Mystic Knight Online: Worlds to Sow

Chapter 1: Preparing the Land

April 2, 2025 - Nishitokyo, SAO Survivor's School

"Thank God, that's over," Harry said in relief as he and the others left the school's main building, his green eyes seeming to have slightly dulled from the exhaustion he felt. "That was worse than if I took all my end of year tests at the same time back in England."

Keiko clenched and unclenched her hands as she tiredly nodded.

"Chert poberi, and I thought my High School entrance exams were bad," Nijika groaned out as she idly fingered her loose braid. "I wanna go back to SAO. At least the mobs would be direct in their trying to kill me instead of this."

"I thought I was ready for them," Asuna muttered, "But I was not ready. Now can one of you get that spike that was driven into my brain out?"

"Why?" Nijika asked.

"So I can stab the sadists who designed those tests," Asuna replied.

"Hey now, just because those tests gave it to us sideways is no reason to be contemplating homicide," Harry said.

"Maiming, on the other hand, is acceptable," Keiko added darkly.

"I can't feel my hands and I think I smell my brain cooking," Hiyori whimpered.

Kazuto remained silent, but the slump of his shoulders showed that he was exhausted by the entire thing. Then again, neither he, nor the others, were alone in that. Harry had seen the exhausted looks among other fellow survivors, so he knew that the tests were grueling to not only him or his friends.

Surprisingly enough, their uniforms didn't look overly rumpled, despite how they felt. Not that they cared about that little detail.

They had been busy with tests for six hours with only a few breaks to take care of necessities, with an hour break for lunch. They had all been divided into separate groups based on what their grade level should be, which Harry considered a wise move by the test proctors. Everyone who had been in a known group had been further divided up, or arranged in seats where they couldn't discuss things with their former comrades if that wasn't possible or practical.

All to prevent cheating or collaboration, of course. Not that any of their group would have felt the need to cheat. They took the tests, did as well as they could, though Harry knew he had completely bombed the test on Kanji and felt that his test on his general comprehension of Japanese was only so-so. He felt that he did fairly well on the mathematics and science portions of the tests, though.

As for the English test, the comprehension part was laughably easy for him, with the grammar one being only slightly more difficult. He was used to the critical evaluation of Minerva McGonagall, and Snape was a bloody Nazi when it game to grammar, using that as an excuse to mark down papers.

Well, he would find out when they came back next Friday to not only start the academic year, but to find out how they did and where they stood academically. Well, outside of being well behind their age groups, that is.

"So, should we walk to the station, or do you guys want to take the bus there?" Rain asked.

"As tempting as taking the bus would be, we'll probably get to the station faster if we walked," Asuna said. "It's close enough."

"And we'll be splitting up soon enough as it is," Harry noted. "Meet up at the Swords Rest in Yggdrasil City at around eight?"

"Actually, I think we should all just take the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line to Nerima Station and head to Furinkan," Kazuto disagreed. "We still have to discuss a few things that none of us want prying ears to hear. Does anyone have an issue with this?"

Nerima, Saotome-Tendo Dojo

Akane heard the front door slide open, as well as Keiko's announcing her entrance and briefly wondered why her granddaughter was here. A quick use of her Ki sensing showed that Keiko wasn't alone, and she felt the wariness of the others noticeably increase. No matter, she recognized who was now here. Keiko had brought her friends by for some reason.

And it's interesting that they could sense my use of Ki when I was identifying them from the kitchen, she thought as she left the kitchen and walked into the living room to see them all in the genkan. It means that their awareness of their surroundings has more of a component of Ki sensitivity than we realized. A real world equivalent to what they called... what was it again? System Awareness? They had all paused what they were doing, taking their shoes off and had gotten into a guarded formation that covered all angles until they realized it was her and relaxed.

All of them except Keiko.

"Guys, it's grandma," Keiko said with some amusement. "But… how did you sense her? I mean, I know we're all more aware of everything, but there are limits."

"I felt something," Harry said. "As if someone had focused their attention on us, but I didn't know what, or who for that matter, it was."

The others simply nodded.

"I think I know," Akane said. "We all wondered just how much came back with you from SAO. The awareness of your surroundings made sense, given your experiences, but your reactions make me believe that something else might be in play. And if I'm right, then you all need training, if only for your own sakes." She focused some of her Ki, keeping it just under the surface.

