Released at COMITIA 119 on February 12, 2017, this is the SAO Material Edition 22 'Augmented Magic'. It was an original draft released as a Material Edition (ME) while Kunori Fumio (Reki Kawahara, author of SAO light novels) was dabbling with the idea of how to start the next, and final, Unital Ring arc of the SAO light novel series. This is later reworked into the prologue of the first Unital Ring arc light novel 'SAO vol 21: Unital Ring', where many changes and additions were made.
Please note, all red text are translation notes.
Please note, all red text are translation notes.
RAWs provided & translation proof-read by Valgaaf.
Translated by Gil.
Further proof-read & updated terms to Yen Press translations by Cirtoyt.
Translated by Gil.
Further proof-read & updated terms to Yen Press translations by Cirtoyt.
On that day, when only ten days were left of the summer holidays of the second year of high school, I was surrounded, in a log-house situated in the 22nd floor of New Aincrad, inside ALO, by a certain number of floating windows. It was neither the status of the Spriggan swordsman Kirito nor the walkthroughs of new quests that were displayed, but exercises in Japanese, Maths and English: the so-called “summer holidays homework”.
Previously in my life, I was basically not a child who would let his homework lie undone. From the time I was a grade schooler, it was normal that I would have finished pretty much the whole of it—I will not say in July—but before the end of the first two weeks of August, and then during the final stages of the holidays I would be asked to help Suguha with her homework.
However, this year it would not go like this, and it is because at the end of June, when the summer holidays had not yet started, I was suddenly attacked by Kanamoto Atsushi, known as Johnny Black, a member of Laughing Coffin and one of the offenders in the Death Gun case. I was injected with the powerful poison Succinylcholine and collapsed into a cardiopulmonary cardiac arrest. Although my life was somehow saved, it was only on the first of August that I recovered from a coma. Then a long period of rehabilitation followed, and I could return home five days ago, on the 15th.
In short, since I could not use my freedom during about 85 percent of the 40 days of the summer holidays, it could not be helped that my homework was left undone; or rather I should even be given a permission to omit about half of it... that is what I thought, but in order to get it, I would have to give my school a detailed explanation of the reasons why I was comatose. If it were enough to say that I had been sent to hospital after being assaulted by a random attacker, then it would be all right, but if I told them that I had been kidnapped from that hospital by a camouflaged ambulance, then transported by a helicopter to an oceanic research mothership, which floated in a far southern sea, then, connected to a mysterious apparatus which served to access the human soul, I had lived in an alternative world, doing such things as cutting down huge cedar trees, attending a school of swordsmanship, fighting with the ruler of that world, and falling into a coma even there—and so on—then who on earth would believe me?
“Good grief, before vanishing, get yourself at least an exemption from homework...,” I cursed alone in the dusky living room of the log-house, but there was of course no one to answer. It was already past 1AM, which means that the date had already changed to 22nd August... As all my friends had logged themselves out long ago, there was nobody here to whom I could complain in the first place.
More than a week had passed since Kikuoka Seijirou from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (VR World Division), that is (the person inside) the undine mage Chrysheight, disappeared from both the virtual and the real world.
The command of RATH that Kikuoka had founded was entrusted to Dr. Koujiro Rinko; moreover, at the place of development the chief developer Higa Takeru had been even more energetic than before, and I had begun little by little to hold hopes about the future of the Underworld—yet, this notwithstanding, I had a strange feeling of loss regarding the disappearance of that man. And, since even I, who had been only made to do troublesome or dangerous works of all kinds, felt like this, surely the staff of RATH also felt depressed deep in their hearts. He had been a bothersome person right up to his end... that is what I thought, but I had to correct myself, as I felt that he was not necessarily dead.
Kikuoka—who pretended to be doing a meaningless desk job at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, but in fact was a Lieutenant Colonel of the Ground Self-Defence Force—having supposedly fallen in conflict with several persons of the executive staff who had formed a conspiracy with an American arms industry corporation that had attacked the Ocean Turtle, left the Self-Defence Forces, and disappeared. Probably he was no longer in Japan.
I did not know if in the future I would have an occasion to meet with that man or not. However, as I was doing my school homework in this other house of mine, far removed from the Underworld, sometimes I would think that I missed even Kikuoka's stinky food stories, of which I had been so sick and tired of previously.
Was it because I had been thinking those things, which were so out of my character, that I missed a login sound reverberating in my room?
I first noticed the light tapping of footsteps when it came from just behind my back. I pushed away a graph of a logarithmic function to the centre of the table and turned myself around.
“Weren't you asleep, A––”
——suna: this is how the word was about to continue, but I stopped it at the last moment.
