The Rising of the Sword Heroes

Chapter 3:

Yui's Heart

"Yeah, that brat was in here," Erhard grunted, his store empty of patrons save for the sword-wielding duo. "What's it to you?"

"What have you heard about Naofumi?" Asuna began, carful to keep her expression neutral.

"Nothing good. Rumors say he tried to rape that girl he was with and the king pronounced him guilty. Said that the other Heroes agreed."

"That's where you're wrong," Kirito stated, fingering his sword. "We think he's innocent."

Erhard's glare lasted a moment more before he let out a breath. "Good. I was afraid you had turned against the kid, too."

"Where is he?" Asuna pressed. "We're worried about Naofumi and want to keep tabs on him."

"Out in the fields somewhere," Erhard shrugged. "I gave him a cloak and some supplies so he wouldn't attract so much attention. Give him the day and look for him tomorrow. I'll let you know if I see him."

"Thank you, Erhard," Kirito smiled. "Say, there's some more information we need."

"What do I look like? An info broker?"

"It's just some basic stuff," the swordsman waved off. "We aren't sure about the money system or what monster parts are worth."

"The money system is simple. 100 Coppers go into one Silver and 100 Silver make one Gold. Needless to say, Gold doesn't move that much, but it's not that rare."

"And what about monster parts?" Asuna asked.

"Depends," Erhard shrugged. "Different buyers offer different prices for what they want. I'd buy furs and pelts, but I can't do much with balloons. Yet I know some merchants who will buy anything for the right price. Balloons are typically only worth a couple Copper at best, though."

"Thanks, Old Man," Kirito smiled. "We just wanted to make sure Naofumi had at least one store that would welcome him and needed some info."

"Oh, and I forgot to mention this yesterday with all that talk about your pasts, but the enchantments I put in your clothes should help increase your inventory space beyond what you had before."

"What we had before...?" Kirito mused, a look of fear crossing his face. He turned to his wife. "Asuna, we were still in the game when the Pope summoned us. We got our actual bodies, but still had our clothes from the game. Do you think we still have our mats?"

"It wouldn't be a big deal if we don't, would it?"

"What about Yui?"

"Yui?" Erhard questioned. Neither of the Heroes heard him as their motions became frantic.

"I thought you said you transferred her data to your NerveGear."

"I did, but if that data moved over with us like our clothes..."

"You think...?" Asuna trailed off, Kirito opening their Status menu and shifting over to their inventory. Scrolling past all the Balloon Parts, the swordsman came to a box labeled [?].

"We have something," he muttered, carefully clicking the box. Ones and zeros materialized in the air before the Hero, condensing into a basic outdoor cooking set. He hadn't used it since Asuna started cooking for them, but he remembered that the food it made wasn't that tasty. Still, his eyes brightened.

"The Hell was that?" Erhard asked. "You kids wanna fill me in?"

"Because we were in a game when we came over," Asuna began, her partner materializing every bit of their inventory, "it seems all of our stuff came over with us, too."

The pile was growing, filling with things Erhard had never seen before. There were metals, pelts, weapons, and crafting items galore. Even a fishing rod, some minerals that looked like diamond, and a fancy rapier.

Kirito let out a breath of relief, his eyes on one of the last items from their time in SAO. "It's here. She's here."

Asuna's eyes widened as Kirito tapped the item in their inventory. It felt like forever as red code faded into view, congealing into a small, blue, tear-shaped jewel necklace labeled [Yui's Heart] resting in his hand.

[Activate? Y/N]

"Kirito," Asuna gasped. "That's... Is that her?"

"Let's find out," he smiled, offering her the jewel. "You do it."

[Activate? Y/N]

Carefully, Asuna tapped the button, the pop-up closing. The gem flew out of Asuna's hand, floating before them. Light and red code built around it, blinding the viewers until it dissipated in a flash. Opening their eyes as the light died, the couple and shop owner saw a little girl with black hair and a pale dress sitting on the floor. She blinked, her grey eyes taking in the surroundings before landing on the Sword Heroes.