Her granddaughter's fiancé had immediately focused on her. The other boy, Kazuto, had as well. As did the girl she recalled was named Asuna. The other two did so after a moment, but they had quickly scanned their surroundings first.

"Grandma…" Keiko said.

"So that's how your… I think you called it System Awareness, works in the real world," Akane said as she released her Ki, causing them all to relax. "Keiko knows what I did. Keiko, if you would explain?"

Keiko glanced at the others and took a breath. "What she did was focus her Ki," she said. Holding up a hand to forestall any exclamations of disbelief, she continued. "I know, it sounds a bit out there, but keep in mind one thing before you say it's impossible or that Ki isn't real that you all know that magic is real. I don't know if you've been shown it out here in the real world, though."

"When we got debriefed, one of them showed us a few things," Asuna said. "Including transforming something into something else in a way that was clearly not any kind of stage trick in case we had any doubts." She shook her head. "You really can't debate the existence of magic when someone waves a magic wand and violates the Law of Conservation of Mass by turning a chair into a teacup right in front of your eyes."

The others nodded, while Harry looked amused. "Actually, if you were to scan or touch the teacup, it would come across as hot." He shrugged at their looks. "What, half the teaching staff at my old school weren't just masters, they were overachievers. While I don't know if any of them have science degrees, they do have a basic understanding of science."

"That's what you meant when you said that magic and science aren't really in conflict," Keiko said.

"... Actually, from what K-blade here has said—"

"Kay Bladu?" Said black swordsman muttered.

"—it's rather like programming. I have access to certain things you don't, yes. But until I learn the language to nudge reality with, I'm at the same... user level as everyone else."

Kazuto chuckled. "In other words, you're at the level of basically using magic to do a "Hello World" program," he said.

"If that means that I'm still at the point where I'm learning the most basic elements of it, then yes," Harry said. "The leader of my school book club? He'd be like you are with computers, I think. A hacker. And I think Old Tommy would be a, what did you call the type of hackers who did it for criminal purposes or to simply cause harm?"

"A Black Hat," Kirito said.

"Yes, that," Harry said. "And appropriate, given that he called himself a Dark Lord, not that he's calling himself anything these days. And the reason magic and science aren't in conflict is due to them being different philosophies, dear. I remember telling you that once." He shook his head. "Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Ki, my dear. Explain."

"Short answer, it's the energy that all living things produce," Keiko said. "Long answer, it's a bioelectric field that all living things produce which can be sensed by other living organisms to some degree on an instinctive level. Our SA, that's System Awareness, grandma, was a close equivalent to it when we were all jaunting around Aincrad. I guess that our SA heightened our ability to sense it."

"But it's still untrained," Akane said. "And if you can sense and pinpoint me when I'm actively channeling Ki… that means that you can probably use it, if only unconsciously, to some degree."

"I take it that's not a good thing," Nijika surmised.

"It isn't," Akane said with some authority. "Trust me, I know that from experience."

"I've heard some stories," Harry said as Keiko nodded. "Something about you being the textbook definition of… well, when you got mad, you got mad. A berserker in other words."

"And not the kind who could control it when she got that way," Akane said. "If Ranma wasn't as tough as he is, I could have seriously hurt him on more than one occasion. It wasn't helped by other factors, but…" She shrugged. "My use of Ki was uncontrolled and unfocused by anything but anger. I don't know how it would be with you all, but it's better to head any potential issues off."

Asuna nodded. "I would like to say that we're all good at controlling ourselves," she said. "But that doesn't mean that someone or something wouldn't trip our instincts at the wrong time and be considered a threat before we realized it and stopped ourselves." She grimaced. "With how we dealt with threats, that would only confirm what far too many people already suspect of us. Has Grandmaster Saotome planned on how he will approach our families?" She looked around. "Where is he, if I may ask?"

"In the dojo with Akira and Ko," Akane said. "And with you all here, and this… we all need to talk."

Asuna nodded. "That actually works," she said. "Not just about this, though I wonder how you will pitch it to our families, but because there is something we need to discuss and it's better to discuss it here in the Furinkan District anyway. I think having some outside perspectives on something would be beneficial to us."

