Google Drive PDF Links

Once again… Here’s my Google Drive Links for the following Light Novels…

Hyouka :
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0YoAMTyrG6MVFVwWC00N1pvanM&usp=sharing
Mahouka :
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0YoAMTyrG6MRDctWWNFXzlHc28&usp=sharing
No Game No Life :
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0YoAMTyrG6MSENxaVdheHN3S3c&usp=sharing
Sword Art Online :
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0YoAMTyrG6MbG1XRWUxeE95WGc&usp=sharing
Kagerou Project :
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0YoAMTyrG6Mdk9nQ0RvT0xrRDQ&usp=sharing
No. 6 :
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0YoAMTyrG6Ma056ODd4azJMU0U&usp=sharing

Sword Art Online Light Novel 15 : Alicization Invading – Chapter 16 : Attack on the Ocean Turtle[Defan]

Translation of Sword Art Online’s volume 15, chapter 16.(Defan,2015).

Chapter 16

Attack on the Ocean Turtle

Even the self-proclaimed super genius Higa Takeru was unable to predict all that had happened in the past two hours.

But, the current situation could be called extremely startling, and could only be described as dumbfounding.

Unexpectedly, a delicate young woman of roughly eighteen or nineteen used her thin right hand to seize and hoist up the collar of a man fifteen centimeters taller than herself. The tasteless Hawaiian shirt was gripped so tightly it was nearly torn apart; heels of sandals floated in the air.

With both eyes, brightly flashing as though they were ablaze, staring straight at Lieutenant-Colonel Kikuoka Seijirou, Yuuki Asuna let words sharp as swords out of her cute cherry red lips:

“If Kirito-kun can’t wake up like this, I will absolutely never forgive you.”

From Higa’s position, it was impossible to see Kikuoka’s expression under his black-rimmed glasses reflecting the ceiling light. But the Self-Defense Cadre who was supposed to be a black belt in both judo and kendo was seemingly crushed by Asuna’s words; he swallowed, and slowly raised both hands to his left and right, as though in a gesture of surrender.

“I understand. I will take responsibility: I will make sure Kirito-kun recovers.”

Solemn silence flooded the dark Auxiliary Control Room.

No matter if it was Higa, who was sitting in the chair in front of the console, or Koujiro Rinko, who was standing besides him, or the numerous «RATH» staff inside the room, no one dared to speak. It was clear how surprising the the youngest woman’s verve was. As it was, that young woman deserved the title of a «Survivor» of a true battlefield. Higa couldn’t help but think this aside.

Finally, Asuna wordlessly released her right hand. Kikuoka, having been freed, let out a long sigh with an almost dispirited expression. Asuna stepped back, swaying on the spot. Rinko immediately moved forward and supported Asuna’s back, her white coat flying.

The female physicist who was a senior to Higa in the research facility tightly hugged Asuna to her chest, whispered with determination:

“It’s all right, everything will be fine. He’ll definitely come back, back to your side.”

Her gentle voice instantly soothed Asuna’s extremely taut face:

“… Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry… for being so panicky.”

Asuna’s eyes leaked tears that had been absent even when enduring the attack. Rinko gently wiped them away with the tip of her finger.

The sound of the sliding door being opened tightened the slightly relaxed atmosphere again. Running into the room was Lieutenant Nakanishi.

Nakanishi, whose dusty white shirt was soaked with sweat and whose shoulder holster revealed a large pistol grip, glanced at Rinko and Asuna and said loudly to Kikuoka behind:

“Report! Complete sealing of blast doors one and two, plus completion of evacuating noncombatants are confirmed!”

Kikuoka adjusted the collar of his Hawaiian shirt as he stepped forward and nodded.

“Good work. How long can the blast doors hold?”

“Yes… That would depend on the attackers’ equipment, although small firearms are unable to penetrate it. Even using tip saws or similar tools to cut through it would take at least eight hours. If explosives are used, it might not hold… I assume, though, they would not, since near the central blast door…”

“There is the light cube cluster.”

Kikuoka finished his sentence, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and sank into deep thought.

But he immediately raised his head and surveyed the slightly small Auxiliary Control Room.

“Good, let’s straighten out the situation. Nakanishi, report of casualties.”

“Yes sir. Civilian research team, three lightly injured, in treatment at the bow infirmary. Our combatants, two heavily injured, two lightly injured, all in treatment with no risk of death. Ready for combat, six, including two lightly injured.”

“Under that kind of fierce attack, it’s a miracle that there have been no deaths… Then, report any hull damage.”

“There are rupture points all over the bottom dock control room. It’s impossible to shut them remotely now. The passageway from the dock to the Main Control Room is the same, but these are just negligible damages. The most severe is, because the main power line has been cut… although the auxiliary line can supply stable power, if we don’t restart the control system we can’t turn the propellers.”

“A sea turtle without fins. And its belly has been bitten by a shark.”

“Yes, sir. Zones One through Twelve of the Lower Shaft and the bottom dock have been completely taken.”

The extremely short-haired Nakanishi, whose face represented strong will itself, unwillingly knitted his brow. Comparatively, Kikuoka’s teacher-like long hairline twisted up, as he leaned onto the console while shuffling his clogs with his toes.

“The Main Control Room, STL Room One, and even the nuclear pile have also fallen into their hands… Most fortunately, their goal is not to destroy.”

“Is… is that so?”

“If they just wanted to destroy, they wouldn’t use submarines to carry out such an exaggerated surprise attack. Striking us with a cruise missile or torpedo would do. That begs the question: who are they… Higa-kun, what do you think?”

At the sudden question, Higa blinked several times, turning his brain that had not yet fully recovered from the impact.

“Uhh, yes, yeah.”

Mumbling meaninglessly as he turned towards the console, he manipulated the mouse with his right hand and brought up an in-ship camera recording on the big monitor.

Although the video window he opened was dark and indistinct, he paused at a random place and adjusted the brightness and contrast. What appeared were a number of figures in combat suits, sprinting forward in a passageway inside the ship. Their faces were half covered by helmets with multi-function visors, and they wielded serious-looking assault rifles.

“…So, as you can see, from head to toe, there are no markings whatsoever, such as flags, that can identify them. From the color and specifications of their equipment, they don’t seem to belong to any regular army. Their rifles appear to be Steyrs, but those are quite common… The only thing we can say is that, from their average physiques, they’re most likely not Asian.”

“Which means, at least they aren’t Japanese Special Forces. How pleasing.”

Kikuoka talked offhandedly about the frightening situation while scratching his chin. Emitting a sharp aura from his calm eyes usually squinted, he looked up to the monitor.

“We can confirm one more thing… These people know the existence of Project Alicization.”

Higa nodded.

“Yeah, that’s right. after their assault from the bottom dock, they immediately ran to the Main Control Room. Their goal is crystal clear: to seize the STL technology… No, the true bottom-up AI «A.L.I.C.E.».”

In other words, information had severely leaked in long-term work. But Higa did not directly say it; he resisted the urge to scan the face of every «RATH» worker in the room for any sudden motions, and said in an optimistic tone:

“What’s fortunate is, the Main Control Room lock caught up. It’s securer than physically damaging the console; I’ve made sure direct commands to the Underworld are no longer possible. Any intervention towards the simulated experiment, and the ejection of the Fluctlight of «A.L.I.C.E.» from the Light Cube Cluster is impossible.”

“But, it’s the same for us, isn’t it?”

“Indeed. Using this auxiliary console, it is also impossible to execute administrator privilege commands. No matter if it’s from the opposite side – the Main Control Room – or this side – the Auxiliary Control Room – it is impossible to eject «A.L.I.C.E.»’s Fluctlight by way of external commands… But Kiku-san, doesn’t this equal our victory? Since they can’t access the Cluster by physical means or informational means, as long as we can call our escort Aegis destroyer to dispatch reinforcements for a counterattack, those guys are a piece of cake, a piece of cake.”

“I don’t know what kind of cake… but therein lies the problem.”

Kikuoka’s expression remained solemn as he inquired Nakanishi.

“How about it, has the Nagato moved?”

“Uh… about that…”

Nakanishi channeled power into his chin in an effort to steady his voice, and bowed his head slightly.

“The Nagato received orders from the Yokosuka Fleet Command to maintain its current distance and standby. It seems that Command has classified us as hostages.”

“Wh…”

Higa’s mouth dropped open.

“Hostages? But, all hands have retreated back here in an evacuation!”

The one who replied calmly was Kikuoka:

“That is to say, those people clad in black have connections with the higher-ups of the Self Defense Force. The Nagato pulled away from the Ocean Turtle at eight in the morning, about six hours before that bunch broke in. By the time Nagato receives an order to come to rescue, they would have seized «A.L.I.C.E.»’s Light Cube. Of course, there must be a time limit…”

“That means… those people aren’t just normal terrorists. This is bad… If there are experts on the other side as well, they might find out. The hidden way of collecting «A.L.I.C.E»…”

“Operating fromfrom within the Underworld, right?… Now that they have control over STL Room One, it’s possible to set the virtual console installed within the Underworld to complete the ejection command…”

“What will happen if that command is executed?”

Higa turned around and answered Koujiro Rinko’s question:

“The target Light Cube will be retrieved from the Light Cube Cluster within the Main Shaft and transported by vacuum tube to any control room. It’ll exit there.”

He pointed at a square hatch on the side of the console, and turned his eyes towards the door on the wall inside.

There was a small metal plaque set on the aluminum door, with the words [STL Room Two].

On the other side of that door there were two STLs – that is, «Soul Translators». In one of the machines laid a youth currently under the care of Nurse and Sergeant First Class Aki Natsuki. He, Kirigaya Kazuto, had been playing an important role since the beginning of Project Alicization, and drove the direction of the project even more so today.

Kikuoka turned away and crossed his arms, speaking in a sincere and solemn tone:

“Our last hope will have to rest on his shoulders again. Higa-kun… How is Kirito’s condition?”

Hearing the weak breathing, Higa raised his head and directly met eyes with the intense glare of Asuna, who was being hugged by Rinko.

He sank into a hesitation over how to convey the current situation to her, who was Kirito’s, that is, Kirigaya Kazuto’s lover. Immediately, however, a hoarse but determined voice reached Higa’s ears.

“Don’t worry, I will be fine. Please say it, the true situation.”

Taking a deep breath, Higa nodded.

“To summarize in one sentence… It’s gonna be… It would be a condition just shy of the worst possible.”

Higa said in a newly serious tone, manipulating the mouse again.

The image of the attackers disappeared and another window was opened. What appeared was an irregularly flashing colorful stereoscopic image.

“This, is an imaging of Kirito-kun’s Fluctlight.”

Everyone in the room silently stared at the screen.

“A week ago, since he was injected with succinylcholine in Tokyo, his heart and lungs ceased normal function. Fortunately, he’s managed to stay alive, but a portion of his brain… Specifically, his Fluctlight network, has been damaged. Although treatment would be difficult with current medical methods, there might be a chance of recovery if STL technology is used . Therefore, to foster the synthesis of new networks, we attempt to grant new dynamism to Kirito-kun’s Fluctlight through unrestricted STL.”

Higa sighed, picked up the bottle of water on the console and took a sip. He was not used at all to this kind of long explanation.

“To proceed with this treatment, it would be necessary for him to dive into the Underworld. If we don’t allow his Fluctlight to move around as though it were in the real world, the treatment would have no results. Therefore, same as his Dive at the Roppongi branch: we concealed Kirito-kun’s memories and let him land at the border of the Underworld… This is what we originally planned. But, even today we don’t know why… I’m afraid that the reason is the Fluctlight damage; his memories hadn’t been concealed at all. Kirito-kun has been placed into the Underworld under his current real-world condition of Kirigaya Kazuto. We just found out from his contact with his from inside…”

“Wait… wait a minute.”

Koujiro Rinko interjected.

“Then, has he, in the time-accelerated Underworld, spent those days as Kirigaya-kun? How many months… inside….”

“…About two years.”

Hearing Higa’s reply, Asuna’s body that was being hugged by Rinko trembled slightly. Even though his words were likely to be extremely shocking to her, Higa continued, trusting in her earlier promise:

“In that time, Kirito-kun has contacted the artificial Fluctlights in that world. I’m afraid, he also knows that the Fluctlights will eventually, due to the end of this current virtual experiment, all be destroyed… So, his target is installed in the center of the Underworld, and was once the contact console connecting the starting village with the real world. Kiku-san, he’s planning to request you to protect all of the Fluctlights.”

Higa glanced to the side; Kikuoka, whose glasses reflected the light of the monitor, was still gazing at the stereoscoping image. He turned back to Rinko and Asuna:

“…This is not something simple, since the contact device is buried in the stronghold of the ruling power, now called the «Axiom Church». Because the Fluctlights belonging to the Church possess absolute status value, Kirito-kun, who was set as a common person, had no way to fight them. Originally, shortly after he breaks into the Church, he would [Die], and log out of the Underworld… But he did it. Being attacked, we could not confirm detailed information in the logs, but we assume that he recruited some people, who of course are artificial Fluctlights… that is, the help of partners. In the fight against the Church, those partners nearly all died, and as a result, when he successfully opened a connection to here, he felt deep guilt. It can be said that he attacked his own Fluctlight. In that instant, those black-clothed people cut the power line, creating a short-circuit that instantly spiked the STL output. As a result, Kirito-kun’s impulse of self-destruction has become reality… His [inner self] has lost activity…”

“Inner self… Lost activity? What do you mean?”

Hearing Rinko’s question, Higa turned back to the console:

“…Please take a look at this.”

He quickly typed on the keyboard and magnified the live feed of the activity of the Fluctlight labeled as Kirigaya Kazuto.

Near the center of the irregularly flashing spectrum-colored cloud, a small puff of darkness like a dark nebula was cradled.

“It’s different from the artificial Fluctlights in the Light Cubes; we’re still quite far from a full analysis of human organic Fluctlight structure. But the general mapping has been completed. This black hole, what was originally in here, simply put, is the [Subject] …Self-Image.”

“Subject …An image of the self determined by the self?”

“Yes. All human choice is determined by a Fluctlight Y/N path: [Whether or not I will proceed under these conditions.] By way of example, Rinko-senpai, have you ever ordered a second bowl in a gyudon restaurant?”

“… Of course not.”

“Not even have the slightest thought of ‘I still want to eat’ or ‘I can have one more’?”

“No.”

“That is to say, that was the result of Rinko-senpai’s Self-Image circuit processing. Similarly, virtually no decisions can be made and no movements can be undertaken if they do not pass through this circuit. In Kirito’s situation, the majority of his Fluctlight is unharmed. But, because the vital circuit has lost its function, no matter if it’s processing external input, or outputting voluntary actions, it cannot be done. What he’s capable of now… I’m afraid, are reflexive actions ingrained within his memory. For example, eating, sleeping, and related tasks.”

Rinko bit her lip, as though she were thinking about something. She eventually whispered:

“Then… then now, how is his state of mind?”

“… I’m afraid…”

Higa hesitated, lowered his head, and continued:

“He does not know who he is, or what he wants to do; he cannot say or do anything… That’s likely to be his condition…”

Silence permeated the dark room for the third time.

 

“… Fu…”

The following part of the syllable was completely drowned out by the deafening noise of hardened boots kicking away a sheet of metal.

A member of the assault team, Vassago Casals, seemed unsatisfied with denting the wall two or three times, and forcefully crushed with his foot an empty candy box that a RATH technician had probably left tens of minutes ago, before finally stopping his stream of profanity.

As proof of the Latino blood coursing through his veins, he ran a hand through his long, slightly wavy black hair, moved briskly to the console and seized the collar of the bulletproof jacket of his teammate with one hand.

“Try saying that again, fucker.”

Vassago gripped an exaggeratedly skinny youth, who was as weakly thin as a whip. His golden hair was trimmed very short, and his skin was snowy white as though ill.

This man who wore a pair of rough metal-framed glasses was the only non-combatant in the team. A hacker by the name of Critter, informally employed by the Glowgen Defense Systems Cyber Operation Department [CYOP].

A self-proclaimed internet criminal with an arrest record, with an internet name instead of a real name. But Vassago was the same. Vassago was one of the 72 demons recorded in the «Ars Goetia» , also known as the Prince of Hell. There were no parents on Earth who would name their son that. He was also an employee of the CYOP and was not an expert on computers but in combat – of course under Full Dive. Although he was a man with a suspicious record lesser than that of Critter, his VR combat skills were quite outstanding.

In reality —

The twelve members of the «Ocean Turtle» Assault Team, apart from their leader, Gabriel Miller, all had dark pasts, and adopted new identities in exchange for being fed as [Dogs].

As a dog in their midst, Critter expressed no fear whatsoever at being hoisted up by Vassago, replying as he loudly chewed his gum:

“I’ll say it as many times as I want. Listen, this console’s locked as hard as dried shit, and the laptops we brought in aren’t gonna be able to calculate the unlock code until you bastards die of old age. Got it?”

“I ain’t talking ‘bout that, four-eyes! Weren’t you saying that it locked because we moved too goddamn slowly!?”

Vassago shot back loudly. If he tried hard enough, with his wild flair, he was handsome enough to be a successful fashion model, but he was quite frightening when enraged.

“Hey, hey, just telling the truth, man?”

“You were trembling like a leaf during combat, but you sure are one cocky bastard now!”

The other teammates snickered at the two men firing expletives at each other, instead of stopping them. Capturing the right timing, Gabriel snapped his fingers at the two men to attract their attention.

“OK, cut it out, you two. There’s no time to determine who’s responsible. Now we need to think about our next step.”

Then, Vassago suddenly changed to a child-like tone:

“But bro, if I don’t teach him a lesson…”

He wanted to tell him not to say “bro”, but swallowed his words. Vassago called Gabriel this probably because they had both acknowledged each other’s prowess during one-on-one VR training, but no matter how many time he heard this, it felt ill-conceived. To Gabriel, these kinds of ambiguous human relationships only based on emotions, such as friends or partners, were only convoluted synonyms.

Sooner or later, when the technology of extracting and saving souls was his, all human emotion would be able to be categorized under hue or shape through the «cloud of light». As he thought, Gabriel said to the two in an authoritarian tone:

“Listen to me, Vassago, Critter. I’ve been very satisfied with the actions of the team until today, as we have successfully achieved our first goal of taking over the control room.”

Hearing this, Vassago very reluctantly released Critter’s collar and put his hands on his hips.

“But, bro, there’s no meaning in that ‘cause this important console is locked. Our final objective, the Light Cube Cluster or whatever, is on the other side of this metal wall, right?”

“Look, we’re just about to discuss a way to bring this wall down.”

“But, the JSDF men ain’t shrinking away forever, right? If we keep going after them, this big stupid turtle’s escort, the Aegis destroyer will send the pros to attack us, and we’ll be in real trouble ‘cause we have only eleven men and one attachment.”

As expected of a Vice Captain hand-picked by Gabriel, Vassago possessed control of the situation at hand that was not a trait of a simple wild dog. Thinking for a moment, Gabriel shrugged and said:

“… As it seems, our client has some kind of secret deal with the higher-ups of the JSDF. The Aegis destroyer won’t do anything within 24 hours of the attack.”

“…Hoo…”

Critter whistled softly. Behind wind goggle-like glasses, his light gray eyes narrowed.

“So, this operation is more than just a burgl… —No, no. it’s better left unsaid.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

Gabriel lightly smiled and nodded, surveying everyone again.

“Right, let’s confirm the situation. It’s 1447 hours, Japan Standard Time. From infiltration to now, 40 minutes have passed. We are currently in the Main Control Room of the «Ocean Turtle». Although we successfully secured the target facility, we have been unable to detain a «RATH» technician, and the control system here has been locked. The next objective should be securing the Auxiliary Control Room… Brigg, can you cut through the blast door?”

The hulking teammate who was called slowly stepped forward and replied:

“Doesn’t look good. Seems to be the newest synthetic material. Using the portable cutting saw I have, it is completely impossible within 24 hours.”

“The Japanese economy is alive and well. Hans, can you breach the wall with C4?”

This time, a slim teammate with a very handsome mustache waved his arms freely.

“I say we forget it. On the other side of that wall is the Light Cube Cluster storage, so I cannot guarantee no harm to the goods before blasting this door.”

“Mm.”

Gabriel crossed his arms and thought for a split-second, then continued:

“… Our mission, is to find a particular one from an immense number of Light Cubes and take it along with its connector. We already have the ID information of the Cube. In other words, if we can operate this console, we can effortlessly retrieve the Cube and extract it from the Cluster. According to the plan, we’ve nearly got this in the bag.”

“Goddamn it, it’s all because of that turtle four-eyes, always boasting that ‘my crime is infiltrating the central server of the Pentagon’ or whatever, but can’t open a tiny lock.”

“Ooh, I’m so scared. I’m actually being reprimanded by a gamer who’s only fired a gun made of polygons.”

Staring at Vassago and Critter who were itching to fight, Gabriel intensified his tone.

“Do you all want to go back empty-handed and be ridiculed instead of rewarded?”

“NO!!”

Everyone shouted together.

“Are you all merely laymen who can’t even best an amateur technician?”

“NO!!”

“Then THINK!! Prove that the round objects on top of your necks aren’t filled with oatmeal!”

Semi-automatically putting on the [Unyielding Commander] persona, Gabriel thought by himself in silence.

As the The One who Seeks Souls, Gabriel’s biggest goal was to obtain the first manmade true artificial intelligence «Alice» and take Soul Translation technology for himself. After he obtained those, he planned to use the nerve agent he had secretly brought in to take care of everyone else, and then escape to Australia.

But, having only reached the current stage, the attack that the NSA had consigned him somewhat counted towards Gabriel’s goal. Now, since system commands were blocked through administrator privileges, they must think of another way to take «Alice»’s Light Cube.

«Alice»… «A.L.I.C.E.».

The one who told Gabriel’s client, the NSA, this codename, was a «RATH» insider informant, [Rabbit].

Gabriel did not yet know [Rabbit]’s personal profile. But, with the impulse to betray an organization and disclose information but receive a handsome reward, he likely would not reveal himself in this dangerous situation and take action.

In other words, they could not expect assistance from Rabbit, on the other side of the blast door. They must utilize the information and equipment they have now, and achieve their goal within a short time.

Time — All was time.

Gabriel, who had not known what nervousness and anxiety were since birth, could not help but feel a certain pressure when faced with a slowly approaching time limit of 23 hours.

When the NSA agents had entrusted him with this top secret seizure mission, they had said to Gabriel:

The activities of «RATH» are severely wavering our vested interest in the Japanese military industry. Therefore, the higher-ups of the Japan Self Defense Force will be displeased with the existence of «RATH» — Conversely, there are many powers that we are eager to protect.

«RATH» was mainly comprised of young Self-Defense cadres who did not hold much power in politics. The NSA was very sure of this, and signed a secret treaty with the CIA and some high official (please review) at the embassy. The Aegis destroyer Nagato that protected the «RATH» headquarters, «Ocean Turtle» will take no course of action within 24 hours of the attack, under grounds that [the safety of the hostages is most important].

But, after the period of standby, when considering the upcoming media coverage, the Aegis destroyer would eventually have to act. As soon as heavily armed forces came, outnumbered, outgunned, Gabriel’s strike force team would likely be annihilated.

If the situation really developed into the worst-case scenario, he could still escape back to the submarine, alone. But at the same time, without retrieving the important Light Cube, his great journey to seek the soul would retreat to an irreparable state.

Gabriel had already meticulously planned out his long life after this attack.

First he would take Alice and escape to Australia, concealing the Light Cube and STL technology in a villa in the Sovereign Islands in the Gold Coast. Then he would take a plane back to San Diego and report the failure of the attack to the NSA. After it had all blown over, he would return to Australia, construct an STL machine in the vast basement of his villa, and architect his dream virtual world.

The inhabitants of this world would only include «Alice» and Gabriel at first. But that would be much too lonely. As the goal was to study the soul, he must increase resources.

He would search for a young and energetic soul carrier in Sydney or Cairns, kidnap them, use the STL to extract their soul and dispose of the unwanted shell. There would be a day when he would cross the seas and trek back to his home country — and the country from where Full Dive originated, Japan.

The unique mental stamina of Japanese VR gamers once deeply puzzled Gabriel. Of course, not everyone was like this, but one group of gamers seemed to live there, in the VR game, as though it were real life, carelessly casting around their real-life emotions. Whenever he thought of the sniper girl he had met in Gun Gale Online, he would feel pain that arose from a strong desire.

The reason was likely connected to the [Real Virtual World] that had existed for only two years in that country. According to the developer, these young people experienced a death game with real aspects of life and death. The souls of these [Survivors] possessed a suitability to virtual worlds unlike anyone else.

If it was doable, even if it were just one, he hoped to obtain them — especially the souls of the elite gamers who were termed [Progressors]. Although he didn’t know if that sniper girl was one of them or not, he of course also wished to obtain her soul. The Light Cubes sealed with those souls would exude a shine far more precious than any gem.

An ultimate light that the tycoons of the world would be unable to buy with tens of millions of dollars. He would line them into his secret room, selecting whoever he wanted everyday and loading them into his favorite world, playing with them however he wanted.

What was more beautiful was that the souls extracted from humans and sealed into Light Cubes could be freely copied and stored. Broken ones, twisted ones, all could be easily rewound and ultimately sculpted into Gabriel’s favorite posture. It was like grinding and polishing a rough stone until it shined with a supreme glow.

When he reached that stage, Gabriel’s long journey would recover, for the first time, the boundless joy and happiness from the beginning.

When he was young, under the huge trees of the forest, he saw the beautiful glow of Alicia Clingerman’s soul.

These thoughts flashing in his mind, Gabriel closed his eyes, a slight shiver running down his back.

When he opened his eyes again, he recovered his ice cold mentality.

If he analogized the souls of youths from different countries as red, green, and blue jewels bursting with color, encircling a king’s crown, then the great diamond encased in the center could only be «Alice». Only Alice, with the untouched, unblemished, ultimate soul, would qualify as his own eternal partner. Therefore, he had to think of a way to get her Light Cube, no matter what.

But without destroying the blast door to the Light Cube Cluster storage, he could not seize it through physical means.

Then, he could only control it from the system. That said, even the first-rate digital criminal Critter was helpless against the lock on the console.

Gabriel dragged his feet and moved behind Critter, who was leaning over the controls, his two hands moving at top speed.

“How is it?”

Two hands punched the air in response.

“The administrator login is really despairing. What we can do is jealously peek at the fairy-tale kingdom that the group of souls are happily living in.”

Critter moved his finger; a window opened on the big screen on the wall directly in front of them and displayed a wondrous scene.

It was quite unlike a [fairy-tale kingdom]. The sky was soaked in a frightening crimson and the ground was as pitch-black as asphalt.

In the middle of the picture stood several primitive tents made of what appeared to be animal skin. On the side gathered ten or so chubby, bald, strange creatures, causing some unknown commotion.

There were generally humanoid but no matter how you looked at them, were not human. Their backs were bent, their hands were nearly long enough to scrape the ground, while their crooked feet were very short.

“Goblins…?”

Gabriel muttered. Critter whistled softly, saying with apparent happiness:

“Oh, you’re pretty knowledgeable, Captain. That’s right, they don’t look like orcs or cannibals, so they should be goblins.”

“But, they’re way too large. These are probably heavy infantry; heavy infantry goblins.”

Vassago stepped besides them with his hands on his hips and added his own comment. Although he was just an expert in VR combat, he seemed to know much about fantasy RPGs.

At the place where Gabriel was looking, the movements of the ten [Heavy Infantry Goblins] finally heated up. Eventually, two of them seized each other’s chests, twisting together in a scrambling fight, with the surrounding goblins cheering with hands raised.

SAO V15 Strike Force Team

“…Critter–”

Gabriel felt a certain faint intuition, and spoke to the monk-headed man in the seat.

“Huh?”

“These… these monsters, are they a part of the system?”

“Hmm, doesn’t look like it. From a certain viewpoint, these guys are real [humans]. They’re artificial souls read from the Light Cubes… Fluctlights.”

“For real?! What’s going on?!”

Vassago jumped and yelled furiously.

“These heavy infantry are humans!? They have the same souls as us!? The old women in Frisco would die if they heard that!!”

Drumming with a pitter-patter on the monk-head, he shouted:

“I can’t believe that these people would do this kind of God-forsaken research. Right, are those shiny things full of these goblins, orcs or whatever? Is our Alice-chan one of them as well?”

“No way~”

Annoyed, Critter pushed Vassago’s hands away and corrected:

“Listen, the world called Underworld that the «RATH» guys created is divided into two areas. Located in the center, slightly west, is the «Human Empire» where normal humans live. Then, outside is the «Dark Territory», where monsters like these are all over the place. Alice will of course be somewhere in the Human Empire. It’s impossible to find her now.”

“Well that’s easy. If there are humans, then won’t they understand us? Can’t we just dive into the Human Empire and ask the people there if they know an Alice?”

“Wow, a pig. There’s a pig here.”

“What the FUCK are you blabbering about!!”

“I’m telling you- the people who made the Underworld are Japanese. Of course, the [guys who live in there] would also speak Japanese. Can you speak Japanese?”

Hearing Critter’s words mixed with derisive laughter, Vassago revealed a twisted grin.

Don’t take me lightly.

Now, not just Critter, the entire team widened their eyes. Vassago had spoken Japanese so fluently that even Gabriel was shocked.

The young Latino man changed back to English and continued:

“No problems with communications, right? Got anything else to say, four-eyes?”

“Yeah… Yeah. Of course.”

Critter recovered from surprise and snorted.

“There are tens of thousands of people living in the Human Empire. Are you going to ask each and… every one of them…”

Critter paused his retort as though he had inspired himself through his own speech and suddenly stood up. Although his monk-head bumped into Vassago’s chin, who wanted to spit out expletives, Critter shouted unhesitantly:

“Wait. WaitwaitWAITWAIT~. There might be no need for any of us to go…”

Hearing this, the faint inspiration in Gabriel’s heart finally burst completely into being.

“… Yeah. Accounts set up to log into the Underworld… Can hardly all be LV1 normal citizens. Right, Critter?”

“Yes. Yes boss!!”

Critter slammed the keyboard like it was a percussion instrument; the big screen instantly rolled up lists of names.

“If «RATH» operators wanted to log in to observe or perform internal actions, their accounts should be identities that possess all capabilities. Military officers… No, generals… No, no, noblemen, royalty… Could even be the King himself…”

“Oh. OH!! That’s GREAT!!”

Vassago shouted, massaging his chin that was about to split in half.

“In other words, we can use a general’s, president’s, or whatever profile to log into the Underworld, and can make whatever commands we want! ‘Army parade! Right, face! Find Alice!!’”

“… Why is it that when you talk about it, something so brilliant would instantly lose meaning.”

Continuing his muttering, Critter manipulated the console with frightening speed.

But. Seconds later, along with a rare instance of profanity from him, the list was halted.

“Fuck, no. Not just direct commands from here, even using high-level accounts to log in are protected with heavy passwords. Unfortunately, it looks like we can only dive into the Human Empire as normal citizens.

“…Hmph…”

Clear disappointment floated onto Critter and Vassago’s faces, but Gabriel remained expressionless and tilted his head slightly.

There was not much time to hesitate.

But, that was but a limit of the time in reality. Beyond the screen, in the abnormal Underworld, time was compressed hundreds of times in an astonishing ratio.

In other words, the remaining 23 hours equated to over a year in the Underworld. With this much time, even if they logged in as normal citizens, after finding and capturing [Alice], it wasn’t impossible to use the internal information console to extract her into the real world.

But that was definitely a long task. Compared to such a time-wasting task, it would be better to fight along the border of the Human Empire.

“Critter. Are there any advanced accounts outside the Empire… prepared for the «Dark Territory»?”

“…Outside? But aren’t the chances of Alice being there infinitely close to zero?”

Although he questioned, Critter’s fingers flashed quickly.

Gabriel looked at the newly opened cluster of windows, replying:

“Mm, yes. But, the border is not absolutely impenetrable, is it? With the parameters given by the account, we might be able to cross the border.”

“Oh, as expected from my bro! Your thoughts are unique as always! It’s that… using a non-human general, or a monster general to fight your way through, right?! That’s burning hot!!”

To the whistling and shouting Vassago, Critter shot at him with utmost hatred:

“If you want to burn, then burn, if you’re the one who logs in: you’ll be a goblin or orc in that world. Eh, you fit the bill anyway… Ah, I got it, I got it.”

With the click of the keyboard, two windows opened.

“Hm~ It’s different from the Empire, there are only two super-accounts…Okay, there are no passwords! Let’s see… One of them is the «Dark Knight» profile. Privilege level is… 70! We can use this one!”

“Ooh, that’s great! I’ll have that one!!”

Ignoring the noisy Vassago, Critter activated the other window.

“Then, the other one is… What’s this? The profile’s blank… there’s no level, either. There’s only a name. This… How do you say this? … [Emperor… Vector]?”

“Oh, an Emperor. Then I’ll take this one…”

Gabriel patted Critter’s shoulder from behind, as Critter was just about to continue.

“No, I’ll use this account.”

“Eh? But bro, can you speak Japanese?”

Not as fluently as you can.

Gabriel replied with three years of Japanese study. Although he had given up on reading and writing from the beginning, he was effortlessly confident about conversational usage.

“Ho, you’re pretty good. Then my bro shall be the Emperor, and I’ll be the Dark Knight. Now we’re talking! Four-eyes, can we log in!?”

Completely ignoring the noisy Vassago, Critter continued punching the keyboard. Seeing his focused scanning of information on the screen, Gabriel walked besides him and asked calmly:

“What is it, Critter, is there another problem?”

“… Should I call it a problem, or a slight concern… There’s a strange phrase all over the data, I can’t really understand it…”

“Oh? What phrase?”

Critter took a deep breath and answered Gabriel’s question:

“«[Final Load Test]».”

Higa considered breaking the heavy silence that engulfed the Auxiliary Control Room.

“How do I say it. His physical body… in other words, the condition of the Kirigaya Kazuto in the real world, is similar to what I just described… not optimistic.”

Seeing Asuna, whose shoulders were gripped by Rinko, tremble her thin body in surprise, Higa added in a panic:

“B-but, there’s still some hope!”

“…How do you mean?”

Rinko asked with a sharp, yet seemingly praying voice.

“The Kirito-kun in the Underworld is still logged in.”

Higa looked at the screen that was much smaller than the one in the Main Control Room. He moved the cursor, clicked a few times, and the picture changed: a bird’s eye view of the Underworld, with the round Human Empire surrounded by the Dark Territory, appeared.

“That is to say, although his Self-Image has been damaged, his Fluctlight is dynamic, and undergoing stimulation. Therefore, even if we are completely out of options in the real world, we can probably heal his soul within the Underworld. Because he overly blames himself, he damaged his soul. If there was someone who could grant him [forgiveness]… it’s hard to say…”

Higa knew that his words were unrealistic.

But those were his unadulterated true thoughts.

Succeeding the NerveGear was the evolution of the Medicuboid Brain-Computer Interface, the Soul Translator. But Higa had found the human quantum consciousness «Fluctlight» through his development of that machine, yet there were still a great many things he did not understand.

Was a Fluctlight a physical phenomenon?

Or, was it a conceptual existence unexplainable by science?

If it was the latter, Kirigaya’s Kazuto’s injured, exhausted soul would probably only be able to be healed by some supernatural power.

For example — someone’s love.

“…I will go.”

As if Higa’s mind had been read.

A frail yet determined voice resounded in the Auxiliary Control Room.

The people in the room stared, shocked, at the owner of the voice. Yuuki Asuna nodded at Koujiro Rinko, who was supporting her shoulders, and took a step forward, continuing:

“I want to enter the Underworld. I will find Kirito-kun there and say to him: You’ve tried your best; many sad and terrible things may have happened… but you’ve tried your best.”

Higa, who had dedicated his entire life to researching this type of psychological awakening, was dumbstruck by Asuna, her great chestnut eyes flashing with tears.

Kikuoka, with an expression as though he had been struck by something, immediately concealed his expression with the lens of his glasses and looked to the STL Room on the side.

“… Indeed, there is still one empty STL.”

After saying this, the commander made a complicated expression, continuing:

“But, the current state of the Underworld is in no way stable. According to the predetermined plan, by our time, there are only a few hours left until it enters the Final Load Test Stage.”

“Final… Load Test? What will happen?”

Higa explained, gesturing with his hands, to Rinko, who wrinkled her brow:

“This… Put simply, the outer shell will be broken. The endurance value of «Gate of the East» that has divided the Human Empire and the Dark Territory for hundreds of years will decrease to zero… An army of monsters will pour into the Human World. If the humans have a complete military body, they will be able to repel them. But, the experiment this time… Kirito-kun has destroyed a large portion of the ruling power, the «Axiom Church», so… We really don’t know what’s going to happen…”

“If you think carefully about it, for the situation now, one of us needs to dive in no matter what.”

Kikuoka muttered with his arms crossed.

“As soon as the invasion begins, in the chaos, the «Alice» in the human world is very likely to be killed. If it comes to that, the time we gained when we painstakingly locked down the console will all be for naught… If we can let someone enter with an advanced account, protect Alice, and bring her to the «World End Altar», we can extract her from there to this auxiliary console.”

“Right… before this happened, you told Kirito-kun that already, didn’t you?”

Hearing Rinko’s words, Kikuoka helplessly nodded.

“Mm. If he’s fine, he can definitely do it. At that time, he happened to be with Alice… You could say that was a stroke of luck in the midst of misfortune.”

“In other words, in the months that have passed according to internal time, the chance of the two of them being together is very high?”

This time it was Higa who replied:

“…You, could say that. Perhaps it would be better if we had Asuna-san dive in… Aside from her communication with Kirito-kun; we need the combat ability to protect Alice. Among us, the one most familiar with activity in virtual worlds would definitely be Asuna-san.”

“Then, it would be best to use the highest level possible for the advanced account.”

Nodding to Kikuoka’s words, Higa moved his fingers across the keyboard at breakneck speed.

“Then, pick whatever you like. Knight, general, nobility… there are all kinds of advanced accounts.”

“Hey, wait.”

Rinko interjected, slightly nervously.

“What?”

“…The attackers, could they be thinking the same thing? Didn’t you just say it? The shortcut to securing Alice is to operate from the inside.”

“Ah… Indeed. This could very well become their method. In the Main Control Room below, there are two STLs. But they must not have the time to crack the login passwords for the advanced accounts. They can only login as LV1 normal citizens. It’s hard to comprehend taking action with that kind of situation during the Final Load Test Stage.”

While he was quickly explaining—

Higa suddenly felt a sliver of anxiety, as though he had forgotten something important.

But this concern was dispersed by the list of accounts quickly rolling in.

Credits

  • Translation – Defan (Defan,2015).

Sword Art Online Light Novel 15 : Alicization Invading – Chapter 15 : In Northern Lands[TAP]

Translation of Sword Art Online’s volume 15, chapter 15.(Tap,2014).

Chapter 15

In Northern Lands
10th Month of Human World Calendar 380

1

Placing the dishes she finished washing on the dish drainer, Alice Synthesis Thirty wiped her hands on the hem of her apron as she flicked her face up.

The treetops visible beyond the small glass window had lost quite a number of leaves, dyed in red and yellow, to the chill of recent days. The arrival of winter was indeed earlier when compared to Central Capital Centoria.

Still, the rays of Solus pouring down from the skies, blue for the first time in a while, seemed warm. A pair of Treeclimbing Rabbits huddled together on a thick branch of the tree straight ahead, apparently enjoying their sunbath.

Alice smiled as she gazed at them for a while before she turned about and spoke.

“Hey, we seem to be having fine weather today, so how about we have lunch all the way at the eastern hills?”

No one replied.

The log cabin had only two rooms, and this one served as the living room, dining room, and kitchen with a plain wood table placed right in its middle.

Seated on one of the chairs, similarly plain, was a black-haired youth. Not even raising his head at Alice’s call, his vacant stare stayed upon a single spot atop the table.

He never did have much meat on him, but still, he was obviously more slender than even Alice now. His bony frame was visible even with the loose robe he had on. The empty right sleeve hanging down languidly from the tip of his shoulders only made him look all the more tragic.

Light was absent from his eyes, jet-black like his hair. Those two eyes reflected no more than his locked heart.

Suppressing the pain in her chest that she could never ever get used to, Alice continued in a cheerful voice.

“It might be a little windy, so it might be best to dress up thick. One moment, I shall prepare them at once.”

After removing her apron and hanging it off the hook beside the sink, she turned towards the bedroom next door.

Bundling her long, blonde hair behind, she wrapped a cotton scarf around herself. Along with a faded black patch around her right eye that still lacked light. She first put on one of the woollen overcoats arranged on the wall, then returned to the living room with the other under her arm.

The black-haired youth made no movement at all. After prompting him on by placing her hands on his skinny back, he eventually stood from the chair in an awkward motion.

However, that was all the youth was capable of; he could not walk even a single mel. Putting the overcoat on from behind him, she went around to his front and tied the leather strap near his neck tight.

“You can do it, keep them up for a little longer.”

Saying so, she ran over to the corner of the room.

A tough chair made from bright light brown wood was left there. Instead of four legs, it had two pairs of iron wheels attached, one large and one small. It was crafted by an elderly man by the name of Garitta who lived deep in the forest in solitude.

Holding onto the grips attached to the back of that wheelchair, she rolled it over to behind the youth. Sitting him down on the leather seat as his body swayed perilously, she then tightly covered his two legs with a thick lap blanket.

“There! Shall we make a move, then?”

She patted the youth’s shoulders, grasped the grips, and was about to wheel the wheelchair towards the door located south of the room.

The youth abruptly turned his face and reached his quivering left hand towards the eastern wall.

“Aah… aah.”

That deep, coarse voice was unintelligible. However, Alice immediately guessed what the youth desired.

“Ah, I’m sorry. I will fetch them right away.”

Three swords sat on sturdy metal fittings on the wall the youth stretched his hand towards.

On the right was Alice’s «Fragrant Olive Sword».

On the left was the jet-black long sword the youth once carried on his waist, the «Night Sky Sword».

And in the middle was a pure-white long sword that lacked a master to call its own, the «Blue Rose Sword».

Alice first removed the Night Sky Sword, almost as heavy as the Fragrant Olive Sword, from the wall and held it under her left arm.

Next, she lifted the Blue Rose Sword as well. Its weight reached only half or so of the black sword’s. After all, it had lost more than half of the blade in its sheath.

And the owner of this sword, that flaxen-haired youth who was this youth’s best friend, too, was no longer around…

She shut her eye for a moment and held onto both swords as she returned to the wheelchair. Upon gently laying them onto his lap, the youth placed his left hand on them before his face fell once more. He could express his own intentions through voice and motion only when seeking out those black and white swords.

“Be sure to keep a firm hold on them or they will drop.”

Alice told him while holding back the ache in her breast that had not lessened despite the months that passed. Pushing the now heavier wheelchair, they went out through the door.

A thick plank lay across the distance from the porch to the ground in the place of steps. Upon descending into the garden from there, a soft, cool breeze and the gentle sunlight enveloped the pair.

The log cabin was built deep within the thick forest, in a wide meadow. Alice personally cut, stripped, and assembled the wood it used. It was not much to look at, but its structure was sturdy as only trees with high priorities were used. She had to put up with the countless comments from the elderly Garitta, who taught her the method from scratch, about how he had never seen a girl with such strength, however.

This meadow was apparently where Alice and Eugeo had their secret playground when they were still children. Unfortunately, she had no memories of that time whatsoever. All memories from before she became an integrity knight were plundered through the «Synthesis Ritual».

She told the elderly Garitta and the villagers that she lost all of her past memories, but offered no reason. But in truth, her current self—Integrity Knight Alice Synthesis Thirty—was no more than a temporary personality dwelling in the body of the one born and raised on this land, Alice Schuberg. She felt obligated to return it if she could, but the memories of the original Alice had departed from this world alongside Eugeo.

“…Now, let us go.”

Alice let out her voice to shake off that moment of contemplation and moved the wheelchair on, out from the front of the residence.

Nearly all of the meadow, circular with a diameter of thirty mel, was covered in cushy undergrowth, but an abundance of withered grass lay stacked up in a section in its east. It appeared like the nest of a gigantic creature—or rather, it truly was—but the master of that nest was absent. She gave it a glance and pondered where it could have went to play today while exiting from the small path heading northwest from the meadow into the forest.

The road split into the east and west five mel ahead. A village named Rulid was in the west, but she had no desire to visit without purpose. Entering the eastern path, she set out while stepping through the filtered sunlight sparkling on the ground.

She slowly continued through the forest progressing from the season of autumn leaves to that of fallen leaves with the tenth month soon meeting its end.

“Are you cold?”

She called out to the youth but received no reply. He would say nothing even if plunged into a blizzard of intense cold. She looked over his shoulder and confirmed the overcoat’s collar was closed tightly.

Of course, warming themselves would be easy if she generated a thermal element or two. However, there were villagers who viewed them with suspicion, so she preferred to refrain from having rumors about her abuse of sacred arts spread.

After walking for about fifteen minutes while carving furrows into the beaten path anew, the path ahead brightened up. A slightly elevated hill showed up in front after leaving the grove of trees. The road gradually became uphill, but still, Alice pushed the wheelchair on without difficulty.

The view instantly opened up after reaching the top of the hill.

Straight to the east was the blue surface of Lake Ruhr. And the extensive marshes deep within it. The forest continued indefinitely to the south.

