Volume 23 Chapter 4

“I’m back.”

As I said this while opening the glass front door, “Welcome back! You’re so late, bro!” I heard such words come to pass.

Looking toward the source of these words, I saw Suguha standing by the foyer, wearing a sweatshirt, clutching her hands to her chest, and coming over in a flurry.

“I can’t help it, it takes me twice as long to get to school as you do. I even rode back at full throttle from the station.”

In fact, even though it was already late September, I still had fine beads of sweat hanging from my forehead. Covering the roughly 2 kilometers from Honkawagoe Station to the Kirigaya household in 6 minutes on my motorbike, I essentially set my record today. But Sugu seemed to have taken less than 5 minutes, so I couldn’t get complacent yet. So it was a good thing when my virtuous sister didn’t blame her brother for his weak pace, but instead took out the towel that was in her hands behind her back.

“Here you go!”

“Oh, thanks.”

After receiving it and wiping off the sweat, a bottle of mineral water appeared before my eyes.

“Well, and this!”

It was handed to me after the cap was removed, and I gulped down half of it in one gulp after saying thank you.

“Ah, I’ve been revived...”

“Then, sprint again from here!”

As if being pushed up to the second floor, I ended up in my room. Freshly changed into a t-shirt and shorts, Suguha jumped into my room without knocking.

“Ready? Let’s get going!”

She held an AmuSphere, worn from use, in her right hand.

“Come on, from where are you planning on full-diving?”

“Here, of course! If we don’t time it well, it could lead to danger for the lone person who arrives first.”

“You’re exaggerating... It’s not like Underworld where time was accelerated, we’d be a minute or two apart at the most. Besides, Liz and Silica should already be diving.”

“Never mind that, hurry up, hurry up...”

My head was suddenly covered with the AmuSphere, and Suguha jumped onto the bed with such energy that the mattress springs creaked. I had no choice but to lie on the side. Suguha raised her right hand and counted with three fingers.

“On the count of three! Three, two, one...... Link start!”

Shouting that in unison, I thought, “wait... Suguha’s hand is going to fall and hit me near my abdomen,” but, of course, I didn’t get to see that result.

Opening my eyes, I saw a brand new wooden ceiling.

Until about 04:00 this morning, there was still a gaping hole in the ceiling through which you could see the sky, but now there wasn’t even a trace left of the damage. The cabin—this 《Forest Cabin》 that I loved, badly damaged from the fall of Aincrad, was successfully repaired with Lizbeth and Silica’s help.

It’s really incredible, so incredible... as I was lying in bed wallowing in emotion, I was suddenly called.

“Get up, Kirito-kun! Because... there’s so much more work to do!”

“Yes, yes......”

With a snapping sound from the iron armor Liz had made me, I stood up and looked to the side. Meanwhile, Suguha—Leafa—who dived in at the same time, was still wearing a simple dress.

As I looked around the home, in the now-empty living room because all our furniture had disappeared, I couldn’t see the silhouettes of any other players. Asuna was probably still on her way home. Where were Liz and Silica, and Alice and Yui, who had taken over guarding the home while we were at school?

Thinking up to here, a sharp metallic clanging started from outside the window. It was the sound of a hammer striking an anvil...... no, it was the sound of swords clashing.

“What’s the matter?!”

Hastily, I rose to my feet and ran out the door.

In the middle of the clearing, surrounded by various crafting items, two figures were clashing with swords. UR’s time is in sync with reality, so the red sunset at this moment made it difficult to distinguish their figures. I could only barely make out that one of the silhouettes was about my height, and the other was very small, like a child.

“Hai!”

The child swung down the sword held in both hands with a childish yet brave cry. Although it was fast, the adult easily received it with her sword that she was holding in her right hand. Again, a clanging sound. Large braids of blonde hair reflected the setting sun’s light and glowed.

It was at this point that I realized that the adult was Alice, while the dark-haired girl who was unafraid to face the strongest integrity knight was my and Asuna’s beloved daughter, the most advanced top-down type AI, Yui.

Page 105 illustration.
Page 105 illustration.

“Hey... what are you two doing......”

Leafa grabbed my shoulder just before I subconsciously tried to rush forward.

“Wait a minute, isn’t that just practice?”

“Gah, practice...?”

Glancing at my sister’s face, I looked out into the middle of the clearing again.

Indeed, after taking Yui’s attack, Alice had no intention of fighting back. Not only that, but it seemed that with every parry followed all sorts of suggestions.

“Hey, are you okay?”

“Mm, mm...”

I nodded in response, but I had never seen Yui wielding a sword and fighting like that...... More accurately speaking, since the time she used a GM weapon to erase the boss 《The Fatal Scythe》 in the dungeon under Aincrad’s first floor, I’d never seen her in battle with a sword again. Since Yui was now a player, she was given the same HP bar as us, and even if Alice didn’t fight back, she’d still get hurt if she was accidentally hit by Alice’s sword.

I looked at her with apprehension. Yui carefully listened to Alice’s advice before pulling away again. Striking a basic middle stance, wielding an exotic short sword...

“Hiya!”

With a childish shout, she kicked off the ground. At that moment, I let out a low “ooh.”

When using sword skills, VRMMO beginners usually break down the action into two stages: “Swing” and “Swing Down.” While there are some situations where this might not be wrong, in most cases, the speed and power of the swing are increased by combining it into one move with a smooth transition from the beginning to the end. Yui’s use of a strike that followed this method resulted in Alice having to take a half step to the side with her left foot in defense.

