Note: This chapter is 56% translated. If you like what you see and want to read a better adapted, less literal translation, please support the author by getting the officially licensed and translated light novel when it is released (by Yen Press for English). They cost a fraction of the price many bestselling novels are sold at, and best of all, you'll help Kawahara Reki continue the story we love!
The meeting, which had taken an unexpected turn, was broken up, and Argo and I left the coliseum while blending in with the rest of the crowd.
We’d initially planned to just check things out for a bit before leaving early, but it turned into a situation we had to see from start to finish. Alice and Kuro were probably already tired of waiting. I wanted to return immediately, but I had to at least take advantage of the shops, or else I’d have gotten debuffed for nothing.
After asking a passing player for the buyer’s shop’s location, I entered a store in the corner of the market. I showed the shop owner, a past-middle-aged man with a good physique but a somewhat unhealthily pale complexion, the skins and bones of hyenas, bison, and newts that I had been keeping in storage. He offered to buy them for some amount called 3 El 78 Dim.
【T/N: The owner of the shop is described as 初老 (shorō), which can refer to the elderly or anyone of age 40 and older.】
Argo and I looked at each other. Aside from the hyenas, the bison—officially known as the «Great Gelk Bison»—was a considerably high-level monster out of the ones that spawned on the Giyol Plains; the newts and axolotls from the Great Wall dungeon absolutely weren’t weak opponents, either. Despite all that, this amount of money? As if he could read my dissatisfaction, the store owner said.
“Hey, hey, if that’s not enough to make you happy, I can give you a little better deal. These materials are all scarce in this area, after all. But that’s the limit of what I can do for rawhide”
“Ah—, so I can sell it for more if I tan it myself first...”
I thought of taking it back and tanning it, but I had no idea what kind of tools I’d need, what the procedure was, or when I’d be able to next revisit the city. As I was going “umu-umu” and mumbling, a man in leather equipment looking at the shelves of materials for sale in the corner of the store turned around and said.
“Hey, Nii-chan, 3 El 78 Dim is a huge sum of money, alright? I’ve been hesitating for a while now over whether I should buy ten pieces of this material for 1 Dim”
...An NPC? A player? I was somewhat perplexed.
“I mean, where can I get such fine-looking fur? If there’s a little-known good spot nearby, could you sell me the info for 3 Dim?”
Judging him to be a player, I shrugged.
“Nah—, it’s not very close. It’s farther north of where Aincrad fell”
“Ooeh, you’ve already gone that far, huh! In other words, though you appear poorly dressed, could you actually be the leader of a strategy team”
“Stra… strategy team? Is that what you call it?”
“At first they were calling them the gachi-zei and starter groups and top players and all that stuff, but before I knew it, they became strategy teams. Speaking of which, didn’t people from the strategy teams meet at the coliseum just now? There was a huge racket, and then it suddenly went quiet; did something happen?”
【T/N: ガチ勢 (gachi-zei) is slang for the "hardcore crowd."】
I almost reflexively touched my neck, but I managed to hold back.
“No, I was just looking around. But hey, thanks for the advice”
I shifted my gaze from the man who went back to the shelves to the store owner.
“The quote from earlier is fine”
“Ok. That’s a deal”
With a “jariin,” the material items on the counter disappeared, and an acquisition message [1 El Brass Coin × 3, 1 Dim Copper Coin × 78] was displayed in my field of view.
I looked around the store to be sure, but I didn’t see any bullets or explosives. Waving bye to the shopkeeper, I stepped out into the street, breathed out a sigh, and started walking north.
“Well…… Sinon’s Hundred-El silver coin turned out to be a big sum of money. It feels like it’d be about 10,000 Cor from SAO, right? I wonder where she got it”
Though I wanted to make conversation with the person next to me, there was no response. Come to think of it, my companion had been awfully quiet ever since we left the coliseum.
When I called out her name as I peered into her hood, Argo stopped suddenly. Soon, a hoarse voice sounded feebly.
“I’m sorry, Kii-bou. It’s because you were defending me that you ended up getting hit by that ****** magic.”