The woman player who was standing behind my back was not a water-blue-haired undine, but a
Cait Sith, growing pointed triangular ears. However, I could not in the slightest feel in her the kind of charm that is characteristic to the race of Cat Fairies.
Her long hair, falling freely at her back, was of a dazzling golden colour. Her skin was so white that it seemed translucent. Her eyes were sapphire blue. Her clear beauty matched well the real-world, nay, the Underworld version of herself.
“—H, hi, Alice, good evening.”
As I raised my right hand and greeted her, the Integrity Knight Alice Synthesis Thirty flounced her somewhat long and narrow cat ears, almost as if to say “pff”.
“You're disappointed it's not Asuna, aren't you, Kirito.”
“––N, no, no, no, such a thing is completely... um... yes.”
As I was shaking my head from side to side, the knight poured on me an even colder glance. I instinctively lowered my eyes and noted that even at such a time she was fully equipped: she wore over her blue dress a set of golden armour and had a longsword girdled to her waist.
“What?...Going hunting now?”, I asked. Alice changed a little bit the nuance of her frown.
“I still can't get used to the word 'hunting'.”
She pulled the neighbouring chair for herself and sat on it with a clank. In reaction, I got up and, having left behind me the words “Ah, I'll pour some tea”, dashed to the kitchen.
I put on a platter a magical mug, welling up tea in a flavour randomly chosen out of 99 kinds at a mere pushing of a button, which Alice had obtained at I don't know what quest, and some cakes of unknown taste that I pulled out from common storage, and returned to the living room. Alice was contemplating the windows with homework problems, which I had left open there. Just as she noticed my presence, she raised her head and asked, “Are these exercises from the school you attend?”
“Eh?... Yeah, that's right.“
“Hmm... I too used to get a heap of exercises in Sacred Arts during my time of study in the Cathedral.” As she was whispering these words, something that seemed to be a painful smile of longing appeared faintly on her face.
I do not know any other person whose fate was as hapless as that of Alice. Having been born in Rulid, a small town near the northern edge of the Human Empire of the Underworld, she lived there until she was 11, but then she violated the rule “thou shalt not trespass into the Dark Territory" of the Taboo Index and was taken by the Integrity Knights to the Central Cathedral of the Axiom Church. She underwent the “secret Synthesis Ritual”, done personally by the Pontifex Administrator, and lost all the previous memories. When Eugeo and I came to the Cathedral to recapture her, she stood against us as the strongest Integrity Knight. However, in the middle of the battle, as she learned about the deceptions of the Axiom Church and the cruel deeds of the High Priest, she joined us, who had broken the seal suppressing her thoughts, and she overcame the Administrator.
After that, she left the church and changed her living place to a forest near Rulid, and for half a year she looked after me, who had been in a coma, but when she got the news about the beginning of the final war against the land of darkness, she took part in it. Although during the battle at the “Great Southern Gate” she showed such great feats as if she were a fierce god, she was kidnapped by a man who was the leader of the Ocean Turtle Assault Team. Owing to the hard struggle in which the Knight Leader Bercouli put at stake his own life, she was freed, and owing to Asuna's guidance, she logged out through the System Console. Now she lives in the real world, using the Machine Body, invented by Higa Takeru, as her own.
Alice, who nolens volens became the world-first authentic all-purpose artificial intelligence, leads a busy life in order to help Dr. Koujiro's proposition of granting human rights to AI, but somehow or other it appears that she often logs into ALO to take a breather. One reason for it might be that she relaxes much better in Alfheim, whose scenery is close to that of the Underworld, than in the real world.
“You know, I too was made to do terrible amounts of exercises in Sacred Arts in my swordsmanship school. I still remember well the sacred art phrases”, I said, having shrunk the windows with homework problems and moved them to a corner of the table, on which I was now setting the mug and the platter. Alice twitched her cat ears.
“Oh, then what is the sacred art technique you use when you make a small hollow ball out of Metallic elements, fill it with water made of Aqueous elements and envelop it with flames of Thermal elements?”
“Hm... Umm, because the general rule is that the basic shape is formed from an object in equilibrium, first you use 'Generate Metallic...' ah, no, since the steel ball surrounds water, shouldn't 'Aqueous' go before that?...”
Alice at once gave a sigh, “Haa,” which was on purpose so loud that I could hear it. Because of this I replied in a child-like fashion:
“It... it's OK because when you become like me, there is no more need for sacred art techniques. Such things are in your mind and in a blink..."
“It's not a question of that!” Alice scolded me like a teacher. Then with an experienced motion of her hand, she hit the green button on the mug, and sipped a mouthful of the light pink tea that had welled up.
