Volume 23 Chapter 9

The three rat people who fought alongside Sinon were a minority race of the Unital Ring world known as the “Pattel.” It is said that a hundred of them live in the cave within this border wall.

Sinon met them in this cave and heard the history of the Pattel from an elder who spoke the human language. According to him, long ago, the Pattel also built a beautiful capital city in the northern part of the Giyol Flatlands. However, it perished overnight due to a terrible natural disaster, and the survivors were driven across the plains by enormous rampaging carnivorous dinosaurs. So they ended up living in the cave within the wall.

The Pattel have a legend of fertile forests growing at the far end of the wall, in the far east. A group of young men wanted to move into the forest, but to get to the east side of the wall, they had to first pass through the dome where the large, fierce frog lurked... There were once brave warriors who challenged the frog several times, but all of them were killed, and the Pattel people, including the elders, gave up their dream of crossing the wall. But to rendezvous with us, Sinon had to reach the east side of the wall no matter what—convincing the Pattel people by saying that while focusing on their goal—so with the three young men, they took down the frog.

The giant frog 《Goliathrana》 was stronger than what the legends told, and attacking with the musket alone was far from enough, so they decided to retreat. Just then, Kuro and the four of us rushed in and finally knocked out the frog... This is the story from start to finish that I heard from Sinon.

Anyway, tonight’s final goal of 《Meeting up with Sinon》 had been accomplished. Although it was purely coincidental, because we also met up with Klein and Agil, I planned to return to the cabin the same way we came. Surprisingly, rather than just the three who took part in the battle against 《Goliathrana》, as many as twenty Pattels hoped to accompany us.

“...Kirito, what kind of quest is this?”

Lizbeth asked in a small voice, and I, who was walking in front of the large group that could no longer be called a party, thought about it for a moment and shook my head.

“Nah... No way, right... I just looked at the quest list in the menu, and nothing was there...”

“Well, do you think they’ll settle in the forest once they get there?”

“............Mm.”

“Do you think all of us will even make it to the forest safely before then?”

“............Mm.”

“Are these two ‘Mm’  ’s affirmative or negative?”

“Both.”

“Wooow.” Letting out a long sigh, Liz said to Leafa, who was walking beside her.

“Hey, Leafa, is your brother okay?”

“Ahaha... Brother sometimes regresses into an infant...”

Despite that explanation being taken a little too far, time was too precious now and couldn’t be wasted on a rebuttal. Since the time the 20 Pattels said they wanted to come with us, I’d been single-mindedly thinking about how to deal with it all.

I couldn’t answer Liz’s question with a “yes” nor a “no,” but I just didn’t think the Pattel could survive in the forest—the Great Zeruethelial Forest as they called it—where the cabin was. Water and food were indeed plentiful, but monsters were also abundant. If they encountered a spiny cave bear, which was stronger than 《Goliathrana》, there was a good chance that all 20 of the Pattel would die.

We weren’t sure yet what would happen to NPCs in Unital Ring when they died, and there was a possibility that they’d be resurrected after a certain period, but even so, they mustn’t just be left to die. If it weren’t for the three men who firmly backed Sinon up with only their asphalt pitchforks, 《Goliathrana》 wouldn’t have fallen, nor would we have been able to meet up with Sinon like this.

But on the other hand, it was hard to bring all 20 Pattels to the cabin in the woods. They might barely fit in terms of floor area, but as our numbers had increased, it’d become so crowded to the point we wouldn’t even have a place to lie down and sleep. What would be best... While fretting, I glanced backward and saw Yui walking side by side with Sinon.

She seemed very happy to meet Sinon again, holding Sinon’s left hand tightly, talking with a smile on her face. Although it was impossible, I felt like she had grown a little taller, probably because she had shown astonishing growth as a swordsman today. Though she wanted to be a mage, I believed her abilities were better than 《Intelligence》, 《Strength》 and 《Agility》. With that said, it’d already been a day and a half since the game started, but we still had no idea how to learn magic skills.

As I considered that, I suddenly thought of something and hurriedly opened the ring menu.

I turned to the 《Storage》 menu and, sorting the items by the order in which I acquired them, an unfamiliar item name appeared at the top.

《Magic Crystal of Fire》.

Tapping on the exciting name, I called out the property window. Under the item name and durability, a short explanatory text was displayed. [A crystalline stone condensed with the power of fire. Can be used to learn fire magic. If already learned, proficiency will increase slightly]—.

Finally!

As much as I was tempted to shout that, I fell silent as I seemed to be frightening the nervous Pattels. They were already a little timid about Kuro, who was walking in front of me.

It was now obvious when the fire crystal entered my item storage. The red light that floated up from 《Goliathrana》’s corpse... the moment I caught it, it was probably sent directly into my storage.

The reason no such light emerged from the corpse of the 《Spiny Cave Bear》, but rather from the corpse of 《Goliathrana》, was because the frog could use magic. That is, to learn magic skills in this world, it was necessary to defeat monsters that manipulated the type of magic you wanted. Though, I didn’t know if any random monster would work or if it had to be a boss type to a certain extent.

Tapping again on the open property window, a prompt window appeared with a sound effect.

[To use this item, you must materialize it and crush it in your mouth.]

“............”

Although that was quite a wild way to use an item, after considering that it had come out of a monster’s body, it seemed reasonable enough. Closing the prompt, I pressed the button to materialize the item at the bottom of its property window.

The materialized magic crystal didn’t have an effect light like when I first grabbed it, but it was a transparent stone about 1.5 cm in diameter. It was bright red, and a small flame was sealed in the center. Anyone should be able to learn fire magic if they chewed this candy-like item, but I certainly wouldn’t put it in my own mouth. I looked back and handed it to Yui.

“Look, Yui. Here.”

“......? What is it?”

Yui accepted it with a tilted head, gazed at the magic crystal stone seriously, then revealed a smile.

“Wow, it’s beautiful! Is it for me?”

“Mhm.”

“Thank you, Papa! I’ll cherish it!”

“No, it’s not like that... Um, try tasting it?”

“............What?”

It wasn’t just Yui, but even Sinon, Lizbeth, and Leafa had surprised looks on their faces. Although I should’ve explained the situation from the beginning, that plan lost to my desire to surprise them with a magical gift, so it was left unstated, and I instead urged, “You’ll get it if you eat it. Why don’t you try it?”

“............”

Yui had the exact same look on her face that Asuna did whenever I made a strange remark. But, after she still frankly licked the jewel, her cheeks puffing up as it rolled around in her mouth, Yui spoke in an unclear voice with her mouth full.

“Papa, it doesn’t taste like anything.”

“Kirito, is it really okay?”

After replying, “it’s fine,” to Sinon, who was staring at me, I returned my gaze to Yui.