A look to the north revealed the «mountain range at the edge», covered in pure white snow, towering as though to pierce through the sky. The days she easily flew over those peaks astride her flying dragon seemed like a distant dream now.

She did long to look upon the beautiful landscape with both eyes. The abundant energy in the earth and sun here should be capable of healing the right eye she lost on the outer wall of the Central Cathedral. However, she had no desire yet to eliminate only her own injury through sacred arts.

After all, the youth’s hollow eyes could only continue their vacant stare towards mid-air even with the late-autumn scenery endlessly spreading out before him.

Sitting down by the wheelchair, Alice leaned against the large wheel.

“How beautiful. More so than any of those art pieces hung on the cathedral’s walls.”

She called out the youth’s name with a smile.

“…This is the world you protected, Kirito.”

A single white water bird made ripples on the lake’s surface as it glided and soared away.

 
How long had it been since she sat down?

Solus’s ascent had progressed quite a bit when she finally noticed. It was about time to return to the cabin and prepare for lunch. In his current state, Kirito barely ate anything each time, so even a single missed meal would lead to a decline in his maximum Life.

“It is getting late, let us make our way back.”

It was when she stood up and grasped the wheelchair’s grips while saying so.

Noticing light footsteps treading over grass and climbing the hill, Alice turned about.

The one who approached was a young girl dressed in a black habit. Her lovely face that still retained vestiges of childishness showed a gleaming smile while she energetically waved her right hand.

“Nee-samaa!”

The gentle breeze brought her lively voice over and Alice smiled as well while she gave a slight wave back.

Practically skipping over the last ten mel up, the girl took several seconds to catch her breath after her feet came to a stop, and spoke once more in a bright voice.

“Good morning, Alice-neesama!”

Springing to the side, she gave a vigorous greeting to Kirito sitting on the wheelchair as well.

“Good morning to you too, Kirito!”

Her broad grin that showed no worry over his lack of response was infused with faint sorrow the moment she turned towards the two swords on Kirito’s lap.

“…Good morning, Eugeo.”

Reaching out with her right hand as she whispered, she softly brushed against the Blue Rose Sword’s sheath with her fingertips. If someone unknown were to do that, Kirito would show a somewhat defensive response, but he now let her do as she pleased.

Having greeted her two friends, the girl straightened up and turned back to Alice again.

Alice replied while conscious of a mysterious tenderness deep in her chest.

“Good morning, Selka. How did you ever know we were here?”

It took over a month for her to able to stop calling her Selka-san.

She had earnestly longed to meet her little sister ever since she found out about her existence from Kirito’s words at the Central Cathedral half a year ago. However, now that that wish was granted, the more precious she found Selka, the stronger this question grew within her: if she—an ex-integrity knight by the name of Alice Synthesis Thirty, rather than Alice Schuberg—had the right to be her elder sister.

Selka might, or might not have noticed Alice’s unending conflict, but nonetheless, she spoke on with a smile free from concern over that issue.

“I didn’t search with sacred arts or anything of that sort. You were out when I visited, so I thought you could have come here since today’s weather is so fine. I left fresh milk as well as an apple and cheese pie baked just this morning on the table, so be sure to have them for lunch.”

“Thank you, that’s of great help. I was at a loss thinking of what to make.”

“Well, Kirito might end up running away someday due to the food you make, after all, nee-sama!”

Selka laughed and Alice replied while smiling as well.

“Now you’ve said it! You know, I am capable of cooking pancakes without burning any now, at least!”

“I wonder if that’s really true, you did turn them into cinders when you tried cooking them with thermal elements at first and all.”

Alice tried to berate her with a poke to her forehead with her finger, but Selka nimbly dodged it and jumped into Alice’s bosom. She gently hugged her little sister’s back closer as she nudged her face into her breast.

It was only at such times when she strongly wished she could flee from the intense pressure weighing on her heart.

What a relief it would be if she could forget the guilt from turning her back to the duties of an integrity knight and spending her days, quietly, deep in this remote forest. Still, Alice knew at the same time that she should never forget that. The end was approaching from beyond the mountain range at the edge, moment by moment, even while she embraced her little sister.

 
At the very end of the fierce battle at the Axiom Church Central Cathedral—

Having suffered enough injuries to drain her Life away, Alice lay on the marble floor, immobile, vaguely aware of the flow of the battle.

The struggle to death between Administrator the highest minister and Kirito who wielded two swords.

The highest minister’s annihilation, incinerated in the flames of Chief Elder Chudelkin’s captivated delusions.

The death of Kirito’s best friend, Eugeo, whose flesh was split apart alongside his cherished sword.

Kirito who was caring for Eugeo had vehemently cried out to a mysterious crystal plate that appeared on the north edge of the hall. At the end of the exchange that Alice hardly understood, Kirito’s entire body suddenly stiffened up and just as she thought so, he fell onto the floor—with that, the world sank into silence.

Right as Alice recovered a mere, slight amount of her Life and became capable of moving, Solus’s dawn shone in from the east window. With that light as a source of sacred energy, Alice first healed the fallen Kirito’s wounds. However, his consciousness remained lost and she reluctantly laid him down, and then attended to herself with healing arts before inspecting the crystal plate he spoke to.

However, the surface that had shone pale purple already lost almost all of its light and there was no reply no matter how many times she touch or spoke to it.

At a loss, Alice sat down.

She did trust in Kirito’s words and fought against the absolute ruler, Administrator, in order to protect the people of the Human World and her little sister living in some remote region, but she honestly doubted she could survive.

When the strange sword soldier the highest minister called «Sword Golem» pierced deep into her body.

When she used her own body as a shield against that onslaught of lightning bolts.

And when she threw all caution to the wind and leapt in just as Kirito’s life was about to be severed by that blade swung down—

Alice braced herself for death countless times. However, the sacrifices of Cardinal the sage, Charlotte that mysterious spider, and Eugeo, along with Kirito’s gallant fighting had held on to her life.

—You saved me, so take responsibility for it!

She endlessly shouted that at Kirito who lay down at the side. But the black-haired youth’s eyelids remained shut. Think about the path you should take from now on and choose it yourself… it seemed to Alice as though he was saying that.

After hugging her knees for tens of minutes, Alice finally stood up.

Perhaps due to the annihilation of the master of that space, the elevating disk had ceased motion like the crystal plate, so she broke it with her sword and leapt down to the ninety-ninth floor with Kirito on her back.

Going down the long staircase from there, she went past the elders who continued chanting arts, and reached the grand staircase from where she headed straight towards her master in swordsmanship who she had left in the large bath—towards where Integrity Knight Commander Bercouli Synthesis One was.

The large quantity of hot water frozen by Eugeo’s armament full control art had mostly thawed and Bercouli’s sprawled body, floating in the bath, was fortunately freed from Chudelkin’s petrification art.

Upon dragging his large frame onto the aisle and slapping his cheeks while loudly crying out “oji-sama”, the giant man let out a grand sneeze before he opened his eyes.

Alice somehow had it in herself to explain the situation to her master who went and uttered without showing any tension on his face, “Oh, it’s already morning?” Predictably enough, her words turned Bercouli’s expression grave and he spoke a single line in an overpowering voice after hearing it all.

Good work there, lil’ miss.

The knight commander’s consequent actions were prompt. They gathered the integrity knights to the «Grand Cloister of Spiritual Light» on the fiftieth floor, beginning with Deputy Knight Commander Fanatio who was somehow fully healed and asleep in the middle of the rose garden despite losing to Kirito and Eugeo, and continuing with the others who were apparently similarly bound by petrification, such as Deusolbert and Eldrie, then disseminated the facts they could.

That after a battle with two swordsmen-in-training from North Centoria Sword Mastery Academy, the highest minister, Administrator, was defeated and erased.

That the highest minister was working on a horrifying plan to transform half of the people into monstrous weaponry with bones made from swords.

That the Chamber of Elders, superior to the Order, was effectively Chief Elder Chudelkin alone and he, too, had died alongside the highest minister.

All they kept hidden was the origin of the integrity knights—no, their «conception». Bercouli withstood the impact of the truth, bearing doubts over the words the highest minister used about them summoned from the Celestial World from the start, but decided it should only be communicated to the other knight in progressive steps.

Nonetheless, Eldrie, Fanatio, and the others were visibly shaken. That was only natural. The highest minister with power comparable to the gods, the absolute ruler who reigned for hundreds of years, had died; it should be no easy task to accept that reality.

At the end of that discussion filled with utmost disorder, the knights chose to follow their commander’s orders for the time being, thanks to Bercouli’s popularity and ability, as well as perhaps the unbroken operation of the «piety module». Regardless of any changes, they were still knights serving the Axiom Church and now that Administrator and Chudelkin had left the Human World, it was undeniable that Knight Commander Bercouli was at the top of the church’s chain of command.

And the instant he was entrusted with that right to command, Bercouli focused all of their effort on carrying out their original duty, to «protect the Human World». He must have felt lost and conflicted himself. He did find out that there were memories of those whom he loved, stolen from him, within arm’s reach, after all.

Still, he decided to securely seal the thirty swords that formed the sword golem and all of the over three hundred crystal prisms on the hundredth floor of the cathedral, and to temporarily hide the death of the highest minister from all but the Order. In order to prioritize the impending, extensive invasion from the Dark Territory over the recovery of the integrity knights’ memories, including his own.

Bercouli somehow rallied the partially destroyed Order of the Integrity Knights, and then set out on the major task of reorganizing and retraining the Four Empires Imperial Guards of the Human World who were previously no more than an army in name; naturally, Alice assisted as well. With the impromptu eyepatch made by Kirito wrapped around her right eye, she flew about to the north and south of Centoria.

However, her time at the cathedral was limited. The traitor who turned a sword towards the Axiom Church—the unconscious Kirito, in other words—should be executed; that view was expressed by quite a number of integrity knights and even some of the ascetics who were unaware of the highest minister’s death.

One dawn, when the work necessary had settled down enough for them to catch a breather, Alice left with Kirito astride a flying dragon. It was two weeks after those intense, bloody battles.

But predicaments followed them even then. Kirito’s eyes remained shut throughout even the nights camping out that she was unaccustomed to and she felt that he needed a proper roof with a warm bed, but lacked the funds to even stay in the city’s inn, yet outright refused to exert her authority as an integrity knight for such.

What came to mind then was Rulid, the name of the village Kirito told her of on the outer wall of the cathedral.

Holding on the ray of hope that its inhabitants might welcome them despite her lost memories since Eugeo and she were born there, Alice turned the flying dragon’s reins towards north. She flew while tending to Kirito’s body, so the trip from the Norlangarth Empire to the small village at the very foot of the mountain range at the edge required three whole days.

She descended into the forest a short distance from the village in order to avoid startling the villagers and ordered the flying dragon to guard their belongings there, before heading towards the village on foot with Kirito on her back.

Upon reaching a path after passing through the forest and a wheat field, she chanced upon several villagers. However, they all looked upon them with surprise and suspicion, with not a single one calling out to them.

It was when they arrived at Rulid Village, built on high ground, and tried to pass through its wooden gate that a youth of large build leapt out from the guardhouse constructed at its side. Blood rushed to his face that still showed vestiges of freckles and he blocked Alice’s path, going—

—Hold it, outsiders may not enter the village without permission!

The young guard who shouted so with his hand on the sword on his waist as though flaunting it, before doubt sank into his expression upon spotting Kirito’s face while he was carried on Alice’s back. He muttered, “Huh, isn’t this guy,” before staring at Alice again, his eyes and mouth gradually widening.

—You… could you be.

Alice felt slight relief at those words. She talked to the guard who seemed to remember her despite the eight years that passed, paying caution to the words she used.

—I am Alice. Please call for the village chief, Gasupht Schuberg.

It might have been best to name herself as Alice Schuberg, but she could not find it in herself to do so. Fortunately, it appeared that name was sufficient as the guard’s face instantly turned blue from red while his mouth opened and closed repeatedly before rushing into the village. He did not mention anything about waiting, so Alice passed through the gate and walked on in the guard’s trail.

The village soon turned riotous, like a disturbed beehive, in that early afternoon. Tens of villagers filled up the sides of the not-so-wide road, shouting out in shock upon spotting Alice as she passed by.

Almost no face expressed gladness at her homecoming, however. Rather, they could be said to seem even doubtful, wary, and afraid at Alice, clad in unfeminine metal armor, and Kirito, still asleep on her back.

The gently sloping road eventually merged into a round plaza.

A fountain and well lay in its middle with a small church, a ringed cross on its roof, in the north. When Alice came to a stop at the entrance to the plaza and the villagers began exchanging whispers with uneasy looks from a distance.

Minutes later, a single man approached with firm steps, breaking through the crowd on the east side. Alice immediately recognized the man in the prime of his life with a neat, grayed moustache as Gasupht Schuberg, the chief of Rulid Village and once a father to Alice.

Gasupht halted a distance away, then gazed at Alice and Kirito in turn without any change in expression at all.

Roughly ten seconds passed before he let out a deep yet resonant voice.

—Are you Alice?

Alice answered the question with no more than a “yes”. Yet the village chief neither walked closer nor reached out with his hands, questioning further in a voice more stern than before.

—Why are you here? Has your crime been pardoned?

She had no immediate reply this time. She herself knew neither what crime she committed nor whether it was pardoned.

Kirito mentioned the explicit reason why Integrity Knight Deusolbert took the young Alice Schuberg to the capital was «Trespassing into the Dark Territory». That was certainly a transgression of the Taboo Index. However, as an integrity knight, Alice was no longer bound by taboos. The highest minister’s orders were the one and only law to a knight. But that highest minister was no more. She had no choice but to determine what were crimes and how to be pardoned from them, what was evil and what was good on her own…

Alice stared straight back into the village chief’s eyes as she replied with those thoughts in her mind.

—I have lost all of the memories from when I lived in this village as punishment for my crime. I do not know if I was pardoned through that. However, I can now go nowhere but this village.

Those were Alice’s unfeigned, true feelings.

Gasupht’s eyelids shut as deep wrinkles formed themselves at his mouth and brow. However, the village chief raised his face before long and what he announced with a keen light in his eyes were grim words indeed.

—Leave. This village has no place for one who committed a taboo.

 
Selka’s face rose, perhaps sensing that instant Alice’s body stiffened up, and inclined her neck slightly.

“Nee-sama…?”

Alice showed a smile as she responded to her little sister’s anxious whisper.

“It’s nothing, really. Now, it is about time we return.”

“…Okay.”

After nodding and freeing herself from the embrace, Selka spent a moment looking up towards Alice, but her bright smile returned straight away.

“I’ll push until we get to the fork!”

She proclaimed and immediately stood behind the wheelchair Kirito sat upon and grasped its handles with her small hands. The wheelchair itself was rather heavy, not to mention how a single person, though skinny, along with one and a half swords at the rank of sacred tools weighed it down. That load was too much for one who was merely fourteen years old and served as a sister apprentice that did not involve physical labor—or so Alice thought the first time Selka tried—but she leaned forward with her legs standing firm, the wheelchair began moving, though slowly.

“Be careful, we are going downhill.”

Selka had never let the wheelchair fall yet, but she still could not help but to call out in a slightly nervous tone which made Selka reply with a, “It’s fine, you’re such a worrywart, nee-sama”. It seemed that when Alice was still living in Rulid, she showed a little too much concern for her little sister despite going through all those adventures and experiments with Eugeo.

Was her basic personality preserved even with her memories lost, or was it a simple coincidence? She pondered while walking beside Selka who pushed the wheelchair on with a serious expression.

Upon reaching the foot of the hill, the gentle slope turned into a flat path. Selka earnestly continued despite the wheelchair’s increase in weight. While staring at her little sister’s profile, Alice’s thoughts switched back to the past once more.

It was Selka who called, from under a grove of trees’ shade, for Alice to stop after she left Rulid Village, dejected and crestfallen, on that day she was denied from returning to the village. If it was not for Selka’s courage, acting how she did despite aware that her actions disagreed with the thoughts of her father, the village chief, and the good will of the elderly Garitta she introduced Alice to, Alice would have been still wandering about without a destination even now.

It could not have been an easy story to swallow for Selka either.

Her elder sister who finally returned to her hometown had lost all of her past memories.

Kirito who left a deep impression on her through their conversations in mere days two years ago had fallen into a coma.

And Eugeo who was like a brother to her had died—

However, Selka showed her tears only when she found out Eugeo would never return, with her smile not fading even once in front of Alice after that. She could not help but feel gratitude and wonder at the depth of her mental toughness and thoughtfulness anew with each passing day. She felt that strength was more precious and mighty than an ascetic’s sacred arts, or even a knight’s sword.

And at the same time, she was reminded daily of how powerless she was, without the Axiom Church.

Having built the small yet firm cabin just two kilolu away from the village, deep in the forest, with the help of the elderly Garitta, what Alice set out doing straight away was an extensive healing art on the still-unconscious Kirito.

Within the vast forest where Terraria’s grace was most bountiful, she chose a day without even a single cloud in the skies to obstruct Solus’s light and coalesced ten luminous elements with the plentiful sacred energy granted by the earth and sun gods to that space, converting them into healing energy and pouring it into Kirito’s body.

The healing art Alice devoted all of herself to apply had the potential to fully heal even the massive amount of Life a flying dragon had, let alone that of a human. She was confident that regardless of how grim Kirito’s injuries were, he would immediately recover along with his severed right arm and open his eyes as though nothing had happened.

Yet—

Right after the blinding spiritual light left, Kirito’s eyes did open but those jet-black eyes lacked any light of reason. Though Alice repeatedly called his name, shook his shoulders, and even shouted at him while embracing him, he merely looked up at the sky blankly. Alice failed to even revive his right arm.

Four months have passed since that day, but there was no sign of Kirito’s mind returning.

Selka kept supporting her by insisting that Kirito would definitely recover to his old self some day since she’s putting her all in nursing him. Still, Alice secretly feared it was impossible for herself.

After all, she was no more than an existence created by the highest minister, Administrator.

Selka who had been silently pushing the wheelchair so far came to a stop while saying, “Let’s take… a break”, waking up Alice from her musing once again.

Her left hand gently touched her little sister’s back while she panted with sweat glistening on her brow.

“Thank you, Selka, I will push from here on.”

“I wanted to push, all the way, until the fork…”

“You already pushed a hundred mel more than the previous time, didn’t you? That helped out a lot.”

She found out from the village that situations like this would be where an elder sister, older by many years, should give her little sister some spending money, but unfortunately, she did not have even a single copper coin in her pockets. Losing even a mere shear would be horrible in her current financial situation, so she carries around money only when out to shop.

To make up for that, she brushed Selka’s bright brown hair. Her little sister smiled with her breathing calmed down, but Alice noticed faint gloom on her expression and tilted her head.

“What is it, Selka? Is something bothering you?”

She asked while holding the wheelchair’s grips and Selka opened her mouth after brief hesitation.

“…Erm… there’s another request to deal with the trees at the cleared land from uncle Barbossa for you, big sister…”

“What, is that all? There is nothing for you to worry about, thank you for delivering the message.”

Alice replied with a smile, but her sister’s crestfallen expression lifted with a discontented pout.

“But… those people care only for themselves. Don’t you think so too, Kirito?”

She questioned Kirito, sitting on the wheelchair, but the youth looking downwards gave no response, naturally. Still, Selka’s tone turned increasingly intense as though he was in agreement.

“Neither Barbossa-san nor Redack-san bother trying to let you stay in the village, so how could they still get you to help out when they’re in trouble? I know I am the one delivering the message, but you don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to, big sister. I will be sure to bring food from home for you.”

After letting a giggle escape from those words, Alice pacified her sulking little sister.

“Though your feelings make me happy, there is really no need to be bothered over it, Selka. I like the cabin and I feel blessed enough, staying close to the village. …I will go immediately after Kirito is done with his lunch. Where is it?”

“…The cleared land in the south, he said.”

Selka softly replied and spent a short while silently walking beside the wheelchair.

With just a little more to the fork heading towards the log cabin, she suddenly spoke in a firm tone.

“Sister, my time as a sister apprentice will end next year and I will receive some wages, even if it’s not that much. When that time comes, you can stop helping those people, okay? If it’s for you, big sister, and Kirito, I… I will always…”

Alice gently hugged Selka whose voice came to a stop there.

She felt her tawny hair on her cheeks, a sensation much the same despite the clearly different color, and whispered.

“Thank you… But I feel blessed enough simply with you close to me, Selka…”

 
Seeing off Selka, who waved her hand endlessly in reluctance to part, Alice returned to the log cabin with Kirito and quickly prepared lunch.

Though she had become somewhat capable of housework recently, her skill at cooking alone remained stubbornly lacking. Compared to the Fragrant Olive Sword, the kitchen knife bought from the village’s general store seemed as unreliable as a toy and twenty or thirty minutes would pass in the blink of an eye as she nervously sliced the ingredients.

Fortunately, Selka had delivered that freshly baked pie today, so she cut it into smaller portions and fed Kirito. By bringing the pie to his mouth with a fork and waiting patiently, his lips would eventually open slightly, accepting it into his mouth. With that, Kirito would slowly, slowly chew as though replaying his memories of how he used to eat.

While Kirito’s mouth moved, she would eat the pie filled with apples and cheese herself, savoring its taste. It was likely Sadina Schuberg, the village chief’s wife, who made it. Mother to Selka, and Alice.

When she still lived at the Central Cathedral, she could freely dine on the rare delicacies from around the Human World squeezed on the table in the large dining hall. Sadina’s homemade pie both looked and tasted humble in comparison, but it seemed several times more delicious. Alice did feel a little peeved that it seemed to get more reaction out of Kirito than her own cooking, however.

Upon finishing the meal and the cleaning up, she sat Kirito on the wheelchair once again and placed the two swords on his lap.

The front garden shone golden in the afternoon sunlight as they left the cabin. The days were growing shorter lately and it would swiftly turn to dusk should her mind wander. Reaching the southern fork with a quick pace, she pointed her feet towards the west this time round.

The forest came to a stop shortly after she walked straight, with the wheat fields ready to be harvested stretching out. The densely packed village of Rulid could be seen beyond the heads of grain, swaying excessively under their weight. The spire shooting noticeably high up in the middle of the red bricked roofs, erected in rows, was that of the church where Selka lived.

Neither Selka nor Azariya, the sister entrusted with the church, knew the Central Cathedral managing the Axiom Church organization in the Human World’s four empires was now no more than a fanciful illusion with no master. Still, the small church that served also as an orphanage stayed in operation without issue.

Even with the cathedral descending into chaos with the death of the highest minister, there was no apparent impact on the lives of the masses. The Taboo Index functioned as always, still constraining the masses’ awareness. Could they truly take up arms and fight to protect the Human World?

They would likely obey if ordered by the Axiom Church or the emperors. However, that alone could not bring them victory against the forces of darkness. Knight Commander Bercouli must be aware of that grave reality at the very least.

What would decide the course of battle in the end was neither the priority level of weapons nor the usage authority of arts, but the strength of one’s will. Kirito’s struggles as he upset that hopeless difference in battle potential, defeating numerous integrity knights, Chief Elder Chudelkin, and even Highest Minister Administrator, served as proof for that.

Taking on the looks given by the villagers laboring in the wheat fields, entwined with vigilance and anxiety, with her chest puffed out, Alice whispered to her master in swordsmanship in her heart.

—Oji-sama, for the masses living in the Human World, peace might not be something to protect but something granted for all of eternity.

—And the ones who nurtured that idea must be… the Axiom Church, the Taboo Index, and us, the Order of the Integrity Knights.

Even at this very moment, Knight Commander Bercouli should be toiling away, training the forces of the four empires in Central Capital Centoria and producing their equipment. Or perhaps he was already mobilizing troops to the «Great East Gate» the frontier of the Eastabarieth Empire where the fighting will be fiercest. He must be wanting for even an additional knight around, both as an assistant with practical experience and as military capability after war breaks out.

—That said, I am now…

Going through the wheat fields while sunken in her contemplation, she exited at the cleared land spreading out towards the south of the village. Stopping the wheelchair right before the dug black soil, she scanned through the vast plot of land.

It was said that a massive forest larger than the one in the east, where Alice and Kirito lived in, stood here until a mere two years ago.

However, thanks to Kirito and Eugeo felling the Gigas Cedar, the «demonic tree» towering above all else as it ruled over the forest and endlessly absorbed sacred power, the village’s men could now engross themselves in expanding the fields, or so Selka had said with an exasperated look.

A gigantic pitch-black stump remained right in the middle of the cleared land and to its south, vigorous chopping noises rang out from the axes of tens of villagers. The potbellied man standing in a corner, issuing booming instructions all about without an axe in his hands, was the master of the largest farm in the village, Nygr Barbossa.

Though somewhat reluctant, Alice still pushed the wheelchair over the narrow, beaten path. Kirito made absolutely no reaction even as he passed along the stump, the vestiges of the enormous tree he once fell; his head remained hung down as he held the two swords.

The first to notice the approaching pair were young men from the Barbossa family, resting atop the trunk of a freshly fallen tree. The trio, seemingly fifteen or sixteen years old, watched Alice, who had a scarf wrapped over her blonde hair, without reserve before shifting their gaze towards Kirito in his wheelchair. Deep jeering could be heard as they exchanged words in an undertone.

Upon ignoring them and passing through them, one of the youths shouted out in a drawl.

“Uncleee, she’s hereee.”

Nygr Barbossa, who was screaming everywhere with his hands on his waist, vigorously spun around at that and showed a smirk on his greasy, round face. His large mouth and narrow eyes reminded her of Chief Elder Chudelkin somewhat.

Still, Alice returned the best smile she could muster and gave a slight nod.

“Good afternoon, Barbossa-san. I heard you had work for me, so…”

“Oooh, ooh, if it isn’t Alice, I’m glad you’re here.”

His two hands spread out, approaching haltingly, as his round tummy quivered; Alice was convinced he desired an embrace, but after a look at the wheelchair before her, he fortunately gave up on that.

In exchange, Nygr stood a mere fifty cen on her right before spinning his huge frame and pointing at a towering, large tree between the forest and cleared land.

“Look, you can see it, can’t you? We’ve spent all our time on that frustrating platinum oak since yesterday morning, but this pathetic amount is how much progress was made even with ten adult men swinging their axes at it.”

The index finger and thumb on his right hand formed a smallish semicircle.

The large white and brown tree with a trunk of a mel and a half across had spread its roots deep into the earth, stubbornly rejecting the laborers. Two men swung their large axes in turn even now, but the notch carved in its trunk was shallow indeed, at less than even ten cen.

Sweat poured down the men’s bare upper bodies like waterfalls. Their chests and arm muscles were developed well enough, but their handling were rather stiff, perhaps due to the lack of need to wield an axe in their daily activities.

One of the men had his right leg slip as she watched and struck a wrong spot at an angle. The axe snapped at the middle of its handle and unrestrained laughter from the man’s co-workers immersed him as he fell hard on his buttocks.

“Good grief, what are those blockheads doing…”

Nygr moaned and looked at Alice once again.

“At that rate, I have no idea how many more days will it take for that one tree. And while we were stuck here with that, Redack’s men have already expanded the land by twenty mel in every direction!”

After uttering the name of the next most influential farming household after the Barbossas, Nygr kicked away a pebble at his feet. His breathing had grown distraught, but all of a sudden, a full smile appeared on his face as he let out a wheedling voice.

“And that’s how it is, I know our agreement was for once a month, but could you treat it as an exception just this once and lend me your strength, Alice? You probably don’t remember, but I spared… no, treated you to sweets time after time when you were young. You were such a cute little miss back then, you see, no, no, of course, that’s not to say that’s any different now…”

Alice interrupted Nygr’s words while holding back her sigh.

“I understand, Barbossa-san. I will treat this one particular time as an exception.”

Getting rid of trees and rocks, like the platinum oak before her eye, obstructing the land clearing was Alice’s current sacred task—no, her temporary source of income.

Naturally, it was not work officially assigned to her. There was an incident about a month into her peaceful life on the outskirts of the village where a gigantic fallen rock sealed the road towards the cleared land to the west. The episode of Alice rolling that rock away on her own as she came across it spread through the village as a rumor and before she knew it, they depended on her for assistance on tasks like this.

It was a fact that money was necessary if she were to continue living with Kirito, so she was thankful for the offers. Still, as Selka was worried that the men would bother her with an endless stream of requests if she took on the physical labor without complaint, she decided to limit her help to once a month for each farming household.

Nygr should be bound by every single rule laid in the Taboo Index, the fundamental laws of the Norlangarth Empire, and those of the village, but it came as no surprise to her that he would send two requests within the month despite that being a violation of the agreement. Though he had not broken through the «seal of the right eye»—what was «Code 871» according to the highest minister’s words—like Alice or Eugeo, it was likely he simply felt Alice to be beneath himself. He must felt no need to naively abide by some agreement made with an ex-convict living in some hut on the outskirts of the village.

Even with those thoughts in her mind, Alice nodded at Nygr once again before parting from the wheelchair. She took note of Kirito’s status, but he seemed unconcerned by the clamor in the surroundings. After telling him that she would be right back in her heart, she walked towards the large platinum oak.

The men who noticed Alice showed smirks or blatantly cluck their tongues. However, there were now few unaware of Alice’s strength, so they distanced themselves from the tree without a word en masse.

Taking their place before the great tree, Alice quickly drew a seal of sacred letters with a finger on her right hand and brought out its «Stacia Window». Its quantity of Life was quite a figure, as expected of one that ten adult men would have trouble against. Using a borrowed axe as usual would prove ineffective against that priority level.

Returning to the wheelchair in a jog for the moment, she bent down and whispered softly.

“I apologize, Kirito. I would like you to lend me your sword for a little while.”

She gently touched the black leather sheath with her right hand and felt his left arm tense up slightly as it held the sword.

However, after patiently looking into his blank eyes, the strength eventually left his arm and a hoarse voice escaped his throat.

“…Aah…”

This was likely a fragment of his memories rather than her feelings actually getting through to him. What controlled Kirito now were not his thoughts but the memories resident in his breast.

“Thank you.”

Whispering so, she slowly brought up the black sword from his arms. After affirming that Kirito remained docile, she returned back to the platinum oak.

But still, this was a splendid tree. Though it could not compare to the great ancient trees rising around Central Capital Centoria, it must be over a hundred years old.

Alice gave an apology in her heart before stabilizing her footing.

Her right leg forward and her left leg back. She gently placed her right hand on the grip wound with black leather of the «Night Sky Sword» unevenly set on her left hand. She measured the distance to the tree with her left eye.

“Hey, hey, you think you can break platinum oak with that thin sword?”

One of the men shouted and the crowd went into an impromptu frenzy. That sword’s gonna break; the sun’ll set before that; while the jeers flew in one after another, Nygr Barbossa’s concerned voice mixed in.

“Aah, Alice, if possible, I would rather you do something about it within an hour, you know?”

She had fallen over ten trees since she started this job, but required around thirty minutes almost every time. The reason behind that slowness was due to her having to keep her strength in check to avoid breaking the axes she borrowed. But she had no need for that worry today. The Night Sky Sword was a sacred tool boasting a priority level equal to Alice’s Fragrant Olive Sword.

“No, I will not require that long.”

Replying with a near-murmur, Alice gripped the sword’s handle.

“…Haah!!”

A short yell. A cloud of dust whirled up from beneath her right foot, dug firmly onto the ground, like some sort of explosion.

It had been a while since she swung an actual sword, but fortunately, she had yet to forget her techniques. The horizontal slash from the left in the same motion as drawing it from its sheath ran through the air like black lightning.

The surrounding men appeared to have been unable to follow the slash itself. Even as Alice rose up from her final posture, with the sword swung completely to the right in front of her, they continued scowling questioningly.

There was no more than the meager notch made by the men on the platinum oak’s smooth bark; it had suffered no other damage—or so it appeared.

A “Whaat, she missed?” eventually came from somebody and a number of them laughed. Alice glanced at the person to whom that voice belonged to and spoke as she sheathed the sword.

“It will be falling that way.”

“Hah? The heck are you…”

The man’s two eyes opened wide with shock upon getting to that point in his words. He saw the platinum oak’s trunk slowly begin to tilt. A scream grew from him and those around him as they ran behind.

The huge tree fell with a terrific tremor where the men were until three seconds ago.

Alice moved to the front of the stump as she warded off the rising thick cloud of dust with her right hand. Fine tree rings were clearly visible on the newly-made cross-section and shone as though it was polished, but a single section on the edge was slightly frayed.

Perhaps her skills have dulled, or perhaps her unavailable right eye was to blame—Alice pondered as she turned herself about.

Her upper body unconsciously straightened up in the next instant. Nygr Barbossa had a full smile on his face and was rushing towards her with heavy steps, his arms spread out.

She instinctively lifted the sword in her left hand and Nygr came to an abrupt stop at the clink made by the guard. Still, his smile remained and he put his spread out hands together in front of his body as he shouted.

“B-Bri… brilliant! What skill! Jink, the guard chief, couldn’t even hope to match that! It’s practically divine!”

He went another mel closer and continued his words with an expression filled equally with admiration and greed.

“H-H-How about it, Alice, I will double your fee, so let’s not make it once a month, help us out once a week… no, once a day!!”

Alice lightly shook her head at Nygr who was rubbing his hands together fast.

“No, the fee I am currently receiving is plenty.”

If she were to wield the Fragrant Olive Sword and make use of the armament full control art, it would not be on the scale of one large tree a day; it would be possible to change this forest to nothing more than barren land as far the eye could see in mere minutes. But if she were to do that, their requests would stretch on to tilting the plains, smashing rocks, and even making it rain.

Nuhnhnhnhnh; Nygr moaned in agony before finally snapping out of it, blinking, after a “my pay, please” from Alice.

“O-Oh, that’s right, that’s right.”

Sticking his hand in his pocket, he pinched out the agreed hundred Shear, a single silver coin, from a leather bag that sounded heavy.

Dropping that onto Alice’s palm, Nygr still stubbornly added some words.

“How about this, Alice? I will pay another silver coin, so how about you decline those under Redack this month if they ask for help…”

It was then, when she held back her sigh and was about to reject his offer once more.

A heavy clunk reached her ears. Her face sprung up and saw the wheelchair sprawled on its side with Kirito thrown onto the ground a distance away.

“…Kirito!”

She gave a hoarse shout and rapidly slipped past Nygr.

She could sense desperation from Kirito as he reached out with his left arm with his stomach lying on the ground. Ahead of him were the previously resting young men, two who now supported the long sword sheathed in white leather on the ground as they cried out in excitement.

“Uohh, woah, this is heavy as heck!!”

“That’s why even that girl can bring down that platinum oak in one blow, huh?”

“Shut up and hold onto it properly!”

The third youth shouted and held the Blue Rose Sword’s handle with both hands so as to draw it.

Alice heard her own teeth gnashing as they grinded together. Released next from her throat was a sharp yell.

“You bastards…!!”

The youths’ mouths opened wide upon hearing that as they looked at Alice.

She ran through the remaining twenty mel in an instant and came to a stop with the dust whirling up. The three looking at Alice’s face backed off haltingly.

Somehow restraining the emotions threatening to burst out with a deep breath, Alice first helped up the fallen Kirito. While sitting him on the wheelchair once again, she ordered with a stifled voice.

“That sword belongs to this man. Return it now.”

Defiant expressions instantly showed up on the trio’s faces. The lips of the one with a large build and about to draw the Blue Rose Sword grew crooked and he pointed at Kirito.

“We did ask that guy if we could borrow the sword, you know?”

Back on the wheelchair, Kirito’s left arm was still reaching out towards the pure white sword while his feeble voice leaked out.

One of the youths holding back the sheath warped his lips in ridicule as he continued.

“And then, he generously lent it to us. With those cries of aah, aah, you know?”

The last went with the flow and laughed with a “yep, yep”.

Alice could not help but to tighten her right hand’s grip on the wheelchair’s handle. That hand was unmistakably seeking to draw the Night Sky Sword hanging off her left hand.

She would have sliced off those six hands touching the Blue Rose Sword without even a hint of hesitation half a year ago. Integrity knights were above the Taboo Index and its prohibition on hurting others. And in the first place, with the seal on her right eye currently broken, there were no longer any laws capable of keeping Alice’s actions in check.

Still—

Alice grinded her teeth so hard it hurt as she fought against the impulse surging through herself.

These youths were part of the people of the Human World that Kirito and Eugeo sacrificed their lives to protect. She could not hurt them. Neither of them would wish for that.

Alice remained silent without moving a cen for several seconds. But she likely failed to conceal the bloodlust emanating from her left hand. The trio wiped off their smiles and averted their eyes, afraid.

“…Fine, no need for that scary look.”

The larger one eventually spat out with a sulk and took his hands off the sword’s grip. The remaining pair let go of the sheath with faces that appeared relieved, probably already at their limits in supporting it. The Blue Rose Sword laid down heavily where it was.

Alice approached without any additional words, stooped over, and deliberately used just three fingers on her right hand to lift the white leather sheath. After a glare at the brats right after turning about, she returned to the wheelchair.

She wiped the soil that got on the sheath with the cuff of her overcoat, then placed on Kirito’s lap both the white and black swords which he firmly hugged before coming to a stop.

She gave Nygr Barbossa a glance, seeing him apparently paying that commotion no attention and engrossed in directing the men. Alice lightly bowed towards his back as he continued his shouting, and then pushed the wheelchair back north on the narrow path.

The anger raging in her breast for the first time in a while had turned to a cold sense of futility.

It was not her first time thinking so since she began living in the forest near Rulid. Most of the villagers avoided even talking to Alice and as for Kirito who lost his sense of self, they would not even treat him as a human.

She had no plans to condemn them. Alice was likely still a criminal who violated the Taboo Index to them, after all. She felt thankful enough for them giving their silent consent for her to stay close to the village, and selling her food and daily necessities.

Still, she still pondered in a corner of her mind. —What for?

Exactly what did she suffer so much and fight against the highest minister, Administrator, for? The other highest minister, Cardinal, the intelligent black spider, Charlotte, and Eugeo lost their lives; Kirito lost his speech and emotions; exactly what was protected after all that?

That line of thought ended up on a question that she could never utter.

Was there truly a need to protect people like those from the Barbossas?

That doubt was partly what made Alice abandon her sword and live in this remote land.

The tremendous military forces of darkness were drawing closer, moment by moment, beyond the «Great East Gate» at the end of the Eastabarieth Empire even now. It was dubious if the reborn «Human World Defense Army» fostered by Knight Commander Bercouli could even be deployed in time. As Alice was not relieved of her integrity knight duties—the only one capable of doing so was the deceased highest minister—perhaps she ought to be rushing towards the Great Gate to join them as soon as she could.

However, the weight of the Fragrant Olive Sword was now beyond what Alice could handle.

The Celestial World she believed to be her origin was actually a deception. The Axiom Church she swore her fealty to was smeared in lies. Not to mention she now knew the ugliness and vulgarity of the Human World’s inhabitants far too vividly. The time she could swing her sword without doubts over her own justice and pray to the gods was of the distant past.

Those Alice now truly wished to protect numbered a mere few. Her father; her mother; Selka; the elderly Garitta; and Kirito. If nothing would befall them, what issue would there be turning her back to her knight duties and continuing her peaceful life in this land—?

Leaving the cleared land, Alice’s feet stopped just as they reached the path beyond the wheat fields, and she whispered to Kirito.

“Could we go shopping in the village seeing as we are here? I will not allow some insolent child to harass you this time.”

There was no reply, but judging the lack of response as consent, Alice pushed the wheelchair on towards the north.

 
The skies were dyed in the shades of sunset by the time they bought a week’s worth of food and essentials with the hundred Shear silver coin earned and returned to the forest cabin.

She was on the way up the cabin’s porch when she noticed a low whoosh approaching. Descending slightly with the wheelchair, she awaited the origin of that sound near the meadow’s middle.

What made its appearance before long, skimming the treetops, was a gigantic silver beast with two wings, a long neck, and a tail—a flying dragon. Alice’s flying dragon who brought the two of here from the central capital. With the name, Amayori.

The flying dragon circled through the skies above the meadow twice before gently descending. Tucking in her wings and stretching out her neck, she first touched Kirito’s chest with the tip of her nose before rubbing her large head against Alice.

Upon scratching the faintly bluish fuzz under the dragon’s neck, a low kururu rang out from her throat.

“Amayori, you have gotten a little plump. You have been eating too many of the lake’s fishes.”

After being scolded with a vague smile, she breathed out from its nose as though embarrassed, turned her long body about, and walked towards her bed east of the cabin. She curled up atop her bed made from thickly laid dry grass, entwining her tail with her head.

Half a year back, Alice undid the leather bridle fixed on Amayori’s head and released the binding art on the day she decided to build this cabin in this meadow. And she even went to the extent of telling her that she was now free and to return to the flying dragon nest in the west empire, but the flying dragon made no attempt to leave Alice.

Making a bed with grass she gathered on its own, she plays in the forest and catches fish in the lake during daytime, but comes back in the evening without exception. Despite the lack of the sacred art that restrains the proud, brutal disposition of a dragon and brought her under a knight’s command, it was a mystery why she did not return whence she came.

That said, she was simply glad that Amayori, always together with her since she became an integrity knight, would remain by her side through her free will, so she made no actual effort to chase her away. The villagers spotting her flying over the forest at times seemed to be one of the causes for Alice’s unsavory reputation among them, but she felt no point in being bothered over that now.

After telling Amayori good night as she began her low snoring atop the dry grass, Alice pushed the wheelchair into the cabin.

For dinner, she made a stew from half-moon beans and meatballs. The beans were just a little hard and the balls were not all that consistent, but it seemed to have tasted rather decent. Naturally, it was not like Kirito gave any opinion through his words. He merely chewed and swallowed, as though from memory, whenever the small spoon entered his mouth.

She considered how it would be nice if she knew his likes and dislikes at least, but realized she actually held a proper conversation with this youth for less than even a full day after thinking about it. It seemed Selka lived with him in the church for a while two years ago, but she only remembered him indiscriminately enjoying everything served. She thought that, too, was just like him.

It happened after she moved Kirito, who managed to finish the stew after some time, to the small stove’s side along with the chair and was washing the cutlery in the sink, lining them up in the drainer.

Amayori who usually slept until dawn suddenly cried out with a low rururuu outside the window.

Her hands jerked to a stop and she perked up her ears. A noise unsuited to the season was mixed in the night wind passing through the forest, like a cold winter wind. A noise like thin, large wings flying against the wind.

“……!”

Leaping out of the kitchen, she confirmed Kirito was staying quiet on the chair before opening the entrance. Straining her ears again, she judged the wind noise to be approaching, immediately went down to the front yard, and looked upwards into the night sky.

The black silhouette descending in a spiral against the backdrop of a sky filled with stars unmistakably belonged to a flying dragon. She looked towards the east of the meadow just to be sure, but naturally, Amayori was crouching on her bed as she looked up at the sky.

“Could that…”

The moment she was about to return for her sword, having thought it could be a darkness knight from the Dark Territory who crossed the mountain range at the edge, she saw the dragon’s scales gleam silver in the moonlight. She lessened the tension in her shoulders slightly. The integrity knights of the Axiom Church were the only ones to ride flying dragons with silver scales even if one were to search the world over.

That said, it was still too early to be relieved. Exactly who would fly to a region this remote, and for what reason? Could it be that the debate regarding the execution of the traitor, Kirito, continued even throughout this half year and that the cathedral had finally dispatched someone to do the deed?

Perhaps sensing Alice’s tension, Amayori crept out from her bed before lifting her head up high and crying out once more. However, her menacing, deep tone soon faded away, replaced by a coy, high-pitched kyuun.

Alice, too, knew why straight away.

The flying dragon that landed on the southern part of the meadow after circling another three times had fuzz in a shade much like Amayori’s growing around its neck. That could only be Amayori’s elder brother, a dragon named Takiguri. In other words, the one riding on him was—

Alice called out in a stiff tone towards the knight clad in full silver armor who landed on the ground in an elegant motion.

“…To think you would find out about this place. What business do you have here, Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-one?”

The one and only integrity knight possessing a number younger than Alice, who was thirty, did not speak immediately and instead, first gave a deep bow with his right hand on his chest.

Straightening his body, he slowly removed his helmet. His lustrous light purple hair fluttered in the night wind and his good looks with a sense of urban flamboyance were revealed. With his high, smooth voice, rare for a man—

“It has been a while, my master, Alice-sama. Your beauty has not faded despite this change in dressing. I could not help but to make haste to meet with you, master, with a bottle of alcohol from my cherished collection upon imagining the bewitching splendor your golden locks would have under this evening’s glorious moon.”

The left hand held behind his back darted forward and in it was a bottle of wine.

Alice held back a sigh as she answered the man who apparently regarded her as his master.

“…I am truly glad your wounds have healed, but I see your personality is as it had always been. I have only just noticed, but your manner of speech is slightly similar to Chief Elder Chudelkin’s.”

Turning her back to Eldrie who let out a mild ugh, she proceeded towards the cabin.

“E-Erm, Alice-sama…”

“I will hear you out inside if it is important. If it is not, down the wine on your own and return to the central capital.”

Alice gave a glance at the siblings reunited after half a year, Takiguri and Amayori, who were happily nuzzling each other’s heads, then returned to the cabin fast.

Eldrie, who docilely followed along, scanned through the narrow cabin with curious eyes before his gaze fixated on Kirito looking downwards beside the stove. However, he mentioned nothing about the rebel with whom he had once crossed swords with and swiftly slipped to the table and pulled a chair for Alice.