Clang! A crisp metallic sound rang out again. The two pulled away after a moment of pause.

“That was a good one, Yui.”

When Alice said that, I clapped my hands together. The two looked over at the same time; Alice smiled somewhat sheepishly, and Yui flashed a bright smile.

“Papa! You’re back!”

I hurriedly stopped Yui, who was rushing over with a short sword in her right hand.

“Hey, hey, hey! Put that sword away first!”

“Ah, right!”

Yui slowed down and tucked the knife into its sheath at her left waist. Picking up my beloved daughter, who had pounced on me again, I brought her up high and sat her on my left shoulder.

“I’m back, Yui. So... Why did you suddenly start practicing with a sword?”

“To fight, of course! My proficiency with the one-handed sword skill is now 7!”

“Ah, you’re such a hard-worker.”

I stroked her head with my right hand, and Yui smiled happily.

My single-handed sword skill proficiency, which I inherited from ALO, had reached the maximum of 1000. But, other than that, all my other newly acquired skill proficiency levels were only about 2 or 3. It was quite impressive that Yui’s proficiency increased to 7 in just one day.

“Since you’ve reached this level, you can use sword skills, right?”

“Mm......”

Yui quickly opened the ring menu with her right hand and moved to the skills window to view it.

“Ah, I think I can use 《Horizontal》, 《Vertical》, and 《Slant》!”

“Ooooh, those three are the foundation of all sword skills. If you become more skilled, I’ll teach you great skills like 《Vorpal Strike》, 《Howling Octave》, and more.”

“Yes!”

At Yui’s pleased reply.

“About that, Kirito.”

As their voices overlapped, I moved my eyes away. Alice, wearing a white dress, approached me with an expression as if nothing had happened.

“Ah, Alice, thank you for watching the house and giving Yui guidance... so, about what?”

“Take a look at your skill window, too.”

“Huh? Mm......”

I nodded and drew a circle in the air with the fingertips of my right hand. From the ring menu that opened with a rustle, I selected the skill icon on the top right. In the window that opened, a list of acquired skills was displayed. Since it sorted by proficiency, the top one was, of course, the one-handed sword skill...

“...Eh...”

I opened my eyes wide and stared at the proficiency value. It was indeed at the upper limit of 1000 when I looked at it yesterday, but now there was one less 0.

“One... one hundred! Why......”

“Looks like the original skill proficiency level fell after the buffer period ended last night. At the same time, all advanced Sword Skills are no longer usable.”

“Really......”

As I groaned, Leafa also opened her window next to me and called out, “Ah, me too!” As we were about to hang our heads in disappointment, I suddenly stopped.

“Ah, no, wait a minute... we fought the PKers after the buffer period ended last night, right? At that time, I did manage to use 《Vorpal Strike》. That should be a pretty advanced skill.”

“Look at the list of sword skills.”

At Alice’s urging, I tapped the one-handed sword skill with one hand. The sub-window that opened listed the skills that could be used. At the top were the basic single-hit skills 《Vertical》, 《Horizontal》 and 《Slant》, the two-hit skills 《Vertical Arc》 and 《Horizontal Arc》, followed by the two-hit skill 《Rage Spike》 and the jump skill 《Sonic Leap》, and the three-hit skill 《Sharp Nail》... That was the end of the enabled skills. Below that, 《Vertical Square》 was grayed out, and when I clicked on it, a small window reading “Proficiency Requirement: 150” appeared. Understandably, the numbers are different from SAO and ALO, but in that case, I had no way to explain how I managed to use the high-level skill 《Vorpal Strike》 last night.

Scrolling through the list, I found that 《Vorpal Strike》 was grayed out. The required proficiency was... 700... a far cry from my current 100.

“How the hell... was it only a reproduction of the movements...?”

Mumbling something over my shoulder, Yui also tilted her head slightly.

“During yesterday’s battle, both the 《Savage Fulcrum》 and the 《Vorpal Strike》 used by Papa appeared with a distinct light effect. I don’t think it was just an imitation of the action.”

“Yeah......”

I nodded and gave Yui to Leafa, walking to the middle of the clearing. I unsheathed my 《Quality Iron Longsword》 which was rugged in appearance but reliable in weight and brought my waist down. As my left hand reached forward, I tightened my right hand around the sword resting on my shoulder, but the sword skill activation light effect did not appear.

“Haaaaaah!”

Despite this, I kept moving the longsword; but it ended as just a simple one-handed sword thrust motion. There was no blood-red glow nor any sound effect like the roaring of a jet engine when 《Vorpal Strike》 was truly activated. I tried once again... and again, but the results didn’t change much.

“Kirito, it’s a little difficult to watch.”

“I, I get it!”

As I replied with these childish words back to Alice—

Shugooooojakiii—n!! (シュゴオオオオジャキイイ────ン!!)

“Whoa!?”

As a crimson glow shone, the sword that shot out dragged my body and flew out with it. I was pulled into the air for about three meters before falling to the ground on my chest.

“Whew—!”

The HP bar in the upper left corner of my field of view reduced slightly. While I was maintaining a frog-like position and groaning, Alice hurriedly ran over and held out her hand.

“Hey, are you okay?!”