"Mama! Papa!"

"Yui!" Uncaring for the world around them, Kirito and Asuna dropped to the floor, wrapping their adopted daughter in their arms.

"What just happened?!" Erhard demanded. "Who's the kid? What is all this stuff?"

"Mama? Papa? Where are we? I can't feel CARDINAL anymore, but there's something similar. I can't touch it, though."

"It's something of a long story, Yui," Kirito offered, "but we aren't in SAO anymore."

"So this is the real world?"

"Well, it's a real world, but not ours. Like I said, it's a long story."

"For the love of the Heroes, will someone tell me what's going on?" Erhard demanded.

"Right, sorry about the confusion," Asuna apologized, hoisting Yui into her arms. "Erhard, this is our adopted daughter Yui. Yui, this is Erhard. You can think of him as a mix between Agil and Liz. He's our go-to blacksmith now."

"Hi Mr. Erhard!" Yui chirped, waving. "I don't know what's going on, but it's nice to meet you! I'm MHCP-001: codename Yui!"

"You two get weirder and weirder," the blacksmith commented, his head in his hands the sure sign of an upcoming headache. "Yesterday I learn you're married. Today I learn you have a daughter. Anymore surprises you have in store?"

"What if we told you Yui was an artificial intelligence who became sentient?" Kirito chuckled.

"I don't even know what that means," the bald man muttered, breathing deeply. "Alright, shock and awe aside, you've somehow pulled a party member from your inventory. You're going to need to get her some gear. How about this? You give me that pile of stuff you spawned from numbers and nothing and you can have anything in this store for her. Deal?"

"Deal," Asuna agreed, setting Yui down. "Alright, Yui. This world has monsters in it and, as much as I don't want you to, you're probably going to have to fight beside us. You should know there's a world-wide magic here that makes things act like a game. That's probably what you're feeling. We need you to go pick out some clothes, for both relaxing and fighting, and a small weapon. Ok?"

"Ok, Mama!" Yui grabbed Asuna's hand, pulling her along and the two started rummaging through the store. Erhard gave the pile an appraising yet tired look before turning to Kirito.

"You drop it, you carry it. Help me move this stuff to the back." The swordsman shrugged, grabbing a couple items and following the blacksmith.

"The Hell is some of this stuff, anyway?" Erhard asked, eyeing several crystals after the duo had moved and sorted the pile.

"Those are rubies and sapphires I got from a rock monster back in the game," Kirito answered. "And those are, well technically they're dragon poop from a crystal dragon." Erhard staggered, dropping the blueish crystal he'd been inspecting. "My friend Lizbeth was a blacksmith in SAO and she made me a sword out of it. It's a shame it broke in my fight with the game's creator right before we got summoned, but I carried those in case my sword got damaged and needed repaired. Back then, the crystal acted like metal when it was heated, but I don't know if it still will." He paused. "Do you care if I keep the fishing rod?"

"I don't have any use for it," Erhard waved.

"Oh, by the way, Asuna's going to copy her rapier before we leave. It's called Lambiant Light."

"I guess that's fair, but it's high level; I could tell that from a glance. It'll take time before you two get up to where you were if your stories are true. Say, where is your sword? She mentioned you used two at once and you said one broke. Where's the other?"

"Lost," Kirito sighed, snagging a smaller crystal that he put into the sword. It caused the Legendary Sword to unlock [Crystal Dragon Sword], but Kirito wasn't a high enough level yet. "Final fight and all that. One broke, one lost, and I stabbed the guy with Asuna's."

"With Heroes like you, her, and Shield Bro, the Waves won't know what hit them."

"Papa!" Yui called from inside the store. "I'm done!"

"Coming, Yui!" Kirito smiled. Erhard snorted, chuckling. "What?"