“What, so you were worried about that”
After hesitating for half a second, I declared in my mind, “this person isn’t Miss Hosaka Tomo, but the «Rat»!” and wrapped my right arm heartily around Argo’s neck.
“If we’re going to talk about that, I can’t even begin to relate how much help I got from «Argo’s Strategy Guide». Compared to what I owe you from the SAO days, this kind of thing is nothing at all. As the old saying goes, there is no night that never dawns and no curse that can’t be broken”
“I’ve never heard of that saying, but yeah, there might be a way to dispel it since it’s magic”
Argo nodded coyly under my arm, and as something occurred to me just then, I requested, “Ah, and, about this magic… could you keep it a secret from Alice and Asuna and the others for a while? I’d like to tell them about it after I find the clue to breaking this curse”
“You’re the same as ever, Kii-bou”
As she slipped out from under my arm, the informant said with a face and voice that seemed to have regained their usual form.
“I won’t tell. But if someone were to offer a high price for it, then no guarantees”
I bought all sorts of food from a food stall with the coins I just got and pumped as much free water as I could get from the well. Then, Argo and I dashed back to the abandoned house near the north gate. I put my armor back on at the entrance before stepping inside. Though I’d already sent a message while we were on the move, I knocked twice before opening the door just to be sure. In that instant.
Along with such a rebuke from Alice,
Kuro’s kittenish voice resounded in stereo. While stroking the black panther’s neck after he pounced over, I apologized to Alice.
“Sorry, sorry, there was an unexpected turn of events…”
“Couldn’t you have at least told me when you’d be back?”
“Ah… right, I’ll make sure to from now on… Speaking of which, we should notify Silica and the others who took the responsibility of watching over camp……”
“I already let them know that we won’t be back until around midnight at the earliest”
“Th-thank you. Um, here, if you’d like”
I retrieved from storage the food I bought and arranged them on a timeworn table in the center of the room. Although it wasn’t very high-class because it was a food stall menu, whether it was the thin bread which opened like a bag and was stuffed with roasted meat and vegetables like a pita sandwich, or the large chunks of meat on long skewers which were grilled to a savory perfection like shish kebab, or the cheese and onions which were baked until they melted and filled inside tortillas like quesadillas, everything looked and smelled considerably appetizing.
But as soon as Alice saw this, she fixed me with a stare,
“Kirito, don’t tell me you…”
“Ah, no, I didn’t spend any of Sinon’s money. I bought it all with the money I got selling the materials I had. Here, I’ll give this back to you… Unfortunately, I didn’t find any bullets”
Alice’s expression finally softened after I returned the leather bag containing the hundred or so El I’d been entrusted with.
“As for the contents in here, I’ll trust you—that said, I won’t hold back then”
She took a bite out of the quesadilla, and after chewing, she critiqued, “It’s really good”. Though Alice was an Integrity Knight in the Underworld, nobler than even the emperors of the Four Empires of the Human World, she did not seem to be picky at all in her taste; instead, she seemed to like the commoners’ menus. Of course, since her mechanical body in the real world was incapable of eating, she could only eat in the virtual world. But in ALO, she often requested burgers, stews, and spaghetti from Asuna. Asuna had been trying her best to recreate curry and ramen for Alice, but that progress was also interrupted by this forced conversion.
While hoping that one day I’d be able to sit around the table with Alice in the real world, I took a shish kebab in my hand. Then, Kuro pushed at my waist with his head, so I took the meat off the skewer and fed it to him piece by piece.
I suddenly thought. Once someone reached the «Land Indicated by the Aurora» and cleared the game, the Unital Ring world would probably disappear. Would Kuro, Agah, and Misha disappear then, too?
“Hey Kii-bou, aren’t you going to eat?”
I looked up at Argo, who was holding a shish kebab in her right hand and a quesadilla in her left.
“I’ll eat, of course”
I grabbed a pita sandwich and brought it to my mouth. To be honest, I didn’t have much of an appetite, but we had to fully recover our TP and SP before leaving. Opening my mouth wide and biting into it, I felt the realistic rendering of the chewy texture of thin slices of meat and raw vegetables. It wasn’t just the graphics; the taste reproduction engine’s performance was also far superior to existing VR worlds.