"Magic related or AI related?" Akane asked.

Everyone but Keiko and Harry gave a startled twitch, which caused Akane to chuckle. "We set up a hard line feed to Keiko's Nerve Gear," she said. "While we weren't as… constant in watching her as what those watching Mister Potter were, we do know about what Strea and Yui really are."

Asuna shot a look at the two. "And you didn't think to inform us about this?" She asked them archly before shaking her head. "Never mind, I really shouldn't be surprised." She looked at Akane. "It's the latter, Master Saotome, and we should probably take this to the dojo."

Akane nodded. "Well then, let's go."


Ranma held up a hand. "Time!" He called out to his sons. Akira and Ko stopped their spar with the speed that long habit provided them and they backed away and bowed. As soon as they straightened, they turned and then bowed to him. It was a ritual that had been instilled into his branch of the Anything Goes School from the beginning, always show your opponent the proper respect first, then the teacher. He wasn't going to play the "I am a Master game" and have the deference only shown to the teachers.

One always showed respect to an opponent, even if, or especially if, you had none for them. No need to further cause further insult, after all. He felt Akane's Ki stretch out and wondered why she was, but a quick use of his own senses saw why. Keiko had come by unexpectedly, and she had guests with her.

His Ki was practically woven into the place, so he had no need to stretch. He sensed new people in his house as easily as he might hear them enter. Of course, there were limits. If he was out of sorts, such as the initial months after Keiko ended up in SAO, then he could easily miss someone. Even one with Ki as powerful as Ryoga had.

And knowing someone was present wasn't the same as knowing why anyway. Not unless they were giving off hostile intent.

And as he hadn't spoken up after calling the match over, both of his sons stretched their Ki out. An exercise of theirs, really. Stretch out the senses, feel the environment, and then pull it all back in. They may have reached the point where it wasn't an exercise in control for them, but twenty years under his tutelage had brought about habits that were hard to break.

And he felt the spike of wary alertness from his granddaughter and her companions. An alertness which quickly settled.

Interesting, he thought. They sensed both Akira and Ko stretching out their Ki, as they apparently did for Akane earlier. It's just as I thought. He had wondered just how some of their abilities in SAO translated out here in the real world. Their mention of System Awareness, the ability to have a feel for a digital world's rhythms and what was going on around them there, did seem to translate to the real world.

And now he knew why it did, even if he didn't know the precise mechanics of the how. Well, he knew one of the mechanics; their survival instincts were still in a heightened state, even after nearly four months being free from SAO.

Not that it didn't take me years to calm my own instincts, he thought to himself.

He turned to the dojo's entrance and watched his wife escort Keiko and her friends in. He also felt a twinge of amusement as Harry shot both Akira and Ko wary, and also slightly irritated, looks. Their tendency to douse him with the Instant Jusenkyo water, gussy him up and then take pictures in the hopes of embarrassing him had been done enough times to start getting stale.

"Oh good, we're not interrupting anything," Akane said as Keiko and her friends bowed to the shomen.

"We had just finished up," Ranma replied. "And I noticed that they picked up on Akira and Ko extending their Ki out."

"Wait, they did?" Akira asked. "I mean I noticed that something made them cautious, but it was them picking up Ko and I doing our habitual exercise after a spar if dad isn't having us do something else?"

"I wondered how they often noticed the girls," Ko said with a nod. "Keiko likes to take pictures with her phone of the girls when she spots them." He said to Akira. "I always thought it was simply her, and probably Harry as well, simply picking them out because they're still working on blending in."

"Actually, Uncle Ko, that's how we often noticed them," Keiko said. "We're good at picking out anything or anyone that stands out to us. That we might have been sensing their Ki didn't really dawn on me until today, when Grandma used it since I came by unexpectedly."

Ko nodded. "And with you being in your school uniform, despite it not starting until next week… exams?"

Keiko nodded.

"How did they go?"

"I'll let you know after my brain stops trying to dribble out of my ears and I get feeling back into my hands," Keiko replied.

"Yours is only trying to dribble out?" Harry asked drily. "I'm pretty sure mine was well on its way to being pureed by the time we hit the Japanese language portions. After the kanji one… yeah, it was more soup than grey matter."