“Yui, don’t just lick; chew and swallow it.”

“...O-okay.”

With an understanding look, Yui nodded, bit on the magic crystal stone with her right-side teeth, and chewed with closed eyes. Instead of the grinding sound I expected, _crack_, there was a crisp sound—.

Suddenly, a bright red flame erupted from Yui’s mouth.

“Ahhhhhh!”

Yui cried out. I was shocked too, but her HP did not decrease.

“She’s spitting fire, spitting fire!” Lizbeth shouted, wanting to get Yui to drink some water, but by then, the fire had gone out.

“Bro! That prank went too far!”

I shook my head at Leafa, who was waving her fists.

“No, no no no no! Yui, the message about learning a skill popped up, right?”

“Wow... Ah, it popped up... Learned fire, fire magic skills...... Eh!?”

Yui, with rounded, wide eyes, opened her ring menu in the blink of an eye and moved to the 《Skills》 tab. Tapping the top of the list of learned skills, she took a glimpse at the window that opened. —.

“Wow, I think I can use a spell called 《Flaming Arrow》!”

Sinon and the others stared with dumbfounded expressions at Yui, who exclaimed in a sharp voice. I laughed in my happiness and urged my daughter on.

“Try using it.”

“Right! Magic in this world, unlike ALO, is cast through gesture input. Mm...”

Yui, raising her face from the window, extended her little hands in front of her body, and started gesticulating.

“First, this is the basic gesture for fire magic.”

Aligning her five fingers, she extended her right hand straight from diagonally above and placed it on her clenched left fist. Then, a faint red light glowed within both hands.

“Specify the next gesture to activate the magic.”

Opening her left hand and extending it straight forward, Yui then moved her right hand above her shoulder in a pulling motion as if she were drawing a bow. And so, as if connecting her hands together, the red light shone faintly like a thread. Yui quickly looked around, moving her left hand to aim at the rocks about 20 meters in front of her.

“Then, this is the gesture to launch. The more accurate your movements and timing of the three gestures are, the more powerful the magic will be, and the more accurate the hits will be.”

At the same time, she forcefully clenched both her open hands into fists. A small magic circle unfolded in front of her left hand, and the red line turned into a flaming arrow. _Shyoo!_ Accompanied by such a sound, it was shot out. The arrow, tracing its trajectory as it flew, was aimed quite well and hit the rock, causing a slight explosion. While letting out an “ooh~,” we picked up our pace. I initially thought the Pattel tribe would be afraid, but they didn’t seem to be that cowardly, and they just spoke something among themselves.

Compared to the high-level magic used by the mages in ALO, it was neither intimidating nor flashy, but even so, being the first spell I saw in this world apart from 《Goliathrana’s 》 fireball, it gave me a lot of courage. On top of that, apart from repeatedly using magic skills, ingesting magic crystals could also increase skill proficiency; compared to skills for other weapons, there seemed to be many more enjoyable aspects. I’d also like to learn magic someday, but for now, I should support Yui’s growth.

“Yui, how much did your MP drop just now?”

“Well, my max MP is 157, it’s down by 15, so it took less than 10%.”

“Mm... What’s the natural recovery rate?”

“My 《Focus》 Ability is at level 1, and it takes 6.2 seconds to recover 1 point. That means it’d take 93 seconds for my MP to recover from a 《Flaming Arrow》 shot, so it can’t be fired continuously......”

I gently stroked Yui’s head.

“There’s no need to be discouraged; if it’s just natural recovery, I think that’s pretty much how games are. I think we’ll be able to get a potion soon for restoring MP, or it’ll be possible to use some ingredients to make one.”

“If only it were so......”

“I’ll find a way for that, so you don’t need to worry, Yui. Anyway, every time your MP is fully restored, use the spell you currently have and increase your skill proficiency.”

“Right! I’ll do my best!”

Seeing Yui, who finally showed a smile, Leafa said spiritedly.

“Well, I need to learn wind magic skills soon, too! Kirito-kun, if you get the wind magic crystal, give it to me!”

“Heheh. What will come out of your mouth when you eat the wind stone?”

I was simply asking a very fair question, but Leafa forcefully pinched my defenseless left flank. Along the way, the grumbling of Klein, who was guarding the group’s core with Agil, came from behind.

“Ah—ah, even in UR, this is how it ends up feeling like.”

The journey east from the Giyol Flatlands was unbelievably smooth-going compared to our earlier trip going the other direction. Perhaps it was the peace of mind that came with knowing which way to go and knowing that our home was waiting, or even having the luxury of time to enjoy the view.

Although the hyenas and bats kept coming at us as they always had, our combined fighting force was so much stronger now that we were able to repel them without ever falling into danger. We were also spared from being hit by that terrible hail again. The biggest conundrum was providing water and food, which were supplemented by the massive amount of frog meat obtained from dissecting 《Goliathrana》 and the accumulated spring water drawn from the cave—but the female side of camp seemed to not be very receptive to barbecue frog meat.

Fortunately, not only could water and food be harvested in the cave, but large quantities of iron ore and copper could also be collected. These items were held by the women, who refused to put the frog meat in their storage, and the Pattels, who carried small packs. If the ore could be melted, they should be perfectly adequate for making the metal ingots we needed.

It was just past 22:30 when we finally finished crossing the Giyol Flatlands again and reached the entrance to the Great Zeruethelial Forest. Then, we’d be able to get back to the cabin after walking in the woods for a while and crossing the river.

Seeing the tall trees in front of them at the end of their journey, the 20 Pattels jumped and hugged each other; some even cried. From their perspective, the Great Zeruethelial Forest was the “promised land” in the legends passed down from generation to generation, so it was only natural that they’d make a scene. Still, the forest was definitely not the safe, comfortable place they dreamed of.

Sinon, who had learned the Pattelic skill, told them they couldn’t let their guard down just yet and stepped into the forest. We single-track-mindedly headed east while beating down monsters of a vastly different kind from before, and we soon saw a flickering light ahead.

“Ah, it’s the river! We’ll be home in a little while!”

Leafa, cheering, started running with great panache.

“Don’t run! There are monsters in the river too......”

While calling out to her, I also gave chase along with Kuro, but since Leafa suddenly came to a stop, I also stopped in a panic.

“Hey, what’s up......?”

“Brother, that!”

I also looked in the direction where Leafa was pointing. At once, my chest tightened violently.

The trees on the opposite riverbank burned red under the night sky. Reflexively, I opened the map and confirmed our location. In that direction, there was... our log cabin. Listening carefully, I could hear a faint metallic sound over the mingled explosions of the flames. Smelling the burnt stench carried in the night breeze, Kuro let out a low “Gururu...”

“Asuna... Silica... Alice!”