"Oh, nothing," the man waved off. Kirito stared for a second longer before moving into the store.

Yui had changed into a black-and-white ensemble that was a mix of her parent's styles. It was mostly white, her shirt basic and padded complemented by white knee-socks and black shoes. Her skirt was striped diagonally, a belt with a small knife wrapped around her waist, but the main article of clothing was the long jacket she wore. It hung down to her knees and was black with white hearts scattered over it.

The greatest surprise was the weapon she chose, a scythe as tall as she was resting against Yui's shoulder. It was simple but elegant with a zigzag division along the blade, one side red and the other black.

"I thought you said a small weapon," Kirito teased.

"What do you think you're doing?" Erhard panicked behind Kirito. "You'll cut your head off with that thing!"

"I'll be fine," Yui smiled, waving the weapon like it weighed nothing. "I'm not part of the system anymore, but it appears some of my admin privileges, including my strength, transferred over."

"I cannot believe you people," Erhard frowned. "Alright. Leave the jacket here and I can put self-cleaning, self-repair, and growing enchantments on it. You'll want those with a weapon like that."

"How much?" Kirito asked.

"Don't worry about it," the blacksmith waved off. "With all the stuff you gave me, you're overpaying as is."

"Thanks, Mr. Erhard!" Yui chirped.

With no time to lose, Kirito, Asuna, and Yui traveled to the plains to level up while the Heroes explained the developments since the SAO system tried to delete her. The former program took everything in stride, officially joining their party and fighting off balloons. Yui grew to level 5 as they moved deeper into the fields, the creatures becoming more diverse and stronger as they went. Much to Asuna's dismay, however, Lambiant Light's form was recorded but not unlocked in her half of the Legendary Sword. Her level was simply too low and would be until she reached level 55. At least she would get her sword back before Kirito would, [Crystal Dragon Sword] was probably this world's Dark Repulsor, but it wasn't available until level 65.

By the time they returned, the sun was setting and word had spread about their newest addition.

"Kazuto!" a familiar voice called as the trio approached the gate. "Ms. Asuna!"

"Oh great," Kirito sighed as Motoyasu started toward them with his troupe, which now included Myne.

"I heard you picked up a third! Who is..." He trailed off, his eyes landing on Yui. "Cute."

"Sir Motoyasu," Myne pouted, pressing herself into his back. "You mean we aren't cute? You've never called us cute."

"Ah, that's not what I meant to say," he amended, offering his hand to the dark-haired girl with a blush. "I'm Motoyasu, the Spear Hero."

"I'm Yui," she said plainly, her gaze passing over him without talking his hand. "You're suffering from an acute case of idol worship. The online dictionary from the last 20 years has dubbed your particular form as 'Simping'."


"The way you stand leaning away from Papa, how you interacted with Mama, and the stories I've heard about you lead me to the conclusion that you are likely of the opinion that women are a higher life form than men, thus disregarding anything a man would say if some woman does not agree with it. This is known as 'being a Simp'."

"Kazuto, what have you been teaching this poor girl?" He paused. "Wait, Papa? Mama?"

"Yes, Motoyasu," Kirito answered, patting Yui's head. "This is our daughter."

Yui's eyes widened, the girl pulling away from her father's grip and rushing several steps behind. With a jump spin and a cry, she swung her scythe, bisecting a trio of Orange Balloons that were aiming for Asuna's back.

"That's my girl!" Kirito praised, Motoyasu and his party watching in thinly-veiled awe. "You show those mobs who's boss!"

"The system isn't hard to read, Papa," Yui waved off, returning. Her scythe twirled in her hands, coming to rest behind her back. "Sensing them was easy. With some experimentation, I might be able to restore all the admin rights I had in SAO including flight, deletion, and minor teleportation. Then I could fight like I did with the Reaper!"

"Anything else, Motoyasu?" Asuna asked, irritable from the need of a bath and a good night's sleep.

