Several days have passed since we saved Ainground from the destruction module. Sword Art: Origin continues unaware. Today, like any day, people go about their lives questing, crafting, fighting. Like ALO, Aincrad remains above us. Floating in a state of permanent ruin, I don't think that specter will fade any time soon.
There's been no official word from the devs about any of this. I haven't been informed of anything myself, but whatever happens will happen. But what I do, and haven't shared with anyone else, any major problems with development would be a big issue.
After Genesis' actions were brought to light, the devs of the AmuSphere quickly responded with a patch. Trance players disappeared virtually overnight as it's almost impossible to get around the drug abuse restrictions.
Despite her research on the AmuSphere slowdown coming to an end with the destruction of the module and Heathcliff "physically" reborn, Seven hadn't been able to join the game as she's entangled in another round of research. I would help, since I've completed mine (let's just say Premiere was of high interest to my father), but she's willing to do it herself. So she promised to finish it quickly and join us.
We haven't seen Heathcliff since Aincrad, though once again he leaves us with more questions than answers. Even with his explanation of how I received Trojan Horse and Walls, I'm still left wanting more. Kirito, Asuna, and I kept the encounter secret as well.
We're split between games, currently. Hoping to find Tia, Argo continues to log into Origins. Some of the gang do so as well for that reason and others. In the meantime, the rest of us brought Premiere over to Alfheim Online to show her a new world and a different Aincrad. At the same time, I decide to show Kureha and Rei the world of fairies as well. They enjoy a different feel to virtual gaming, especially Rei, who is happy to be reunited with her Master.
As for the rest of Crimson Squad... "Welcome back to GGO, dumbass. You too, Hecate."
Becoming aware of my surroundings, I smirk while leaning against the bar inside my home, which also functions as Crimson Squad's headquarters. Sinon sits beside me and chuckles as we take a drink from Pitohui. "I don't think I like your attitude towards your squad leader, Pito."
"I don't think I've shown just how happy I am to see you again. But I do have a 'welcome back' gift for you, two things in fact. First, read this." Pitohui shows us a hologram of a forum post. I take it and quickly skim over it. Apparently there's a player-killing guild on the rise in GGO, which isn't unnatural, even Crimson Squad hunts players if the bounty is right. But based on the forum, this isn't bounty hunting or even a battle between guilds; the guild in question is targeting other groups at random, and with tactics so precise it's like fighting the military.
"This is concerning," Sinon says. "Seems this group runs in the Old South map. How high is the bounty on them?"
"Right now, 30,000,000 credits. Split that between us nine players, you're looking at a little more than 3 million per person. Might be able to buy you some 'entertainment', Chief."
"Why do that when I have you, Pito?" I return the hologram to her and finish my drink. "Old South, huh? If they are based in the city, that makes sense how they're so efficient. We just have to be unorthodox, as usual. Is everyone online?"
"Yeah. We agreed to meet up in a few minutes at the Old South entrance. Unless you're too much of a pansy to go along with taking them out?"
I stand up and meet Pitohui's challenging stare with a smile. "Of course not. We got a reputation to maintain. Sinon, you in?"
She nods. "My sniper is yours, Jaymes."
"Nice to hear. Rei." I face the Arfa-Sys who sit on the couch, entertaining two guests of ours. "Send a message to the rest of the team to meet in the Old South in fifteen minutes. Oh, and for Zeliska, ask her to bring Daisy along."
Rei salutes. "Yes, Master!"
"And you two," I say the newcomers, "how'd you like to see how Crimson Squad does things here in GGO?"
"Believe me," Sinon cosigns, "it's just like with Kirito, but someone let this blockhead have command in a world of guns."
One of them smiles brightly. "Sounds fun! Let's go!"
I nod, then turn back to Pitohui. "What's the second thing?"
"If Kureha hasn't asked you, the next Squad Jam is on April 4th. If you're not busy...participate."
I cross my arms. "LLENN and M won the first one, I watched the highlights. I guess it'll be them two, you, Fuka, and Kureha. huh?"
"No, just M, me, and some others. LLENN, Kureha, and Fukaziroh are together. You should join them, and let's have some friendly competition between us. If my team doesn't win, I might just kill myself. So?"