“Ahhhh...... finally......”

After being helped up, I stared at the sword in my right hand. Turning my head and looking at Alice with trepidation, I asked.

“This time it activated, right? Vor St......”

“I don’t like you Real World children’s habit of leaving everything out.”

After I apologized for being scolded inexplicably with a verbose, “it was my fault,” Alice pierced me with an icy glare, then regained her expression.

“Activating... actually succeeding... what the hell is going on here?”

“Alice, please try it too!”

The one who spoke was Yui, who was being held by Leafa. Alice nodded, “Then...” and drew the sword at her waist. It had the same design as my sword, so it must have also been crafted by the now nowhere-to-be-found Liz.

I walked over to Leafa’s side, and Alice entered her stance with her long sword.

In Underworld, where she was born, sword skills from SAO existed under the name of “Secret Moves,” so Alice was able to freely use many of her sword skills in ALO as well. However, she seemed to prefer using single-hit skills rather than high-speed consecutive-hit techniques, as she now prepared to activate the one-handed sword high-level single-hit technique 《Jerryd Blade》.

While taking a step out with her left foot, Alice lifted her longsword violently to the rear right. It was supposed to produce a lavender light effect at this moment, but the blade did not glow. Nevertheless, Alice:

“Hei-ya!”

While emitting a sharp cry, Alice swung the sword down powerfully. Although it was a beautiful slash, 《Jerryd Blade》 didn’t activate, and Alice returned her sword and repeated the same action. Twice, three times, four times... I was starting to think that being able to activate a 《Vorpal Strike》 just now might have been a system error or something.

On the seventh or eighth time Alice raised her sword, it burst into a cyan-flame-like glow. The slash sent out a heavy sound reminiscent of an icy river collapsing, and a bluish-purple trajectory was traced in the sky. This was undoubtedly the effect of 《Jerryd Blade》.

“Huh, it activated!?”

At Leafa’s startled cry, I nodded gravely. Although we still couldn’t tell whether it was a bug or a technique, it seemed that an upper-level sword skill could be unleashed despite not having the necessary sword skill proficiency level if tried repeatedly. But the probability appeared to be only about ten or twenty percent. For use in actual combat, that would be a bit too unsettling, not to mention how unpleasant it is to not understand the principle behind how it worked only sometimes.

I couldn’t help but look at Yui, hugged by Leafa, but she was now an ordinary player without system access. One must think with their own head once in a while... I came to think of this.

“Papa, could it be that this happens not because of the players or the equipment, but rather, the location?”

Yui pointed that out seriously, and I pointed to my feet and asked.

“Location? Is there any special effect on this clearing?”

“No, not the clearing......”

As my vision followed Yui’s sight forward, I saw the repaired cabin glowing red with the setting sun. I finally understood what Yui was implying and trotted over to the side of the cabin, tapping the wall with my fingertips. The first line of the property window that opened up identified the building as a 《Cypress Log Cabin》. Under that, the owners were listed as Asuna and me. Then below that, there was a long colored bar representing durability. It should have been fully restored this morning, but the number shown now was [12433/12500], indicating that buildings naturally lose durability in the UR world. Although this feature is a hassle, the rate of reduction is around 120 per day, so even if it’s completely neglected, it should last at least 100 days.

Four icons were arranged in the lower part of the window, from left to right: 《Information》, 《Trade》, 《Repair》, and 《Disassemble》. I will never press the 《Trade》 nor 《Disassemble》 buttons... while thinking that with conviction, I pressed the 《Information》 button. Alice, Leafa, and Yui, standing to my left and right, could also see the content.

In the sub-window that opened with a refreshing sound, there was a simple description of the house, numerical data such as floor area, storage capacity, defense values against various types of attacks, and a 《Special Effects》 section at the bottom.

While thinking that this must be it, I read carefully. Only one effect is lit up. 《Level 1 / Blessing of the Forest: Within a radius of 30 meters from the center of the building, the owner, the owners’ friends, and the owners’ party members have a low probability of being able to use attack skills that they do not meet the use conditions for》.

“...Ah, so that’s what it was...”

Muttering, I stroked Yui’s head again.

“Yui’s speculation was a big success. Was this ‘Blessing of the Forest’ also available in ALO?”

“No, ALO doesn’t have such a system.”

Yui shook her head, and Leafa interjected.

“Hey, it says Level 1 here, right? In other words, there are Level 2 or 3 special effects, right?”

“There should be...... Though it’s impossible to imagine how to get them.”

Alice glanced at me with a crooked head.

“Isn’t it possible to upgrade the house? Just like with us.”

“Upgrades... to the house? How would we do that?”

“Adding rooms, reinforcing structures, and such. When I built my house in the woods near Rulid, I also started from a hut with only a simple roof and walls, expanding little by little.”

“Ah, ah, I see.”

My answer was more or less awkward, but I couldn’t help it. Alice seemed to have been taking care of me in that home for months while I was in a coma. Although I barely remember those times, there was as much embarrassment as there was gratitude that came flooding back when I recalled the memory of Alice feeding me with a spoon and putting me to sleep in a bed.

“Well... well, for now, we know the reason behind why we can sometimes activate high-level sword skills. It was really fortunate that 《Vorpal Strike》 activated without fail in last night’s battle.”