Who on earth made this, and for what purpose?—As this question resurfaced, I chewed it up and swallowed it along with the pita sandwich.
As we stepped past the north gate out into the field, I realized I had one thing left to do.
“Ah, that’s right… Argo, you haven’t checked on the «Ancient Vengeful Ghost» quest, have you? Are you sure it’s okay?”
“It’s fine; now isn’t the time to worry about that, is it”
Argo shrugged her shoulders, and across from her, Alice said.
“What on earth happened?”
“We’ll talk as we move.”
After making sure there were no players in sight, we began running northeast.
Alice’s expression gradually turned grim as we recounted the meeting’s events, omitting one point. As soon as I shut my mouth, she shouted, not bothering to hide her anger.
“What is up with that Mutasina or whatever woman! Had I been there, I would have cut her down in a single strike!”
“Nah, her level’s pretty high, maybe higher than all of us”
“That doesn’t matter! …But how did you guys stay safe when all the other players were cursed?”
What I left out, of course, was the fact that I took a hit from the «Stranglehold of the Abominable». Fortunately, the ring burned into my neck was hidden by the upper edge of my armor. I’ll probably get schooled when I confess later, but if I told the truth now, Alice would be heading back to the ruins to end Mutasina.
“Well, I’ve had plenty of practice cutting magic in ALO”
As I answered, I glanced at Argo. The informant flashed me a look as if to say, “I got you,” so I continued the conversation: “Compared to all that, the bigger problem is that more than a hundred high-level players, controlled by Mutasina, are coming to attack our town. It’s not a situation that can be de-escalated by talking it out… we have to be ready to intercept them.”
“When will they strike?”
“Mutasina said the night after tomorrow... that’s the first night of October. The plan seems to be for everyone’s defenses, the worst of which will be «Fine Leather Armor», to be prepared within two days. With that said, their timeline might be delayed; it shouldn’t happen any earlier”
I replied as such, and Argo tilted her head as she ran.
“But Kii-bou, would the one-hundred-or-so people there all participate in the attack? Mutasina’s choking magic is certainly outrageous, but if you log out, there’s nothing she can do about it, right?”
“Well that may be true… but if you keep logging out, that’s deliberately not participating in the clearing of Unital Ring. The current clearers, to put it in your words, would rather have Mutasina grab them by the throat as they try to clear the game than leave the front lines”
“…That’s true; the SAO clearers gave their all trying to clear the game even with their real lives on the line…”
“Those people were a crazy lot, seriously”
“I’d like to survey the original clearers to find out who the craziest was”
While talking about things like this, we rushed through the grasslands at full speed. Along the way, we were forced to make a few detours around hunting groups, but we didn’t have as much trouble as we did on the outbound journey, and we made it to the river—Mutasina called it the «Malbe River».
I thought there was more than a fifty percent chance of it disappearing, but the dugout canoe was floating right where I anchored it. While expressing how impressed she was that we crafted such a vehicle, Argo sat on a seat near the boat’s stern. Alice sat in front of her, and Kuro sat on the bow, just as he had done on the way out. After pulling up the anchors and rowing the oars, the boat began to move against the current.
I would’ve liked to think that all we had to do was go up the river and return to the Great Zeruethelial Forest—unfortunately, that was not going to be the case. Before we could go very far, the same heavy low-frequency sound we heard on the outward journey was back, seemingly reverberating in my gut. It was hard to get a full picture of the waterfall by the moonlight alone, but according to Alice, it was a massive waterfall with a 30-meter drop. There was no way any boat could make it up, let alone this wooden canoe.
“That’s as far as the canoe goes…”
I muttered, and Alice responded with a disappointed voice.
“Right. Let’s get it to shore and recycle it for materials there”
“Aye aye, sir”
Wait, no, Alice is female, so shouldn’t it be “aye aye, ma’am…” Or is that even a thing…—While thinking of such things, I planned to turn the rudder to the right. But just before I did.
“Hold up! Kii-bou, isn’t there something else we should do before we break apart the boat!?”
I blinked my eyes as I heard such a voice from ahead.
“What? What do we have to do?”
“Oh, come on, it’s a huge waterfall in a game world! There’s only one thing to do!”
