Hey everyone, we're FINALLY back!
I know it has been AGES since this story was updated, and for that I apologize. For more information about the biggest part of this 'hiatus', you can look to the pre-chapter Author Notes of my latest SAO Fics' updates, as it's getting a bit repetitive to copy/paste it on all my stories. But for this specific update (As it's a short interlude that shouldn't have taken that long to do), I will say that I made the mistake of getting into 'Doki Doki Literature Club' and I'm still in the process of my soul and heart recovering from the damage they suffered from that game, which caused me to waste hours looking at happy fanmade content of it for weeks, sorry about that :3
Oh, and, if you haven't done it yet, go check out and review the April Fools' SAO one-shot I published back that day, 'Five Reasons to Smile', if you wanna have a quick laugh!
Back to this, though, first let me give you a bit [THANK YOU] for your support…this story managed to get 1399 reviews as of this Update…to whoever is going to be the number 1400, congrats, and to everyone else too! Let's see if we can arrive to 2000 one day XD!
Now, I will leave you with the Interlude and setup for the next 'arc' of this whacky tale. Have fun with more misadventures of our dear 'Eroge Protagonist'!
And, as always, help filling this fic's TvTropes is appreciated. More so with how long it's been since I updated this one XP
Disclaimer: Neither Sword Art Online nor its characters belong to me, as much as I wish otherwise. If they did, 'There Is But One Ultimate Way' would no doubt be the Canon Ending of the series.
Interlude: Secret Bosses and Sequel Hooks!
November 23rd, 2024. The Skies above Aincrad, 10:15…
If you had to ask Kirito about his current situation, he would have summarized it with a phrase that he hadn't thought about in quite a while.
"Why couldn't my life have become an RPG instead?"
Of course, given that he had still ended technically trapped in a virtual MMORPG for a bit over two years, that had kinda still come true in a way.
However, it was only because he had one day woken up with Dating Sim powers that he was currently standing at the metaphorical edge of the world, in some sort of invisible platform overlooking the soon-to-be-destroyed Aincrad with an elf-like girl staring curiously at him with bright red eyes.
Or well, they would be, if they were currently a muted gray color, like everything around him, and she stuck in frozen time until he chose one of the three familiar 'Options' before him.
Once again reminding himself he HAD kind of decided to accept his powers and everything that came from them for a while now, the gamer resigned himself and, while mentally apologizing to the unknown girl, chose 'Option B' after a short deliberation.
"…I have no idea what's going on either." came unbidden from the boy's lips once time had resumed, accompanied by him giving an apologetic look shrug towards the mysterious girl. "One moment I was leaving the Boss Room alongside everyone and next I know, here I am, watching this beautiful view with a mysterious beauty."
"…eh?! Wha-what?!" the one calling herself Yuuki spluttered slightly while taking a step back, "Be-beauty?! Are you sick or something, maybe?! O-oh, no, wait, I get it, it's a joke! Ahahahah, good one!"
"N-no, Yuuki-san, I'm not-" interrupting himself once he was once again able to control his own words and body, Kirito suppressed another sigh and decided to just continue awkwardly smiling towards the elf-like swordswoman. "Okay, let's forget that for a moment…and as for your question…this may sound hard to believe, but, uhm…we're inside Sword Art Online right now and-"
"Wait, what?! You mean…that over there is Aincrad?!" head swiveling around, the mysterious girl suddenly completely ignored the gamer to instead stare at the (in)famous Floating Castle. "So this is…what Merida wanted to come back to…it really looks beautiful…Aiko-nee would also have liked to see it, I bet…"
"…I'm going to assume you have no idea how you ended up here either?" ventured Kirito while breaking Yuuki out of her melancholic thoughts, causing the girl to shake her head vigorously. "Well…don't be too worried, at least, the game is just about to end. We just killed the Final Boss and all remaining Players are being logged out right about now…"
"You did?! Woah, that's…amazing!" cheered the elf-like swordswoman while jumping up and down in excitement, suddenly almost in Kirito's face. "Does that mean you are one of the ones that beat the strongest monsters of Sword Art Online?!"
"I…well, yeah…a bit. I didn't really do all that much…"
He was only half-lying about that, after all…it had been the girls who murdered most of the last Floor Bosses before the final battle, after all…and he would be damned if he even tried to explain half the craziness the last months of his life had been to this adorably excitable girl.
Really, if he could avoid even proposing the silly thing that his powers had just suggested, maybe it wouldn't cause any problem for her at a-
"Hey, please, fight me!"
…never mind, apparently she had different plans.
"You heard me, I want to fight you!" Yuuki repeated while jumping up and down before taking a graceful step back and unsheathing her blade, making the boy's instincts go into overdrive at noticing the amazing easiness of her movements, superior to that of most Front Liners he had been fighting alongside for weeks. "This may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance I get to fight someone who directly contributed to clearing Sword Art Online…and besides, there is no better way for two people to understand each other than crossing blades!"
Blinking for a moment at the words, thinking about how that sounded suspiciously like something he had once said himself to someone he met in the SAO Beta Test (Which felt like lifetimes ago), the gamer couldn't help but find the girl's enthusiasm a bit infectious.
Plus, putting aside there being Duel Modes available that didn't involve HP dropping to 0, he was sure his annoying yet overly convenient powers wouldn't let anything bad happen to her. Deciding as such, he grinned right back, Yuuki growing visibly excited as he sent her a Duel Invitation (Half HP Mode), adopting his usual fighting stance to face the seemingly super-powerful gi-
That's when his eyes fell in the weapon in his hand, the only one he still had after the final battle he had just fought, and his entire brain just froze as his eyes widened.
"Huh, Kirito, eh? Nice name!" the swordswoman shouted with a big smile as she tensed, her whole body practically vibrating at the prospect of fighting an amazingly strong opponent. "Here I go! Give it your all, Kirito!"
"N-no, wait, Yuuki, stop, I forgot that-!"
