Before the chapter start, I just want to thank everyone who read this story. To be honest, I never intended it to go into Fatal Bullet and, well, even turn into a series of stories. I had gotten into Sword Art Online last December during winter break, then played Integral Factor, which is the inspiration for Jaymes' character and backstory before Chapter One. I had ideas then, but with me writing other stories, I didn't put pen to paper and Integral Factor(which I did write a oneshot for and is "canon" to this writing series) satisfied me for a story.

But then I played Fatal Bullet, which led to my second published SAO writing, but... I wasn't happy with how I used that version of Jaymes. Sure, I love Kureha and Jaymes as a pairing, and I enjoyed writing that short story, but my vision of him began in Sword Art Online. That idea stuck when I started writing the Ordinal Scale story, and I realized I can't have all this backstory to an OC without having any true references. Henceforth, this story.

Koharu's death unfortunately had to be the drive behind Jaymes. It's was already cemented in the few chapters I written for the Ordinal Scale story, so I had to continue it. In choice of the main girl in place of (because, yes, the game universe girls plus one or two main canon girls were intended to be Jaymes' harem, although he was going to be (un)fortunately aware of it) Lisbeth was not the first choice. Sinon was the original choice, I happen to like her a little more than Lisbeth, but when I was writing the OS story, it was easier to have Lisbeth as the girl. It began to fit more as I wrote, then we come to this story, where they actually have a long relationship built in SAO. But if I went with a gameverse girl, it's obvious Philia would've been chosen.

The next story, Courage, will take place from a few weeks from this chapter all the way into a little bit of Hollow Realization. I am just getting into the Mother Rosario arc while I was writing ahead. For Hollow Realization, I plan to write shots of my favorite interactions that will work for Jaymes in place of Kirito with Lisbeth and Philia, plus one with Sinon that's new but not new. I do plan one quest that happens because it connects to Integral Factor, but as for the game's story...idk. We'll see.

This was a long author's note after nearly having none the entire story, but I just wanted to thank you all, and hope you stick around for the other stories. Here's the final chapter of Blacksmith and Warrior!


Rika, 10:10 PM JST

"Can't believe that dumbass won like that. But of course he did, huh?" Rika sits on top of the toilet cover as she turns the water in the tub on, allowing it to heat up before she switches the flow to the shower head. Spending the last two hours watching Kirito compete in GGO's premier tournament was thrilling, but she was a little disappointed Jaymes didn't compete. She remembers him talking about it, he was excited to do so, but maybe something came up. He does lead that game's version of a guild, maybe he has business there that was more important? Maybe real life trouble? Whatever the issue is, he hasn't talked to her since yesterday evening.

Then again, that Death Gun character… He targeted a few top GGO players. Maybe...no, if that happened… No, she can't think that way. Something within her tells her that Death Gun hasn't gotten to him, and with his defeat at Kirito and that sniper's hands, Jaymes should be safe.

She needs to hear his voice, just to calm her nerves. She picks up her phone and dials his number. She puts it on speaker as she tightens the towel around her body, praying to the heavens to answer her prayer. Jaymes must be safe. Joshua must be safe...

"Hey."

She sighs in relief. "Hey." Rika decides to let her fear go and doesn't worry her boyfriend about her troubling thoughts. It's been more than a day since they've talked and there's so much to talk about, including what just ended minutes ago. "Did you watch the Battle of Bullets? Kirito and this girl named Sinon won in a tie."

"Kirito? He was...ah, I should've known that was him. I heard about him from Sinon, but he's under a different name. Kiriko, right?"

Rika chuckles. "Yeah. Plus that avatar of his, hehe. So what's up? We haven't talked all day. You okay."

"I…" He goes silent for a moment, and that worries Rika again. Were her fears somewhat reasonable? Joshua can handle himself, but he wouldn't keep burdens to himself like Kirito. That's a pillar of their relationship. "I'm okay. I'm sorry I haven't talked to you today. Just had something on my mind."

"Oh yeah? Keiko joked that maybe you were 'doing things' but I know you wouldn't." Rika used that to try to break the ice, but it doesn't help her. She still feels some sense of trouble coming from the other end of this phone call. "But what's on your mind? I'm about to go back online on ALO to congratulate Kirito, maybe we can talk beforehand."