Page 6 – 7 colored illustration.
Alice: "Kh......!"
Asuna: "We will protect our home!"
Kirito: "Asuna... Silica... Alice!"

I said the names of the three people in the stay-at-home group and reflexively began running. Leafa and Lizbeth followed suit.

Crossing the riverbank littered with rocks, large and small, we then chose shallow spots in the river to cross. In the woods on the eastern riverbank, after falling from Aincrad and carving the ground bare in a straight line, the cabin was right ahead.

At this point, the raging flames were clearly visible in the depths of the trees. The metallic sound—the sound of swords clashing with other swords—also rang clearly. Who were we being attacked by... I was afraid I could only assume it was like last night when we were attacked by Mocri’s PK group.

I wanted to run over there immediately, but we had to decide what to do with the 20 Pattels first. Their defenses were just clothes made of rough cloth, their weapons were average tools similar to pitchforks or scythes, and combined, they were equivalent to a level 2 or 3 player based on their previous battles with 《Goliathrana》. If they were caught up in the melee of swords and daggers, there was a good chance of casualties.

“Sinon, please tell the Pattel people to hide around here!”

Sinon nodded and relayed my words to them. After the Pattel tribe conversed for two seconds or so, they shook their heads in unison. While it was hard to read their emotions through their dark, round eyes, “ℵℵℵ!” I could feel their indignation in their cries.

“...Tai and the others say they also want to fight.”

When I heard Sinon’s translation, I couldn’t help but ask, “Tai?”

I’d just ask for the details later. I did feel somewhat uneasy, but there was no time for more translating back and forth.

“Understood, then tell all 20 of them to stay together and to not spread out.”

Waiting for Sinon’s translation, I looked at Leafa, Lizbeth, Klein, Agil, and Yui’s faces.

“Although the true nature and number of the attackers are unknown, if we spend our time doing reconnaissance, Asuna and the other girls will be in danger. We might as well charge into the enemy and fight on the fly.”

“Just count on me to take the decisive victory!”

Klein thumped the leather armor on his chest. But isn’t your inherited skill 《Pursuit》... such smackdowns like that were undesirable at the moment.

With a quick nod of the head, we rushed forward at the same time.

As we advanced at full speed onto the bare ground that stretched from the riverbank to the northeast, from a distance, we could see red flames of fire. Fortunately, it wasn’t the log cabin, but the ancient black pine trees surrounding the circular clearing that were burning. The three-meter-high stone walls and wooden gates that everyone had built together before heading out to the Giyol Flatlands were also intact.

Silver light glinted irregularly on the stone walls. They were the sparks of swords clashing—on a stone wall only 30 centimeters wide—between Asuna and the others’ swords and the attackers’. Beneath the burning trees, the figures of 10, no, 20 or more players pounced one by one on the stone wall, trying to climb it. Were the black pines lit on fire for lighting?

_Clank, clank, clank!_ Violent metallic crashes resounded, and an assailant rolled off the stone wall onto the ground. Asuna, with her long chestnut hair, swiftly turned and stabbed at another assailant who had climbed the stone wall. A little farther away, Alice and Silica refused to be outdone. It seemed that the three of them were solely focused on throwing their enemies off the wall.

Their intentions were obvious. They were buying time—confident that we would come back with Sinon to back them up—until then, they would persevere no matter what to keep the enemy at bay.

Judging by the burning black pine, the battle began more than thirty minutes ago. The attackers could rest on the ground, but as Asuna’s group was continually fighting on the narrow stone walls, not only their HP but also their stamina were most likely nearing their limits. Just as I was running with all my might, a new enemy closed in behind Asuna. Both Silica and Alice were fighting their immediate opponents, unaware of that fact. The trees, enveloped in flames, made such a loud roar that even if I shouted at them from here, they wouldn’t be able to hear me.

Even so, to warn Asuna, I took a deep breath.

However, an instant before I raised my voice, the sound of gunfire rang out behind me.

The enemy who had tried to sneak up behind Asuna fell on his back like he was drunk, staggered a few steps, and fell inside of the wall. Sinon had sniped at him with her musket. Although she was nevertheless highly skilled, if the enemy fell into the stone wall, I was afraid the gate latch would be opened.

My concern was erased with the enemy’s miserable cry, “Wahhh!” Evidently, Asuna’s pet lizard Agah was taking care of him.

The sound of the musket firing was muffled by the sound of the crackling black pine, so it went seemingly unnoticed. I waved my hand to urge Sinon to reload, and then immediately picked up my running pace.

10 meters from the enemy group.

“Kuro, protect Yui!”

“Gaoo!”

At the sound of a reliable bark, I slung the longsword in my right hand, backhanded, over my shoulder.

In yesterday’s battle, my weapon had been a stone knife, and my only defense was a pair of pants, so I had to get into a bitter fight with my PK opponent, but today wasn’t like that. As the tip of my sword trembled slightly, it emitted a yellow-green glow. The instant I felt the Sword Skill activate, I immediately kicked off the ground with all my might. 《Vorpal Strike》.

At this point, one of the assailants finally noticed our approach.

“Hey, you...”

Less than a second later, my sword deeply lacerated his left shoulder. At the same time, red HP bars were displayed above all the enemies’ heads, so they must have formed into a party.

The one I attacked was wearing leather armor, and his weapon was an ax with an iron handle. While it wasn’t clear whether his weapon was inherited from ALO or obtained in this world, its level shouldn’t be very low, similar to Mocri and the others’ equipment from last night.

Even so, perhaps from the effect of my level 5《Strength》 and level 1 《Bone Crush》, my blow shaved away over 80% of his HP. An orange fire arrow flew from behind me, penetrated the man’s left chest, and knocked him to the ground even as he tried to resist. It wasn’t a shot from Sinon’s musket—it was Yui’s 《Flaming Arrow》. The little bit of HP he had left was blown away. The man fell to the ground again. As the ring-shaped HP bar spun faster and faster while growing bigger and bigger, what was formerly his HP bar had become a string of numbers. 《001:01:41:26》.

One day, one hour, forty-one minutes, and twenty-six seconds; that’s how long he survived in UR’s world.

As the ring formed by the figures stopped spinning and disappeared, the sharp cursor fired straight down like a bullet, penetrating the man’s body. His avatar, along with the gear, broke into countless rings and finally turned into ribbons, rising into the night sky.

As if being noticed by that phenomenon.

“Enemy attack! Enemy attack!”

“I’ll go from behind! Let’s take them down with a pincer attack!”

Nearby shield users and a lance user who seemed like the party leader shouted in succession.

Although it was genuinely amusing that they referred to our advance as an “enemy attack,” the time for cordial and friendly talks was long gone. The assailants swarmed from the left and right of the arc-shaped stone wall, wielding swords and lances. Only about half of them had iron weapons; the rest had stone weapons. If they could produce iron, they would’ve at least waited until everyone had iron equipment before attacking, so their situation should be similar to Mocri’s group. Some of them inherited weapons that were light enough to be unaffected by weight restrictions, while others had weapons that were probably bought, picked up, or stolen from somewhere.