“……”

It seemed ludicrous to thank him, so she sighed instead and sat straight down. Eldrie sat opposite Alice without asking and placed the wine bottle on the table. His face clouded over the moment their gazes met straight on, likely spotting the black bandage still covering Alice’s right eye. That expression soon vanished, however, with Eldrie’s nose twitching as he raised his face.

“…There seems to be some aroma here, Alice-sama. On another note, I have yet to take dinner due to this trip I undertook in haste.”

“On another note? In the first place, what would spur you to bring wine instead of rations when flying to this remote region from the central capital?”

“I swore to the three goddesses that I will never have that dried, squirmy thing in this life. If I have to satisfy my stomach with that, I would rather starve and give my Life up…”

Alice stood from the chair without listening to Eldrie’s absurd excuses to the end. Moving to the kitchen, she served the leftover stew from the metal pot on the stove into a wooden plate and returned to the table.

Eldrie stared at the bowl placed before his eyes with a mixture of delight and suspicion.

“……Excuse my abrupt question, but could this possibly made by your hand, Alice-sama…?”

“Why, yes, it is. What about it?”

“……No. I am merely overjoyed by this day, in which I could partake in cooking made by my master; more so than being endowed with some hidden sword stance.”

Holding the spoon with a nervous expression, he brought beans to his mouth.

Alice asked once again towards Eldrie whose mouth moved as he chewed.

“And so, how did you find this place? No art could reach this far from the central capital… and I hardly believe the Order could dispatch flying dragons to every area in search of me alone in its current situation.”

Eldrie gave no reply for a moment, murmuring comments such as “so it’s not that bad, after all” as he energetically moved the spoon, but eventually raised his face from the now-emptied plate, then wiped his mouth with a handkerchief he took out from one place or another before looking straight towards Alice.

“I came, following the bonds of fate linking us, Alice-sama… or so I would like to say, but unfortunately, this was an utter coincidence.”

His right hand flashed open in a pompous gesture.

“Reports that the goblins and orcs were sneaking about of late came from the knights going about the mountain range at the edge. The caves in the north, south, and west were all destroyed under the knight commander’s command, but as there was still the possibility of them stubbornly digging through, I came to confirm the issue.”

“…The caves…?”

Alice’s knitted her eyebrows.

Among the four passages passing through the mountain range at the edge, the caves in the south, the west, and the one exceeding close to Rulid Village, the north, were rather narrow, denying access to the orcs and giants who formed the bulk of the darkness forces. As such, she anticipated the enemy army would gather at the «Great east Gate», but Knight Commander Bercouli had collapsed those three caves immediately upon assuming command as insurance.

That was precisely why Alice built this secret home on this land, but the situation would change if the enemy were to dig through the cave. Rulid Village would flip from a peaceful remote region to the front lines where battle would first break out.

“And so… did you confirm the movements of the darkness forces?”

“Though I flew around the cave for an entire day, I saw not even a single goblin, let alone an orc.”

Eldrie lightly shrugged and continued.

“Perhaps they mistook a pack of beasts for military forces.”

“…Did you check inside the cave?”

“Naturally. I peeked in from the Dark Territory’s side, but it was buried in rocks up to the ceiling. They would probably need a large force to dig through that. …Then Takiguri strangely kicked up a fuss when I pulled on the reins to return to the central capital. I left the flying to him and he descended straight towards here. Honestly, I am just as shocked. It’s a huge coincidence… no, maybe it was the guiding hand of fate after all.”

Having left his flowery language behind some time ago, Eldrie showed the resolute face of a knight and continued.

“I am obligated to report that I had come across this opportunity for an audience with you on this particular occasion. Alice-sama… please return to the Order! Rather than the assistance of a thousand men, what we need now is your sword!!”

Alice slowly turned down her eye as though avoiding the knight’s forceful gaze.

She knew.

She knew the crackling of the brittle wall shielding the Human World crumbling away. And of the hardships Knight Commander Bercouli and the newly-formed Defense Army suffer as they propped it up.

Alice could never repay her debt to the knight commander for his protection and guidance, and she had yet to lose her sense of unity with those in the Order of the Integrity Knights, including Eldrie. That said, that was insufficient to spur her to battle.

Strength is the might of one’s will. Alice realized that truth through the battle at the cathedral. If willpower could allow one to overturn a devastating difference in battle potential, like Kirito back then, then it could dull the strongest sacred tool too—

“…I cannot.”

Alice softly replied.

Eldrie’s sharp voice rang out at once.

“Why.”

Without waiting for a reply, his sight, keen like a whip, turned to the young man sitting on the chair next to the stove.

“Is it for that man? Is your heart still led astray, Alice-sama, by that man who broke out of the cathedral’s jail and turned his treacherous blade on many knights, the chief elder, and even the Esteemed Highest Minister? If that is so, I shall cut off the source of your hesitation for you this very moment.”

Alice’s one eye glared at Eldrie as he put strength into his right hand holding onto the table’s end.

“Stop it!”

Though that single line was at a suppressed volume, the knight still straightened up his upper body with a start upon hearing it.

“He, too, only fought for the justice he believes in. Otherwise, how could he defeat all of us integrity knights, who are supposed to be the strongest, and even the knight deputy commander? You should know the weight behind his sword as well, having crossed swords firsthand.”

Even as wrinkles came together near his high nose bridge, Eldrie slowly released the strength in his shoulders. He lowered his gaze to the table while murmuring to himself.

“…Certainly, I, too, find it hard to accept Administrator-sama’s plan of changing half of the people into soulless soldiers with bones of swords. And without that youth… Kirito and his friend, Eugeo, it is unlikely anyone would stop that plan from being realized. Not to mention that if it is as Bercouli-dono said, that the one who guided that pair truly stood on a par with Administrator-sama once, as another highest minister, Cardinal-sama, I would hardly wish to point out Kirito’s crimes. However… if that is so, I find it even harder to swallow!!”

As though pouring out what he had always kept suppressed in his breast, Eldrie shouted.

“If the skills of the rebel, Kirito, overwhelm even those of us integrity knights as you have mentioned, Alice-sama, why does he not take up his sword and fight?! Why was he reduced to such a miserable state and continues to anchor you down to this remote region?! If he murdered Administrator-sama in order to protect the masses, then should he not be rushing to the Great East Gate this very moment?!!”

Eldrie’s words, as though spewing out fire, showed no sign of reaching Kirito’s heart either. His half-closed eyes reflected no more than the light from the wavering embers in the stove.

The heavy, lasting silence that descended was punctured by Alice’s calm voice.

“…I am sorry, Eldrie. I am incapable of going with you, after all. It has nothing to do with Kirito’s status… I have merely lost the strength to wield my sword. I doubt I could even get a point if I were to cross swords with you now.”

Eldrie’s two eyes flashed open as though he was taken aback. The prideful knight’s face contorted like that of a young boy.

That face showed a smile bearing resignation in time.

“…I see. Then I have nothing more to say…”

Slowly stretching out his right hand, he started muttering a sacred art. The following quick incantation created two crystal elements and changed their forms into that of extremely thin wine glasses.

Picking the wine bottle up from the table, he flicked the tough cork off with just his fingertip. He poured a little of the crimson red fluid into both glasses from the bottle before putting it down.

“…If I had known we would be bidding each other farewell with this wine, I would have brought along one that was aged for two hundred years old from the East Empire in my collection.”

Eldrie lifted one of the glasses, downed it in one go, and then gently returned it to the table. He took a bow and stood up, his pure white mantle billowing.

“I bid you farewell here, master. Your guidance on my sword and arts shall remain unforgotten as long as this Eldrie lives.”

“…All the best. I pray you stay safe.”

Lightly nodding back towards Alice who managed to get those words through her mouth somehow, the integrity knight scraped his boots against the floor as he walked away. Alice could not help but to avert her eyes from his back filled with unshakable pride.

The door opened and closed. A single shrill cry came from Takiguri on the front yard, followed by the sound of flapping wings. Amayori’s voice, nasal from her reluctance to part with her brother, pricked Alice’s breast.

Though the strong flapping vanished into the distance before long, Alice continued sitting without stirring.

Right before the Life of the glasses made from crystal elements expired, she gently lifted one to her lips with her fingertips. The first wine she tasted in this half year left an aftertaste more bitter and sour than sweet on her tongue. The two empty glasses scattered into pale light as they disintegrated seconds later.

She pushed the cork back into the bottle, yet to be emptied, and stood up. Moving to the stove, she called out towards Kirito who still sat in silence.

“…I am sorry, you must be tired. It is long past the usual bedtime, after all. Now, let us go to bed.”

Gently tapping his shoulders with her hands to make him stand, she then guided him to the connecting bedroom. She changed his black robe to his undyed sleepwear before laying him on the bed at the window.

Even upon bringing up the folded blanket at her feet and covering him up to his neck with it, Kirito’s eyes remained half-open, still staring at the ceiling unblinkingly.

The room was filled with a pale blue darkness after she blew out the lamp on the wall. She sat down beside Kirito and softly caressed his emaciated chest and bony shoulders for several minutes; his eyelids fell only then, as though some source of power he had was cut off.

She waited until the sleeping Kirito’s breathing stabilized before leaving the bed and changing into white sleepwear herself. Returning to the living room, she checked on Amayori from the window, then extinguished the two lamps and went back to the bedroom.

She lifted the blanket on the bed and slipped in beside Kirito as his faint warmth enveloped her body.

Though closing her eye would have usually allowed her to flee into her sleep without delay, her drowsiness seemed mostly absent today.

The blinding white of the mantle whipping on Eldrie’s back as he left remained imprinted on the insides of her eyelids, stinging her eyes.

That same pride should have filled her own back in those days. That unshakable resolve surging through her body as energy for protecting the Human World, its inhabitants, and the Axiom Church’s authority with her sword.

However, every last drop of that strength had left her.

She had a question for Eldrie—for her former disciple. Exactly what do you fight for, now that both the church and the highest minister have been exposed as falsehoods?

But she could not ask. None of the integrity knights were informed of the entirety of the highest minister’s horrifying scheme aside from Bercouli and herself. Not even Eldrie knew the fact that his «memory fragment» and his «most beloved person», reduced to a part of the sword golem, remained on the sealed highest floor.

As such, he still believed in the concept of the Axiom Church. He still waits, expectantly, for the day the three goddesses would send a new highest minister to the cathedral to bestow their infallible guidance.

But what should she do, as one aware that the goddesses and the Celestial World were both great lies?

It was perfectly understandable, but Knight Commander Bercouli had to hide half of the truths from the knights to have them prepare for the incoming war. The hesitation currently in her breast would certainly infect the other knights if she was in their presence.

Nobody knew if the Defense Army established in haste could repel the coordinated assault from the darkness forces. If they broke through the Great East Gate, the monsters thirsting for blood would march on to this remote village sooner or later. Was there no method to avoid that disaster—a certain voice replayed within Alice’s mind every time she pondered that.

The two lines that came from that mysterious crystal plate after the battle with the highest minister, before Kirito collapsed.

—Head for the World End Altar.

—Straight south after you exit the eastern large gate.

She had no recollection of this name, «World End Altar» in the Sacred Tongue. However, she knew what could be found upon exiting the Great East Gate. The wilderness of the Dark Territory: soil blackened like cinders and skies in the shade of blood reaching out. Neither advance nor escape was easy once one took a step in.

Even if she surmounted the outrageous difficulties to reach the altar, what awaited her there? Was there truly someone—or something—capable of protecting the inhabitants of the Human World from the darkness forces…?

Alice tilted her head atop the pillow and stared at the youth stretched out on the other side of the bed.

Creeping through the blanket, she moved to Kirito’s side. Reaching out her hands after slight hesitation, she clung onto him like a child spooked by a nightmare.

No matter how hard Alice drew his dismally thin body closer, the youth who made her heart waver with intensity on a par with flames showed absolutely no reaction. His pulse continued its sluggish pace; his lowered eyelashes remained utterly motionless. He… no, that might no longer be anything more than an empty shell with its soul utterly burnt out.

If her sword was now in her right hand—

She could bring an end to it all, stabbing their two touching hearts as one.

That momentary thought overflowed from Alice’s eyes as tears and fell onto Kirito’s nape.

“Tell me, Kirito… What should I do…”

No answer for her question came.

“What… should I……”

The moonlight pouring in from a gap in the curtains coalesced and faded within the teardrops ever-increasing.

 

The twenty-second day of the tenth month that came next was the coldest it got throughout that autumn.

Calling off the walk, she spent it together with Kirito by the stove. She intended to make plenty of firewood as the elderly Garitta had taught her to before winter truly arrived, but it appeared there would be no need for that.

After taking the entire day to write a mere two letters on parchment, Alice hesitated for a moment before signing off with Synthesis Thirty in Sacred Tongue as well below the Schuberg family name in Common Tongue.

She neatly folded one, put a wrapper on it, and addressed it to Selka. She set it on the table beside the other for the elderly Garitta.

The letters expressed farewells and apologies. She could no longer stay in this house now that Integrity Knight Eldrie knew of it. The next to come would likely be Knight Commander Bercouli himself, rather than Eldrie. Alice had no words she could use against her master in swordsmanship, her benefactor.

Hence, she would leave once more.

A thin, long sigh leaked from Alice before she raised her face and looked at the black-haired youth sitting on the opposite side of the table.

“Hey, Kirito. Where do you wish to go? I heard the highlands in the west are a truly beautiful sight. Or perhaps the jungles in the south? It would be warm year-long and the fruits there seem plentiful.”

Despite the bright voice she deliberately used, Kirito showed no response as always.

His empty eyes stayed glued to the tabletop. Her heart hurt upon thinking how she had to drag this injured youth from stability again. Still, even so, she could not possibly leave him in Rulid. Alice could not force such a task on Selka who was a sister apprentice, neither did she desire to. Caring for Kirito was the one and only reason Alice found to continue living.

“…I know, let us leave our destination to Amayori. You should go to bed soon, we will have to wake early tomorrow.”

Alice changed Kirito, put him to bed, then changed into her own sleepwear, and extinguished the light before slipping under the blanket.

Her ears focused on Kirito’s breathing by her side in the darkness. She gently shifted herself after he completely fell asleep.

Steady beating made itself known to her ear, pressed against Kirito, as she laid her head on his chest that had grown bony.

Kirito’s heart was no longer here. These heart beats, too, were no more than echoes from the past. Alice came to think so through the months she spent sleeping aside him each night. However, she still believed there was something remaining deep within each beat that echoed out.

If Kirito currently lost only his means of expressing himself yet retained his ability to think, what could she say to excuse this behavior of hers? Alice sank into the shallow abyss of sleep as a mild smile formed as she pondered.

 
Startling, weak shaking came from the body against hers.

She somehow managed to lift her heavy eyelids. She turned her left eye towards the window in the east, but the sky visible in the gap between the curtains was still pitch dark. Her sleep lasted two, three hours at most by her intuition.

Alice whispered to Kirito whose body stiffly trembled once again.

“It is still night… go to sleep for a little longer…”

She moved her eyelids back down and thought to rub Kirito’s chest until he went back to sleep. However, Alice finally noticed the youth’s abnormal behavior as his soft voice reached her ears.

“Ah… aah…”

“Kirito…?”

Kirito, in his current state, possessed no extraneous needs. He should not awake due to the cold, his thirst, or any such thing. And yet, the youth’s trembling grew stronger while his legs moved as though to leave the bed.

“Is something the matter…?”

Alice quickly brought herself up, wondering if he had, by some chance, regained his consciousness, and generated a single luminous element as even the time required to light the lamp seemed too precious.

She breathed out a disappointed sigh as she saw only that usual hollow darkness within Kirito’s eyes that showed up in the faint white light. But, then, what had—

The sound that reached Alice’s ears this time came from outside the window.

“Kururu, kurururuu!”

Cries came from Amayori who should have been sleeping in a corner of the vacant land. Sharp, shrill reverberations as though advising her master to stay vigilant.

Leaping to the floor, Alice ran to the living room from the bedroom and forced open the entrance door. The cold night air immediately blew in. A strange smell was mixed into the wind that normally smelled only of the forest. It seemed to prick into the depths of her nose; the stench of something burnt—

Alice jumped down onto the front yard still barefooted. She drew a sharp breath the moment she turned about, scanning through the night sky.

The skies to the west were aflame.

The ominous vermillion glow was unmistakably reflected from some humongous inferno. She focused her eye and spotted numerous trails of black smoke across the starry sky.

—A bushfire!?

She retracted that thought an instant after it came to her. Aboard the burnt, pungent wind faintly reaching her was the noise of metallic clangs—and a clamor of screams.

An enemy assault.

The Dark Territory forces were attacking Rulid Village.

“…Selka!!”

A hoarse cry escaped from Alice and she dashed back to the house. However, she stood petrified just as she got on the porch.

She had to save her little sister and parents.

But what about the other villagers?

If she tried her best to save everyone, she would need to fight the forces of darkness head-on. But did the strength to do so still remain in her current self?

The source of Alice the integrity knight was her almost blind loyalty for the Axiom Church and the Highest Minister. Now that she lost that faith along with her right eye, could she truly swing the Fragrant Olive Sword and use her sacred arts?

Standing frozen, Alice’s ears—

Picked up a gatan, from within the cabin.

Her left eye flashed wide open. A chair fell over in the middle of the dim living room and beside it was a black-haired youth crawling on the floor.

“…Kirito…”

Alice moved her paralyzed legs and entered the cabin.

The light of determination was absent as usual from Kirito’s eyes. That said, the motive for his sluggish movement was evident. His one, extended arm reached out straight towards the three swords hung on the wall.

“Kirito… you…”

Something hot was caught between her chest and throat. It took some time before she noticed what faintly warped her sight were tears.

“…Ah… aah…”

Kirito’s frame moved without pause as his hoarse voice escaped, desperately approaching the swords. Alice swiped at her eyes, then ran straight to the youth and raised his frail body up from the floor.

“Everything will be fine, I will go. I will save the villagers. So please settle down and wait for me here.”

Quickly whispering so, Alice drew Kirito into a tight hug.

Thump. Thump. The reverberations of his heart beats reached her from their touching chests.

A persistent willpower definitely lurked in those beats even with his heart closed off. Even as indistinct embers, they still transmitted distinct warmth to Alice’s body.

Alice pressed their cheeks together tightly before gently bringing him up and sitting him on a chair.

“I will be back immediately after saving them.”

She spoke again, and then first took her armor and sword belt out from the closet where they were this whole time before equipping them atop her sleepwear. Rushing over the eastern wall next, she grasped her beloved sword without hesitation.

The Fragrant Olive Sword weighed down her two hands as they held it for the first time in half a year. Attaching its scabbard’s metal clasp onto her sword belt, she threw an overcoat on while sticking her feet into boots, then ran down onto the front yard again.

“Amayori!!”

A gigantic silhouette flew out at once, lowering her head, after she called out towards the bed in the east.

Alice commanded in a keen voice after leaping onto the base of her long neck.

“Go!!”

Her pair of silver wings beat loudly and the flying dragon lifted straight off into the night sky after a short ground run.

She could clearly see the catastrophe in Rulid after gaining a little altitude. The grandly rising flames were mainly from the village’s north end. The aggressors likely did come from the Dark Territory through the mountain range at the edge after all.

Eldrie had said that there were no abnormalities at the «North Cave», blocked on Bercouli’s orders, last night. The numbers required to be mobilized for removing all that rubble in a single day definitely exceeded a mere ten or twenty.

It seemed small units had been sneaking in via the three caves through the mountain range at the edge under the cover of night to commit evil deeds since times long past. Kirito and Eugeo had claimed that they fought a group of goblins in the northern cave before they arrived at the central capital too. However, she had never heard of an attack this extensive yet bold. The whole of the land of darkness might truly be thinking that the time is ripe for an all-out assault on the Human World.

Amayori flew over the dense forest in a single go and arrived at the skies over the wheat fields at Rulid’s outskirts even as such thoughts went through Alice’s mind.

She had no reins, but she still conveyed her instructions to hover by lightly tapping the dragon’s nape.

Alice leaned forward and focused her eye on the village’s state. The main street crossing from south to north shone red with flames on its northern end and she could spot the distinct shadows of the advancing attackers. The nimble goblins dashed as though they were leaping forward. The large orcs, too, advanced with a short distance from them.

An impromptu blockade was built from furniture and lumber piled up immediately north of the central plaza, but the goblin vanguards had already reached there and their drawn swords flickering in the light struck as one to pass the obstacle.

The ones fighting back were of the village’s guard corps. However, they were likely surpassed by even the goblins: be it in numbers, in equipment, or in experience. At this rate, it would take but a brief moment before the orc unit, causing tremors as they approached from behind, pulverized them.

Holding back her desire to dive into the midst of that battle this very moment, she continued checking the situation.

Flames rose all about the eastern and western sides of the village as well. It seemed to have yet suffer damage from the plaza to the south, however. Aside from the guards, the other villagers—including Selka, of course—must have fled from the south gate and evacuated to the forest.

Alice focused her eye on the plaza once more with that thought in mind and could not help but to let out her voice.

“Why…!?”

There were countless silhouettes sticking close to the central fountain, surrounding it in the circular plaza before the church. It escaped her immediate notice as there were far too many of them. Nearly the whole of Rulid’s inhabitants must have been gathered there.

Why did they not escape from the village?

The guards would certainly be crushed in no time when the attackers’ main force reaches the blockade. Unless they begin moving straight away, it would be too late to evacuate.

Alice tapped the flying dragon’s neck again and shouted out a line after moving right above the plaza.

“Amayori, standby here until I call!”

And she jumped from the height of several tens of mel without the slightest hesitation. The hem of her overcoat blew violently as she fell, slicing through the cold night air.

The villagers, numbering an overwhelming three hundred, who huddled in a circle might have been prepared to put up a fight as there were men positioned on the edge carrying farm implements such as spades and scythes. Alice landed right beside two men who shot off orders from the side.

The stone paving cracked in a radial pattern with a thunderous roar. An intense shock ran from the sole of her feet to her head and her Life probably fell somewhat, but that was as far as it went.

The two men—the wealthy farmer, Nygr Barbossa, and Rulid Village’s chief, Gasupht—had their words scared out of them by the silhouette suddenly falling from above.

Though Alice felt her breath momentarily stop upon seeing her father’s face, she recovered quick enough to take advantage of the silence she caused and shouted out.

“You will not be able to hold them back here! Evacuate all of the villagers through the southern road at once!!”

The shock grew on the men’s faces as they heard Alice’s instructions.

But what came out from Nygr’s mouth after he came to his senses was a throaty, harsh voice.

“Don’t be stupid! How can we run away and abandon my mansion… this village?!!”

Alice refuted the wealthy farmer, veins popping from his brow, in a sharp tone.

“You can still escape from the goblins’ reach now! What is more important, your assets or your life?!”

Replacing Nygr who could grunt in reply, Gasupht the village chief let out his voice, deep and tense.

“Fortifying our defenses in a circular formation was the instruction from the guards’ chief, Jink. Even I, the village chief, have to abide by his orders in such a situation. That is the empire’s law.”

Alice was the one who went speechless this time.

During emergencies, the one who acceded to the sacred task of the guard chief gains a temporary authority to command all residents of a village or town in place of its leader. That provision certainly existed on the empire law of Norlangarth North Empire.

However, the guard chief named Jink was a youngling who only recently inherited his sacred task from his father. It was doubtful he could maintain his composure and assume command under such abnormal circumstances. The pronounced anxiety on Gasupht’s face showed that he, too, thought so inside.

That said, the empire’s laws were absolute to the villagers. She could only have Jink, commanding the defensive line fighting at the north side of the plaza, pull back and change his orders to start the evacuation at once, but there was clearly insufficient time.

What? What could she—

The cry of a young yet resolute voice reached Alice’s ears then, as she stood frozen.

“Let’s do as big sister says, father!!”

Looking back forward with a gasp, she saw a short sister healing the burnt villagers with sacred arts.

“…Selka!”

Thank goddess, she was fine; Alice took a step forward towards her beloved little sister, but Selka stood up and weaved through the crowd to the trio.

After showing a brief smile towards Alice, Selka’s facial expressions immediately tensed up as she spoke to Gasupht.

“Father, have big sister ever been wrong even once? No, even I can tell. At this rate, everyone will die!”

“But… but still…”

Gasupht stammered with a bitter expression. His moustache, stained with white, quivered slightly and his sight wandered futilely through empty space.

Taking the place of the village chief who went speechless, Nygr Barbossa erupted once more in anger.

“This is no place for a child to meddle!! We will protect this village!!”

His two bloodshot eyes stared at the Barbossas’ mansion built near the plaza. What was on Nygr’s mind was unmistakably the mass of wheat just harvested in autumn and the gold coins hoarded over many years.

Returning his sight towards Alice and Selka, the farmer, naturally enough, yelled out shrilly.

“Yes… yes, I’ve got it! You are the one who invited those beasts from the land of darkness to this village, aren’t you, Alice?!! You were defiled by the darkness’s power when you crossed the mountain range at the edge in the past!! You witch… this girl must be a terrible witch!!”

Alice lost her words, jabbed by that fat finger. The clamor from the villagers, the clashes between weapons resounding from the defense line, and the war cries from the monsters closing in from the north all felt far away.

Since she began living in the village’s outskirts, Alice had countlessly fell the forest’s gigantic trees on Nygr’s request. This man had practically writhed to thank her each time. And yet, he could still spew those words as his family’s fortunes occupied his entire time; how could—

Alice averted her eye from the middle-aged man with an expression much like the evil countenance of the orcs and murmured inside.

—How about you deal with it on your own?

—I will simply do as I like. I will take Selka, the elderly Garitta, my parents, and Kirito away from this village and search for a new home somewhere far away.

She grinded her teeth audibly; she lowered her eyelids.

Her stream of thoughts put forth an opposing view.

—But the foolishness Nygr Barbossa and the other villagers displays was created by the rule by the Axiom Church over hundreds of years.

The masses were bound by countless principles and laws under the Taboo Index and while they were granted a tepid peace, something important was steadily stolen from them.

That would be their ability to think, and to fight.

Where had that imperceptible power, plundered from the masses over endless years and months, accumulated?

Within the integrity knights who numbered merely thirty-one.

After she took in a deep breath and let it out, the force Alice’s left eye flashed open with practically made a noise.

Nygr’s face abruptly turned pale, as if from fright, in her sight.

In contrast, Alice felt a mysterious energy overflowing from within. A power like a flame burning blue-white, quiet yet hotter than all other. The power that she thought lost at the end of that battle on the cathedral’s highest floor—one that led Kirito, Eugeo, and Alice to face off the Human World’s mightiest ruler.

Alice took in a deep breath and announced.

“…I will revoke Guard Chief Jink’s order. I shall have every villager gathered in this plaza retreat to the southern forest with those bearing arms at in front.”

Her tone was gentle, but Nygr’s upper body bent back as though hit by some unseen hand. Nonetheless, one could still say his courage was admirable with how he still replied in a quivering tone.

“By… by what right can a girl who was drove away-”

“The authority of a knight.”

“Wha… what knight!? This village has no such sacred task! Even if you can swinging a sword around a little, do you know what will happen should the esteemed knights in the capital hear about you just claiming to be one…?”

Alice gave Nygr, frothing as he continued screaming, a firm look as she gripped her overcoat at her right shoulder with her left hand.

“I am… My name is Alice. Third among the Axiom Church’s integrity knights, overseeing the Centoria City Region, Alice Synthesis Thirty!!”

She tore the overcoat from herself as she loudly announced her name.

The moment the thick cloth her entire frame was clad in was taken off, her golden armor and Fragrant Olive Sword gleamed brightly as they reflected the blazing flames.

“Wha… an, an i-integrity knight…!?”

Nygr fell on his rear while looking upwards as a voice, now completely shrill, leaked from him. Gasupht’s eyes opened wide as well.

Alice’s proclamation of her name could not have been a lie. After all, there could not be any in this world who could pass themselves off as an integrity knight—none who could disobey the authority of the Axiom Church. Kirito and Alice were probably the only two capable of doing so, but it was not as if Alice abandoned her sword, the proof of her knighthood, even after escaping here from the central capital.

The villagers making a din around, too, fell silent. The swords clashing at the defense line in the north as well as the war cries of the guards and goblins, too, felt far away.

What broke that silence first was a whisper from Selka.

“Big… sister…?”

Turning her left eye towards her little sister who had her two hands grasped together before her chest, Alice smiled gently.

“I am sorry for keeping it from you all this time, Selka. This is the real punishment given to me. And—my real duty.”

Tear droplets appeared from Selka’s eyes upon hearing those words.

“Big sister… I…. I always believed in you. That you were never a criminal. You are beautiful… so, very…”

The next to act was Gasupht.

Kneeling down on the stone paving with a firm noise, the village chief shouted with a strained voice while looking downwards.

“Your will shall be done, esteemed integrity knight!!”

Quickly getting up, he turned back to the villagers behind and issued clear instructions.

“Everyone, stand!! Those bearing arms shall lead the way, run to the south gate!! Once you are out of the village, escape to the forest south of the cleared land!!”

An uneasy stir ran through the villagers standing stiffly. But that, too, lasted but a brief moment. The villagers had no option to resist orders from the village chief in the first place; all the more so when it was the will of an integrity knight.

The muscular peasants fortifying the surrounding stood up and urged the women, children, and elderly to stand as well. Alice called to Gasupht who joined in at the head of the pack to stop and spoke in a hushed voice.

“Father, please take care of everyone… of Selka and mother.”

Gasupht’s stern expression quavered for a mere instant and he gave a terse reply.

“……Do take care of yourself too, esteemed knight.”

This father would likely never ever call Alice his daughter again. That, too, was part of her payment for the power she was granted. Carving that into her heart, Alice pushed Selka’s back and made her go along with Gasupht.

“Big sister… don’t work yourself too hard, please.”

Alice smiled as she nodded to her little sister whose eyes were still watery, and then turned towards the north. The villagers moved off as one behind her.

“Ah… aah… m-my mansion…”

That pathetic moan came from Nygr Barbossa whose rear was still on the ground. His gaze flickered between the villagers running off and his mansion where the flames were closing in towards. Deciding to leave him alone, she focused on the overall state of the village.

She did succeed in setting the villagers into action, but they still numbered three hundred. It would take time for them all to escape from the village. But the defense line was reaching the end of its rope and besides, the enemy’s footsteps approached from the east and west too.

A young man’s shout, much like a scream, rang out from the north side of the plaza then.

“We can’t hold on any longer! Retreat! Retrea—at!!”

The voice belonged to Guard Chief Jink. Nygr stood up upon hearing that, as though revitalized, and flared up Alice.

“Look… just look at that! We should have stayed in the plaza and defended! We will get killed! They will murder all of uss!!”

Alice shrugged her shoulder and refuted calmly.

“No need to worry; there is all this space. I will hold them back here.”

“As if you can! You can’t possibly do it, not a chance! Even if… even if you are really an integrity knight, what can you do alone against so many of those demons?!!”

Nygr still continued crying out despite the goblins’ horrifying silhouettes already pressing in from the east and west. Ignoring him yet again, Alice glanced behind. The last of the villagers were still in the plaza, though enough of a distance from Alice and the rest in the center.

Alice gripped Nygr firmly from his nape and pushed him towards the south. That hand thrust straight into the night sky and she called her beloved dragon’s name out loud.

“Amayori!”

A mighty roar immediately returned from the skies. Swinging her raised right hand down from the west to the east, she then shouted.

“—Burn them to ashes!!”

The noise of flapping wings poured down like a storm and Nygr, standing still, along with the grotesque demi-humans charging into the plaza—the goblins—looked straight up at the same time.

The gigantic flying dragon diving through the skies, dyed red by flames, opened its jaw wide. A bluish-white gleam flickered from deep in its throat—

Shubaa!!

That resounded as a glaring light came forth. The heat ray that made contact with the west streets mowed down the east streets as well, cutting through before Alice and Barbossa’s eyes as they stood on the southern side of the plaza.

Time stopped briefly.

Terrible flames swelled up along a line and freed themselves into the night skies. The goblins swallowed up were blasted up high with shrill screams.

The heat ray that instantaneously slaughtered over twenty of the aggressors while vaporizing the fountain in the middle of the plaza and thick white smoke rolled out into the surroundings. Amayori flew off, skimming atop it, and Alice called out instructions to standby before glancing her eye behind.

Nygr collapsed back onto the stove paving, perhaps due to the strength in his waist leaving him, with his two eyes peeled.

“Wha… whaa… a…. a, a d-dragon…!?”

Alice was wondering what happened to the middle-aged man whose slackened cheeks went into spasm before desperate footsteps approached from beyond the hanging steam. The ones who appeared, all clad in leather armor, were the men from Rulid’s guard corps. The decision to beat a hasty retreat was a good call as their condition showed; despite suffering slight wounds, none were hurt badly among the several tens of guards.

A young man with a large frame who admirably ran at their end—Guard Chief Jink—noticed the plaza was mostly empty and shouted with a shocked face.

“W-Where have everyone from the village went!? Didn’t I tell them to fortify their defenses here!?”

“I had them retreat to the southern forest.”

Alice answered and he blinked as though just noticing her existence. His sight shifted between her head and feet countless time as he spoke, dumbfounded.

“You… Alice…? Why are you…?”

“There is no time to explain. Is this all of the guards? Are there any left behind?”

“Ah… yes, I believe so…”

“Then please escape along with everyone. Aah, and take Barbossa there with you.”

“B-But… they are right behind……”

Before his words finished—

“Gihii——!!”

A vulgar roar rang through the entire plaza.

“Wheree!! Where did you go, white iumss!!”

The ones who broke through the thick fog as they rushed into the plaza were goblins clad in coarse plate armor with long feathers on their heads, holding machetes similar to lumps of metal in their right hands. These seemed of a different tribe, having a slightly better physique when compared to those who appeared from the side streets earlier and were incinerated by Amayori’s flames.

Alice stared at the demi-humans as she placed her right hand on her cherished sword’s grip. Flying dragons could not fire their heat rays in succession. Alice had to face the enemy on her own until Amayori stockpiled the thermal elements within herself again.

One of the goblins noticed Alice who was clad in golden armor, and the colors of bloodthirstiness and lust welled up in his eyes shining golden as he cried out.

“Gihii!! A ium giirl! Kill heer! Kill her and eat heer!!”

Quietly taking on the demi-human who charged straight towards her while brandishing a machete with his abnormally long arm, Alice murmured deep in her chest.

—What a terrible power I was given. My very existence is practically a sin.

This body of an integrity knight.

“Gyaa——!!”

The heavy machete swung down as he leapt and was caught by Alice who carelessly extended her left hand. Though she felt an immense impact through her naked palm, it neither broke her bones nor tore her skin. Gripping the blunt blade with her five fingers, she crushed it as though it was nothing more than thin ice.

Even before the metallic fragments, broken and scattered far too easily, fell to the ground, the Fragrant Olive Sword was already drawn by her right hand and tore a horizontal line through the goblin’s torso.

The bright golden air from the sword swept in three goblins approaching from behind and blew away the cluster of dense vapor as well in no time at all. The four enemy soldiers’ golden eyeballs were peeled open, as though unaware of what had occurred, while their upper body left their lower body before they could let out a single word, collapsing haphazardly onto the ground.

Avoiding the blood that shot up a moment later, she muttered to herself within once more.

—Highest Minister Administrator. You were wrong, after all.

—You collected all this power into merely thirty integrity knights and made them puppets without a will of their own. You thought to grasp all of the power that should had been split between the masses of the Human World through that. However, this far too ill-distributed strength served only to delude and mislead both its owners and those around them. Like how you were swallowed by that overwhelming might and lost your humanity…

That mistake was now beyond redemption with the loss of the highest minister.

Thus, at the very least, she had to expend every last drop of this strength for the masses.

Not as an integrity knight of the Axiom Church, but as a single swordswoman; she had to think on her own and fight on her own will. Like how those two brave swordsmen did.

Her left eye was shut throughout that swing; Alice opened it with resolve.

At the same time, the defense line hastily built at the plaza’s north was smashed into small pieces from the other side.

The invaders’ main unit charged in as though to bury the wide main streets. The goblins numbered over fifty and were accompanied, though in lesser numbers, by orcs whose giant, plump frames were covered in thick iron armor, each with a trident in a hand.

Upon seeing them whose golden eyes gleamed, aflame, and roars filled with hate and desire, moans of despair leaked from Jink, the other guards, and Nygr Barbossa.

But Alice’s heart was at ease.

She relied not on the talent for battle she obtained as an integrity knight. Not even a knight could escape with light wounds if they were to surround by such numbers and stabbed by their spears.

What gave Alice strength was a new realization.

—I will fight for what I, myself, seek for from now on. I will fight to protect my little sister and my parents, along with the people of the Human World who Kirito and Eugeo hoped to protect.

Alice vividly felt the remaining doubts about herself and her sense of futility disappear into a white light deep in her heart. That light surged through her, finally accumulating at her right eye, covered by that black patch, and generating an intense heat.

“………!”

She clenched her teeth as she withstood a fierce pain that shot to her eye socket from the back of her head. But that pain somehow nostalgic, or heartrending. Alice gripped the bandage across her head with her left hand and took it off all at once.

Her right eyelid that had been closed since that day nearly half a year ago opened slowly. A red light expanded from the center of her dark vision and eventually turned into flicking flames. Visions of houses lit aflame overlapped and gradually closed in on each other—finally finishing as one.

Alice looked at the black cloth held in her left hand with both eyes.

Kirito made the eye patch, discolored from being washed many times, by tearing it from his clothes. The cloth that protected her for months ever since her right eye shot away along with that seal might have finally reached the end of its Life here as it began to disappear from its edges as melting into the air. Alice came to a realization while staring at that fleeting, beautiful sight.

She thought she was looking after Kirito who had lost his right arm and heart through this half-year. However, she was actually the one protected instead.

“…Thank you, Kirito.”

Pressing the black cloth to her lips immediately before it utterly vanished, she whispered softly.

“…I am fine now. I will likely still be at a loss, worry, and lose heart in the future… but I will go on. For us both to achieve our goal.”

Her head flipped up just as the cloth disintegrated.

Her two eyes gazed at the distinct sight of nearly a hundred goblins and orcs letting out a multitude of roars as they flooded forward. The fleeing footsteps from the guards and Nygr Barbossa echoed from behind.

There was no fear in Alice’s heart as she faced the enemy army on her own.

Breathing the burnt stench deeply, she yelled.

“—I am a knight of the Human World, Alice!! None of the blood or slaughter you seek shall happen while I stand here!! Return to your land through the caves you came from this instant!!”

As though awed by her refined, distinct shout, the goblins running at the head slackened slightly. However, a large orc in the middle of the group, possibly the general, immediately brandished his two-handed axe with a brutal roar.

“Graaahh!! «Cut-Feet Moricca» here will have that one little white ium girl on her knees before long!!”

The voice gave strength to the goblins. Alice put a decent amount of distance between her and the enemy army charging in as a massive black wave—

“Amayori!”

A huge shadow rapidly dived from the skies the moment she called out that name. Though the thermal elements accumulated were not enough for firing the heat ray yet, the flying dragon intimidated the demi-humans with her body and thunderous call while savagely skimming past their heads. The anxiety of the astonished enemy army rose beyond earlier.

Not letting that chance escape, Alice raised the Fragrant Olive Sword held in her right up high and shouted.

—Enhance armament!!

It was half a year since she last chanted those words of the «armament full control art», not to mention how she shortened the main body of the art, but Alice’s beloved sword responded to her will. The golden blade divided into countless small edges with a clear metallic noise and soared into the night sky while reflecting the fires’ glow.

“Rage—flowers!”

The golden storm of flowers fell upon the enemy army with numerous zaas.

The first to be wrapped in a spray of blood was the orc general who called himself Moricca. His entire body was stabbed through by many petals, instantly robbing him of his Life, and he fell onto the ground with a tremor. The orcs around him, too, bent down onto the ground with screams one after another.

The Fragrant Olive Sword was a sacred tool among sacred tools with the world’s oldest tree rooted to the core of the Human World before the world began as its source. As its alternate name, «Eternal Immortality», implied, even when divided into hundreds of flower petals through its armament full control art, each held a priority on par with famous swords forged by artisans. Coarse cast iron armor could not possibly defend against them.

The invaders became restless at losing their main force, including their general, in an instant. The charge’s momentum weakened before long and came to a stop around ten mel from the plaza.

Alice sharply swung her right hand that held her sword’s grip at the goblins lined up at the front, lost at whether to obey their greed or fear. The hundreds of petals danced through the air with light zaas, forming dense vertical stripes between Alice and the enemy army.

Alice gave a subdued proclamation while gazing at the demi-humans through the fence gleaming golden.

“This is the wall separating the Human World and the Land of Darkness. Even if you dig through the caves, you will not defile this earth as long as we knights live. Choose—to advance and fall into a sea of blood, or to retreat and flee back to the Land of Darkness!!”

Not even five seconds passed before the goblin vanguards turned back with great force.

 
3

A vibrant ensemble of hammers whirled up into the clear, blue winter sky.

Alice lifted her hand to her brow and looked at circular Rulid Village towering beyond the wheat fields.

Today marked a quick one week since the army of darkness’s assault.

Many of the houses built in the north of the village were burnt down, but with the village chief’s decision to put nearly every villager’s sacred task on hold to work on that, the progress of their reconstruction was rapid. Twenty-one of them had unfortunately escaped too late and lost their lives, and a joint funeral service was held for them at the church three days earlier.

After attending the service as she was requested to, Alice rode her flying dragon to the northern cave to confirm its status.

The long cave that should had been collapsed on Bercouli’s orders was dug out to such an extent that even the orcs’ giant frames could easily pass through and the area closest to the Dark Territory showed signs they camped over many nights.

The attackers did not hollow out the cave in a single night. They must have repeatedly collapsed the entrance after sending into a party of combat engineers from the Dark Territory. Thus, there would have already been a concealed group of goblins within, steadily working at it, when Integrity Knight Eldrie checked the entrance.

Care and wariness unbelievable from the goblins and orcs of old. This invasion could be surmised to be no mere reconnaissance, like those done many times before, by that alone.

Instead of collapsing the cave once again, Alice dammed the small river flowing from middle which previously served as a white dragon’s nest for a time and completely flooded the interior of the cave. Next unleashing the countless cryogenic elements she generated beforehand, she sealed the cave with ice rather than stone.

Now, no one could pass the cave without an art user on par with Alice generating thermal elements to melt the ice.

Taking her sight off Rulid Village and the white mountain range at the edge rising beyond it, Alice fastened the last bag of her belongings to Amayori’s left leg.

“Erm… big sister.”

Selka, who had been helping out with her preparations for departure with an adamant smile so far, opened her mouth while looking downwards.

“…Father actually wanted to see you off too. He was all absent-minded since today morning, you know? …I believe he must have been glad inside that you came back, big sister. I want you to believe in that at least.”

“I know, Selka.”

Alice hugged her little sister’s petite body and whispered in return.

“I left this village as a heinous criminal and returned as an integrity knight. But next time… when I am done with all my duties, I will be back as simply Alice Schuberg. That would be when I truly can say this. I am back, father.

“…Okay. That day will come for sure, right?”

Selka murmured with a watery voice, raised her face, and then wiped it with the cuff of her apprentice clothes.

Turning about, she called out to the black-haired young man sitting on a wheelchair by the side with as cheery a voice as she could muster.

“You stay well too, Kirito. Hurry up and recover and help big sister out, you hear me?”

Holding his lowered head with both hands, the sister, young in terms of age, drew a charm of blessing before she took several steps back.

Alice approached Kirito, then gently took the two swords from under his arm and stored them in the bag placed on the saddle on Amayori. Following that, she lifted Kirito, who had grown thin, easily and sat him down on the front part of the saddle.

She did ponder leaving Kirito in the village under Selka’s care. After all, if they were to proceed to the Great East Gate which would likely become the decisive battlegrounds against the forces of darkness, Alice would be occupied as a member of the Human World Defense Army and unable to attend to Kirito throughout the day like what she had been doing.

But still, she decided to bring him along.

Kirito definitely tried to take up his sword and head for the village on the night of the attack a week ago. The will to fight for another still remained within Kirito. Thus, the battlegrounds to protect the Human World could be where best to find the means to regain his former spirit.

Should the need arise, she would protect him even if it required her to strap him to her back with leather.

Alice gave her little sister whom she held dear one last firm embrace.

“…I will be going, then, Selka.”

“Yes. Take care… and be sure to come back, big sister.”

“I promise. …Please give my regards to Garitta-san too. …Stay well and focus on your studies.”

“I know. I’ll become a fine sister for sure… and one day, I’ll also…”

Selka trailed off there and showed a disheveled, tearful smile.

Gently stroking her little sister’s head before releasing her, Alice endured her reluctance to leave as she walked to her beloved dragon and rode immediately behind where Kirito sat on the saddle.

She nodded to her little sister on the ground and faced the blue skies.

The reins lightly rang out and the dragon began her ground run between the wheat fields with strength that showed no sign of the two humans and three swords weighing her down.

She would definitely return to this village one day.

Even if she were to fall on the battlefield, her spirit would still return; it surely would.

Alice shook off a drop of tear in her eyelashes and yelled out in a crisp voice.

“…Hah!”

Softly.

The sensation of floating came as they left the ground.