"Lisbeth…no, Rika… I got something to do, but when I'm done, I'll switch over to ALO. Alright?"

She swallows her immediate retort, to yell at him and make him confess what's wrong. If he says that, then she'll hold him to that. "Okay. I see you later then. I lov-"

"Save it," he interrupts, taking Rika aback.

"What?"

"Save it for when I come back. It would suck if I died today after all that, wouldn't it?"

"Huh? Wait...what do you mean-" The call ends right there as Joshua hangs up. What the hell is going on with him? First, his prolonged silence, then his vagueness… Is her troubled heart really true? Could he be in trouble? Rika shakes in terror as she tries to figure out what the hell is going on, and why he won't tell her. And those final words...why do they sound so familiar…

As he departs, Lisbeth feels a deep feeling swell up. It was initiated when he delivered Philia's message of "'to stop waiting.'" Jaymes has no clue what the treasure hunter means, but Lisbeth knows all too well. The last two weeks, with Jaymes gone and Asuna sharing her love life through their messages, Philia's words ignited the spark within her. If Kirito and Asuna can finally come to terms with their feelings, so can she with Jaymes. "Jaymes."

He stops and turns back, confused as to why she calls him. "Huh?" Lisbeth stares at him with a determined glare as she walks up towards him. He doesn't move an inch as she fluidly wraps her arms around and kisses him on the lips. Like a firework going off, the initial contact excites her, but a second later she realizes what she has done and it fizzles out. Yet, before she can remove her lips, his own claims hers.

He's kissing her back.

But as quickly as the magic comes, it fades as their lips separate. Still holding on to him, she gazes up to his matching brown eyes. "Jaymes… I-"

"Save it," he says as he steps back. "Save it for when I come back. It would suck if I died today after all that, wouldn't it?" With a wink, he turns away again and heads up the stairs. He's right, it would suck it he died after kissing him for the first time, but...damn it, so what? What if he dies before she says the words she held on for half a year now? She will wait no longer.

"I love you, you idiot!"

Jaymes pauses and laughs a bit to himself. Turning around, he graces her with a smile. "I love you too, mean ass. Now can I go?"

Lisbeth gives him a wink and a thumbs up. "Yeah, you may go now. Kick some ass, Crimson Warrior."

Rika's mouth drops. That phrase… He said it back in Sword Art Online when he was on the way to the 75th Floor. "You… You idiot!" She grabs her phone and dials his number again, but he doesn't pick up. He must already be in full-dive. Dammit! Who else knows about him in Gun Gale? Which person would actually know what he's doing?

"Hello?"

"Kotone! Have you talked to Joshua in the last few minutes?"

"Uh, no, I haven't-"

"Get back online now! Joshua is in trouble and we have to go help him!"

"...I don't know what you mean, but considering what we just witnessed with Kirito and this 'Death Gun', I'm going to assume it might be related. Very well, I'll meet you at Asuna's apartment with Strea and Rain. You round up the others."

Rika sighs. "Thank you, Kotone. I owe you one."

"Hehe, consider this our repayment for all the times he's saved us."


10:41 PM

Strea shakes her head for the fourth time, this time more frantic that the previous occurrences. "He's not in Gun Gale at all. I don't know what else to tell you."

"Uncle," Yui comments sadly. Around them, the girls and Klein sit around, their faces buried in worry. With Strea and Yui unable to find Jaymes in GGO, their troubles compounded immensely. If he cannot be found, he cannot be helped.

"This is not totally unlike him," Klein states, "but to totally disappear? That's different."

"Yet he left a clue that he needs help." Philia faces Lisbeth, lowering her brow. "His words to you meant he's expecting us. I just wish he left instructions."

Lisbeth nods. "It would make things easier… Has Kirito found anything, Asuna?"

She shakes her head. "No, he hasn't sent a message. But he says that the Sinon girl knows Jaymes and the rest of his squad. If anything, they're our best hope. I'm sorry, Lisbeth."

"...Thank you."

