Volume 23 Chapter 5

—Thank heavens I full-dived without eating anything.

Staring at the chunks of flesh that were making sizzling sounds in front of her, Sinon thought this way.

The steak, grilled to a medium, was 8 centimeters thick and a full 30 centimeters in diameter. In the real world, I’m afraid even sumo wrestlers wouldn’t be able to finish it. But the birdmen, seated around a huge table, gleefully plunged their knives into their own meat servings of the same size, voraciously gobbling them down.

Of course, since this was a virtual world, no matter how much you ate, nothing really entered the stomach of the real body. Still, the beautiful thing about being in full-dive was that you could really feel full, and that satiated feeling would persist for a while even after logging out. For Sinon, who had a small appetite and was not much of a meat-eater, a steak of this size was quite the challenge; not to mention, it was neither beef nor pork.

Upon confirming that the birdmen to her left and right were busy indulging in the steak, Sinon quickly tapped on her piece of meat. The floating property window read 《Starokepharos’ Tail Steak》. This was the flesh of the dinosaur that Sinon defeated after shooting through its heart with the 《Hecate II》.

Last night, Sinon, who had defeated the Starokepharos and was desperately sipping water from the spring at the critical moment when she was dying of thirst, came to their village at the urging of the ecstatic birdmen.

Even though there was still a language barrier, Sinon, welcomed with treatment befitting that of a world-saving heroine, was taken to a clean house in the center of the village, where she successfully logged out. As soon as she got home this evening, she had only gotten a drink of water before immediately diving in, and ended up being half-compulsorily dragged into a banquet...

Surprisingly, the birdmen’s civilization was quite advanced. Every home in the village was built of beautifully shaped, neatly constructed bricks, and even the outer perimeter of the town was surrounded by a solid, secure stone wall. Tiled roads connected to the large assembly plaza in the heart of the village, and there were even shopping streets around.

On second thought, though, since the birdmen were already using muskets, it shouldn’t be surprising that their civilization had also developed to a corresponding stage. Assuming that was the case, even if Sinon left most of her steak untouched, she shouldn’t be blamed for being rude... right as she thought this.

「ℵℵℵℵ?」

The birdman who came to Sinon’s side looked like a child, and while pouring a red liquid that resembled wine into the glass in front of Sinon, said something. It seemed to be a question, but Sinon could still not comprehend its contents.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying.”

Upon answering like that, the child opened his yellow beak wide in surprise. Shino wanted to apologize again, but before that.

“The kid asked, ‘Aren’t you going to eat?’”

Such a voice came from the left, and Sinon turned her head in surprise.

The speaker, who had long, gray feathers hanging down the sides of his beak, seemed to be an old birdman.

“Eh... you know my language?”

Sinon asked in a hoarse voice, and the old birdman laughed.

“Yes, when I was young, I went on adventures around the continent with the human race. That being said, is dino meat not likable to your taste, human girl?”

Dino was probably referring to all dinosaur-type monsters, including the 《Starokepharos》.

“Ah, no... I’m on it.”

Sinon made up her mind. Then, holding a knife in her right hand and a fork in her left, she cut off a small piece from the slightly charred edge of the stump-like steak and sent it into her mouth.

Biting into the burnt surface, Sinon found the texture to be chewy beyond her imagination. But as long as she applied enough force, she could bite down happily, and the animal fat’s sweetness would permeate throughout her mouth. It tasted like a fibrous texture and a wilder flavor were added to beef steak. Even though there was no sauce, the spices were plentiful, and the taste was unexpectedly good.

“That... ‘yummy,’ how do you say that in your language?”

Sinon asked the old birdman, and he replied, “hyuforu (ヒュフォル).” Sinon turned to the child and repeated those sounds, but the child just tilted his head.

“No, no, it’s ‘hyuforu.’”

“Hyuforu.”

“Still a little wrong, ‘hyuforu.’”

“Hyuforu!”

【T/N: Here, the dialog between the two is written identically, so the difference might be in where syllables are emphasized?】

After a few repetitions, Sinon finally conveyed her meaning to the child. As a big smile appeared on the child’s face, the child cried, “hyuforu!” in response, happily nodded a few times, and left.