Having grasped an updraft, Amayori circled as she dashed into the sky.

The vast fields and forests; Rulid Village in their middle with a brand new roof gleaming at its core; Selka waving both hands as she earnestly ran; she burnt the sight of them all into her eyelids—

Alice had the flying dragon turn its head towards the eastern skies.

 

Credits

  • Translation – Tap(Tap,2015).

Sword Art Online Light Novel 15 – Alicization Invading – Chapter 16 : Attack on Ocean Turtle(Ushwood v.)

(Again… This is a translation made by Ushwood. This is also google translated from Russian to English, so bear with it… I know its somewhat non-understandable… but… yeah… Its just a temporary post and will be overwritten after Tap finished his work…🙂 //Tap still hasn’t finished Chapter 15 though…😦 )

July 2026

Takeru Higa could not foresee all the various events that have occurred over the last two hours.

However, what is going on in front of him, it was impossible to name it as “unthinkable.”

Fragile girl of eighteen or nineteen to view its fine right hand grabbed the collar of an adult male fifteen centimeters higher growth and pulled himself up. Hawaiian shirt flashy colors so taut that seemed about to tear, sandals heel off the floor.

Lieutenant Colonel drilling Seydziro Kikuoku withering look, Asuna Yuki released because of the beautiful lips razor-sharp voice:

– If Kirito-kun comes to myself, I have never in my life will not forgive.

From the place where he was Higa for Kikuoki glasses with black-rimmed eyes to be seen – there reflects only the ceiling. However, an officer of the SDF, like having a black belt in judo and kendo, just stunned Asuna’s words, only raised his hands up “surrendering” gesture; Adam’s apple jerked him, as if swallowed.

– Of course, I understand. My duty was, is and will be – to return Kirito-kun health.

Gloomy room, called the “second control center,” filled the tense silence.

Sitting in front of the console Higa, standing next to him Rinko Kojiro, a few remaining in the room staff RATH – no one could say a word. So all stunned furious head of the girl, the youngest of those present. “Well, yes, she went through a real battle,” – flashed the thought in the mind of a Higi.

Soon Asuna silently opened her right hand. Released Kikuoka breathing heavily and generally looked like that look crashing to the floor; it swayed back and forth. Rinko, waving floors white coat, he immediately was near Kikuoki and did not let him fall.

Then she, a physicist and former senpai Higi on workshops, hugged Asuna firmly to himself and whispered:

– Everything will be fine. Be sure everything will be fine. He will certainly come back to you.

After these words, like onions spanned body Asuna slightly weakened.

– … Yes, exactly. Excuse me, that came out of himself.

In the corner of the eye of the girl made a tear – even during this attack was not. Rinko gently wiped her fingertip.

Finally a little discharge atmosphere tensed again, when suddenly there was the sound of the sliding door to be opened manually. Burst into the room first lieutenant Nakanishi.

His white uniform shirt was covered in sweat and dust from the holster under his arm stuck a pistol grip. Throwing on Rinko and the other a quick look, he turned to the middle of the room and snapped Kikuoke:

– Allow me to report! The first and second bulkhead battened down, civilian evacuation in the forward pack is fully complete!

Kikuoka stepped forward, adjusting the gate Hawaiian shirts, and nodded.

– Thank you. What do you think, how many will hold bulkheads?

– Hmm … depends on what kind of equipment have these types; In any case, one light weapons break bulkheads they can not. If there is a circular saw or other similar cutting tool, would take at least eight hours. If you decide to use explosives … but I think this is unlikely. After all, very close to the central bulkhead …

– Cluster Light cubes, yes, – finished the sentence Kikuoka and pulling the handle of points to the nose, thinking.

But then he raised his head and looked around the cramped Subtsen.

– Okay, let’s get with the situation. Senior Lieutenant Nakanishi, report of casualties among the staff.

– Listen. Among the participants of the project, three civilians walking wounded – they assist in the nasal medical bay. Among the Self-Defense Forces soldiers were wounded, two seriously, two easily. They also provide assistance; I was told that there is no danger to life. Able-bodied people, including two slightly wounded, six.

– With such a high heat – a miracle that there were no fatalities … Now – the condition of the vessel.

– Lower compartment control gateway was badly damaged. Remote control gateway impossible. No access to the corridor and from the gateway to the main control center, but it’s like scratch. Most seriously what is cut the main power cable … Electricity consistently applied to all systems on alternate lines, but without having to reboot the host ship’s screws will not work.

– Turtle without fins, then. And on top of a shark, clinging to the belly, right? ..

– That’s right. All sections of the lower shaft of the first to twelfth, and the lower gate is fully captured by the adversary.

In the beautiful, courageous Nakanishi face framed by short-cropped hair through irritation. Kikuoka to which it is addressed, – apparently the exact opposite Nakanishi: a longish bangs and reminiscent of a school teacher – sat on the edge of the console and began to shake geta toes.

– They are under the control of main control center, the first installation of STL and all the rooms to the reactor, right? We are fortunate that, apparently, they do not seek to destroy everything.

– Hmm … you think so?

– If their goal was to destroy, they would not have staged the entire operation with the submarine, and just let the cruise missile or torpedo. So, the question is, who are these people … Higa-kun, do you have any thoughts on this?

From suddenly facing him question Higa blinked. He is still not completely moved away from the shock, but still his brain somehow rebooted.

– Ahh … Nuu, this …

Mumbling incoherently, he turned to the console and began to drive the mouse; soon on the big screen began to play recordings from CCTV cameras.

The picture in the window was dark and vague; putting it on pause, Higa began to tighten up the brightness and contrast. Finally, the image is normal, you could see a few people who were crouching on the corridor. All in black combat suits, helmets on their heads with multipurpose glasses, heavy machine guns in their hands.

– … In general, see: neither color nor on the body – no flags, no markings at all. Judging by the type and shape of weapons, it is not regular army type. Their machines are similar to Steyr, but it is good to fill up the market … In general, I can say one thing: according to the constitution, it is not Asians – something like, type.

– So, we can conclude that they are at least not from our special forces. I’m happy.

Manages to talk about dangerous things with a completely negligent views Kikuoka scratched his chin. Always quiet narrow eyes lit up, turned to the big screen.

– And one can say with certainty. … These guys know about the existence of the “Alisizatsiya.”

At this remark Higa also nodded.

– Exactly type. From the lower gateway bastards Rushed straight to the main center. Surely they need technology STL … no, they need a bottom-up AI «ALICE», yeah.

In other words, there was a serious leakage of information, and for a long time. However Higa suppressed desire to see the faces of all hitherto the silent staff RATH, gathered in the Second Control Center, and cheeky, optimistic tone, said:

– Fortunately, we were able to block the console Main center. In addition to her both physically breaking down, they will not be able to affect the lives of Podmirya such. And intervene in the simulation there can not be, and remove Pulsvet “Alice” from the Cluster Light cubes too.

– But we are, apparently, in the same position?

– This same type. In Subtsene we do not have the admin rights. Light cube “Alice” to get out of the cluster is not received any of the Chapter or of Suba. … But, Kiku-san, it’s all the same that our victory, type? These guys do not have any physical or information access to the cluster; as soon as the escort “Aegis” will come to us for help, all of them … great, just great …

– Not sure about the “cool” … there is one problem – and Kikuoka with the same stern expression asked Nakanishi:

– What, “Nagato” stands on the site?

– Mmm … the fact is that … – Nakanishi pursed his lips, then continued after a pause. – On the “Nagato” received an order from headquarters in Yokosuka Navy: keep your distance and wait for further instructions. It seems, at the headquarters decided that the assailants took us hostage.

– What … – at Higi jaw dropped. – The hostages? But this … the whole team is already hid behind partitions, type ?!

He calmly replied Kikuoka:

– Maybe the company has ties to the black in the upper echelons of the SDF. “Nagato” retired from “Ocean turtle” at eight in the morning, six hours before the attack. I suspect that “Nagato” ordered to go to the rescue after being assaulted zapoluchat light cube “Alice”. Of course, they still have limited time …

– Then they that are not necessarily terrorists, type? This shits … If they’re pros, you may understand. As Alice dig …

– If you will be working directly from Podmirya, huh? .. They are in the hands of the first STL, they can carry out the operation to retrieve through the virtual console in the Podmire …

– And then what will happen? – Asked Rinko Kojiro. Higa, waving his hands, said:

– Since Cluster Light cubes set in the middle of the main shaft, the desired cube have to drag through the air ducts to any of the control centers. There is a suitable connector.

He pointed to the square cover in the corner of the console, then looked at the door in the back wall.

By the door of aluminum alloy was screwed a small metal plate. It was engraved: «STL №2».

Behind this door is the second bathroom with settings “Translator soul», STL. There, under the supervision of Natski Aki – nurses, while the sergeant second class – the young man was lying. The man who from the early stages of the project “Alisizatsiya” played a major role in it, and from which now depended on where this project will turn on – Kazuto kirigami.

Kikuoka crossed his arms and said in a serious tone briefly:

– This means that our last hope on him again. Higa-kun … What is the current state of Kirito-kun?

Heard a soft sigh, Higa looked at Asuna Yuuki, which was supported by Rinko, and looked straight at him. Their eyes met.

Asuna, apparently, was a girl Kirito – ie Kazuto Kirigai – and because he could not dare to tell her the whole situation. But then his ears touched hoarse but firm voice:

– I stand. Please tell it like it is.

Taking a deep breath, then exhaled, Higa nodded.

– In short … the situation is on the brink of the worst of all possible outcomes … type.

Change the voice uttering these words, Higa again began to drive the mouse.

Static image attackers disappeared, another window. There are iridescent slowly swaying three-dimensional graph.

– This visualization Pulsveta Kirito-kun.

Everyone who was in the room, silently staring at the screen.

– A week ago, after he entered a muscle relaxant, he suffered a cardiac arrest. Fortunately, he was able to save a life, but part of the brain … or rather, part of a network Pulsveta still get damaged. For modern neyromeditsiny such injuries are a serious problem, but when you use technology STL chances for recovery are. To spur the formation of the new network, we tried to stimulate Pulsvet Kirito-kun, turning off all restraints in STL.

After a pause, he took the console bottle of mineral water to wet parched by unusually long speech throat.

– To carry out this treatment, it was required to send in Podmire. Because if it Pulsvet will not work the same way as in the real world, no effect will be. Therefore, we, as during the last dive in our office in Roppongi, Kirito-kun sent to a remote region Podmirya, blocking his memory … as we thought. However, for some unknown reason – perhaps because of an injury Pulsveta – Memory Lock did not happen. Kirito-kun was in Podmire as kirigami Kazuto-kun from the real world. We realized this when he was there, inside, we were contacted, but –

– By … wait a minute – Rinko interrupted. – So he’s like kirigami-kun lives in Podmire under acceleration? There, inside … how many months? ..

– … About two and a half years.

Barely Higa gave this answer, Asuna supported Rinko trembled. These words clearly shocked her, but it seems that she believed. Higa continued his explanation.

– During this time, Kirito-kun in the world got to know a lot of artificial Pulsvetami. I’m afraid he understands that at the end of the experiment, these Pulsvety cease to exist … So he aimed to reach the center Podmirya find there a console that we have established in the very first village, and contact with the real world. Kiku-san, he certainly would like to ask you to keep all Pulsvety.

Higa glanced at Kikuoku, but he carefully examined the three-dimensional graph, and the lenses of his glasses reflect only the light from the screen. Higa looked back at Rinko with Asuna.

– … I think that to do this would be very difficult. Because the console to communicate now installed in the citadel of the organization that governs the world – the so-called “Church of axioms.” In Pulsvetov ministers of the Church Axioms absolute status, and Kirito-kun, we asked the usual, like all – he was not at the level to oppose them. Generally speaking, immediately after entry into the Church axioms he had to “die” and log out of Podmirya … but he still managed to get there. Because of the attack, we were not able to study in detail the logs, but it looks like he was acting together with a few other people, of course, artificial Pulsvetami … well, apparently, he found friends. They perebudorazhili the whole church, but eventually almost all of these friends died, and so when Kirito-kun was able to open a channel of communication, he severely blamed himself. In other words, he attacked his own Pulsvet. And exactly at this point, those guys in black have chopped cable korotnulo us, there was a surge voltage, and installation of STL for a split second sharply increased its productivity. As a result, self-destructive impulse Kirito-kun has become almost real … his “I” turned off …

– His ‘I’ … disabled? What does this mean?

Instead of an answer to a given question Rinko Higa turned to console.

– … That look here, please.

He quickly ran his hands over the keyboard, increasing in scale schedule Pulsveta Kazuto Kirigai.

Between randomly shaking colorful clouds lurked something small and dark like a black fog.

– In contrast to the artificial Pulsvetov in a light cube structure Pulsveta in the living human body is far from complete our understanding, but a rough mapping, we have already completed. Here is the black hole – a place where normally should be, so to speak, the “I” of man … his self-image.

– Self-image … self-image, do you mean? How a person becomes aware of itself?

– Exactly. It seems that our decision-making, “in such a situation, so-and-so to do or not to do”, by using something like a loop, “Yes / No” within Pulsveta. For instance, when you Rinko-senpai, sitting in a diner, you order two portions Gyūdon [1] ?

– … No.

– But you because after one portion is still hungry – do not you think that would be nice to get another?

– Uh …

– In general, your decision – the result of the loop “self-image”. Similarly, almost all decisions that do not pass through this loop, do not translate into real actions. In Kirito-kun most of the Pulsveta not damaged. But due to the fact that this circuit does not work problem, it can not handle any external information or to generate any meaningful action. Now he can … I think only some reflex actions to perform, which dug into his memory. Eat, sleep – at this level.

Rinko thought, biting her lip, but was soon whispered:

– So … here’s what form his mind now?

– … I’m afraid so …

Higa paused, then, hiding his eyes, he continued:

– He is not aware, nor who he was, nor what he should do or what to say – nothing … In this state, it is not …

For the third time polusumrachnaya room fell silent.

– Optional … …

Next syllable drowned in the roar of army boots on steel plate walls.

One of the militants, Vassago Casals, left on the wall a few dents, but satisfaction him to no avail; He viciously trampled vyronenny less than an hour ago, here in the control center, someone from the staff RATH bag of candy, and finally the flow of ridicule against him stopped.

Threw back his long, curly black hair, prominent Latin American blood of their owner, he jumped to his impulsive movements console with one hand and lifted the collar of the one who was standing there.

– Asshole, as well repeat what I said!

The guy dangling in his right hand a flexible, like a whip, Vassago, was young and very skinny. He had short-cropped blond hair and white skin abnormally.

This man with glasses in a metal frame on a sunken face was the only non-military in the squad. Hacker, a freelance employee of cyber operations Glowgen Defence Systems. His name was critter.

Nicknames instead of real names used are usually criminals appearing in criminal databases. However Vassago too. Vassago, aka “Prince of Hell” – was the name of one of the 72 demons in medieval book of magic “Goetia.” Of course, it is the name of the mother, not daddy got. Vassago also belonged to the Department of cyber operations, but his specialty was not the computer, and combat – of course, it was a battle in full immersion. His past was as stained as that critter and martial abilities in virtual reality he had no equal.

In fact –

From the team of twelve people attacked the “Oceanic turtle” all but its commander, Gabriel Miller, were dogs, for which a leash and served their dark past.

One of these dogs – Critter, a raised hand Vassago, but not at all frightened by this – continued noisily chew the cud; without detracting from this lesson, he said:

– Can be repeated as necessary. Look here: this console – a bunch of shit dry. It is locked and you used to hoof otkinesh with age than with our noutom desired code you chi-slishom.

– It does not bother me, you asshole chetyrehglazogo! We’re stuck here because were getting too long, and you’re still here !!! trepleshsya – Not to be outdone, swore Vassago. Its full of wild beauty manly face now was distorted with rage.

– Hey, hey, what, the truth hurts?

– In the battle for our backs tryaseshsya, but right now all so important, asshole!

The rest of the militants was not trying to somehow stop the quarrel of these two, only watched with a grin on their faces. Finally, choosing the right moment, Gabrielle loudly snapped his fingers to get their attention.

– Okay, you two, that’s enough. Now there is no time to find out who has what responsibilities. In the future, that I had ever seen.

Vassago sharply turned his head and pouting like a child, he replied:

– But, bro, what the hell did not shut up something …

“Stop this” bro “,” – wanted to scream Gabrielle, but could not. Vassago he called Gabriel’s brother, apparently, after praised his skill in training VR-match; whenever Gabrielle heard it, he felt a strange pleasure in half in disgust. For Gabriel that “friend” that “comrade” – all these were only based on emotions troubled human relationships that are not available logical comprehension.

– So, listen, Vassago, critter. I am so far satisfied with the work of the team. Gary wounded only, and that it is a scratch, and we were able to achieve the first objective – to capture the control center.

Hearing this, Vassago reluctantly released Critter neck and put his hands on her hips.

– But, bro, if all the main control system is locked, meaning the same no no. Our main goal is the same kind – Cluster Light cubes, and he behind the iron wall, no?

– That is why now we are going to think, how to destroy this wall.

– But this crap from the SDF will not sit behind the bulkhead for life, right? This stupid turtle guards “Aegis”, there soon will be secured to us the real pros, and we, eleven real kids and one nuba be very nasty.

As expected Gabrielle Vassago appointed deputy commander, was not simply a stray dog ​​- he had the ability to delve into the situation. A little thought, Gabrielle gently shrugged.

– It seems that our customer does business with some buds of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. As far as I know, “Aegis” will not do anything for twenty-four hours after the start of the operation.

– … Hoo … – Critter whistled. Light gray eyes behind large glasses narrowed. – Since this operation is, therefore, not a simple Gram … no, no, this intelligent man better not to say.

– I think so, too – with a thin smile, Gabrielle nodded again and looked out. – So, once again summarize the situation. Now fourteen and forty-seven Japanese time, from the beginning of the attack took place about forty minutes. We are now in the main control center “Ocean turtles.” Target compartment captured successfully, but we were unable to neutralize employees RATH, and they are blocking system. Our next task – to grab the second control center, but … Brig, you can cut the bulkhead door?

Most hefty guy on the team, which turned Gabriel awkwardly stepped forward and said:

– Hard to be. There’s some supermodernovye composite materials, with our portable cutters to open it for twenty-four hours is unrealistic.

– The Japanese spend money wisely, yes. Hans, you can blow up the bulkhead their C4?

At this time the sobering spread his hands tall guy with beautiful, well-groomed mustache.

– It would be better without it. After all, just because of this bulkhead Cluster Light cubes. If I blow up the door, I can not promise that there will remain all inside.

– Hmm.

Gabriel folded his arms across his chest and a little thought, he continued:

– Our goal – from a plurality of light cubes find just the right one and take it along with the interface. ID of the cube is already known. So, if only we were able to start the console, find it and remove from the Cluster would be a pair of trivia. And we would have returned to our boat with beer in hand.

– Damn, this shabby bespectacled us then poured that climbed to the server of the Pentagon, and the one some crummy block can not be removed!

– Uh-oh, how terrible, I said gamers who only know how to shoot a gun polygon.

Giving a murderous look Vassago and Critter, began to swear again, Gabrielle raised his voice:

– All of you – that you want to return with empty hands and instead receive a bonus of ridicule?

– No !!! – Barked in unison militants.

– All of you – that stupid that would drive his nose this jerk-inzhenerchikam?

– No !!!

– Then think! Show that you have this basket on his shoulders, not only packed full of oatmeal !!!

Almost machine portraying “tough commander,” Gabrielle, meanwhile, he turned the thoughts in my head.

Soul Seeker Gabriel more than anything else wanted to get a first in the history of mankind a real artificial intelligence named “Alice”, and incidentally, and a monopoly on the technology of “Translator soul.” Having obtained these two things, he was going to get rid of the rest of the team with the help secretly stuck with a nerve gas, and then for a while to take refuge in Australia.

However, while Gabrielle got this way, an operation ordered by the NSA, is fully consistent with its objectives. Despite the fact that all the admin’s manipulation of the system is currently locked, get light cube named “Alice” was required, come what may.

Alice … «ALICE».

This is the code name for the client Gabriel, NSA, said “mole” in the most RATH.

Who is this “mole”, Gabrielle is not yet known. However, if the reason that he gave his company was promised him a large sum of money, in the current situation, he should sit quieter water below the grass.

In other words, wait for help from the “mole” who is now on the other side of the bulkhead, not worth it. So, the goal to be accomplished for the short time allotted to them with the help of available technology and information.

Time … the main problem – time.

Although Gabriel was able to completely take control of impatience and anxiety, those useless emotions, the very existence of a time limit, which was exhausted after about twenty-three hours, generates a feeling some pressure.

NSA agents, which was held at the request of the absolute secrecy predatory raid, Gabriel said that’s what.

RATH success will hit the interests of firms doing business with the Japanese government in the military sphere. Therefore, the higher ranks of the Self Defense Forces disapprove of the very existence of the company – in fact, in every way trying to interfere with its operations.

Founders and managers RATH – young officers of the SDF, have virtually no political weight. With the help of CIA employees at a US embassy NSA agreed with some senior military naval forces in self-defense. Guarding “the Ocean turtle” – the citadel, we can say all RATH – escort ship “Nagato” will not take active steps within twenty-four hours after the start of the raid on the pretext of concern for the safety of the hostages.

However, after this period the “Aegis” still have to act in order to avoid subsequent hype in the press. If here burst of heavily armed soldiers, inferior to them in numbers and equipment detachment Gabriel, is likely to be easily destroyed.

Of course, in the worst case he intended to flee to Gabrielle midget submarines. However, if he could not get their hands on the most important of Light cubes in a great journey called “search of the human soul” will be made irreversible step back.

Gabrielle had already planned out in detail his life after this operation.

In the first place – to secretly get to Australia and hide light cube technology and STL on one of the islands of Sovereign [1] , where he had a villa. Then return flight to San Diego, and the failure to report the NSA operation. When everything settles again to fly to Australia, set in the spacious basement of the villa car STL and create a virtual world to your liking.

First inhabitants of this world will seem only Alice and Gabrielle. But it would be too lonely. Yes, and for the study of the soul number of test subjects need to increase.

Find somewhere not far from Sydney or Cairns owner of a young, full of life of the soul, capture it, using STL extract the soul, and a useless shell throw. Then go across the ocean, in her native America and Japan – he had long wanted to visit the country, where technology was created total immersion.

Unique Japanese mentality VR-players Gabriel simply mesmerizing. Not all, but some of them behaved as if the virtual world was real reality, they freely splashed their true emotions. Remembering the girl-sniper from GunGale Online, he still felt a powerful surge of passion.

It is likely, it had something to do with having existed for two years in the country “real virtual world.” Thanks to hacking, implementation by the developer, the world has become “deadly game”, which cater to young men and women have lived this life and died the true death. Not a soul was not adapted to life in the virtual world better than the soul “survivors.”

If possible, he would like to get at least one, and preferably several souls of the strongest of these players – they are called “miner”. About the girl-sniper he did not know whether she was sinker, but, of course, her soul, he also wanted. If you put them all in a light cubes, how bright should be, they will shine – brighter than any gem.

The richest people of the Earth are saving money, hundreds of millions of dollars – but none of them holds true radiance. And he will be able to put the Light cubes in a row in his secret room, and then choosing the soul as you wish, upload them into your world and do it with them what he wants.

As should be, that’s fine – be free to copy and save the soul extracted from the people and sealed in a light cubes. Broken, damaged souls easily wind off back and then put in a form that he, Gabriel, more to their liking. It’s like cut stone, ensuring that the sculpture really began to play.

If Gabrielle achieve this, it is quite possible, his long journey, making a large circle, come back to the source.

By instantly from childhood, when, under the large trees in the forest, he saw a beautiful glow liberated soul Alicia Klingerman.

For a moment, to the imagination, Gabrielle abruptly closed his eyes, he shivered.

When he opened his eyes again it was the former Gabriel, the ability to think clearly and coldly.

If the souls of young people from different countries can be compared with rubies, sapphires, emeralds at the edges of his crown, in the center of it should be a huge diamond – “Alice”. Clean, untainted soul Alice will be for him the most suitable companion at all times. And if so, he must at all costs to find and capture its light cube.

But brute force to break through the bulkhead that separates him from the room where the Cluster Light cubes, impossible.

Hence, there is no choice – have to somehow handle the system here. Despite blocking the main console, a high cybercriminals as Critter probably be able to do something.

Rumbling boots, Gabriel went to the console and stood behind critter whose fingers deftly flew over the keyboard.

– Well, how?

In response Critter raised both hands.

– Logged in under the administrator – hopeless. We can only sit and watch as Pulsvety who live in the cluster at the top, have fun in their dreamland.

Critter lift a finger, and on the big screen in front of the wall there was a window that opened an amazing picture.

She was not the impression of “fairy tale.” Sky – ominously red earth – black as svezhepolozhenny asphalt.

In the middle of the screen could be seen a few of tanned leather stitched primitive camping. Beside them stood a dozen strange creatures – thick-set, with large bald front. They seem to have something noisy discussed.

Rough parody of people, but, oddly, see – not people. Terribly hunched back, long arms to the ground and your feet, on the contrary, short and crooked.

– Goblins? .. – Gabrielle muttered. Critter softly prisvistnuv enthusiastically replied:

– Wow, what detail, yes, the commander? Well, yes, orcs or ogres they do not pull, then, perhaps, the goblins.

– But they krupnovat little, eh? This hoby, exactly hobgoby – hands on hips, expressed his opinion coming up to see Vassago. Being an expert in the VR-battles, he and fantasy RPG had extensive knowledge. pic154s

Dispute dozen hobgoblins, overseen by a detachment Gabriel rapidly escalated into a brawl. The two in the middle, grabbing each other, began to fight, the rest of the company was yelling, waving to throw up her hands.

– … Critter – Gabrielle turned to him that sat on the chair cut short guy, feeling that is about to catch the tail of an idea.

– Hey?

– And these types … these monsters – they are part of the system?

– Hmmm … it seems to me, no. In a sense, they are natural persons. They artificial soul-Pulsvety who sit in Cluster Light cubes up there.

– What ?! No shit myself!

With this cry Vassago leaned forward excitedly.

– These hoby – people ?! They Che, the same soul as we ?! If my grandmother in Frisco is heard, then on the spot to give oak !!! – He said, tapping on Critter shorn head.

– Types that these godless research conducted – very cool, just monsters. Do you think that everyone who sits Light cubes, are the same as those goblins or orcs? And our Alice-chan too?

– Well, cho not.

Irritably shook off his hand Vassago, Critter explained:

– Look here: this “Podmire”, which created the guys from RATH, divided into two parts. In the middle and a bit to the west – the human empire or “Peace people”, therefore, there is mainly inhabited. Accordingly, outside, on the “Dark Territory” live crowd here these guys here, the monsters that we did not like. Alice, of course, has to live somewhere in the human empire; but it’s fucking great, so if we’re just going to look at it, it will not be able to find it.

– It’s easy as all that is not? They’re there to understand human language? If you understand, it is necessary in this “human empire” or whatever her zanyrnut and ask around there the like: “You do not know Alice?” – That’s all.

– UAA, well, moron. Simply moronic moron.

– Che said, asshole !!!

– Hey, hey, actually it Podmire Japanese made. And with that “there the” bazaar you will have the Japanese. Or you are able to in Japanese? – Critter sneered.

Vassago returned his crooked grin.

– Took over such work.

Here not only critter, but also the rest of the team eyes bulged. Gabrielle was amazed – Vassago uttered these words in fluent Japanese.

Young Latinos again switched to English:

– According to communicate no more questions? Maybe something else you want to say, chetyrehglazik?

– Uh … of course I do.

Recovered from the shock Critter snorted and continued:

– In this human empire lives hell knows how many people. And now you’re one of them all in turn will ask … yes? ..

Still say sitting, he seemed inspired by his own words, suddenly stood up. Vassago, the jaw which he drove his cropped head, swore again, but a hacker, not paying it any attention, cried out:

– Stop! Stop-stop-stop-stop. Not necessarily the same one …

Gabrielle is barely heard a vague idea in his head, too, began to take a more distinct contours.

– … For Sure. There are already ready to be sent in Podmire accounts … they are unlikely to all – just a character of the first level. Similarly, Critter …

– Jess. Yees, the boss !!!

Keyboard zastrekotala exactly percussion; on the big screen suddenly poured a lot of some lists.

– If the operators RATH zaloginivalis there to observe or maybe to do something there, they must have accounts of all ranks. Army officers … no, generals … no, aristocrats, members of the royal family … maybe even the emperor himself …

– Oh, here it should be cool – stroking the victim’s jaw, butted Vassago. – In short: login General or the President there is some command and then as you want. Army, build! To the right! Alice times, stingrays !!! Something like that, yes.

– Bllin that for gemorno ideas in your stupid head off come.

Peevishly complaining Critter nevertheless with wild speed scrollable list.

But.

Just a few seconds after scrolling has stopped, and the critter is atypical for himself cursed.

– Shit, nothing happens. Hence, not only directly control, but also to come under the high-level account is only possible with a password to it. Unfortunately, here in zanyrnut human empire will only low-level character.

– … Hmm …

On the faces of critters and Vassago display the genuine disappointment, but Gabrielle and eyebrow does not lead, only slightly cocked his head.

Time was not so much.

However, this limit is set only for the real world. And in a parallel universe Podmirya unfolding on the screen, the time has been compressed and carried with terrifying speed – several hundred times faster than here.

So, if you look from a different angle, the remaining twenty-three hours, the equivalent, and even several years in Podmire. During this time, even if there enter low level characters, certainly be able to find Alice; and then forward it to the real world through the internal information does not console will be something impossible.

But how will it be boring. To perform this kind of work, not to be quickly get to the human empire outside?

– Critter. And there are no ready-made high-level accounts to boot beyond the Empire … to the dark area?

– … Outside? But the chances that Alice there, damn low, right?

Critter have not finished asking the question, and his fingers ran nimbly already.

Looking at the newfound window, Gabrielle replied:

– This is most likely true. However, unless there is absolutely impenetrable border? Depending on what account have power, perhaps there is a way to move it?

– Oh, I understand, bro! You thought the other side! That is not … these people become general, and at the monsters and then attack ?! And there fucking burn !!!

Looking at the enthusiastic shouting Vassago, Critter bored whistled, and then doused him with ice water:

– Burn – it’s good, of course, but only if you are logged in to the Dark Territory, will command all sorts of hobgoblins, and orcs. Well, the truth is just for you, but … oh, found found.

He tapped the button, and the screen unfolded two more windows.

– Taak, only two, but superakkaunty, unlike those from the Empire … wow, no password! What is there, what we have here … … The first public position – the Dark Knight. Seventieth level …! Krutyak this good!

– Oh, cool! That I myself take away !!!

Ignoring the noisy Vassago, Critter activated the second window.

– So, now the second … what the crap? Social position – a dash, the level is also not discharged. Only the name specified. His name is … how to read it? .. “Enpera Vector …”?

– Yo, “enpera” – it’s the emperor. That I too … – began Vassago, and then Gabrielle patted him on the shoulder from behind.

– No, I am taking.

– Eh? But, bro, you really Japanese fuck?

– Not as good as you, – said Gabrielle in Japanese; Yet not in vain for three years to study it. Reading-letter he threw at the outset, but in its ability to easily cope with everyday conversation was sure.

– Fyuu, I just knew. Well, the emperor will get Bro, I’ll take the dark knight, huh? Becomes interesting! Hey, asshole chetyrehglazogo, zaloginivat we can already ?!

Once again, ignored the noisy speech Vassago, Critter continued chirp on the keyboard. Face it, peered into the information on the monitor, it became sullen and serious. Gabrielle came closer to him and said quietly:

– What’s the matter, Critter, some other problem?

– Not that problem – just like to say I’m worried about something … When I looked through the data everywhere ran into a strange expression. And while I can not enter, it means …

– Hoo? And what kind of expression?

After a short pause Critter replied:

– … “The final phase of the experiment with the load.”

Dangling in the Second Control Center heavy silence broke uncertain voice Higi.

– Uh … this. The state of his body, well, that is Kirigai-kun in the real world, as I have just explained … not encouraging.

Seeing how fragile body Asuna Yuuki, hugging the shoulders Rinko Kojiro, quivered, he confused hastened to add:

– But, but there is still some hope!

– What is …? – Asked Rinko. Her voice was sharp, but there was some echo pleas.

– It is necessary to continue to keep Kirito-kun logged in Podmire.

Higa raised his eyes to the screen is very small compared to those who had been captured by the enemy in the main control center. A few mouse clicks – and the image changed to full map Podmirya – Round the World people surrounded the Dark Territory.

– In general, though his self-image and damaged himself Pulsvet still works and receives different stimuli. So, although the real world his soul can not be cured, there, from Podmirya can, and will. He blames himself too much, and, of course, if it with his wounded soul, someone “simple” … then maybe …

Higa and he knew that his words were totally unscientific.

However, they reflect his true feelings.

Interface “brain – machine” progressed from neurohelmet Medikuboid through to its present incarnation – Broadcaster soul. However, in the quantum mind of man, the so-called “Pulsvete” Locating the Equipment in the development of which was itself Higa, still much remained unclear.

Pulsvet – is generally a physical phenomenon?

Or is it some kind of phenomenon, explained that modern science is unable to?

If the last – maybe there is some force beyond the capabilities of science that can heal the wounded, tortured soul Kazuto Kirigai.

For example – someone’s love …

– … I will go.

As if in response to thoughts Higi.

Quiet but determined voice sounded in the Second Control Center.

Everyone in the room gasped in unison, staring at the one who uttered these words. Asuna Yuuki, keep the shoulders Rinko Kojiro, nodded, then walked away from her Step and Repeat:

– I’m going to Podmire. And there, on the other side, I would say Kirito-kun, so he got up. To struggled. And so, even if he is very sad, even if he is very sick – that he still tried his best.

Asuna, uttered these words with tears in her light brown eyes, was so beautiful that even Higa, intending to devote his life entirely to science, speechless.

Kikuoka also looked at Asuna with a look as if he were touched, but then glasses hid his emotions, and he looked up at the door to the next room.

– … Of course, one unit STL is still free – a calm voice he said, but his face was unreadable expression. – But Podmire now hardly be called a peaceful place. According to the schedule, in a few hours time we will begin the final phase of the experiment with the load.

– The final phase … with a load? And what happens? – Frowning, asked Rinko. Higa, gesticulating, went on to explain:

– Nnuuu … for short – will be crushed shells. The human world and the Dark Territory centuries shared the great eastern gate, and now their strength becomes equal to zero, and an army of monsters invade the world, where people live. If people are able to build enough reliable defense, in the end should, in theory, to repel the invasion. More recently, however Kirito-kun half destroyed an organization that there are rules, axioms of the Church, so … I do not know …

– If you think – in this situation, someone of us in any case, to dive to the other side – arms crossed, Kikuoka muttered. – When will the invasion, people in the world would be chaos, and in the chaos “Alice” may die. If that happens, I do not even know why we won the time, blocking the main control center there … You need to enter a high-level account to be safe to bring Alice “Altar end of the world”, and from there we will be able to unload it in the Second Light cube center management …

– And … this is what you asked to do Kirito-kun right before this incident?

The words Rinko Kikuoka with obvious regret nodded.

– Yes I Am. Be it in the normal state, would probably have coped with this task. Because at that moment he was very close with Alice …

– But then, even now, after a few months, which have been in there during that time, the likelihood that they’re together, high … is not it?

This question was answered Higa.

– Yeah, right thought. So, really need to ask dive Asuna-san … Of course, to communicate with Kirito-kun in the first place; but also to ensure the safety of Alice in Podmire required fighting skills. It is clear also that of all who there is to life in the virtual world of familiar Asuna-san type.

– Yes, and we’d better take advantage of the most high-level account what we have.

At this remark Kikuoki Higa nodded and ran his fingers over the keyboard.

– Right now normally pick up, type. Knights, generals, nobles … we have many high-level accounts prepared.

– Whoa, wait a second – a little strained voice suddenly interrupted Rinko.

– What is it?

– And do not whether to think of this as the types that we were attacked? Just what you said yourself, huh? You said, to safely bring Alice, we have to work within.

– Uh … yeah, and they have the opportunity. Because the bottom, next to the main control center, also has two settings STL. But they did not have enough time to crack passwords on a high-level input accounts. At their disposal are just ordinary characters of the first level. And they did not those stats to get into the battle, when to start the final phase of the experiment with the load.

Tarahtit his explanation, Higa –

Suddenly felt faint anxiety, as if he had forgotten something important.

However, he was busy fast scrolling list of accounts, and this feeling is not taken shape into something concrete.

Sword Art Online Light Novel 15 : Alicization Invading – Chapter 15 : In Northern Lands[TAP+defan]

Translation of Sword Art Online’s volume 15, chapter 15.(Tap,2014).

Chapter 15

In Northern Lands
10th Month of Human World Calendar 380

1

Placing the dishes she finished washing on the dish drainer, Alice Synthesis Thirty wiped her hands on the hem of her apron as she flicked her face up.

The treetops visible beyond the small glass window had lost quite a number of leaves, dyed in red and yellow, to the chill of recent days. The arrival of winter was indeed earlier when compared to Central Capital Centoria.

Still, the rays of Solus pouring down from the skies, blue for the first time in a while, seemed warm. A pair of Treeclimbing Rabbits huddled together on a thick branch of the tree straight ahead, apparently enjoying their sunbath.

Alice smiled as she gazed at them for a while before she turned about and spoke.

“Hey, we seem to be having fine weather today, so how about we have lunch all the way at the eastern hills?”

No one replied.

The log cabin had only two rooms, and this one served as the living room, dining room, and kitchen with a plain wood table placed right in its middle.

Seated on one of the chairs, similarly plain, was a black-haired youth. Not even raising his head at Alice’s call, his vacant stare stayed upon a single spot atop the table.

He never did have much meat on him, but still, he was obviously more slender than even Alice now. His bony frame was visible even with the loose robe he had on. The empty right sleeve hanging down languidly from the tip of his shoulders only made him look all the more tragic.

Light was absent from his eyes, jet-black like his hair. Those two eyes reflected no more than his locked heart.

Suppressing the pain in her chest that she could never ever get used to, Alice continued in a cheerful voice.

“It might be a little windy, so it might be best to dress up thick. One moment, I shall prepare them at once.”

After removing her apron and hanging it off the hook beside the sink, she turned towards the bedroom next door.

Bundling her long, blonde hair behind, she wrapped a cotton scarf around herself. Along with a faded black patch around her right eye that still lacked light. She first put on one of the woollen overcoats arranged on the wall, then returned to the living room with the other under her arm.

The black-haired youth made no movement at all. After prompting him on by placing her hands on his skinny back, he eventually stood from the chair in an awkward motion.

However, that was all the youth was capable of; he could not walk even a single mel. Putting the overcoat on from behind him, she went around to his front and tied the leather strap near his neck tight.

“You can do it, keep them up for a little longer.”

Saying so, she ran over to the corner of the room.

A tough chair made from bright light brown wood was left there. Instead of four legs, it had two pairs of iron wheels attached, one large and one small. It was crafted by an elderly man by the name of Garitta who lived deep in the forest in solitude.

Holding onto the grips attached to the back of that wheelchair, she rolled it over to behind the youth. Sitting him down on the leather seat as his body swayed perilously, she then tightly covered his two legs with a thick lap blanket.

“There! Shall we make a move, then?”

She patted the youth’s shoulders, grasped the grips, and was about to wheel the wheelchair towards the door located south of the room.

The youth abruptly turned his face and reached his quivering left hand towards the eastern wall.

“Aah… aah.”

That deep, coarse voice was unintelligible. However, Alice immediately guessed what the youth desired.

“Ah, I’m sorry. I will fetch them right away.”

Three swords sat on sturdy metal fittings on the wall the youth stretched his hand towards.

On the right was Alice’s «Fragrant Olive Sword».

On the left was the jet-black long sword the youth once carried on his waist, the «Night Sky Sword».

And in the middle was a pure-white long sword that lacked a master to call its own, the «Blue Rose Sword».

Alice first removed the Night Sky Sword, almost as heavy as the Fragrant Olive Sword, from the wall and held it under her left arm.

Next, she lifted the Blue Rose Sword as well. Its weight reached only half or so of the black sword’s. After all, it had lost more than half of the blade in its sheath.

And the owner of this sword, that flaxen-haired youth who was this youth’s best friend, too, was no longer around…

She shut her eye for a moment and held onto both swords as she returned to the wheelchair. Upon gently laying them onto his lap, the youth placed his left hand on them before his face fell once more. He could express his own intentions through voice and motion only when seeking out those black and white swords.

“Be sure to keep a firm hold on them or they will drop.”

Alice told him while holding back the ache in her breast that had not lessened despite the months that passed. Pushing the now heavier wheelchair, they went out through the door.

A thick plank lay across the distance from the porch to the ground in the place of steps. Upon descending into the garden from there, a soft, cool breeze and the gentle sunlight enveloped the pair.

The log cabin was built deep within the thick forest, in a wide meadow. Alice personally cut, stripped, and assembled the wood it used. It was not much to look at, but its structure was sturdy as only trees with high priorities were used. She had to put up with the countless comments from the elderly Garitta, who taught her the method from scratch, about how he had never seen a girl with such strength, however.

This meadow was apparently where Alice and Eugeo had their secret playground when they were still children. Unfortunately, she had no memories of that time whatsoever. All memories from before she became an integrity knight were plundered through the «Synthesis Ritual».

She told the elderly Garitta and the villagers that she lost all of her past memories, but offered no reason. But in truth, her current self—Integrity Knight Alice Synthesis Thirty—was no more than a temporary personality dwelling in the body of the one born and raised on this land, Alice Schuberg. She felt obligated to return it if she could, but the memories of the original Alice had departed from this world alongside Eugeo.

“…Now, let us go.”

Alice let out her voice to shake off that moment of contemplation and moved the wheelchair on, out from the front of the residence.

Nearly all of the meadow, circular with a diameter of thirty mel, was covered in cushy undergrowth, but an abundance of withered grass lay stacked up in a section in its east. It appeared like the nest of a gigantic creature—or rather, it truly was—but the master of that nest was absent. She gave it a glance and pondered where it could have went to play today while exiting from the small path heading northwest from the meadow into the forest.

The road split into the east and west five mel ahead. A village named Rulid was in the west, but she had no desire to visit without purpose. Entering the eastern path, she set out while stepping through the filtered sunlight sparkling on the ground.

She slowly continued through the forest progressing from the season of autumn leaves to that of fallen leaves with the tenth month soon meeting its end.

“Are you cold?”

She called out to the youth but received no reply. He would say nothing even if plunged into a blizzard of intense cold. She looked over his shoulder and confirmed the overcoat’s collar was closed tightly.

Of course, warming themselves would be easy if she generated a thermal element or two. However, there were villagers who viewed them with suspicion, so she preferred to refrain from having rumors about her abuse of sacred arts spread.

After walking for about fifteen minutes while carving furrows into the beaten path anew, the path ahead brightened up. A slightly elevated hill showed up in front after leaving the grove of trees. The road gradually became uphill, but still, Alice pushed the wheelchair on without difficulty.

The view instantly opened up after reaching the top of the hill.

Straight to the east was the blue surface of Lake Ruhr. And the extensive marshes deep within it. The forest continued indefinitely to the south.

A look to the north revealed the «mountain range at the edge», covered in pure white snow, towering as though to pierce through the sky. The days she easily flew over those peaks astride her flying dragon seemed like a distant dream now.

She did long to look upon the beautiful landscape with both eyes. The abundant energy in the earth and sun here should be capable of healing the right eye she lost on the outer wall of the Central Cathedral. However, she had no desire yet to eliminate only her own injury through sacred arts.

After all, the youth’s hollow eyes could only continue their vacant stare towards mid-air even with the late-autumn scenery endlessly spreading out before him.

Sitting down by the wheelchair, Alice leaned against the large wheel.

“How beautiful. More so than any of those art pieces hung on the cathedral’s walls.”

She called out the youth’s name with a smile.

“…This is the world you protected, Kirito.”

A single white water bird made ripples on the lake’s surface as it glided and soared away.

 
How long had it been since she sat down?

Solus’s ascent had progressed quite a bit when she finally noticed. It was about time to return to the cabin and prepare for lunch. In his current state, Kirito barely ate anything each time, so even a single missed meal would lead to a decline in his maximum Life.

“It is getting late, let us make our way back.”

It was when she stood up and grasped the wheelchair’s grips while saying so.

Noticing light footsteps treading over grass and climbing the hill, Alice turned about.

The one who approached was a young girl dressed in a black habit. Her lovely face that still retained vestiges of childishness showed a gleaming smile while she energetically waved her right hand.

“Nee-samaa!”

The gentle breeze brought her lively voice over and Alice smiled as well while she gave a slight wave back.

Practically skipping over the last ten mel up, the girl took several seconds to catch her breath after her feet came to a stop, and spoke once more in a bright voice.

“Good morning, Alice-neesama!”

Springing to the side, she gave a vigorous greeting to Kirito sitting on the wheelchair as well.

“Good morning to you too, Kirito!”

Her broad grin that showed no worry over his lack of response was infused with faint sorrow the moment she turned towards the two swords on Kirito’s lap.

“…Good morning, Eugeo.”

Reaching out with her right hand as she whispered, she softly brushed against the Blue Rose Sword’s sheath with her fingertips. If someone unknown were to do that, Kirito would show a somewhat defensive response, but he now let her do as she pleased.