I laugh nervously, unsure if Pito is exaggerating or if what M and LLENN told me before after watching the previous SJ is true. "Let's do it... I'm in."
She smirks. "You're the best!"
"...as well as to the left and to the right. All groups suspected to be player hunters!"
"Thanks, Rei. We verified that over here, too."
"So M's group is surrounded? Hey, can you guys handle that?"
"No problem. They couldn't kill us if they tried. Sinon, is your group in position?"
"Ready and waiting. On your go."
"So, they've decided to grace us with their presence. Should we say hello?"
"Yeah. Let's give them a nice, warm greeting. On your command, Jaymes."
I take a look over the ruined city of the Old South. Hiding out inside one of the taller buildings, I have a nice view over our target. I can barely make out M, LLENN, Bazalt Joe, and Fukaziroh, currently surrounded by the player killers. Nearby should be Pitohui and Kureha on the ground at one end, Daisy and Rei on the other. Sinon and Zeliska have a distant position appropriate for my favorite sniper. Speaking of which, instead of just issuing a command, I decide to have some friendly banter. "Think you can make the shot, Sinon? It's been a while since you shot anything."
"Are you questioning my skill right now?"
"Heh. Prove me wrong." Gunfire echoes across the quiet city, resulting in a player dropping on the ground and bursting into red polygons. Alarmed, the PKers start shooting in the direction of Sinon and Zeliska. "Nice shot."
"Okay! The rest is up to you, M."
"Hey there, look behind you!" Kureha and Pitohui appear on an abandoned metal crate behind the guild, taunting the group before running away, drawing some of the enemy away.
"Oh, did you want to play tag? Sounds fun to me!"
"Heh, I wonder who's it?"
"Alright, here we go!"
"Let's bring the house down!"
As M's group blasts the enemy with explosives, I check in on our AI duo. "The enemies are following close behind each team. What's your status, Rei?"
"We've got them coming after us too!"
"All preparations complete."
"Roger that! Now just keep running so you don't get-"
"Wait! I think I'm lost!"
"Hey! This way!"
Relieved that Zeliska found our respective companions, I watch as everyone gathers at the stadium at the western side of the city, surrounded by the enemy guild. Stretching my limbs, I turn to the girls beside me, winking. "It's showtime."
"We've got them now," the person I suspect of being this group's leader says. "There's nowhere left for you to run!" Or so they think as the group teleports out, thanks to Rei and Daisy's preparations. Kureha sticks her tongue out as she's last to vanish, discombobulating the enemy until we appear in the middle. I twirl my twin pistols as three photon swords ignite around me. I look at the redhead leader, smirking at him. "Damn it!"
"Hmm, Rain, how shall we deal with these jerks?"
She snickers. "With extreme prejudice."
"Feeling the same way."
The leader clicks his tongue and points his gun at us. "Shoot them down!"
I charge first as gunfire whizz past us. "Let's do this!"
"Ah, well look at you." I kneel down in front of the leader of the defeated enemy. Kureha keeps her SMG aimed at him, Zeliska stands nearby, and I'm assured Sinon has her sights on him as well. "Sucks that your team was beaten by us, but I guess it proves Crimson Squad is still one of the best."
His eyes widen. "C-C-Crimson Squad? You mean...the ones who saved the Glocken? The same squad Lucky Red, Crimson Princess, Uncrowned Queen, Hecate, and Pink Devil belong to?"
Kureha nods. "Yep. You're looking at two of them now."
"Now that we're acquainted, how about you tell us who is the real leader of your group of player killers? No offense, but I doubt someone like you could be the top gun. You tell me that," I snap, and the Kureha's aim drops from the dude's head topping his neck to the one between his legs, "or for the next few minutes, your balls will hurt like hell. Trust me, she's that good of a shot."
The guy scoffs. "What is she, your girlfriend? You're right, I'm not the top gun. He's gonna remember you, and he's gonna take you down, just as he should have long ago. He's the best player in GGO, S-" The player is shot dead from a distance from the side of her head. I almost scold Sinon, but the trajectory wouldn't make sense since she's a few degrees to my left, whereas the bullet entered from the right side. Sighing, I stand up and turn to Kureha.