“... Today it's quite a bullseye,” quoth she, from which I inferred that she must have had a girls' tea party in this house a number of times. Whispering inside my mind for some reason “Knock on wood,” I too sat on a chair, and tapped the cup with my index finger. As the tea, welling up with a bubbling sound, had a deep purplish red hue, I tasted it overwhelmed with bad premonitions, and indeed violent sourness bit my tongue, as if dried plums had been mixed together with the tea in an electric mixer. Flustered, I grabbed a cake with my hand and bit into it. Fortunately, it was a piece of a completely fair fruit pie. It seemed that Alice also liked them, and—one mouthful, two mouthfuls (of course, she did use a fork)—she kept eating them. With the special strong dried plum tea, I stiffened my mouth, which had been full of sweetness, and asked again, “So... haven't you said that you didn't like the word 'hunting'?”
“Ah... yes, I have,” Alice nodded and turned her blue eyes towards the darkness outside the window, “... For me, or probably rather for all inhabitants of the human world, 'hunting' is the killing of beasts for food, whilst thanking Goddess Terraria for her grace. However, the inhabitants of this world, or should I say players, kill a huge number of beast and magical creatures only to increase their own power numbers. I am not one to say this is evil, because I too killed many hundreds or even thousands of villains of the Dark Territory in the battle of the Great Eastern Gate... It's just that I don't think I want to call this activity 'hunting'.”
“... I see...”
This time it was I who slowly nodded. Alice already understands that this Alfheim is a world created inside the real world. However, the notion of VRMMORPG—in short, the notion of a “game”—seems to be rather hard to comprehend for her. There is nothing that can be done with it because inasmuch as the meaning is “a virtual world”, it is completely the same as her old home the Underworld. For Alice, Alfheim is just “a world”, in the same way as the Underworld is one. The feeling that all the VRMMO players, including myself, have, that this is “a temporary world”, must surely not be so easy to share. Therefore, when I first descended together with Alice from New Aincrad to Alfheim, and we came across a PK group of salamanders in the Old Forest near the area of Sylph, an awful uproar ensued. After Silica, who was with us, suffered damage in a surprise attack, Alice became enraged and abused verbally the salamanders so impetuously as if she were a demon, so that an unheard-of development ensued: they, stricken with despair, apologized to Silica, paid recompense for the damage and withdrew.
It appears that among the players who know that the Alice of ALO is the artificial intelligence ALICE who made a press conference on TV, this incident is handed down as the “legend of Alice-sama who made the PK cry with her scolding”, but I at least cannot help but wish that a day comes when Alice will be able to enjoy ALO as a game.
Thinking such things, I finished the cake and drank about three tenths of the tea, and then I addressed the proud knight of another world:
“... I surely think that the word 'hunting' used in VRMMOs has diverged from its original meaning. However, real-world hunting has never been experienced by most people living in today's Japan... including me. As places and eras change, so do also meanings of words. I wonder if it was not the same thing that happened in the Underworld...”
Alice, still silent, ate politely the last piece of the fruit cake, then she drunk up her tea, and answered:
“... Certainly, as two hundred years have passed in the Underworld since the time I lived there, likely not only words, but even cultures have changed a lot. Whatever changes these might be, I have to accept them... Especially that this very change is the proof that you have defended the Underworld...”
As the smile of Alice, who was staring at me intently, was making me nervous, I instinctively shook my head.
“Not really... it was not only because of my effort. You know, there was also for example Asuna, Sugu, Sinon... Even from here in ALO, several thousands players went to help defend the Underworld.”
“So it was like that... Considering this, the usage of a single word is a trifling thing, isn't it?”
Alice nodded and looked again at the window. However, her eyes were turned not towards the nightly forest, but towards the distant other world.
The Light Cube Cluster and the Main Visualizer, which are the “Containers” of the Underworld, are still operative within the Ocean Turtle, sealed on the ocean by the Self-Defence Forces, but the situation is still extraordinarily fluid.
Owing to Kikuoka's surprise attack at the risk of his life, the conservative faction – anti-RATH force within the Ministry of Defence was temporarily eliminated, thanks to which the immediate disposal of the Underworld did not happen. However, according to the direction which the fight for power should take, the situation might change in an unpredictable way.
Three days ago, in the early morning, Asuna, Alice and I dived from the Roppongi branch of RATH into the Underworld. As we arrived not upon land, but in space, I began to panic, but two Integrity Knights, or rather Integrity Pilot girls were controlling—not flying dragons, but—dragoncrafts, and we rode them; although we were at last somehow able to reach the human world, I hesitated vehemently to enter the Central Cathedral. The reason for this is that in the previous two hundred years I and Asuna had been Star King and Star Queen of the Underworld; moreover it apparently was said that we had died thirty years ago. It is not difficult to imagine that if such humans appeared suddenly, saying “Ciao”, then the Cathedral, or rather the whole world would fall into chaos.