"Kanji gave you trouble?" Akira asked with a mocking tone. "With how well you speak Japanese, I would have thought you would have had an easier time."

"And how much trouble did you have learning English?" Ko asked slyly.

"That's different, Ko," Akira argued. "And I doubt he had someone like Ninomiya-sensei teaching it to him."

"You're only saying that due to how she handled you falling asleep in class," Ko shot back.

Ranma quieted both sons with a look. He turned back to his granddaughter and her friends. "I would have thought all of you would have headed home, maybe to go online and hang out there," he said. "So, what brings you all here?"

"Grandmaster Saotome, if I may?" Asuna asked.

Ranma nodded.

"Thank you," Asuna said. "That pretty much was the intent, but Kazuto reminded us that we have something we needed to discuss that required a certain degree of privacy that we wouldn't have gotten inside ALO."

"So why here?" Ranma asked.

"Coming here was Keiko's idea," Asuna replied. "And with how your wife managed to determine that the reason was either magic related or AI related, you all clearly know that Strea and Yui aren't human."

Ranma nodded. "We do," he said. "And you need to discuss something related to them?"

"Not them," Asuna said. "There is another AI. We only met her for the first time last week, but we've known about her since we took in Yui and Strea." She paused for a moment. "She was the same AI who was responsible for SAO's running and goes by the name CARDINAL. She went into ALO like Yui and Strea did, but… she was finishing something that Kayaba started in SAO."

Ranma's eyes narrowed and he shoved down the flash of anger that the name of the man who trapped his granddaughter in SAO brought forward. There was no point in holding any to a man who has been dead for months. "You have my attention," he said.

"She finished it but she wants us to be the ones to decide what should be done with it," Asuna explained. "Ki- Kazuto, if you would, as I know you are considering taking her up on this."

Kazuto blinked as Ranma directed his attention to him. "Um, right," he said hesitantly before taking a deep breath. "First, I'll like to summarize why I am considering taking CARDINAL up on what Kayaba was doing as a side project in SAO that CARDINAL finished and dropped into our laps. Is that all right?"

"It would give us some context, as Miss Yuuki has mentioned that you, at least, are seriously considering going forward with it," Ranma answered drily.

"Right," Kazuto said with a nod. "With how much money and work went into making SAO what it was, there is no way any corporation would sink the time and costs to develop anything like it on their own just to make it their own. Not without government backing, which even Kayaba needed. ALO uses the same engine as SAO since they took it from the beta servers, which is why it took them less than a year to make it, rather than five years and over a trillion yen."

Ranma nodded.

"What Kayaba was working on, was something that would streamline the VR development process," Kazuto continued. "CARDINAL pitched it as a way for people to create worlds and be the heroes of their own stories, which was one of Kayaba's stated reasons to us for what he did. I doubt what he told us was the extent of them but it does work as an explanation for the 'why'."

"You suspect more?" Akira asked.

"Uncle, we all suspect that he had other reasons," Keiko said. "Harry told him up front right before the confrontation where we killed him that what he did and the way he did it was completely unnecessary. We just don't have an idea of what those other reasons are. If there were any." She looked at Kazuto. "Kazuto, if you would continue?"

Kazuto nodded. "What she gave us was something that is the core for the entire system that makes SAO and ALO, stripped down to the essentials needed to make such a system work," he said. "A full on development kit. It won't have the same capabilities that SAO had and ALO has, but what CARDINAL implied basically means that VR games of similar caliber can be more easily made." He took another breath. "Knowing Kayaba, he would have taken how SAO has slowed the development of such to a crawl and intended to make this open source. But CARDINAL gave us the choice of what to do with it. We can send it out… or we can delete it, and she wouldn't stop us. I know what she would prefer us to do, but she is leaving the decision to us."

"Why you all?" Ranma asked.

"Because we have reasons to either accept it or refuse it," Kazuto replied. "For me, accepting it would allow me to create something for Strea and Yui so that they can move their primary data somewhere else and not risk what happened when we hit that glitched quest. It was… bad for them and they are members of Steel Phoenix. We take care of our own."

"That's as good a reason as any to accept it," Hiyori said. "Strea and Yui are our friends. Family really."