"Oh, uh yeah," be muttered. "How'd you two get such cool nicknames so fast? You're only level 10!"

"What do you mean?"

"The people in the city are calling you the Monochrome Heroes! The Black Swordsman and the Flash!"

"They're from home," Kirito waved off. "Well, the last two are. The monochrome part is new."

"I think it sounds cool, Papa!" Yui put in before letting out a cute yawn. "Papa, I'm tired. Carry me?"

"Of course, Yui," Kirito smiled, picking the girl up and dropping her on his shoulders. Yui giggled, wrapping her arms around his head. Carrying her, Kirito and Asuna brushed past the Spear Hero on their way to an inn.

"You two realize we have less than a month until the next Wave gets here," Motoyasu said, not turning to look at the small family who stopped in their tracks. "Countless people died in the first Wave, and we need to be ready when the next one comes. Are you going to take your daughter into battle with you?"

"Yes, we are," Kirito answered. "Yui takes after us both and seems to have a special connection with the Status Magic of this world. I can count on her." He glanced at Asuna, but still spoke to Motoyasu. "Hopefully Naofumi finds something to protect so we can count on him, too."

"Why did you have to bring up that filth," Myne muttered, wrinkling her nose.

"Because he's like me."

"He's nothing like you," Motoyasu denied.

"You don't know what I've been accused of," Kirito shot back. "What I've done."

"Papa," Yui pouted. "You get sad when you dig up those memories."

"Sadness can be a good thing, Yui. It reminds me how far I've come since that day."

"Tell me," Motoyasu demanded. "How could you and that ra... that criminal have anything in common?"

"Kirito, it's getting late," Asuna urged.

"Yeah, let's get going. But Motoyasu, let me ask you this. What would you do if the world attacked you for something out of your control? For something you didn't do? Try to brush up on your religion." Kirito didn't wait for an answer, taking Asuna's hand as she led him and Yui into the city. Motoyasu stayed out for a minute, thinking.

"-oyasu! Sir Motoyasu!"

"Yes, what?" he blinked. "Sorry, Myne. What is it?"

"I said you shouldn't worry about them," the redhead repeated, taking the Hero's arm and pulling it to her chest. "Whatever they've been through has left them so out of touch with the world that they refuse to think someone they like could be so vile. We need to help them."

"But what can we do?" he asked. "They seem dead set on defending the criminal."

"We'll wear them down. Don't worry so much, Sir Motoyasu. It's bad for your health. Now let's go back to the castle for a warm bath and a hot meal."

"Good idea, Myne. Let's."

"What in interesting world!" Yui laughed the next morning, eating her kid's meal with one hand while her other typed away at her Status menu. She'd taken to the world magic like a fish to water and was close to surpassing her parents in knowledge. "I don't like the fact that slavery is... well, not legal, but not illegal. That seems to be one of the main friction points between Melromarc and Silvelt, or humans and demi-humans on a greater scale." She shoveled a spoonful of spicy rice into her mouth without missing a beat. "It alsho sheems to be a' issue of a racial infer'or'ty complex on th' part of humansh."

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Asuna chastised, now feeling much better after a good sleep. She had fallen asleep in Kirito's arms and woken up with Yui in hers, warming her heart.

"Sorry, Mama!"

"Now if only your father would wake up."

"I'll go get him!" Yui dismissed the menu and chomped down on another scoop of rice before heading to the stairs of the inn. It was a quick trip to the second-floor hallway where the rooms were. Counting out the numbers to 26, Yui got to 14 before bumping into someone with a thunk. She tripped backwards onto her rear, staring up at the man while rubbing her head.

"Ow, sorry about that, mister!" she apologized. "I wasn't looking where I was going."

The man she had bumped into was tall, dwarfing her in height and wearing a full suit of armor whose helmet hid his features.

"I'm sorry," he rumbled. "I did not see you coming. I was just retrieving my lord."

"Your lord?" Yui parroted. "Who's that?"