Ignoring his words, or maybe not hearing them in her excitement, the mysterious girl shot forward with a speed and grace Kirito hadn't seen outside any of his girls with absurd powers come even close to, not even him with his amazingly high level, barely able to tract her movements as she seemingly teleported into his guard, ready to strike at his neck.
And so, instinct took over and he sidestepped at the very last second, swinging back a counterattack…with the stupidly overpowered super-mega-blade that Sword Art Online's Final Boss had dropped.
Enough power to obliterate dozens of Floor Bosses in one swing slammed against Yuuki, sending the shocked girl flying back and screaming as her HP all but disintegrated and her avatar started breaking apart as she spun through the air, under Kirito's horrified/embarrassed look.
"Ne-next time won't looooseeeee-!" swore the swordswoman as her body vanished, back to wherever she had been before ending up there in SAO.
For a moment, the 'Ladiesman Swordsman' stood there, deadpanning at nothing before cursing and throwing the stupidly overpowered blade away, feeling like a bully for what he had just accidentally done.
Stupid Dating Sim powers! They had totally put him in that situation on purpose, hadn't they?!
[Congratulations! You beat the Secret Boss! Hollow Fragment Scenario has been Cleared!]
[Congratulations! 'Lost Song' Scenario has been unlocked! Continue progressing for the Scenario to start naturally]
[Yuuki Route has been Unlocked! You can now see 'Heroine Status' with Konno Yuuki!]
[Your current status with Yuuki has changed to 'Sworn Rivals'!]
[You gained 15 Affection Points with Heroine Yuuki (For being a very strong rival)!]
Sighing as he tried to calm down, the gamer glanced with resignation towards the new screen he had gotten informing him of Yuuki's status, feeling even more annoyed at the ruined fight when he saw that her 'title' of the mysterious girl was 'Absolute Sword', which he doubted he had gotten by being a casual fighter…and then his entire mind stopped as he saw the information in her 'Heroine Summary'.
Even as he idly realized his Avatar had finally started vanishing, back into the proper Logging Out process everyone else in SAO probably had already experienced, Kirito suddenly felt like he had more than enough reasons to see the strange Yuuki again…
['To Protect that Smile' has been activated! A Special Event has been created!]
…oh, c'mon! Stop being so blatantly conveniently, damn superpower!
At that exact moment, Konno Yuuki fell down on her back in a certain private virtual space with a small grunt, the suddenness of what had just happened to her making it quite uncomfortable despite the lack of actual physical pain.
Then again, for her, such sensations had been muted for a long time now…
"Ouch…that was mean…and totally unfair! What was that?! Did he cheat somehow?!" standing up with puffed-up cheeks, the now short-haired and much more average-looking girl glared at one of the closest screens, as if expecting it to transport her back to SAO for a rematch. "Guh…no matter! Next time, I will totally show him what I'm really able to! Then even if he's Sword Art Online's best swordsman, he won't-!"
"…wait…where are we? How did we get he-Yuuki?!"
"Is…is that you, Yuu…?!"
If there was anything in the universe that could make the unique girl stop mid-tirade in her plans of 'revenge' against the mysterious Kirito, it was hearing those two particular voices…again.
Ever so slowly, Yuuki's head moved to the side, STARING with wide virtual eyes at the two small and floating flame-like apparitions that had suddenly manifested behind her, seemingly out of nowhere.
And then, they turned into two strange and mostly spherical chibi-heads, staring at her with equal amounts of shock…
[The Game has been Cleared. The Game has been Cleared. The Game has been…]
"Well…I guess this is it, guys. They did it."
Sighing with a sad smile despite those words, Hollow Lindt left Koharu behind staring at the message in the Hollow Area's main console, walking up to where Coper and Mater were sitting against the softly whining Mochi.
"So…how do you think death feels like for virtual entities like us?" joked the other boy of the group once they saw the 'oldest' of them getting closer, getting a whine from the Fellbeast behind them in answer. "…yeah, sorry Mochi, joke was too dark, shouldn't have made it in the first place…"
"…at least Philia-sama spent the last night here with us. I feel more at ease knowing she made it out…and that Kirito-san will keep her safe now that we can't." the youngest girl of the group pointed out with her own bittersweet smile, before sighing and putting up her 'Nazgul hood' as she looked at the black ceiling of the control room. "…I hope the 'real me' made it out okay. I may not recall our parents well, but I'm sure they miss her…"
"I just hope the other Me learned to be less of an idiot…almost two years cooped up in safe zones after that incident during the First Day just made me…him…very depressed." confessed Coper while playing with his sword and scratching Mochi's head. "At least he didn't get himself or Kirito killed in the end…"
"Well, in my case, I don't really have many regrets…I know the other me was safe and sound until the end thanks to Kirito and Philia-sama, so all I can say is…it's been a pleasure meeting all of you, guys. Being a Hollow was oddly fun, in spite of how little it lasted." Lind's soft reveal was met with two grateful smiles from his fellow semi-virtual-copies in front of him, causing him to chuckle and look back at the still silent last member of the group. "How about you, Koharu-chan? Anything you hope your real self wou-?"
"Guys…is this normal?"
The young girl's sudden question caught everyone off-guard, causing the trio and the Fellbeast to fully focus on her and seeing how she was now with her hands atop the main console's keyboard as she started at the strangely glowing screen, strings of code rushing through it at uncanny speeds.
"Koharu, what did you do?!"
"I-I didn't do anything! I was watching the screen announcing the game was over a-and I swiped it aside to watch the console's commands for one last time…and this was all over the screen! I really don't know-!"
Any other defense Koharu felt like putting up was interrupted when, finally, the string of code that had been rushing through the screen stopped, leaving just one, strange message on it, immediately catching the attention of all 4 Hollows and their strange pet.
'Erasure of Data Imminent. Hollow Area will be deleted too…save all data to backup server?'
Without thinking, the green-eyed virtual copy of a high school girl dressed as a Nazgul touched the 'Intro' key.
'…acknowledged. All Data will return to Origin.'