"That narrows it down to a select few, but, let's be honest, not good enough. But he's knowledgeable enough to know us. You think...Lievre's master?"
"Who knows." I tap my headpieces and look in the direction of Sinon. "You see the shooter?"
"No, never got the chance. He could have been cloaked or in the interior of a building. Sorry."
"Not your fault. LLENN, any stragglers?"
"We took care of any we saw. This Yuuki is amazing!"
"Heh, I know. Rei?"
"Detecting no hostiles, Master."
"All right. Crimson Squad, we're done here." I turn back to Kureha and Zeliska, nodding to them then staring at the space the guy was. The one thing that's bothered me since November...and we accidentally came across it only to learn nothing. No, not nothing…there's one thing I did learn.
"Jaymes? You okay?"
I nod as I face Kureha. "Yeah, it's just… Pitohui's description of this group, randomly attacking other groups without reason… I might be projecting my past, but…that's how the player killing guild in SAO arose. The consequences aren't as severe as back then, but the basis is the same."
"'If the game allows killing, it is part of the game,'" Kureha recalls. "What are you thinking?"
"He's not the leader of this guild, November's attack doesn't fit his modus operandi, but his influence may have spread… The leader of Laughing Coffin… Besides one of the guys responsible for the Death Gun incident, he's still out there… PoH…"
March 31st, ALO
"C'mon Jaymes, fight for real!" Kureha snarls as she ferociously clashes her sword against me. Although I'm being a little lax on her, her skill in swordplay has risen since beginning Alfheim Online a few weeks back. Of course, she has an excellent teacher to duel with.
Spreading my wings, I leap over her blade and take flight. Seeing her scowl as she hates fighting and flying, I look down on the pinked-haired Salamander and conjure a fireball in my hand. "Take this!" Fiery balls erupt from my palm and rain down on Kureha. That scowl turns into a smile as her wings appears and she soars up, dodging the magic attack with masterful ease. As she comes close, her blade bursts into flames She swings for me, only to be blocked. Holy shit, she's good. Guess I better take her seriously now. I fly back, landing on the ground and getting into my stance, a red aura on my sword. She does the same, one of her swords glowing white.
"Wow, so now you're getting serious."
"Why are we dueling again, remind me?"
Kureha bites her lip. "Then, since it's gonna finish here and now, let's give it meaning. If I win, right here and now."
"Very well. What's on the line?"
"Remember when I said I wanted to move to Tokyo after graduation? I'm still holding off university for a year, but... If you win, I'll continue living with my family for the next year. But if I finish you now, I think there's a spare room in your home."
I raise my eyebrow. Rooming with a girl...just the publicity I need. And there's other issues...girl issues more importantly. But Rika and Keiko usually come home with me after school for homework and stuff, and, I must admit, it will be like old times if she does move in. "How about I give it consideration?"
"Koharu's Fire!" Running through the motions of my Original Sword Skill, I deflect the opposing magic attack as I approach Kureha's prone position. If I get to her in time, my ninth and final swing should seal the deal-the hell? A beam comes between me and Kureha, taking the hit for her. Taking by surprise, I don't react at all to Kureha's sword slashing me on my chest.
Once I gather my footing, I sheath my sword while facing the third member of our group. "Rei! What the heck?"
The Arfa-Sys giggles as she runs to Kureha, hugging her in her victory. "Sorry, Master, but I wanted Kureha to win so we all can be together. Is that a bad thing?"
"No… Guess I better stop eating for two. Not that money's a problem for either of us, huh? Deal's a deal, when should I expect to have a roomie?"
"Around the beginning of the school year, I don't want to impose so early. Plus, you know, I got parents to convince and you got a girlfriend."
"Yeah...although there goes the other one." I wave as Strea comes into view, followed by Philia and Rain. They all look in a hurry as they don't settle down on the 20th Floor of New Aincrad. "Hey, what's up?"
"Come on," Philia says, though her tone suggests she's trying to hold her emotions in. With a shrug to Kureha and Rei, we follow the other girls quickly up to the 24th Floor. But why are we headed here, and why do the girls look horrible?
