swiped her finger on the 'accept' icon and brought it to her ear. "Moshi moshi?"
"Keiko, sorry about calling you after we just parted ten minutes ago," Harry said. "I just got notified by my minder... Mister Tani, don't give me that insulted look. You're here to make sure I don't get myself into trouble. Thus, you're my minder. And yes, Mister Ikegami, it's all very amusing. Chortle quieter. Sorry about that, dear. Anyway, I just got notified that the Shibas and some government person want to talk to us tomorrow. You know why. I'm pretty sure that they're making arrangements with your family or will soon. Just giving you a call to inform you."
Keiko shook her head. "Thank you for that Harry," she said. "Anything else?"
"Outside of that, not right now," Harry said. "I'll call later tonight, out talks do help a little. Bye."
"Bye, Harry," She said and listened as he cut the call. So, the Shibas were now doing the meeting and planned discussion on how much trouble they might be in tomorrow. Frankly, she was surprised that the Shibas, or the Ministry of Shugenja waited for this long after they were released from the hospital. Probably to give them time to get settled.
The fact that they were to have a meeting wasn't unexpected. Harry had violated the Statute of Secrecy, and she hadn't done anything to stop it when he did. Admittedly, she could claim that it was a spur of the moment thing on his part, so she had no way to know he was going to do it, but that would be her leaving him to take responsibility to save herself. Even caught off guard, she could have done some damage control, and she had added to the issue.
Fortunately, it hadn't spread any further than their own group. None of the others had hard line connections during SAO, and apparently Kayaba had set things to filter out such topics from the streams.
Still, it wasn't a meeting she was looking forward to.
Keiko had gone to her room to get ready for bed when Sumire looked at her husband. "So, how long do you think it will be before she looks into trying Alfheim Online?" She asked.
"Hopefully never," Tetsuhiko said. "But I can see it happening. She's… tense and alert, too alert, when outside the house. Everything is different to her now. She's used to going out to fight mobs, some of them dangerous, and unlike in SAO, where cities and towns were explicitly safe, the same can't be said for out here."
Sumire nodded. Even without all the suppositions by various media "experts", the SAO survivors were going to have some difficulty adapting to being back in the real world, and some of them might never manage to. Keiko was trying, but the world had moved on without her and had changed just enough to not match what was in her memories. It was like her father's stories of returning to Japan after his training trip, or how it took Akira some time to readjust after he returned from his own training trip for his Mastery.
She was a stranger in a familiar land, and was having to cope with that fact. The fact that she was separated from the young man who was her husband in all but the legal sense was also adding to the difficulties for her. Neither youth had taken any umbrage at having to consider themselves affianced in the outside world rather than married. They had, in all actuality, expected that their marriage in SAO would not be considered a legally binding one, if only because of their ages. Which didn't mean that they were happy about it.
She was having to reconcile her new reality to what she knew, as she had to two years ago when SAO began. They were trying to do everything they can to ease the process for her, such as with her now having a cellphone plan, rather than using prepaid cards as before so she could talk to Harry, but easing it didn't mean that it was easy for her. There was a disconnect with the real world, as if she was doing a kata out of step with the others.
A disconnect with the real world might be made worse if what was rumored to be planned to allow them to complete their education turned out to be true. The SAO survivors who still had school to finish would all be educated on a campus in Nishitokyo unless they made specific arrangements otherwise. While she saw the positive side of it, such as being with a peer group that would be able to understand each other and getting the regular psychological counseling that many of them need, she also saw the negative side of it. They could potentially be seen as different. Non-conforming. Outsiders. Rejects.
Sumire lost her daughter once. She did not want to lose her again because she sought an escape from the very society that she was born in doing everything it can to reject her
December 22, 2024 - Unplottable Location, Shiba Compound
August was watching his daughter happily chase around a phoenix that had flamed in. Another bird, a beautiful snowy owl, had been clutching the phoenix's tail feather when it flamed in, and had let go as soon as the two arrived. The owl was now perching in the branches of nearby sakura tree. His wife, Ami was sitting next to him giving off a sigh and muttering about phoenixes that actively encourage such behavior.