Before they could even process what those strange words meant…blinding light exploded from within the console, the Hollows and their Fellbeast not even having time to blink before their bodies broke down into raw data and were sucked into the glowing screen.
…and, without they even having meant for it, the light grew and consumed every single corner of the Hollow Area, its bizarre inhabitants barely having time to turn their heads towards it before all data was broken down and absorbed…included that which should have better stayed away until the servers deleted themselves.
Like a 'meteor' flying in the endless void of 'space' under the Command Room Area, dragging a certain black creature with it…
…or the 6 glowing multicolored stones in the depths of it, where they had been left outside anyone's reach…
Beyond that, in the now-empty Aincrad, the Floating Castle had finally started breaking down, as it was supposed to, with the first 2 Floors just breaking down…before the ominous light exploded from nowhere and ate the collapsing structure, NPCs and monsters of all kinds freezing in place as all their data compressed and was taken away.
Once everything was over…what remained of the system continued and deleted every other data of the Servers.
However, everything that had been consumed and compressed was quickly isolated and put away. It would remain there, 'sleeping' for a while…
But not forever.
Gasping slightly, Sachi…no, Hayami Saori opened her eyes, groaning slightly as she shielded them from the glare of the midday sun before squeaking softly at the pain of tugging several lines connected to her body.
Then, the sensations of pain and how tired and thirsty her body felt finally registered, making her eyes widen as she slowly but surely sat up and, half in disbelief, took off her Nerve Gear, staring silently at the helmet-like device before casually letting it fall off her hospital bed.
"I'm…back…" weakly whispered the girl while happy tears gathered in her eyes, barely thinking at all during the slow but weirdly satisfying process of disconnecting the various drips and needles connected to her arms, desperate to get out and find some help to contact everyone else. "We really…did it…! Hey, Night…Kitty, we're…ba-!"
Turning to the side, the struggling words died in the teen's dry throat when she looked to the side and found nothing staring back at her. Smile freezing for a moment in her face, Saori suddenly got a slightly melancholic look at the lack of the 'guardian spirit' that had been watching over her for most of her time within the Death Game.
"That's right…we're back in the real world. It's gone, alongside SAO…" sadly thought the girl while sighing and finishing her probably unsafe task as she sat upon her beside, putting her feet on the ground as she prepared to stand up. "I'm really going to miss him, though. It was like I was always ready to take on anything while he and his luck were on my si-"
Feet giving out from under her, Saori's train of thought was broken as she found herself tripping, eyes widening as it finally hit her that having tried to stand without anything to support herself on legs that hadn't walked in two years hadn't been a good idea, and that now she was about to eat the ground painfully and probably injure herself for having been so carelessly impatie-
At that moment, a lost bird that had been spooked by a car across the street flew through the conveniently open window of the hospital room, crashed painfully on the bunch of pillows a scatterbrained nurse had left in the bed adjacent to Saori's and let them all fall in just the exact moment to cushion the girl's fall.
Blinking in a mix of confusion and surprise, even as the lost bird flew around the room in a panic, the girl from Unison Hearts raised her face from her pillowy salvation and mumbled something with her dry throat.
For a second, out of her view, the air behind her seemed to distort slightly, as if agreeing with her words.
At the same time…Asada Shino was having a quite hectic time at a certain hospital, trying to convince the doctor and nurses that had crowded around her once she woke up and gingerly got out of the Medicuboid that she was completely fine.
It wasn't even an exaggeration, after all. Sure, her body was feeling a bit tender and she was thirsty as hell, but she had only been inside the FullDive machine for a bit over a week, unlike the years-long imprisonment that most SAO Survivors had experienced. She knew it wouldn't exactly be an immediate recovery, but she probably would be back to her feet in just a few days.
Honestly, all that she wanted at that moment was to get back to her apartment and call Kirito…Kazuto's home, hopefully to find out what hospital he was at, especially with all the foreign memories still inside her head that she could clearly see if he focused for just a moment.
Sure, a part of her had assumed they wouldn't just vanish once she came out of the game, especially after what she had done there at the end to help finish off the Final Boss, but it was still unsettling as hell to be able to recall the life of a fictional character in such a way it almost seemed to be her own.
Of course, by now she knew very well who she actually was and that her past wasn't the same as the one of 'Counter Guardian EMIYA', but she still couldn't help but feel utterly relieved when mumbling 'Link Start' resulting in nothing but the doctors looking at her weirdly. There were no magical circuits in her soul waiting to be activated or a world of infinite blades that she could access…she was just a normal girl, once again.
One with the memories of a Cleanser of Humanity that probably would have traumatized war veterans many times over, but pretty much normal aside from that. So really, if only she could convince the people around her to get her whatever medicines she needed and get her a cab back home, she would really-
"Doctor, the girl's family is here."
"Oh…damn. Ehm, try and see if…?"
Before Shino had even been able to start asking a question, the door to the room was pushed open and an elderly couple looked through it before zeroing on her, moving faster than you would expect from someone their ages, engulfed the surprised teenager in a hug.
"Shino-chan! Oh, thank heavens, you're okay!"
"W-we were so worried, Gods…I don't know what we would have done if anything happened to you…"
"Gra-grandpa? Grandma?" looking at her grandparents in obvious shock and with very mixed emotions, the former virtual 'Archer' wasn't really sure of what was happening. "Wha-what are you doing here?"
"What…? Shino, honey, as soon as this happened and they contacted us, we rushed here to see you, of course!" the girl's grandfather stated before turning and glaring at the medical staff present. "And I hope you're not forgetting we're suing you for putting our granddaughter's life in danger with your so-called 'safe treatment'!"
"Si-sir, in assure you, none of us could have even dreamed she would somehow get trapped in Sword Art Online fo-for using our Medicuboid…it made absolutely no sense and we still don't know how-!"
"Wa-wait, everyone, please!" interrupting the clearly disturbed doctor caused everyone's attention to go back to the teenage girl, but after what she had lived through the past week that hardly even affected her. "Grandma, grandpa, I'm sorry you got so worried because of me, but what I meant to ask was; if you're here then who is looking over-?"