My answer comes a few minutes later when we join Kirito and the others under the setting sun of the 24th, around the tree Asuna and Yuuki fought under. The Sleeping Knights are already here, so is Asuna and...oh no. I look at Kirito, asking the silent question, and he gives me a silent answer. So...this is it.
I follow Kirito and Yui to the central group, taking a knee beside him. Asuna looks to us both, forcing herself to smile, and I do the same. I place a hand on Yuuki's shoulder as I look down at her. "Hey, Yuuki?"
"I might be getting the number wrong, some members are a little wishy-washy when it comes to being officially part of it, but… In commemoration for your efforts earlier, how would you like to become the twelfth member of Crimson Squad?"
Yuuki smiles weakly. "Really? What do I have to do to be initiated?"
I shake my head. "I'll skip the ceremonies, just repeat after me. High thrill, high risk, heartless game."
"High thrill, high risk, heartless game… Wait, isn't that from Rain's song?"
I nod and wipe a tear. "As squad leader of Crimson Squad… Welcome, Yuuki Konno." As I look up, I see the sky filled with winged fairies. Wait...other players are here? I don't think I've seen this many players in one place since Kirito's first duel with Heathcliff.
"Woah...look at all those fairies."
"I'm sorry," Asuna apologizes. "I had to let them know. I hope you're not mad at me."
"Are you kidding? Why would I be mad? There's so many of them. It's like a dream. But why are they here?"
Asuna sniffs. "It's...because of you. You're the strongest, most powerful swordswoman this world has ever seen. There'll never be anyone else like you ever again. We can't let you go without saying goodbye. It's not right. We're all praying for you...that your next journey...will be to a place that's wonderful as this."
Yuuki manages to smile. "I'm happy. I'm so happy… You know, this whole time, I thought, if I was born to die, what the heck was the point of me even being born? I never made anything or gave anything to anyone. All I did was waste drugs and hog that machine and cause trouble for everyone. If all I get to do is suffer and disappear in the end…it'll be better to just disappear right now. I used to always think...why am I alive? Why did I stick around for this long? But...you know what? After all this time, I think I know why now. I might not have done much, but I'm glad I got to live, cause after everything these last few moments, they're the best ever. I'm surrounded by all my friends, and I got to end my journey in the arms of someone I love."
"Yuuki, I promise, I will see you again someday, in some other place, in some other world… I don't know how, but I'll find you… And then we can sit and talk and you can tell me where you've been…"
Yuuki says nothing more as she takes her last breath and closes her eyes. Moments later, her body vanishes forever. For a while, we continue kneeling, unsure what to do until Rain starts singing.
Somehow, I've gone and lost my way
All this time, I've led myself astray
By following your blinding light and fragile footsteps
Though lost, within a guideless haze
Looking for a way out of this maze
I'll never let a sole regret rain down on me
I will call infinitely
Screaming, until they hear me
Our breathtaking, endless journey starts at last
Beginning with your cue -
It's time to shine, it's waiting for you!
The world you once created inside your dreams, is brought to life
As it now leads you and I across the distant sky
We'll set out toward that steady light
And though our dreams may change
We will always keep it in our sight
Hey, so bring it on my way
Standing up, I raise my sword, holding it in the direction of the tree. Kirito and Klein follow suit, and soon, the entirety of ALO pays their final respects.
She wasn't just the best swordswoman, no, but for a short time, she was one of us. Clearer of the 27th, 28th, and 29th Floors of New Aincrad, Champion of ALO's Swordfighting Tournament, and, as I look to the weeping Premiere, a Hero of SA:O.
Farewell, Yuuki Konno.
A week or so later...
"Here she is." I pause walking and point towards a decorated tombstone to my left. Rika's face drops as she takes a breath and walks up in front of the tombstone. When we left Yuuki's funeral last weekend, Rika had a special request to come by the cemetery, though it was to visit another's grave. Silently standing behind with my hands in my pants pocket, I watch as my girlfriend kneels down in front of the grave of my unofficial ex-girlfriend.
"'In loving memory, Hanao Koharu.' Or to us, just Koharu. She really did use her name like Asuna and Yuuki." Rika chuckles as she looks back at me. "What a noob."