“Just like that, we now have one more thing to do.” As I frowned, my sister said matter-of-factly, “Upgrade the house! I wonder what the special effects are for levels 2 and 3!”

“Ah... ah, yeah...”

While nodding in agreement, I still felt more or less a sense of resistance to the extension and remodeling of the cabin, because I knew better than anyone that Asuna had been pouring love into this house since the SAO era.

But Yui seemed to see through my hesitation and said decisively, “It’s okay, Papa! Mama is a person who doesn’t fixate on appearances, so as long as its essence remains, she won’t care if the shape of the house changes!”

“Its essence... what is it?”

“Of course, a place where Papa, Mama, me, Leafa, Alice, Liz, Silica, and Sinon feel at peace from the bottom of their hearts!”

“... I see, yeah.”

I nodded slowly and stroked Yui’s head again.

“But... the expansion should be a long time coming. First, we need to take care of defending this entire stronghold...”

I took another look around the clearing. It was a space fifteen meters in diameter that opened up in the depths of the forest, the eastern half of which was occupied by the log cabin, and the western half of which was filled with crafting stations such as ironmaking furnaces, foundry tables, and kilns. These devices were easy to make as long as materials are available, but gathering materials wasn’t easy, so I wanted to build up a defense for the entire area if possible. Yui, Alice, and Asuna’s newly-tamed iguana protected our home today while we were at school, but the two of them and a lizard alone wouldn’t have been able to hold the fort if it had been one of the 《Spiny Cave Bears》 that put up such a difficult fight yesterday, nor if a new group of hostile players had attacked.

The proud knight seemed to understand this, too, as Alice spoke my thoughts after she looked around. “First, I want to build a fence around the perimeter of this meadow. If possible, we should use stone instead of wood.”

“Yeah... but there’s no telling how many stones it would take to enclose the whole thing. If only Her Holy Eminence Administrator was here... She could probably erect walls of steel by just pointing a finger...”

After I uttered the name of the demigod, described in writing by only divine terms, who divided the Human Empire, which had a diameter of 1500 kilometers, into four equal parts with 《The Immortal Walls》, Alice gave me a fierce glare.

“If you ask the Supreme Priest to do such a menial job, she’ll turn you into a cricket or something.”

“Really, I think if I offered her two or three very expensive cakes, she’d do it.”

—Isn’t that right, Eugeo.

Calling to my late friend in my heart, I shook my head slightly and suddenly remembered something. Yesterday Alice received a message from Dr. Rinko of RATH. “The 29th at 15:00, the most expensive cake shop”... This cryptic message’s real sender was not, I’m afraid, Dr. Rinko. To confirm the facts, I’d have to go to the cake shop in Ginza on the 29th, that is, tomorrow, at 3:00 p.m. From West Tokyo, where the SAO Survivors’ school is located, taking the Seibu Shinjuku Line to Takadanobaba Station, then transferring to the East-West Subway Line, then to the Ginza Line at Nihonbashi Station, and finally getting off at Ginza Station, together, it would take about 80 minutes. I would definitely not make it if I didn’t skip afternoon classes.

Why did he have to designate such a time—Let’s put that aside and get back to the topic at hand. Since there are no superpowers here like Administrator’s, we can only do it the down-to-earth way and gather materials to build the wall.

Fortunately, I’ve found that building a wall doesn’t require piling up rocks piece by piece. There is an option such as 《Crude stone wall》 in the crafting menu of the elementary carpentry skill. I can’t say I feel good about the adjective 《crude》, but it’s something I’ll have to endure until our skill proficiency level increases.

“...Well, let’s all go to the river bank and pick up some rocks first.”

I said this while closing the cabin’s property window, and Alice nodded along with Leafa and Yui.

“Leaving this home, I feel slightly worried, but there’s...... Huh? Where did it go?”

Looking around the square, I couldn’t find the willful iguana that was supposed to be guarding the house. Could it have gone back into the wild because the tamed state was reset? Asuna would be very lost if that was the case, I panicked for a second. Just then, a characteristic “quack” sounded from behind. Anxiously looking back, a giant iguana was bouncing along on the road to the southern riverbank. Behind it followed Silica and Lizbeth.

As soon as the two saw Leafa and me, they trotted over.

“Kirito, so slow! Were you buying something to eat on the way back!?”

Next to Liz, who glared at me, Silica smiled helplessly.

“Kirito-kun commutes a long distance to school, so it takes a while.”

Agah opened his mouth and “quacked,” while Pina, on top of its head, “peeped.” I couldn’t tell if they agreed with Liz or Silica. In any case, Agah’s tamed status didn’t seem to have been reset.

“Where have you guys been?” I asked this tentatively.

Liz replied while stroking Agah’s neck, “this guy, it seems like its HP decreases if it doesn’t take a bath a few times a day. So we took it to the river and collected stones while we were at it.”

“Oh, that’s tough. But it’s a lizard... do their bodies really have such troubling needs......”

“Papa, there are a lot of semi-aquatic lizards in the real world. Mertens’ Water Monitor (Varanus mertensi) and the Sulawesi Spiny Water Skink, among others, are well known.”

Yui immediately explained it for me, so I nodded my head and said, “Ah......” Thinking back, in our first encounter with Agah, it had emerged from the river. Its duck-like bill could also be proof of an aquatic species.

“Geez, we have to dig the well soon. There’s so much to do!”