Ever since waking up from SAO, if he wasn't busy trying to show that he was perfectly fine, he was spending as much time with his wife and daughter. He remembered how she hid behind her mother, peeking out from behind her curiously when he did. He had so wanted to hold and pick her up right then, if only to confirm that it was real, but the two years of physical inactivity had put paid to that. Even now, he was still considerably weaker and less fit than he had been, but the potions regimen and diet he was on, as well as exercises that his wife had him do, were helping him regain much of the ground lost during that time.
Gaining it all back would take a lot longer, if he could regain his previous levels of fitness, that is. For that magic can work wonders, it still had limits to it, and only time and hard work could do the rest.
"I take it that this phoenix is a regular visitor, Ami?" He asked his wife.
"He is," his wife sighed. "And Alice is always delighted to see him. I've heard that he's the phoenix companion for Albus Dumbledore."
"The Headmaster of Hogwarts?" Gus mused. "Wonder why the phoenix is here then."
"From what I know, he has an agreement with the Shibas to provide their own points of view on how Mister Potter is doing in SAO," she said. "The Wainwrights also send information, and word has it that they also provide footage of his adventures there, but you know how bad an idea only relying on one source of information is."
August nodded. "Yeah, and I taught you and your friends to always validate information from more than one source if you can," he said.
"What the… Fawkes?!" A familiar voice called out.
August turned to see a surprised Harry staring at the phoenix, with Silica next to him looking on the phoenix in awe. He took the two in. Even after two weeks out of SAO, they were still painfully thin. It would take time to put the weight back on even with a well-chosen potion regime, but they looked healthy enough. He noted the crutches they had. He also noticed their postures indicated that they weren't using them to support their weight at this moment.
He then heard a bark from the sakura tree and saw Harry look in that direction. "No way," the young man said as his face brightened. "Hedwig!"
The snowy owl took wing and Harry then found himself dealing with the attentions of a concerned owl that alighted onto his shoulder and immediately looking him over. Once she was satisfied, she then whacked him upside the head with a wing, as if she was chastising him for worrying her.
"Easy, Hedwig, easy!" Harry said in English with a laugh. "I'm sorry for worrying you, but… you're safe. Did you spend all this time looking for me?"
"She came with the phoenix, Harry," August said. "So before you ask, she didn't fly all the way here."
Harry turned to him. "Gus, you're here?" He asked in surprise.
August chuckled. "I did say I came here to visit my godmother to be here for the release of SAO," he said drily. He then gestured to Ami. "Might as well make some introductions, this is my wife, Ami, and the little bundle of joy playing with the phoenix is my daughter, Alice. Ami, this is Harry Potter and... " He looked thoughtful for a moment. "...Keiko Ayano?" He glanced at the girl and she nodded. "Used to thinking of you both with your SAO names," he admitted with a chuckle.
"It's a pleasure to meet you all, Mister Potter, Miss Ayano" Ami said with a bow. "August has spoken highly of you two."
Harry and Keiko bowed back. "The pleasure is ours, Mrs. Blake," Harry said and then glanced at August. "Also Gus, congratulations on the birth of your daughter."
August smiled at the young man. "Thank you," he said. "If it wasn't for you seven, everyone would still be in there." He looked at his daughter. "I missed those milestones I should have been here for. Her birth, her first steps, her first words… days I was trapped in there and couldn't be there." He moved closer to his wife and wrapped an arm around her. "But still, you all gave every one of us in there our lives back."
"And just because you missed some things in the past, there is still the future to look forward to," Harry said with a smile.
"Wise words, Harry," an elderly voice said. "For all that the past can weigh us down, the future is always in reach for us to grasp."
Albus smiled as Harry turned to see him. The lack of surprise on his former and maybe future student's face meant that he either already knew, or surmised his presence due to the presence of Fawkes. Still, the genuine smile on the face of the young man, he had was no longer a boy, was reassuring.