Suddenly, before my eyes...

《Acquired the Ornithic language skill. Proficiency has increased to 1》.

【T/N: “Ornithology” is the study of birds, so it makes sense for the birdmen to be “Orniths” and for the language to be “Ornithic.” 】

Such a message window floated up. After a blink, Sinon listened intently to the various conversations going on in the large room. While most of them sounded just as strange as before, she found she could occasionally understand fragments of sentences like “Thus the ranches in the South...” or “Have another glass of wine...”

At the after-school meeting, Yui said that the “secret” language of NPCs in Unital Ring was actually a variation of 《The Seed 》’s standard JA language pack, that is, it was Japanese. We just couldn’t understand it because of multiple transcoding layers. It seems that because I acquired the 《Ornithic language skill》, parts of the obfuscation system had been decoded back into Japanese, and some phrases were now understandable. If the skill proficiency level increases, I’m sure that someday the encoding layers can be removed entirely.

But, how exactly do I increase my skill proficiency?

Sinon took another large bite out of the dinosaur steak, chewing and simultaneously recalling in her head the conversation she had before gaining the skill. Then, she turned again to the old birdman.

“Um, what’s a knife called in Ornithic?

“Hm? It’s fetu (フェトゥ).”

“Fetu.”

“No, ‘fetu.’”

“Fetu.”

“Just ‘fetu’ is good.”

“Didn’t you say ‘fetu’?!”

【T/N: Again, the dialog between the two is written identically, so the difference could be in which syllable is emphasized.】

When Sinon inadvertently raised her voice, the message 《Ornithic skill proficiency has increased to 2》 appeared in front of her, and the child ran over to give Sinon a new knife. This made her sure—to increase proficiency in the Ornithic skill, she must perfectly reproduce their language’s non-decoded sounds. While wondering why there would be such a troublesome mechanism, Sinon asked the old birdman.

“...How do you say ‘thank you’ in Ornithic?”

——————————

Forty minutes later.

Sinon, who had returned to her guest room from the banquet hall, fell forward onto the bed.

Fortunately, the birdmen, no, the Orniths didn’t have the barbaric custom of grilling up guests who couldn’t finish their meals. While learning the language from the old birdman, Sinon desperately sent as much of the dinosaur steak into her virtual stomach as she could, but after eating half of it, she was full and conceded defeat. Even so, she thought she must’ve devoured at least a kilogram’s worth of meat. No matter whether she was in the VR world or the real world, Sinon didn’t want to eat meat again for a while.

However, attending the banquet was well worth it, as she not only increased her proficiency in the Ornithic language skill to 10, but she also gained a lot of valuable information. Sinon turned onto her back and opened the game’s circular menu, tapping the map icon.

On the map that opened, only the starting city’s ruins, the wilderness that spread eastward, the rocky mountain where they defeated the giant beast 《Starokepharos》, and the Ornith village some ways north from there were shown. Sinon initially believed she had already covered quite a large area, but with a two-finger pinch, the lit-up area kept shrinking and eventually became as small as a grain of sand. Assuming her map was displayed to scale, Sinon found that the distance she had traversed using her determination to keep going until she died... was less than one-hundredth of the diameter of the world.

However, the question wasn’t how far she was from the edge of the world, but rather how far she was from Kirito and Asuna.

Near the end of the banquet, Sinon asked almost everybody present for whether they knew anything about the Bashin. She was disappointed when the old birdman who had taught her Ornithic and had ventured around the world replied, “I haven’t heard of them,” but there was an attendee who had only heard of the Bashin tribe before, and Sinon used her Ornithic skill, now at a proficiency of 10, to get to the bottom of it.

Although he said he had not personally seen the Bashin people before but had instead only heard of them from his grandfather, even so, his information that “the Bashin village is at the end of the Giyol Flatlands, which stretches far to the southeast” was already priceless. Asuna and Kirito’s cabin seemed to have fallen near where the Bashin lived, so if Sinon moved southeast, she might be able to meet with them. Of course, if Bashin villages existed in every corner of the world map, it’d be possible for Sinon to be going in an entirely wrong direction. Still, for now, she could only believe in being able to rendezvous and proceed.