"And it would be nice to have a place to meet up that we can call our own," Nijika added. She then gave Harry and Keiko a sly look. "And those two… well, it would allow them to be a proper married couple again."

Both Harry and Keiko blushed and shot her flat looks, but didn't say anything to counter it. Whether it was because they were unlikely to be believed and they knew it, or that was their intent were both equally valid possibilities in Ranma's mind. Besides, he heard the teasing note in her voice. "Would you mind if I give an outside perspective?" He asked.

"That would be appreciated," Asuna said.

Ranma nodded looked at his wife and sons. "You all should offer your input as well." He then turned his attention to the group. "From what I can determine, this AI- you called her CARDINAL?" They nodded. "Well, CARDINAL clearly wants you all to do this. If the Nerve Gear was still a thing, I would say not to, but it isn't. The AmuSphere doesn't carry the same risks. That we know of, but that is neither here nor there. However, the decision is yours, and you have already decided, even if you haven't recognized that fact. All of you are inclined to do this.

"I don't see anything wrong with it, but I want you to ask yourselves this: is doing so, at least right now, the right thing?"

"Grandpa, what do you mean by that?" Keiko asked.

Ranma smiled at his granddaughter. "You can do so at any time, right?" He asked.

Keiko nodded.

"Well then, that means that you can also keep it to yourselves for now," he said. "Give your AI friends a place. And then, what harm will come from waiting for a while? Maybe to give some other company a chance to see if they can develop a competitor? And if they can't in… hmm… give it a half a year. If they can't do it in half a year, then release it to the public. You don't need to rush into it."

Kazuto nodded. "And in that time, we can figure out if there are any potential issues with it," he said. "Not to mention play around with it. Come up with some tutorials, maybe even do a guide for it. If only to help people take the first step on the first day."

Ranma nodded. "And now, we go to a new subject," he said. "You all can sense Ki to some degree. Keiko, I can understand. She was taught the basics of it. But the rest of you weren't, and if Akane made the same observation, then she will have told you why that can be dangerous."

They all nodded.

"I know that Keiko and Mister Potter are pretty much done with their physical therapy," Ranma continued. "Their final appointment is later this week. Is it the same for the rest of you?"

"My next one is on the ninth," Nijika said. "That'll probably be the last one."

"I had my last one yesterday," Asuna said.

"Mine's in two days," Kazuto confirmed.

"I finished my therapy three days ago," Hiyori added.

Ranma nodded. "Good," he said. "I will make arrangements to meet with your families over the next two weeks and I hope they have no issues. You all need training, if only for your own sakes."

April 3, 2025 - Tokyo Harbor, Dock off MS Versperine

Gabriel kept his impatience to himself as he waited for the customs officials to finish checking the ship and the bags of everyone who was disembarking the ship. It was a routine that every ship went through when they were known to have gone to other ports, whether they were from another country or not, so it wasn't as if the Vesperine was being singled out for this. Besides, the ship had been sufficiently modified enough and the crew, both official and unofficial, was good at hiding its true purpose.

True, a sufficiently attentive customs official could figure out that the crew was up to something. But any customs official worth his job knew to suspect that of any ship and crew that came into the harbor. Smuggling had been around since humans were nothing more than scattered tribes of hunter-gatherers and someone wanted something that was forbidden in their tribe, after all.

Not that it was difficult to know which officials could be persuaded to not look too hard, which is why they had docked this day and at this pier. Corruption was everywhere if one knew where to look and the CIA was very good at knowing where to look.

And if taking advantage of corruption wasn't on the table, then simple blackmail would often suffice. The director of the harbor had ties to Yakuza groups that the ones that were known to have ties to this harbor were enemies of, to say nothing about some of his tastes.

He made a mental note to inform his superiors that it might be best to place an anonymous tip on the harbor master. It took both bribery and blackmail this time, and the price of it all was reaching the point where it would be best to burn some assets.

There were always other potentials that could be used.

And speaking of potential assets, it's a shame that Casals got himself killed in SAO, he thought. Then again, the man couldn't keep his hatred contained enough in that place. He could have been useful, but perhaps it's for the best. That man's absolute rancor for Gooks and Japs could have become a liability in time.