"Would you like to meet him?"

"Only briefly," the girl stated. "I need to go wake up Papa still."

"Very well," the knight chuckled, knocking on the door for room number 14. It was opened from the inside quickly, a blond teen with a bow stepping into the hallway. The knight bowed, getting on one knee. "Lord Itsuki, good morning to you."

"Good morning, Reynard," Itsuki smiled. "It's a beautiful day." He paused, noticing Yui. He bent to one knee to look her in the eye. "Hello, who are you?"

"Hi!" the former AI chirped. "I'm Yui. Are you a Hero?"

"I am," the blond answered. "I'm Itsuki Kawasumi, the Hero of the Bow."

"That's neat, but swords are cooler."

"Ha, I suppose some people think that. Where are your parents?"

"Mama's downstairs eating breakfast, but Papa likes to sleep in, so I'm going to wake him up."

"Well, you can tell your Mama and Papa that you met one of the Heroes and that I can promise you that the Bow, the Sword, and the Spear will keep you safe."

"Thanks, but I'd rather have someone with a shield when I'm fighting against monsters. My weapon is more geared toward offence like those three." The sudden shift caught Itsuki off guard, making him nearly lose his balance.

"I'm sorry, you make it sound like you're going to be out fighting the Waves."

"Of course I did," Yui smiled. "I'd be lying if I didn't."

"Who are your parents?" the Hero asked. "A girl like you shouldn't need to fight." Yui picked up on his barely-hidden venom due to her knowledge of psychology, but she knew this person couldn't hold a candle to her Mama and Papa, even if he was level 17.

"Papa goes by Kirito while Mama's name is Asuna!" she answered, enjoying the look of surprise that took over the Bow Hero's face. The knight beside him nearly fell over. "They're the Sword Heroes!"

"Yui," a tired voice yawned from down the hall, Kirito stepping through the door. "What have Asuna and I told you about talking to strangers?"

"Papa!" Yui called, scampering over the sleepy swordsman. "You said if you're not around, I shouldn't talk to anyone I don't know, but my job was to help people!"

"I keep forgetting that," Kirito muttered.

"And Papa," the former AI pouted. "I was gonna wake you up!"

"Sorry, Yui," the male Sword Hero chuckled before scanning the hall. "Oh. Morning, Itsuki."

"Kazuto, what the Hell are you thinking bringing a little girl into your party and making her fight?" the Bow Hero demanded, his hands on his hips. "That's child endangerment! I demand that you find some proper caregiver for her that will keep her safe!"

"What, no good morning?" Kirito joked. Itsuki didn't laugh. "Listen Itsuki, you don't have the details-"

"I know you decided you didn't want a party," the knight growled. "Told us we weren't good enough and tossed us aside."

"One: we didn't toss you aside," the swordsman stated, putting up a finger. He then added a second one. "Two: Yui isn't from this world. Asuna and I adopted her before we were summoned." He added a third finger. "Three: she's an AI that became sentient, if that means anything to you."

The knight's body language suggested he was still angry, but Itsuki leaned back, his stance less offensive. One hand raised to cup his chin.

"An AI, you say?"

"I'm MHCP-001 Codename: Yui," the little girl piped up. "I was designed as a mental health companion!"

"She's still a little girl," he wavered.

"But I wanna fight!" Yui pouted, her cuteness simultaneously making Itsuki's defenses collapse and refortify themselves. "Come on, Papa!" Yui called, taking Kirito's hand and pulling him toward the stairs. "We need to grind after breakfast and Mama's waiting for you!"

"Ok, ok!" the swordsman laughed. "Slow down, Yui!"

"My lord?" Reynard questioned after the adoptive father and daughter had left.

"That girl is going to get killed if we don't do something," Itsuki responded. "Even if it breaks her heart, we need to protect her."

"So what are you thinking?"

"We can't do anything now. We'll wait until we have a chance. Heroes can't save everyone, but we'll save who we can. And I swear we'll save that girl from herself and her reckless parents."