I let out an understanding chuckle, but it was easier said than done.
“You know, Argo, even though it’s a game world, it’s a realism-oriented VRMMO. One wrong move and the whole boat will be in pieces”
“Then just don’t make a wrong move. Come on, full speed ahead!”
As for Argo’s irresponsible instructions, even Kuro barked in agreement, “Ga-oo!” Resigning myself to the fact that the boat would have to be destroyed anyway, I moved my oar back to row straight ahead.
“Eh… what are you going to do?”
Though Alice let out an uneasy voice, I perfunctorily dismissed, “now, now,” and continued rowing forward.
“But, Kirito, the waterfall”
“Now now now”
“It’s a waterfall!”
“Now now now now”
【T/N: Kirito repeats 「まあまあ」(mā mā), 「まあまあまあ」(mā mā mā), and 「まあまあまあまあ」(mā mā mā mā). 「まあ」(mā) can mean “well” as in “well, that’s only partly true.” It can also be used to urge or console, as in “now, now, please don’t get mad.” 】
While this exchange went on, the canoe reached the wide basin of the waterfall. The huge, roaring waterfall was now right in front of us.
Gazing at the moonlit waterfall, we couldn’t go around it because of the huge rocks on either side, but there was a tree sticking out a little to the right of the middle of the waterfall, and the water flow seemed slightly weaker directly below it. If we wanted to break through, that was the only place to go.
“Alright, let’s go! Hold on tight!”
I tilted the oar I held in both hands to the limit and rowed from side to side with all my might. The canoe accelerated forcefully, rushing toward the curtain of water that glimmered pale white in the moonlight.
“Kirito! Don’t be reckless; miracles don’t happen twice!”
The first miracle Alice was referring to was probably how we survived the dive over the waterfall on our way out to the ruins. To be honest, I didn’t really mean it, but since this was a knight-sama I was dealing with, I couldn’t help but get a little carried away.
“No, miracles do happen! I’ll show you!”
With a groundless shout, I plunged the canoe, which had reached its maximum speed, into the rumbling, roaring waterfall.
First was Kuro, who let out a roar of “Ga-o-on!” Then Argo shouted, “Ya-hoo!” And Alice screamed, “Kyaaaaa!”
My vision was painted a deep blue. There was tremendous pressure from the water on my shoulders; the boat sank rapidly. As the edge of the boat fell below the surface of the water, a large amount of water flowed into the boat and submerged it.
I should’ve known better than to do it! Regretting it within the second, I moved the oar with all the strength I could muster, but the boat was not going fast enough. Just as I was preparing to sink, the oars suddenly became lighter. I looked over to see that Alice had, enduring the waterfall pummeling her back, reached out and grasped the end of the oar.
The oar creaked loudly as it transferred the power of two people, but the dugout canoe shot forward like a bullet and finally broke through the torrent. The roar and water pressure disappeared instantly, and I was left stunned for a moment before I hastily braked. The boat moved a few meters through the calm water and came to a stop.
“…Is everyone okay?”
It was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything, so I called out to them. Argo and Kuro replied from ahead, and soon after, I heard Alice’s sigh nearby.
“Hah……—Well, I’ll let it slide since we made it out okay this time, but I absolutely refuse to be reckless for the third time”
“Yeah, you saved me back there”
I thanked her, took a torch out of storage, and lit it with flint. I held the torch high in the air, thinking that it was time to get a lantern… or learn light magic.
The orange light illuminated a vast natural cave. Countless stalactites hung from the ceiling, and oddly shaped stalagmites grew on the banks on either side. Turning around, we could see the backside of the waterfall beyond the narrow entrance. If the boat had veered even one meter to the left or right, it would have crashed into the rocks and sunk in a wreck.
I returned my gaze to the inside of the cave. The floor was covered by gently flowing water, and it looked like we’d be able to continue with the canoe… but not just that.
“There… iron! Iron ore!”
The moment I spotted a black rock with a reddish tinge protruding from the gray wall, I shouted, forgetting the discomfort of being soaked all over.
‘Oh wow, there’s… there’s more over there!”