"Wait a moment." Everyone turns to Rain, who points at the television. She, in turn, looks to the smaller, silver-haired girl beside her. "Seven, when we did that cross-game concert earlier this week, we connected from ALO to multiple servers, correct?"

Seven nods. "Yes, but… Oh. That's right."

"Um," Silica says in confusion. "What is it?"

"I don't know this 'Jaymes', besides your stories of him, but it makes sense he would know this given who he is. The Seed, as you know, is an interconnected being. While each server is their own, they're able to connect to one another. It's the reason Rain and I were able to sing across multiple games, why we were able to watch the Battle of Bullets...and it's how we're going to save Jaymes. But first, we need a signal."

"A signal?"

"Yes. Player information is a good one, but as our search proves, it's useless if he's not signed it to Gun Gale. You can't join your friends if they're not online, you know." She faces Strea and Yui, pointing to them. "But something that's always online, they always emit a signal, no matter where they are. Strea and Yui are such examples as artificial intelligence."

"Arfa-Sys," Lisbeth says suddenly. She remembers hearing about them from Jaymes, especially the one he owns. "In GGO, Jaymes and one of his squadmates own AI companions called Arfa-Sys. Asuna, ask Kirito about them." Asuna nods and quickly composes a message.

"If that's the case," Philia stands up in front of the MHCPs. "Strea, Yui, search for two Arfa-Sys named Rei and Daisy. That's their identities."

"Right!"

"Kirito just responded," Asuna speaks out. "Daisy is with the squad, but Rei is missing. That means she's probably with Jaymes."

Strea nods. "I can confirm that. I detected Daisy within GGO's servers and am currently maintaining contact. It's up to big sister now." Lisbeth holds her breath. That means...as soon as Yui finds Rei, they'll find Jaymes and save him.

Jaymes, 11:02 PM.

"One health bar left, guys!" Reloading my pistols, I dodge a yellow from these orbs The GM summons on the ground. As they disappear, I look around at the others. It's been 20 minutes since the battle began, and we're all still alive. The boss is tough, but this is nothing compared to the bosses of GGO. Maybe it's because I'm not afraid now as I was back then, maybe it's because this bastard's weakness (a green centerpiece in the middle of its chest) is obvious, maybe it's both. Whatever the case is, I'm getting a good feeling out of this. One health bar left, it's in the deep yellow, this should be over soon.

The GM flashes purple and does an ascending twirl. Opening its mouth, purple energy gathers in front of its face, charging up for a powerful blast. This must be the ultimate attack. "Everyone, spread out and…" I halt my orders as I stare up at The GM, noticing that its aim is locked on me. That attack...there's no way I'll be able to dodge it, not even with the UFG mobility device on my left arm. But could I interrupt it? "Damn it." I raise my pistols, firing in the approximate direction of the weak point. I can see its health deplete but even then, it isn't enough to stop the attack.

"Gah…" Rolling on my back to my knees, I watch as my help drops into the red. Looking up, I see The GM recharge for another blast. I hear the others call my name, but they're too far away. My guns are out of reach too… So this is how it ends. I survive Laughing Coffin, Gleam Eyes, Skull Reaper, and Kayaba just to die to a stupid robot with a cape? Heh… Damn.

"Jaymes, move!"

"Joshua!"

"Master!"

"Jaymes...live." That last voice… As I contemplate over why I hear her voice now, my body moves on it's own as the blast surrounds me. Confused by this latest phenomenon, I look at my health, seeing its unmoved, then to this mysterious red aura around me. I stop moving as I land on my feet right by my guns. This aura...how did this happen.

"Master!" Rei makes it over to my side as the aura wears off and I collapse back down. "Master! Hang in there!"

I glance up, seeing Kureha and the others attack The GM, keeping its attention on them. Meanwhile, between the voice in my head and the mysterious power that saved me, I think Rei can answer one of them. "What was that aura?"

"I think… I think it was the locked ability of the Ultimate Fibers Gun. It's called Hyper Awareness." I look at the attachment on my arm. I remember Rei saying it was useful for escaping danger when she first gifted it to me, and indeed it has been, but never has it let me automatically dodge an attack. An aura that strong...holy hell that's cool.