Having greeted her two friends, the girl straightened up and turned back to Alice again.

Alice replied while conscious of a mysterious tenderness deep in her chest.

“Good morning, Selka. How did you ever know we were here?”

It took over a month for her to able to stop calling her Selka-san.

She had earnestly longed to meet her little sister ever since she found out about her existence from Kirito’s words at the Central Cathedral half a year ago. However, now that that wish was granted, the more precious she found Selka, the stronger this question grew within her: if she—an ex-integrity knight by the name of Alice Synthesis Thirty, rather than Alice Schuberg—had the right to be her elder sister.

Selka might, or might not have noticed Alice’s unending conflict, but nonetheless, she spoke on with a smile free from concern over that issue.

“I didn’t search with sacred arts or anything of that sort. You were out when I visited, so I thought you could have come here since today’s weather is so fine. I left fresh milk as well as an apple and cheese pie baked just this morning on the table, so be sure to have them for lunch.”

“Thank you, that’s of great help. I was at a loss thinking of what to make.”

“Well, Kirito might end up running away someday due to the food you make, after all, nee-sama!”

Selka laughed and Alice replied while smiling as well.

“Now you’ve said it! You know, I am capable of cooking pancakes without burning any now, at least!”

“I wonder if that’s really true, you did turn them into cinders when you tried cooking them with thermal elements at first and all.”

Alice tried to berate her with a poke to her forehead with her finger, but Selka nimbly dodged it and jumped into Alice’s bosom. She gently hugged her little sister’s back closer as she nudged her face into her breast.

It was only at such times when she strongly wished she could flee from the intense pressure weighing on her heart.

What a relief it would be if she could forget the guilt from turning her back to the duties of an integrity knight and spending her days, quietly, deep in this remote forest. Still, Alice knew at the same time that she should never forget that. The end was approaching from beyond the mountain range at the edge, moment by moment, even while she embraced her little sister.

 
At the very end of the fierce battle at the Axiom Church Central Cathedral—

Having suffered enough injuries to drain her Life away, Alice lay on the marble floor, immobile, vaguely aware of the flow of the battle.

The struggle to death between Administrator the highest minister and Kirito who wielded two swords.

The highest minister’s annihilation, incinerated in the flames of Chief Elder Chudelkin’s captivated delusions.

The death of Kirito’s best friend, Eugeo, whose flesh was split apart alongside his cherished sword.

Kirito who was caring for Eugeo had vehemently cried out to a mysterious crystal plate that appeared on the north edge of the hall. At the end of the exchange that Alice hardly understood, Kirito’s entire body suddenly stiffened up and just as she thought so, he fell onto the floor—with that, the world sank into silence.

Right as Alice recovered a mere, slight amount of her Life and became capable of moving, Solus’s dawn shone in from the east window. With that light as a source of sacred energy, Alice first healed the fallen Kirito’s wounds. However, his consciousness remained lost and she reluctantly laid him down, and then attended to herself with healing arts before inspecting the crystal plate he spoke to.

However, the surface that had shone pale purple already lost almost all of its light and there was no reply no matter how many times she touch or spoke to it.

At a loss, Alice sat down.

She did trust in Kirito’s words and fought against the absolute ruler, Administrator, in order to protect the people of the Human World and her little sister living in some remote region, but she honestly doubted she could survive.

When the strange sword soldier the highest minister called «Sword Golem» pierced deep into her body.

When she used her own body as a shield against that onslaught of lightning bolts.

And when she threw all caution to the wind and leapt in just as Kirito’s life was about to be severed by that blade swung down—

Alice braced herself for death countless times. However, the sacrifices of Cardinal the sage, Charlotte that mysterious spider, and Eugeo, along with Kirito’s gallant fighting had held on to her life.

—You saved me, so take responsibility for it!

She endlessly shouted that at Kirito who lay down at the side. But the black-haired youth’s eyelids remained shut. Think about the path you should take from now on and choose it yourself… it seemed to Alice as though he was saying that.

After hugging her knees for tens of minutes, Alice finally stood up.

Perhaps due to the annihilation of the master of that space, the elevating disk had ceased motion like the crystal plate, so she broke it with her sword and leapt down to the ninety-ninth floor with Kirito on her back.

Going down the long staircase from there, she went past the elders who continued chanting arts, and reached the grand staircase from where she headed straight towards her master in swordsmanship who she had left in the large bath—towards where Integrity Knight Commander Bercouli Synthesis One was.

The large quantity of hot water frozen by Eugeo’s armament full control art had mostly thawed and Bercouli’s sprawled body, floating in the bath, was fortunately freed from Chudelkin’s petrification art.

Upon dragging his large frame onto the aisle and slapping his cheeks while loudly crying out “oji-sama”, the giant man let out a grand sneeze before he opened his eyes.

Alice somehow had it in herself to explain the situation to her master who went and uttered without showing any tension on his face, “Oh, it’s already morning?” Predictably enough, her words turned Bercouli’s expression grave and he spoke a single line in an overpowering voice after hearing it all.

Good work there, lil’ miss.

The knight commander’s consequent actions were prompt. They gathered the integrity knights to the «Grand Cloister of Spiritual Light» on the fiftieth floor, beginning with Deputy Knight Commander Fanatio who was somehow fully healed and asleep in the middle of the rose garden despite losing to Kirito and Eugeo, and continuing with the others who were apparently similarly bound by petrification, such as Deusolbert and Eldrie, then disseminated the facts they could.

That after a battle with two swordsmen-in-training from North Centoria Sword Mastery Academy, the highest minister, Administrator, was defeated and erased.

That the highest minister was working on a horrifying plan to transform half of the people into monstrous weaponry with bones made from swords.

That the Chamber of Elders, superior to the Order, was effectively Chief Elder Chudelkin alone and he, too, had died alongside the highest minister.

All they kept hidden was the origin of the integrity knights—no, their «conception». Bercouli withstood the impact of the truth, bearing doubts over the words the highest minister used about them summoned from the Celestial World from the start, but decided it should only be communicated to the other knight in progressive steps.

Nonetheless, Eldrie, Fanatio, and the others were visibly shaken. That was only natural. The highest minister with power comparable to the gods, the absolute ruler who reigned for hundreds of years, had died; it should be no easy task to accept that reality.

At the end of that discussion filled with utmost disorder, the knights chose to follow their commander’s orders for the time being, thanks to Bercouli’s popularity and ability, as well as perhaps the unbroken operation of the «piety module». Regardless of any changes, they were still knights serving the Axiom Church and now that Administrator and Chudelkin had left the Human World, it was undeniable that Knight Commander Bercouli was at the top of the church’s chain of command.

And the instant he was entrusted with that right to command, Bercouli focused all of their effort on carrying out their original duty, to «protect the Human World». He must have felt lost and conflicted himself. He did find out that there were memories of those whom he loved, stolen from him, within arm’s reach, after all.

Still, he decided to securely seal the thirty swords that formed the sword golem and all of the over three hundred crystal prisms on the hundredth floor of the cathedral, and to temporarily hide the death of the highest minister from all but the Order. In order to prioritize the impending, extensive invasion from the Dark Territory over the recovery of the integrity knights’ memories, including his own.

Bercouli somehow rallied the partially destroyed Order of the Integrity Knights, and then set out on the major task of reorganizing and retraining the Four Empires Imperial Guards of the Human World who were previously no more than an army in name; naturally, Alice assisted as well. With the impromptu eyepatch made by Kirito wrapped around her right eye, she flew about to the north and south of Centoria.

However, her time at the cathedral was limited. The traitor who turned a sword towards the Axiom Church—the unconscious Kirito, in other words—should be executed; that view was expressed by quite a number of integrity knights and even some of the ascetics who were unaware of the highest minister’s death.

One dawn, when the work necessary had settled down enough for them to catch a breather, Alice left with Kirito astride a flying dragon. It was two weeks after those intense, bloody battles.

But predicaments followed them even then. Kirito’s eyes remained shut throughout even the nights camping out that she was unaccustomed to and she felt that he needed a proper roof with a warm bed, but lacked the funds to even stay in the city’s inn, yet outright refused to exert her authority as an integrity knight for such.

What came to mind then was Rulid, the name of the village Kirito told her of on the outer wall of the cathedral.

Holding on the ray of hope that its inhabitants might welcome them despite her lost memories since Eugeo and she were born there, Alice turned the flying dragon’s reins towards north. She flew while tending to Kirito’s body, so the trip from the Norlangarth Empire to the small village at the very foot of the mountain range at the edge required three whole days.

She descended into the forest a short distance from the village in order to avoid startling the villagers and ordered the flying dragon to guard their belongings there, before heading towards the village on foot with Kirito on her back.

Upon reaching a path after passing through the forest and a wheat field, she chanced upon several villagers. However, they all looked upon them with surprise and suspicion, with not a single one calling out to them.

It was when they arrived at Rulid Village, built on high ground, and tried to pass through its wooden gate that a youth of large build leapt out from the guardhouse constructed at its side. Blood rushed to his face that still showed vestiges of freckles and he blocked Alice’s path, going—

—Hold it, outsiders may not enter the village without permission!

The young guard who shouted so with his hand on the sword on his waist as though flaunting it, before doubt sank into his expression upon spotting Kirito’s face while he was carried on Alice’s back. He muttered, “Huh, isn’t this guy,” before staring at Alice again, his eyes and mouth gradually widening.

—You… could you be.

Alice felt slight relief at those words. She talked to the guard who seemed to remember her despite the eight years that passed, paying caution to the words she used.

—I am Alice. Please call for the village chief, Gasupht Schuberg.

It might have been best to name herself as Alice Schuberg, but she could not find it in herself to do so. Fortunately, it appeared that name was sufficient as the guard’s face instantly turned blue from red while his mouth opened and closed repeatedly before rushing into the village. He did not mention anything about waiting, so Alice passed through the gate and walked on in the guard’s trail.

The village soon turned riotous, like a disturbed beehive, in that early afternoon. Tens of villagers filled up the sides of the not-so-wide road, shouting out in shock upon spotting Alice as she passed by.

Almost no face expressed gladness at her homecoming, however. Rather, they could be said to seem even doubtful, wary, and afraid at Alice, clad in unfeminine metal armor, and Kirito, still asleep on her back.

The gently sloping road eventually merged into a round plaza.

A fountain and well lay in its middle with a small church, a ringed cross on its roof, in the north. When Alice came to a stop at the entrance to the plaza and the villagers began exchanging whispers with uneasy looks from a distance.

Minutes later, a single man approached with firm steps, breaking through the crowd on the east side. Alice immediately recognized the man in the prime of his life with a neat, grayed moustache as Gasupht Schuberg, the chief of Rulid Village and once a father to Alice.

Gasupht halted a distance away, then gazed at Alice and Kirito in turn without any change in expression at all.

Roughly ten seconds passed before he let out a deep yet resonant voice.

—Are you Alice?

Alice answered the question with no more than a “yes”. Yet the village chief neither walked closer nor reached out with his hands, questioning further in a voice more stern than before.

—Why are you here? Has your crime been pardoned?

She had no immediate reply this time. She herself knew neither what crime she committed nor whether it was pardoned.

Kirito mentioned the explicit reason why Integrity Knight Deusolbert took the young Alice Schuberg to the capital was «Trespassing into the Dark Territory». That was certainly a transgression of the Taboo Index. However, as an integrity knight, Alice was no longer bound by taboos. The highest minister’s orders were the one and only law to a knight. But that highest minister was no more. She had no choice but to determine what were crimes and how to be pardoned from them, what was evil and what was good on her own…

Alice stared straight back into the village chief’s eyes as she replied with those thoughts in her mind.

—I have lost all of the memories from when I lived in this village as punishment for my crime. I do not know if I was pardoned through that. However, I can now go nowhere but this village.

Those were Alice’s unfeigned, true feelings.

Gasupht’s eyelids shut as deep wrinkles formed themselves at his mouth and brow. However, the village chief raised his face before long and what he announced with a keen light in his eyes were grim words indeed.

—Leave. This village has no place for one who committed a taboo.

 
Selka’s face rose, perhaps sensing that instant Alice’s body stiffened up, and inclined her neck slightly.

“Nee-sama…?”

Alice showed a smile as she responded to her little sister’s anxious whisper.

“It’s nothing, really. Now, it is about time we return.”

“…Okay.”

After nodding and freeing herself from the embrace, Selka spent a moment looking up towards Alice, but her bright smile returned straight away.

“I’ll push until we get to the fork!”

She proclaimed and immediately stood behind the wheelchair Kirito sat upon and grasped its handles with her small hands. The wheelchair itself was rather heavy, not to mention how a single person, though skinny, along with one and a half swords at the rank of sacred tools weighed it down. That load was too much for one who was merely fourteen years old and served as a sister apprentice that did not involve physical labor—or so Alice thought the first time Selka tried—but she leaned forward with her legs standing firm, the wheelchair began moving, though slowly.

“Be careful, we are going downhill.”

Selka had never let the wheelchair fall yet, but she still could not help but to call out in a slightly nervous tone which made Selka reply with a, “It’s fine, you’re such a worrywart, nee-sama”. It seemed that when Alice was still living in Rulid, she showed a little too much concern for her little sister despite going through all those adventures and experiments with Eugeo.

Was her basic personality preserved even with her memories lost, or was it a simple coincidence? She pondered while walking beside Selka who pushed the wheelchair on with a serious expression.

Upon reaching the foot of the hill, the gentle slope turned into a flat path. Selka earnestly continued despite the wheelchair’s increase in weight. While staring at her little sister’s profile, Alice’s thoughts switched back to the past once more.

It was Selka who called, from under a grove of trees’ shade, for Alice to stop after she left Rulid Village, dejected and crestfallen, on that day she was denied from returning to the village. If it was not for Selka’s courage, acting how she did despite aware that her actions disagreed with the thoughts of her father, the village chief, and the good will of the elderly Garitta she introduced Alice to, Alice would have been still wandering about without a destination even now.

It could not have been an easy story to swallow for Selka either.

Her elder sister who finally returned to her hometown had lost all of her past memories.

Kirito who left a deep impression on her through their conversations in mere days two years ago had fallen into a coma.

And Eugeo who was like a brother to her had died—

However, Selka showed her tears only when she found out Eugeo would never return, with her smile not fading even once in front of Alice after that. She could not help but feel gratitude and wonder at the depth of her mental toughness and thoughtfulness anew with each passing day. She felt that strength was more precious and mighty than an ascetic’s sacred arts, or even a knight’s sword.

And at the same time, she was reminded daily of how powerless she was, without the Axiom Church.

Having built the small yet firm cabin just two kilolu away from the village, deep in the forest, with the help of the elderly Garitta, what Alice set out doing straight away was an extensive healing art on the still-unconscious Kirito.

Within the vast forest where Terraria’s grace was most bountiful, she chose a day without even a single cloud in the skies to obstruct Solus’s light and coalesced ten luminous elements with the plentiful sacred energy granted by the earth and sun gods to that space, converting them into healing energy and pouring it into Kirito’s body.

The healing art Alice devoted all of herself to apply had the potential to fully heal even the massive amount of Life a flying dragon had, let alone that of a human. She was confident that regardless of how grim Kirito’s injuries were, he would immediately recover along with his severed right arm and open his eyes as though nothing had happened.

Yet—

Right after the blinding spiritual light left, Kirito’s eyes did open but those jet-black eyes lacked any light of reason. Though Alice repeatedly called his name, shook his shoulders, and even shouted at him while embracing him, he merely looked up at the sky blankly. Alice failed to even revive his right arm.

Four months have passed since that day, but there was no sign of Kirito’s mind returning.

Selka kept supporting her by insisting that Kirito would definitely recover to his old self some day since she’s putting her all in nursing him. Still, Alice secretly feared it was impossible for herself.

After all, she was no more than an existence created by the highest minister, Administrator.

Selka who had been silently pushing the wheelchair so far came to a stop while saying, “Let’s take… a break”, waking up Alice from her musing once again.

Her left hand gently touched her little sister’s back while she panted with sweat glistening on her brow.

“Thank you, Selka, I will push from here on.”

“I wanted to push, all the way, until the fork…”

“You already pushed a hundred mel more than the previous time, didn’t you? That helped out a lot.”

She found out from the village that situations like this would be where an elder sister, older by many years, should give her little sister some spending money, but unfortunately, she did not have even a single copper coin in her pockets. Losing even a mere shear would be horrible in her current financial situation, so she carries around money only when out to shop.

To make up for that, she brushed Selka’s bright brown hair. Her little sister smiled with her breathing calmed down, but Alice noticed faint gloom on her expression and tilted her head.

“What is it, Selka? Is something bothering you?”

She asked while holding the wheelchair’s grips and Selka opened her mouth after brief hesitation.

“…Erm… there’s another request to deal with the trees at the cleared land from uncle Barbossa for you, big sister…”

“What, is that all? There is nothing for you to worry about, thank you for delivering the message.”

Alice replied with a smile, but her sister’s crestfallen expression lifted with a discontented pout.

“But… those people care only for themselves. Don’t you think so too, Kirito?”

She questioned Kirito, sitting on the wheelchair, but the youth looking downwards gave no response, naturally. Still, Selka’s tone turned increasingly intense as though he was in agreement.

“Neither Barbossa-san nor Redack-san bother trying to let you stay in the village, so how could they still get you to help out when they’re in trouble? I know I am the one delivering the message, but you don’t have to accept it if you don’t want to, big sister. I will be sure to bring food from home for you.”

After letting a giggle escape from those words, Alice pacified her sulking little sister.

“Though your feelings make me happy, there is really no need to be bothered over it, Selka. I like the cabin and I feel blessed enough, staying close to the village. …I will go immediately after Kirito is done with his lunch. Where is it?”

“…The cleared land in the south, he said.”

Selka softly replied and spent a short while silently walking beside the wheelchair.

With just a little more to the fork heading towards the log cabin, she suddenly spoke in a firm tone.

“Sister, my time as a sister apprentice will end next year and I will receive some wages, even if it’s not that much. When that time comes, you can stop helping those people, okay? If it’s for you, big sister, and Kirito, I… I will always…”

Alice gently hugged Selka whose voice came to a stop there.

She felt her tawny hair on her cheeks, a sensation much the same despite the clearly different color, and whispered.

“Thank you… But I feel blessed enough simply with you close to me, Selka…”

 
Seeing off Selka, who waved her hand endlessly in reluctance to part, Alice returned to the log cabin with Kirito and quickly prepared lunch.

Though she had become somewhat capable of housework recently, her skill at cooking alone remained stubbornly lacking. Compared to the Fragrant Olive Sword, the kitchen knife bought from the village’s general store seemed as unreliable as a toy and twenty or thirty minutes would pass in the blink of an eye as she nervously sliced the ingredients.

Fortunately, Selka had delivered that freshly baked pie today, so she cut it into smaller portions and fed Kirito. By bringing the pie to his mouth with a fork and waiting patiently, his lips would eventually open slightly, accepting it into his mouth. With that, Kirito would slowly, slowly chew as though replaying his memories of how he used to eat.

While Kirito’s mouth moved, she would eat the pie filled with apples and cheese herself, savoring its taste. It was likely Sadina Schuberg, the village chief’s wife, who made it. Mother to Selka, and Alice.

When she still lived at the Central Cathedral, she could freely dine on the rare delicacies from around the Human World squeezed on the table in the large dining hall. Sadina’s homemade pie both looked and tasted humble in comparison, but it seemed several times more delicious. Alice did feel a little peeved that it seemed to get more reaction out of Kirito than her own cooking, however.

Upon finishing the meal and the cleaning up, she sat Kirito on the wheelchair once again and placed the two swords on his lap.

The front garden shone golden in the afternoon sunlight as they left the cabin. The days were growing shorter lately and it would swiftly turn to dusk should her mind wander. Reaching the southern fork with a quick pace, she pointed her feet towards the west this time round.

The forest came to a stop shortly after she walked straight, with the wheat fields ready to be harvested stretching out. The densely packed village of Rulid could be seen beyond the heads of grain, swaying excessively under their weight. The spire shooting noticeably high up in the middle of the red bricked roofs, erected in rows, was that of the church where Selka lived.

Neither Selka nor Azariya, the sister entrusted with the church, knew the Central Cathedral managing the Axiom Church organization in the Human World’s four empires was now no more than a fanciful illusion with no master. Still, the small church that served also as an orphanage stayed in operation without issue.

Even with the cathedral descending into chaos with the death of the highest minister, there was no apparent impact on the lives of the masses. The Taboo Index functioned as always, still constraining the masses’ awareness. Could they truly take up arms and fight to protect the Human World?

They would likely obey if ordered by the Axiom Church or the emperors. However, that alone could not bring them victory against the forces of darkness. Knight Commander Bercouli must be aware of that grave reality at the very least.

What would decide the course of battle in the end was neither the priority level of weapons nor the usage authority of arts, but the strength of one’s will. Kirito’s struggles as he upset that hopeless difference in battle potential, defeating numerous integrity knights, Chief Elder Chudelkin, and even Highest Minister Administrator, served as proof for that.

Taking on the looks given by the villagers laboring in the wheat fields, entwined with vigilance and anxiety, with her chest puffed out, Alice whispered to her master in swordsmanship in her heart.

—Oji-sama, for the masses living in the Human World, peace might not be something to protect but something granted for all of eternity.

—And the ones who nurtured that idea must be… the Axiom Church, the Taboo Index, and us, the Order of the Integrity Knights.

Even at this very moment, Knight Commander Bercouli should be toiling away, training the forces of the four empires in Central Capital Centoria and producing their equipment. Or perhaps he was already mobilizing troops to the «Great East Gate» the frontier of the Eastabarieth Empire where the fighting will be fiercest. He must be wanting for even an additional knight around, both as an assistant with practical experience and as military capability after war breaks out.

—That said, I am now…

Going through the wheat fields while sunken in her contemplation, she exited at the cleared land spreading out towards the south of the village. Stopping the wheelchair right before the dug black soil, she scanned through the vast plot of land.

It was said that a massive forest larger than the one in the east, where Alice and Kirito lived in, stood here until a mere two years ago.

However, thanks to Kirito and Eugeo felling the Gigas Cedar, the «demonic tree» towering above all else as it ruled over the forest and endlessly absorbed sacred power, the village’s men could now engross themselves in expanding the fields, or so Selka had said with an exasperated look.

A gigantic pitch-black stump remained right in the middle of the cleared land and to its south, vigorous chopping noises rang out from the axes of tens of villagers. The potbellied man standing in a corner, issuing booming instructions all about without an axe in his hands, was the master of the largest farm in the village, Nygr Barbossa.

Though somewhat reluctant, Alice still pushed the wheelchair over the narrow, beaten path. Kirito made absolutely no reaction even as he passed along the stump, the vestiges of the enormous tree he once fell; his head remained hung down as he held the two swords.

The first to notice the approaching pair were young men from the Barbossa family, resting atop the trunk of a freshly fallen tree. The trio, seemingly fifteen or sixteen years old, watched Alice, who had a scarf wrapped over her blonde hair, without reserve before shifting their gaze towards Kirito in his wheelchair. Deep jeering could be heard as they exchanged words in an undertone.

Upon ignoring them and passing through them, one of the youths shouted out in a drawl.

“Uncleee, she’s hereee.”

Nygr Barbossa, who was screaming everywhere with his hands on his waist, vigorously spun around at that and showed a smirk on his greasy, round face. His large mouth and narrow eyes reminded her of Chief Elder Chudelkin somewhat.

Still, Alice returned the best smile she could muster and gave a slight nod.

“Good afternoon, Barbossa-san. I heard you had work for me, so…”

“Oooh, ooh, if it isn’t Alice, I’m glad you’re here.”

His two hands spread out, approaching haltingly, as his round tummy quivered; Alice was convinced he desired an embrace, but after a look at the wheelchair before her, he fortunately gave up on that.

In exchange, Nygr stood a mere fifty cen on her right before spinning his huge frame and pointing at a towering, large tree between the forest and cleared land.

“Look, you can see it, can’t you? We’ve spent all our time on that frustrating platinum oak since yesterday morning, but this pathetic amount is how much progress was made even with ten adult men swinging their axes at it.”

The index finger and thumb on his right hand formed a smallish semicircle.

The large white and brown tree with a trunk of a mel and a half across had spread its roots deep into the earth, stubbornly rejecting the laborers. Two men swung their large axes in turn even now, but the notch carved in its trunk was shallow indeed, at less than even ten cen.

Sweat poured down the men’s bare upper bodies like waterfalls. Their chests and arm muscles were developed well enough, but their handling were rather stiff, perhaps due to the lack of need to wield an axe in their daily activities.

One of the men had his right leg slip as she watched and struck a wrong spot at an angle. The axe snapped at the middle of its handle and unrestrained laughter from the man’s co-workers immersed him as he fell hard on his buttocks.

“Good grief, what are those blockheads doing…”

Nygr moaned and looked at Alice once again.

“At that rate, I have no idea how many more days will it take for that one tree. And while we were stuck here with that, Redack’s men have already expanded the land by twenty mel in every direction!”

After uttering the name of the next most influential farming household after the Barbossas, Nygr kicked away a pebble at his feet. His breathing had grown distraught, but all of a sudden, a full smile appeared on his face as he let out a wheedling voice.

“And that’s how it is, I know our agreement was for once a month, but could you treat it as an exception just this once and lend me your strength, Alice? You probably don’t remember, but I spared… no, treated you to sweets time after time when you were young. You were such a cute little miss back then, you see, no, no, of course, that’s not to say that’s any different now…”

Alice interrupted Nygr’s words while holding back her sigh.

“I understand, Barbossa-san. I will treat this one particular time as an exception.”

Getting rid of trees and rocks, like the platinum oak before her eye, obstructing the land clearing was Alice’s current sacred task—no, her temporary source of income.

Naturally, it was not work officially assigned to her. There was an incident about a month into her peaceful life on the outskirts of the village where a gigantic fallen rock sealed the road towards the cleared land to the west. The episode of Alice rolling that rock away on her own as she came across it spread through the village as a rumor and before she knew it, they depended on her for assistance on tasks like this.

It was a fact that money was necessary if she were to continue living with Kirito, so she was thankful for the offers. Still, as Selka was worried that the men would bother her with an endless stream of requests if she took on the physical labor without complaint, she decided to limit her help to once a month for each farming household.

Nygr should be bound by every single rule laid in the Taboo Index, the fundamental laws of the Norlangarth Empire, and those of the village, but it came as no surprise to her that he would send two requests within the month despite that being a violation of the agreement. Though he had not broken through the «seal of the right eye»—what was «Code 871» according to the highest minister’s words—like Alice or Eugeo, it was likely he simply felt Alice to be beneath himself. He must felt no need to naively abide by some agreement made with an ex-convict living in some hut on the outskirts of the village.

Even with those thoughts in her mind, Alice nodded at Nygr once again before parting from the wheelchair. She took note of Kirito’s status, but he seemed unconcerned by the clamor in the surroundings. After telling him that she would be right back in her heart, she walked towards the large platinum oak.

The men who noticed Alice showed smirks or blatantly cluck their tongues. However, there were now few unaware of Alice’s strength, so they distanced themselves from the tree without a word en masse.

Taking their place before the great tree, Alice quickly drew a seal of sacred letters with a finger on her right hand and brought out its «Stacia Window». Its quantity of Life was quite a figure, as expected of one that ten adult men would have trouble against. Using a borrowed axe as usual would prove ineffective against that priority level.

Returning to the wheelchair in a jog for the moment, she bent down and whispered softly.

“I apologize, Kirito. I would like you to lend me your sword for a little while.”

She gently touched the black leather sheath with her right hand and felt his left arm tense up slightly as it held the sword.

However, after patiently looking into his blank eyes, the strength eventually left his arm and a hoarse voice escaped his throat.

“…Aah…”

This was likely a fragment of his memories rather than her feelings actually getting through to him. What controlled Kirito now were not his thoughts but the memories resident in his breast.

“Thank you.”

Whispering so, she slowly brought up the black sword from his arms. After affirming that Kirito remained docile, she returned back to the platinum oak.

But still, this was a splendid tree. Though it could not compare to the great ancient trees rising around Central Capital Centoria, it must be over a hundred years old.

Alice gave an apology in her heart before stabilizing her footing.

Her right leg forward and her left leg back. She gently placed her right hand on the grip wound with black leather of the «Night Sky Sword» unevenly set on her left hand. She measured the distance to the tree with her left eye.

“Hey, hey, you think you can break platinum oak with that thin sword?”

One of the men shouted and the crowd went into an impromptu frenzy. That sword’s gonna break; the sun’ll set before that; while the jeers flew in one after another, Nygr Barbossa’s concerned voice mixed in.

“Aah, Alice, if possible, I would rather you do something about it within an hour, you know?”

She had fallen over ten trees since she started this job, but required around thirty minutes almost every time. The reason behind that slowness was due to her having to keep her strength in check to avoid breaking the axes she borrowed. But she had no need for that worry today. The Night Sky Sword was a sacred tool boasting a priority level equal to Alice’s Fragrant Olive Sword.

“No, I will not require that long.”

Replying with a near-murmur, Alice gripped the sword’s handle.

“…Haah!!”

A short yell. A cloud of dust whirled up from beneath her right foot, dug firmly onto the ground, like some sort of explosion.

It had been a while since she swung an actual sword, but fortunately, she had yet to forget her techniques. The horizontal slash from the left in the same motion as drawing it from its sheath ran through the air like black lightning.

The surrounding men appeared to have been unable to follow the slash itself. Even as Alice rose up from her final posture, with the sword swung completely to the right in front of her, they continued scowling questioningly.

There was no more than the meager notch made by the men on the platinum oak’s smooth bark; it had suffered no other damage—or so it appeared.

A “Whaat, she missed?” eventually came from somebody and a number of them laughed. Alice glanced at the person to whom that voice belonged to and spoke as she sheathed the sword.

“It will be falling that way.”

“Hah? The heck are you…”

The man’s two eyes opened wide with shock upon getting to that point in his words. He saw the platinum oak’s trunk slowly begin to tilt. A scream grew from him and those around him as they ran behind.

The huge tree fell with a terrific tremor where the men were until three seconds ago.

Alice moved to the front of the stump as she warded off the rising thick cloud of dust with her right hand. Fine tree rings were clearly visible on the newly-made cross-section and shone as though it was polished, but a single section on the edge was slightly frayed.

Perhaps her skills have dulled, or perhaps her unavailable right eye was to blame—Alice pondered as she turned herself about.

Her upper body unconsciously straightened up in the next instant. Nygr Barbossa had a full smile on his face and was rushing towards her with heavy steps, his arms spread out.

She instinctively lifted the sword in her left hand and Nygr came to an abrupt stop at the clink made by the guard. Still, his smile remained and he put his spread out hands together in front of his body as he shouted.

“B-Bri… brilliant! What skill! Jink, the guard chief, couldn’t even hope to match that! It’s practically divine!”

He went another mel closer and continued his words with an expression filled equally with admiration and greed.

“H-H-How about it, Alice, I will double your fee, so let’s not make it once a month, help us out once a week… no, once a day!!”

Alice lightly shook her head at Nygr who was rubbing his hands together fast.

“No, the fee I am currently receiving is plenty.”

If she were to wield the Fragrant Olive Sword and make use of the armament full control art, it would not be on the scale of one large tree a day; it would be possible to change this forest to nothing more than barren land as far the eye could see in mere minutes. But if she were to do that, their requests would stretch on to tilting the plains, smashing rocks, and even making it rain.

Nuhnhnhnhnh; Nygr moaned in agony before finally snapping out of it, blinking, after a “my pay, please” from Alice.

“O-Oh, that’s right, that’s right.”

Sticking his hand in his pocket, he pinched out the agreed hundred Shear, a single silver coin, from a leather bag that sounded heavy.

Dropping that onto Alice’s palm, Nygr still stubbornly added some words.

“How about this, Alice? I will pay another silver coin, so how about you decline those under Redack this month if they ask for help…”

It was then, when she held back her sigh and was about to reject his offer once more.

A heavy clunk reached her ears. Her face sprung up and saw the wheelchair sprawled on its side with Kirito thrown onto the ground a distance away.

“…Kirito!”

She gave a hoarse shout and rapidly slipped past Nygr.

She could sense desperation from Kirito as he reached out with his left arm with his stomach lying on the ground. Ahead of him were the previously resting young men, two who now supported the long sword sheathed in white leather on the ground as they cried out in excitement.

“Uohh, woah, this is heavy as heck!!”

“That’s why even that girl can bring down that platinum oak in one blow, huh?”

“Shut up and hold onto it properly!”

The third youth shouted and held the Blue Rose Sword’s handle with both hands so as to draw it.

Alice heard her own teeth gnashing as they grinded together. Released next from her throat was a sharp yell.

“You bastards…!!”

The youths’ mouths opened wide upon hearing that as they looked at Alice.

She ran through the remaining twenty mel in an instant and came to a stop with the dust whirling up. The three looking at Alice’s face backed off haltingly.

Somehow restraining the emotions threatening to burst out with a deep breath, Alice first helped up the fallen Kirito. While sitting him on the wheelchair once again, she ordered with a stifled voice.

“That sword belongs to this man. Return it now.”

Defiant expressions instantly showed up on the trio’s faces. The lips of the one with a large build and about to draw the Blue Rose Sword grew crooked and he pointed at Kirito.

“We did ask that guy if we could borrow the sword, you know?”

Back on the wheelchair, Kirito’s left arm was still reaching out towards the pure white sword while his feeble voice leaked out.

One of the youths holding back the sheath warped his lips in ridicule as he continued.

“And then, he generously lent it to us. With those cries of aah, aah, you know?”

The last went with the flow and laughed with a “yep, yep”.

Alice could not help but to tighten her right hand’s grip on the wheelchair’s handle. That hand was unmistakably seeking to draw the Night Sky Sword hanging off her left hand.

She would have sliced off those six hands touching the Blue Rose Sword without even a hint of hesitation half a year ago. Integrity knights were above the Taboo Index and its prohibition on hurting others. And in the first place, with the seal on her right eye currently broken, there were no longer any laws capable of keeping Alice’s actions in check.

Still—

Alice grinded her teeth so hard it hurt as she fought against the impulse surging through herself.

These youths were part of the people of the Human World that Kirito and Eugeo sacrificed their lives to protect. She could not hurt them. Neither of them would wish for that.

Alice remained silent without moving a cen for several seconds. But she likely failed to conceal the bloodlust emanating from her left hand. The trio wiped off their smiles and averted their eyes, afraid.

“…Fine, no need for that scary look.”

The larger one eventually spat out with a sulk and took his hands off the sword’s grip. The remaining pair let go of the sheath with faces that appeared relieved, probably already at their limits in supporting it. The Blue Rose Sword laid down heavily where it was.

Alice approached without any additional words, stooped over, and deliberately used just three fingers on her right hand to lift the white leather sheath. After a glare at the brats right after turning about, she returned to the wheelchair.

She wiped the soil that got on the sheath with the cuff of her overcoat, then placed on Kirito’s lap both the white and black swords which he firmly hugged before coming to a stop.

She gave Nygr Barbossa a glance, seeing him apparently paying that commotion no attention and engrossed in directing the men. Alice lightly bowed towards his back as he continued his shouting, and then pushed the wheelchair back north on the narrow path.

The anger raging in her breast for the first time in a while had turned to a cold sense of futility.

It was not her first time thinking so since she began living in the forest near Rulid. Most of the villagers avoided even talking to Alice and as for Kirito who lost his sense of self, they would not even treat him as a human.

She had no plans to condemn them. Alice was likely still a criminal who violated the Taboo Index to them, after all. She felt thankful enough for them giving their silent consent for her to stay close to the village, and selling her food and daily necessities.

Still, she still pondered in a corner of her mind. —What for?

Exactly what did she suffer so much and fight against the highest minister, Administrator, for? The other highest minister, Cardinal, the intelligent black spider, Charlotte, and Eugeo lost their lives; Kirito lost his speech and emotions; exactly what was protected after all that?

That line of thought ended up on a question that she could never utter.

Was there truly a need to protect people like those from the Barbossas?

That doubt was partly what made Alice abandon her sword and live in this remote land.

The tremendous military forces of darkness were drawing closer, moment by moment, beyond the «Great East Gate» at the end of the Eastabarieth Empire even now. It was dubious if the reborn «Human World Defense Army» fostered by Knight Commander Bercouli could even be deployed in time. As Alice was not relieved of her integrity knight duties—the only one capable of doing so was the deceased highest minister—perhaps she ought to be rushing towards the Great Gate to join them as soon as she could.

However, the weight of the Fragrant Olive Sword was now beyond what Alice could handle.

The Celestial World she believed to be her origin was actually a deception. The Axiom Church she swore her fealty to was smeared in lies. Not to mention she now knew the ugliness and vulgarity of the Human World’s inhabitants far too vividly. The time she could swing her sword without doubts over her own justice and pray to the gods was of the distant past.

Those Alice now truly wished to protect numbered a mere few. Her father; her mother; Selka; the elderly Garitta; and Kirito. If nothing would befall them, what issue would there be turning her back to her knight duties and continuing her peaceful life in this land—?

Leaving the cleared land, Alice’s feet stopped just as they reached the path beyond the wheat fields, and she whispered to Kirito.

“Could we go shopping in the village seeing as we are here? I will not allow some insolent child to harass you this time.”

There was no reply, but judging the lack of response as consent, Alice pushed the wheelchair on towards the north.

 
The skies were dyed in the shades of sunset by the time they bought a week’s worth of food and essentials with the hundred Shear silver coin earned and returned to the forest cabin.

She was on the way up the cabin’s porch when she noticed a low whoosh approaching. Descending slightly with the wheelchair, she awaited the origin of that sound near the meadow’s middle.

What made its appearance before long, skimming the treetops, was a gigantic silver beast with two wings, a long neck, and a tail—a flying dragon. Alice’s flying dragon who brought the two of here from the central capital. With the name, Amayori.

The flying dragon circled through the skies above the meadow twice before gently descending. Tucking in her wings and stretching out her neck, she first touched Kirito’s chest with the tip of her nose before rubbing her large head against Alice.

Upon scratching the faintly bluish fuzz under the dragon’s neck, a low kururu rang out from her throat.

“Amayori, you have gotten a little plump. You have been eating too many of the lake’s fishes.”

After being scolded with a vague smile, she breathed out from its nose as though embarrassed, turned her long body about, and walked towards her bed east of the cabin. She curled up atop her bed made from thickly laid dry grass, entwining her tail with her head.

Half a year back, Alice undid the leather bridle fixed on Amayori’s head and released the binding art on the day she decided to build this cabin in this meadow. And she even went to the extent of telling her that she was now free and to return to the flying dragon nest in the west empire, but the flying dragon made no attempt to leave Alice.

Making a bed with grass she gathered on its own, she plays in the forest and catches fish in the lake during daytime, but comes back in the evening without exception. Despite the lack of the sacred art that restrains the proud, brutal disposition of a dragon and brought her under a knight’s command, it was a mystery why she did not return whence she came.

That said, she was simply glad that Amayori, always together with her since she became an integrity knight, would remain by her side through her free will, so she made no actual effort to chase her away. The villagers spotting her flying over the forest at times seemed to be one of the causes for Alice’s unsavory reputation among them, but she felt no point in being bothered over that now.

After telling Amayori good night as she began her low snoring atop the dry grass, Alice pushed the wheelchair into the cabin.

For dinner, she made a stew from half-moon beans and meatballs. The beans were just a little hard and the balls were not all that consistent, but it seemed to have tasted rather decent. Naturally, it was not like Kirito gave any opinion through his words. He merely chewed and swallowed, as though from memory, whenever the small spoon entered his mouth.

She considered how it would be nice if she knew his likes and dislikes at least, but realized she actually held a proper conversation with this youth for less than even a full day after thinking about it. It seemed Selka lived with him in the church for a while two years ago, but she only remembered him indiscriminately enjoying everything served. She thought that, too, was just like him.

It happened after she moved Kirito, who managed to finish the stew after some time, to the small stove’s side along with the chair and was washing the cutlery in the sink, lining them up in the drainer.

Amayori who usually slept until dawn suddenly cried out with a low rururuu outside the window.

Her hands jerked to a stop and she perked up her ears. A noise unsuited to the season was mixed in the night wind passing through the forest, like a cold winter wind. A noise like thin, large wings flying against the wind.

“……!”

Leaping out of the kitchen, she confirmed Kirito was staying quiet on the chair before opening the entrance. Straining her ears again, she judged the wind noise to be approaching, immediately went down to the front yard, and looked upwards into the night sky.

The black silhouette descending in a spiral against the backdrop of a sky filled with stars unmistakably belonged to a flying dragon. She looked towards the east of the meadow just to be sure, but naturally, Amayori was crouching on her bed as she looked up at the sky.

“Could that…”

The moment she was about to return for her sword, having thought it could be a darkness knight from the Dark Territory who crossed the mountain range at the edge, she saw the dragon’s scales gleam silver in the moonlight. She lessened the tension in her shoulders slightly. The integrity knights of the Axiom Church were the only ones to ride flying dragons with silver scales even if one were to search the world over.

That said, it was still too early to be relieved. Exactly who would fly to a region this remote, and for what reason? Could it be that the debate regarding the execution of the traitor, Kirito, continued even throughout this half year and that the cathedral had finally dispatched someone to do the deed?

Perhaps sensing Alice’s tension, Amayori crept out from her bed before lifting her head up high and crying out once more. However, her menacing, deep tone soon faded away, replaced by a coy, high-pitched kyuun.

Alice, too, knew why straight away.

The flying dragon that landed on the southern part of the meadow after circling another three times had fuzz in a shade much like Amayori’s growing around its neck. That could only be Amayori’s elder brother, a dragon named Takiguri. In other words, the one riding on him was—

Alice called out in a stiff tone towards the knight clad in full silver armor who landed on the ground in an elegant motion.

“…To think you would find out about this place. What business do you have here, Eldrie Synthesis Thirty-one?”

The one and only integrity knight possessing a number younger than Alice, who was thirty, did not speak immediately and instead, first gave a deep bow with his right hand on his chest.

Straightening his body, he slowly removed his helmet. His lustrous light purple hair fluttered in the night wind and his good looks with a sense of urban flamboyance were revealed. With his high, smooth voice, rare for a man—

“It has been a while, my master, Alice-sama. Your beauty has not faded despite this change in dressing. I could not help but to make haste to meet with you, master, with a bottle of alcohol from my cherished collection upon imagining the bewitching splendor your golden locks would have under this evening’s glorious moon.”

The left hand held behind his back darted forward and in it was a bottle of wine.

Alice held back a sigh as she answered the man who apparently regarded her as his master.

“…I am truly glad your wounds have healed, but I see your personality is as it had always been. I have only just noticed, but your manner of speech is slightly similar to Chief Elder Chudelkin’s.”

Turning her back to Eldrie who let out a mild ugh, she proceeded towards the cabin.

“E-Erm, Alice-sama…”

“I will hear you out inside if it is important. If it is not, down the wine on your own and return to the central capital.”

Alice gave a glance at the siblings reunited after half a year, Takiguri and Amayori, who were happily nuzzling each other’s heads, then returned to the cabin fast.

Eldrie, who docilely followed along, scanned through the narrow cabin with curious eyes before his gaze fixated on Kirito looking downwards beside the stove. However, he mentioned nothing about the rebel with whom he had once crossed swords with and swiftly slipped to the table and pulled a chair for Alice.

“……”

It seemed ludicrous to thank him, so she sighed instead and sat straight down. Eldrie sat opposite Alice without asking and placed the wine bottle on the table. His face clouded over the moment their gazes met straight on, likely spotting the black bandage still covering Alice’s right eye. That expression soon vanished, however, with Eldrie’s nose twitching as he raised his face.

“…There seems to be some aroma here, Alice-sama. On another note, I have yet to take dinner due to this trip I undertook in haste.”

“On another note? In the first place, what would spur you to bring wine instead of rations when flying to this remote region from the central capital?”

“I swore to the three goddesses that I will never have that dried, squirmy thing in this life. If I have to satisfy my stomach with that, I would rather starve and give my Life up…”

Alice stood from the chair without listening to Eldrie’s absurd excuses to the end. Moving to the kitchen, she served the leftover stew from the metal pot on the stove into a wooden plate and returned to the table.

Eldrie stared at the bowl placed before his eyes with a mixture of delight and suspicion.

“……Excuse my abrupt question, but could this possibly made by your hand, Alice-sama…?”

“Why, yes, it is. What about it?”

“……No. I am merely overjoyed by this day, in which I could partake in cooking made by my master; more so than being endowed with some hidden sword stance.”

Holding the spoon with a nervous expression, he brought beans to his mouth.

Alice asked once again towards Eldrie whose mouth moved as he chewed.

“And so, how did you find this place? No art could reach this far from the central capital… and I hardly believe the Order could dispatch flying dragons to every area in search of me alone in its current situation.”

Eldrie gave no reply for a moment, murmuring comments such as “so it’s not that bad, after all” as he energetically moved the spoon, but eventually raised his face from the now-emptied plate, then wiped his mouth with a handkerchief he took out from one place or another before looking straight towards Alice.

“I came, following the bonds of fate linking us, Alice-sama… or so I would like to say, but unfortunately, this was an utter coincidence.”

His right hand flashed open in a pompous gesture.