"It has been a while, Professor," Harry said, from next to the young lady who was his wife in all but name.
"Indeed it has, Harry," Albus said and then looked at the girl. "And I do think some introductions are in order as well. I know who Miss Ayano is, she has featured prominently in the recordings of your adventures in Sword Art Online, but this is our first time meeting. Miss Ayano, I am Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last." He said in clear, if accented, Japanese as he gave her a bow.
Keiko bowed back. "Headmaster Dumbledore, I am Keiko Ayano," she said. "Harry speaks highly of you and has told me many good things about you. He has also mentioned a few things that you were responsible for that I don't like, but he explained the reasons for them."
"Reasons I am sure that you doubt the validity of," Albus said knowingly. "You would be right to do so. Just as Harry has admitted to the resentment towards me he rightly felt for my decision in leaving him with his family when I explained them. I made those decisions prioritizing Harry's survival and my being too trusting in power of familial ties without accounting for just how deeply Petunia's animus towards her sister ran. Sadly, one often does not realize the unintended consequences of a decision made until after the fact. Age and wisdom does not make one incapable of being wrong."
"I'm happy to see you, Professor, but what brings you here to Japan?" Harry asked.
"For the same reason why Lord Takeru Shiba will be meeting with you two," Albus said, his voice becoming serious. "Your violation of the Statute of Secrecy while in Sword Art Online."
Harry nodded. "So you're here in an official capacity as well," he said. "So this is not just a meeting, but also a disciplinary matter. Better to get this over with then."
Takeru Shiba, nineteenth head of the Shiba clan looked at Harry Potter and Keiko Ayano sitting in a seiza position in front of him with a serious expression. "You both are already aware of why you're here," he said. "On August Twelfth, you both were party to a violation of the Statute of Secrecy that were not under the more extreme circumstances of Mister Potter's previous displays of magic. The fact that the ones who had been informed of magic were likely that fact on their own, Asuna Yuuki, Kazuto Kirigaya, Nijika Karatachi, Hiyori Kashiwazaka and the artificial intelligences Strea and Yui, is also being taken into account." The then looked at Albus, who was seated off to the side.
"Chief Warlock Dumbledore, as the representative from the United Kingdom, I request that responsibility for this matter be remanded to Japanese authorities as it happened on Japanese soil in the case of Mister Potter. Is this acceptable?" He asked.
"It is," Albus said.
"Very well," Takeru acknowledged and then looked back at Harry and Keiko. "Harry Potter, Keiko Ayano, your punishment is thus. Until all the ones you revealed the existence of magic to have reached the age of twenty, it will be your responsibility to ensure that they do not reveal the existence of magic to others who are not aware of it. All of them have been gathered here and are being briefed on the Statute and the responsibilities of knowing about magic, as well as if they violate it, it will be you two held accountable for their actions. Is this understood?"
"It is." Both Harry and Keiko acknowledged.
Takeru nodded and then relaxed. "I'm sorry for having to force this responsibility on you both, but breaches of the Statute of Secrecy, even when unintentional, must be addressed," he said apologetically. "Had this happened recently enough, measures could have been taken, but it has been too long to use them without potentially causing harm to them." He then looked at them. "And you two can get out of a seiza position if you wish.
Both Harry and Keiko did so with expressions of clear relief on their faces.
"We were informed by both Mizore Yasaka and August Blake that this was a probable outcome," Harry said and then turned to Albus. "Professor, is there anything I have to be concerned of about how this will be handled in England?"
Albus smiled. "Since this happened in Japan, and is being made a matter for the Japanese Authorities by them, then no," he said. "My presence here was to not only officially hand off our responsibilities toward you as a citizen of the United Kingdom to them jurisdiction in this matter, but to also serve as a witness to the proceedings so that I may inform the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Wizengamot that it the matter is now settled. We were informed of this months ago, along with the request that this be handled in Japan and under Japanese authority.