I shook my head, then checked the clock at the lower right of my field of view. 17:50—We can’t pull an all-nighter to dive until sunrise today, so until midnight, no, even if we log out at 02:00, that’ll give us only a little over 8 hours. Suddenly I felt a bit nostalgic for the SAO days when you could immerse yourself in the game all day long.

With a sigh, I recollected my thoughts. I intended to go to the river to collect rocks but was blocked from going by Leafa, who was holding Yui.

“Nah, bro, if that’s the case, why don’t we give priority to rendezvousing with Sinon-chan? In the long run, our work will progress faster with more manpower, and in terms of combat abilities, we’ll feel more at ease.”

“Hm, well, that’s true......”

In response to Leafa’s comment, I nodded subtly.

At the meeting held after school, Sinon shocked us several times. Many players from her main game 《Gun Gale Online》 were also forcibly converted to this world—although this was expected, surprisingly, they were allowed to bring guns into this world.

Of course, since we ALO players also carry weapons like swords and lances, it wouldn’t be fair if GGO players couldn’t carry weapons, but they carry guns. And in GGO’s world, there are not only gunpowder-style live-fire guns but also optical guns that fire lasers. How exactly did the person who caused this incident intend to maintain an integrated world?

Having said that, it wasn’t something to worry about right now. To use an ALO analogy, Sinon’s beloved gun, the 《Hecate II》, had superb firepower that could rival the attack power of a 30-word-long high-grade magic spell. Although her pre-conversion supply of bullets seemed to have disappeared almost entirely, because being able to bring a gun over should mean being able to get supplies somewhere, the defense of the stronghold would become reasonably easy if we could rendezvous with her.

But here’s the biggest problem—

“...But, we don’t even know in which direction the birdmen’s place is...”

I shrugged my shoulders helplessly, and Silica nodded worriedly.

“Sinon-san said she was completely oblivious to the crashing sound of Aincrad as it fell. In that case, I think the starting location of the GGO players is quite far from our starting position.”

“Hmmm......”

I groaned as Lizbeth manipulated the circular menu, tapping the map icon in the lower-left corner. Her map had quite a bit more area lit up compared to the one I had with Leafa.

“Well... this is the ancient city where the ALO players’ starting location was. This is where Aincrad fell, and to its north is the village of the Basin tribe, and from there to the northeast is this little cabin... Silica and I walked from the village, but didn’t see the giant dinosaurs nor the centipede-type monsters that Sinon mentioned...”

Silica nodded deeply as well, suddenly seeming to notice something as her finger quickly traced across the map.

“But when we left the Basin village, what started as a wilderness full of wind and sand became a grassland, and when we crossed the river, it became a forest. According to Sinon-san, the area she’s in is almost all desert, and there’s no water to be found at all, so it’s rough, so directionally, it’s more likely on the other side of the forest.”

“Mmmmmmm......”

I nodded along with Leafa and Alice. Silica’s analysis was compelling, but even if she got the direction right, we couldn’t easily search without knowing the approximate distance. Because this game has SP, TP, and other numerical limits in addition to HP, we’d need to have plenty of food and water on hand before traveling long distances.

Just thinking about it made me feel slightly hungry and thirsty. Since those values are frozen when logged out, my SP bar had since been reduced by only 20% and the TP bar by about 30%; if I start working, it will be reduced much faster. There was a river nearby for water, and there was some bear meat left for food, but a more stable supply should be established as soon as possible.

“...The forest must be cleared and fields cultivated... though I don’t know if we can actually do that...”

I muttered a few words, and Yui responded with a serious smile.

“Then add it to the to-do list, too!”

“Th-Thank you... by the way, what’s on the list right now?”

“Although list items aren’t prioritized, so far we have 《Constructing a Defensive Wall》, 《Expanding the Cabin》, 《Building Weapons and Defenses for the Entire Party》, 《Leveling Up》, 《Upgrading the Taming Ability》, 《Digging a Well》, 《Cultivating a Field》, 《Meeting up with Sinon-san》, and 《Reaching the Place where the Aurora Indicated》.”

“...............”

Everyone looked at each other in silence. The one listed at the end is the ultimate goal, so it can be set aside for now, but all the others were of high priority.

“...Let’s start with the defensive wall, then.”

Renewing her spirits and saying so, Lizbeth nodded.

“I picked up a lot of rocks with this in mind. Let’s try making a wall.”

“Mm, thanks, we’re counting on you.”

With a thumbs-up, Liz closed the map that had been open and opened the skill window. Selecting 《Crude Stone Wall》 from the list of craftable items under the Elementary Carpentry skill, a translucent preview model of the wall in light purple appeared. With an unfamiliar gesture, Liz made the holographic wall slide and stop at the border of the clearing and the forest.

“Can we build it here?”

“Wait a minute.”

I ran to the front and side of the translucent stone wall, carefully looking at the position and angle.

“Fifteen centimeters further in... that’s it, and rotate it a little to the right.”

“Like this?”

Liz moved her fingers subtly, and the wall’s ghost object slowly moved with her. The moment they were in the right position, I exclaimed.

“Right there!”

The instant Liz’s held her right hand into a fist, several gray stones fell from the air and solidified in the shadow object’s place. There appeared a wall of 1.5 m in height and width with a thickness of—about 30 cm? Stones of varying sizes piled neatly together, leaving no signs of a crude, rushed construction that I imagined. Just in case, I gave it a little push, but it didn’t seem to wobble, and no stones came off.