“Reports that the goblins and orcs were sneaking about of late came from the knights going about the mountain range at the edge. The caves in the north, south, and west were all destroyed under the knight commander’s command, but as there was still the possibility of them stubbornly digging through, I came to confirm the issue.”

“…The caves…?”

Alice’s knitted her eyebrows.

Among the four passages passing through the mountain range at the edge, the caves in the south, the west, and the one exceeding close to Rulid Village, the north, were rather narrow, denying access to the orcs and giants who formed the bulk of the darkness forces. As such, she anticipated the enemy army would gather at the «Great east Gate», but Knight Commander Bercouli had collapsed those three caves immediately upon assuming command as insurance.

That was precisely why Alice built this secret home on this land, but the situation would change if the enemy were to dig through the cave. Rulid Village would flip from a peaceful remote region to the front lines where battle would first break out.

“And so… did you confirm the movements of the darkness forces?”

“Though I flew around the cave for an entire day, I saw not even a single goblin, let alone an orc.”

Eldrie lightly shrugged and continued.

“Perhaps they mistook a pack of beasts for military forces.”

“…Did you check inside the cave?”

“Naturally. I peeked in from the Dark Territory’s side, but it was buried in rocks up to the ceiling. They would probably need a large force to dig through that. …Then Takiguri strangely kicked up a fuss when I pulled on the reins to return to the central capital. I left the flying to him and he descended straight towards here. Honestly, I am just as shocked. It’s a huge coincidence… no, maybe it was the guiding hand of fate after all.”

Having left his flowery language behind some time ago, Eldrie showed the resolute face of a knight and continued.

“I am obligated to report that I had come across this opportunity for an audience with you on this particular occasion. Alice-sama… please return to the Order! Rather than the assistance of a thousand men, what we need now is your sword!!”

Alice slowly turned down her eye as though avoiding the knight’s forceful gaze.

She knew.

She knew the crackling of the brittle wall shielding the Human World crumbling away. And of the hardships Knight Commander Bercouli and the newly-formed Defense Army suffer as they propped it up.

Alice could never repay her debt to the knight commander for his protection and guidance, and she had yet to lose her sense of unity with those in the Order of the Integrity Knights, including Eldrie. That said, that was insufficient to spur her to battle.

Strength is the might of one’s will. Alice realized that truth through the battle at the cathedral. If willpower could allow one to overturn a devastating difference in battle potential, like Kirito back then, then it could dull the strongest sacred tool too—

“…I cannot.”

Alice softly replied.

Eldrie’s sharp voice rang out at once.

“Why.”

Without waiting for a reply, his sight, keen like a whip, turned to the young man sitting on the chair next to the stove.

“Is it for that man? Is your heart still led astray, Alice-sama, by that man who broke out of the cathedral’s jail and turned his treacherous blade on many knights, the chief elder, and even the Esteemed Highest Minister? If that is so, I shall cut off the source of your hesitation for you this very moment.”

Alice’s one eye glared at Eldrie as he put strength into his right hand holding onto the table’s end.

“Stop it!”

Though that single line was at a suppressed volume, the knight still straightened up his upper body with a start upon hearing it.

“He, too, only fought for the justice he believes in. Otherwise, how could he defeat all of us integrity knights, who are supposed to be the strongest, and even the knight deputy commander? You should know the weight behind his sword as well, having crossed swords firsthand.”

Even as wrinkles came together near his high nose bridge, Eldrie slowly released the strength in his shoulders. He lowered his gaze to the table while murmuring to himself.

“…Certainly, I, too, find it hard to accept Administrator-sama’s plan of changing half of the people into soulless soldiers with bones of swords. And without that youth… Kirito and his friend, Eugeo, it is unlikely anyone would stop that plan from being realized. Not to mention that if it is as Bercouli-dono said, that the one who guided that pair truly stood on a par with Administrator-sama once, as another highest minister, Cardinal-sama, I would hardly wish to point out Kirito’s crimes. However… if that is so, I find it even harder to swallow!!”

As though pouring out what he had always kept suppressed in his breast, Eldrie shouted.

“If the skills of the rebel, Kirito, overwhelm even those of us integrity knights as you have mentioned, Alice-sama, why does he not take up his sword and fight?! Why was he reduced to such a miserable state and continues to anchor you down to this remote region?! If he murdered Administrator-sama in order to protect the masses, then should he not be rushing to the Great East Gate this very moment?!!”

Eldrie’s words, as though spewing out fire, showed no sign of reaching Kirito’s heart either. His half-closed eyes reflected no more than the light from the wavering embers in the stove.

The heavy, lasting silence that descended was punctured by Alice’s calm voice.

“…I am sorry, Eldrie. I am incapable of going with you, after all. It has nothing to do with Kirito’s status… I have merely lost the strength to wield my sword. I doubt I could even get a point if I were to cross swords with you now.”

Eldrie’s two eyes flashed open as though he was taken aback. The prideful knight’s face contorted like that of a young boy.

That face showed a smile bearing resignation in time.

“…I see. Then I have nothing more to say…”

Slowly stretching out his right hand, he started muttering a sacred art. The following quick incantation created two crystal elements and changed their forms into that of extremely thin wine glasses.

Picking the wine bottle up from the table, he flicked the tough cork off with just his fingertip. He poured a little of the crimson red fluid into both glasses from the bottle before putting it down.

“…If I had known we would be bidding each other farewell with this wine, I would have brought along one that was aged for two hundred years old from the East Empire in my collection.”

Eldrie lifted one of the glasses, downed it in one go, and then gently returned it to the table. He took a bow and stood up, his pure white mantle billowing.

“I bid you farewell here, master. Your guidance on my sword and arts shall remain unforgotten as long as this Eldrie lives.”

“…All the best. I pray you stay safe.”

Lightly nodding back towards Alice who managed to get those words through her mouth somehow, the integrity knight scraped his boots against the floor as he walked away. Alice could not help but to avert her eyes from his back filled with unshakable pride.

The door opened and closed. A single shrill cry came from Takiguri on the front yard, followed by the sound of flapping wings. Amayori’s voice, nasal from her reluctance to part with her brother, pricked Alice’s breast.

Though the strong flapping vanished into the distance before long, Alice continued sitting without stirring.

Right before the Life of the glasses made from crystal elements expired, she gently lifted one to her lips with her fingertips. The first wine she tasted in this half year left an aftertaste more bitter and sour than sweet on her tongue. The two empty glasses scattered into pale light as they disintegrated seconds later.

She pushed the cork back into the bottle, yet to be emptied, and stood up. Moving to the stove, she called out towards Kirito who still sat in silence.

“…I am sorry, you must be tired. It is long past the usual bedtime, after all. Now, let us go to bed.”

Gently tapping his shoulders with her hands to make him stand, she then guided him to the connecting bedroom. She changed his black robe to his undyed sleepwear before laying him on the bed at the window.

Even upon bringing up the folded blanket at her feet and covering him up to his neck with it, Kirito’s eyes remained half-open, still staring at the ceiling unblinkingly.

The room was filled with a pale blue darkness after she blew out the lamp on the wall. She sat down beside Kirito and softly caressed his emaciated chest and bony shoulders for several minutes; his eyelids fell only then, as though some source of power he had was cut off.

She waited until the sleeping Kirito’s breathing stabilized before leaving the bed and changing into white sleepwear herself. Returning to the living room, she checked on Amayori from the window, then extinguished the two lamps and went back to the bedroom.

She lifted the blanket on the bed and slipped in beside Kirito as his faint warmth enveloped her body.

Though closing her eye would have usually allowed her to flee into her sleep without delay, her drowsiness seemed mostly absent today.

The blinding white of the mantle whipping on Eldrie’s back as he left remained imprinted on the insides of her eyelids, stinging her eyes.

That same pride should have filled her own back in those days. That unshakable resolve surging through her body as energy for protecting the Human World, its inhabitants, and the Axiom Church’s authority with her sword.

However, every last drop of that strength had left her.

She had a question for Eldrie—for her former disciple. Exactly what do you fight for, now that both the church and the highest minister have been exposed as falsehoods?

But she could not ask. None of the integrity knights were informed of the entirety of the highest minister’s horrifying scheme aside from Bercouli and herself. Not even Eldrie knew the fact that his «memory fragment» and his «most beloved person», reduced to a part of the sword golem, remained on the sealed highest floor.

As such, he still believed in the concept of the Axiom Church. He still waits, expectantly, for the day the three goddesses would send a new highest minister to the cathedral to bestow their infallible guidance.

But what should she do, as one aware that the goddesses and the Celestial World were both great lies?

It was perfectly understandable, but Knight Commander Bercouli had to hide half of the truths from the knights to have them prepare for the incoming war. The hesitation currently in her breast would certainly infect the other knights if she was in their presence.

Nobody knew if the Defense Army established in haste could repel the coordinated assault from the darkness forces. If they broke through the Great East Gate, the monsters thirsting for blood would march on to this remote village sooner or later. Was there no method to avoid that disaster—a certain voice replayed within Alice’s mind every time she pondered that.

The two lines that came from that mysterious crystal plate after the battle with the highest minister, before Kirito collapsed.

—Head for the World End Altar.

—Straight south after you exit the eastern large gate.

She had no recollection of this name, «World End Altar» in the Sacred Tongue. However, she knew what could be found upon exiting the Great East Gate. The wilderness of the Dark Territory: soil blackened like cinders and skies in the shade of blood reaching out. Neither advance nor escape was easy once one took a step in.

Even if she surmounted the outrageous difficulties to reach the altar, what awaited her there? Was there truly someone—or something—capable of protecting the inhabitants of the Human World from the darkness forces…?

Alice tilted her head atop the pillow and stared at the youth stretched out on the other side of the bed.

Creeping through the blanket, she moved to Kirito’s side. Reaching out her hands after slight hesitation, she clung onto him like a child spooked by a nightmare.

No matter how hard Alice drew his dismally thin body closer, the youth who made her heart waver with intensity on a par with flames showed absolutely no reaction. His pulse continued its sluggish pace; his lowered eyelashes remained utterly motionless. He… no, that might no longer be anything more than an empty shell with its soul utterly burnt out.

If her sword was now in her right hand—

She could bring an end to it all, stabbing their two touching hearts as one.

That momentary thought overflowed from Alice’s eyes as tears and fell onto Kirito’s nape.

“Tell me, Kirito… What should I do…”

No answer for her question came.

“What… should I……”

The moonlight pouring in from a gap in the curtains coalesced and faded within the teardrops ever-increasing.

 

Continuation of Translation of Sword Art Online’s volume 15, chapter 15.(Defan,2015).

The next day, on the twenty-second day of the tenth month, the temperature drop of autumn arrived.

Canceling their walk, Alice and Kirito spent time at the fireside. Originally before the real cold winter arrived, she had wanted to prepare a large amount of firewood as Garitta-ji had taught her to, but for now there seemed to be no more need.

It had taken her an entire day to write just two pieces of parchment worth of a letter. After finishing, Alice hesitated for a while, and wrote down “Schuberg” in the Common Tongue, then wrote “Synthesis Thirty” in the Sacred Tongue.

She carefully folded the letter, inserted it into two envelopes, wrote Selka’s name onto one, then left the other one on the table for Garitta-ji.

They were letters of farewell and apologies. Since the home in the forest had been discovered by Integrity Knight Eldrie, they could no longer live there. Next time, it would not be Eldrie but Knight Bercouli who came. Alice could not bring her current self to say the same things to her own mentor in swordsmanship, when the time came.

So they could only run.

After letting out a long sigh, Alice raised her head and looked at the black-haired youth sitting on the other side of the table.

“Hey, Kirito. Where do you want to go? The highlands of the Western Lands are very beautiful, you know. Or would the forests of the Southern Lands be better? Even I’ve never been there.”

Although she asked him in a livelier voice than usual, Kirito was completely unresponsive as usual.

Blank eyes silently looked at the table. The fact that she had to take this injured youth on a life of vagrancy pained Alice in her chest. But she couldn’t just leave him behind. She couldn’t let go of Apprentice Sister Selka’s irrational wish, and Alice had her own intention as well. Now, taking care of Kirito had almost what Alice lived for.

“…Forget it, let’s leave the destination up to Amayori. Okay… it’s late, let’s go to bed. We need to get up early tomorrow.”

After changing clothes for Kirito and laying him down, she changed into her nightwear, extinguished the lanterns, and climbed into bed.

She laid in the darkness with her eye closed for several minutes, and when Kirito’s breathing became deeper and slower beside her, Alice wriggled her body.

She leaned her head against the youth’s smooth chest. Beside her ear came a slow but steady thumping.

Kirito’s heart was already no longer here. This heartbeat was but a resonance of the past.

In the months that she had slept alongside him every night, Alice had thought so. But at the same time, she felt that in this deep yet steady resonance, there was still — something that remained.

If the Kirito now was in a state of <normal heart but unable to express anything>, then just how would she explain her current actions, Alice thought as she smiled lightly and leaned closer, slowly entering the world of dreams.

Suddenly, the body beside her trembled slightly.

Opening her heavy eyelids with difficulty, Alice looked towards the east window, but the sky through the gap in the curtains was still pitch black. Judging by her feeling, she had only slept two or three hours.

Kirito tightened his body again in fright.

“It’s still nighttime… let’s sleep some more…” Alice said quietly.

She closed her eye again, stroking Kirito’s shoulders and preparing to go to sleep with him again, but the thin sound that she heard finally let Alice know that there was something wrong with the boy.

“Ah… ah…”

“Kirito…?”

The Kirito now did not express his own wishes. Simple coldness, hunger or others like that shouldn’t wake him. But the boy trembled more violently, kicking the covers as though he wanted to get off of the bed.

“What’s wrong…?”

This was abnormal; had he regained his senses? Alice thought as she jumped him and directly generated a luminous element without even lighting a lantern.

The boy’s pupils in his eyes that were faintly lit by white light showed no change from usual at all and reflected the same blank darkness; Alice felt slightly depressed. But, what was that—

At this moment, a sharp cry came from outside the window.

Guruuu, guruuu!

It was the cry of Amayori, who was supposed to be asleep in a corner in the clearing. The sharp cry sounded sonorously as though it were warning its owner’s master.

Alice jumped onto the floor, ran from the bedroom to the living room and threw open the door. An icy night wind blew, but the normally fragrant forest wind carried a sliver of strange odor. This was… something burnt…?

She walked barefoot to the vestibule and looked towards the sky with wide eyes. She gasped.

The sky to the west— was burning.

An ominous red glow that was undoubtedly the reflection of an enormous fire. Squinting, she could see several buildings in front of the black smoke.

A bush fire?!

Although she had thought so for a split second, Alice immediately dismissed that notion. Through the burnt wind came the tinny sounds of clashing metal and— screams.

An enemy attack.

An army from the Land of Darkness was attacking Rulid Village.

Alice wailed weakly and prepared to immediately run back inside.

Then she stood stock still.

She had to save her sister no matter what.

But… what about the other villagers?

If she were to attempt to save everyone, she would have to directly confront the Army of Darkness. But did she still have that power now?

The source of power for the <Integrity Knight Alice> of the past was her fanatic loyalty to the Church. Her trust had shattered with her right eye; could she still swing her sword and use the Sacred Arts?

The frozen Alice heard—

A “thump” from inside the house.

She turned in surprise and looked. There sat an upset chair and a boy beside it, crawling on the floor.

“…Kirito…”

Eyes wide, Alice hurriedly run back inside with watery legs.

Kirito’s eyes were still devoid of will. But what he meant by his slow actions was very clear.

He reached out his arm straight towards the three swords hanging on the wall.

“Kirito… you…”

Alice felt hot lumps rise in her throat and chest. She discovered that her vision was blurry and distorted because of her own tears.

“…Ah…Ah…”

Letting out hoarse noises, Kirito moved relentlessly towards the swords. Alice wiped her eyes firmly, ran to the boy, and held his frail body up.

“I know… don’t worry, I’ll go. I’ll save everyone. You stay here and relax.”

Her voice diminishing, Alice hugged Kirito tightly.

Thump, thump. His chest pounded fiercely.

Within the depths of his chest were not remains but will; although they were weak embers, they were definitely there. Now, Alice could clearly recognize this.

After tightly pressing her own cheek to the boy’s, Alice carried the frail body over to a chair.

“I’ll save them and be back soon.”

Then she took down the armor and scabbard hanging from the ceiling and put them on over her nightwear. Without hesitating, she then ran to the east wall and grabbed her beloved sword.

The Fragrant Olive Sword that she had not held for half a year was extremely heavy, but Alice slid it into its scabbard without delay and secured it with its clip. She seized her coat and threw it on, slipped on her boots and ran to the vestibule again.

“Amayori!”

With one shout, a gigantic shadow hastened over and lowered its head.

Alice clambered onto its long neck and commanded sharply:

“Go!”

Whoosh! Flapping its silvery wings, the dragon sprinted and soared into the air.

After gaining some altitude, the pitiful sight of Rulid Village ruthlessly entered Alice’s sight. The rising pitch-black flames generally came from the northern side of the village. As expected, the invaders had come from the <Mountain Range at the End>.

Last night, Eldrie had confirmed that all was normal at the <Cave of the North> that had been blocked under Bercouli’s command, so they must have moved a large amount of debris in one day. If that was the case, the mobilized soldiers numbered at least twenty.

A long time ago, there were a few scouting teams who infiltrated the caves running through the Mountain Range at the End, scheming to attack the Human World. Kirito and Eugeo had said, before they went to the Central Capital Centoria, they had battled a group of goblins in the Cave of the North. But she had never heard of a large scale, let alone conspicuous movement. By the looks of it, the entire Dark Territory was in the mood to launch an attack against the Human World…

As Alice was thinking, Amayori flew over the forest at full speed, reaching the sky above the wheat fields on the outskirts of Rulid.

Without any reins, Alice used her hands to massage the back of the dragon’s neck in order to signal for it to stop.

Alice stretched over and gazed below. She could clearly see, attacking the village from the North, the shadows of several invaders on the busy street. The short stature of leader should be that of a dexterous goblin. Not far behind, tall orcs advanced.

The vanguard had already met the temporary line of defense set up with furniture and timber on the north side of the Central Square. White blades flashed around the barrier.

Confronting the invaders was the village guard. But whether it was number, equipment or experience, they were no match for the goblin troops. If this went on, as soon as earthquake-like roars came from behind, the gradually approaching wall of gigantic orcs would arrive and instantly crush the resistance.

Alice clenched her teeth and fought the urge to immediately rush into battle, instead surveying the situation again.

Flames licked the east and west streets, but the Square and the south side seemed fine. It seemed like the villagers not part of the guard— of course, that would include Selka — had evacuated through the south gate into the forest.

Alice gazed at the Central Square and sputtered:

“Why…?!”

In the circular square in front of the Church sat a black sea of people. She had not noticed before due to their overwhelming number. Those should be the entire villager population of Rulid.

Why were they not evacuating out of the village?

As soon as the invaders’ main force reached the main defense line, the guards would immediately scatter. It was too late even now to begin moving.

Forgetting her own wishes, Alice flew the dragon above the village square and shouted:

“Amayori, standby until I call you!”

In one breath she jumped from a height of tens of Mel. Her coat billowing in the wind, she dropped straight down in the icy night air.

The circular formation of three hundred villagers were probably planning to assume a defensive position for the time being; men wielding hoes and sickles were stationed around the boundary. On the northern side of the boundary, besides the two vigorously commanding men, Alice hit the ground with a deafening crash.

The stone slabs beneath her shoes cracked radially. Although the shockwave of the impact traveled from the soles of her shoes to the top of her head, decreasing her Life a bit, Alice attracted more attention to herself.

The two men — Nigel Barbossa and the Rulid Village Chief Gasupht Schuberg — jumped out of their skin in reaction to the suddenly descending shadow.

Alice looked at her father’s face and felt a sliver of dejection, but ignored the sudden silence and shouted:

“This place is indefensible! Take everyone and evacuate through the southern road now!”

Hearing her cold voice, the two men expressed greater surprise and stood stock still.

But a few seconds later, in return came Barbossa’s murderous curses:

“What the hell are you saying! For us to leave our homes behind… leave the village behind and run?!”

To the livid wealthy peasant, Alice retorted bitingly:

“We can still get away before the goblins catch up to us! Your wealth or your life: which one’s more important?!”

In place of the speechless Barbossa, the Village Chief Gasupht said nervously in a low voice:

“The Guard Chief, Jink, ordered us to form a defensive circle in the Square. In this situation, even as the Village Chief, I can only follow the Guard Chief’s orders.”

Now it was Alice’s turn to be speechless.

During an attack, the person with the Sacred Task of Guard Chief would temporarily assume full command of everyone; this was clearly according to a clause inscribed in the Norlangarth North Empire Basic Law.

But the Guard Chief called Jink was a young man who had inherited his position from his father. In this situation Alice thought that it was unreasonable to assume that Jink could calmly make decisions and commands. Gasupht’s face showed deep frustration, but this confirmed that the Village Chief was thinking the same thing.

But no matter what, the Law of the Empire was absolute to the villagers. To immediately begin evacuation, Jink, who was probably still leading the battle on the northern defense line, had to be pulled over and forced to change his command. But no matter how Alice thought about it, there was no time left for that.

What should she do. What would —

At this time, Alice, who was standing motionless, heard a young yet determined shout.

“Do as nee-sama says, Father!”

She turned around in surprise. In the crowd, there was a delicate young nun using Sacred Arts to treat villagers who appeared to have been burned.

“…Selka!”

This was wonderful; all was well. Before Alice could step towards her beloved sister, Selka finished treating the villager, stood up, and walked through the crowd towards the three.

She smiled at Alice and spoke to Gasupht, her face taut:

“Father, ever since we were young, has nee-sama ever been wrong? No, and even I know that. At this rate, everyone will be killed.”

“But…. but…”

Gasupht fumbled for words with a pained expression. His beard trembled slightly and his eyes remained fixed in space.

In place of the speechless village chief, Barbossa exploded again.

“Children shouldn’t mouth off!! We need to protect our village!”

His bloodshot eyes darted towards the building standing not far from the square: his own home. To be precise, he was more looking for his large stash of newly harvested wheat and gold stores saved over the years.

Looking back at Alice and Selka, Barbossa suddenly shouted in an unexpected manner.

“Damn… so it’s like this, I got it, I got it! The one who drew the Monsters of Darkness into the village was you, Alice!! You were corrupted by the Forces of Darkness when you crossed the Mountain Range at the End, weren’t you!! A witch… this woman is a witch!”

Being pointed at with a meaty finger, Alice was at a loss for words. The noise of the villagers talking amongst themselves, the sound of crossing swords on the defense line, and the screams of the monsters advancing from the north all slowly died down.

In the months that Alice lived outside the village, she had helped Barbossa fell giant trees numerous times. Every time, this man had thanked her sycophantically. But, just to protect his own wealth, he could say something like this, what kind of —

Alice turned her eye from the man’s ugly half-Orcish expression and muttered softly in her heart.

— Maybe, you guys should just do as you like.

— I wouldn’t need to strain myself like this. I would just take Selka, Garitta-ji, my parents and Kirito and leave the village to find a new home far away from here.

She clenched her teeth tightly and closed her eye.

But Alice continued to think hard.

— Barbossa and the other villagers were ignorant, because of the Axiom Church’s hundreds of years’ worth of rule.

Under the Taboo Index, they used countless laws and regulations to restrict the people, providing peace like warm water while endlessly taking away what was important.

That is, the ability to think, and the ability to fight.

In that seemingly eternal epoch, where had that amorphous power been stored?

In just thirty Integrity Knights.

Inhaling and exhaling deeply, Alice snapped open her eye like a breaking string.

She saw a surprised Barbossa who dropped his right hand, his face drained of color as though he were afraid of something.

It was the opposite for Alice, whose body filled with tremendous power. A calm yet scorching pale flame. That was what she thought she had lost in the battle on the top floor of the Central Cathedral — the power that had allowed Kirito, Eugeo and Alice to revolt against the Highest Administrator of the Human World.

After taking a deep breath, Alice declared:

“… Ignore Guard Chief Jink’s orders. I command you all, scatter this formation immediately; the ones with weapons, lead the way to evacuate to the southern forest.”

Although that voice was steady, Barbossa recoiled as though he were struck with something. Even so, his gall to retort in a trembling voice was admirable:

“On…on what authority, can you, an exiled little girl, say such…”

“A knight’s authority.”

“Kn… What the hell is a knight?! There is no such Sacred Task in this village! You just know how to swing a sword, and you arrogantly call yourself a knight, if the knights in the central capital were to find out, you’ll be sorry…”

Glancing at the sputtering Barbossa, Alice lightly grabbed her right shoulder plate on her armor with her left hand.

“I am… My name is Alice. I, who oversee the entirety of Centoria, am the Thirtieth Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church, Alice Synthesis Thirty!”

She shouted loudly, and threw away her coat.

As the heavy fabric was thrown off, her golden armor and Fragrant Olive Sword instantly gave off the color of raging flames, shining with blinding light.

“Wh… I-I-Integrity Knight…?!”

Barbossa’s tone of voice changed completely and he fell backwards onto his bottom. Gasupht’s eyes widened.

Alice’s title was no lie. This was because, in this world, there were no humans who were able to impersonate Integrity Knights – that is, to have the authority of the Axiom Church. The only people who could were Kirito and Alice, but even if she had escaped from the central capital to here, it would not mean that Alice would give up her sword that confirmed her status as a knight.

The noisy villagers immediately quieted down. The sounds of crossing swords on the northern defense line, and the screams of guards and goblins slowly died down.

The first to break the silence was Selka’s soft voice.

“Nee…sama…?”

Turning her sight towards her sister, who clutched her hands in front of her chest, Alice smiled kindly.

“Sorry for keeping it from you, Selka. This is my true punishment. At the same time, it is — my true duty.”

Tears sprang and trembled in Selka’s eyes.

“Nee-sama… I… I always believed it. Nee-sama would never be a criminal. It’s… really beautiful…”

The one who moved next was Gasupht.

Dropping to his knees with a thump, the village chief cried roughly:

“I obey your command, Your Highness Integrity Knight!”

Standing up quickly, he turned towards the villagers behind him and raised his voice.

“Everyone stand!! The ones with weapons, lead the way to the south gate!! Once you get out of the village, run to the forest south of the polders!”

Among the sitting crowd, noise began to spread. But that was only for a moment. No villager would disobey the village chief’s command, which was also based on that of an Integrity Knight.

Immediately, the stubborn farmers protecting the boundary stood up together, and the protected women, children and elderly inside the boundary formed a single file. Gasupht joined the leading team, picking up a crude hoe himself. Alice gazed at his eyes and said lowly:

“Father, please take care of the villagers… Selka, and Mother.”

Gasupht’s determined eyes wavered for just a moment, and hesitantly replied:

“….Please stay safe as well, Your Highness Knight.”

This father would now never address Alice as his own daughter. This was the price of being granted power. As Alice was committing that to memory, she lightly pushed Selka on her back, prompting her to move beside Gasupht.

“Nee-sama… please don’t strain yourself.”

Smiling and nodding at her crying sister, Alice turned and looked north.

At the same time, the villagers began to move.

“Ah…ahhh… My… my house…”

Moaning in a good-for-nothing manner, Nigel Barbossa remained seated on the ground. His eyes darted between the running villagers and his house that was about to be engulfed by flames. Feel free to fend for yourself, thought Alice as she concentrated on the other villagers.

Although the villagers had successfully got moving, there were at least 300 people. It would take time for everyone to leave the village, but the defense line was close to collapse, and the footsteps of the enemy advancing from both east and west approached.

Suddenly a young man’s scream came from north of the square:

“No! Retreat! Retreat— !”

That was likely to be Guard Chief Jink. Hearing this, Barbossa suddenly blustered at Alice with renewed intensity:

“Y…You see!! We should stay here and defend!! We’re going to die! Everybody is going to die!!”

Alice shrugged and calmly refuted:

“Calm down, I can use this newly freed space to fight. I will protect this place.”

“Impossible! How can you manage such a thing?! Even… Even if you’re a real Integrity Knight, the other side has that many monsters; what the hell can one single person do?!”

The shadows of goblins and orcs attacking from the east and west were visible now and Barbossa was still cursing. Ignoring him again, Alice spun and looked behind her: even though the line of villagers still extended back to the square, it was now a considerable distance from her.

Alice seized Barbossa’s collar and pushed him to the south, then pointed into the night sky and loudly called her beloved dragon:
“Amayori!”

Immediately, a sharp roar came from the sky. Alice’s arm swept from east to west, and she shouted:

“— Burn everything!”

A storm of wings descended from the sky; Barbossa and the abnormal demihumans — goblins that raced into the square all looked up.

The shadow of a wing streaked past a sky dyed red with flames; the gigantic dragon descending from the east opened its mouth wide. From the depth of its throat, pale white light flashed—

Whoosh!

From the west road, blinding heat sliced through the central square in front of the standing Alice and the sitting Barbossa, cutting into the east road.

In a split second.

Astonishing flames ignited and exploded in the night sky. The goblins consumed by it were thrown into the air, screaming.

SAO V15 Alice with Amayori

The dragon fire that instantly annihilated at least twenty invaders evaporated the water in the fountain at the center of the square; white steam permeated the surroundings. Alice signaled for the passing Amayori to standby again, and checked behind her.

Barbossa lay on the stone stab as though he was paralyzed; his eyes were about to burst out of their sockets.

“Wh… wh… a dragon… a dragon, dragon dragon DRAGON…?!”

As Alice was thinking about how she would make the taut-faced middle-aged man go, like they were cutting apart the steam, leather-armor clad Rulid guards rushed in from the north. The early retreat proved to be an important decision, as the guards who numbered roughly ten had suffered wounds, but there seemed to be no heavy injuries.

The tall youth bringing up the rear, Guard Chief Jink, saw the empty square and shrieked:

“Wh-where did the guys in the village go?! Did I not tell them to stay here and defend?!”

“I ordered them to retreat to the southern forest.”

Alice replied. Jink blinked as though he just noticed her and looked her up and down several times.

“You are… Alice…? Why are you…?”

“No time to explain. Are all of the guards here? Is there anyone you left behind?”

“Ah… ahh, no, there shouldn’t be…”

“Good, then leave with everyone else. Ahh, please take Barbossa-san with you as well.”

“B-but… those monsters are right in front of us…”

Before he even had time to finish—

Giiiii!

A coarse scream filled the square.

“Where did they go— ! Where did the white Iums go— !”

Plunging out of the steam into the square were goblins, clad in crude sheet metal armor, clutching rough swords that resembled slabs of metal, and wearing long feathers on their heads. By their appearances, they were not of the same tribe as the ones who had just been scorched by Amayori’s fire, and they were more well-built.

Alice breathed deeply and gripped her sword handle with her right hand. The dragon could not repeatedly breathe fire. Until Amayori could gather enough Thermal Elements again, Alice would have to face the main enemy force on her own.

One of the goblins sighted the shadow of Alice clad in golden armor; its eyes flashed yellow with frightening murderous hunger, as it shouted:

GIII!! An Ium woman!! Kill!! Kill and eat it!!”

Alice silently waited for the blade-wielding demihuman hands to come near, muttering in her heart.

—What kind of power would one have to obtain, in order for one to consider even their own existence to be a sin.

Being an Integrity Knight; this body.

Giii!

The thick blade that was swung down from high in the air was easily stopped by Alice’s left hand. Although the heavy impact traveled down her arm, there were no fractures of skin nor bone. She effortlessly gripped the blade with her finger and crushed it as though it were thin ice.

With a crack, the pieces of metal fell, but before they hit the ground, the Fragrant Olive Sword had exited its scabbard and sliced across the goblin’s body.

The sword generated a wind that twisted the three goblins near it into its path and blew away the surrounding mist. Without a sound, the round yellow-eyed enemy soldiers separated at the middle and landed on the ground.

Alice stepped back to avoid the spray of blood and said to herself in her heart:

— High Minister Administrator. You were wrong as expected.

— You had concentrated such power into the bodies of just thirty Integrity Knights, sealed their thoughts and raised them as puppets. You wanted to use such a method to control the power that was supposed to be distributed to all of the Human World. But power that is too far from righteousness will corrupt and disturb the one using it and the ones around them. Even someone as yourself was consumed by overwhelming power and became something inhuman…

With the Highest Administrator dead today, it was no longer possible to rectify that mistake.

Even so, she at least needed to use every last bit of this power for the people.

She was not an Integrity Knight of the Axiom Church but a swordswoman who thought according to her own will and fought according to her own determination. As the two brave swordsmen had before.

Maintaining her position to swing the sword all the way, Alice opened her left eye that had been closed.

At the same time, the temporary defensive line that was constructed north of the square was completely destroyed.

The wide road was full of the main enemy force. Goblins that numbered more than fifty, and orcs that were numbered less but were covered in metal armor and clutching huge tridents.

Seeing their yellow eyes that gave off bright and cold light, their screaming bodies that reeked of hatred and desire, the guards behind Jink and Nigel Barbossa let out moans of despair.

But Alice’s heart was very calm.

This was not an Integrity Knight’s strength. If they were surrounded by such a tremendous number and attacked with spears from all directions, even a knight would not walk away with minor scratches.

What gave Alice her power was but a new realization.

— From today on, I will fight for my own desires. I will fight to protect my sister, to protect my parents, and to protect this world that Kirito and Eugeo wanted to protect.

Alice clearly felt the self-doubt and powerlessness deep within her heart slowly evaporate in white light. That white light spread all around her body, all converging at her right eye that was covered with a black bandage, generating intense heat.

“…….!”

She clenched her teeth and endured the severe pain that penetrated her eye socket to the back of her head. But that was a pain she seemed to have felt before and made her feel slightly sad. Alice grasped the bandage tied to her head and tore it off.

She slowly opened the eye that had been closed for nearly half a year from that day. Red light radially flooded her black vision and became a flickering flame. It created a double image with her left eye that captured the scene of endless burning homes, which dislocated and slowly disappeared— finally combining together.

Alice looked with both eyes at the black fabric in her left hand.

This eyepatch that had been repeatedly washed and was slowly losing color was something Kirito had made by tearing a strip off of his own clothes. This piece of cloth that had protected the right eye that had been blown away along with the seal for several months, had reached the end of its Life; it began to slowly disappear from end to end as though it were melting in the air. Gazing at that ethereal yet beautiful sight, Alice realized it.

In this half year, she had originally planned to protect and take care of Kirito, who had lost his right arm and spirit. But the one protected was herself.

“…Thank you, Kirito.”

She said, holding the cloth that was close to disintegrating to her lips.

“… I’m fine now. I believe, from today on there will be all kind of confusion, frustration, and mistakes… but I will forge ahead. For you and for what I desire.”

The moment the cloth disappeared, she raised her head emphatically.

Her two eyes fixed ahead of her saw nearly a hundred goblins and orcs, screaming and shrieking as one, swarming into the square. From behind came the sounds of the guards and Nigel Barbossa’s fleeing footsteps.

Alice, who had to confront the enemy alone, felt not the slightest bit of fear in her heart.

She inhaled the burnt air and shouted:

“— I am Alice, a Knight of the Human World!! As long as I am here, the blood and massacre that you desire will not be realized!! Now return through the cave from whence you came!”

As though it was an omnipresent pressure, that awe-inspiring declaration caused the goblin vanguard to slow slightly in their advance. Immediately after, the tall orc in the middle of the formation who seemed to be the generals, swung its axe and let out a savage roar.

GURAAA! You’re just a small Ium girl, I, the <Foot Cutting Morikka>-sama will smash you to the ground!”

The goblins regained their energy with this shout. Facing the black wave of enemy forces, Alice waited until they were within range—

“Amayori!”

By one name call, a gigantic shadow flew down at breakneck speed. Even though it had not generated enough Thermal Elements to breathe out, but the mere sight of a flying dragon and a thunderous roar enough to scare the demihumans flew menacingly over their heads. The troops, frightened by this, wavered even more than before.

Not hesitating for a second, Alice raised the Fragrance Olive Sword high, high into the air and shouted:

“— Enhance Armament!”

Even though she was chanting this after half a year out of practice, and even though it was an extremely simplified version of the <Armament Full Control Art> that had excluded almost the entire verse, Alice’s beloved sword still reflected her will. With a clear metallic sound, the golden blade split into countless small blades, dancing in the night sky as they reflected the fire.

“Engulf this place — flowers!”

With a whoosh, the blizzard of golden flowers poured towards the enemy.

The first one to be engulfed in a mist of blood was the self-proclaimed Orc general. His entire body was permeated by several bursts of flowers, wasting his entire Life away in an instant; he fell back onto the ground with a trembling crash. The surrounding Orcs screamed endlessly and keeled over.

The Fragrant Olive Sword was a Divine Instrument crafted from the wood of the world’s oldest tree in the center of the Human World from the beginning of the world. With another name of <Eternal Immortality>, it could split into hundreds of flower petals through the Armament Full Control Art, with each petal having enough power to go against a famous sword forged by a blacksmith. It was certainly not stoppable by crude cast-iron armor.

The main invading force that had lost its general in an instant was significantly less enthusiastic. The advancing vanguard slowed immediately and stopped within 10 Mel of the entrance to the square.

As the goblins at the very front were confused and unable to decide between desire and fear, Alice fiercely swung the sword hilt in her right hand. Hundreds of flower petals flew into the air softly and formed a finely patterned wall between Alice and the enemy.

Gazing at the demihumans through the golden lattice, Alice quietly declared:

“This is the wall that divides the Human World and the Land of Darkness. Even if you schemed to clear the cave, as long as I’m here, you will not pervert this land! Choose— will you march forward and surrender under a sea of blood, or will you turn around and run back to the Land of Darkness!”

Within five seconds, the goblin vanguard all suddenly turned around.

3

The lively sounds of knocking rose into the clear blue winter sky.

Alice put her hand to her forehead, watching the faraway wheat fields, besides which rose Rulid Village.

A week had passed since the attack by the Forces of Darkness.

Extending from the northern homes, almost one fifth of the village had burnt down, but the village chief decided for everyone to temporarily pause their Sacred Tasks and change to manual labor, so reconstruction was proceeding very quickly. Unfortunately, twenty one villagers had lost their lives because they were too slow during evacuation; a funeral had been held at the Church three days ago.

After Alice was invited to a ceremony, she immediately rode her dragon towards the Cave of the North to confirm.

The long tunnel that had been collapsed under Bercouli’s command had been widened to a width that could even allow tall Orcs to pass through. Within its depths, at the part nearest to the Dark Territory, Alice found evidence that there had been a long-term camp there.

The invaders could not have cleared the cave in one night. Apparently troops had been sent from the Dark Territory and then their pathway exploded behind them. When Integrity Knight Eldrie was checking that entrance, there were already goblins that had infiltrated the cave and began to clear the path.

Before, neither goblins nor orcs would have scheme such a plan so thoroughly. Just from this incident it could be determined that this time, the invasion from the Dark Side was not just a scouting mission like before.

Once Alice left the cave, she did not immediately collapse the cave, but temporarily blocked the stream flowing out of the center of what used to be the White Dragon Nest, flooding the entire cave. Lastly, she released numerous Cryogenic Elements that she had set up, and used ice instead of rock to seal the cave.

This way, without Alice or a Thermal Element user of the same caliber to melt the ice, there would be no way anyone could pass through that cave again.

Turning her eyes from the white Mountain Range at the End, Alice tied the last travel bag onto Amayori’s foot straps.

“Right… Nee-sama.”

Selka, who was holding back tears with all her might and helping with preparations for departure, lowered her head and spoke:

“…Father originally wanted to come and see you off. I always felt that he had been preoccupied since this morning. Father is… really happy that nee-sama has returned. I hope you can believe this about him…”

“I know, Selka.”

Alice gently hugged her sister’s small body, saying softly:

“I left this village having done a great sin, and came back as an Integrity Knight. But next time… when I’m finished with everything, I’ll come back simply as Alice Schuberg. I think, then, I can definitely say it. ‘I’ve returned, Father’.”

“…Yes. That day will definitely come.”

Selka responded, her words mixed with sobs. She raised her head and firmly wiped away her tears with the sleeve of her monastic robes.

Turning to the youth clad in black sunk into the wheelchair besides them, she spoke jovially:

“Kirito needs to perk up as well, become better again and help my nee-sama.”

After she had gently hugged the bowed head and said a prayer for good luck, the young nun backed away several steps.

Alice walked to Kirito’s side and gently took the two swords from him and secured them to Amayori’s saddle. She then gently carried the youth’s frail body and sat him onto the front of the saddle.

She had considering leaving Kirito at the village with Selka. If she had left from the front of east gate, Alice would be busy as the main force of the Human World Defense Force on the front lines, and would definitely be unable to stay by Kirito’s side all day like she was currently.

But Alice still decided to take him with her.

On the night of the attack one week ago, Kirito had definitely wanted to take up his sword and enter the village. It was his nature to fight for others. Then, the only thing that could bring back his heart was probably the battle to protect the Human World.

If there is a change, even if she had to tie him to her back, she would protect him to the death.

Alice tightly hugged Selka for the last time.

“…Then, I’m going, Selka.”

“Yeah. Be careful… Definitely come back, Nee-sama.”

“I promise. …Say hello to Garrita-ji for me. …Stay safe and study hard.”

“I know. I’ll definitely become an outstanding nun… and then, I will, too, one day…”

She slowly stroked her sister’s head, and after letting go, Alice slowly and reluctantly walked towards her beloved dragon, sitting behind Kirito on the dragon’s back.

Nodding deeply to her sister on the ground, she turned her eyes towards the faraway blue sky.

Gently casting away the rope, the dragon ran with tremendous force in the wheat field, oblivious to the weight of the two people and three swords on its back.

There will definitely be a day when she would return to this village.

Even if she wasted away on the battlefield, her heart would remain the same.

Alice wiped away a tear on her eyelashes and let out a sharp shout:

“…HA!”

Gently.

With a floating feeling, they left the ground.

Amayori rode the rising air current, twisting into the sky.

The wide land and forests, with Rulid Village shining in their center, and the figure of Selka who was running and waving with all her might; she engraved them deeply into her eyes—

Alice turned the head of the dragon towards the eastern sky.

Credits

  • Translation – Tap(Tap,2014).
  • Defan(Defan,2015).

Sword Art Online Light Novel 15 – Alicization Invading – Chapter 15 : In the Northern Territory(Ushwood v.)

(This is a translation made by Ushwood. This is also google translated from Russian to English, so bear with it… Its just a temporary post and will be overwritten after Tap finished his work…🙂 )

Putting my dish rack for drying dishes and take to wipe your hands on the edge of the apron, Alice Synthesis Thirty suddenly lifted her head.

In the last few days getting colder and the trees that can be seen through a small glass window, the rain poured red and yellow leaves. Naturally – here comes the winter before the capital Centoria.

But now, after a long break the sky was clear, and it was pouring with warm light Solus. In the thick branches of the tree closest to the house a couple of wood rabbits, hugging each other, enjoying the sun bath.

For a while, Alice with a smile looking at them, then turned her head and said:

– Hey, beautiful weather today. Let’s take a walk before dinner to the east of the hill?

There was no answer.

In a log cabin for two, in the center of the room, to perform the duties living room, dining room and kitchen at the same time, was a simple wooden table and two chairs of the same simple.

On one of the chairs sat a dark-haired young man. After Alice’s words, he did not look up, but continued to stare vacantly at some point on the table.

And earlier is not very full, now it was noticeably thinner than Alice. Even a cozy bathrobe did not hide his bony figure. On hanging from the shoulder empty right sleeve was painful to watch.

In his eyes, the same black as the hair was not living luster. Empty eyes, the soul is fenced off from the world.

Alice’s heart throbbed with pain, to which she still could not get used. Nevertheless, she continued cheerful voice:

– There’s a little blowing, so we better dress warmly. Wait a bit, I’m all prepared.

Taking off the apron and hung it on a hammered next to the sink hook, she went into the next room – the bedroom.

Bringing together long golden hair, Alice hid them under a cotton scarf. Suppose the right eye socket closed faded black bandage. Wore one of two hanging on the wall beside woolen cloak and tucked under his arm, the second, came back into the living room.

Haired young man still sat motionless. Alice gently pressing his hand on his thin back, and soon he was awkward movement rose from his chair.

But this was the limit of its possibilities; alone, he could not go and chalk. Throwing his cloak on his shoulders, then Alice walked the young man at the front and tied tightly around his neck eyeballs.

– A little more patience, – said Alice, and hurried to the corner of the room.

There was a solid bright brown wooden chair. Instead of the four legs were attached to it two pairs of iron wheels of different sizes. This device, wheelchair, did lead a hermit’s life in the forest old man named Garitta.

Grasp attached to the back of the wheelchair handles, Alice drove her to the young man behind. Then he sat him dangerously swaying body on the leather seat and thigh tightly wrapped with a thick blanket.

– Excellent! Well, now we are going.

Slapping the boy on her shoulders, she took up the pen and was about to rolling a wheelchair to the front door in the south wall, when –

Suddenly, the boy turned his head slightly and held out a trembling left hand to the side of the east wall.

– Ahh … aa …

His voice was quiet, hoarse and slurred. But Alice knew immediately what he wanted the boy.

– Oh, forgive me, please. Who will bring.

On the wall, where he showed a strong metal brackets were suspended three swords.

Right hung ALICE’S golden sword, “Sword of fragrant olive.”

Left – dwelt first in the youth belt jet black sword, “Sword of the night sky.”

And finally, in the middle – white sword without the owner’s “Blue Rose Sword.”