Slowly for her perception, though she actually did it so fast the reflex almost seemed superhuman for an instant, Asada Shino looked towards the newcomer that was hesitantly standing in the door, as if afraid to enter.
It had been a while since she saw her in person…she looked terrible, her hair slightly out of place and her eyes clearly reflecting as if she hadn't been sleeping well and probably crying constantly recently…but the visage of her face filling with tears once again when their gazes crossed, was enough to immediately make her heart almost jump to her throat.
After all, regardless of how twisted and soul-crushing the memories she now had embedded in her heart could get, none of them could ever compete with seeing her mother's, the person she always wanted to protect the most, horrified face that fateful day when she had accidentally shot and killed a man to save her life.
However, at that moment, there was no horror, nor the usual nigh-crippling emotional mess she was in since her father died (And that had only worsened after her incident).
All there was in her eyes was unbridled happiness and relief, which soon seemed to overcome her hesitation and cause her to rush forward, her parents moving aside as she trapped the daughter she had indirectly driven to move and live alone in the city (So she could go to school without everyone looking at her like a monster) in the fiercest hug she had ever given her.
"Shino…you're alive…you're alive…my sweet baby…I'm so sorry…so sorry…!"
As her mother cried her heart out on top of her, having clearly been beyond worried sick ever since she got the news of what had happened to her, the virtual Archer couldn't help but feel her own eyes feel with tears.
Hugging her mom back and crying like she hadn't done in years, for a few minutes, under the stares of her grandparents and medical staff Asada Shino went back to being a completely normal girl…
While those events took place…a certain chestnut-haired girl sighed for the umpteenth time as the expert medical staff that had been around her bed ever since she woke up continued running small tests on her and a nurse handed her another cup of water with a straw so she could kept her dry throat and mouth hydrated.
It was obvious for Yuuki Asuna that her family had paid a lot so she could get the best treatment that money could buy while she was trapped in Aincrad and so she was attended the moment she woke up, something she truly was grateful to them for regardless of any annoyance she may have been feeling.
Even so, the Yuuki Heiress couldn't help but feel oddly naked while lying there in her hospital bed, and not because she was only wearing a hospital gown. All she could think at that moment besides missing Kirito and the others was how 'wrong' the absence of golden metal around her body, mightier than the greatest steel yet lighter than any feather, felt…
In spite of that, the moment her door opened and a familiar group of people she hadn't seen in over 2 years appeared, even her mom clearly struggling to look her usual composed self upon seeing her awake, the girl that had been blessed by the sign of Libra in the virtual world couldn't help but push the feeling aside and give a beautiful smile to her family.
"Father, mother, Onii-sama…I'm back."
As more and more SAO Survivors woke up around Japan, the day only promised to have more and more similar scenes…
[CONGRATULATIONS! Final Battle: 'Hollow Fragment' has been Cleared!
[You gained +77 Aura! You gained +100 Wisdom! You gained 1 'Free Title Change'!]
['Draconic Tongue' can now be freely activated!]
['Stand by My Heart' can now be freely activated!]
[Draconic Tongue] (Passive Skill/Max Heroine Skill): You're a master of the animal tongue, which girls find oddly cute! As long as there is a girl around, you will be able to perfectly understand what any animal is saying, no matter what kind! (Increases Affection Gains from Heroines with pets, especially if said pets are draconic in nature)
[Stand by My Heart] (Active Skill/Max Heroine Skill): Your Soul is strong enough to always Stand Proud for your girls! As long as a girl is nearby, all kinds of Mental Interference (From Psychological Manipulation to abilities able to mess directly with your mind or soul) will be completely ineffective against you! (Skill can still be activated as long as there is a 'Heroine' within 800 meters of you)
[Congratulations! You and Heroine Keiko are now Perfectly Synchronized! Your Bond is so strong you will be able to tell what the other wants without even thinking!]
[Congratulations! You and Heroine Saori are now Perfectly Synchronized! Your Bond is so strong you will be able to tell what the other wants without even thinking!]
[You gained 100 Affection Points with Heroine Kotone!]
[You gained 100 Affection Points with Heroine Shino!]
[CONGRATULATIONS! You have maxed Heroine Kotone's Route!]
[CONGRATULATIONS! You have maxed Heroine Shino's Route!]
[CONGRATULATIONS! You have maxed Heroine Strea's Route!]
[Congratulations! The Special Skill 'Treasures from Beyond' has been Unlocked!]
[Congratulations! The Special Skill 'Heart-Sniper' has been Unlocked!]
[Congratulations! The Special Skill 'Love For All' has been Unlocked!]
Groaning slightly, Kirigaya Kazuto's first sight of the real world after two years was…partially a hospital room's ceiling and partially more 'Notification screens' than he had ever seen in his entire life, be it in a buggy game or with his crazy power.
Staring in surprise and starting to dismiss them one by one by inertia, the black-haired boy stared around himself in shock, blinking several times as he took off his Nerve Gear when only the first two Notification that had shown up remained.
It…it was truly over. He was back…after all that madness, over-the-top fantasy/action plot, close encounters with death…and lots of girls, he had returned to the real world.
Unable to suppress a smile, the sheer relief and happiness that they had all made it back overcame the grim reveal he had just had regarding the mysterious Yuuki girl and let him just enjoy the moment, the midday sun hitting through the window making his emaciated and years-of-coma-drained body to feel better than ever, even the overall pain and tiredness he could now feel compared to the mighty and seemingly never-ending power of 'Kirito' being an odd relief for him.
Opening his eyes after having briefly closed them to fully relish in the feeling of being back into his real body, the gamer tilted his head slightly at the remaining Notifications from his powers, finally acknowledging the presence of something he had never seen before.
What the hell was a Free Title Chan-?
[Congratulations! You gained the title 'Ladiesman Swordsman: Kirito'!