“In that case, it seems to be able to defend against some small monsters.”

I said as I pounded against the wall, and Alice responded with a troubled expression on her face.

“Yes... It’s just that the spiky cave bear’s advance can’t be stopped, and won’t players be able to scale it?”

“As for the bear, we can only pray for it to not come near for the time being. As for countermeasures against players......”

I turned to Liz and continued.

“Liz, how many stones did this wall use?”

“Well, thirty 《Ash Avalanche Rocks》, which you can find the most of at the riverbank, and five 《Coarse Gray Clay》.”

“How much more 《Ash Avalanche Rock》 and 《Coarse Grey Clay》 is left?”

“120 pieces of stone, 20 pieces of clay.”

Liz replied thus, and Silica, who was next to her, also raised her right hand.

“I also collected 100 stones and 15 pieces of clay!”

“Thanks, Silica. That is to say, 7 walls can be built with the materials from two people? Liz, try to see if you can stack the walls on top of each other.”

“Mm.”

With a nod, Lizbeth manipulated the window again. The virtual wall appeared and moved quickly, approaching the first wall when the magnetic locking function came into play, first snapping the wall to the right of the previous one. Nudging it to the left from there, the virtual walls automatically stacked upright.

“Ah, seems like it.”

“Okay, please.”

A heavy rumble sounded again, and a new wall fell from the sky, stacked on top of the original stone wall. That made it 3 meters tall. It can’t be said to be foolproof, but apart from the lighter players, most everyone else would find it difficult to climb.

Of course, what it looked like now was not so much a wall as it was a thin column. The circumference of the clearing, 15 meters in diameter, would be about 47 meters. If the whole clearing were to be enclosed by walls 1.5 meters wide, 32 would be required, and since two would be stacked upright, 64 would be necessary, twice as many. Right when I no longer wanted to calculate how many pieces of 《Ash Avalanche Rock》 we should pick up... at that moment.

The cabin door slammed open, and Asuna, who was wearing a white dress, ran out.

“Sorry, everyone, I’m late!”

“Asuna, just in time! What’s 64 times 30!?”

I immediately extended a finger to point at her, and Asuna froze momentarily before saying, “One thousand nine hundred and twenty.”

A look of astonishment accompanied the question, “...what is this counting?”

“That’s the number of stones needed for that wall to enclose the clearing.”

I moved the index finger of my right hand that pointed at Asuna to the gray stone wall that towered near the ironmaking furnace.

“Ahhhh......”

Asuna nodded in understanding.

“Bro, don’t you think your current mental arithmetic skills are dangerously bad?” Leafa said worriedly.

We all set out for the riverbank, and taking advantage of the light remaining from sunset, picked up 《Ash Avalanche Rock》 and 《Coarse Gray Clay》, returned to the plaza, then Liz and I, who had acquired elementary carpentry skills, began to build the wall... such a repetitive project lasted an hour. By the time we managed to fence the entire clearing with a 3-meter high wall, it was already completely dark.

In reality, the number of stones required was less than Asuna’s calculations because of the installation of a wooden gate in both the north and south side, but it was still a difficult task. Because of this, the sense of accomplishment brought about by the completion of the wall was particularly strong, with the entire party, including Alice, touching the wall several times.

“Sure enough, it’s a relief to have walls!”

After the commotion ended, Silica commented so, and I nodded deeply.

“Yes, the ancient Greeks were in the same mood when their city walls were completed, weren’t they?”

“Only this is much smaller compared to Athens and Corinth.”

As Asuna spitefully commented so, I responded with a smile.

“No, no, from here on out, I’m going to make it bigger, and one day it’s going to become a large city equivalent to Centoria.”

And then, from Alice, “Oh, you said so, I’m looking forward to it.”

“Well... leave it to me.”

I thumped my chest and quickly changed the subject.

“So, according to the to-do list that was organized, next up is...”

“That, that!”

Leafa said with a wave of her right hand.

“I want swords and armor, too!”

With me being the only one covered in iron armor, such a request couldn’t be dismissed lightly. Liz and Silica were equipped with leather armor and metal weapons bought from the Basin tribe, while Yui and Alice held iron swords but had no defensive gear. Only Leafa and Asuna still wore dresses made of linen fibers, with stone knives and stone axes.

Fortunately, since we had Liz, who inherited her forging skills from ALO, there were no technical issues. The problem now was that large quantities of iron ore were needed. Yesterday, the ore obtained from the lair of the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 and the iron equipment discarded by those PKers were almost all used up to repair the log cabin. To get new iron ore, we’d have to enter the bear’s lair again, but the “cave owner” must have been on guard since then. Yesterday, the bear was barely dealt with by the rough method of rolling all those logs off the roof, but I don’t think the same trick can be played twice.

“Wait, Yui, have you ever asked the Basin about where they can get iron ore?”

I asked Yui, the only one of the seven of us who could understand the NPCs’ mysterious language, but the young girl shook her head slightly.

“I’m sorry Papa, I didn’t get that information...”

“No need to apologize, I should have known better to ask for the location of the iron ore in passing as they told me about where to find silica sand and linen; it was me who forgot to ask at the time. It’s okay, there’s always a way.”

“Yeah, Yui, Kirito-kun will find a way.”