The first Alice came not to the “Sword of fragrant olive,” and to the heavy “Sword of the night sky,” and took off his left hand on the wall.

Then she took the “Sword of blue roses.” He was half the weight of black sword. Because of the blade stored in the sheath remains no more than a half.

And fair-haired boy, the owner of the sword, and the young man’s best friend, has not been …

Only for a moment his eyes closed, Alice with two swords returned to the stroller. Gently putting swords boy on his knees, place them on top of his left arm, and he lowered his head again. His voice and gestures boy just expressed a desire to bring him to the black and white swords.

– Better hold not to drop – Alice turned to him, holding his aching chest pain that does not subside no matter how many months it may be trying to cope with it. Then, pushing the wheelchair out of the house.

From the threshold to the ground were not the porch steps, and thick planks. Going down on this board in the yard, the two were at the mercy of the soft cool breeze and the sun.

Log cabin was built in the midst of the clearing deep in the woods. Alice herself cut wood, animal skins she produced herself and everything is built. Despite the unprepossessing appearance, created from high-level timber structure was strong enough. The art of building from scratch Alice taught Old Garitta; at every meeting with Alice, he said: “What a strong girl.”

It seems that once this clearing was a secret place for games and little Alice and Eugeo. Alas, those times she did not remember. During the ‘ritual synthesis “, made her a Knight of Unity, she stole all the old memories.

Old Garitte and villagers Alice explained that she had forgotten his past. But in fact, it – Unity Knight Alice Synthesis Sёti – and Alice Schuberg, born and raised on this land, were different human beings. What can be returned, must be returned; but the memory of that, the former Alice had already left this world with Eugeo.

– … Well, let’s go, – said Alice shook off the momentary reverie, and rolled the wheelchair away from home.

Round the Width chalks thirty almost all overgrown with soft grass, and only on the eastern edge, where over her overhanging branches of large trees, the grass was dry and withered. If the nest of a giant living creature – so you could say; but only the owner of the nest was nowhere. Turning her eyes to the side, Alice ponder exactly where better to head today, and went out on the footpath that crosses the clearing from north to south, entered the forest.

Fifty chalks trail forked – went to the west and east. West led to the village Rulid, but Alice could not bring myself to go there just is not the case. Turning to the eastern footpath girl walked on a shaky ground on sunspots from filtering through the branches of the rays.

Tenth month came to an end, and the wood on which Alice was already almost completely lost its red foliage attire.

– Are you cold? – She asked the young man, but received no response. However, even if they are now surrounded by a real blizzard, in its current state, it still would have remained silent. Glancing over his shoulder, Alice saw that the gate cloak boys thoroughly smelled.

Sure to warm person, would be enough and a pair of thermal elements. But Alice did not want residents rulid gossiped about the two of them as suspicious types who abuse the sacred art.

Fifteen minutes they moved on trodden path, leaving traces of the wheels; then around brightened. Trees over, before Alice opened the small hill. The road gradually gone up, but she continued to push ahead stroller without the slightest effort.

Finally she got to the top of the hill – and before it flew open space.

Immediately to the east of the hill was blue lake Ruhr. Behind him lay the broad band swamp. A south to the horizon was the forest.

Looking north, you can see the white snow-covered peaks Boundary Ridge, like piercing the sky. Once Alice easily fly over these mountains in the back of a dragon, but now it seemed a distant dream.

Such a beautiful picture of Alice would like to consider two eyes. In this land, blessed by the resources of the earth and the sun, to return the right eye, lost six months ago for the outer walls of the central cathedral, it was quite possible. But Alice had not yet found the strength to heal his wound sacred art.

Because even in this vast panorama of late autumn boy next to her looked dim, empty eyes.

Sitting on the ground next to a wheelchair, Alice leaned against the big wheel.

– As it is beautiful. Much prettier than all the paintings on the walls of the cathedral.

A little smile, she said the name of the young man:

– … This world that you defended Kirito.

White-headed bird race around the surface of the water, leaving a divergent ripples, and flew away.

How long she sat?

Alice suddenly realized that Solus has risen quite high. Soon it will be necessary to go back home and deal with the dinner. Kirito in its present state was eating at one time quite a bit, but if he will miss at least one meal, its maximum level of life will decrease.

– Let’s slowly coming back – and she said, rising to his feet, took up the pen carriage. Suddenly –

Heard a soft rustling of the grass – someone climbed the hill – Alice turned her head.

Approaches it girl in black cassock. Beaming smile on child’s face quite yet, she enthusiastically waved his right hand.

– Sister!

Hearing the wind wafted her voice, too, Alice grinned and waved his little hand.

Almost flying past ten chalks, girl stopped short and stood a few seconds, calming breath, and then just as loudly repeated:

– Sister Alice, good morning!

Then he jumped closer, cheerfully greeted sitting in a wheelchair Kirito:

– Kirito, too, good morning!

Not paying attention to the complete lack of response, it still with the same smile turned her head resting on his knees to Kirito pair of swords, and her face revealed a quiet pain.

– … Good morning, Yudzhio.

Whispering those words, she stretched out his right hand and gently stroked the scabbard “Might blue rose.” When that did strangers Kirito showed little awareness of the reaction, but now he sat there motionless.

Finished greet bosom pair girl stood up and turned back to Alice.

Feeling like chest born some wonderful warm feeling, Alice replied:

– Good morning, Selka. How did you know I was here?

It took more than a month, she stopped to speak to the girl, “Selka-san.”

Six months ago in the Central Cathedral Alice learned from Kirito that she has a younger sister, and since then more than anything she longed to meet. Now her wish come true, but the more Alice thought of Selka, so much doubt whether the present she deserves – not Schuberg Alice, and Alice Knight Unity Synthesis Thirty – to be her older sister.

Unaware, apparently, of incessant infighting Alice with carefree smile said:

– I’m not at all sacred art found you, no. I just went to your house, and no one was there, and now this wonderful weather, and I decided to come here. I put it to you fresh milk and cakes with apples and cheese, quite hot lunch.

– Thank you, you just help out. I just could not decide what to cook.

– Sister, if you’re ready, Kirito ever can escape!

And Selka laughed. Alice smiled and replied:

– Look who’s talking! The very even bake a cake could not, so he is not burnt!

– Yes, in the beginning of the stove, I do nothing but embers take out.

Alice tyuknula Selcuk his forehead, and suddenly she cowered away from her arms, rushed to Alice’s chest. Alice hugged affectionately clung to her sister.

Alice desperately wanted at least this brief moment to escape from gravity pressing on the heart.

Feelings of guilt for what she has neglected duty Knight of Unity for the halcyon days in the middle of the woods is nothing Alice was not – on the contrary, she felt relieved. But forget something she could not. Right now, when she hugged his beloved sister, on the side of the Frontier ridge slowly but surely end was approaching.

Six months ago, at the end of a fierce battle in the Central Cathedral Church Axioms –

Get severe wounds that nearly exhausted her life lying on the marble floor, unable to move, Alice nevertheless vaguely felt the tide of battle.

Fierce battle Kirito with two swords and a high priest of the Administrator.

Final death of the high priest in flames born obsessed manager Chudelkinym.

Death dissected in two with his sword Yudzhio best friend Kirito.

Then Kirito, who conducted Yudzhio something furiously screaming into a strange crystal plate, which arose in the northern quarters. At the end of the dispute, meaning that Alice hardly knew Kirito zaderevenel and suddenly collapsed on the floor – and then there was silence in the world.

Around the same time, when the life of Alice recovered enough that she was able to move around in the east window started pouring dawn glow Solus. With the sacred power that gave this light, Alice primarily healed wound unconscious Kirito. But he himself did not come, and then Alice, reluctantly leaving his lie, imposed a healing spell on himself and took the crystal plate to which said Kirito.

However, light-purple surface, most recently the light, completely lost its shine, and how much would it Alice nor touched and how much would it not screamed out, no one spoke.

In utter confusion Alice sat on the floor.

Believing words Kirito, Alice in the name of protecting the inhabitants of the world of people and living somewhere on the outskirts of the sisters engaged the Administrator, the supreme ruler, but in her heart she does not think that will survive.

When created by the high priest “Sword Golem” from some mysterious warrior swords pierced through it.

When she stood, protecting allies from raging streams of lightning.

And then, when, forgetting about everything, absolutely jumped under sinks to Kirito steel sword to save his life …

Whenever Alice was sure now perish. But first girl-sage Cardinal and wonderful huge spider named Charlotte, and then sacrificed himself Yudzhio and Kirito fought desperately to protect her, not give her life completely exhausted.

“If you really saved me, and further decides what to do!”

Many times she cried, looking at lying motionless Kirito. However, black-haired boy did not open his eyes. So, now it will have the most to choose your path, most think of what to do next … that she finally understood.

Almost an hour Alice sat hugging her knees, then finally got up.

Apparently, due to the death of the owner chambers lifting disc stopped working, like crystal plate. Partitioning a disk and putting the sword Kirito shoulders, Alice jumped 99 floors.

Then down the long stairs, walked past the oldest continuing to cast spells, get to a lot of stairs and went to the Cathedral of the giant tub where they left with Kirito man who taught her to use a sword – Knight Commander of the Unity Berkul Synthesis Wang.

The huge mass of hot water once, which turned into ice Yudzhio your spell complete control almost completely melted. In the bath, arms and legs, powerful body floated Berkul; fortunately okamenyayuschee spell Chudelkina has ceased to act.

Lift the team on track, Alice began to call him “Uncle! Uncle! “- at the same time slapping his cheeks – and finally the big man, grandly chihnuv, came to.

In the face of it there was no tension, as if he thought he just “oh! already morning is! “or something like that. Alice somehow explain to your teacher status. But, as she expected, Berkul with posurovevshim expression having listened to the end, her powerful voice said only one short phrase.

“You work hard, baby.” And all.

Then the team decided to act. First of all he collected 50 floor, in the “Great hall of spiritual light,” Knights of Unity: the fans, the assistant team lost Kirito with Yudzhio but miraculously fully recovered from his wounds and sleeping in the rose garden, and Dyusolberta and Eldri, which also imposed Chudelkin okamenyayuschee spell. There Berkul told them the truth – as much as it could to tell her.

In a battle of two students from the Academy of swordsmen North tsentor priest lost administrator and ceased to exist.

The high priest was planning a terrible atrocity – to create a monstrous weapons from swords, dropping to half of all the inhabitants of this world of men.

The head of the Council of the oldest, governing the Order of the Knights of Unity, Managing Chudelkin, died along with the high priest.

The hidden history of the appearance in this world of the Knights of Unity – no, their “creation.” Berkul have long doubted the truth of the words of the high priest about the fact that the Knights of Unity called the heavenly city; However, the truth struck him. Nevertheless, he was sure to inform her other knights needed.

However Eldri, fans and beat Dyusolberta desperate shiver. It is quite natural. Not easy to accept the truth that possessing godlike strength Administrator, hundreds of years the sole right to the whole world, is dead.

In the end the disputes generated confusion, stopped, and knights obey their commander Berkul, it can be said, charisma and ability. The reason, probably, served still valid “module of piety.” In the changed situation Unity Knights continue to serve the Church Axioms, but now that the Administrator and Chudelkin left the world of men, the commander of the Knights Berkul, no doubt, was the most senior person of the Church.

Having overall command, Berkul immediately developed a frenzied activity to fulfill its primary responsibility – “protection of the human world.” Even myself he was not supposed to show any hint of indecision. Because now he knew where he kept the stolen memories of loved ones, he can come and lend them a hand.

However, he decided not to get so far with the hundredth floor thirty swords and more than three hundred set into the ceiling prism crystals, formed the “Sword of the golem.” There was a more urgent task than the return memory to the Knights of Unity, including himself: preparing for the inevitable invasion from the Dark Territory.

Partial destruction of the Order of the Knights of Unity should somehow raise, Imperial Guard, are the backbone of the armies of the four empires of the world people – re-educate; all this colossal work fell on the shoulders Berkul, and Alice, of course, helped him. Closing the right eye makeshift bandage erected Kirito, it was in all the tsentor, from north to south and back again.

But always remain attached to the cathedral was impossible. Among the considerable number of the Knights of Unity and know nothing about the death of the high priest of the monks began to spread the view that the traitor, his sword at the Church Axioms – that is still unconscious Kirito – should be put to death.

Once the first phase of the necessary work has been completed, together with Kirito Alice sat on the dragon and left the capital. Away from the place where two weeks ago in the fiercest battles was shed so much blood.

However, major challenges still lay ahead. During the nights under the open sky Kirito not getting any better; Alice finds it, continue to sleep, requires a reliable roof over my head and a warm bed, but she had enough money to live a long time in urban inns and abusing authority Knight Unity is decisively not going.

It was then that she remembered the name, heard from Kirito for the outer wall of the cathedral – Rulid village.

Although Alice and lost her memory, but if it is really there and Yudzhio born and lived, it may well take her there – cherishing chest that hope, Alice took up the reins of the dragon, and forwarded it to the north, in the direction of the foot yutyascheysya Edge Ridge small village. Since she had to take care of the unconscious Kirito, she makes a small hops. In fact, to cross the Empire Norlangarta and reach rulid, it took her three days.

In order not to frighten the villagers, Alice landed in the forest at some distance from the village, and then ordered the dragon to guard things, went to the village on foot with Kirito shoulder.

Coming out of the forest, she walked along the path leading through the wheat fields, and soon came across a few of the villagers. However, those allegedly affected by what he saw, did not say a word, just looked suspiciously at Alice.

Climbing up on a small hill, where there was a village Rulid, Alice gathered to enter the wooden gate, but then out of the guard towers next to the young man jumped out of a large body. With a crimson tide of blood, a little freckled face, he stood in the way, and Alice –

“Stop, strangers in our village without a permit can not be!”

With this cry of the young guard put his hand on the hilt of the sword hanging from his belt; But then he saw the face of Kirito, who kept Alice, and his face softened full of suspicion. “Hey, it’s …” – and by moving the eyes, he stared back at Alice with round eyes and mouth.

“You … you … can not be.”

Hearing this, Alice quite a bit relaxed. Sentinel seems to remember her, despite flown eight years. Carefully choosing his words, she said:

“I’m Alice. Now Call of elders Gasufta Shuberga. ”

Maybe she should just say that she – Alice Shuberg, but to do it she was not able to. Fortunately, only one name was enough – the face guard of red instantly turned green, he clapped his lips silently, then turned and carried deep into the countryside. Since he did not tell Alice to wait, she passed through the gate and walked in the same direction as the guard ran away.

Afternoon village suddenly buzzed like a hornet’s nest razvoroshennoe. On both sides of the narrow road lined dozens of villagers; They eat glances going past them Alice, startled hubbub.

However, in those of the majority could not see the joy of meeting with returning home to relatives. On the contrary, not as a woman clad in metal armor with the unconscious Alice Kirito looked over his shoulder with suspicion, wariness, even fear.

Slowly walking up the road, Alice soon reached the round square.

In the middle of the square was an artesian well, from north to her church came out with the emblem in the form of a cross in a circle. Entering the area, Alice stopped; around her at a respectful distance villagers continued whispering anxiously.

A few minutes later, the crowd parted to the east, and the square firm step came a middle aged man with well-groomed gray mustache. Alice realized that this is Gasuft Shuberg – Elder rulid, and along with her own father.

Staying at some distance from Alice Gasuft with dispassionate view stared at her, then at Kirito.

It took about ten seconds, and finally heard his faint but distinct voice.

“Alice, then?”

On this question, Alice could answer only “yes”. However, Elder, do not take a step forward and not holding out hands, in the same harsh voice continued to ask questions:

“Why are you here? Your crime was forgiven? ”

This time Alice did not reply immediately. What was her crime and, especially, whether it was forgiven, she had no idea.

Little Alice Shuberg Knight took the capital of Unity Dyusolbert; the official reason, according Kirito was “pass to the dark areas.” This, no doubt, was a violation of the Index ban. However, Alice, became a Knight of Unity, no ban is not fettered. For knights there was only one law – the word of the high priest. But the high priest came to an end. Now, it turns out, the offense and forgiveness, good and evil, and similar matter, everyone should choose for himself …

With these thoughts in mind, Alice, meeting his gaze elders same direct gaze, said:

“As punishment for my crime I have taken away all the memories of how I used to live in this village. Easier after this my crime, I do not know. But now I, except this village go nowhere. ”

These were the true feelings of the present Alice.

Gasuft closed his eyes and on the forehead and around the mouth wrinkles appeared. Soon, however, the elder raised his head and a sharp glint in his eyes spoke harsh words:

“Go away. In our village there is no place to criminals. ”

Feeling that the body of Alice for a moment zaderevenelo, Sel’kov raised her head slightly tilted to one side of her.

– Sister? .. – She whispered anxiously. Alice smiled at her younger sister, said:

– Nothing, everything is fine. Well, let’s slowly coming back.

– Uh ….

Nodding, Sel’kov opened her hug. Just a few seconds she looked at Alice, from the bottom up, and then on her face is back cheerful smile.

– I’m going to the fork to roll!

Having made this statement, she went behind the wheelchair with her sitting in Kirito and strongly grabbed the handle their palms. Wheelchair itself was quite heavy; together with a man, even skinny, but still with a half swords level divine instrument it becomes even harder. Only fourteen, besides unaccustomed to physical labor pupil abbess this burden quite beyond the power – so Alice thought when Sel’kov first time challenge him. But then, as now, the girl, leaning his body forward, resting his feet in the ground, desperately pressed, and the carriage rolled slowly.

– On the descent careful – with a slight sinking heart warned Alice, though still Sel’kov never turned the stroller.

– All right, sister, you always worry too much – the answer. Apparently, when Alice lived in rulid, she still had time to take care of her younger sister, despite the fact that most of the time was lost with Yudzhio.

I lost my memory, and keep the same character? Or is this just a coincidence? So Alice mused, walking near Selcuk, pushing a stroller with a serious expression on his face.

They reached the foot of the hill, and easy slope changed a flat road. Sel’kov diligently continued to roll potyazhelevshy stroller. Looking at the side of the face sister, Alice is back thoughts of the past.

On that day, when she was banned from returning to the village, disappointed Alice, hanging his head, walked away, and then called out to her standing in the shade of trees Sel’kov group. If not for the courage of Selcuk, which went against the wishes of his father, the elders and knew it, and no kindness Old Garitty with whom Alice met, she would still have wandered as dispensable, not having a roof over your head.

Sel’kov certainly was very difficult to take all that she saw and heard.

Older sister, finally returning to his native village, does not remember his past.

Kirito, whom she met two and a half years ago and talked to a few days (but this communication has left in her soul a deep mark) does not come to life.

And yet – Yudzhio that was for her is like the older brother died …

But tears came to his eyes Sel’kov only at the moment when she learned that Yudzhio will not return; and then when she is Alice always smiling cheerfully. Alice every day anew covered the feelings of gratitude and admiration for such a strong spirit and deep compassion. Stronger sacred art monk, mightier than the sword knight – so powerful and precious power.

And at the same time the most Alice every day presents new lessons, what it has become weak when left the Church axiom.

Built with the help of the Old Garitty small but sturdy hut deep in to defend the village only two Kilolo grove, Alice first began to impose still unconscious Kirito most powerful healing sacred art.

Rather big woods abounded blessing Terraria; if you choose the days when not a cloud in the sky does not block the path of the rays Solus, the goddess of the earth and the sun instead of giving so much space resources that could create ten light elements at once, turning them into a healing force, this force pouring in Kirito.

Alice had treating sacred art so well that even an enormous number of lives the dragon could recover instantly, what to speak of human beings. Whatever the wounds nor received Kirito (including a severed right hand), all this Alice would be able to cure, and Kirito wakes up – in this she was sure.

However –

Immediately after Alice sent in the body of Kirito dazzling firefly boy opened his eyes, yes, but – in those dark eyes had no previous determination to shine. Alice never stopped calling him by name, shaking her by the shoulders, then even cried, clinging to his chest, but Kirito looked all the same blank stare. Even right hand grow again Alice and failed.

From that day has passed four months, but Kirito still no signs of the return of the soul.

Selcuk, like her sister, make every effort, vyhazhivaya Kirito; she assured Alice that sooner or later he will again be the same. But deep down, Alice began to fear that everything will be wasted.

She herself was in fact only the creation of the High Priest of the Administrator.

– Give a little bit … take rest – suddenly said Sel’kov still a rolled stroller in silence, and this again pulled Alice from sad reverie.

Alice gently touched his left hand to the back puffing and wipes the sweat from his forehead sister.

– Thank you, Selcuk, on myself lucky.

– No, to the fork, I can do anything …

– You have to knock on a hundred chalks than last time, right? You make me so very much and help out.

From the time she came to the village, Alice learned that in situations like an older sister to give the younger a little money for small expenses, but, alas, in the pockets of her was not a coin. At its present position with the money – even if it is one sire lost in the woods, it would be very serious; therefore Alice wore in possession of money, except when she went out shopping.

Instead, she gently stroked Selcuk on light brown hair. Selcuk, calming breath, smiled happily, but her facial expression Alice felt a shadow of sadness. She cocked her head and asked:

– What is it, Selcuk? You have something bothering you?

Selcuk, still hold on to the stroller handles, slightly shaken, but still said:

– … This … Balbossa uncle wants to ask sister to remove the tree with his new field …

– What, because of this? Can nothing to worry about, but thank you said – with a smile said Alice, but this did not satisfy the little sister – she is upset with views pursed her lips.

– But … they only think of themselves. Kirito, and what do you think? – She asked the young man, who was sitting in a wheelchair, his eyes downcast, but Kirito, of course, said nothing. However Sel’kov as if he agreed with her, he immediately went on excitedly:

– And Balbossa-san, and Ridak-san … sister, you do not even live in the village, and they, when they are hard, you still require assistance from you. Tell them finally that refuses. Everything will be fine, sister, I am going you’ll bring home.

Hearing these words, Alice involuntarily burst out, and then calmed pouting sister:

– I am glad that you think so, Selcuk, but, you know, such things can not survive. I am satisfied that the house in which I live, I am grateful that I was allowed to live outside the village. … I’ll feed Kirito lunch and come immediately. Just tell me where.

– … On the south field, – said quietly Sel’kov then some time to walk alongside with sidecar silently.

Soon they reached a fork in the road where the trail came to a log cabin, and suddenly Sel’kov said decisively:

– Sister, I have next year to complete the training, and I will have the money I get now, though a bit. And then we can not help all these people. I have to sisters and Kirito … I … always …

Then her voice broke. Alice gently hugged Selcuk.

Pridvinuv to face brown hair – not the same color as that Kirito, but so pleasant to the touch, she whispered:

– Thank you … But you know, I’m happy only when you’re near me, Sel’kov …

Reluctantly said goodbye and waved Sel’kov gone. Alice watched her, and then together with Kirito returned to the hut and quickly set the table.

Recently Alice used to do different household chores, but her cooking was given with difficulty. Compared with the “Sword of fragrant olive” kitchen knife, bought the village shop, seemed uncertain as a child’s toy, and cautious movements to cut the necessary products, Alice took twenty – thirty minutes.

Fortunately, she was brought Sel’kov fresh cake; its something Alice and began to slowly feed Kirito. Trays slice on a fork to your mouth young man waited patiently while her lips apart, and sent a piece in his mouth. After that Kirito like memory, how to eat, pop up from somewhere in the depths, slowly, slowly began to chew.

While Kirito moved jaws, Alice and myself enjoy the taste of apple pie and cheese. Rather, their baked Sadina Shuberg wife Gasufta elders. Mother Sel’kov, and hence Alice.

When Alice lived in the Central Cathedral, in the large dining room table laden with rare delicacies, brought from different parts of the human world, and everyone can choose the food to his liking. In comparison, the cake and the taste of Sardinia, and the view was absolutely neizyskan, but Alice, he still seemed much tastier. Kirito, apparently, he also liked more than ALISIN concoction; Alice is annoyed – just a little bit.

After finishing dinner and clear the table, Alice again Kirito sat in a wheelchair and put him on his knees two swords.

Coming out of the hut, Alice plunged into the golden glow of the afternoon sun. Days were short, and before nightfall had very little time. Alice briskly walked south to the fork and this time turned to the west.

Soon the forest parted and eyes opened Alice awaiting harvest field. For heavy satin waving wheat ears was visible Rulid village. Among the many distinguished by their red roofs of tall building with a spire – the church where she lived Sel’kov.

And Sel’kov and Sister Azaria, watch over the church, were in the dark about what a huge tower of the Cathedral Church of Central Axioms ruling four empires of the world people are no more chapters. However, little church, serving at the same time an orphanage, working as if nothing had happened.

Whatever chaos reigned in the cathedral or after the death of the high priest, on the life of people is not affected. Index prohibitions continue to operate, continuing to bind their minds. Will they be able to take up arms in defense of the human world?

They will have to obey the orders on behalf of the emperors and the Church axiom. But this one battle with the forces of darkness can not win. Oh, this is Commander-Berkul could not understand.

The battle decides not level weapons and skill in sacred art, and willpower. Negate the difference in a hopeless military power possible – proof of that battle were Kirito, who managed to defeat many of the Knights of Unity, Managing Chudelkina and even the high priest of the Administrator.

Working in the field, the villagers turned their heads to Alice walking past them; The girls meet their views, which reads in a mixture of suspicion and anxiety, proudly erect, but her thoughts were turned to the man, taught her to wield a sword.

Uncle, for the inhabitants of the world of men, perhaps peace – not something that needs to be protected, and what you need to constantly give.

That’s what the Church Axioms to the Index of the ban, and even we, the Knights of Unity, too.

Knight Commander Berkul must have right now, at this very moment in tsentor deals with equipment and training armies of four empires. And perhaps, the army had already moved to the future of the main battlefield, the “Great East Gate” on the far edge of the empire Istabarieta. In terms of both practical support and strengthen the combat power after the war will require every knight.

But for me today …

Lost in thought, Alice was walking trail through the wheat field until it finally came to cultivate the land lying south of the village. Stopping in front of the stroller fresh black soil, she looked around the huge plot of virgin land.

Just two and a half years ago, there was a forest, and far more extensive than the eastern grove where Alice as a child to play with friends.

However, after Kirito Yudzhio and cut down the “tree of evil” – Cedar Gigas, the highest tree in the forest, tirelessly devouring sacred power, the men of the village began as insane expand their field – so bewildered with facial expression told Sel’kov.

In the middle of arable land is still stuck hefty, black as night stump; at the edge of the forest dozens of villagers smartly ringing axes. There stood a fat man, who himself did not hold the ax, but noisy give instructions to others. It was Nigel Balbossa richest villager.

Reluctantly Alice continued to roll the wheelchair over-trodden path. Kirito, once personally chop down a giant tree, does not react, driving past a huge stump – still looking down, holding his hand the two swords.

Approx first noticed a couple of young men from the family Balbossa vacationing on just a fallen tree trunk. Three, fifteen or sixteen in appearance, with scarves over blond hair. Unceremoniously stared up at Alice, then they switched to Kirito in a wheelchair. Exchanged some quiet words, then chuckled softly.

Not paying attention to them, Alice passed; Then one of the boys stretched shouted:

– Dyaaad she prishlaaa!

Immediately raged at a distance, hands on hips, Nigel Balbossa whirled, and at the sight of an approaching pair on his greasy round face broke into a smile. Close your mouth, eyes, slits – Alice he slightly resembled Chudelkina manager.

Alice, however, smiled so wide as she could, and bowed slightly.

– Welcome Balbossa-san. I hear you me some business …

– Oh, oh, Alyssa, thank you for coming!

Arms to the side and rippling round belly, he stomped to Alice with a clear intention to hug her, but seeing her in front of the wheelchair, thankfully, changed his mind.

Instead, stay in fifty Sanov right of Alice, Nigel belly twisted and pointed to a large tree, towering on the border of the forest and agricultural land.

– Over there, see? Since yesterday morning fighting with this stubborn platinum oak, ten of his ax cut and did nothing at all.

Forming a semi-circle with thumb and forefinger of his right hand, he painted “nothing at all”.

Near glaring back into the ground a huge tree, light brown trunk which was across the chalk and a half, still stood two cutters and tried hard to overcome it. They alternately beat the trunk big ax, but remained quite nadrub small, no more than ten Sanov.

Shirtless men hail of sweat rolled. Chest and arm muscles Bouguereau, but keep these two axes is clearly not very used to, and because their movements were awkward.

That’s one of the men slipped right leg; his shot went sideways and hit the target. Ax seems cracked in the middle, and the man landed on his back hard, causing unrestrained laughter of others.

– Hell, yeah what he does this fool! .. – Nigel groaned and turned back to Alice. – That such things, do not know how many days we have on this one tree leaves. We are here to dig, and Ridaki twenty square chalks land grabbed!

Pronouncing the name of the second most influential families in the village, Nigel kicked happened under foot stone. He’s loud jets but then suddenly his face broke into a broad smile, and he honeyed voice said:

– That’s why – well, yes, we have an agreement that you are to us only once a month helping. But this one once for once I have to you a special request for assistance, Alyssa. You remember – when you were little, I repeatedly gave you sweets … no, we will not know. In the old days you had such a lovely little girl – no, no, now, of course, too –

Stifling a sigh, Alice interrupted Nigel:

– I realized Balbossa-san. So, just this once?

Clean up obstacles to cultivate new lands – rocks and trees like that here platinum oak – a sacred duty of the current Alice … no, its a temporary way to make a living.

Of course, this was not the official work. A month after Alice settled in a grove near the village, the road leading to the west pasture, suddenly blocked the strong rockfall. Alice alone pulled back the stones from the road, and the buzz about this whole village; and very quickly it turned out that similar problems began to turn to her regularly.

The reality was that to live together with Kirito, Alice needed money, and because she was grateful and for such work. However, as soon as her contract to do manual labor, from the men of the village poured endless stream of requests (which is very annoying Selcuk), and in the end it was agreed that Alice will help each family once a month.

Bound hand and foot with different laws – on the Index of prohibitions and the fundamental laws of the empire to the village Norlangarta foundations – Nigel, knowing about this agreement, yet requested help Alice the second time in a month, and this was not surprising. Of course, he, unlike Alice and Yudzhio not broke “seal in the right eye,” which the Administrator called “code 871”, – he just thought Alice herself below. Strictly observe the agreement with the former criminal, living in shack in the suburbs, it is not considered necessary.

Perfectly aware of all this, Alice nevertheless again Nigel nodded and moved away from the stroller. Check condition Kirito, but ambient sounds it does not affect. Nearly constant, referring to his own thoughts, and walked to the hulk platinum oak.

Alice remarked, men immediately opened and clattered zauhmylyalis languages. But now everyone knew her power and because silently moved away from the tree.

Standing in front of the tree where they had been standing, Alice fingertips of his right hand quickly drew a sacred symbol, and before it has opened a “window Stacy.” Number of life was great – like a dozen adult men. With this level of ordinary ax will not help.

Run back to the carriage, Alice leaned over and whispered:

– Sorry, Kirito. Can I briefly take your sword?

Right hand she gently touched the black leather sheath and immediately felt the powers of the sword left hand Kirito slightly tightened.

But Alice patiently staring into the empty eyes, and soon the power went out of his hand, and the expelled throat hoarse “aa”.

Hardly intention Alice came to Kirito – rather, something like echo memory it sounded. Current Kirito not move thoughts and feelings and deep memories.

– Thank you.

Whispered the word, Alice took careful movement of hands Kirito black sword. After making sure that the young man sits quietly, she again returned to the platinum oak.

Whatever you say, and the tree was great. In tsentor also here and there towered large and old trees, but it was over a hundred years.

Mentally, asking forgiveness from the tree, Alice strained legs.

Right foot forward, left back. Hold the “Sword of the night sky,” the left hand just above the waist, took hold of the right covered with black leather handle. Left eye to estimate the distance to the tree.

– Hey, hey, what are you, this sword tonyusenkaya platinum oak want to blame? – Suddenly shouted one of the men, and the other immediately burst into shouts after him. “Yes he is right now slomaaaetsya”, “You’re here till sunset protorchish”; in this mishmash intertwined concerned voice Nigel Balbossy:

– Uh, Alyssa, I would like you to be somewhere in an hour council, eh?

Since then, as Alice took up the job, she felled more than ten trees, and, as a rule, it took half an hour. So much time was required because the force of the blows had weighed so as not to break someone else’s ax. Now, however, this problem was not. “Sword of the night sky” has the same level as ALISIN “Sword of fragrant olive” and refers to a divine instrument.

– No, you will need less time – Alice whispered and tightened her grip on the hilt of the sword.

– … XXA !!! – Briefly she cried and stamped her right foot, so that from under her vzryvchikom burst cloud of dust.

Long time Alice was not working with a real sword; Fortunately, technology has gone nowhere. Air is dissected off from left to right, black scabbard lightning.

Men stood around the blow, apparently, just do not see it. They continued with a sullen look on his sword doubt already flown ahead and returned back, and stood there, where there was Alice.

On the smooth bark of a platinum oak, where it was only vyscherblina, left cutters efforts, there was a small crack – at least so it looked the part.

Soon, someone said, “What, is that all?”; Several people laughed. Alice, glancing at the holder to vote, sheathed his sword and said:

– Fall in your favor.

– Haa? What do you govo- … – started to one of the men, but then his eyes widened. He saw that the trunk of an oak platinum slowly began to lurch. The villagers, all as one, shouting “uaaaa!” Jumped up and rushed away. After three seconds tochnehonko to where they were standing, collapsed giant tree, and the earth came shake.

Driving away with his right hand a thick cloud of dust risen, Alice came to the stump. The fresh cut could be seen distinctly thin annual rings; surface gleamed like a polished, and only in one place was uneven.

Whether due to the fact that the hand still lost the knack, or deal in the blind right eye … with these thoughts turned Alice.

And then her shoulders and arms tensed themselves. Nigel Balbossa raced to her with open arms and a smile from ear to ear.

The left hand of Alice holding a sword, rushed up itself; heard the clang of the guard, Nigel braked sharply. But the smile on his face did not disappear; clasped in front of him just divorced in hand hand, he exclaimed:

– On, rub … awesome! What a skill! Neither the guards nor their captain Jink – anybody could do nothing! It’s a miracle!

He slumped to Alice still chalk closer – his face was written admiration mixed with greed – and continued:

– K-to-a-like is you, Alice? I’ll be twice as much to pay you, if you are not just a month and a week … no, a day will help me !!!

Looking for Nigel frantically rubbing their hands, Alice shook her head slightly.

– No, what I’m getting now are enough for me.

If, say, Alice will lead “Sword of fragrant olive” in a state of complete control, it is not something that one large tree in the day – it is up to the horizon the entire forest for a few minutes to eradicate, only bare earth remains. But in this case they require it to plow the land, to remove all the stones and in addition also send down rain.

Nigel groaned in agony exactly, but then, like Alice added, “Yes, my board” finally brought him to his senses, blinked and said:

– Oh, of course, of course!

Reaching into his belly hanging on heavy leather pouch, he extracted the agreed amount – one hundred and one silver coin seers.

Dropping a coin into the outstretched hand of Alice, stubborn Nigel continued:

– Alyssa and I give you one more thing to offer. I’ll now give another coin, if you refuse this month to help Ridaku …

Swallowing a sigh, Alice was about to refuse again, when suddenly –

There was a heavy “boom”. Raising his head, Alice saw that stand apart wheelchair tipped over on its side and Kirito body prostrate on the ground.

– … Kirito! – She cried hoarsely, and darted past Nigel.

Fallen prostrate Kirito pulled his left hand; one type of movement causes despair. Two young men, just resting on a log, flurried yelled, trying to raise the sword over white sheath.

– Ooh, wow, what the heavy !!!

– That’s why I suppose this girl platinum oak taken down with one blow, eh?

– Come on let’s hold on tight!

Last shouted a third man, who, clutching his arm, tried to pull the “Sword of Blue Rose” from its sheath.

Hearing this, Alice gritted her teeth with such force that the indigenous creaked. The next second burst from her throat shriek:

– Oh, you bastards !!!

Barely heard it, guys stupidly gaped and stared at Alice.

Suddenly overcome remaining twenty chalks, Alice braked sharply, vzmetnuv clouds of dust. Seeing her face cringed trinity.

Panting and desperately trying to keep emotions in the chest, the first thing Alice lifted the fallen Kirito. Again seated in his wheelchair, in a strangled voice ordered:

– This sword belonged to him. Return now!

On the faces of the trio immediately appeared defiant expression. A hefty guy trying to pull the sword from its sheath, curled his lip and pointed to Kirito.

– And here we say we gave him the sword of loan, as expected.

Returning to the stroller Kirito still pulling his left hand to the white sword and moaned softly.

One of the powers of the sheath guys continued mockingly twisting his lips.

– So, now he graciously returned what he took, that’s soooo something.

Second, accompanying the friend, nodded with a grin:

– Yeah, yeah.

Alice had to go all out to grab the handle with your right hand in the stroller. This hand, no doubt, desperately wanted to snatch from hanging on the left hand sheath “Sword of the night sky.”

Happen Alice in this situation six months ago, she, without a moment’s hesitation, went to a free flight, all six hands were soiled by his touch “Sword of blue roses.” Knights of Unity is not tied ban on harming other people. And, actually, now that Alice has broken seal in the right eye, her actions do not limit any law.

However –

Alice, painfully clenched teeth, suppressed the vehement desire to attack.

These guys – the inhabitants of the world of people who Kirito and Yudzhio seeks to protect even at the cost of life. Injure them now she could not. They certainly would not want that.

Alice was silent for a few seconds, without moving a muscle. But, apparently, blood lust, burning in the left eye, she could not hide. Trinity stopped grinning and looked away frightened look.

– … Okay, okay, what the person is doing a terrible … – soon, sulkily, spat husky and removed his hand from the hilt of the sword. The other two, also apparently decided that it would be better for them just relieved released scabbard. “Sword of Blue Rose” fell heavily to the ground.

Alice walked silently forward. Leaning over the sword, it is only three fingers of his right hand deftly took up the sheath of white leather and easily lifted. Rushed to the young bastards another short glance back to the stroller.

Brushing the dust from the hollow sheath cloak immediately and put black and white swords on his knees Kirito; he immediately clutched tightly in them and calmed down.

Alice looked at Nigel Balbossu; that, if it happened was not interested, noisy commanded other men. Alice slightly bowed back yelling one thing after another family head and rolled the wheelchair on the path leading to the north, home.

Boiling in her breast for the first time in a long time rage quietly replaced the cold feeling of helplessness.

Such a feeling is not the first time she has appeared since then, she started a new life in a grove near rulid. Most villagers still avoided talking with Alice, and with the lost soul Kirito generally refused to be treated as a human being.

Not that Alice their vinyl. For them, apparently, it still remained a criminal, offending Index ban. They tacitly agreed to let her live outside the village, selling her food and household items – is for that she should be grateful to them.

But at the same time in the recesses of consciousness twitched thought. For what?

For what all had to endure so much pain, fighting the high priest administrator? Another priest, Cardinal, black spider Charlotte and Yudzhio lost their lives, Kirito can not speak or express their feelings – so what do they protect such a price?

These thoughts, Alice has not once had, but there was one question that she could not draw a word.

Does it make sense to protect such as Balbossa and his family?

These doubts were one of the reasons why Alice, behind the sword, still lived here, on the outskirts of the world.

Now for the “Great East Gate”, located on the outskirts of the empire Istabarieta, the forces of darkness gradually amassed army, bringing the beginning of the inevitable invasion. Knight Commander Berkul hastily deployed there to create a “World Defense Forces of people”, not knowing if he will have time in such a difficult situation. And Alice, does not waive the obligation Knight Unity – it could do only now deceased Administrator – quite possibly soon have as quickly as possible to come to the Gate.

However, the “Sword of fragrant olive” has become too heavy for Alice.

Heavenly city, which it previously considered their homeland, did not exist. Church of axioms that she swore eternal loyalty, mired lie. Moreover, Alice opened previously unknown hideous and shameful side even inhabitants of the world of people. Far in the past left a time when she could pray to the Goddess and swing your sword, not doubting the rightness of their cause.

Now Alice has not wanted to protect all people – only some. Father and mother, and the old Selcuk Garittu and Kirito, of course. If only they would be safe, why not turn away from the knight’s duty and not just live here in peace and tranquility …

After retiring from fresh cuttings on the path leading through the wheat fields, Alice stopped and whispered Kirito:

– Maybe once we are here, we descend to the village for shopping? I will not allow these children so uncouth evil joke.

There was no answer, but the lack of response Alice found for agreeing and rolled the wheelchair to the north.

By the time Alice, having bought on earned hundred seers products and various useful things, returned to her forest hut, the sky is already painted in the colors of the sunset.

Sloping wheelchair was upstairs to the door, she suddenly heard a sound like the wind whistling. Lowering the stroller, Alice remained standing in the middle of the clearing, waiting for the sound source closer.

Very soon in the sky above the treetops, waving huge wings, appeared enormous silvery beast with a long neck and tail … dragon. It was a dragon Alice brought her here and Kirito from the capital. More precisely, the dragon – named Amaёri.

Having done two laps over the clearing, the dragon sank softly. Wings folded, stretched out his long neck and pointed at his chest Kirito tip of the nose; and then his huge head slid to Alice.

The girl began to scratch bluish bloom on outstretched throat, and the dragon is low, guttural purred.

– Amaёri something you slightly stouter. You do not overeat lake fish, eh?

So she with a smile in his voice reproached the dragon, and he sheepishly exhaling, turned and walked to his bed on the eastern edge of the clearing. Lying on a “bed” of dry grass, he curled up as if trying to get the tail to the neck.

Six months ago, the same day when Alice decided to build a hut on this glade, she took off her leather halter Amaёri canceling hereby submit Sacred art. Moreover, she told her: “Now you’re free, come back to its nest in the Western Empire,” – but not Amaёri flew.

Gather herbs, dragon for himself he built the bed. After that he played every day in the forest and ate them as caught fish from the lake; but always came back in the evening. Sacred art, suppressing the proud and fierce nature of the dragon and make him obey the knights, it was no more; so why he did not try to return to their homeland? Alice did not understand this.

However, to be honest, she was happy that Amaёri with which it has always been together since the day when I became a Knight of Unity, now stay with her own free will; chase the dragon and she could not bring myself to. Villagers from time to time noticed the silhouette of the dragon in the sky over the fishing line, and it makes a certain contribution to the already not fragrant reputation of Alice, but now this girl did not care.

Hearing that settled on the dry grass Amaёri breathed sleepily, Alice wished her good night and rolled her wheelchair in the cabin.

At dinner she cooked baked beans with meatballs. Beans get a little harsh, croquettes of different sizes, but Alice felt that the taste came out pretty well. Kirito, of course, did not express an opinion. Whenever Alice sent a small portion of a spoon in his mouth, he is like remembering how to eat, began to chew and then swallow.

Would at least know what food he likes, what is not, thought Alice; she had with this young man really talk something once, and then very briefly. Sel’kov like some time lived with him in the church two years ago, but she could not think of anything good to eat, that they then ate. And Kirito probably also would not remember.

Time passed; finished with dinner, Alice suffered Kirito his chair to the little stove, and then went to wash the dishes. Put everything in the sink, and then –

Always quietly slept all the night until dawn Amaёri outside let out a low “ru-ru-ru”.

Surprised stagnation, Alice turned to the hearing. At night the noise of the wind over the grove weaves strange sound, as of a blizzard, though winter has not come yet. Distant whistle of the wind, lifted the huge wings.

-! ..

Taking off from the kitchen, Alice looked at Kirito and making sure that he obediently sits in his chair, opened the front door. Again strained ear, making sure that the source vetropodobnogo whistle approaching, and went out into the courtyard, stopped and began to look into the night sky.

Damn spiral against the starry veil, the clearing decreased huge black shadow; there was no doubt – this is the dragon. To finally make Alice glanced at the eastern edge of the clearing – of course, lies in his bed Amaёri looked up at the sky.

– It can not be …

Thinking in the first moment, that some dark knight flew over the ridge from the Edge of the Dark Territory, Alice was rushed to the house for his sword, but then the moonlight reflected from the dragon scales, and she saw the silver gleam. Then her little tension eased. On the dragon with silvery scales flew only Knights of Unity Church of axioms.

However, the sense of relief did not last long. To do and what might need to go on a dragon in this wilderness? Really – those arguments half a year ago about the execution of the traitor Kirito not subsided by themselves, and now out of the cathedral sent executioners?

Sensing the tension Alice Amaёri also got out of his bed and stretched his neck up, again gave a cry. However threatening tone almost immediately disappeared, replaced by a lilting “kyuuun” if she caressed.

Alice knew the cause quickly.

After the third round of the dragon landed on the southern edge of the clearing; covered his neck down exactly the same shade as that Amaёri. No doubt – it was the older brother Amaёri, Takiguri. So, it sat on the back –

Alice turned to a firm voice clad in silver armor knight deftly jumped off the ground:

– … So, you found me. What brings you here, Eldri Synthesis Sёti van?

Knight of Unity, whose room was on the unit for more than thirty rooms Alice did not answer immediately, but first put his right hand on his chest and bowed low.

Straightening up, he slowly took off his helmet. Luxury light purple hair swayed gently in the night wind; view opened a beautiful face, proper to some urban smoothie. Velvety and quite high for a man voice he –

– Have not had the honor to see you, Alice-sama teacher. Although your attire and changed you as beautiful as ever. Tonight, remembering how beautiful golden hair shining under a gorgeous moon teacher, I immediately, without pausing for a moment, rushed to you with the most precious bottle of wine in hand.