[Ladiesman Swordsman: Kirito]: A legendary warrior wrapped in a powerful cloak, your prowess with your blade and fists combos are only matched (And surpassed) by your fabled ability to make any girl fall for you (Grants you all the abilities of 'Kirito' when equipped, regardless of the situation. Also increases your 'Passive Attraction' for all Non-Heroine females in the vicinity, doubly so when fighting alongside them).
Eyes widening in surprise, Kazuto's mind briefly came to a screeching halt before his fingers moved almost on its own, just slightly slower than they would have in the virtual world, opening his 'Titles' screen to stare at the now 3 that sat there innocently: 'The Protagonist', 'Nameless Knight' and 'Ladiesman Swordsman: Kirito'.
As it had always been by default, it was the first one that was currently 'equipped', but…
With almost trembling hands, the boy touching the last one…and received an 'Unable to Equip the selected Title under the current circumstances' notification instantly.
The disappointment hadn't even started to settle in before a NEW Notification, and all its implications, consumed his world.
[Would you like to use a 'Free Title Change' to equip the Title regardless? (Lasts 180 Seconds unless circumstances change)]
This…this was…huge. Like, the first legitimate 'superpower-like' thing his power had given him that wasn't strictly related to him seducing girls or linked to that in some way.
With this, he could, theoretically, become either 'Kirito' or 'The Nameless Knight' in the real world. Normally such a concept would have been absurd, but he knew from firsthand experience that his powers were able to bend reality itself to suit their needs, so something like this, even if she couldn't quite test it without accidentally wasting a priceless 'Item', was very easy to accept for him.
Sure, he was not expecting having to fight for his life or actually need superpowers in the real world, but the possibilities for it all were just…beyond staggering.
It was as the gamer was just coming to terms with his newfound 'Ace in the Hole', and feeling quite giddy over it, that a groan reached his ears as he noticed a familiar figure standing groggily from the bed on the opposite side of his. For a moment, she seemed unsteady before a mix of willpower and amazing physical prowess let her stand straight and for her head to move towards him.
The moment their eyes met, Kazuto became aware of a couple of facts.
First, all the effects of his crazy power and everything that had happened within SAO hadn't fully prepared him for the wave of nostalgia and full relief that seeing Suguha's true appearance after two years, even if he had been interacting with her as 'Leafa' for over a week, would bring him.
Second, when his adoptive sister had been 'mumbling' from time to time about 'also having grown up in the real world' when someone had made a comment about her avatars, ehem, 'measures'…she wasn't kidding. At all.
"Onii…Onii-chan…" muttered Suguha while her eyes filled with happy tears and her hands twitched. "We're…really back…"
'Wait, Sugu, please, calm down!'
…is what Kazuto would have shouted if his throat wasn't painfully dry and he had spent what little saliva he had gathered before being shocked at the newfound aspect of his 'powers', so all he managed was a weird grunt and head-movement that the young kendoka seemed to interpret as an affirmation.
Then, using her way-less-damaged body, which was already in amazing physical shape to begin with (As expected of a national-level kendoka), she all but rushed to his side and squeezed his head into her impressive bosom while crying and laughing with joy.
"…well…I guess this isn't too bad." the gamer mentally mumbled even as he felt his vision slightly dimming, probably caused by a mix of his weakened body and current lack of oxygen.
Seeing a shocked/worried bespectacled nurse entering the room and shouting for his adoptive sister to get off him was enough of a relief, though, so with a slightly goofy smile he let himself drift back into unconsciousness, where he would be able to forget about the craziness of his life for a while…
And also to not think about how he was going to tell his 'parents' about his and Sugu's 'new relationship'…or the other girls.
Problems for future-Kazuto to deal with, though, for present-Kazuto was just content with fainting amidst a worried nurse's shouts and his cousin's suddenly worried squeals.
All across Japan, the news spread in seconds. Aside from people actually seeing the sudden rushes around hospitals or houses they have kept an eye on for whatever reason, emergency broadcasts started almost immediately, to the point that it hadn't even been an hour before almost everyone in the country knew that Sword Art Online had ended.
The rest of the world would soon follow, with many people reacting to it, important or not, with hidden agendas or not, ready to take advantage of this or just to plan for what the aftermath would bring.
Case and point, at a certain penthouse, a freshly showered young woman stared with complete disbelief at the announcement being made in an overly large TV, her face suddenly morphing from shock to an almost shark-like grin that looked completely unfitting into her petite body and cute looks.
Not even a second later, an athletic man of black wavy hair wearing a suit all but slammed the door open, looking a bit agitated as his eyes zeroed on the girl inside.
"Elsa, did you see the-?! GAH!"
"Of course I did, Goushi." casually dismissed the young woman while turning around and walking towards a nearby wardrobe. "Cancel all my appointments for tomorrow! Use this as an excuse and whatever else you need! Then…get me a list. I have to talk with some of these Survivors!"
Meanwhile, at a café, a pair of college girls stared towards the small television announcing the same news with clear surprise, the bespectacled one staring at the unusually taller one while making a gobsmacked expression.
"OMG, Kohi! Can you believe it?! It's finally over! SAO is no more! Oooh, I gotta Tweet about this!"
"I-I get it, Miyu, it's a big deal, bu-but don't shout! People are staring!"
At a certain building, everyone was scrambling, shouting orders, demanding answers, or calling people/sending emails, even as the reports of more and more SAO Survivors waking up continued to arrive.
Amidst all of it, a bespectacled man in a green suit was staring at a certain report on a screen showing a list of Players, the words 'Floor 100' on the side and a list of levels reflected on the side.
A specific group was marked surrounded by strange 'anomalies' in the gear and avatar data the machines were sending from them, though. 2 in specific were underlined to reflect how they hadn't even existed within Aincrad until a week ago…
And one very specific one, the highest-leveled player of the list, reflected nothing but nonsensical data to over 90% of his 'character sheet'.