Asuna picked Yui up and smiled tenderly, and Yui nodded, looking at me again with a worried face.

“...but how exactly, Papa?”

“Of course, we take the spiky cave bear down with a head-on attack... no, wait.”

My body turned to the right, and I looked at Silica, who had Pina on her head.

“There’s no need to defeat it; it’d be better to tame it if we can. Presumably, that should stop its attacks as well.”

“Eh?! Tame the bear?!”

Turning to a leaning Silica, I smiled slightly.

“Asuna, who had no taming skills, managed to turn the long-billed iguana over there into a pet. If it’s Silica, who inherited the ALO taming skills, it’d be even easier to tame the bear...”

“I’m sorry, Brother Kirito, but I inherited the short sword skill.”

“Ah, is that so? Was your short sword skill proficiency higher?”

I was frankly surprised, and Silica pouted like she was making a fuss.

“Brother Kirito, it’s very difficult to increase the proficiency of the taming skill to 1000. Even in ALO, as far as I know, the only one with the highest proficiency is the Cait Sith lord, Alicia.”

“That’s too bad... then that means, now, Asuna’s taming skills should be higher......”

As soon as I turned my head, Asuna blinked two, three times in a row, then shook her head unsteadily, “No... I can’t, I’m afraid to tame that bear.”

In the face of her grammatically flip-flopped argument, how should I lure her into... no, I mean, how should I convince her...

“Ah, it’s too random to let Asuna-san do it, so I’ll do it!”

I didn’t know if it was because of the Basin’s defensive gear or her pride as a tamer, but Silica jumped at the chance to announce the news. Asuna wanted to say something, but Silica held out her hands to placate her.

“It’s okay, Asuna-san, although I haven’t seen the bear, the animal-type monster should still be less difficult than the bug type or demon type. So as long as I work hard on my taming skills, I should be able to tame that bear!”

—A bear that was probably very different from the bear Silica had imagined.

I’m quite sure it wasn’t just me; Asuna, Leafa, and Alice must’ve all thought the same, but before the three of them could say anything, I walked in front of them and grabbed Silica’s shoulder.

“That’s the SAO-famous idol tamer Silica for you. I’m relieved to hear that; I’m leaving it to you, then!”

“Mmmmmm... I’ll do my best.”

Seeing Silica smiling shyly, Asuna sighed as she tilted her head back, but I maintained my attitude and continued talking.

“Asuna, you tell Silica how to gain taming skills. When I came back from the riverbank a while ago, I found fox-like monsters in the forest, so I think it would be good to practice on them. As for me, Liz, Alice, and Leafa, let’s dig a well before our TP falls too much.”

“Sounds good... but in this game, is it possible to dig into the ground however you please?”

In response to Lizbeth’s question, I was silent for a moment.

In most VRMMOs, including ALO, modifying the terrain itself is not possible. The whole point of map design would be lost if it were allowed, and obnoxious behaviors like digging big holes in roads would inevitably run rampant.

Unital Ring is no ordinary game in many ways, but I don’t think it’s possible to make changes to the terrain exactly... I remember thinking about something like that yesterday as well. But on the other hand, I remembered the crafting menu for beginner carpentry skills had...

“...Look, there’s a well.”

I showed the open window to Lizbeth and the girls. The place where my hand pointed to was just as I remembered, with the inscription, 《Small stone well》.

“It’s like an ironmaking furnace then, wouldn’t the well be ready to use as long as it’s selected and crafted?”

Because Leafa said something like that, I couldn’t help but retort.

“Eh, can it be that simple? If you could set up a well in an instant just by having the materials, there wouldn’t be a point to having TP then.”

“Don’t dwell on things like that. Wouldn’t it be better to just try it now?”

That’s true. I confirmed the amount and type of materials needed to make the well. 300 stones, 20 processed logs, 10 pieces of clay, 50 iron nails, and 1 iron chain.

“Well, we don’t have enough material at all. We could just go to the riverbank for stones and wood, but what about the iron...”

“It’s not that simple.”

Alice shrugged and glanced at the ironmaking furnace.

“True, whatever is done, make sure iron is the priority. Silica’s taming is still going to take time; before that, we might have to fight the cave bear one more time.”

“Had this just been a normal game, we would’ve been able to go in knowing we might be utterly wiped out,” I muttered, causing the others to show complicated expressions.

In Unital Ring, you can’t log back in again as long as you die once. Nor can you go back into ALO. Because VRMMO worlds involved in the incident had their game data in the servers themselves overwritten, the previous game’s service was stopped. Several companies seemed to have tried reinstallation, but even after reinstallation, 《The Seed》 did not start properly... or so Argo had said. In this case, I had to back down from the challenge of a super-strong and powerful enemy, the 《Spiny Cave Bear》, even though I was known as the “lawless” Triple Crown King of “No Reason, No Planning, and No Strategy.”

“Iron... Ah, iron...”

I crossed my arms and looked up at the night sky. Whether in SAO or ALO, iron weapons and equipment were sold on the streets in the starting place, so they never felt scarce. A large number of iron items were also dropped by monsters, and anything we couldn’t take was thrown away; now, I wanted to go back and pick it up.