That sometimes happened in his line of work. Find people and things that could be useful if properly used, which he was good at in both regards, and they sometimes got taken out of the picture before they could be used. And Vassago Casals, for all his sociopathy and his hatred making him willing to potentially make the world burn to satisfy it, could have been useful.

Dangerous if not properly handled, but useful. And even better, easily discarded and taken off the board if the need arose without anyone being overly concerned. Hell, the Japs would have probably thanked him for it.

Such was life, really. And it wasn't like his plans depended on the man.

No, his plans depended on so much more than someone who would have been an attack dog, though he would have been good at that. No, his plans required people and resources outside simply having a sociopathic killer on his payroll to come to proper fruition.

He knew about the supernatural and what it might prove to him.

Not only whether souls truly existed— but whether they could be created or destroyed by the acts of a single man.

Whether mankind can usurp the gods themselves.

And with him operating within the purview of a role that would allow it, investigating the potential of Virtual Reality for training agents in new skills or making ones who couldn't take the field useful for more than pushing papers, he had the time and resources, not to mention being able to call in the necessary talents, to see if that was possible. Especially as they learned more and more about the system that Kayaba had created, even if everything about ALO was credited to a company that the man had no ties to while he was still alive.

It would advance his interests and, by extension, the interests of the United States. He was a true patriot, after all- his interest could not help but match his nation's.

Chiyoda, SAO Task Force Headquarters

Seijiro Kikuoka looked over the reports on how the survivors of SAO were adjusting to the real world. In four months, most of them seemed to have settled in as well as they could. Most of the younger adults were employed or in the process of finding employment and the older ones were content to retire and settle down, given their ages.

Those employed or looking for it might not find the jobs they are best qualified for, but they were at least being productively occupied. The younger ones were potentially more concerning, as keeping their status as SAO Survivors, with the potential traumas that may entail, quiet was going to be impossible. The school set up for them ensured that.

A sadly unavoidable consequence, but one that could be managed long enough for the entire issue to fade into the background enough to become a non-issue. The younger ones were in the best position to be nurtured into becoming assets for Japan's future. Future leaders, executives, CEOs, or even researchers… the ones who could rise to those positions were there. They just needed fertile soil to be planted in.

And they were used to adversity and rising in spite of it. SAO had been their crucible, separating the steel from the slag. Now it was time to allow it to cool enough so that it can be properly shaped.

For all that several would like to claim otherwise, the VR technology pioneered by Kayaba was here to stay. The SAO Survivors lived in a virtual world for two years. They lived there, they survived its dangers, and they thrived. Even now, months after SAO was ended, the teams of sociologists were analyzing the recorded footage to see the culture and society that those trapped in SAO had developed there.

How they governed themselves. How they all begun to fall into roles. How they turned what could have devolved into anarchy into what could be loosely considered a functioning society. People with no training in it, no experience in adapting to new conditions, no precedent to follow. People who should have gone down the path that Golding had outlined in his Nobel Prize winning book, Lord of the Flies, and become savages… had begun to form a functioning society.

One that had abandoned many of the niceties of modern civilization in their focus on survival and beating Kayaba at his own game, true. But it didn't change the fact that they had managed to form the basics of a functioning society. One with its own culture and evolving rules of behavior.

But that was not what he was interested in. SAO was a world of its own, with its own rules, and how humans adapted to them, while definitely worth perusing, was only the surface of the potentials within what he saw.

He put the reports to the side and turned to his computer. Entering the password, he brought up a file and looked over a possible project that he had in mind. Twenty years in the JGSDF before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, at least officially, had shown him that Japan, for all that it was still one of the top spenders in defense, couldn't even come close to matching the world's military titans. They had limitations due to their own laws and treaties, but were very capable when operating within those limitations.

And those same laws and treaties did not preclude investing in what the technology Kayaba pioneered could lead to. One of which, in his mind, would be the most worthwhile investment of time and resources.

Using Full-Dive technology to help train soldiers, law enforcement and emergency responders, while useful, was too narrow in scope. If Japan wanted to get the most out of what Kayaba had created, they would have to think bigger.

True Artificial Intelligence, which he had good reason to suspect that the man had accomplished, even if he couldn't prove it. If that was true, and of the puzzle that Kayaba had left behind could be cracked, then Japan could have something that would change the game.