"Well, I guess I owe you one, huh?" I pick up my guns, but Rei puts my arms down.

"Don't, Master. You need to focus on recovering. If you take one more attack… Master… No, I won't let you go." Sighing I put my arms down and activate my healing art. I turn to Rei as she stands up and stares at the enemy machine. "There's something strange going on here… I can't access Mother. There's no response from the GGO main system either. Cannot send messages to players… Am I shut off completely from the network? No, that isn't right… I was able to purchase items before."

An idea pops in my head. Rei is an artificial intelligence program and can connect anywhere in the Seed. That's how she's here and why she's disconnected from GGO. That also means… "Rei… Connect to the Alfheim Online servers, search for Yui-MHCP001."

"Master…"

"I'm counting on you, Rei."

"I…" Rei turns away, a determined look on her face. Immediately her body begins to glow with a pale white aura. "I'll show you what I can do!" She's quiet for a moment, in which I turn towards the others. They continue fighting, but I don't know how long they'll last, especially if it fires that attack again...

"Ar...fa…Sys…"

That voice… "Yui? Yui, is that you?"

"Uncle! I've secured a line to Rei. It should remain stable long enough for us to use it for a while. You guys aren't in GGO. Strea and I are currently analyzing what happened."

"Hold up a sec," Strea says. "I'm going to trace the route Rei took when you were sent from GGO to that location… Got it!"

"I'm ready, Daddy!"

"Sorry for the wait, Jaymes. I'm heading there now! We all are." Upon hearing that, I also hear gunfire from behind me along with an excited yelp. Turning back, I see a tall woman in a black bodysuit, two smaller girls, one in all pink and the other in came, and a large man, also dressed in camo.

"Pitohui, Fuka, LLENN, M!"

"Pito, you jackass, and the rest of you are late."

The tall woman, Pitohui, scoffs at me. "You didn't bring us to the party, you jerk. Had us all worried for your wellbeing."

"Never again," the camo girl, Fukaziroh, shouts.

M, one of the big guy, and LLENN, the girl in pink, helps me to my feet. "Are you alright, sir?"

"Yeah," I say as I face The GM, who still has three-quarters of his final health bar filled.. "Kureha, Zeliska, and Itsuki might be running low on ammo. You guys, Rei, back them up."

"Roger!" As they rush towards the battle, I twirl and reload my pistols. Meanwhile, I arc my head to the side to the two people standing nearby.

"Come to steal my thunder, Kiriko?"

Kirito's GGO avatar scoffs as he steps up to my side. "You usually leave this stuff to me. I don't like our roles reversed."

"Both of you are idiots," Sinon says as she steps over. "Is that green point the critical spot?"

"Yeah. Shoot the hell out of it." As Sinon moves away to get settled, I look forward. "How long will everyone else be?"

"I don't know. But I think we can manage."

"I believe so too… Thanks for coming."

He shakes his head as he ignites his photon sword. "This is all because of Lisbeth. Thank her instead."

"Yeah… Now let's go!" As we run forward, The GM turns its body in my direction. With a mechanical growl, it repeats the same motion from earlier before it charges up the deadly blast. Barely seeing the weak point behind the growing orb, I begin firing. "Everyone! Aim at the weak point! We can interrupt it!"

"Roger!" Gunfire of all kind batters against the chestpiece while the boss continues to charge the blast. Yet, no matter how much we hit it, despite its health turning red, it continues to grow the blast. Dammit...and I don't know how to trigger the aura again.

"The cavalry's here!" In a tone that can only belong to my favorite samurai, more gunfire pours on the chest plate. The accumulated energy disappears and The GM drops to the ground. As it does so, its body fidgets and explodes in a great blue lightshow.


Kureha stares at the empty spot as the original five gather together. "...We won? We won, didn't we?"

"Yes," Zeliska says. "Barely. Still...it's pretty clear that wasn't Death Gun."

"And we still need some way to log out," Itsuki reminds us. He then turns to the others that stand behind us. "Although this was an unexpected surprise."

I turn to the group, but directly looking at the MHCPs. "Yui, Strea, where in the heavens are we? Why can't we log out?"