I smile. "Sword Art was her first MMO ever, I think, if not her first video game. I was more than experienced at the time, though SAO was my first rodeo with VR in general. It's why Kirito was better for a while." I drop beside Rika, brushing my thumb over Koharu's name. "But as time passed and we grew more confident in ourselves and each other, we became strong. We had Kirito and Asuna with us too, Kizmel of course. and sometimes you, Argo, Liten, Fleur, Silica, and, when she decided to stick around, Mater on those first ten floors. For everyone else, we got stronger and kept fighting."
"And in the end, you still fought for her… I think you still do. You never did stop getting into trouble, and at each turn, Koharu came up one way or another. In Origins, it was the literal memories of her; in GGO, it was the simple memory of what she wanted of you that kept you alive. As much as I tried to be blind to it, the fact remains that she'll always be part of you, and I have to accept that. After all, if it wasn't for her, we would have never met." Rika wipes the single tear off her cheek and faces me. "Can… I talk to her privately, girl to girl?"
I nod and rise up. "Don't be trading secrets." I walk back to the stone path, still in earshot of Rika but far enough to not be an annoyance. I stay in place silently, listening as Rika speaks.
"Hey, Koharu. I guess...there's no point introducing myself, huh? You probably see everything up in heaven anyway. Hehe. Yet, as I say that, I guess you've watched over us the last two years, especially our mutually favored boy. He's been quite the handful, and I do not envy you for putting up with him everyday. Yet… Because of you, he's a survivor, I'm a survivor, all of our friends are survivors. I wished you could have done so, you deserved it more than anyone. It's unfair...but you wouldn't want us to live thinking that way, would you? I bet not."
Rika suddenly goes quiet except for the soft whimpers that I'm positive are leading to tears. "I...am so sorry for taking him with me. I know it's not my fault, Joshua has repeatedly told me that, I've realized how stupid it is, and there's no way you can accept my apology, yet I must beg you too. If Joshua was with you on your birthday as he should've been, if I had the materials for the knife he wanted to craft, you would still be with us. You could go to school with us, play ALO and Origins with us, maybe follow Joshua into GGO. We could sing at karaoke bars, tease the boys with swimsuits, raid Joshua's kitchen… I could be jealous of you and him as I was of Kazuto and Asuna. Joshua doesn't say it, but I know the truth; you're the girl of his dreams, and no matter how much he loves me, I'll never be you. I've tried, and...it wasn't a good thing. I can't be the Kindred Assassin, I'm just a blacksmith. But… I promise you this. I will always love Joshua, even from afar if I cannot be by his side. I'll love him and give him the happiness you'd want for him. If it is to be my eternal atonement for what happened to you, I'll do it with a smile on my face. But don't hold me to stopping him from being a hero, as we both know…" Rika stands and faces me, her tear-soaked face barely managing a smile. "He's our Crimson Warrior."
"Shoot through fate: a high thrill, high risk, heartless game. Saying 'I wanna cry' 'I want to escape' 'I don't want to lose' won't get you anywhere." Sighing, I pick up my phone and answer immediately. "Kazuto?"
"Are you and Liz on the way?"
I look at Lisbeth, who nods her head. "Yeah, we'll be there soon." Hanging up, I take Lisbeth's hand and clean her face with my free hand. I look away to Koharu's tombstone, brandishing a small smile. "My war with Laughing Coffin isn't over, but for now I feel like I've avenged you. We beat Aincrad again, though it was by a different means and game. But most importantly, you swore me to protect our friends, and though that number has increased, that promise will always be kept…so until next time, partner."
"Are you two having fun hanging here with everyone?"
"Yes, and the cherry blossoms are pretty."
"Your world is very pretty, Master. Why don't you take me to more pretty places?"
Taking my eyes off the rest of the gang (where Strea and Premiere's Bidirectional Communication Probes are attached to Kotone and Suguha), I sigh while Kirito chuckles on the other side of Asuna. "Eh, too bad they're almost gone."
"Oh please, there's plenty left, you spoilsport. And why haven't you brought Rei to ALO and let her see pretty stuff?"
"...I'm working on it…"
"Anyway, we're here with Yui and Rei, and that's the important thing."
Kazuto nods. "I can't believe we made it happen that fast."
"Thank you so much for this, Daddy."