The next few days were uneventful. Kirito, Asuna, and Yui swung by Erhard's shop to pick up Yui's jacket and, when they last talked to him, he told them Naofumi had been through at some point, but that they hadn't spoken and he didn't know where Naofumi was. The fields were the same as usual, and boring for the experienced players. They only stayed as long as they did for Yui's sake, allowing her to gain a little more fighting experience and depth perception where failure meant only a pinch rather than a scar. But Yui got bored quickly as well, leading the family into the woods beyond.

"These trees are a little spooky," Yui commented, undaunted by the shade cast by the flora. "I can sense new creatures inside here. This will be good practice!"

"Anything more you can tell?" Asuna asked, her rapier at the ready. She was alert, moreso than nervous. Aincrad had had plenty of dark woods in the 75 floors the players cleared, so the ambiance was nothing foreign.

"Nothing more than they're small but aren't balloons." Yui paused. "It's possible there are other people in the woods, but I can't tell who."

"Maybe we'll run into them," Kirito shrugged, his eyes scanning their surroundings. He too was on alert, his sword at the ready. The more they learned of the world to which they had been summoned, the more on-edge Kirito became. From what he had heard from Motoyasu's boasting, the creatures in the forest had blood like any of them. His eyes narrowed. Blood was far different from red code or the pop of a balloon and the uncertainty of how any of them could react set the swordsman on edge.

Asuna flashed through Kirito's line of vision, her sword piercing a monster that had snuck up on his left. He blinked as crimson blood splashed from the monster, splattering across his wife's face.

"Mama!" Yui cried. "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine, Yui," Asuna answered, though both Kirito and Yui could hear a small waver in her voice. The monster on her rapier slid off, its red-stained fur in the shape of a rabbit. She smiled, her lips quivering almost imperceptibly. "Kirito, you wanted some more Ragout Rabbit Stew, right?"

"Here," the Black Swordsman offered, holding out a cloth. "There are plenty of them, but let's try to not ruin our clothes." His voice wavered as well, the sight of blood making him want to grab his family and bolt.

"Mama! Papa!" Yui called, a shake of her head helping the former AI push down every instinct screaming for her to diagnose her parents with hemophobia and start counseling them right away. "We can't let our guards down! I can sense a herd of rabbits approaching!"

"I guess it's go time," Kirito muttered, himself and his wife slipping into their Masks. They weren't literal masks, but a state of mind that every Front-Liner developed to survive. In this state, the fighters would forget all their fears, worries, and problems to just fight. So, it was clear minds and determination that the rabbit monsters met as they charged the Heroes.

Yui couldn't help watching in awe. She had watched her adopted parents fight in the underground maze to help save Thinker, but those mobs had been so far below them that they presented no danger. The mobs they fought currently were no stronger, but the sight of blood had shifted them into the mindset of warriors she'd only ever watched through screens.

A few seconds passed before Yui realized she needed to do some work as well. Backing away from the battle to give herself a little room, a trio of rabbits followed her, their teeth bared as they yelled. The one in the lead jumped, aiming to bite the little girl who swung her weapon of choice, bisecting the attacking creature in two. She flowed with the circular momentum, spinning the weapon in to block the remaining two as they attacked with the flat of the blade. Both hit the ground dazed, one getting a scythe to the face while Yui punted the other. It gave a little "chiiiii!" as it flew before hitting a tree with a hard crunch. The rabbit did not move again.

"Yui!" her Mama called from over in the clearing. "You ok?"

"Yes, Mama!" the former AI responded, glancing over to see that her parents had dealt with the rest of the rabbits. Blood dripped from their swords and Yui suspected the same was true of her scythe. The girl spun her weapon, the life-giving liquid flying off from the force. "How much EXP did we get?"