Removing the left arm behind his back, he immediately pulled her forward again, and sure – it was a bottle of wine.

Discreet sigh, Alice somehow failed to respond to his disciple:

– … The most important thing is that you are completely healed from his wounds, but your character has not changed. I just noticed – your manner of speech is a bit like the Managing Chudelkina.

Pretending that she heard a strange “GC” wrest Eldri, Alice moved towards the hut.

– Ah, it’s Alice-sama …

– If you have an important conversation with me, I will hear you inside. If not – go back to the capital, and drink wine alone.

Glancing at his brother and sister – and Takiguri Amaёri – which met after half a year of separation, tenderly entwined necks, Alice briskly walked away into the hut.

Dutifully entered behind her Eldri curiously examined closely hut decoration; his eyes fell on Kirito, sitting with his head down by the stove. But he said nothing about it rebels, with whom he had a chance to fight once. Then slid down and pulled up a chair to Alice.

– …

Thank would be ridiculous, so Alice sighed and slumped into a chair. Sat down opposite her Eldri without waiting for permission, put the bottle on the table. Second, they looked at each other, then ran across the face Eldri shadow – apparently, at the sight of his right eye closing Alice black armbands. However Eldri immediately rounded up the shadow and looked up; wings of his nose quivered slightly.

– … How nice it smells here, Alice-sama. Incidentally, it so happened that I was in a hurry to go so much in the way that not even stayed for the evening meal.

– “It happened,” huh? You went from the capital here in the wilderness, and the wine took with him, and the idea is to grab something from the food you had not occurred.

– I, vile worm ever ready to give up any kind of meals was – I swear by the names of the three goddesses. If it will help satisfy your hunger, I am willing to starve himself to exhaustion of his life –

Do not listen to the end stupid answer Eldri, Alice got up from his chair. Going into the kitchen area, she shifted the dinner leftovers from the pot on the stove standing in a wooden bowl, and then returned to the table.

The goal in front of him a plate Eldri stared with a mixture of excitement and doubt on his face.

– … If I would be allowed to ask the question – is it possible that this dish Alice-sama prepared with their own hands? ..

– Yes. And that is something not to like?

– Not at all …. Finally the day came when I got from the teacher personally cooked pudding and it fills me with joy much more than when I first was given the secret reception.

With intense expression on his face taking a spoon he scooped beans and into his mouth.

Looking at the working jaws Eldri, Alice asked again:

– By the way, how did you find this place? From the capital of this far should not reach any sacred art … and to find me in person, you need to fly on dragons all over the world – now Unity Knights simply can not afford it.

Eldri did not answer immediately; with the words “must be the same as the tasty” and other similar he worked extensively with a spoon; but soon, clear the plates, he raised his head, wiped his lips as if out of nowhere appeared a handkerchief and looked at Alice directly.

– Our souls, and my Alice-sama, inseparably linked, which led me here … and so I wanted to say, but, alas, in reality it is just a coincidence.

He willfully tossed aside his right hand.

– From knights patrolling the boundary ridge, recently there have been reports of the secret movements of goblins and orcs to the north of the ridge. By order of the commander of the northern, southern and western caves were inundated, but maybe they are trying to dig them again, which would lead to irreparable consequences; I arrived to check whether this is so.

– Cave …? ..

Alice frowned.

Through the boundary ridge existed four passes. In the south, the west and the north near rulid were narrow cave, through which could not pass the ogres and giants, forming the basis of the army of darkness. Therefore, it was expected that the enemy will gather an army at the “Great Eastern Gate”, but the commander of the Knights Berkul turned his attention to the three caves – as soon as they got the overall command and ordered them to fill up.

That’s because Alice knew about it, and she chose Rulid to his hiding place, but if the enemy decides to dig now through the caves, the situation will change. Rulid of quiet frontier village immediately turn into a battleground.

– So … you came to check if there is movement of the forces of darkness?

– I have a whole day to fly around the cave, but not what the orcs – even a single goblin was never found – and Eldri shrugged slightly. – Looks like they took over the troops pack what some animals.

– … In the cave itself looked to check out?

– Naturally. At the exit to the Dark Territory looked – there to the ceiling all blocked by giant rocks. … So, making sure of this, I turned the reins to fly back to the capital, and there Takiguri strangely agitated. I allowed him to choose the direction, and he sank down here – that such circumstances. Frankly, I myself incredibly surprised. Such a huge surprise … no, no, this is truly a finger of fate.

Here playacting somehow itself disappeared from the voices Eldri, and his face was the face of severe knight as he continued:

– Here and now, once I had the chance to meet you again, I just have to say. Alice-sama … I’ll be in Order! Your sword, we need more than a thousand warriors !!!

As if trying to avoid piercing eyes knight, Alice lowered her head slightly.

She understood everything.

Nobody knows when the thundering collapse fragile wall surrounding the world of men. Desperately trying to keep her updated “World Defense Army men” headed Berkul.

Alice felt indebted to the Commander, release it to care for the sick; and a sense of solidarity with other Eldri and fellow Knights of Unity in it, too, is not lost. But all this was not enough, so she returned to the fighting.

Above all – willpower. Fighting in the cathedral, Alice learned this truth. Just as then Kirito manages willpower to reimburse the difference in losing a purely military force, the best divine instrument can become dull if the will is lacking.

– … I can not, – said Alice faintly.

Immediately sounded shrill voice Eldri:

– Why not?

Without waiting for an answer, he turned sharp as the tip of the whip, the look on the young man sitting near the stove.

– Because of him? He escaped from prison, the cathedral, walked with his rebellious sword through many knights, manager, even reached the high priest-sama and now withdrawn from the right path and the heart of Alice herself, right? If so, if this is the cause of your indecision, I propose to remove it immediately.

Eldri with force clenched right hand edge of the table; Alice looked at him glare single eye.

– Do not you dare!

Alice resisted the urge to shout as loud, but the knight, hearing her voice, still immediately straightened abruptly.

– He also fought for their faith in justice. Otherwise, why the strongest of the Knights of Unity, including His Highness the team losing him? You crossed swords with him, and he had to learn the power of his blade.

Eldri, though wrinkled his nose with evident regret, yet let stress get away from their shoulders. Downcast eyes, he listened to the monologue.

– … Without a doubt, the Administrator, she planned to turn the soul half of all people in terrible warriors of swords – in this I am convinced personally. And this young man … Kirito with his friend Yudzhio – they are not allowed to put this plan into action. Not to mention the one who pointed the way those two – of the cardinal itself, which was once the peer administrator-sama, too, was the high priest; and I, and Berkul-dono no longer blame Kirito any crime. But … even that does not convince many !!!

And then, as if splashing out all that had accumulated in his chest, Eldri shouted in reply:

– If the rebel Kirito, says Alice-sama really is such a master that has surpassed the Knights of Unity, why did he not take the sword and fights ?! Why he turned into such a miserable creature that attaches itself to Alice this provincial hole ?! If he really killed the Administrator-itself in the name of protecting people, the more you should immediately go to the Great East Gate !!!

Even these words Eldri spat like breathed flames did not reach consciousness Kirito. His half-closed eyes reflect only the lights swaying in the oven.

There was a heavy silence, which broke the soft voice of Alice:

– … I’m sorry, Eldri. Anyway, I can not go with you. Status Kirito here at anything … The power went out my sword, that’s all. If we now crossed swords, I think, I and three exchanges of blows does not last long.

His eyes widened in amazement Eldri. The face of a proud knight contorted like a little boy.

But soon this face surfaced submissive smile.

– … That’s it. In this case, I have nothing more to say …

Slowly pulling his right hand, he said, the opening words of sacred art. Rapidly sang spell, and created two crystal elements turned into the finest wine glasses.

Taking the bottle from the table, he threw his fingertip solid plug. Poured into each of the glasses a little ruby ​​liquid and put the bottle in place.

– … When you know that this wine – farewell, I want, holding two hundred years of the treasure of the Western Empire, raise a glass to the departed …

Raised his glass to his mouth, Eldri drained it in one gulp, then gently placed on the table. Bowed and stood up; his snow-white cloak swayed behind him.

– Well, on that we are parting with you, the teacher. I’ll never forget what you have taught me, Eldri, sword and sacred art.

– … Be healthy. And take care of yourself – briefly said Alice. Knight Unity slowly bowed and walked away, tsokaya boots. His back was breathing unwavering pride; Alice could only look away.

The door opened, then closed. Takiguri courtyard gave a loud cry, and then he heard the flapping of wings. Then – guttural moan unwilling to part with his brother Amaёri from which Alice pang in his chest.

Flapping of wings, first loud, was removed, and then disappeared altogether, and Alice all continued to sit without moving.

Right before the Life of the glass, crafted from crystal element, dried up, Alice took his fingertips and held it to her lips. For the first six months tongue tasted the wine – not so sweet, how many bitter-sour. After a few seconds the empty glasses are gone, scattered on the spark.

Plugged stoppered bottle in which the wine was left, Alice stood. Going to the stove, turned to silently sitting Kirito:

– … I’m sorry, you’re tired, probably. It is high time to sleep, let’s go to bed.

Gently taking Kirito’s shoulders, she helped him up and led into the next room, bedroom. Dressed in his pajamas with black unpainted fabric and lay on the bed near the window.

She took a folded at the foot of the bed blanket and covered Kirito from feet to neck. Half-closed eyes unblinking boys staring at the ceiling.

Alice blew out the wall lamp, and the room hung the blue darkness. Sitting next to Kirito, she began gently stroking his thin chest and bony shoulder; a few minutes later, as if the whole force at once left the body Kirito, he closed his eyes.

Waiting until the breath Kirito becomes sleepy and even, Alice got out of bed and dressed herself in white pajamas. Went into the living room and looked out the window to check on Amaёri, extinguished the lamp and the two returned to the bedroom.

Lifting the blanket, she slipped into bed next to Kirito and her body enveloped in a weak warm.

Alice usually cost close my eyes, as she immediately left the reality in the country of dreams, but now, as she tried, all sleep would not come.

Her eyes burned imprinted in him retreating back Eldri picture in a white cloak.

Once and she held back so proudly. Firm belief in the need to own sword to defend the human world and its inhabitants the power of the Church Axioms vitality filled her whole body.

However, now that power is gone – all to the last drop.

Eldri … his former student she wanted to ask. “Now when the high priest of the Church and the deception was discovered, what do you believe in the name of what you fight?”

But she could not. All Knights of Unity, except Alice and Berkul, knew nothing about the horrific plans of the high priest. Do not know about Eldri and his own “piece of memory”, imprinted in the ceiling on the top floor of the cathedral, and the fact that his “most dear people” turned into an integral part of the Sword of the golem.

So he still believed the Church itself and axioms. Three goddesses send a high priest of the new cathedral, which means that it is necessary to wait until a foretaste of days, when the Church will again be unerringly lead and instruct their flock.

But what do most Alice already knows about this grand deception with goddesses and heavenly city? Of course, the fact that the team Berkul hidden from the rest of the Knights half the truth, it was inevitable – it is important now to prepare for a big war. Worth Alice to join the other knights, doubt, settled in her chest, and they certainly will be passed.

Will hastily assembled “Defense Army” beat off the attack mighty powers of darkness, unknown to anyone. If bloodthirsty monsters manage to break through the great eastern gate, very soon they will get to that margin. We do not yet gone out of the way, which would avoid this tragedy? – Whenever Alice visited these thoughts in her head pop voice.

After the final battle with the high priest, but before Kirito fell unconscious – two phrases which brought the mystery of the crystal plate.

Go to End World Olter.

When you go forth from the great eastern gate, it will be far to the south.

“World End Olter” – these words in the sacred language she had never heard of. But she knew what lay behind the great eastern gate. Black as coal land, sky red as blood – it’s dark territory. It is worth to be there – and it would be incredibly difficult to go further, both forward and backward.

Even if it will fly over the country of darkness to avoid the difficulties and get to this “olter” – she finds there? Could there have found a creature, someone or maybe something that will protect the inhabitants of the human world from the dark forces? ..

Turning his head, looked at Alice lying on the other side of the bed boy.

Under the blanket she moved closer to Kirito. A little hesitation, reached out and hugged him, just scared little kid’s nightmare.

As Alice would not cuddle it lean body to which it was painful to even look – a young man who once rocked her heart his fierce, ognepodobnoy force, did not show any reaction. Slow heartbeat is not accelerating, still black eyelashes trembled. This body has lived … no, exist; perhaps it has already turned into an empty shell devoid of soul.

If now at the right hand of Alice was a sword –

Would pierce both time huddled together hearts, and all would be over.

Hardly the thought flashed through Alice’s head, tears trickled from the corners of the eyes. Falling on the neck Kirito, they scattered sparks.

– Prompt me, Kirito … what should I do? ..

There was no answer.

– I … what am I …

Drip, drip … more drops shone in the moonlight, to look into the room through the gap in the curtains.

The next day, 22 of the tenth month, the outstanding coldest for this fall.

Rejecting the walk, along with Alice Kirito sat near the stove. Before she was going, supporting Old Garitta, before the onset of this winter to prepare as much firewood, but it seems that this will not be necessary.

Alice has been writing letters; only two sheets of parchment – but she had gone to them all day. After some hesitation, she signed a common language name Shuberg and below – on the Sacred, “Synthesis Sёti.”

Neatly folded and put away one of the letters in an envelope inscribed Alice’s full name Sel’kov. Then he put on the table, next to the second addressed the Old Garitte.

The letters were the parting words and apologies. In this house, about which he knew Knight Unity Eldri remain was already impossible. Follows here may appear and will try to persuade her not Eldri and Berkul commander himself. And then Alice, full of deep gratitude to his teacher, he will not be able to say the words that I must say.

So she runs away again.

Are quiet and long sigh, Alice raised her head and looked at the man sitting across the table, black-haired boy.

– Listen, Kirito. And where you would like to go? On the western highlands, I heard very beautiful. Or, say, the southern jungle – there is good too, I guess. All year round warmth, a lot of different fruits.

These words she uttered deliberately cheerful voice, but, of course, there was no reaction from Kirito still not followed.

Empty eyes, as before, looking at the surface of the table. The idea that a sick boy again have to attach to a wandering life, causes pain Alice. But leave it to rulid she could not. Impose Kirito pupil Sel’kov abbess was unwise, moreover, Alice just did not want to do so. Because caring about Kirito in its current state remained for her now the only meaning in life.

– … Okay, fly wherever Amaёri wants. And now let’s go to bed – tomorrow we have to get up early.

Disguised Kirito and put him to bed, Alice dressed herself, extinguished the lamp and crawled under the covers.

Lying in the dark, she listened to the breathing lying beside Kirito. Satisfied that he was asleep, she gently moved.

Ear to his bony chest Kirito, she began listening to a slow heartbeat.

Soul Kirito here was not. It remained only its echo in a heartbeat. Every night for the past few months, Alice visited by such thoughts when she fell asleep, clinging to Kirito. But at the same time listening wafting from the inside “tuk tuk”, she felt that something was still left, something else is gone.

If, say, the current Kirito able to think normally, but just can not express thoughts and feelings – that he thinks about is her behavior? Thinking about it with a faint smile on her face, Alice gradually sank into a shallow sleep.

Suddenly, the body to which it clung, weak tremor passed.

Alice struggled to his heavy eyelids. Looked left eye in the east window, but the sky, rising above through a gap in the curtains, remained impenetrable black. And instinct told that she had slept only two or three hours, no more.

Again feel like Kirito body shuddered and tensed, Alice whispered:

– Another night … Let’s go to sleep a little more …

Closing her eyes, Alice began to stroke his chest Kirito, that he fell asleep. However, it reached the ears resounded just outside a quiet voice, and only then, Alice realized that with the boys that something is wrong.

– And … aa …

– Kirito? ..

Any desire at present Kirito was not. Cold, thirst, and the like could hardly wake him. Nevertheless, the young man was trembling harder; he even move his legs, as if trying to get off the bed.

– What happened? ..

Did he regained consciousness? With this thought Alice sat up and, not wanting to spend time to light the lamp, make a light.

Seeing in the ash-white glow of the element that fills the eye Kirito still the same black void, Alice sighed disappointedly. But if so, what –

Suddenly Alice reached the ears of the sound coming from outside.

– Ku-ru-ru, ku-ru-ru-ruuu!

This voice belonged Amaёri that was supposed to sleep on the edge of the clearing. Sharp, piercing, Spine-Chilling and calls to be alert.

After jumping to the floor, Alice jumped out of the bedroom, raced through the living room and opened the door. Immediately rushed into the cabin cool night breeze. In the air, which is usually only carried the smells of the forest, now felt something else. It is something like Alice plunges into the nose, it was the smell of burning –

Barefoot, as she was, Alice jumped into the yard. Turned to look around the night sky – and gasped sharply.

The western sky was burning.

Ominous crimson glow, without a doubt, it was a huge fire glow. Peering intently, Alice saw crossing the starry sky column of black smoke.

Forest fire ?!

Only for a moment the thought flashed through Alice’s head and was immediately discarded. Besides burning, the wind brought the clang of metal and cries of many people.

Assault.

Dark Territory army attacked Rulid.

– … Sel’kov !!! – Hoarsely escaped Alice, and she darted back into the hut. But as soon as he ran up the threshold, froze.

Sister and parents had to save, come what may.

And as with the rest of the villagers?

To try to save all whom they might have to fight head-on with the forces of darkness. But the current Alice seems to this was simply incapable.

Source of strength Unity Alice Knight was complete, blindness devotion Church Axioms and administrators. Now, having lost this belief with the right eye, if she can fight “the Sword of fragrant olive,” to use the sacred art?

Ears frozen Alice –

Suddenly caught a soft knock from the depths of the hut.

The unexpectedness of the left eye of Alice thrown open to the entire width. In the midst of the gloomy living room lying overturned chair and crawled next to a dark-haired young man.

– … Kirito …

Alice on padded feet went inside.

In the eyes of Kirito, as before, there was no radiance determination. Yet though he was moving slowly, but clearly focused. His hand reached for the swords hanging on the wall.

– Kirito … you …

Alice stuck in the throat hot lump that rose from somewhere in the chest. In the eyes of all beginning to blur; not once she realized that it tears.

– … Aa … aah …

Uttering incoherent groans, Kirito did not stop for a second – he purposefully crawled to swords. Alice abruptly wiped her tears and rushing towards the young man raised his emaciated body to the floor.

– All right, I’ll go there. I will deliver the inhabitants of the village. So do not worry, just wait for me here – a quick whisper she said, and hugged Kirito.

Tuk. Tuk. Pressed to his chest Kirito, Alice could feel his heartbeat.

This knocks, let the soul Kirito and was shut out of the world, felt hidden, but not burnt willpower. Alice felt the heat flows into it, as if she basked in embers.

For a second hard pressed her cheek to cheek Kirito, Alice then raised his light body and seated on a chair.

– Once people are saved, immediately return.

Say again Kirito these words, Alice first thing pulled from the wardrobe cleaned there armor and sword belt and put them right over his pajamas. Then ran to the east wall and, without a moment’s hesitation, grabbed her adorable sword.

Taken for the first time in six months, “Sword of fragrant olive” pulled hard hands. Trailers fasteners on the scabbard to the belt, throwing a cloak and thrusting his feet into his boots, Alice again flew into the yard.

– Amaёri !!! – She cried, turning to the jack on the eastern edge of the clearing, and then a giant shadow flew up to her and lowered her head.

Vsprygnuv on a long neck at its very foundation, Alice sharply ordered:

– Go !!!

Silver wings flapped furiously, and after a short run-up dragon soared into the night sky.

A little typing height, Alice saw the catastrophic picture of what is happening in rulid. Rushing violently into the air was enveloped in flames mainly north side of the village. It seems that the attackers came from a really dark territories because of the boundary ridge.

In strewn on orders Berkul “North Cave”, as said last night Eldri, nothing strange happened. If just one day enemies managed to remove from the cave a huge amount of debris to pass through it and attack, the soldiers in this detachment was clearly not ten or twenty.

First of three caves, reaching under The boundary ridge, from time to time in the world of people under the cover of darkness infiltrated small groups to sow evil. According Kirito, he Yudzhio too, before recovering in the capital, fought with a group of goblins in the northern cave. But to be so open and such a large force – this is never heard. So, while the full-scale invasion of the human world from the country of darkness come?

While Alice is spinning in my head these thoughts Amaёri one stroke broke the thick woods and found herself over a field near rulid.

Reins Alice was not, but she gently patted the dragon’s neck, making it clear that he hung in the air.

Leaning forward, Alice began to study the situation. The northern edge of the main street that runs through the village from the south to the north, was lit crimson glow, which clearly could see the shadow of the attackers. Swiftly, like jumps, worn nimble goblins. A little further, going bigger orcs.

On the northern edge of the main square could be seen hastily erected a barricade of furniture and wood, but the first goblins dotuda already got through it and beat – Alice saw the glint of naked swords.

A handful of village guards tried to fight back. However, their numbers, equipment and training level, apparently, did not go to any comparison even with the Goblin. And after, stamping, so that the earth trembled, already approaching squad of orcs, who was bound to sweep away the defenders.

Suppressing the desire right now to rush into the thick of battle, Alice continued to assess the situation.

On the eastern and western edges of the village in some places also climbed the fire. But to the south of the area until it was quiet. All the villagers, except custody – including, of course, Selcuk – likely escaped through the south gate, and took refuge in the forest.

With this thought Alice refocus gaze on the main square, and she escaped exclamation:

– Why not?!.

In the midst of a circular area in front of the church was an artesian well, and around this well dense ring was a crowd. Too many people, so they can be overlooked. Perhaps there gathered almost all the inhabitants rulid.

Why do not they run out of the village?

When the main power hitters get to the defensive line, the guards will be swept away in a flash. If the villagers now begin to flee, the shelter will not succeed.

Alice again patted the dragon’s neck – he flew forward – and, finding himself on the area, called out:

– Amaёri, wait at the ready!

After that unhesitatingly jumped from a height of several tens of chalks. Her body to dissect the cold night air, cloak violently slammed behind him.

Three hundred villagers formed a tight circle, obviously going to fight back; standing in the first row of men in front of him shovels, scythes and other farm utensils. They actively handing out two instructions, next to which Alice and landed.

There was a hell of a roar, and on its feet on the stone pavement ran in all directions of the crack. Throughout the body of Alice, from the feet to the crown, took a strong tremor, and her life almost certainly diminished, but only just.

Two men – they were wealthy peasants Nigel Balbossa and Elder Gasuft Shuberg – instantly fell silent and stared at the sky suddenly fell from the figure.

From just looking at the face of his father Alice gasped; but she did not miss a moment of silence dangling, loudly exclaimed:

– Here, you do not fight back against them! Please, take all the road south !!!

At these words, Alice appeared on the faces of the men even more bewildered expression than before.

However, Nigel immediately regained consciousness and shouted angrily daring words:

– What nonsense are you talking about! So we left their home … their village and fled !!!

Peasants with swollen veins on his forehead Alice retorted:

– If you will not run now, then it will be too late, goblins you catch up! Your farm or life – that for you more ?!

Nigel these words silenced, however it should be quiet, full of tense voice spoke Elder Gasuft:

– Gathered in a ring on the area and protect the weak us ordered the captain of the guard Jink. In the created situation, even I, Elder, I can not disobey his orders. So says the Imperial law.

At this time Alice was speechless.

In emergency situations, those who are entrusted with the sacred duty of the guard captain at the time are above the heads of their villages and towns; It was under their start moving all residents. In the fundamental laws of Northern Empire Norlangarta it was explicitly spelled out.

However, captain of the guard named Jink, who inherited the sacred duty of the father was just a youngster. In this unusual situation, he hardly can keep a clear mind. Judging by clearly read on his face Gasufta alarm in his head had similar thoughts.

Word of the Imperial law was for the villagers absolute. So they began to seek shelter, it was necessary to pull out from the northern edge of the area defense team Jinka and make him change his order, there was no other options; but at the time it’s all just left.

What to do. What to do –

And then in the ears standing pillar Alice broke kids, but determined to shout:

– Father, do as my sister says !!!

Gasuft abruptly turned and looked into the defensive ring, the fragile girl in a cassock, which treated the sacred art of villagers who have received apparently severe burns.

– … Sel’kov!

“As well, now everyone will be saved,” – with these thoughts Alice did was a step towards his beloved sister, but she was ahead of her – to her feet and walked through the crowd to get where Alice stood, and two men.

Sel’kov flashed toward Alice’s only one short smile; then her face tightened, and she turned to Gasuftu.

– Father, from the time my sister ever did was wrong? Even I understand that if there remain, they will kill us all!

– But … but … – mumbled hesitantly Gasuft flour with the expression on his face. Grizzled mustache quivered slightly, eyes went somewhere in space.

Instead speechless elders spoke again, more precisely, angrily shouted Nigel Balbossa:

– To further malyshnya climbed here !!! Protect the village !!!

Look bloodshot eyes he turned on standing near the family home Balbossa area. His mind was obviously only thought about the rich wheat harvest this fall and accumulations of gold for many years.

Returning to Alice look with Sel’kov, prosperous peasants screamed shrilly, as if aware of something obvious:

– And … that’s it, everything is clear !!! This has led you to the village of monsters country darkness, Alice !!! You’re still in the time of the Edge climbed the ridge, stained dark forces himself !!! Witch … this girl just a witch !!!

Yelling, he jabbed a finger into Alice in bold; girl robbed of language. Hum of voices of villagers, the sound of swords from the barricades, even bellicose cries monsters approaching from the north – all at once it became somehow distant.

Since Alice settled for the outskirts of the village, it does not just respond to requests Nigel blame or that big tree in the forest. Whenever this man already shaking, pouring in gratitude. And yet now, entirely wanting only to protect their own farm, he threw her these words – as well as …

Alice looked away from become ugly, like an orc, the man’s face; in her head spun:

Enough already, let them do what they want.

And I’ll do what I want. Selcuk, Old Garittu, parents, Kirito – they only take away from the village, take somewhere far away, where we will find a new home.

Creak teeth, she closed her eyes.

But the thought did not stop there.

But if that Nigel and the rest of the villagers Balbossa look so blockheads – it’s just the result of a centuries-old reign of the Church axiom.

In addition to the index of the ban, these people have tied many different laws and regulations; it was allowed to rest, like lukewarm water, and at the same time, something important was collected.

Selected power – the power to fight.

Months and years passed endless line until Continue this robbery; where did accumulate this invisible force?

At only thirty-one people – the Knights of Unity.

Inhaled deeply, then exhaled, Alice sharply, as if even with some sound, opened the left eye.

A man standing in front of her once Nigel blood drain from his face – he was obviously scared.

Alice, on the contrary felt her body is filled with some wonderful power. Silent, but hot as a blue-white flame. But she thought that after a desperate battle on the last floor of the cathedral lost this force – a force that allowed Kirito Yudzhio and herself to challenge the mightiest ruler of the world of men.

Take another deep breath, Alice announced:

– … I’m canceling orders Jinka Guard Captain. I order all the villagers gathered in the square, go to the southern forest and take refuge there; those who have the weapons to go first.

Her voice was calm, but Nigel recoiled, looking as if he had punched. Yet soon, as if assembled with the same spirit, he was able to answer:

– By what right … y-you, girl-criminal, r-commands here …

– On the right knight.

– Rea … what else knight ?! Such a sacred duty not in our village! A little know how to swing a sword, and immediately called herself a knight – Why all the knights in the capital itself, so that –

Firmly looking at bristling saliva Nigel, Alice squeezed his left hand over the right shoulder cape.

– My name is … my name is Alice. Responsible for order in tsentor third [1] on the rank Knight Unity Church Axioms – Alice Synthesis Sёti !!! – Loudly and at the same time she had the sudden movement tore off her cloak.

Hardly a thick cloth ceased cover the whole body, flame fire brightly lit and shining golden armor “Sword of fragrant olive.”

– What … Ry-Ry Knight Unity?!. – Mumbled completely changed voice Nigel and full of horror face plopped on the buttocks. Yes, and Gasufta eyes widened.

That is called herself Alice, hardly anyone could find a lie. Because in this world voluntarily assign himself the title of Knight of Unity – still deny that the power of the Church Axioms; but it’s just not possible. Of course, confirm the truth of the words of Alice, but herself might perhaps that Kirito, but there was also evidence – after having escaped from the capital, Alice threw a sword, symbolizing her membership in the Knights of Unity.

The rest of the villagers, before excitedly rustling, too, fell silent at once. And wafting from the northern barricades sounds – screams custody and goblins, the clash of swords – seemed remote.

The silence was broken whisper Sel’kov:

– Sit … Riza? ..

Looking at the left eye with his hands clasped in front of chest younger sister, Alice smiled sweetly.

– I’m sorry I had not told Sel’kov. The fact that I was given this title – my true punishment. And now – and yet true duty.

Hardly Sel’kov heard these words, her eyes stood out tears.

– Sister … I … I always believed. What you do not no criminal. … How beautiful …

Next came a Gasuft.

With the hard-knock fell on his knees and his eyes downcast, he strained voice shouted:

– Respectfully obey the orders of your worthy Knight Unity-dono !!!

Immediately jumped to his feet, he turned to the rest of the villagers, and briefly commanded:

– Everybody get up !!! Armed ahead, the other behind them – run to the south gate !!! Leave the village to take refuge in the forest south of the new lands !!!

Among huddled in a bunch of villagers ran a disturbing hum. But he immediately verse. Resist orders elders villagers could not, said Knight Unity – especially.

Located in the outer ring of strong men began to raise his feet rest – women, children and elderly. Alice called after residents headed Gasufta and choked voice said:

– Father, I leave all of you … and Selcuk, and mom …

Stern face Gasufta wavered only for a moment, and then he replied curtly:

– … Knight-dono, you too take care.

Yes, my father never would call her daughter. Such is the price of its new powers. Harden afford it, Alice pushed Selcuk in the back, so that she went near Gasuftom.

– Sister … you just do not risk too much, okay?

Smiling little sister, who fled in the face tears, Alice nodded, then turned to the north. Behind her, the villagers began to move at once.

– And … aa … but mine, but my house … – pitiful voice moaned still sitting on the pavement Nigel Balbossa. He looked from traveling past the villagers to the house, which was chosen flame, and back. Deciding not to pay attention to him, Alice began to delve into the situation of the village.

Residents finally started to move, but still there were three hundred. The fact that they all left the village, took time. However, the line of defense is unlikely to last long; east and west also heard the sound of approaching enemy steps.

At this point, with the northern edge of the square there was a scream – apparently shouted a young man.

– Continue all! Back! Nazaaad !!!

The voice seems to have belonged to the captain of the guard Jinka. Hardly hear it, Nigel Balbossa exactly scream gave him strength, jumped to his feet and yelled furiously at Alice:

– Hey … hey, do not you see that you ?! Let us protect the area! Kill it now! Every one will cut !!!

Alice shrugged and replied calmly:

– All right, unless it is necessary to protect the place. I will overcome.

– And you can? Should simply must! Although … though, even if you really Knight Unity, these demons are so many, and you say that the one on the right !!!

Despite the fact that frightening goblin silhouettes, approaching from the west and the east, could be seen all over, Nigel kept yelling. Not paying attention to him, Alice threw a quick glance behind him. The tail of the crowd going from village residents still remained in the square, but Alice and Nigel were from a good distance.

Nigel Grabbing the collar, with the strength of Alice shoved it in a southerly direction. Then, raising the same hand to the night sky, loudly shouted the name of his beloved dragon.

– Amaёri!

From the sky immediately returned loud roar. Rubanuv right hand from the top down and from west to east, Alice continued:

– Pali … !!!

On top like a storm wind gusts hit the flapping of wings. Nigel standing pillar and burst at that moment the square strange kind-humans – Goblin – once looked up.

Crimson glow illuminated the sky dive ripped black silhouette of a giant dragon with a gaping maw. In the throat was burning bright blue-white light –

Fshshshsh !!!

With this sound escaped from the jaws of a jet of blinding light. She collapsed on West Street, crossed the area near standing on its southern edge of Alice and Balbossy and left on East Street.

A moment later.

Incised along this beam straight shot up into the night sky languages ​​Hellfire. Scorched this flame goblins scattered in different directions, screaming shrilly.

At least two dozen enemies that came under attack fiery dragon burned instantly; the water in the middle of the square pit evaporated, and the cloud covered the neighborhood of dense white fog. Shouting after flying over the very edge of this cloud Amaёri order to remain ready, Alice turned.

Nigel Balbossa again flopped on the pavement and unable to rise from the horror, watched his eyes bulging.

– Che … che … d … d … d-g-dragon?!.

Alice glanced at his face quivering. “What’s wrong with him?” – Flashed through her mind; And then she heard through the wall a couple approaching tramp – someone desperately fled here. Soon showed men dressed in uniforms of leather armor guards rulid. What they did not retreat before, it was the right decision; however, more than a dozen guards were seen minor wounds, but seriously, it seems, they managed to escape.

Running the last – that is praiseworthy – big body boy, captain of the guard Jink saw virtually empty area astonishment exclaimed:

– K-wherever it happened to all of our ?! I ordered them to defend here ?!

– I sent them to take refuge in the southern forest.

Only after these words Jink Alice saw her and blinked in surprise. Several times spent at her eyes up and down and back, then stunned with views mumbled:

– You … Alice? .. What are you? ..

– Time to explain. This is all the guards? None have left behind?

– And … aa, yes, of course …

– In that case, please also run with his men. A and Balbossu-san with a pick.

– But, but … they are the same, and soon there doberu- …

Before he could finish his sentence, as –

– Gihiiii !!!

Rude scream echoed through the square.

– Kudaaa ?! Where whites fled yumyyy ?!

Out of the mist on the area, clutching the iron hatchets, rushed clad in rough plate armor goblins stuck with long feathers in her hair. Next to the first ran another gang – those whom the flames seared Amaёri; looks like it was a different tribe – only some of them were well built.

Gazing at demihumans, Alice took his right hand the hilt of his beloved sword. The dragon could not attack his fiery breath very often. While Amaёri not accumulate within ourselves thermal elements, Alice will have to entertain the enemies alone.

One of the goblins found Alice in golden armor; his yellow eyes flashed with rage and lust for murder, and he shouted:

– Gihii !!! Maiden Yum !!! Kill! Kill and eat !!!

Throwing his strange long arms with cleaver, poluchelovek ran to Alice in a straight line; she calmly waited for him, mentally whispering:

What a frightening power given to me. I think its very existence – sin.

She again became a Knight of Unity.

– Gihyaaaa !!!

Goblin jump slashed heavy saber; Alice held out his left hand and casually stopped the blow. Bare palms passed concussion, but dull blade is not something that the bone is not broke – he did not even cut the skin. Clenching blade five fingers, Alice crushed him like a thin piece of ice.

Useless piece of iron had not yet had time to fall to the ground when the “Sword of fragrant olive” snatched ALISIN right hand, drew a horizontal line and cut in half goblin.

Bright golden sweep of the sword went back, pulling out the approaching three more goblins, and instantly threw them to the border of a thick cloud of fog. All four of the enemy bulging yellow eyes and not understand what happened, and not having time to make a sound; then their top and bottom halves apart from each other fall to the ground.

Only after that Alice took a step back to it not hit the bloody jet, and again mentally whispered:

High Priest Administrator. You also made ​​a mistake.

Such tremendous force you collected just three dozen Knights of Unity, creating dolls that do not have their own will. That you tried to usurp all the power that was to be distributed among the inhabitants of the world of men. However, when too much force is accumulated in one man, he goes astray himself and knocks others. There you are, having absorbed the mighty power, got lost …

The high priest is dead, and it did not fix the error.

In this case, we must at least give this power, all to the last drop, in the name of other people.

Not as a Knight of the Unity of the Church axiom, but simply as a warrior, she must think with your head and fight on their own. Like those two valiant swordsman six months ago.

Take a stand with the sword at the ready, Alice resolutely opened the left eye, which closed before.

At this very moment, hastily erected barricades on the northern edge of the area collapsed from blows from the opposite side.

On the flooded area fills the entire width of the main street of the main forces of the enemy. Over fifty plus goblins are not so numerous, but powerful and strong, clad in iron armor and carrying a spear in one hand drills – orcs.

Flashing yellow eyes full of hatred and bloodlust, they belligerently yelling; at the sight of their retreating figures Jink, other guards and Nigel Balbossa woefully groaned.

However, Alice’s heart remained calm.

Not because she’s like Knight Unity relied on his martial art. Even surrounded by the crowd, tychuschey spears from all sides, Knight just can not get a scratch.

Alice gave her strength now understood in a new way.

Now I have to decide for itself, in the name of something to fight. To protect the little sister to protect his father and mother. And to protect all inhabitants of the world of people – that, in the name of which fought Kirito and Yudzhio.

Alice felt her doubts and feelings of helplessness, nests in the very depths of her soul, evaporate in a white glow. This glow spread throughout the body; Very soon it got to the right eye, hidden under a black armband, and Alice felt in this place a high fever.

-! ..

Pain pierced her head away from the orbit to the occiput; Alice, gritting his teeth, suffered. But it was a nostalgic, poignant pain. Alice grabbed his left hand reaching across the face bandage and tore one fell swoop.

She gently lifted her right eyelid, which is closed on that day nearly six months ago. On the black field of view from the center to the edges of spilled red light, he immediately turned into the dancing flames. As the left eye, the right saw burning houses; dvoilas picture, not wanting to focus, but gradually converging two images – until finally superimposed on one another perfectly.

Two eyes looked at Alice clenched his left hand a black rag.

This bandage, faded from repeated washings, Kirito fashioned, tearing his own clothes. For many months she defended ALISIN right eye exploded along with the seal, and now, having reached the limit of his life – began to disappear, just vanished into thin air. Looking at this brief but excellent scene, Alice realized.

All of these six months, she took care of lost his right arm and soul Kirito, trying in every way to protect him. But in actual fact, defended herself.

– … Thank Kirito – Alice whispered, pressing his lips to the black rag for a moment before its extinction. – … I am already in order. Even if I hesitate, doubt, become despondent … anyway, I’ll go ahead. For the sake of what is really necessary for me and thee.

At the same moment, when the rag ceased to exist, Alice tossed her head vigorously.

Two eyes, she clearly saw hundreds of goblins and orcs, furiously screaming fills the area. Behind came the clatter of runaway custody and Nigel Balbossy.

In the heart of Alice’s solo host of the enemy army, was not a shadow of fear.

Plunging into the lungs full of the smell of burning air, she cried out:

– … I am a knight of the World people Alice !!! While I’m here, you do not quench your thirst for blood and murder !!! So immediately leave the cave and return to his country !!!

Like this dazed voice cold running first goblins slightly slowed down. However, there is a hefty orc in the middle of the crowd, which seems to have been there a commander, and threw a two-handed ax militant roared:

– Guraaaaa !!! It’s just a white girl Hume; I Moritta Nogolom-sama, right now, put her on her knees !!!

Goblins this exclamation clearly inspired. Making sure that all the attention black enemy waves focused on her, Alice –

– Amaёri!

As she cried out the name of heaven raided a giant shadow. Dragon has not yet amassed sufficient number of thermal elements for the next attack fiery breath – it just with a thunderous roar menacingly swept over most heads-humans. Stunned enemy again worried – even more than last time.

Do not miss this moment, Alice raised high above his head in his right hand squeezed “Sword of fragrant olive” and exclaimed:

– An enhancement armament !!!

Six months have passed since then, as Alice said, the entire text of the spell “full control over the weapon,” and yet priceless sword Alice responded to her call. Gold blade with transparent metallic sound was divided into countless tiny blades, and those gleaming in the firelight, soared into the night sky.

– Flowers – create a storm!

Rain from the golden petals with rustling attacked enemy troops.

The first own blood burst main orc, who identified himself Morittoy. Multiple lobes pierced him in various places, and instantly lost all his life, he fell with a thud on the pavement. Surrounding the Orcs, yelling, too, one after another fell facedown.

“Sword of fragrant olive”, created from a tree, rooted at the center of the human world from the date of its creation, was an outstanding weapon, even by the standards of God’s instruments. Has the second name “Forever Immortal”, he was under the spell of complete control was divided into hundreds of petals, each of which is itself on a level not inferior swords forged by famous masters. Rough iron armor to protect them could not.

In no time deprived of the main strike force together with the commander of the remaining enemies lose heart. Having lost their fighting zeal, they stopped, ran over the area only a dozen chalks.

While the front goblins hesitated, unable to decide, to be led by greed or fear in Alice sharply waved her sword hilt, which is compressed in the right hand. Again there was a faint rustle, and hundreds of petals before the dance in the air, thick vertical bands lined up in the space between Alice and enemies.

Gazing at demihumans through the golden fence, Alice quietly said:

– This is – the wall that separates the world of people and land of darkness. Even if you had digged through the cave until we, knights exist, we will not let you sully this earth! Now choose – go ahead and drown in their own blood, or run back to the cave and to his country of darkness !!!

In less than five seconds, as the front goblins whirled back.

Courageous plurality of hammers banging up in the blue winter sky.

Putting his hand to his forehead, Alice looked at the wheat field lies behind the village Rulid.

With the attack of the dark forces detachment has been a week.

Many homes in the northern part of the burned down, but almost all the residents to address elders postpone the sacred duty and began to rebuild the village together, so that the work went quickly. Alas, twenty one villager who had not managed to escape, was killed; sad ceremony was held in common burial in the church three days ago.

After the ceremony, at which she was asked to come, Alice sat on the dragon and went to the northern cave to find out what is happening there.

The cave was to be inundated by order Berkul, but through it led Prokop is so wide that even the powerful orcs managed to pass without problems; from the dark area near the entrance of the cave were traces of long stops.

It is impossible that all the enemies dug a cave overnight. Apparently, after detachment from the Dark Territory diggers entered the cave, its crater filled up immediately back. And when Knight Unity Eldri checked in, there are already inside secretly moved forward detachment goblins.

Never before goblins and orcs do not show such a striking caution and cunning. Suggests the idea that the attack was not just intelligence sortie, as the previous ones.

Rather than overwhelm the cave again, Alice closed the brook flowing from its middle, the former lair of the white dragon, and soon the cave was completely flooded. Then she released a set of pre-existing elements of the cold – and now overlaps the ice cave, and not a stone.

From now on, until someone owning sacred art not worse Alice, do not melt ice thermal element to pass through a cave nobody can.

Translating opinion of rulid and exalts him Edge ridge on their own hands, holding the latter is not saddled Amaёri on the bag, Alice hitched to her left foot dragon.

– This is … my sister, – said, hanging his head, Selcuk, still with a smile on her face stubborn Alice was helping to prepare for departure. – … My father also wanted to come to you to carry out, though. He is now in the morning quite scattered. I think deep down he really glad that my sister back. I very much want to believe it.

– I understand Sel’kov – hugged his little sister, Alice whispered. – I was taken out of the village as a sinner, and I returned to the Knight of Unity. But someday … finished all the works that I will be back here as usual Alice Shuberg. And then I can just say, “Father, I’m home again.”

– Uh …. I also believe that someday it will be so – wet voice replied Sel’kov and raised his head, the edge of the sleeves of his cassock wiped her face.

Turning to sitting next to the black-haired boy a wheelchair, she most cheerful tone on what was capable, she said:

– Kirito, you too good luck! Recovering sister Alice and help!

Clasping his hands bowed head, young schoolgirl abbess drew a symbol of blessing and dissected, and then stepped back a few paces.

Alice walked over to Kirito, carefully took out his hands two swords and put into the bag, strapped to the saddle Amaёri. Then easily lifted and emaciated young man seated in the saddle.

Not that she did not come up with the idea to ask Selcuk care about Kirito after his departure from the village. Alice goes to the Great East Gate, the place of the upcoming decisive battle with the army of darkness, and there she will be busy in the throat of the Defense Army of Peace people; take care all day for Kirito as before, it just can not.

And yet, she decided to take Kirito along.

A week ago, on the night of the attack, Kirito explicitly drawn to the sword, to go to the village. It still lived desire to fight in the name of others. If so, a chance to regain his soul will find only where the battle will unfold for the world of men.

When the time comes – if need be, Alice his tie straps to his back and will defend to the last drop of blood.

Alice last hug a loved sister.

– Well … I flew, Selcuk.

– Mm. Take care of yourself … and be sure to come back, sister.

– I promise. … Garitte-san also conveyed best wishes. … Well – happily and learn well!

– Of course. I promise someday I will become a great abbess … I … ever …

Unable to add anything, Sel’kov only smiled through her tears.

Patted his little sister’s hair, parted Alice hugs, then, struggling with a reluctance to part, went to his favorite dragon and sat in the seat directly behind Kirito.

Top Sel’kov nodded, then fixed her gaze at the blue sky.

Reins lightly clinked, and the dragon, not feeling the weight of two people and three swords, began a short run between fields.

Someday she will be back here.

Even if you fall on the field of battle – if only the soul, but will come back.

Brushing eyelashes stuck in tears, Alice cried sharply:

– … XXA!

Softly.

Gently embraced her feeling of flying – and the land was left at the bottom.

Catch the updraft Amaёri making circles in the air, rushed up.

In the midst of the broad fields and forests brand new roofs glittered Rulid village, and there, at the bottom, could be seen running and flapping hand figure Sel’kov –

Alice launched dragon east.