Even so, where exactly did they get information about our cabin? They hadn’t stumbled upon our log cabin and then decided on the fly to attack while going north along the river like Mocri and the others. Although I had no conclusive evidence, I believed they attacked after knowing about our stronghold being built here and made the best possible preparations. Could Mocri’s party, which was entirely wiped out, have leaked information to vent their anger? I didn’t think they were the type of people who would do such a thing to the detriment of others yet with no benefit to themselves.

Page 262 illustration.
Page 262 illustration.

 

In the short time I had, Mocri’s thin voice befell my ear.

—“This is what the teacher taught. Don’t just look at one part of your opponent, but grasp the whole situation. The teacher said... this way, you’ll understand what your opponent wants to do and what they won’t do.”

Mocri, who drove me into a corner in our one-on-one fight, said so. Teacher... that is, the person who gave Mocri PvP tutorials was still alive in the UR world. If this raid was also that teacher pulling strings behind the scenes, we could only assume that all 20+ of these enemies were well-versed in PvP.

The question was, was this teacher’s instruction merely one-on-one sparring, or did it involve regimental battles? No, it should be assumed that group battles were included.

Thinking of this in less than a second, I gave instructions to my fellow party members.

“Jump into the forest! Don’t let those guys group up!”

However, Agil immediately came running back, shouting.

“We can’t, the forest fire is already burning on the ground!”

“............!”

Holding my breath and glancing left and right, I noticed the fire on the black pine had reached the lower part of the trunks. Jumping into a place like that would burn us to death in an instant.

It was then that I finally realized the reason the raiders had burned the forest around the cabin: it wasn’t to replace lighting but to prevent guerrilla tactics. As if justifying this speculation, the enemy group that began coming from the left and right—two tanks with large shields at the forefront, main attackers armed with swords and axes at the left and right, and men at the rear with pole weapons—formed a bog-standard model formation. Fortunately, they didn’t have mages, but that didn’t make our situation any better.

On the stone wall, Asuna and the others were still fighting. I looked up at her figure, and as Asuna turned her head at the same moment, our sightlines collided and seemed to erupt into sparks.

Asuna didn’t seem to have any tricks up her sleeve to guarantee our victory either, but even so, she firmly conveyed her will to me, “This home is ours to protect!” The three of them who remained here, always believing that we would come to their rescue, fought back the enemies who had climbed the stone wall with all their might. I had to respond to that will.

Our strengths were the high-quality iron weapons made by Lizbeth, the fire-type magic that Yui learned, the 20 Pattel people, and Sinon’s partner, the 《Hecate II》. Of these, I believed that only the 《Hecate II》 had the potential to make up for the overwhelming difference between our numbers. However, Sinon said she had only 6 rounds of ammo left. Even if it was the kind of weapon that could shoot down a giant dinosaur—in fact, Sinon had already taken one down—I was afraid that six rounds wouldn’t be enough to take out more than 20 players. On top of that, the most potent level of firepower in Unital Ring’s world couldn’t just be exhausted here.

“Hey, what do we do?”

Klein, who was standing next to me, set up his slender katana while letting out a worried voice.

“If you want to take your chances and charge head-on, I’ll go with you!”

“It’s too early for that; there should still be something we can do to turn this situation around.”

“That being said, seeing as how they’re so reinforced, there’s no way we could take a frontal attack approach.”

As Klein said, the group of PKers did not hesitate to set their shields right in the middle and close in on our group little by little. If we rushed to use our Sword Skills, then they would counterattack after their tanks fended us off and quickly secure a decisive victory. They must’ve known from the start that our lineup was biased toward being on the offensive.

Should we retreat to the riverbed? No, in that case, the attackers would only continue to attack the cabin. Most likely feeling the pressure from the enemy, Kuro, who was protecting Yui at the rear, let out a low growl. Behind them, the assembled Pattel tribe also made uneasy noises.

If I were a ruthless leader, I’d probably come up with a battle tactic that would have the NPCs raid the enemy, create chaos, and take advantage of that opportunity to eliminate the tanks. Of course, this was not possible. They defeated their long-standing foe, 《Goliathrana》, and finally reached the promised land, the Great Zeruethelial Forest. There were frightening monsters in the area as well, but it was no laughing matter to involve them in a fight between players to generate casualties...

“...Ah.”

I let out a quiet voice.

Whether it could be called an advantage was a delicate subject, but there was another massive uncertain element in this forest. If it could be summoned, then the raiders shouldn’t have any energy left after dealing with it.

“Klein, Agil.”

I whispered instructions to the two men to my left and right.

“Throw all the frog meat you have into the fire.”

Without waiting for an acknowledgment, I quickly called out my ring menu and materialized 《Goliathrana》’s flesh from my storage. One after the other, I grabbed the solidified chunks of bright red meat from the window and threw them into the flames to my left.

Just a little later than me, Klein and the others started doing the same. In this desperate situation, why didn’t they ask me for the purpose behind my seemingly incomprehensible instructions? This was the trust we built up over the long time we were together. However, if this battle failed, my credibility would be significantly diminished as well, I guess.

“...What are they doing? Disposing of garbage at a time like this?”

One person from the attacking party issued such a query, and another player answered.

“It’s barbecue. Are you trying to lure us out with food?”

“Are they NPCs?”

As they talked, the giant frog’s flesh gradually burned in the flames of the fire, and the meaty smell that permeated it began wafting through the air. Although its pink color was a little too vibrant, frog meat was a fairly high-class ingredient, so by just roasting alone, it produced a strong fragrance of pepper and rosemary mixed together.

Of course, the smell alone could not discourage the attackers. The calm voice of the spear user, the leader, echoed.

“... Let’s get rid of them before they start doing even stranger things. Plan 2!”

Upon receiving that instruction, the assailants collectively shouted in unison, “yessir!”

However, there was no telling what kind of tactic “Plan 2” would be. From the depths of the forest came what sounded like a huge stone mortar moving.

“Grr......”

—It was coming.

The ground trembled slightly. I shuddered. Thanks to the frog meat, we successfully called upon the “uncertain element,” which was a double-edged sword.

The left side of the enemy group, divided into two sections, was visibly unsettled.

“Hey, what’s back there......”

“Ahhhhh!”

A thunderous roar rang out, and a flaming black pine was snapped from its roots. What flew out of the flames was a huge four-legged beast that stood more than two meters tall, even with its front feet on the ground. This was the ruler of the forest that had pushed us into the abyss of terror last night—the 《Spiny Cave Bear》. Perhaps from the scent of roast frog meat tickling its empty belly, the bear had saliva dripping between its thick, pointed teeth and a starving look harbored in its red eyes.