Thankful for the distraction, Asuna opened her status and scanned through it. Her eyes drifted through what looked to Yui like open air, but the AI-turned-girl knew otherwise and, with a blink and some thought, Yui molded the Status Magic until she could see the menu as well.

"It looks like each rabbit gave us ten EXP," Asuna commented, finding a dropdown menu of past kills.

"That's a lot compared the the three the Balloons gave," Kirito offered as he began collecting the rabbits, letting the Swords suck them into their inventory. "They don't offer a shape change, but the meat is good. Not S-class, though."


"DON'T THROW ME AWAY, MASTER!" a hoarse, young voice screamed, her words echoing through the trees. With barely a thought, Kirito scooped Yui up onto his back and Asuna grabbed their daughter's weapon before they bolted toward the sound. The trees made finding it difficult, however, the Sword Heroes eventually having to just wander through the woods.

"What was that about?" Kirito panted, settling Yui on his shoulders while Asuna handed over her weapon.

"We'll get to the bottom of it," the auburn-haired woman promised. Her husband blinked.

"How did you hold Yui's scythe?"

"I'm already on it, Papa," Yui cut in, a pop-up of what looked like computer code at her side. "It looks like Legendary Heroes like you two aren't allowed to wield any other weapon, but if you have no intention to use it, then the Status Magic won't register it. Mama didn't consider that the Scythe was a weapon, nor does she know how to use it, so she treated it like just another item. It seems like cooking utensils count as well."

"I hadn't considered that," Asuna admitted. "That's good to know. Can you find the other people in this forest?"

Kirito's eye's widened as an idea came to him. Opening his menu the same way they had back in SAO, the Status Magic making it so for greater accessibility, he searched through until he found the MiniMap option.

"Of course!" Asuna beamed over his shoulder. "This world's magic can change itself for each person, so it's taken on the form of the CARDINAL System for us."

"It's certainly not detailed," Kirito nodded, studying the minimap that appeared in the bottom-right of his vision. "It shows each of us as a blue dot, but it doesn't show landscape at all."

"It might show walls," Yui suggested, activating her own map. "We will need to do some testing to find all the details."

"I still want to know what that shouting was about," Asuna put in, studying the forest around them. "As helpful as having SAO's system is, this is still a real world with living people. We can't forget that. The Status Magic doesn't stop people from entering areas they aren't ready for."

"Should we keep searching?" Kirito asked, one eye on the menu he had created. It seemed to have every option SAO had, even down to the missing Logout button.

"I suppose we can. That scream came from somewhere around here."

Their course of action chosen, the small family settled into scouting the area, comparing their surroundings to the minimap to gage its shortcomings and if it could be enhanced. Yui, perched on Kirito's shoulders, focused on unweaving the mystery of the how the Status magic worked, trying to translate it into computer code as best she could. Though such a thing may be a limitation in the long-run, having how the magic worked in an input-variable-outcome format she could understand would give her a good base to start with.

The sun was just disappearing below the canopy of the trees when the trio picked up a pair of gray dots on their maps. They'd managed to learn that blue dots were allies and red dots were enemies, but grey was a mystery. A silent look confirmed that they agreed to be cautious, the family slowly approaching the dots.

What they did not expect to find was a makeshift campsite, Naofumi and a small demi-human girl sitting by a fire within. The Shield Hero jumped up instantly, his shield already prepped for combat.

"You know," Kirito began slowly, raising his hands to show he was currently unarmed. "When we heard that scream earlier, I didn't know what to expect. "I don't know if I'm surprised or not."

"Oh, it's you two," Naofumi grunted, still on edge.

"This is going to be a long talk," Asuna sighed.

End of Chapter 3 (and the plot bunny)

Well everyone, this is one of the plot bunnies I had that actually got a little meat in its bones before inspiration dried up like a puddle in the sun. If anyone wants to take it off my hands, that's fine by me. Just send me a message and I'll happily talk it out with you about what I thought could happen in the future and help you fill out any thoughts you have before you take it over completely.