“...Alright!”

Shino dismissed the map and stood up from the bed with aplomb.

She had already told the Orniths that she would be leaving this evening.

Their reckless challenge to the powerful 《Starokepharos》 seemed to be because the dinosaur had repeatedly attacked their ranch to the south of the village and eaten the precious 《Pusi Octopus》. Sinon didn’t know what kind of domestic animal the 《Pusi Octopus》 was, but the Ornith people were very sorry to learn that Sinon, who had defeated the 《Starokepharos》 that they had challenged many times and failed to overcome, would be leaving the village so soon. If possible, Sinon also wanted to use the place as a base for leveling up—after all, food and lodging were free—but her desire to meet up with her friends as soon as possible was even stronger. The log cabin was also an endearing place for Sinon, and even if she wanted to solve the mysteries in Unital Ring’s world, there was no point if she wasn’t with Asuna, Kirito, and the others.

Re-equipping the 《Belatrix SL2》 and 《Weasel Suits》, Sinon left the hotel and looked around. The lights in the banquet hall across from her had gone out, and there were almost no people in the round plaza. Although it was just past 19:00, it seemed that the Orniths had no nightlife... The moment she thought this, Sinon muttered, “Crap.” She had intended to purchase packable food and drinking water using the only 《100 El Silver Coin》 she had, but the shops on the south side of the square were closed. Whether in ALO or GGO, NPC stores were always open, and thus Sinon had neglected to consider that in this world, VRMMO common sense just didn’t apply.

“...In that case, there’s no guarantee that this village even accepts El silver coins...”

She murmured again and slumped her shoulders. Since she had just filled herself to her mental limit, both her TP and SP bars had fully recovered, but forget about not having food, just the foolish mistake of journeying into the wilderness without water was something that Sinon never wanted to repeat again. Now, should I stay here until the shops reopen tomorrow morning, or is there somewhere in the village where I can get water for free... Sinon stood there, thinking.

“Sinon-san!”

Suddenly hearing her name called, Sinon quickly turned to the right. An Ornith young man and a child were running over. At first, everyone’s faces appeared the same, but now she could roughly identify people apart by the color and pattern of their feathers, the shape of their eyes, and their beaks.

The young man was the gunman Sinon saved during the battle with the 《Starokepharos》. And the child was the maiden who served her at the banquet. The young man standing in front of Sinon lowered the decorative feathers over his eyes and asked:

“Sinon-san, are you already ℵℵℵ?”

Her Ornithic skill had only just reached 10, so their speech was still partially unintelligible, but assuming she was being asked if it was time to go, Sinon nodded.

“Yes, I have to go to the Bashin village.”

Seemingly understanding Sinon’s reply, the young man nodded with a dilemmatic expression.

“Is that so... although I have heard of the Bashin tribe ℵℵℵ, if you’re going to cross the Giyol Flatlands in the southeast, ℵℵ will need to be well-prepared. “Sinon-san, please take this.”

The young man said so, pulling out a shiny black musket. Sinon couldn’t help but blink then shook her head adamantly.

“No, that’s a very important gun to you, right?

“No!”

The maiden with bright light-teal feathers answered this question. She looked up at the gun in the young man’s hand and continued.

“It’s not Brother’s gun, but late Grandfather’s. Dad said, there isn’t ℵℵ anymore, why not ℵ the village’s benefactor Sinon-san ℵ then.”

“Yes. Although it’s an old gun, the quality is still ℵℵ. Even if it can’t shoot as far as Sinon-san’s gun, isn’t it a waste to use such a powerful gun against small beasts and insects?”

Indeed. Since there were only about six .50 BMG rounds for the Hecate left, if there was no way to restock, the sniper would be useless after I ran out. Similarly, the 《Belatrix SL2》’s energy meter was only about sixty percent full. Either way, no matter what kind of ammo it was, the likelihood of being able to restock in the future was very low.