“Hey, Kii-bou, calm down a little. Instead of worrying about the ore, it’s more important to figure out what we’re going to do now…”
“Compared to that, the ore is more important!”
I paddled the oar and brought the boat to the right bank.
“Alice, take care of the oar for a moment… the current is slow, so just steady it upright”
I left the boatman’s job to the knight-sama who stood up with a sign, stuck the torch into the socket on the side of the canoe, and jumped ashore. The bare, rocky ground was wet and slippery, but I carefully skirted the stalagmites and approached the iron ore.
When I first discovered iron ore in the Spiny Cave Bear’s cave in the Great Zeruethelial Forest, I had to use a primitive stone ax, and it took me a long time to collect a small amount. But now I had a «Fine Iron Pickaxe» that Lizbeth made for me. I took it out of storage, gripped it tightly, and vigorously struck the center of the ore sticking out of the wall.
With a high-pitched, metallic “kink, kink,” orange sparks flew. If I were extracting ore in the real world, I would have to break the surrounding rocks, but in this world, that would get me the rocks instead, so I had to strike the exposed ore directly. With an iron ore of this size, if I were using a stone ax, I’d have to hit the ore more than 30 times, but my trusty iron pickaxe made a large crack in the ore after only eight hits. A few more strikes and the ore would shatter into several lumps that would roll to the ground. I had to be careful not to let it fall into the water behind me… as I was thinking that.
“Kii-bou, above you!”
Once Argo and Kuro sounded this warning from behind me, I reflexively looked up. I thought a monster had appeared, but I instead caught sight of two huge stalactites swaying from the ceiling.
Immediately after I jumped back, a stalactite fell soundlessly, striking right where my footprints were, and shattered. Since I wasn’t wearing a helmet, if I had been hit in the head, I would have died instantly... if not in the head, 20-30% of my HP would still have been shaved off.
“A-are you okay!?”
In response to Alice’s voice, I raised my left hand.
“I’m fine. …I see, so there’s a mechanism that makes stalactites fall out if you bang on the ore like crazy…”
If I had been alone, I would probably have been hit… As I was appreciating my rare circumstances of having companions, Argo let out a half surprised, half worried voice.
“Hey Kirito, you don’t have a helmet, do you? Isn’t it better to stop for now?”
That was true, I didn’t have any helmets in my storage. In fact, from my days in SAO up to now, I’ve pretty much never equipped a helmet. It’s not that I was trying to look cool; I felt that in a full-dive RPG, the disadvantages of restricted vision and hearing were greater than the benefits of increased defense. That «Demon of Defense» Heathcliff, the leader of the Knights of the Blood guild, didn’t use a helmet either, so the argument wasn’t illogical. After all, he’s the father of the VRMMO—Kayaba Akihiko…
I went back to the cracked iron ore with such thoughts running through my head.
“I don’t have a helmet, but if I’m careful, I’ll be fine, probably”
I replied to Argo and re-gripped the pickaxe. After confirming that there were no more stalactites about to fall from the ceiling, I resumed my blows. On the third strike, the ore crumbled into four pieces and rolled off the wall. I hastily picked them up and threw them into my storage. So far, the only place near the log house where I could collect iron ore had been Misha's former den, so the supply wasn’t very plentiful. If I could secure enough iron in this cave to max out my carrying limit, it would be useful for the future construction of the town.
After that, whenever I found iron ore, I stopped the boat and chipped away with the pickaxe. In addition to iron, I found a small amount of copper and silver ore, and even crystal, although I wasn’t sure what it could be used for. As I collected them, we proceeded deeper and deeper.
Although we were in a natural cave, it was still a dungeon, so of course monsters appeared everywhere. The most annoying ones were large bats that flew in groups of three or four, trying to extinguish the torch. When they put it out, Argo, Alice, and I wouldn’t be able to swing our swords until the light was restored to avoid hurting each other. It was a good thing that Kuro, aptly named the dark panther, seemed to be capable of seeing his enemies in pitch darkness, as he jumped around and knocked the fast-flying bats down with his front paws.
In less than 30 minutes, Alice, Argo, and I had all filled our storages with tons of resources. I savored the great sense of accomplishment—but.
This chapter is 56% translated. 🍀