Wars were wasteful in materials, property and lives. With AIs, he could find ways to protect Japan without putting a single one of its citizens in danger. With AIs, he could ensure that Japan's cities weren't in the crosshairs of nations who would want to destroy it. With AIs, he could prevent Japan from being subjugated and humiliated.

And if it required him to sacrifice them just to save one human life, so be it. If it required him to be considered a madman, albeit one who was trying to do the best he could for his nation… he would still do so. He had Japan's best interests at heart, regardless of the methods he may be required to use.

But he also knew that just because he saw what he was planning as being within Japan's best interests didn't meant that everyone else would see it that way. He just hoped that he didn't become a monster in the process. And if he did, that someone would stop him and finish it all with clean hands and without the burdens of what may have to be done.

He would take those burdens upon himself so that someone else wouldn't have to.

A shame he hasn't been able to meet with the SAO Survivors he wanted to. He was warned off trying to arrange such a meeting and he understood what that meant. They had some political protection and the ones behind it wanted them to be left alone. Understandable, considering that they were the ones to put an end to SAO.

They should be allowed to enjoy the freedom and peace they had fought so hard for two years to gain. They had earned it.

It was men like him whose job it was to make sure that they could enjoy it.

April 6, 2025 - Undisclosed Location, Shiba Compound

Harry almost stumbled as Mister Ikegami brought him to the compound through their own means of quickly traveling. Stepping, if he recalled. While nowhere near as energetic in feeling as going via floo, let alone as uncomfortable as what he had heard regarding apparition and using portkeys could be, he still found that staying on his feet required some effort.

Of course, that could be because every muscle he had was tired and sore in the first place. He hasn't ached this much since his first year at Hogwarts and got accepted onto the Quidditch Team. The training regimen Oliver Wood subjected the Gryffindor team was notorious at the school, so he thought he knew what to expect in how he would feel.

How wrong he had been.

Keiko's grandparents and eldest uncle had been very thorough in seeing just where he was physically in order to know what they had to work with and what they would have to work on. At least in the physical sense.

So he was now tired, sore, and was likely to start aching something fierce before long.

He was looking forward to a relaxing bath and to rub the liniment he was given onto his muscles when Mister Ikegami reminded him that today was also the day where he would be meeting with Remus and Klein… No, Professor Lupin and Mister Tsuboi, he reminded himself. They are here in their capacity as tutors, so the forms must be observed.

He would be meeting with them so that they could go over where he stood with regards to what he remembered about using magic. What spells he could still do. What theory he could recall. Things like that.

And it was likely to take a few hours. Keiko's comment about meeting him in ALO after dinner if he was up to it now made sense. If he was going to simply rest and recover, then she asked him to call her or send her a text.

He had heard about the Japanese ethos when it came to studying. Now he was about to experience it.


Remus shared a look with Ryotaro as Harry finished the last series of spells they asked him to cast. A mix of Lumos, Nox, Wingardium Leviosa, Finite, and several other charms. So far, he had cast most of the spells without having to be talked through them, showing that he hadn't forgotten as much of the practical aspects of using magic as he did the theory.

In fact, from what Remus was able to see, Harry's ability with transfiguration had grown, despite him not having learned any new spells in two years and having forgotten a good number of the ones he had learned before being trapped in Sword Art Online. Then again, transfiguration relied very heavily on visualization and then manipulating the magic to accomplish the result. Without either, then the spell would not work anyway.

"He has experience in directly manipulating magic," was all that Ryotaro said. "Everyone who could use it developed a few tricks that allowed them to bend SAO's rules. So it's not surprising that some of that carried over." He gave Harry a searching look. "I wonder if that's all that he brought with him, though."

Remus was curious what he meant by that, but felt that it was a question that could be asked later. Right now, he had a pupil to inform where he stood.

"All right, Harry, we're done with the evaluation," Remus said.

Harry relaxed and gave off a quiet sigh of relief. "How far behind am I from where I should be?" He asked.

"Kid, I'll be honest, your grasp of theory sucks," Ryotaro said bluntly.

Remus was about to chide the man when he noticed Harry nod as if he expected that answer. "And in actually using magic?" He asked.