“Wahhh!”

Emitting a sorrowful cry, the enemy’s leading offensive player drew his iron sword in the darkness. But the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 didn’t look frightened and pounced with an agile leap unbefitting of its enormous body, thoughtlessly tearing the offender to pieces with its right hand.

“Ah!”

The player was knocked away like a rag, slammed violently against the stone walls with a terrifying sound, bounced about three meters away, and rolled to the ground. His cursor shot downward and disintegrated his avatar into intertwined ribbons, swept into the night sky.

Although it couldn’t be classified as heavy firepower, after seeing a single hit kill a player who had decent protective gear, it was apparent that the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 was of a higher level than I expected. Even if no magic was used, that physical attack alone surpassed 《Goliathrana》.

Last night, the fact that we managed to knock it down with the “rolling logs off the roof” tactic was a real miracle... I took a step back with Klein and Agil.

I expected the attackers to panic and flee after witnessing their fellow party member being instantly killed by a giant bear, but that was not the case. Quickly recovering from the onslaught, the leader raised his hooked lance, which was clearly an inherited weapon, and bellowed loudly in a gruff voice.

“Don’t panic! Team A and Team B, join together and form the boss formation!”

The leader’s hair was dark red, and his skin was a reddish bronze. He must’ve been a Salamander in ALO. Although I didn’t recognize him, he might’ve been a part of a troop of lancers dedicated to the war between races under General Eugene.

Then, what kind of “teacher” would be able to manipulate such an essential player......

As I fell into doubt again, the assailants ahead, previously divided into two teams, soon joined ranks to form a full regiment of great size. This time, their tank-vanguard rank arrangement also looked like a model formation straight out of a textbook. The three men who were fighting Asuna on the stone wall also jumped to the ground and joined the formation.

“Grraahh!”

Again roaring loudly, the 《Spiny Cave Bear》scratched the ground with its hooked claws and surged forward. That violent body slam would break through even the walls of the cabin.

_Gak-nn!_ The shockwave produced an impact sound. The four tanks lined up and, struggling desperately, barely managed to block the 《Spiny Cave Bear 》’s attack. I couldn’t help but let out an “Oo......”

But I wasn’t just admiring them. Within this confusion, we also had to choose the most appropriate action to take.

“Kirito, what should we do!?”

As Lizbeth tugged my left arm, I desperately wracking my brain. The enemy group had exposed a weak point in our direction, so I wanted to attack there, but if we approached rashly and were not careful about being targeted by the bear, we’d lose more than we’d gain.

I didn’t mind just letting the battle continue between the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 and the raiders, hoping the bear would win. Even if it lost, the enemy party would’ve suffered huge losses, so we could then surround and annihilate them...

Right when I wanted to announce my completely reasonable, albeit ruthless, approach.

“Kirito.”

Someone to my right called out to me, and I looked over. Standing behind Agil was Silica, who was originally on top of the stone wall. Silica stopped me with her right hand.

“Kirito, that black bear, is that the one I was asked to tame?”

“Ah... ah, yes, but that’s a wish for the future...”

“Even so, I don’t want to give up on becoming an idol tamer now.”

As Silica said that with a sincere expression, on her head, the little dragon Pina also let out a short chirp.

—No matter whether this bear wins or loses, the one you’ll be trying to tame will be another spawn.

I swallowed those words. For Silica, who had been a tamer since her SAO days, this was not a simple matter. If we used the bear as a pawn here, even if she successfully tamed another spawned instance of the monster, she wouldn’t be able to truly connect with its heart... I could understand that, and I wanted to respect that feeling.

I felt Silica’s unwavering resolve. I looked to the stone wall in the distance, where Asuna and Alice were standing side by side. With their long swords in hand and their long hair fluttering, as if helping me to make the decision, they nodded in unison.

“...I see. Leave the front to the bear. Let’s attack from behind.”

When I turned my face to say so, Silica said, “Right!” Klein nodded, “That’s the only way to go!” and patted me on the back.

Ahead, the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 and the raiders were engaged in a heated battle. The bear’s primary attack—that is, a sweeping motion with the arms swung out—was blocked by the four shield-wielding players with difficulty. The swordsmen on the left and right and the lancers at the rear were responsible for the offensive; this was not just some haphazardly organized combo. I hadn’t engaged in combat with the bear yet, so I couldn’t tell exactly how much HP it lost. Depending on when we joined in the battle, there was the possibility that we would end up fighting a raging 《Spiny Cave Bear》 that had lots of HP left.

After making eye contact with my companions, I slowly raised the sword in my right hand. Then, right when the spiky cave bear began its sudden attack, I swung it down hard.

Agil, Klein, and I lined up in a row and charged. My target was the lancer who was commanding the troop from the middle of the enemy formation’s back row. Before that, Agil unleashed the two-handed ax ranged attack skill 《Whirlwind Chop》, killing the two men who were guarding their leader.

“Wah......”

“They’re here!”

Despite being knocked down, the two men still shouted loudly, and all the enemies in the back row looked back. Two other players with excellent reaction speed aimed for Agil, who was frozen in place by his Skill’s 《Post-Motion》.

“No, you won’t!”

Klein unleashed a basic one-handed curved sword Skill, 《Reaver》, and I jumped into the battle with 《Vertical》. With our perfectly synchronized strikes, we knocked down the two enemies.

By this point, the four enemies had fallen on the ground. Following Agil, Klein and I were also frozen rigid. The enemy captain shouted.

“You pulled this dirty trick, didn’t you! Kirito!”

—These guys, how do they know me?

I cursed in my mind while staring at his sharp blade that glowed with a bluish-green light. That was the two-handed spear ranged attack Skill, 《Whirlpool》. Although it was less powerful than the two-handed battle ax’s 《Whirlwind》, it came with a《Dazed》negative status effect.

At this moment, I finally saw the name 《Schulz》, written above the enemy leader’s HP bar. Schulz... was it? Although I could not recall any previous impressions from his name, I believed that it would now become as unforgettable as Mocri’s name.

All three of us were repulsed by 《Whirlpool》; no, just before that.

Two explosions roared from behind, and two lines of fire struck Schulz directly in the chest and right shoulder. It was Yui’s magic and Sinon’s bullet. Schulz scrambled back to his feet, but his Sword Skill had already been stopped from activating. Lizbeth and Silica also jumped into the fray, knocking enemies down using the basic skills of a warhammer and a short sword.

At this moment, I, finally free from the 《Post-Motion》 rigidity, raised my sword while leaning my body forward as far as I could.