"There's a good reason for that," Yui says. "You guys aren't in GGO anymore."

Zeliska groans. "So it's as we feared. Don't tell me… Was there some kind of trap in those NerveGears?"

"NerveGears?" Oh, I know that voice. I turn to it, its owner a very angry pink-haired girl. "Jaymes, do not tell me you have a NerveGear on right now."

I look up from her to the others. "Lisbeth, the rest of the girls, and Klein, I owe you guys so much. Thanks to you and the rest of Crimson Squad, Kureha, Zeliska, Itsuki, and I are okay."

Lisbeth steps closer to me, tears brimming on her eyelids. "That's not what I asked you!"

I look down to her, holding her face. "Two days ago, I got a message from a guy named Death Gun to meet him here or he'd hurt someone I cared for. I knew it was serious, but… I didn't know how until a NerveGear appeared on my doorstep. He knew who was, but not just in real life...I was there when he killed XeXeeD. He called me 'Crimson Warrior', he knows what I did to Annihilator, so with all those facts together, I knew that all of you were in trouble, especially you, Lisbeth. I couldn't tell you directly in case he was indeed watching me at all times, but you know our final moment in SAO as I do. It was a little close, but it worked. I'm sorry I worried you...but I had faith you'd come for me."

"Wait," Kirito says, stepping up to us. "You say Death Gun threatened you?"

"Yeah. He told me, well, is to meet him here today over an hour ago."

"That's impossible," Sinon says. "Death Gun was present in the Battle of Bullets."

Pito folds her arms while nodding. "He killed Pale Rider. We watched those Sinon and Kiriko fight him."

"It's the reason I came to GGO, to deal with the situation. Death Gun, or at least the players calling themselves by that name, XaXa and Spiegel, have been arrested by the police about 30 minutes ago."

I frown. "XaXa and… Spiegel? You mean that creep… No, even then, that doesn't make sense. XaXa knew who I was and told me he'll eventually come for me a month ago. Even Spiegel made a threat not too long ago. But how did you figure they're connected?"

"Spiegel attacked me after the BoB ended," Sinon says. "Kirito came to my aid afterwards. You remember when he told us a month ago that he had to help his brother with something?"

Now it clicks. "XaXa's the brother. Okay."

"Spiegel was being arrested when I got Lisbeth's text. Sinon led me to the rest of your squad, who had heard from Daisy her master had suddenly disappeared."

Zeliska sighs. "I must have worried her."

LLENN nods. "When we heard you did the same, we knew something was off."

Kureha folds her arms. "Then if Death Gun is dealt with...what the hell is going on?"

"I guess I should be the one to explain that. It was probably going to get out anyway." We turn to Itsuki, who stands with his arms crossed, looking over the area. "This is a death game area, an alternate world that only resembles GGO. Jaymes, Kureha, and Zeliska are all wearing NerveGears. Death Gun threatened them and told them their friends were going to die. Those NerveGears were set up to automatically send them here when they logged on. If you want to know more, talk to Taipon. I don't know much about the program myself, and I'm actually not a fan of long talks."

I release Lisbeth as I fully turn to Itsuki. My mind is telling me what I think he's saying, but it doesn't want to believe. "Itsuki… What are you saying? Don't tell me…"

"Can't you see? Just as you've become a hero, I've become the villain."

My confusion instantly becomes anger. "You wanted me? Why bring Zeliska and Kureha into this?"

He stands there, calm as ever. "I didn't plan on Kureha and Zeliska showing up, though. I mean, most people care only about themselves. I saw no need to include M, LLENN, Pito, or Fuka, hence their prior absence. But I knew for a fact you would come.I figured you would do anything to protect your childhood friend, but it seems you hide a prior life of VR gaming from us. All these friends, even a girlfriend… I planned on risking my life to prove a point to you. I wanted to show you our special bond… That I'm all you've got. But unfortunately, you were right. The people you call your friends ended up being true friends."

"Itsuki…"

"You probably won't forgive me for what I did, right? I don't blame you. I did betray you and the squadron, after all. There's no hope left now for… But no. The villain should always remain the villain. I need to see things to the bitter end. Just as you should strike me down with all your power, as befits a true hero. The game will only end once the villain has been vanquished. Much like SAO."