"Yeah, Mister Kirito!"
Asuna smiles. "Yeah, Kazuto, thank you."
"Nah. If you want to thank someone, thank Yuuki for helping me develop it."
I point forward as the wind kicks up, blowing the blossoms in the air. "Rei, Yui, look."
Kazuto stares up to the sky. "The real world and the virtual… I thought the closer they got together, the better the future would be. It's like, the more the lines between these words blur, the more everyone gets sucked into its darkness."
Asuna reaches for Yui's BCP. "Yeah, but a lot of people have been helped by it too."
"If anything, I wish I knew what Kayaba's master plan was. I don't know, maybe it's our job as SAO survivors to find out."
"I think you're overthinking things."
"Same. But you do have a point...but maybe the master plan never existed. Maybe...we were to find our own."
"Still… I wanna find out more than ever now. Even after everything that happened, my curiosity has me hooked. Although, a part of me thinks I'm being played here. That's kind of annoying. Whatever. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. All I know is, I want to be with you forever, and I want you to be with me."
Asuna giggles. "I'll stick with you even if you move halfway across the planet."
I lean forward, holding my heart. "Aww, Kazuto."
"Well good, I don't want to be with you either!"
Asuna laughs as she grabs both our hands. "Sure... But we're inseparable, the three of us. Together since it all began...and hopefully together when it ends. So you two better play nice for the rest of time, okay?"
Kazuto drops his frown for a grin. "Of course."
I nod. "Forever then."
"And don't forget Kureha, Master! She'd be mad if you leave her again. Oh, and me!"
"And me too!"
"Hey, lovebirds and the third wheel! Come on, we want to take a photo!"
Kazuto is the first to get up. "Well, shall we?" Asuna nods and grabs Kazuto's hand while I jog over and sweep Rika in my arms. I set her down as Klein sets up the camera.
"Hey, what's with you?"
I shrug. "Nothing. Just thinking about what you said earlier. About being with me being your 'eternal atonement' or something. I don't think that's a good way to say 'I want to be with him forever?'"
Rika scowls. "Potato, potato… Then I guess it's eternal atonement for us both, huh?"
I almost nod immediately, but a pair of green eyes underneath short, black hair catches my eye for a moment. Before I can question what or who I just saw, Klein comes back over and on the count of three, we take the photo, Rika's question forever unanswered. Afterwards, we sat down, gathered around the food. For some reason, as the food is passed around, an important thought pops in my head and I turn to Kazuto.
"Oh, Kazuto, speaking of the blurring lines between worlds, have you guys heard about the Augma?"
Two upcoming stories are in development. The follow up to Courage and Realization, Ordinal Dissonance, is coming soon. As you can gather, it will take place during the events of Ordinal Scale, but will also adapt events from DLC 4 and 5 of Fatal Bullet, Dissonance of the Nexus and Mask of the Abyss.The second story is a side-story. As I said in Blacksmith and Warrior, Fatal Bullet and Integral Factor are the big inspirations for creating these stories, but I haven't really touched much on the Fatal Bullet inspiration. Yes, Kureha appears and I allude to the game's events (DLC 1-3 majorly) in this story, plus Fatal Bullet was partially adapted in the final chapters of the previous story, but nothing compared to Integral Factor (a oneshot, the background of a major character, premise of the first story, etc). I could have written an adaption for Fatal Bullet, but at the time, the story was about Rika and Jaymes, not totally centric on him.So while Ordinal Dissonance brings more story derived from Fatal Bullet, this side story is more character-focused and takes place during SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online. Jaymes, Kureha, Zeliska and Rei join LLENN and Fukaziroh in the second Squad Jam against M and Pitohui's team. No title yet or when it'll exactly come.To answer a review I got a while ago, I do have ideas for Jaymes with other girls. I don't count the Kureha one canon in this universe, while the Koharu one is, so there will be a "canon" Kureha oneshot which is on writing for a post-Alicization moment. Rika had one, but I decided to use the major part of for this chapter as it fit. Sinon, Philia, and Rain, I am thinking of ideas.But for now, we're done. Thank you all for reading, for the follows, favorites, and reviews. if you're still with me, I'll see you all very soon with Ordinal Dissonance.