If we desperately went looking for a mine nearby, we could probably also find iron ore outside of the bear’s lair. However, given the current level of the game, if the difficulty of getting iron into this area was set at “the level of beating a bear in a cave,” there was no possibility of a stable supply of open pit ore existing in the wild. I’m sure, as long as we don’t come up with a way to deal with that bear, civilization on this patch of land will not reach the age of iron.

“...Let’s go find Sinon.”

After I muttered that, it wasn’t just Alice, but Asuna and Silica, who were talking about taming skills from a little further away, and Yui, who also looked at me. Asuna’s earnest voice broke the tension.

“I also want to rendezvous with Sinon soon... but let’s not mention exactly where she is; we can’t even be sure of her general direction. How will we find her?”

“If we go look for the Basin people that Silica’s group encountered, they might know about the birdmen who were with Sinon. We can also ask for information on the iron ore; let’s first go to the village of the Basin tribe and ask.”

Based on the expressions of my companions, I hammered out the plan.

“I’d like Asuna to stay with Silica and Alice here for defense. I’ll go to the village with Leafa, Liz, and Yui... how about that?”

“Asuna and Silica have taming skills, I understand, but why keep me?”

Alice seemed a little displeased, and I answered her sincerely.

“I feel safer knowing you’re guarding this home.”

“...In that case, it’s hard for me to say no, okay... but I will definitely join the next expedition.”

After her decisive announcement, Alice turned and stood next to Asuna, Silica, and Asuna’s stroked Alice’s back with her right hand—reminiscent of when she’d served as Deputy Commander of the Knights of the Blood Guild—and said in a loud voice.

“We’ll take care of this home, and Kirito and the others will return safely. That’s the deal.”

“.......Mm!” I nodded, and Liz said, “We’ll definitely find Sinon!”

With that, Yui ran to Asuna and hugged her tightly. Looking at that, I thought about something in preparation for the future.

Opening my storage, I moved the 《Black Welt》 longsword from the house’s storage unit. This sword, which was inherited from ALO, has such high authority requirements that I cannot equip it even after leveling up to Level 13. Floating over the window, I moved in front of Lizbeth.

“Liz... I’m sorry, you worked so hard to make it for me, but can you smelt this sword?”

“Huh?” The 《Black Welt》’s smith blinked her eyes.

“Well, that’s for you to decide as the master of the sword... but I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to make a sword of the same caliber as that in this world.”

“I know. But to equip this, I’ll probably need to be level 40 or 50. If it’s going to be dead weight in storage like it’s been up to now, it might as well be put to good use for everyone’s benefit now instead.”

“...Well, I see.”

Lizbeth smiled brightly and tried to bring her right hand to the black longsword on the window.

“Oops, wait a minute! If your hand touches it, it’ll fall to the ground, and we won’t be able to move it.”

“Ah, so that’s how it is.”

“Wait, I’ll just put it straight into the furnace.”

Keeping my storage menu open, I walked towards the west side of the clearing, opened the operation window of the iron smelter, and put 《Black Welt》 in. My cherished sword floated in the air, dissolved into scattered grains of light, and disappeared. Adding firewood to the burning chamber of the iron smelter, Lizbeth took over and started working.

As if mourning for the sword she had forged, the blacksmith folded her hands together for a moment, then used flint to light the firewood. Soon, red flames began to waver, and then they rumbled and started burning violently.

Last night, after placing the iron ore in the furnace, it began to melt in just a few dozen seconds. However, 《Black Welt》 lasted nearly two minutes. Nevertheless, at last, a glistening white glowing liquid of iron flowed out and was poured into the rectangular mold. When the mold was full, the liquid metal shimmered and disappeared, and then it started filling up again.

Since only one single-handed sword was put in, I thought it would be just enough to get ten silver ingots, but in Unital Ring, the number of raw materials returned from high-grade equipment seems to have increased as well. The liquid iron continued to flow out, and when I was about to give up on counting the silver ingots that were being made, it finally stopped.

“...It’s over.”

Muttering, Lizbeth opened the furnace’s window.

“Mm, the materials we got are... 62 《High-Grade Steel Ingots》, 18 《High-Quality Silver Ingots》, 9 《High-Quality Meteoric Iron Ingots》, 6 《Mithril Ingots》, and 2 《Black Dragon Steel Ingots》.”

“Wow... seems like a lot of rare metals...”

Listening to Leafa’s intimidated whispers, I suddenly thought that if 《Black Welt》 could be smelted into these materials, then what would happen if another inherited weapon, the 《Excalibur》, were to be melted down... But melting down the legendary weapon that I had worked so hard to obtain could only be a last resort. I said to Liz:

“Can you make Alice, Asuna and Leafa’s equipment out of these metals?”

“Well... my proficiency in forging skills has also dropped to 100. A metal that is too advanced may not work...”

Lizbeth, who answered with a voice full of unease, sat down in a small chair in front of the anvil after moving the ingots all into her storage. She placed a 《High-Grade Steel Ingot》 in the anvil’s window and opened the crafting menu.

“Ah, a steel weapon seems to be quite reliable. Let’s do Alice’s sword first. Is a steel bastard sword fine?”

“Then, thanks, Liz.”

“OK...”

Giving a thumbs-up to the knight, Lizbeth gripped the forging hammer and began pounding at the silver-brown ingot on the anvil with force.

Listening to the crisp sound of clanging metal, I prayed that the newborn swords would also be as strong and tough as the beloved 《Black Welt》 sword that I had now parted ways with.

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