"You son of a bitch."

"That… I might be." Itsuki suddenly raises a pistol and fires twice. I didn't see bullet lines, but he aimed at my direction and missed terribly. Hearing a gasp, I turn to see Lisbeth clutching her chest. Her health is low...and Itsuki shot her twice. Knowing she's not in any real danger but enraged nonetheless, I grab Kirito's blade and swing at Itsuki, but the player jumps back and retreats to a higher platform.

"Itsuki!"

"Hahaha. I should congratulate you on defeating that boss. You're a hero, Jaymes. It's undeniable. You cut your way through all your troubles, gun in hand. Together with your friends, you've achieved the impossible. You stop the invader from destroying the Glocken, you've defeated the evil dragon and even the devil himself. But you heroes never play fair. Why is it the devil can never have any friends, I wonder?"

"Itsuki," Zeliska shouts, "throw down your weapon!"

"Why would you do this," Kureha questions. "Weren't we all friends?"

"If I could get up there," Fuka says, "I'll beat your ass myself!"

"Itsuki! Give it up already. Yui's contacted the police. You're not getting away."

"Kureha, Zeliska, Fuka, the rest of the team, and the other hero, Kirito. I'm afraid I can never be your friend. I'm not...strong like you."

"No! Itsuki, you're wrong," LLENN exclaims. "Nobody starts out strong. You have to work hard to become that way!"

"Atone for what you've done," Pitohui threatens as she raises her gun. "It might not be too late for you to start over."

"Just give up," M pleads.

Itsuki shakes his head. "I'm sorry. But I have a point to still prove...and it seems there's only another person to help me prove it." Itsuki aims his gun this time at Kureha, but this time I'm faster. Using the UFG, I zip up towards the platform and pull a gun on Itsuki, though it is not one of the twins on my waist.

When Itsuki sees the weapon, he scoffs. "That gun… Ha ha, so you've kept it this whole time… Looks like my plan was a failure. Your friends were all supposed to abandon you, forcing you to lose faith in humanity, so you'd be mine alone… Are you mad I tricked you, Jaymes?"

I shake my head, keeping the pistol level with Itsuki's. "No, I'm not. To be honest, I never fully trusted you, maybe that's why I'm not mad at you."

Itsuki scoffs. "Of course not. You're just not that type of person. Why don't you fire that gun? I'm wearing a NerveGear too, of course. If you pull that trigger, I'll die. Do you have what it takes to kill someone?"

I look away to the group of onlookers below. The rest of my squad from Gun Gale Online, Kureha, Zeliska, Rei, Fuka, Pito, M, and LLENN, all have an unknowing look upon them. They all don't know my past beyond when I first logged on to GGO, and those that do know of that don't know what I've done; the other eleven (not including a girl with silver hair, she's new), my friends from Sword Art Online, they know the answer to that. My eyes look specifically at four girls: Kureha, my reconnected childhood friend; Rei, my loyal AI companion that I met here; Philia, my best friend of all the girls and my one true partner; and Lisbeth, my beloved girlfriend. Each one wishes the same, for me to not shoot and kill Itsuki. "I could. I've done-."

"Just kidding! Ha ha, that was one of my jokes. It's the hero's job to defeat the villain. If you can't, then maybe I should…"

"Critical violation detected. Suspending GM access." Red lights flash in the sky around us. I don't know what's going on, but it seems this server is about to go down. It has a similar feeling to when the SAO was beaten and that was announced.

"Well, looks like time's up." As the server begins to crash, Itsuli and I are surrounded by blue light. Below, Kirito and the gang lose their signal from ALO to this server. Kureha, Rei, and the rest start to drop out too. "I'll see you again, Jaymes. Maybe in the virtual world, maybe in the real world. Who knows? After all, you never did tell me why you came to the virtual world in the first place…" As I'm dropped out the server, a white screen appears...and along with it, a voice I know all too well.

"Congratulations. That was truly a remarkable victory. Please accept my sincerest praise. Congratulations on winning...oh, and on beating SAO, Jaymes…"

Well... Thank you, Kayaba...