If I could land all three hits of three-hit Skill 《Sharp Nail》, Schulz’s HP could be zeroed. But if it was launched normally, the Skill would not be able to strike an enemy who had fallen to the ground. In this case, I had to lower the body’s center of gravity excessively. Yet, if I deviated too much from the normal stance, the system would judge it as an irregular posture and refuse to launch the Skill.

Pressing my toes into the ground to support your body, I inputted my movements as carefully as I could. The iron sword emitted a high-frequency red light.

The moment I kicked off the ground, I exchanged a glance with the fallen Schulz.

In his eyes, there was surprise, there was bitter remorse, what else? Doubt......? About what?

It occurred to me then; I wanted to ask him after all this time. From whom did you hear about the location of our cabin? How did you manage to organize such a large force? Why attack us without saying a word? But it was too late. An activated Sword Skill could not be stopped.

With the aid of the system, I instantly jumped a distance of five meters. Schulz didn’t force himself up, but instead turned on his back and raised his shield with both hands, but he overestimated the trajectory of my strike. 《Sharp Nail》’s first hit, launched from my almost prostrate sprint, deflected the hilt of his spear and stabbed into Schulz’s neck.

The rebounding sword disregarded inertia, followed up with a second strike, and then a third strike. A bright red sword light was carved in the air, mingling with the blood-colored damage effect. Schulz’s HP bar decreased dramatically and eventually disappeared entirely.

“Kirito... you really...”

As Schulz muttered, his body was pierced by the diamond-shaped cursor that shot out of his HP bar, disintegrating his avatar into countless rings.

—Really, what?

As much as I wanted to shout that, I didn’t think those words were appropriate for a man who fought to the end before leaving this world forever. Not to mention, the fight wasn’t over yet.

Straightening up, I yelled while looking around at the enemy players around me.

“Your captain is dead! If you run now, we won’t chase you!”

In Underworld, when we were fighting the group of Goblins in the cave near Rulid Village, the remaining enemies fled in a flash, but the nearby players now showed surprising expressions and shouted, “What a pain! Now that we’re at this point already, how can we escape now?

He charged while waving his short sword, and I scrambled to defend. After thinking about it from another perspective for a moment and realizing he was right, I pushed him back with all my strength and then blew him away with 《Vertical》.

From then on, it was all chaos and confusion, where neither command nor collaboration existed.

Half of the enemies were fighting the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 while I was carefully trying to not get too close to that side and cutting down the other half of the enemies. Sinon’s musket and Yui’s fire magic were reassuring; they had successfully obliterated an enemy who tried using an advanced Sword Skill to turn the tide, so I focused only on my immediate opponent. Of course, the enemies weren’t all fools, either, so some wanted to attack Sinon and Yui, but Kuro and the Pattels defended them well.

Assessing the battle’s situation, Asuna and Alice determined there wouldn’t be any more attacks on the cabin. So, the two who jumped down from the wall raged as if fueled by their frustration at the prolonged defensive battle forced upon them. Within five minutes, the eight backup players of the enemy group had disappeared from the field.

I sighed and started to comfort Asuna and Alice.

“You’ve both worked hard, I’m sorry I’m late...”

“Groooooo!”

A growl of a higher volume and ferocity than before interrupted my words.

As I looked to the left, in front of the remaining eight enemy players, the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 spread its arms. I saw that action yesterday too. The next attack was—

“Crap... everybody, get down!”

I flung my body to the ground as I yelled out. The others did so just half a second later.

In the next moment, a lightning symbol floated before the bear’s chest and glowed white.

The countless needles that radiated out engulfed the eight enemy players.

Last night, we hadn’t anticipated this dreaded ranged attack, and as a result, Alice, even in her inherited gear, had her HP cut in half. As a stray needle swept over my head like a bullet, I hurriedly pressed my face to the ground.

The sound of metal needles sticking into the surrounding dirt, trees, and rocks constantly rang out. Maintaining my posture, I also confirmed the HP of my teammates, praying that nobody would die while waiting for the attack to end.

A cry of “That hurts!” came from the rear left. With that, Klein’s HP was drastically reduced. Immediately afterward, Agil took a hit, then my left shoulder was penetrated. If lying on the ground still wasn’t enough to avoid pins flying toward us, then the only way to dodge the attack was probably to dive underground or fly into the air. The balance of the game was totally destroyed... I’d say, falling to this point 25 km away from the starting point as level 1 players meant we could be done for at any given moment. I’ll admit this, so I prayed desperately: please give me a chance to seriously raise my level.

That was horrifying! Eventually, the needle rain stopped.

I raised my face, trembling in fear, and saw the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 rest its front feet on the ground, where eight enemies stood. The four tanks held their shields up in a row, protecting the four vanguards behind them. They were able to react to the needle firing attack from such close range; although they were the enemy, I had to admit, their judgment ability and defenses were strong...

The sharp spindles of the ring cursors displayed above their heads flew straight down. Their eight avatars were simultaneously disintegrated into countless particles and absorbed into the night sky.

After the effect light faded, black item drop bags fell and piled up, but I didn’t have any extra energy to be attracted by such things. Sprawled on the ground, “Mmmm...” I groaned.

The 《Spiny Cave Bear》 let out short growls. Its red glowing eyes stared at us. It was clearly targeting our side, but I couldn’t immediately judge whether to run away or fight.

Because I was hit by its needle, the 《Spiny Cave Bear 》’s cursor also showed up in my field of vision. It had a little more than 60% of its HP remaining. I believed the raiders had fought it tirelessly, but as feared, the bear was still in good spirits. I didn’t think the probability of victory in battling it was zero, but none of us had ever died, and I couldn’t say anything with certainty.

—No, wait a minute. Indeed, we didn’t say we’d fight the bear...

Just then, a small figure suddenly appeared behind Agil, Klein, and me. It was Silica. She had only Pina on her right shoulder; without her short sword, she approached the 《Spiny Cave Bear》.

“Hey, hey, Silica!”

Panicking, I stood up and shouted. Silica, with her back to us, said in a suppressed voice.

“Leave it to me!”

Of course, she didn’t mean for us to let her kill it, but rather to tame it. However, honestly, that was harder than being beaten down after a fight. I thought that bringing Kuro here with us was a miracle. Still, back then, when both Kuro and we were caught in a hailstorm and about to freeze to death, my judgment was undeniably impacted.

On the other hand, the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 in front of us, perhaps from being attacked for so long, radiated a fury so strongly that it showed no sign of calming down at all even after killing eight people. In that sense, this was opposite to how it was with Kuro: if the bear was like this, it couldn’t be tamed by Silica, who didn’t inherit her taming skill.

Silica, however, did not flinch, approaching the angry, growling bear. She held something in both hands. It was... the frog meat that was cooked nicely in the fire.

Just as I realized this, I finally thought about what we were supposed to do.

“Klein, Agil, gather all the meat from the forest.”