“...Then I’ll take it with gratitude.”

When Sinon replied like this, the young man very happily handed the musket over. As soon as it was received, she felt its reliable weight in her hands. The young man also told Sinon to bring the leather bag that had been slung over his shoulder with her.

“There are bullets and gunpowder in there. If you run out, you can use iron to ℵℵ, the gunpowder is made by mixing the liquid secreted from 《Gold Burst Mushrooms》 with charcoal powder and air-drying the mixture.”

“Um...《Gold Burst Mushrooms》?” As Sinon furrowed her eyebrows, the maiden who looked like the young man’s little sister drew a large circle with her hands.

“At the root of the ℵℵℵℵ cactus! If you step on it accidentally, it will explode and cause a lot of damage, so be careful!”

“Mm... I will.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear the proper name of the cactus, but I originally had no plans to go near any cacti anyway.

As Sinon held the gun in her hand and slung the bag of ammunition over her shoulder, this time, the girl picked up a large cloth bag that was at her feet.

“This is water, butter, and really hard toasted bread! Mom, Grandma, and I made it! And there’s also a fur cloak inside, so use it if ℵℵ comes!”

At the point, it felt it would be rude to voice further misgivings. “If ℵℵ comes,” although I was very concerned about the meaning of this, I couldn’t ask, so I earnestly thanked them and received the cloth bag. The girl added with a smile, “Even though the hard toasted bread is not very good, it will keep for a long time. When ℵℵℵ, just heat it over a charcoal fire, spread some butter, and then it becomes ℵℵ!”

“...Mm, I’ll try it. Thank you so much.”

After bending down once more to say “thank you,” Sinon took the maiden’s hands in her own.

“Uh, can you tell me your name?”

“Sure! My name is Fikki (フィッキ), and my brother’s name is Uferme (ウフェルム)!”

“Fikki... and Uferme. I will return to this village one day, and when I do, I’ll bring lots of souvenirs.”

“Sounds good!”

Looking at Fikki, who nodded animatedly, Sinon made up her mind to definitely keep that promise.

——————————

19:30. After leaving the Ornith village, Sinon first opened the map window and looked for landmarks to the southeast. Fortunately, a massive moon in the night sky provided a bluish-white light, and with the 《Night Vision》 skill’s image enhancement, the approximate terrain was discernible. Gazing in the southeast direction, I could make out a rocky mountain shaped like a gate in the distance.

“...Alright!”

As she encouraged herself with a shout, Sinon took the first step with her right foot onto the parched earth. Though she didn’t know many kilometers she’d have to go to reach the Giyol Flatlands, Sinon resolved to make a breakthrough into the plains tonight and then reach the Bashin village as soon as possible. By defeating the 《Starokepharos》, her level shot up to Level 16, and she now also carried a musket on her back in addition to the 《Belatrix SL2》 on her left waist. Although I didn’t want to fight enormous dinosaurs anymore, if my opponents are centipedes and scorpions, I shouldn’t lose. My max HP was also increased, and my stats were also... after thinking to this point, Sinon remembered that in this world, there were no such stats as STR or AGI.

In their place were a wide variety of “Abilities” that differed from “Skills.” As a result of leveling up, I had accumulated 15 Ability points. If I wanted to break out of the dangerous wilderness on my own, I thought, then I shouldn’t leave those ability points unused.

“...I’m not good at speccing...”

Sinon muttered, switching the map window to the Ability acquisition window. In a previous after-school meeting, Kirito said that once an Ability was selected, you could not respec. Even though that was also the case in GGO, there were just too many options in Unital Ring.

Should I temporarily return to the Ornith village, log off in a safe place, and look for information on the internet? No... since only twenty-four hours have passed since the Unital Ring incident, I can’t trust the information on the internet right now. You have to think for yourself and decide for yourself how to grow—this was the lesson 《XeXeeD》, a GGO player who was killed by 《Death Gun》, left behind.

“...Anyway, let’s use 10 points first.”

Muttering, Sinon hovered her right index finger over the names of the four initial Abilities.

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