Taking this into consideration, the three of us at first let ourselves be introduced into the home of a girl pilot who said that her name was Laurannei, in the city of Centoria. For some reason, we thought with longing about that house, which had been built more than 400 years before. The two pilots gave us a lecture about the present situation in the Underworld, and we were treated to a meal, too.
Before the dive, Dr. Koujiro told me that after five hours I would be harshly awoken. Therefore, just before that time would come (fortunately there were clocks in the Underworld of 200 years later), we made a promise to meet the two pilots again, and the three of us logged out.
Frankly, I could not wait for the next meeting, and would gladly make it even right then, but when Dr. Koujiro and Mr. Higa analysed in detail the information we brought them, “before we finish estimating the influence on the Underworld of the present, dives are verboten!” they told us.
I can understand that adults become cautious. I wonder about the identity of the person who told Alice an IP address with which she can connect to the Underworld... Though I have some vague idea... it is still uncertain. Besides, the future steering of the Underworld will without doubts have a great influence on the Light Cube Cluster Preservation Plan and on the question of human rights for AI.
Fortunately, today's Underworld operates with the same speed as the real world. Therefore, there is no such thing as previously, when many years could pass you by after you logged out. Nevertheless, three days had certainly passed. Laurannei and Stica have surely started to worry. Besides, I wanted to hear their story when I met them again. The reason why it is that they are probably--
“—rito. Kirito, are you listening?”
The cat-eared knight poked me near my elbow, and I blinked several times.
“A, ah, sorry, I was thinking about the Underworld...”
As I apologized, the countenance of Alice, who had been in the scolding mode, became more placid.
“I see. I too think about it many times every day.”
“Yeah... You want to return there quickly, don't you.”
Alice nodded and sighed painfully. Alice's longing is likely incomparably greater than mine. Besides, she has not one but two concrete aims. The first of them is to hatch again her favourite dragon Amayori—which I returned to its egg before the final battle with Gabriel Miller—and its older brother Takiguri, and to bring them up. The other one is to wake up her younger sister Selka Zuberg, who sleeps on the eightieth floor of the Central Cathedral in a state of Deep Freeze...
Both of them, but especially the latter, are not going to be easy. It is necessary to persuade the government of the human world of today that she is the legendary Integrity Knight Alice Synthesis Thirty, who disappeared two hundred years before.
However, since it is Alice we are talking about, she will be able to do it. Of course I too will spare my help. I too cannot wait for a happy reunion with Selka.
Alice brought back my thoughts, which had again begun to drift to that world.
“By the way, Kirito, I have a message from Dr. Koujiro.”
“Eh? A message? She should have just sent an e-mail.”
“It seems that she wants by all means to avoid leaving a trace in the network,”
Having heard this, I stiffened my face. The circuits that RATH uses are supposed to ensure a high level of security. It must surely be a very important message, if it nevertheless is not transmitted by either an e-mail or even a voice message, but only by a conversation inside ALO, which does not leave any logs. Facing me, who instinctively got nervous, Alice stated with a clear voice,
“On the 22nd, at 15 o'clock. Expensive cake shop."
The 22nd probably means today. 15 o'clock is 3 PM. There are no ambiguities here.
However, what on earth is an expensive cake shop?! There are surely heaps of such shops in Tokyo. Even in Kawagoe city, Saitama prefecture, where I live, if I searched, I would find one or two of them. For an instant, I nearly wrote an e-mail to Dr. Koujiro asking for a confirmation, but then I lowered my right hand, which I had started to raise. If I made contact now, Doctor's effort would be wasted.
I was tilting my head left and right in contemplation, when Alice said with a tinge of envy,
“Numberless varieties of cakes exist in Japan, right? There are many kinds that I haven't eaten in Centoria, and I get hungry merely by looking at their pictures.”
“Ah... yeah... but I used to prefer sweets, which could be bought in the city centre. You can for example buy a whole bag of honey pies with a single one-hundred-shear coin.”
“Are those cakes expensive, then?”
“Yes, I feel that 1 Shear is like 10 yen, so a cake from a good sweets shop is... let's see... about four thousand shear.”
“Oh, yes, that is expensive.”
I smiled at Alice, who was making big eyes,
“There are always levels above any high level. I've eaten a cake in Ginza district that cost 16000 Shears.”