"Rusty," Ryotaro replied. "You don't remember all the spells, no surprise there, but your ability to use magic wasn't hurt by your little tour of Aincrad. If anything, I wouldn't be surprised if you will have an easier time with learning new spells than you may have in the past. How much of your unique skill involved you using magic?"

"Quite a bit," Harry replied. "And I was well on my way to being able to tell what my magic felt like before then. I... may have tried to see if I could use a sword as an improvised wand a few times. Didn't work, but it did get me to notice something. After I got the skill, well… I could use magic, so long as they were within SAO's rules. More charms related now that I think about it."

"But your skill at manipulating magic was maintained, and you had to be able to visualize it, right?"

Harry nodded. "When I managed to develop the Earth Wall OSS, I first did it that way," he said after a thoughtful moment. "It got made into an actual skill afterward due to the system classifying it as such, with requirements that had to be met, but I knew how it felt. Every time I used it… they felt the same way as that first time. And… well now, if the requirements of being in that particular affinity for a set period were to be considered the words for the spell, with the way of transitioning into that affinity being the wand movements…" He began to chuckle. "That brilliant bastard. He probably didn't even know what he was doing when he set it up that way, but he did."

Remus blinked while Ryotaro looked thoughtful for a moment before he chuckled himself. "What am I missing?" He asked the two of them.

"Sorry, sorry," Harry apologized. "It's just that I'm now realizing that Kayaba managed to do something that could revolutionize magic despite not knowing how it worked."

"And that would be?"

"He managed to, without even knowing it, create a computer program that could serve as a substitute for using a focus and words for a spell," Ryotaro said. "It won't replace them any time soon, though. A focus and the words used are far more versatile, for one thing."

Harry nodded and then battled with a yawn. He gave in and managed a tired smile. "But for an environment like SAO, it was more than enough."

They all heard a growling noise.

"And with that, I believe that it's time for us to call it a day," Remus said with some amusement. "I know that Harry will want to get something to eat, and maybe some rest."

Alfheim, Yggdrasil City

CARDINAL moved about her workshop as she went over the data she had gathered. With the World Seed completed and the entire matter out of her hands, she had decided to go over some anomalies that she had found.

Nothing that impacted the World Seed, thankfully, but some of the data from Aincrad seemed to have latched onto it when she uploaded it to ALO. It was separate, and the data wasn't doing anything, so she had decided to leave the data be while she completed the project.

With it done, she could dedicate a few processes to examining them. Most were simple fragments. Items, bits of buildings, small things. Well there was that one NPC, Kizmel, from the Elven War questline, whose data, while inactive, came through intact.

That some SAO data bled through when she uploaded the seed wasn't entirely out of the realm of possibility. Especially since she, Strea and Yui also came to ALO. With how much data went forward with them all, it was easily within the realm of possibility for excess data to come as well.

But she didn't expect for a fully intact NPC, especially one that had been growing and changing with SAO to a greater degree than most. After looking over Kizmel's code, CARDINAL realized that, while Kizmel was still only an NPC, the complexity of her code was approaching the point where it would begin to grow on its own without external inputs or influences.

Kizmel's data indicated that the NPC was likely a nascent AI.

Also, she recalled that both Kirito and Asuna had managed to bond with Kizmel in Aincrad. Perhaps they would like to know that a friend from there did manage to survive. Also, Yui and Strea might like a new sister. Or maybe Kizmel would be a more akin to a cousin, considering that she started as an NPC, rather than be designed from the ground up as an AI.

She wondered if Kayaba even realized it. While the possibility of using the technology to create a world that could grow and house AIs was something he had mused on, she could not say with any certainty if he even tried it. Perhaps he had and simply didn't log it, which would have been unlike him. The man was scrupulous at keeping records, and she had perfect recall of all of them.

So how had an admittedly advanced NPC grown so much?

As tempted as she was to call on Steel Phoenix for this, she decided not to. She was the administrative AI for Sword Art Online, Kizmel was her responsibility to make a decision on what to with her.

Though she would consult with Freyja, her Alfheim Online counterpart, on the matter. She was inclined to introduce Kizmel to Alfheim Online, and she would need her counterpart's permission to do so. Especially if her suspicions about Kizmel proved to be correct.