“Right, right.”

“Understood.”

Keeping Silica’s figure at the edge of my peripheral vision, I bent over and moved so as not to irritate the bear. The fire that Schulz and others set had somehow burned almost all of the 《Meguri Pine Trees》 around the cabin. From the scorched black ground, I picked up the sizzling frog meat and put it in my storage.

On her end, Silica gently tossed the chunk of flesh from her left hand toward the groaning 《Spiny Cave Bear》, about 2 meters away.

“Dinner’s ready, Bear-san.”

The response to that statement was.

“Hhaoooaaaaaa!”

It was a roar like that.

The 《Spiny Cave Bear》 stood up on its hind feet and waved its fingernails like knives. The physique of a bear that could easily be taller than 3 meters if standing upright and of Silica, who was second smallest only to Yui among the party members, was a reason for despair. Of course, the size of an avatar had nothing to do with its combat power in VRMMOs, but despite this, I could only imagine Silica being needled to death by the bear like the raiders were.

However.

The bear raised its head, lowered both arms slowly, and went back to walking on all fours. It took just a whiff of the frog meat that fell in front of it, then took a bite, chewed it a few more times, and swallowed it.

“.........”

I couldn’t help but stop picking up meat and stared at the bear and Silica. In Silica’s vision, the circular meter should have shown up. Silica timed it and threw another piece of meat from her right hand. The bear bit down on it immediately.

Seeing Silica open her menu with both her hands empty, I panicked and whispered a plea to Agil and the others.

“Give me all the meat you can find.”

Soon, it wasn’t just Agil and Klein, but even Liz, Leafa, Asuna, and Alice sent me a trade request. I pressed the OK button repeatedly to accept everything and then approached Silica until we were within the 2.5 meters needed to complete a transaction. The trade request I sent out was also immediately accepted, and the frog roast entered Silica’s storage one after the other.

For the rest of it, all we could do was pray to the heavens.

Silica kept tossing frog meat according to the meter that only she could see. The bear showed no signs of tiring either, biting into the flesh and swallowing. Silica should’ve received more than thirty pieces from the trade, but at her current rate, she wouldn’t need three minutes before running out. By then, if the taming hadn’t worked out, we could only choose between running or fighting.

From over Silica’s shoulder, I stared at the amount of 《Goliathrana Roast》 she had left displayed on her storage window. Ten became five, three, two, one... zero.

Silica, who had just tossed the last piece of roast, whispered in a strained voice.

“The meter just stopped at 99 percent.”

“......Ah, it probably had too much of the same meat, I’ll look for something.”

I replied, hastily trying to get back into the forest. However, Silica shook her head gently.

“No, I don’t think giving it the same meat will cover that last one percent. We’ll just have to challenge the game now.”

At some point, Silica had prepared a long rope in her left hand. The taming would be successful if it could be hung around the bear’s neck and restrained, but the odds of that succeeding were less than ten percent.

“Wait a minute, is there any other food...?”

I opened my storage and scrolled through the interface. Although it had only been a day and a half since I arrived in this world, my storage was stuffed with all sorts of random ingredients. But, none of them were particularly good. Hyena meat, fishtails, bat feathers... I didn’t any of their tastes could satisfy the bear. What did bears like? Salmon? Apples? Bamboo shoots? I hadn’t seen any of those in this world.

Would we have to tie the rope with just 99%... just as I was about to give up.

“Silica, take this.”

Sinon, who had unknowingly approached from behind, said so, extending a fist-sized blue jar. I couldn’t tell its contents. But now, we could only trust Sinon, who had started in a different place from us and crossed the vast Giyol Flatlands.

Without hesitation, Silica received the jar and reached into it with her right hand, fishing for the contents. What came out was a white, semi-solid lump. She couldn’t throw it because it was soft, so she just approached the bear like that.

“Look, it’s delicious.”

While whispering softly, Silica stretched her right hand out. The 《Spiny Cave Bear》 stared intently.

“Gr...”

A short growl, or perhaps a sniff. But it showed no signs of a better response. Sinon murmured in a hoarse voice.

“Maybe that’s not the way to go...”

That was a possibility. While it couldn’t be called a boss, the 《Spiny Cave Bear》 was evidently rare and might only accept processed goods as bait. But what was the best way to add to that white lump?

Suddenly, a small shadow passed between Sinon and me. Judging by its size, I thought it might’ve been Yui, but it wasn’t. It was a Pattel clad in tea-colored fur, with a slender tail and a plump body. It was the leader.

Worthy of being a rat, the Pattel scurried over to Silica with flying speed, tilting the yellow jar he was holding in both hands over Silica’s right hand. A sweet, viscous golden liquid spilled out, covering the white lump. After his work was done, he ran back to the rear again at a breakneck speed.

“............?”

Sinon and I opened our mouths at the same time. Immediately after...

The 《Spiny Cave Bear》 sniffed at it again. Then, it licked at the unnameable object in Silica’s hand.

In that instant, Silica’s left hand moved. She hung the long rope around the bear’s thick neck, made a loop, and tied it tightly with both hands. The 《Spiny Cave Bear 》’s gigantic body shone brightly—

Its glowing, vibrant red cursor turned green.

In the silence, Silica sat limply.

“Ga-oo.”

【T/N: The onomatopoeia here is 「がうっ」.】

The bear barked, then licked Silica’s face with its enormous tongue.

As I stared blankly at that scene, voices came from behind.

“...Did it work?”

Standing there was Alice. There was still some suspicion emanating from her sapphire pupils that remained clear even at night. I wasn’t immediately convinced either, but the bear’s ring cursor had undeniably changed from red to green.

“It worked... didn’t it?”

“Honestly, I still can’t believe it worked. Silica could probably tame even the wild flying dragons of the Wesdarath Empire.”

“Let’s bring her into Underworld sometime to try it out.”

I replied in that way, then turned my gaze back toward Sinon.

“...So, what was that white lump?”

“Butter.”

“Butter?! Where’d you get that?!”

“It was given to me by an Ornit child.”

“...Is that so......”

I shook my head slightly and looked toward the frozen Pattel tribe at the rear.

“...Then, what did that ratman spread on the butter?”

“Well......”

Sinon shrugged her shoulders, but Yui, who was holding hands with Asuna, piped up.

“It seemed like honey, Papa.”

“Ah, honey?! Where do they get this stuff?”

“It is said that the Pattel people of long ago raised bees on the Giyol Flatlands. They say it’s a treasure that the family keeping the honey has passed down through the centuries.”

“Honey that’s been passed down for centuries? Why such a valuable thing......”

While I once again turned my gaze to the Pattel tribe, Yui also tilted her head slightly.

“I didn’t ask that much; do you want to go ask?”

“I think it’s better not to ask that.”