Having said all these things, I noticed it at last. There was no way Dr. Koujiro would use such an insolent code. In short, this “Expensive cake shop” message was too clever a transmitted message, even for the Doctor. And I know only one person in RATH who would come up with a message of this kind.
Looking at me, who had dropped my shoulders and gave a deep sigh, Alice lowered her head a little.
“What's the matter, Kirito?”
“No... it's nothing. I've understood the meaning of that message. Thank you for transmitting it, Alice.”
“No problem... is what I wanted to say, but...”
The golden knight twitched her cat ears, as if she had remembered something, and said with a somewhat impish smile,
“So, will you assist me in my training?”
“Hm? Ah, levelling up your skills?”
There is only one reason why the proud knight Alice chose a Cait Sith with cat ears and cat tail. It was because the members of that race had it easiest to become Dragoons, who ride flying dragons. Even so, it is not that easy to become one of them. To ride a dragon, both the Tame skill and either Sword or Spear skills need to have rather high levels. To raise both at the same time one has to battle over and over, and increase a weapon skill with skill points (SP), whilst also pumping the earned SP into the Tame skill.
Having thought about it a little, I saved all the windows with homework problems that were open on the top of the table and closed them.
“OK, so let's try and go to an efficient hunting ground—no, rather, battleground—that I've discovered recently.”
“Please, try not to be a hindrance.”
“...You said 'help me,' and now you're talking to me like this...”
Alice giggled, got up, and started to walk towards the door with quick steps, so I hurriedly ran after her. As for the homework... well, I should manage somehow or other. Probably.
The following day, the 22nd of August, 2:50 PM.
I parked my bike in a parking lot of the building number 10 in Central Ginza district, then I squeezed my helmet and mesh jacket into the rear case and gave a big sigh.
The jacket had a cooling function, but hot times are hot. “The summer, the winter and the rainy season are not good for biking...” Thinking such things, I walked through the district, which was busy with shoppers and tourists, right to the building number 8.
I entered the elevator of the building that could be seen on the right, and rode to the café at the third floor. When I had visited this place near the end of the previous year, I had gotten nervous because I felt too much out-of-place, but still it had been better than invading the Central Cathedral.
The moment I told a waiter in a black suit, “I have an appointment,” I heard a carefree voice, calling me “Hey, Kirito, I'm here, I'm here!”
I wrung my neck and cut with quick steps across the inside of the café.
Just as previously, the person that had been waiting for me had a 7:3 hairstyle, was wearing blackish green glasses, a high class navy blue summer suit and a striped necktie. He looked like a typical businessman.
Before I came to that point, or rather before I entered the café, I had from the depths of my heart felt fed up with him, but the moment I saw that figure, a certain feeling, whether of relief or of anxiety, welled up around me. Resolutely, I drank it up together with the air and sat on a chair across the table from the man.
A waiter brought cold water and a wet towel. I opened my mouth,
“... Is it OK to loiter in such places, Mr. Kikuoka?”
Thereupon, Kikuoka Seijirou, who was supposed to be in hiding, smiled insolently as always, and replied,
“I'm happy, Kirito. Already with the first opening of your mouth, you show that you are concerned about me.”
“You know, I am not really concerned about you, but rather about RATH. If you were to be captured by the guys that are hostile towards you, it would get awful, wouldn't it?
“Haha, even those guys do not kidnap people in the middle of Ginza. But yeah, sniping might still be possible...”
While he was saying this, he glanced through the window, and therefore also I instinctively moved my head and searched for the shadows of snipers on the roof of the building on the other side of the road. In that instant, Kikuoka chuckled.
“It's a joke, only a joke; sniping is even more improbable.”
“If you called me so that you might tell me jokes, I'm going home.”
“No, no, no, it's an important talk, really. But how about we first order a cake.”
He quickly passed me the menu, so I stifled a sigh and ran my eyes across the card. Kikuoka called a waiter and ordered a set consisting of an orange Bavarian cream and coffee. The bill amounted to 15400 Shears.
“Then, what's the matter?”
I asked again, and Kikuoka undid his smile. With a serious expression he moved his face a bit towards mine and whispered,
“Today's talk is not about me, but about you.”
“A... a talk about me?”
“Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it's related to all survivors of SAO.”
These words, spoken with a very furtive voice, took my breath away for a while. Kikuoka lowered his voice even more, and said,
“The following week, a certain wearable device of a new type will be distributed to all students of your school. It employs the technology of full dive, but it's not a full dive machine.”
I frowned at these contradictory words.
“What do you mean...?”
“It's not VR, it's AR. The name of the device is...” he made a small pause, “Augma’’.
(to be continued somewhere)