"Well then…I guess I should go and check out this 'Kirito' by myself…"
At the same time, at the other side of the world…within a certain laboratory in America, a child, or a preteen really, was currently mapping something within a computer, countless calculations that nobody would expect a girl her age would be even remotely capable of making. Currently, her entire mind seemed completely absorbed in some sort of network-like model being displayed by a surprisingly advanced tridimensional simulation…
When the phone lying casually beside her keyboard started vibrating, she pushed a button to answer it on speaker mode without even glancing away from the screen.
"I'm pretty sure I asked to not be disturbed while I worked on the Cloud Brain's mapping, Souta-san." calmly spoke the little girl in nigh-perfect English without slowing down for even a second. "So I would appreciate if-"
"Dr. Arshavin…Sword Art Online has ended. All surviving players are waking up." a gruff voice replied in Japanese, surprisingly.
Freezing in place for an instant, the pre-teen's eyes widened as she quickly brought up a couple windows that linked straight to worldwide news, the words 'SAO Over' and a million more combinations saying the same jumping to her view instantly.
"…Bog." swearing softly in Russian, the little girl with the brown-gray hair stood up and looked back towards the phone with vibrant eyes and switching to Japanese. "Souta-san, reserve a couple tickets for the first flight that leaves for Japan! Tell everyone I will finish the work there, we have no time to lose!"
"As you wish, Dr…"
"And stop being so formal, dammit!"
Back in Japan, even as she was carried away in a police car to be interrogated after the authorities had finally 'found' the place where Kayaba Akihiko had been hiding in (More like, she had called them according to the man's last wishes), Koujiro Rinko looked outside and wondered what would happen now.
In her eyes, the future looked oddly uncertain.
January 15th, 2025. Dicey Café, 17:30…
"Okay then…everyone ready?"
"Then let this 'Congratulations for clearing SAO' celebration to get started!"
Even as people exploded into celebrations around the bar, Kirigaya Kazuto couldn't help but let out a soft chuckle, staring from the joyous people making toasts all around to his own (Non-alcoholic) drink, downing half the carbonated beverage in one gulp.
"Hey, Onii-chan, take it easy!"
"Yeah, listen to Leafa…ehm, Suguha-chan, Kirito-kun! Your drink isn't going anywhere!"
"Hai, hai…sorry about that." the black-haired boy sighed while giving them a sideways smile. "My dear 'wives' have certainly become quite the worrywarts ever since we came back to the real world."
Covering his small smirk at the flustering/spluttering expressions suddenly blossoming on Suguha and Asuna's faces at his words, the gamer enjoyed the way most people around the table pouted or chuckled at the display, and even some of the nearby partygoers giving a quickly sideways glances towards them before laughing and going back to their own things, used to Unisons Heart's antics.
It was a bit hard to believe that it had been almost 2 months since they all fought against Cardinal's maddened avatar in Aincrad's top floor and escaped SAO, but looking at everyone's faces around the table, there at Agil's (Andrew in the real world) bar celebrating SAO having been cleared alongside most other Front Liners, there truly was no denying it.
Saori talking animatedly with Rika and Keiko was adorable, though he had caught her glancing over her shoulder once or twice before her eyes slightly dropped in disappointment at not seeing something there, only for the talk with her friends to once again pull her back to reality.
Closer to him, Tomo seemed a bit too busy laughing at how flustered Asuna was. Even if it was still a bit strange to see the girl without her signature whiskers, there was no denying a happy warmth spread inside him at seeing her so relaxed around everyone in the real world.
Likewise, Hiyori looked much more open and happy to be in such a crowded and loud place than one would have expected back when they first met her. Especially as she tried to get Kotone to help her bring Suguha back from whatever mental gutter he calling her his 'wife' in the real world had sent her to.
Out of everyone, Shino seemed the calmest of the bunch, though she was still smiling widely in a way that truly spoke about how far she had come since he first caught her falling off the sky on Floor 76. Especially with how she seemed to subtly brighten when she noticed him staring, leaning back and enjoying the singing coming from their neighbor table.
Then again, most people had fallen silent to enjoy the impromptu song that Yuuna had suddenly broken into, from her place amidst the cheering members of Fuurinkazan. Amusedly, he noticed an 'empty seat' right alongside Klein's…Ryoutarou's, that is, where a picture of a weirdly spherical rock had been placed. Kazuto probably would have wondered more about where they had gotten such a perfect image of their 'Fuurin-mobile' if the sight of the bandana-wearing man with a beer in hand and his other arm around Eiji's neck while trying badly to sing alongside their guild's idol wasn't so hilarious…wait, where had he gotten a bandana identical to the one he wore in SAO too?!
Either way, hearing Yuuna singing was truly an amazing way to make that whole 'party' feel a lot more real and lively. It truly made the boy feel like his life had finally returned to a semblance of 'normality'…
"So, Kii-bou, besides trying to make these two flustered to death with some cheap talk, how has life been treating you lately?" casually asked Tomo with a cheeky grin, as if they all hadn't been in constant contact with each other barely a day or so after they got out of SAO. "Found another crazy conspiracy to get involved in? Seduced any other girls around?"
"Nothing of the sort, Argo honey, just having pretty much normal days over here." barely suppressing smirk at his nonchalant answer and the 'honey' making the virtual info broker splutter slightly and sink on her drink to hide her blush (Under Asuna's amused 'You were saying?'-look), Kazuto allowed himself a moment to thanks his unfairly high Dating Stats for the smooth moment. "And honestly, I would be fine with things remaining like that…but we still need to put up some effort for that, right?"
"…yeah, you're kind of right on that, Kirito-san." muttered Keiko before she and everyone else looked at the 3 'symbolic' glasses they had left in the table, full but untouched. "We can't rest until ALL of us can have a party like this together again, right?"
"Has…has there been any luck 'reaching' them, Kirito?" Hiyori asked timidly while everyone seemed hesitant to question.