2 hours later

"I see. Very well… Well, Mr. Hardin, we got good news and bad news. Which you'd like to hear first?"

I look up from my folded hands to the man seated across from me, Lieutenant Colonel Kikuoka of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I haven't seen him since this time last year, though I know Kirito met with him many times since. From the looks of things, he's had a busy night. "The good first."

"Kureha and Zeliska were never in any danger. The NerveGears they got were modified Amuspheres. Only you had a real ones. Based on what I've been told, it seems this Taipon was responsible for it. He sent the messages from Death Gun to you for using a different account. If the Death Gun brothers had any intention of going out on their threat against you, it never came to fruition. Taipon also made the death arena too. He also stole the NerveGears from a facility housing them. From what he said, whoever got the real one was up to chance."

I sigh. "Well, I guess it's good to know they were never in danger. So the bad must be bad?"

"Itsuki is a ghost. Taipon, his guildmates, no one has a clue to who he really is. As for the other stolen NerveGear, it's missing too. As for Taipon, he was your friend's superior, so I'm sure things at Zaskar are a little shaken."

"Zeliska's boss, huh… Surprising."

"Yeah. Well, it's late and I have to relay more news to your friend Kirito tomorrow." Kikuoka stands up, and I lead him to the doorway. As he reaches for the door, he turns back to me. "Jaymes, I'll do all I can to investigate this. Not only because it falls under my jurisdiction but because of...future working relationship we will have very soon."

"Is that so?"

"Mhm. But I'm sure your father will tell you in time. Good night." As the lieutenant colonel leaves. I sigh and close my door. What a night...and it's not close to over yet.

I walk back into the living room and head for the staircase, gazing at the person sitting on the steps. "Are you going to sit there all night?"

Rika glares at me through tired eyes as she gets up. "I'm mad at you."

A huge contrast to when she got here an hour ago, crying her eyes out. I smile as I follow her up the steps and towards my room. "I know."

She looks back to me as she enters my room and drops on my bed. "Ugh, get rid of that face. You're too...happy for my mood right now."

I nod and sit back against the headboard. Rika. "I know."

"But… You did what you had to do. You always protected us, so I can't be mad at you what you did. You even left me a way to help you. Very unlike Kirito, taking things on himself." Raising her upper body up, she stares at me. "Promise me you'll never do that again, but if you have to, we do it together. I don't care if it endangers me, we're a team, aren't we? We do stupid stuff like this together, okay?"

I present a small smile. "You sound like her… I actually heard her voice today, crazy as it sounds."

"You mean… Koharu's?"

"Mhm. There was a point in which I did almost die, and I was ready to accept it, but I heard her voice, telling me to continue living. Something strange happened afterwards, but… It felt like she was there with me, pushing me out the way. I guess Koharu won't let me die yet."

Rika smiles. "You better not piss her off then if she's keeping your dumbass self alive. I guess she's still looking out for her partner."

"Yeah… So I promise not to do anything like this ever again, not just without you, but everyone. If I can't get you, I'll get Kirito and Asuna, or Philia and Rain. Hell, even Klein and Agil. But yes, we're a team. Blacksmith. Warrior."

Rika smiles greater and leans forward, kisses me for the first time on my lips in over a year. The first time in real life. As we part, I caress her hair, temporarily forgetting all my previous troubles. I look forward to the future, not just with Rika, but with Kazuto, Asuna, Kotone, and the rest.

"I love you."

"I love you, too."


SBC Flügel, Gun Gale Online…

"So this is where you've been the past month, Lievre." A hand is placed on the large stasis pod, where the being in quest, Lievre, is housed. "So its ego managed to stay intact in the end, huh? So be it." The hand, or more so the person who the hand belongs to, taps a few commands on a display, downloading the memory of the sleeping Arfa-Sys. "There, that's all the data I need on noteworthy players. The plan's going smoothly." He turns back to the pod, looking at his pale blond hair and sky blue eyes.

"The 'rabbit' will light the way to Wonderland...and Alice, I'll see you soon… Hahaha… Hahahahaha…"