Before I could answer, Asuna smiled and said so.

“If Kirito asked me why I helped someone, wouldn’t I be a little embarrassed?”

“...Maybe...”

—_In fact, I’m always helped by others..._ As I nodded while thinking that, Kuro nestled his head against my right waist, purring in a way that seemed like it was laughing.

“Well, if that’s the case, then it’s understandable the bear was tamed.”

Hearing Leafa’s words, Lizbeth shot her a surprised look.

“Why would that be understandable?”

“Because it’s honey butter! Who can resist something like that?”

“You’re the only one......”

I was about to rebut with that when my stomach growled. Agil and Klein laughed unceremoniously, and the girls laughed along with them.

In the end, I didn’t get the opportunity to ask Schulz why they attacked the log cabin.

However, we should expect things that happen twice to happen a third time. The third time around, it would be an attack of a much larger scale; that was our shared belief.

So, after happily rendezvousing with Sinon, Agil, and Klein, we began to discuss our defense plans around a campfire in the front yard of the log cabin.

In the southwest corner of the courtyard, surrounded by high stone walls, the massive body of Misha (named by Silica), the 《Spiny Cave Bear》, laid on the ground and fell asleep. Unexpectedly buried in its soft belly fur, Kuro and Agah had also fallen into a slumber. That gratifying sight made the fierce battle outside the walls seem unreal. However, if we could not provide enough food, the moment Misha’s tamed state was lifted, that hellish drama would come back to life. After the meeting, we had to go search for what the bear liked.

The 20 Pattels rested temporarily in the living room of the log cabin. But in this game, since we also had to sleep in a safe zone before logging out, we would have to construct new buildings for the Pattel people someday. There were still piles of tasks to complete, but the most important thing right now was—

“I see... we can only strengthen the walls then... we’ll also have to increase the height to about twice as high.”

Klein said so while opening his arms, and Alice nodded slightly.

“Because the enemies just now were not afraid to climb up the wall...... we’ll have to make it so that people would take a lot of damage if they fell. And, hopefully, we can make the surface as smooth as possible.”

_The ideal wall would be like the white walls of the Central Cathedral..._ That thought almost made me laugh, but thankfully, I managed to hold myself back. But the Esteemed Knight’s keen senses didn’t seem fooled as she stared at me.

“Kirito, I see you’ve been silent; any comments?”

“Sorry, sorry, I’ve also been thinking a lot, actually.”

I shook my head gently, coughed, and said.

“Well... while I have no objection to strengthening our defense, I think we’ll someday reach the limit going in that direction. Even if the wall was tall, it’d be thrown out of the equation if a ladder was leaned over it, and the means of long-distance attacks will increase in the future as the players’ levels increase...”

“Then how are you going to protect this place?”

At Lizbeth’s urgent questioning, I voiced the thoughts that I had been suppressing ever since we welcomed the Pattels.

“Don’t you think the few times we’ve been attacked is because our player house just stood here in isolation?”

“Huh? Are you planning to add more houses?”

“Mm, but not just one or two. We need to build a town here.”

“..................”

My nine comrades, including Yui, all wore dumbfounded expressions.

The first one to speak was Asuna.

“Kirito, even if all those buildings are built, it can’t become a city without people living in them.”

“The Pattels need houses anyway, don’t they? If they had five or six houses, wouldn’t it become very urban-like?”

“Are we using the Pattel as a shield?”

At Sinon’s pointed question, I hurriedly waved my hand.

“No, no. They’ll be protected, too. It’s just that if it’s hard for players to attack here, they might work for us as well...”

As I looked around at my partners who all wore complex expressions, I went on to explain.

“We walked halfway across the Giyol Flatlands, and I found that it’s quite blessed in terms of resources. There’s an almost endless supply of the stones and trees needed to build houses. While iron ore might’ve been our biggest problem so far, that should’ve also been solved thanks to Silica bringing us a solution.”

At this point, Leafa interjected.

“Eh... can’t we get it from the bear?”

“That should only be if it’s defeated, but it shouldn’t be if it’s tamed, because then, powerful monsters could become infinitely-providing pets. If you gathered ten bears to form a bear troop, you’d be able to do whatever you wanted.”

“I don’t want to rechallenge taming another one.”

As Silica winced, Pina, who was sleeping on her head, opened one eye as if to say “exactly,” and chirped. After we all laughed at that, it calmed back down.

“Well, regarding that, I’ll go check out its nest... Anyway, I don’t think it’ll be that hard to add buildings. It’s just that the Pattels alone aren’t enough people to build the town, so sooner or later, we’ll have to find other NPCs.”

“I would be very relieved if the Bashin could move here!”

Hearing Yui say so, Lizbeth nodded deeply. It was absolutely impossible to move NPCs in other VRMMOs, but I think in this world, it could be done by negotiation. While the Bashin were reliable, I hoped, if possible, that the Ornit birdmen Sinon encountered in the western part of the Giyol Flatlands would also move in. The town’s defense would be twice as strong if the musket users could participate...

“But, Kirito.”

Suddenly, Agil called my name, and I turned around to face him.

“You’re playing this game to try and beat it too, right? If you want to get to the place where the aurora pointed in the system announcement yesterday, you’ll have to move from this forest sooner or later, right?”

Embarrassed, I blinked twice before nodding slightly as I had completely forgotten about the system announcement before Agil called me out.

“Well, um... that’s true. However, when you’re out on a long journey, there’s a big difference in whether or not you have a safe place to return to. Especially for us, our inherited equipment is all very heavy... If we kept them in our own storage all the time, our item carrying capacity would be greatly pressed, and if we kept it in the houses’ storage, then their protection must be strengthened in every way possible...”

At once, the party members revealed serious expressions. Sinon’s 《Hecate II》 should be the most important, but everyone’s inherited defensive gear and weapons were their treasured partners. Unfortunately, my beloved 《Black Welt》 became the raw material for everyone’s iron weapons, but my other 《Holy Sword Excalibur》 absolutely had to be protected, and everyone felt the same way.

“I’m basically in favor of Kirito’s idea of building a town. How does everyone else feel?”

After Alice made this announcement, the others voiced their approval in droves. She nodded lightly, then looked at me again.

“......But if we start designing from scratch, we’ll really have our work cut out for us. A week, or even a month, wouldn’t be surprising, would it? What if there’s a third attack before then?”

“Nah, we won’t need that much time!”

I jumped to my feet and clenched my right hand.

“It won’t even take a week! It’s 23:00, hmm, we have four hours till 03:00 to get the basic form of the town into shape!”

After I declared that, Alice said, “Huh?! Four hours?!” Asuna smiled wryly and said, “I’m sure I’m not going to get enough sleep tonight, either.” Yui added, “Let’s do our best!” to encourage everyone.

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