"It took some negotiations, but an agreement was reached that your punishment be handled by the Japanese authorities. Though, I believe that many thought that this would be tried by the Ministry of Shugenja."
Takeru nodded with a smile. "When I said that we would handle the matter, they decided to let us, as we have law enforcement authority outside of theirs," he said. "It also helps that Kayaba at least had the consideration of protecting the secrecy of magic for his own reasons, so it did not go out through the streamed footage, leaving it to only the six named in this hearing."
"Excuse me, Lord Shiba, You're including Yui and Strea in that, right?" He asked.
Takeru nodded. "I am," he acknowledged. "And before you ask, they are have been notified. It was another AI, CARDINAL, who worked as the administrative AI for SAO that made it so that they could be contacted. She also provided evidence to show how she had set things to ensure that the knowledge of magic did not leave through the streamed feeds."
"Do you know how we can get into contact with them?" Keiko asked hopefully. "Yui and Strea, that is."
Takeru smiled. "The two of them have taken up residence in the only other VRMMO on the market right now, Alfheim Online," he said. "In the city of Arun to be precise, if I recall correctly. Your friends are also being notified of this."
Harry and Keiko looked at each other and nodded as both Takeru and Albus shared amused looks.
"How likely do you think it will be that both of them, and their friends, will be playing this Alfheim Online by Christmas?" Albus asked after the two of them left to go meet with their friends.
Takeru snorted. "Those two?" He asked. "It's almost certain. Their friends, on the other hand, might be another matter, though I don't doubt that they will follow suit soon after."
Yui landed and began walking through the streets as her dark wings faded. Due to her previous status as a player in SAO, she had to pick a race and had decided on playing as a Spriggan in ALO. The fact that it would allow her to have an avatar that would provide one that was close in physical appearance and build to what she had in SAO was also a factor. Much like why Strea had chosen Gnome, as that race was the largest and naturally stoutest of the nine races.
The benefits to illusion and treasure hunting magic, so much different from what Harry had described of his experiences with magic that Spriggans had as a racial bonus was also a consideration. She was not combat oriented by personality, unlike Strea, so having a means to avoid combat was desirable, though she wasn't always successful and has been required to fight on more than one occasion. Her stats were fairly good, being based off of her character data from SAO, which wasn't overly low leveled. She made sure to have a suitable level for the floor Steel Phoenix resided on when she and Strea broke free.
Her combat skills, however, were lacking, and it took her over a week to get good enough that making her way here from the Uruna, the home city of the Spriggans wasn't a constant risking of death by mob due to combat skills being insufficient. Even though dying here did not have the same terminal consequences it had in SAO, dying and finding herself back in Uruna got old and frustrating quickly.
Still, Strea was right, combat is fun, she thought as she continued to walk down the streets of Arun to the inn she and Strea were using as their home.
They were here to ostensibly gather data on ALO for the project that CARDINAL was engaged in, and she did request that they do so, sending them on the occasional run to gather data on some part of ALO, but otherwise, she allowed them to do as they wanted. Yui privately thought that CARDINAL's reason for having them gather data was an only an excuse so that she could give them an environment that was somewhat familiar to them to live and play in.
She opened her Friends List and checked for specific names and sighed as they still showed that the she and Strea were still the only members of Steel Phoenix to be logged in. She and Strea knew that CARDINAL had managed some form of contact with Outside, somehow, and had passed information on her and Strea's whereabouts to people who would notify the others, but she found herself missing them and hoped that they did come to ALO, and soon.
She needed the help in keeping Strea in line, as the amazonian AI liked fighting more than just mobs. The lack of terminal consequences with killing and dying also meant that she enjoyed brawling and fighting against other players. She was getting a reputation as one who enjoyed fighting a bit too much, even by the standards of the highly competitive races of ALO.
She idly wondered what they would think when they realized that their SAO character data, minus Harry and Kirito's unique skills, had carried over.