"Well…yes and no, Lux. I have thoroughly checked my Nerve Gear's data with my PC…they're there, alright, but no matter how much I try, I simply lack the tools needed to emulate an 'environment' where their data can be read as 'themselves' again." sighed the black-haired boy while looking down at his glass with odd frustration, wondering why 'To Protect that Smile' hadn't immediately solved that problem like it used to. "Unless we find some way to access something like a copy of SAO's engine, if will take me a while to get enough hardware to even attempt and create a software to let Strea, Yui and Kizmel talk with us aga-"
"Uhm…a copy of SAO? Onii-chan, everyone…do you remember that game I told you I played before? The one where I got Leafa's avatar from? ALO?" Suguha's sudden words drew everyone's attention from the deeply serious talk, making them look at the young kendoka as she fidgeted for a moment at the attention. "Well, I was…thinking of taking advantage of this party to invite everyone and ask if you wanted to, you know, play together…especially after that recent announcement that says any SAO Player can have their Avatar data restored into the game if they join, so…."
"Wait…you mean Alfheim Online? That game? My dad's company runs it!" out of all people, it was clear nobody at the table had been expecting Asuna to say that, if the reactions were anything to go by. "Well…a division of the company, at least, I found out because…you know, that whole deal with Sugou after we woke up…"
"Ah, that's right, that guy…" Kazuto mumbled with distaste at the memory, any pity he would have felt for the man he never really saw in person at having been turned into basically one of Cardinal's puppets having long since evaporated once the evidence of what he had been planning to do, especially to Asuna, had come to light after the Heiress accused him and his helpers once they escaped the Death Game. "Is he still…?"
"In that weird pseudo-coma where he mumbles from time to time about the horrors of beyond, ancient ones and old blood? Yep, pretty much." nonchalantly declared the chestnut-haired girl while downing her drink. "And if he ever recovers enough he's going straight to jail for a very long time anyway, so it's not like I care much, really."
"Some would say that's cold, but really, that creep got what he deserved." opined Shino while adjusting her glasses, earning a mumble of agreement among the gathered SAO Survivors. "…also, remind me we have to stop by the supermarket on the way home, Argo-san, we're out of bread."
"Will do, Sinonon! And really, thanks again for letting me stay with you." grinned Tomo while raising her glass the way of the virtual Archer. "My parents wouldn't have let me attend the Survivors School this coming term otherwise."
Smiling softly at that exchange, the black-haired boy that was 'technically married' to all the girls sitting at that table couldn't help but remember how the former Info Broker had sounded dejected when they talked through the phone a few weeks ago. Apparently, Tomo lived so many prefectures away from Nishitokyo, the city where most of them would be attending a newly established 'special school for SAO Survivors' soon, that she couldn't realistically afford to go…until Shino had offered to let her stay at her place basically rent-free, as long as she helped with the expenses for food and similar, to the blonde girl's shock and joy.
Suffice to say, there was much rejoicing amongst everyone at that, especially when Tomo confirmed she had convinced her parents of the arrangement.
"As I told you before, it was no problem…if anything, it's nice to have someone else around at home at the end of the day…after everything I lived through with everyone in Aincrad, it would feel weird as hell to go back to an empty house every day after school." waved it off the bespectacled girl with a smile. "If anything, the only thing I regret is that I can't go with you all to that new school."
Then again, she had reconnected a lot with her family during the past two months, even managed to spend lots of time alone with her mother without her turning into a wreck, so she guessed that made up for it…who would have thought all it would take to make her snap out a bit from her trauma was fearing that Shino would die inside a videogame?
"Ugh, tell me about it…as if it wasn't enough that mom was grounded me until I'm an adult, I can't even go to school with Onii-chan because I 'only' missed a week of school…" groaned Suguha with a gloomy look while everyone released some laugh at her words, Kazuto patting her in the head for comfort.
Suffice to say, Kirigaya Midori had NOT been amused at all by what her biological daughter had done, even if that had been overcome by the joy of having both her 'children' back home. Kazuto's explanations that his adoptive sister had, in fact, been a key instrument in helping everyone Clear SAO and be freed had helped out in making her feel proud, but not much on the way of her NOT punishing her daughter for the combination of worrying her (And their overseas-working father) to death, the guilt they had felt or the fact that she had very likely obtained her Nerve Gear through either illegal means or a very well-crafted lie/scam.
On the young kendoka's favor, the gamer had admired her refusal to talk about who she had tricked to get the Nerve Gear, probably wanting to prevent someone she had involved without knowing from getting in trouble, but that had just meant that Midori had adamantly decided to punish her with a long scolding, lots of tear-filled promises of never doing something like that again, and a grounding that supposedly would last years but that he honestly expected their mother wouldn't have the heart to keep up for more than a few months, if that long.
Funnily enough, 'To Protect that Smile' didn't seem to consider her mother punishing her as something it should activate to save Suguha from…talk about an arbitrarily picky power.
"Still…Suguha-chan, perhaps you brought it up because…?"
"A-ah, yes! Thanks, Asuna-san!" shaking her head out of her memories about the talks with her mom, the black-haired girl quickly looked towards her adopted brother with a hopeful look. "Maybe that game could work for this? Given how I could load Leafa into SAO?"
"…now that you say it…if the Avatar data was retro-compatible, then it's very likely…" mumbling as he started to consider the possibility, Kazuto suddenly felt extremely hopeful about things. "Yeah…damn, probably will have to wait a bit before asking mom for money to get a new VR game after all of this, but if it works then ALO would be our best bet to see everyone again faster!"
And, maybe, given how her avatar had looked when they 'fought', it would be a good place to look for that mysterious Yuuki girl before she-
"Huh? You're all also talking about Alfheim?" Yuuna's sudden question as she came behind the object of everyone's affection for a hug, having finished singing at some point while they were all distracted, caused the group to look at her in confusion, even as she quizzically pointed towards the TV in a corner of the bar. "I mean, isn't that why you're talking about it?"
Curiosity mixing into the confusion, Kazuto and the rest turned to look at it in surprise, to see a special report currently airing where a cute and demure-looking little girl was being interviewed. Something about her brown-gray hair and reddish eyes seemed to tug at the boy's memory, but he was swiftly distracted by what remained of the actual interview to properly place why.
"…and that's why I will be giving another concert within Alfheim Online after the latest conference in a month. I find it like a very simple way of relaxing between projects!"
"My, you truly are a multifaceted person, Dr. Arshavin!" turning around, towards the camera, the interviewer gave her best smile even as the pre-teen at her side did the same. "And that was Nanairo Arshavin, ladies and gents, a certified genius and college graduate despite being just 12-years-old!"
"…and a half." quietly mumbled Nanairo with a small twitch of her eyes.
"And remember, if you play Alfheim Online, do not miss her upcoming concert! Let us all be reminded that virtual reality can still make people happy despite what the past has done with it!"
"Indeed…I wish for nothing more than Kayaba Akihiko's mistakes to be buried in the past." added the genius while her smile suddenly seemed to have a gained depth that the gamer was sure nobody her age should have. "My research and my songs will prove just that to everyone~"
"…why do I feel like that was ominous foreshadowing?" muttered Kazuto to nobody while the bar erupted into the SAO Survivors either cheering at the coincidental subject or discussing about checking out said concert.
['Lost Song' Scenario has been Triggered! Obtain and play a copy of 'Alfheim Online' to officially start the new Scenario!]
…he just had to tempt Fate, didn't he?
Meanwhile, in a corner of the bar, ignorant to the mental groans that the boy whose table she had been intently looking at a few minutes before was currently releasing…a girl in a maid outfit with hair identical to the one of the little girl being interviewed on TV was currently staring at the genius with wide eyes.
And so, the stage was set for a new chapter of the maddened adventure to begin…
…whether 'The Protagonist' wanted it or not.
"…do you think it worked?" the flaxen-haired 'butler' questioned while looking at the sky.
If a certain quartet of Hollows had been around, perhaps they would have identified him as the same one who gave them that cryptic 'warning' in the Control Room…
"I mean…nothing seems to have changed so far and the sky is still mostly on fire, so it doesn't seem to have done so." the blonde 'maid' replied while staring at the spider lily-shaped mass of fire consuming half of the heavens, at the core of which something seemed to burn with pure rage. "Then again, I'm no expert when it comes to sending messages to the past, so for all we know things changed and we haven't even realized it."
As soon as those words were uttered, a mountain in the distance was slashed in half by a golden edge, only for the collapsing remains to explode was what seemed like a titanic beam of chaotic energy shot from the earth into the sky.
"…fair enough…we should get over there too, I suppose. Miracle or not, we're going to need to put all the effort we can if we wish to stop this." sighed the boy while moving forward, twirling a peculiar-looking green and golden dagger in his right hand even as the girl tightly gripped the small device in her own hand. "Where is Ama-?"
"Master, boss, we got enemies incoming!" a quadruped white creature with a red cape screamed with a clearly female voice as it raced out of the forest with incredible speed before stopping right behind the blonde, who quickly picked her into her arms with worry. "At least a dozen of those Divine Beasts!"
"…this day just doesn't end, huh? You two go on ahead, I will be right behind you."
"…you better. Let's go, partner!" shouted the 'maid' while raising the now shining device in her hand.
"As you command, Master!"
Whatever else the device was going to announce was drowned as several beasts almost as tall as the trees surrounding the cliff they were standing at emerged from the forest behind the pair, the 'butler' turning to face them even as a burning light shot towards the heavens before coalescing into a big humanoid white creature with blades for limbs and a flowing red cape.
Giving the boy one last look, the new creature quickly shot towards the heavens, straight towards the burning Lycoris high above.
Ignoring the unusual display, the creatures charged towards the seemingly hopeless servant…before he casually brought his dagger to his lips and 'played' it like a flute.
Majestic and Mighty, a melody blossomed forth from the weapon, before the waters of the lake the cliff was facing churned and a titanic mechanical creature emerged, roaring to the heavens with such power that it froze the no-longer-all-that-terrifying monsters who had been about to kill the 'butler'.
Then, before they had fully finished turning around to try and escape, a metallic tail whose tip spun like a drill descended and crushed all of the imposing beasts into paste, their gruesomely smashed corpses quickly collapsing into light.
"…I really hope this works, Kirito." softly commented the boy as he turned around and raised something he had been hiding in his pocket, the shining white object in its front quickly 'swapping' to green. "Otherwise, no amount of miracles are going to save us this time…"
With a green and golden burst of light, a now armored warrior jumped upwards onto the head of his titanic ride, which roared as it turned around and charged towards the distant battlefield with mighty power.
…he really missed being just a woodcutter about right now…
[Next Scene]: Carnival of Songs and Fairies?
Author's Notes: And scene! Wouldn't want to tease too much about the distant future, right?
Once again, sorry about the massive delay…let's just call it an end-of-arc-hiatus and just hope it never happens again, okay XD?
Also, sorry if anyone was expecting an apotheosic fight between Yuuki and Kirito, it WAS meant to be a 'letdown' for everyone involved from the start…really, though, how many people even realized/remembered that the only weapon he had left on him was the absurdly overpowered blade from Ordinal Scale that one-shots dozens of bosses and ACTUALLY existed canon-wise (Confirmed in the movie's extra-material) in SAO before Kayaba removed it alongside the original Final Boss?
And so, the Aincrad part of the journey is over and its aftermath handled…and we have officially fully entered Gameverse territory even more now. Next time, don't miss the beginning of Eroge's version of 'Lost Song', with more madness, more whacky hijinks…and more Waifus for Kirito to unwillingly romance, of course, or it wouldn't be this story :P
There were a few hints of the many changes this is going to have even compared to how whacky the normal SAO Gameverse AU is, though, in both Eroge ways and just hilarious ways. Get ready because things are just getting started~
Alas, those are nothing but teases for now. See you all next time in OverGamer's update, my dear readers!
Until then, this is Saint, signing off!